Recently, a few of my peers have talked with me about having had a bad drum performance. These guys were devastated and desperate to be sure that they would never have such a bad gig ever again. I know that feeling all too well so this month’s tips will address this issue that affects us all at one time or another.
When we perform, our perception of how we’re doing can be from great to horrible and all points in between. Even though most gigs fall somewhere between the extremes, the very good nights feel incredible and the bad nights feel REALLY bad. I’ve been sickened by my own performance many times and elated quite a bit less. These days, I rarely have exceptionally good or bad nights and I believe this is due to some advice a great musician friend of mine gave a few years back. I went to him in the same terrible shape that my friends came to me in after what I believed to be the worst performance of my life. I was crushed by what I perceived to be an all time low in my history. I was desperate to keep this from happening ever again. This is my explanation of our conversation that day:
Although our PERCEPTION of how we play can vary widely, how we ACTUALLY play doesn’t vary much at all. This seems odd I know but here’s what I mean: Once we’ve been playing for a while, we achieve a certain “level” of proficiency both physically and mentally. This level is actually quite stable and not subject to extreme changes no matter how we feel on a given night. Think about it. Is it possible that you were a really good drummer yesterday but you’re a really bad drummer today? Maybe it’s possible but not very likely. Your level isn’t subject to change because it took you a while to get there. Most of us improve over time. Our level goes up provided we practice and/or perform regularly. Once we’ve attained a certain level, we’re pretty much there. I know this from experience. There is always room to improve but it’s highly unlikely that you’ll actually get worse over time.
Many things can influence our perception of our performance. Bad monitors or stage mix, mood, venue, time of day, etc. This list goes on and on. Sometimes we just don’t feel “on”. My advice on this subject is simple. Don’t take the situation you’re in (or yourself) too seriously. Trust in your level being nearly constant and be aware that your perception is subject to change. Just knowing this as fact helps me feel neither exceptionally bad nor great about an isolated performance. I usually feel pretty good about the way I’ve played, although this is merely perception, too. The fact is, I’ve been playing for a very long time and my level is stable, be it high or low. Trust that your level is stable, too. I hope this helps you as much as it helped me. Remember to keep your chin up and maintain a positive attitude. If your level isn’t where you want it, work hard to raise it and it will happen. Until next time, work hard and play harder. — John