Shifting focus for performing- the Zone

One of the most difficult things to do as a performing musician is to get in 'the zone'. Many classical musicians take small amounts of tranquilizer type drugs like Xanax to calm their nerves. One of my best friends, an accomplished jazz saxophonist, simply cannot perform without a small dose of Ambien before every gig.

Throughout the history of Jazz many of the greats felt that they needed some extra chemical 'help' to really play their best, this could be anything from a shot of espresso to one beer or a massive speed-ball. Even 'Pops' had to have his herbal remedy in order to feel truly creative. All of these chemicals have some degree of negative side effects (such as cotton-mouth or death). If you start to depend on any one of them to play music you lose control over your own creativity, becoming terminally dependant on a chemical to operate.

The creative mindset is almost an ecstatic state of consciousness. It's not like the state of mind that we are in while shopping for food in the grocery store or driving a car. We can't be distracted by thoughts of the past or future, or by what the audience is doing or thinking. We want to hyper-awake, yet relaxed and loose. We want to be able to tap into and react to deep emotional states as well as be able to remember theoretical considerations. We need to be highly receptive yet electrically active and energetically explosive. This is starting to sound like the qualities and states of the Buddha, a Zen master or a master Yogi, right? Maybe this also sounds like a stoner?

Lately I've been playing a double header gig at a club every Wednesday. The first gig is a duo from 4:30-7pm and the second, a jam session goes from 8pm until 11pm. This is a recipe for burnout and I've been resorting to drinking a couple Red Bulls throughout the evening. If I drink one too late then sleep doesn't come for me until around 3:00a.m. I've got to stop doing this to my already whacked out sleeping patterns.

So before you hit the triple capp, spliff, Valium, speedball, or chocolatini here are some ideas to help get you into the 'zone' without breaking the bank, going to jail, the hospital, or just making an ass out of yourself.

  • Panayama breathing exercises are a fast, safe, easy and powerful way to reach non-ordinary states of consciousness. Check out my article called yogic breathing for musicians.

  • Meditate before the gig or on the break. The are many different methods, find one that works for you.

  • Stretching- endorphins are released and nerves calmed. Musicians can't afford to hold body tension.

  • Acupuncture- if you've never had a good accupuncture treatment you really don't know what you're missing. Acupuncture balances the energy currents in the body can have a drastic positive effect on your mental and emotional (as well as your physical) well being. Many insurance plans cover accupucture, if you live in Portland check out Working Class Acupuncture. There are community accupuncture centers all over the country, these work on a sliding scale.

  • Blood Sugar- watch what and how much you eat before and at the gig. Eat too much and you'll get loagie, too little and your brain will starve and make your playing suck.

  • Go for a walk on the break. This is simple yet really makes a huge difference in your state of mind on the gig.

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