The 'Zone'- shifting focus for performing

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 too?

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.

  • 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.


Adam said...

"I've often been asked how I can play gigs so drunk... and I say, it's easy : I practice drunk!" -- Zoot Sims

Adam said...

Actually, that’s a rumored, not exact, quote.

MonksDream said...

I agree with David about meditation. My current favorite books on the subject are by Chogyam Trungpa's son Mipham. Pranayama works well and has been used to great effect by Charles Lloyd and Sonny Rollins is a well-known yoga practitioner.

I read an interview with Sonny in which he said that when he was at his house in upstate New York, he spent his day working on making and eating a big pot of vegetable stew, practicing his horn and practicing yoga.

I also once ran into rock musician Skid Roper doing some crazy ass calisthenics outside of Satyricon in the eighties with headphones on. I asked him if he was Skid Roper and he was kind of pleased to be recognized and then I asked him what the fuck he was doing and he told me that he was listening to Iggy Pop and getting in the Zone by warming up so he'd be on top of his game when he got out there.

jongorrie said...

You might like to try reading Performing in The Zone: http://www.thezonebook.com