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Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days

26 Aug 00 - 04:53 PM (#285743)
Subject: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Dee45

Why is it that some days they (the fingers) just work better than others? Those of you who play regularly and / or perform know what I'm talking about. You're on stage, doing a tune you've done a zillion times, and when the time comes to solo, if you're feeling confident you go for the flashier licks, and if you're not, you play it safe and keep things simple. (Stage fright and nerves not being the issue here.)

Obviously, the key is in achieving such a level of consistency through practise, that only you yourself know when your fingers "are working" and when they aren't, especially if you're a stage performer.

But why is this? If you're a seasoned player, shouldn't you be "on" all the time, assuming you've reached a higher level, from practising? I'm not afflicted with arthritis or any transient, inhibitive problems with my hands, yet I can always tell within 5 minutes of picking up a guitar whether "it's happening today" or "it isn't".


26 Aug 00 - 05:05 PM (#285752)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST,leeneia

Most of us have our better days and our worse days for playing. I'm sure nobody is "on" all the time. Factors behind this: 1)have you had enough sleep lately? 2) have you been taking medicine? Even over-the-counter stuff can affect your brain. 3) have you been doing chores that are bad for your hands? (gardening, for example, is really hard on them) 4) have you been practising? Pianists, for example, can really feel the ill effects of two weeks without playing.

Instruments have their own good and bad days. Flutes, to name one kind, are known for their erratic personalities.

And finally, don't overlook the role of Finger Demons. They are always out there, waiting to zap even the best of us.

26 Aug 00 - 05:43 PM (#285766)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Naemanson

Generally I'm "on" when I'm alone in my living room and "off" when I'm in public or on stage. For some reason the strings seem to get sticky or at other times just seem to disappear from under my fingertips. However I know what causes that. It's spelled F-E-A-R and the alternative spelling is S-T-A-G-E-F-R-I-G-H-T.

26 Aug 00 - 06:05 PM (#285777)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: catspaw49

I don't think it has anything to do with anything frankly. No matter what field of endeavor, even if you are seasoned and highly skilled, sometimes you just are off. Period. Beats me why......The challenge is alwys the same and even under greater pressure, sometimes you do well and sometimes you don't. I've never found a particular pattern to it. I mean sometimes you know its gonna' be bad (whatever you're doing) because of physical ailments of whatever........But all other things being equal, sometimes the magic works and sometimes it don't.

Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you.........But the bear ALWAYS suits up!


26 Aug 00 - 06:21 PM (#285784)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Les B

Yeah, it's scary! Makes you want to look at your brain surgeon's bio-rhythm triple points before he puts you under the knife, doesn't it !

I like Dee45's idea of being able to depend on a certain level of consistency through practice, and let the flashy stuff happen if you feel it.

I've always wondered about the Canadian piano virutoso, Glenn Goulding (is that the name ?**CRS**?)-- he apparently would soak his hands in near boiling water before he went on stage. Some thought this was just his "odd" personality, but maybe he had a viable physical reason ?

26 Aug 00 - 06:32 PM (#285785)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: JenEllen

I agree with Spaw, some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue. You have to look at the whole person. I just rationalize that I'm the sum of my parts, and those change from minute to minute. Good days, bad days, stagefright, life in general. You never do it the same twice.

"Eighteen-hundred miles from this old nightclub
My girl is turning twenty-two today
How am I supposed to entertain you?
My fingertips are worthless
When my mind's so far away"


26 Aug 00 - 06:44 PM (#285787)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Mbo

Yes, Elle! Old 47's ROCK!!

26 Aug 00 - 07:01 PM (#285798)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST, Banjo Johnny

Warm up with easy tunes. Stay away from hard booze and dope. Don't enter contests. == Johnny

26 Aug 00 - 07:02 PM (#285799)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Jon Freeman

I am another one who thinks it is just one of those things that these things happen. One point to note though is that there are many players who on a bad day will still be better than me on an exceptionally good day... I think the further you get with an instrument, the easier it becomes to sound good or flashy even on the worst of days but I bet the players themselves are still thinking "that was bad...".


27 Aug 00 - 04:17 AM (#285985)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Banjer

Here I was going through life thinking I was the only one with this phenomenom. Some days I pick up the banjo and tunes just flow, other days I have to force it. Like Jon Freeman, there are days when I feel I could go a round or two with anyone and some days I feel like my best is equal to anybodys worst. Unfortunately, the latter are more frequent. But what do I care, I'm having fun and isn't that what counts the most?

27 Aug 00 - 11:11 AM (#286058)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: gillymor

Unlike you Dee I can't tell within five minutes. I never feel like I'm at my best until I've been playing for an hour or more. After a nice long, relaxed warmup I can start to forget about mechanics and begin to feel musical.


PS good advice BJ.

27 Aug 00 - 12:06 PM (#286091)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Dulci46

I'm sure glad someone started this thread. Sometimes I feel like I am the only one with this problem. I have a lot of bad playing from F-E-A-R and S-H-Y-N-E-S-S, where I have been know to forget the whole song.

But this is different, I just went through a whole week of nothing sounding right. Checked my autoharps for tuning (even checked to see if maybe they had cracked). Blamed the Autoharps, then decided it was the fingers and hearing.

Guess I get a double whammy, bad playing from fear and bad playing from being off again, on again.


27 Aug 00 - 03:15 PM (#286160)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: PoohBear

Like most of you, I thought it was "just me" with the on-again, off-again ability, regardless of practice time...but for me it's not only musical. The interest and enthusiasm must be there for whatever I'm working on whether that's costuming, baking, playing the guitar, singing or even cleaning my (*&&*%()@# house! If I'm not interested no amount of practice is going to help....when I'm interested and enthused - time flies by, the music sounds right to me and those around me, the garment fits and the dust actually leaves for a couple of days...


27 Aug 00 - 03:29 PM (#286170)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Little Hawk

Guitars can be REALLY hard to tune on certain days...particularly when it's very humid and hot. The "b" string can drive you nuts sometimes. I have a Yamaha that is an's almost always in tune...but then, when you least expect it...ARRRRGHH!

Other than that, sometimes things really click and other times not. I always try to do the best I can, but if I'm really having serious trouble in some way (like losing my voice) I pray. If I have to, I go off somewhere like a washroom or outside, and I pray directly and audibly, straight to the source. I acknowledge that I am not alone.

And it works.

I don't know if it would for you, but it does for me.

Anyway, "Life is sad, life is a bust, all you can do is do what you must, you do what you must do...and you do it well. I'll do it for you, ah, honey baby, can't you tell?" - Bob Dylan

27 Aug 00 - 04:13 PM (#286189)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST,Rich(stupidbodhranplayerwhodoesn'tknowbetter

I know this is supposed to be about musical instruments but the best I can offer is experiences with my bodhran. Apart from tuning issues, there are some days when that link between my brain and my tipper runs smoothly and I can do all those cool tricks I've learned from other players without a bit of difficulty, and there are days when I can't get fancy for fear of losing the beat. In those cases, I'll play a simple rhythm w/o putting in too many variations in. As a rhythm player, it's more important to be consistant than dazzling.
Now, speaking of real instruments, I read in some liner notes about what Paul McGrattan refers to as a flautist "losing the blow". He says "You wake up one day and you can't get a note out of it!" Now THAT sounds scary!


27 Aug 00 - 04:21 PM (#286192)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Little Neophyte

Now that I realize I will have good days and bad days with my banjo playing just the same as all the other ups and downs I experinence in my life, I don't focus so much on the bad days any more. I just let them roll on by. Same with poor performances in front of an audience, I don't care as much any more and the funny thing is, my performance isn't so bad because of my attitude. I am learning it has much to do with perspective. If I am not too concerned about it, it puts my audience at ease too.
'No Big Deal' is my new mantra these days.


27 Aug 00 - 05:04 PM (#286202)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST,leeneia

Now just a minute, Rich. Not so fast. A bodhran is a real instrument. Haven't you ever heard a master do an exciting and complex bodhran solo for a hushed audience?

27 Aug 00 - 06:43 PM (#286232)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: sophocleese

Les B., Glenn Gould. Maybe he figured it would warm up the muscles etc. and make them more limber, I don't know. I'm often tense when I first pick up the guitar and it takes a while to warm up and relax into the sounds I'm making. I play and sing better onstage or off if I've taken the time to warm up instead of just belting straight into something difficult. Of course, just like everyone else, even with all that I still have days when it ain't working. The worst was earlier this summer when I didn't know what was wrong with my voice, no matter what I did, (sleeping, staying away from alcohol and caffeine) it just got weaker and rougher. Finally I went to the doctor who told me within 5 minutes I had strep throat. I should have gone to her a week earlier instead of simply asuming I was having a couple of rough days...

28 Aug 00 - 07:29 AM (#286405)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST,Nick

Yes.......Sometimes you're the windscreen, sometimes you're the bug! I remember playing (for the morris) in the cold and having to run a session afterwards and thinking that I couldn't be playing any worse so I soaked my cold hands in hot water and used the hot air drier and the effect was amazing, I played better than I had in ages, so I guess warming up is important, also, the better you are anyway the less it shows if it's not working today (whatever IT is). Some players never seem to make mistakes and seem to be almost clinical in their accuracy (Andy Cutting) others (John Kirkpatrick) make mistakes from time to time but are good at covering them up, perhaps this is what being professional means!

28 Aug 00 - 08:00 AM (#286410)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST,John Bauman

I've always assumed this phenomenon to be one of those right/left brain thingys. Sometimes when you're playing you suddenly can't remember where you are (in the piece-though in my case...), but if you stop, clear your mind and sort of start over without thinking about it you can play through the piece without flaw. I think it's because many of us who have played for many years are so comfortable with the mechanics of our instrument that we don't take the time to really learn a piece. In our brains that means that we haven't "cross-referenced it in our right/left brain filing system. Thus, we can either "feel" a piece or we can recall a piece by analyzing structure, but we can't do BOTH. So we'er stuck there in a soup of embarrasment--unable to play something we could play with virtuosity the day before.


28 Aug 00 - 08:01 AM (#286412)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: guinnesschik

I've found that stress is a HUGE factor, and you can just play too much in the course of a day and use up the magic. Sometimes, however, it's sjust the instrument's fault. (Especially if you're a fiddler, and you can blame humidity, tuning, new strings, neck warped....) *BG*

28 Aug 00 - 11:07 AM (#286501)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST,Les B

I like Guest John's right-brain, left-brain filing system mismatch. That's the best explanation I've heard recently of that phenomena as tied to music !

I've found that a good warm-up helps get the mind and fingers to working together. And as they years whiz by, the warm up takes longer.

A friend who plays bass, and thus has cause to listen carefully to all the other lead instruments, says that a gig or session doesn't really get good until about an hour into it. Then he can hear musicians getting "looser" and "tighter" at the same time -- what a contrary thought !

28 Aug 00 - 11:17 AM (#286506)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST,John Bauman

The only practice/exercise I've found to combat this (besides as Les says--wating 'til you're warmed up) is to regularly practice coming into the middle of a composition. It seems to be one way to DE-LOBOTOMIZE ourselves. It forces us to learn a piece on both a feeling (which seems to come naturally for us) and an analytical level (which is sometimes just HARD WORK!)

28 Aug 00 - 12:00 PM (#286531)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Little Hawk

One thing I'd add to this...the most dangerous moment when recording a song is THE LAST FOUR BARS!!! That's because you start anticipating the end, and not being in the moment, and your darn left brain throws you right off, and you make a mistake! This usually happens right at the end of one of the best takes you've ever done...

28 Aug 00 - 01:21 PM (#286592)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST,John Bauman

Little Hawk,

That's a good reason to always record BACKWARDS. I'm familiar with that ninth inning clench! Maybe that's what all that "backwards masking" was on those psychedelic recordings of the 60's.


28 Aug 00 - 01:40 PM (#286610)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Sean Belt

As pretty much everyone has attested, we all have good and bad days. For me bad ones are those days when my fingers just won't act right or the instrument just doesn't sound as good as usual no matter how much I tune it and re-tune it. At that point I remind myself that this is what separates us all from a soulless drum machine and that tomorrow will be better.

- Sean

28 Aug 00 - 02:00 PM (#286627)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Jim the Bart

You always have to keep in mind that fact that we are little processing plants - we take stuff in, grind it up and zap out something different. The notes that come out are affected by everything we took in - food, fluids, poisons (alcohol & drugs), air, rest - and the environment in which we're working. If the air pressure changes, your ears do to and things start to sound different. The alchemists had the right idea; yopu keep repeating the process until you get it right. That's when it's golden!

Years ago I read an interview with Marlon Brando in which he said that he always strove to give 80% effort. That way his reach never over-extended his grasp. This seemed odd, coming from a cultural background where you're supposed to give "110%", but it does make sense. It's like practicing a passage at a higher speed than you will actually play it; at the regular tempo, the passage seems a lot slower and easier.

To me, given the reality that you aren't going to have your "A" game every time, the artistry comes in being able to construct other options at a moments notice. The ability to adjust when something isn't working is the mark of the "professional" (Perhaps "master craftsman" would be a better term?). If your throat is a little raw, and you can't go for the big note (or if your fingers won't let you navigate that complicated run) when the time comes, the trick is to find some other place to go that works. I've always been amazed when working in the presence of players who never make a mistake - who always have a place to go. That is so cool. . .

28 Aug 00 - 02:56 PM (#286665)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: hesperis

Wish I'd known about that hot-water trick back in high school. Thanks Les!
My hands would go ice cold from nerves, and I was supposed to play a solo on the piano. At two separate concerts I struggled through the pieces, messing up all over the place. Most of the audience didn't even care about my mistakes, but they hadn't heard me do it well! The other students were like "what do you mean you were nervous! I was nervous, not you! You looked completely cool up there!" And my teachers were all asking me what the hell happened.
I hate cold. My muscles don't work properly, I can't feel the keys sensitively enough... Arrgh!
Yeah, next time I have to play in public, I'm soaking my hands in HOT WATER first!

29 Aug 00 - 01:02 AM (#287014)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Gypsy

Instruments are jealous, vindictive beasties. If you ignore them for even a short period of time, they will get back at you by playing badly. Play consistently, and often, and long, and they will reward you equally as well. (Gypsy whose hammer dulcimer hates it when she is ignored)

29 Aug 00 - 10:09 AM (#287136)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: GUEST,Luther

Yeah, a day of not playing is enough to throw me off, and sometimes there are weeks where I don't play.

One thing that helps to get things flowing again is playing extremely slowly with the metronome, e.g. playing reels at quarter=50bpm. Usually the little glitches and brain-fades will manifest even at this tempo, and it's much easier to see what's wrong and fix it.

Warming up physically is equally important, of course -- hot water helps a lot, as does playing very, very slowly.

29 Aug 00 - 10:32 AM (#287147)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Mbo

Personally, I can't stand any sort of water on my hands before playing. It softens up the callouses on my fingers, and they don't sound as well, and it hurts my fingers. I usually wait 10 minutes or so after washing my hands to play my guitar, or fiddle.

You're right hesp! Cold on your hands it horrible when trying to's like they're frozen. Also playing when hot is not good either. Your hands start to sweat, and just like the water, soften the callouses that then start to hurt.

When I did my Classical guitar final recital, I was so nervous. I think I could have handled a crowd, but there were only a handfull of folks there--all friends & relatives--but still not that many. I think that was daunting. I couldn't look at the people without messing up. That's why when I practise, I often stare at a blank piece of paper. It clears your mind, leaving you nothing to look at or concentrate on but the music. Especially when it's Villa-Lobos' Prelude No.4! At one point I had to apologise for a botched passage. My guitar teacher said he though I might cry! Also said he was more nervous than I was. Hard to believe that! BTW I don't think the bananas worked.

oh MAN it's FREEZING in here!

29 Aug 00 - 09:26 PM (#287515)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Les B

This is a saying I heard from a fiddler (and I think I posted it sometime ago in a different thread):

Don't practice one day and you can hear it.

Don't practice two days and other fiddlers can hear it.

Don't practice three days and the audience can hear it!

30 Aug 00 - 08:13 AM (#287726)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: Hamish

I find that the buzz is important, too. By which I mean the interplay with the audience. If I feel like I'm connecting, then I play better. If, on the other hand, I make a mistake - even tho' I'm generally OK at ignoring them - then I start to get a little self-conscious, the audience feel it, we lose touch...

Confidence is a critical factor and good performances reinforce confidence leading to good performances... whereas the reverse is also true: poor performances knock confidence leading to poor performances...

So: it's important to practise, so you don't knock your self confidence; to know your material well, so you can cope with distractions; to play in front of a live audience as much as you can, so you can handle things not going too well; to try and reach your audience other than merely through your playing/singing and get them on your side; and to start with something that's guaranteed to go well.

IMHO, of course.

30 Aug 00 - 09:04 AM (#287752)
Subject: RE: Playing an Instrument-Good + Bad Days
From: guinnesschik

Hamish, you're not kidding! And if you're ripping through 'em like a pro, and the audience is non-responsive, things can go bad pretty quick. A terrific audience is almost as good as a flawless perfomance.