The ability to concentrate and not be distracted from the music by fear or pressure is extremely important for every professional drummer. For example, if you become nervous at a recording session or an audition you may lose your concentration. You may be thinking, “I hope I do well,” or “I hope I don’t make a mistake.” These thoughts are natural enough because we all want to do well. However, if we dwell on these thoughts we get more nervous and we lose our concentration on the music. Then we make mistakes and get even more nervous.
Some people try to build confidence by practicing and telling themselves that they will do well. This often does help if it isn’t overdone or unrealistic.
Confident people sometimes think, “Boy I’m hot tonight.” This can also break concentration and result in what might be referred to as an “indulgent” performance. In other words, overplaying because you are convinced you are great.
I believe the easiest method for dealing with fear, pressure and other distractions is to improve your ability to concentrate. For one thing, concentration has no bad side effects that I know of.
When you are really concentrating you are not necessarily over-confident or under-confident. You are simply paying attention to the task at hand. When your concentration is total there is no room for fear or over-confidence. You are too busy paying attention.
How do you know when you are paying attention? This is difficult to say because if you are really paying attention you don’t say to yourself, “Wow, I’m really paying attention.” Once you do this, you have already lost your concentration.
It is perhaps easier to catch yourself when your mind starts to wander. For example, you are at a rehearsal and you suddenly realize that your thoughts are drifting on their own. Someone says something to you and you say, “Excuse me, what was that again?” You were “somewhere else” and did not hear the question you were asked. This is commonly known as daydreaming. I call it loss of concentration.
When this happens, as it does to all of us on occasion, it is of no value to be angry with yourself. If it helped it might be okay, but it doesn’t help. Anger just stirs up your emotions and you distract yourself even more.
Try this: When you catch yourself daydreaming, just say to yourself, “I caught you. Now come back and let’s start concentrating again.” Make a game of it. Each time you catch yourself drifting mentally, bring yourself back to concentrating.
In this way you gradually train your mind to concentrate fully for longer periods of time. As you improve at this skill of concentrating, you will discover that it will take less effort. In fact, it will become easier and easier. At some point it will be almost automatic. Automatic concentration, which happens after some practice, is good because it requires less effort than in the early learning stages.
Pressure and danger. If someone pulls a gun on you in the street you will be very alert. You will be concentrating like crazy in order to save yourself. Your mind will not wander. You will be focused, although in a negative way.
However, when doing your first big recording session or TV show, the pressure can get to you. In this case, unlike the one with the gun, the problem is to forget your fear enough to concentrate on performing well. If you can learn to do this you will be focused in a positive way.
Just say to yourself, “I am in this situation because someone else had confidence in me. They think I can do a good job. Therefore, I will concentrate on the music and performance. In this way, I will do my best under these circumstances.”
Eliminating Fear and Pressure. This is a tall order. I am not sure that it would even be a good idea. However, no matter, very few of us can achieve this lofty goal.
I prefer not to eliminate fear and pressure but learn to deal with them. It is okay to be scared and it is okay to feel the pressure. The key is to find a way to handle your emotions so you won’t make unnecessary mistakes. The most straight forward way to do this is to develop your ability to concentrate.
Some tips on concentration. First of all, concentration is a skill that can and must be developed. It is not so much intelligence as it is learning to focus your attention on what is important.
Secondly, you concentrate most easily on something you are interested in. You can’t develop concentration by forcing yourself to focus on things that have no interest to you.
If you have difficulty concentrating, ask yourself, “Why is this task or this situation important to me? What benefit will I receive if I do well?” Once you understand what is truly important to you, focus on those aspects of the situation. Concentration will be easier and your performance will be better.
No Magic Formula. There exists no precise formula for success. Concentration enhances what you have to offer. It will not take the place of talent, studying, practicing or experience.
However, developing concentration skills will help you to get the most out of yourself under pressure. Performing well under pressure is one important key to becoming a top professional.
One last thought: Even if you are not an outstanding drummer, learning to concentrate more fully will help you to improve and to do your best. Your best is all you can do. And that is a lot!