Why We Play Better at Home, and Play Poorly for Others

Does this scenario sound familiar:
You practice well all week at home. You get your music sounding clean and consistent.

Then, when you play for a teacher or for family and friends, things go wrong. There are more mistakes. Memory slips and finger fumbles abound.

Why do we play better at home than we do for other people? Is it nerves? Or is it more than that?

The Comparison Point Makes All the Difference

It may seem like a mystery why we play better alone. But actually it’s an illusion. In fact, we don’t play better at home. We don’t play better alone. (Or not much better, allowing for nerves and adrenaline.)

But wait! I DO make more mistakes playing for others!

The answer here lies in the point of comparison. Normally, when we play for others, we play our music through just once. One take. One shot to get it right or wrong.

But at home, we play the same bit over and over. And we gauge our level of competence by the last one. After we’ve fully reminded ourselves of all the “ins and outs”, twists and turns.

So we compare our first run-through at our lesson or performance to our 20th run-through at home.

No wonder we play it better at home – We had 19 “practice throws”!

What would we hear if we recorded our very first play-through at home? Chances are it would sound very much like it does in the lesson or performance.

How to Play Better at Home AND for Others

So knowing this, how do we get our music to sound good the first time? What should we do in practice to get the first play-through up to the level we want it to be?

This is the whole game of practice. We practice with this as one of the main goals.

To do this, we need to practice accuracy and precision with every note. And we need to do this right from the beginning of our practice. And this often means that we need to play more slowly than we may feel compelled to.

We also can listen to the quality of each note. (Correct: Each individual note, even though there are a lot of them.) We can video or record our playing often to get a more objective listen.

And lastly for now, we can adjust our expectations. We can expect things to take longer than we thing they should. And we can expect that to play cleanly and consistently will take far more focus and attention than we previously thought.

The Good News

The good news here is that nothing is wrong with you. You don’t have faulty wiring or loose screws.

Instead, you can see more of reality and meet your performances with a measure of compassion.

And more, you can see the direct link between how you practice at home, and how you play for others. With this insight, you can practice with more intention, and see more positive results.

Allen Mathews

Hi, I’m Allen Mathews. 

I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully.
Click here for a sample formula.

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