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Riley Music Academy Music Cast: Playing music like a robot

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Playing music like a robot

Do you find yourself playing the same stuff over and over?

Do you get frustrated that you can’t seem to break free of the constraints you have set yourself?

Do you play like a robot?

Yes… this is my sons Toy robot and yes… I do play with it sometimes on a Thursday morning when I should be working! 

There are right times and wrong times to play like a machine and I want to explain in this week’s blog.

Practicing (Woodshedding)

This is the perfect time to implement programs and set your automation.  I often use the metronome and play things over and over again.  Once I’ve played it 3 or 4 times, I play it another 3 or 4 times.  Why?  Because working through something at home is a chance to reinforce technique, learn in depth and master the skills you need to become a great musician.

Nobody plays scales in front of an audience.  Scales are practised at home to become comfortable with the instrument and allow our minds to run on ‘auto’ when we are under pressure.

When you are in deep study, it should:

a) sound terrible – because you should be practising the hardest thing imaginable
b) be slow but accurate – give your mind a chance to process the task but don’t play it wrong otherwise you will reinforce imperfections
c) be short and focused – nobody can focus fully for long periods.  Research suggests 25-30 mins.  Use the Pomodoro technique
d) be repetitive and meditative – you may not be into the whole meditation thing but it basically means you allow yourself to be mindful of the task.  Not only will you learn on a deeper level and retain the information for longer but it will feel good afterwards.


Many of my students perform live and this is a great way to hone your skills and actually get some enjoyment out of the whole music thing!

When you perform you should move into a different mindset and become aware of everything.  You can not focus on one specific element for too long otherwise you will get lost, not react and just generally drop the ball.

I liken it to walking down the street texting a friend.  If you put 100% focus on the text you will most likely walk into a lamppost.  Either stop and focus on the text or split the focus so you have just 30% on the written message and the rest focused on your surroundings.  Or even better…don’t text your friend and focus 100% on your surroundings; then you will notice even more.

When performing you should not:

a) work stuff out – you need to be rehearsed enough to think automatically
b) be afraid of other peoples judgement – to be completely honest and slightly harsh…most members of the audience won’t care as much as you think.
c) think it’s all about you – you should gel with the audience by engaging with them (either through body language, introducing songs or just simply smiling from time to time and show that you are enjoying yourself)
d) be closed off and inflexible – you should have your musical radar on high alert.  Be prepared for anything and be willing to change if necessary.
e) think too much

Try this exercise to demonstrate how bad it is if you think too much:  Find two markers and draw your name on a board or a sheet of paper.  Your strong hand writing as normal and your weaker hand writing an exact mirror image.  If you think too much it goes terribly wrong but if you allow your mind to do what it is completely capable of doing (use ‘the force’, if you will) then it will happen.  Sometimes you just have to switch off and let your mind get on with what it knows it can already do – don’t get in the way!

Check out my effort below:  The top version is me thinking (notice the ‘a’ is incorrect and it generally looks like a child has drawn it?).  The version underneath is with me switching off my brain and going with it (notice that it now looks like a child with neater handwriting has drawn it!)

The Trap

So many people are guilty of ‘performing’ at home.  They put on the backing track and play the same old tunes because they’ve noticed that Mrs. Smith has just arrived home next door. They know she’ll be listening and they’re out to impress.  If you take this approach you will progress SLOWLY!

The Mission

Find 25 mins, your Italian kitchen timer, a metronome, an isolated space and start practising the stuff you know you should! 


Comment below – I’d love to hear your opinion (I read them all)


2 Comments Add a Comment
  1. Onno
    February 4, 2016

    Good piece!! I do lots of things that I shouldn’t. Especially the trap at the end, as I’m afraid they will complain if I really go for the things I must do, as it will indeed sound horrible. It’s what I want but I find it hard to test the neighbours’ patience.

    You made me think of how I do things, thanks!

    • Jay
      February 11, 2016

      Glad you enjoyed it Onno. Yep, Neighbours can be tough. I once had it out with my neighbour after a 4 hr practice session on overtones! He was unreasonable but I explained that I needed to do it and tried to find some mutually agreeable times. Normally if you talk to them they’ll be cool with it.

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