Play like you have nothing to lose

Irish Band in Vermont
Green Corduroy playing in a tree-house in Moretown, VT

You just learned a new tune and you play it over and over in your living room when no one is home. Each time you play it, it gets better and better. At some point it sounds so good that you think of quitting your day job and taking it on the road. You envision yourself touring with your favorite band.

The tune is that good. And your playing of it, is that superb.

You then hit the session that week and decide to start that very same tune. You gather up your courage and step up into the silence to play the first note. Suddenly you can’t remember the rest of the tune. That tune you just quit your job for and became a rock star with suddenly is lost in the abyss of your brain and you start to panic.

After the freak-out passes, you eventually do get through the tune though it doesn’t sound anything like the monumental piece you practiced in your living room all week. (Thank God you didn’t really quit your day job).

This does happen to you, right?

Recently, I played a gig with a fellow fiddler, and in between one of our sets he said to the audience “feel free to get up and dance like no one is watching, because we play like no one is listening.”

He meant it clearly as a joke. But in all seriousness, it’s actually a good way to think about it.

Of course when we play in public, be it at a session or a performance or even for your friends and family, we always want to sound our best. Sometimes though, we get so lost in worrying about our sound that we get knocked off our game and end up sounding like this is the first time we’ve touched our instrument, never mind played the tune.

Fiddler, Martin Hayes, once said about Uilleann piper, Willie Clancy, that his music was “undistorted, undiluted, and rich in feeling and pride.”  He said he played as if he had nothing to lose.”

I like to think we all play like that in our living rooms when we think no one is listening. When our inhibition is lost. When we can spend more time feeling the music and less time trying to remember the notes. Yet why does it change suddenly when someone is listening?

We should always be playing as if we have nothing to lose. After all, what is there to lose?

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