The Pressure of “No Pressure”


“No pressure.”

I love and hate this phrase. If we’re being honest, many things we do really aren’t that important! Nevertheless, when I hear the phrase “No pressure” spoken toward me, it rarely eases my own self-inflicted pressure toward a given situation. Thinking about this reality made me ask myself one thing: 

Do “No Pressure” situations exist in music? 

In any performing or visual art, the pressure to execute on a consistently high level permeates everyday life.

Everything has a purpose.

Everything is leading to something.

Rarely, if ever, does an opportunity come that is truly “non-consequential.”

For most of what my colleagues and I do in music, it seems as if there is retribution for every situation, and every botched performance, bad practice session, or weird hour can feel like huge setbacks in our constant strive to better ourselves.

So is there any place where musicians can say “no pressure” and actually mean it?

Probably not, but…

We can acknowledge the fact that pressure will always exist.

AND

We can find ways to manage it, so let’s start analyzing. 

One consistency between my good experiences and the bad is the degree of pressure I felt in the moment. 

Maybe this is why my practice room run-throughs of my solos sound better than any of my performances.

Maybe this is why dress rehearsals sound better than concerts. 

Maybe this is why a football team can go undefeated during the regular season and lose the championship game, and the day after, all of the analysts on TV say the following in one way or another: 

“They just couldn’t handle the pressure.”

At some point in the process, the pressure goes full throttle…
then we stop playing for our own desire to get better
and we start hoping that we don’t screw up.

I think many of us, myself included, could benefit from losing the above mindset. 

Simply put, we are telling ourselves “No Pressure” in all of the wrong environments, which leaves us vastly unprepared for the real pressure when it comes. 

Pressure is a feeling that is certainly good to get used to, as it arises often in personal and professional life. The more used to it you are, the more high pressure scenarios you will successfully endure. This, however, requires daily solutions that will condition our minds and bodies to respond positively to pressure.

Here are a couple good examples of places where I like to put the pressure on:

everyday practice (challenge yourself to learn all the notes to a new piece by a date sooner than what you think you’re capable of)
chamber group / large ensemble rehearsals (treat the first rehearsal as if it’s the performance)


TAKEAWAYS

1. Create your own solutions to keep pressure from dominating your mind in performance situations.

2. Be courageous and use pressure as a motivational tool in your journey of improvement. 



So I’ll be saying this to myself the next time I’m on stage: 

“No pressure, man. It’s going to be great.”

Thanks for reading,
JM

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Josh McClellan is a percussionist currently studying at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.

To learn more, click here.

 

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