Battling Burnout: 3 Things You Should Know

This week has been all about knowing when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em. The concept has come up a lot with my students recently because it is midterm season for the college folks, and region/all state audition time for my high school folks. Today, knowing when to stop and when to keep going in a performance came up with my jr high chamber group as well.

So, universe… YOU have my attention.

Let’s break this down. Knowing when to stop is really important for performers in these circumstances:

  • Knowing when to take a break, walk away, and come back to a tough practice spot
  • Deciding when to stop recording for an audition
  • Being confident in a decision to stop in a performance instead of pushing through

But how do we know when we’ve made the right call?

(p.s. This also applies to other life challenges…not just performing…big sigh. Just take a listen to Pivot Party, we are all about change around here!)

Know When to Take a Break:

Well, for starters, when practicing, if you hit a wall with a spot that is just not getting better, walk away for a bit. Go change your thoughts, change your actions, and come back with a clear head and stretched hands (string players especially). I like to take walks during this breather time. It helps me clear my head and return to the task when I’m not so worked up or frustrated with it.

This applies to more than just practicing, y’all. Check in with yourself in other activities too. If you find you’re getting overwhelmed and frustrated, take a time out. Then, when you’re ready, come back.

When to Stop Recording:

The prep work is not done in the recording process. If you are looking for the perfect take, I have news for you: it ain’t gonna happen. In my journey, I’ve found that my early recordings during a day of recording are the best. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a recording studio and we end up using the first take! 

First, the work before recording has to be done well before recording day. Record yourself often, and learn to align what you hear in your head with what’s being recorded. A lot of times we think that we’ve made some HUGE error, only to listen back and learn that it wasn’t that big of a deal at all. So, learning how to listen to yourself honestly is really really difficult, but is very needed. It takes time, curiosity, patience, and practice.

Here are a few tips on knowing when you should record again or when you should stop and just submit: Create a hierarchy of errors. Ask yourself what is forgivable and what isn’t? 

Look at the following musical concepts and know how to rank them in order of importance (for yourself, for your students, etc.) 

  • Rhythm
  • Pitch
  • Musicality
  • Dynamics
  • Tempo
  • Sound quality

If you make small errors, that’s human. Now, if you crash and burn, well that’s different.

When taking an orchestral audition or making an orchestral recording and it is littered with rhythmic mistakes, that’s a no go. If you miss one tiny little crescendo, and everything else was excellent, then submit the missing crescendo recording.

It’s important to remember that not all musical mistakes are weighted evenly (same goes for life mistakes). It is more important to remember that no one is perfect. Have I said that enough yet? I think of it this way: for auditions you want to be inside the box. Have everything as correct and accurate as possible, but be the shiniest star inside that box.

When recording it’s important to know when to stop. Know yourself and your playing well enough to realize if you’ve gotten a good take or not. Then, let it go.

There are 0.00 perfect recordings. I’m not saying don’t do your best, I’m saying that we have this idea that perfection is attainable if we just keep doing it over and over.

Guess what? It’s not.

A recording is a snapshot of where you are, what you’ve done, and what you MAY be capable of. 

Do your best and then hit submit.

Know When to Stop in a Performance: 

“The SHOW MUST GO ON!” Gets drilled, I mean DRILLED into performers. While this concept is true 99% of the time, there are a few instances where you just can’t keep going. Some performances are hurt worse by the continuation than by the stopping. Remember Adele’s 2017 Grammy Performance? 

Talking about Adele’s Performance

She had a little pitch trouble at the beginning, wasn’t with the orchestra, and she on live TV said, you know what? No. This will not stand. With millions of people watching, she said she made a mistake and wanted to start over. UNHEARD of y’all. Just unheard of.

I loved it. As a teacher I absolutely loved it, because it was the opposite of what gets drilled into us.

Let me tell you my Adele moment. (Fewer people were watching though…)

In 2015 or ’16, I was performing a solo with an orchestra and my viola went completely out of tune. I mean, like, so bad it couldn’t be fixed quickly and the show could not go on. I handed my viola to the principal violist, grabbed her viola and tried to keep going, but it was train wreck territory. The orchestra was confused and the other soloist was also concerned. So, we stopped. We explained to the audience what happened. I tuned and we kept going.

You know what? It went WAY better the second time. The viola was in tune, and I was calmer than ever because the nightmare had already happened.

We laughed, tuned, and then moved on.

So what does this have to do with burn out? 

Y’all, the world collectively is experiencing a great deal of anxiety, uncertainty, and honestly… chaos. 

So many people are tired. Many are wondering how many more days or months it will be like this. I’ve been in that boat too, but I started to realize over the summer that this is life now. We either adapt or we live in a constant state of longing for what was.

Life is uncertain even in non COVID times. This time is uncertain and if we keep pushing and pushing, we will get burned out.

So, my focus this week is looking inward and asking those questions about how I’m doing and asking when to stop and when to keep going.

I’ll be spending many moments with the 5-5-5-5-5 principle, taking time for myself, and really thinking about and making good choices. I keep hearing this Kenny Rogers on repeat in my head. We just have to know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em and when to walk away.

“The Gambler”

“You’ve got to know when to hold ’em

Know when to fold ’em

Know when to walk away

And know when to run

You never count your money

When you’re sittin’ at the table

There’ll be time enough for countin’

When the dealin’s done”