Fearless Performance by Jeff Nelsen

What to do

It's been a while. I haven't written for a couple of years actually. I have a pretty good excuse, I promise!  Last time I wrote to you, our family was about to grow in size by one.  Ta daaaaa!  Introducing Blair Alexander Nelsen, with his big brother Rhys.
Our 2 boys
We're having a blast together.  What an adventure. 
Another exciting update as well.  Stars aligned with timing and life, and I am excited to tell you I've rejoined Canadian Brass!  I had a crazy busy first month of concerts and recordings, and we're getting ready for some concert tours around America and Europe. Definitely living the dream!

Ok, let's dive into some thoughts I want to share. My hope in writing, as always, is that something you read here might guide you to see things a little differently, a little more clearly, and maybe even end up inspiring you into acting in new ways.
What to do
In order to improve, musicians of all levels must be able to learn.
"Wow, Jeff. Thanks! Good thing you wrote this to me. I hadn't thought of that before?"
Ah yes, I too can overstate the obvious. However, this, ability to learn concept has been proving to be less obvious than I had earlier believed. Sure, you probably wouldn't argue the fact that learning is important. We all have learned a lot, but we also have a lot left to learn.
We can learn better.
Consider something you've done that your friend told you they didn't like. Maybe they asked you not to do it, or maybe you simply decided you wouldn't do it again. Have you been able to learn optimally, and never again engage in your friend's less-favorite behavior?
How about obvious learning that pays off in massive benefits for you? Do your eating or drinking habits reflect your knowledge of what's best for you? I know we all have sleep habits, but how good are they?
We all have things in our life about which we could learn more by collecting more knowledge. That's different learning than what I'm writing about here.
Imagine if we didn't collect any more knowledge, but we did live in congruence with what we already knew was best. We know much more than we act on. Who doesn't know not to smoke, not walk into traffic, and not have Cheetos for all three meals...at least not every day?
While typing the previous paragraph, I found it interesting that my list consisted of what we should not do. This is such a universal part of the musician's lexicon.
Take a look at a typical Musician's To-Don'ts list. Wild, eh?!
That's a list of what our success goals are. Sure, we're saying DON'T do these things, but even so, that still means that when we succeed, we've only succeeded at NOT doing those things; we still haven't DONE anything. We've only not done things.
What am I celebrating when I've succeeded at not being boring, or having not missed notes? (I won't even go into the not checking the box for not unbreaking a leg.)
Successful Don't-ing
For example, if I'm trying to lose weight and get healthy, I can put post-its on my fridge that say:
Don't eat pizza.
Don't drink ice cream.
Candy is not FOOD Jeff!
Don't open that 3rd bag of Cheetos!
Even if I gloriously succeed at nailing that list, all I've done is not done things. I haven't done anything!
A better approach is putting post-its that say:
Eat Spinach.
Drink Water!
Good food is Good fuel Jeff!
Close that 3rd bag of Cheetos before it's empty!
As musicians, we're frequently told the same Don'ts.
"Don't miss."
"Don't Rush!"
"You're gonna want to not play too loudly there."
I can think back many years, to a time when I was much less learning-obsessed. Often when someone would point out that I rushed, they would be the fourth person to do so. I'd say, "yeah, I know. I get excited! Hee hee." On my music, I'd even have written, "Don't RUSH!" above and below the section where I rushed! The person would give me a patient smile. I would think I got away with rushing again, or worse, I wouldn't ever think about my missed learning moment again.
My consistent experience
Along my learning path, I think I would have succeeded at making positive changes to my results much sooner if I more clearly knew what TO do.
Have you ever gone through a time when you ended up doing exactly what you just told yourself not to do? For a while there, I would miss EVERY note I told myself not to miss.
"Ok Jeff, you got this. Ahhh nice. Sounding good and now just don't mi---------ugh!!!"
Instead of thinking, "Don't miss." I think "Make this note beautiful." I'm approaching the same note with different definitions of success, and with much better results too.
I remember near the end of a Canadian Brass concert, I realized I hadn't missed a note yet.   I thought, "Hey you're doing great! You haven't missed a note y----CLANNNNNGGGG!"
Your solution is simple.
Everything we should not be doing can also be worded in the form of what TO do.
Do that.
This is simple. It might not be easy at first, but that's ok. Keep going. It really is easy for me now. Trust me. It's so worth it!
Your To Do
I'll give you 2 things to do this week.
  1. Catch yourself well - The next time you hear yourself think or say "don't", give yourself a calm "ah-ha" moment. Not a punishing, "ah HAA!! BUSTED!!!" Just a kind slow-down from your usual chattered-thinking and confident don't-ing.
  2. Replace with To Do - Consider what your "don't" was, and figure out what it's opposite could be. It could take a bit of creativity at first. Do remember you're new to this. (I just did it!!!! I was going to type, "Don't decide this is difficult." Heyyy? See what I did there?!)
Bonus inspiration
Just to keep you believing you can do this, check out one of my favorite writer's ideas on "a little more..."
by Seth Godin
It's possible that you're the way you are, that you do what you do, that you react as you react, and that it can never be changed.
Believing this is incredibly sad, though. Each of us is capable of just a little more. A little more patience, a little more insight, a little more generosity.
And if you can do a little more, then, of course, you can repeat those changes until you've done a lot more.

Registration EXTENDED to JUNE 1

For more information and experience being solution-based, and guiding yourself well, please check out my Fearless Performance for Musicians seminar. It's 5 days of inspiration and instruction on figuring out how you fear and how to choose better in both preparation and performance.
June 13-17 at Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
It's coming up soon!!  I hope to see you there.

Jeff Nelsen
Jeff Nelsen


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