• Ryan Carraher

Zen, Tangled Headphones and Performing

We all know the feeling. The pervasive, 21st century crisis known as "tangled headphones".


You've had a long day and all you want to do is unwind and check out that new album you bought the other weekend. You reach into your pocket and pull out your headphones. But they are hideously mangled. You frantically attempt to decipher the endless convolution of rubber. You're in no mood to deal with this and you attempt to speed your way through untangling the knot, mindlessly yanking this way and that. You soon find that it may as well be quicksand: the faster you move, the more convoluted the knot gets and the more frustrated and (music deprived) you get!

But if his happens to you on a day where you are in good spirits it is a different story. Sure it's still a pain in the ass but you allow yourself to take your time to analyze the contours and loops of the complex web and make informed decisions and in no time at all viola! You have your headphones free and ready to go!

And the Point Is?

So what does this have to do with anything? Well I think a productive lesson can be learned by a tangled pair of headphones.

The Lesson

If you let the stress of a given situation overwhelm you, you may be tempted to work as fast as possible to alleviate the discomfort and mental obfuscation caused by said stress. You will work more frantically and make less than informed decisions but it will do very little to solve the metaphorical knot. Where possible, it is always preferable to distance yourself from the stress and simply observe and patiently analyze. Once you see the situation for what it is you can begin making informed decisions and before you know it the knot is gone!

How can this help us musicians?

A performer's job is not only to perform music at the highest quality possible. A musician is essentially a very stressed and overworked diplomat. Acting as a middle man between the expectation of absolute perfection and what happens in reality.

As performers, we want everything to go smoothly and give a performance that is representative of the hours we logged in the practice shed. However, sometimes things don't work out as expected. Sometimes when you take the headphones out of your pocket you find them tangled. Sometimes the performance doesn't go as planned.

Rather than feverishly clawing at the knotted headphones as if your life depended on it, step back. Take a breath and make informed decisions. In other words, when something unexpected happens in the practicing room or on stage put all of that frantic babble that is swirling around in your head ("you didn't play that passage properly!" "You are rushing!" Etc.) on hold and simply observe. Allow yourself to be an impartial observer. Don't assign values of "good" or "bad"; simply listen. Through listening you can make informed decisions about where to go next and put things in perspective. Will you let the stress sabotage the rest of the performance or will you take a step back, breath and come up with a plan to untangle the knot? The latter seems like the best path to me!

Thanks for reading!

Ryan Carraher


#mentalhealth #practice #practicetip #frustration

 © 2020 by Ryan Carraher

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Composer :: Guitarist :: Improviser