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It Starts and Ends Inside

Article by Jayson Brinkworth // July 02 2010
It Starts and Ends Inside

Here is a question for all of you musicians: Have you ever finished a show that, in your mind, went so bad you wish you could just do the whole thing over again? Of course you have; we have all had that feeling of frustration, disappointment and sometimes embarrassment of how a gig went. There are many factors that could have contributed to this—bad monitor mixes, gear problems—but hopefully our lack of being prepared and professional wasn’t the cause.

I had a conversation with a friend of mine years ago who was on the verge of becoming a professional hockey player. He wholeheartedly believed that he was only as good as the last game or even shift that he had played. If he had a bad game or shift, he better have another good one very soon to redeem himself. He knew full well what he was capable of and if he didn’t play up to that—or above—he had let himself and, more importantly, his team down.

I have been in this head space for years now with my music career. I am only as good as the last gig/song/notes I played. I know this thought sounds a bit outside (if you have read my articles before, you know I am a little off) but the whole idea is to find a way to push ourselves to be on and the best we can be all of the time. We are definitely our own worst critics and can be very hard, even harsh, on ourselves about our performance, but we have to be honest about our ability and know what we can and can’t do.

The outside factors that I listed above, such as bad monitor mixes, gear problems, stage problems, etc, can happen at any time and are out of our control to an extent. These things can definitely affect our performance and can be extremely frustrating, but the show must go on, right? When we are faced with outside factors, we need to buckle down and get through, but also, we need to let them go after, as we didn’t have direct control on them. Speaking of letting go, this is a very hard thing for people to do as our pride and ego have been affected. If we learn to let go, just like we do with the notes we play on a live show, we might find some healing and comfort in not beating ourselves up too badly.

When it comes to the inside factors, this is where the “only as good as” idea comes from. When I was growing up, I—as many other normal kids—did some dumb things and got into trouble with my parents. Sometimes instead of getting mad at me, they would let me know that they were disappointed in my behavior or choices. Man, this would weigh heavier on my head and heart than if they had yelled and screamed at me.

Our inside factors are things like being prepared for a gig, practicing properly, being professional, knowing and respecting the music and the other players. If we have a bad gig and it was an inside factor that was the cause, it is hard to let go and the disappointment factor kicks in hard (just like in the scenario with me and my parents). We have total control over these things all of the time and need to really understand this because if we aren’t taking care of business, you can be sure there is another player who is and will get the call next time—instead of you.

If you look at players like Kenny Aronoff, Billy Ward, Steve Ferrone, Steve Gadd and many others, they always seem to be on and totally own the inside factors. If you look at any player that works at a high level, gets hired all of the time, and is respected by his/her peers, it is all to do with what’s going on inside.  

Of course these people all have bad days and I am sure even bad shows in their mind, but they are human and their definition of a bad show would be like an amazing show for the rest of us. So how do they continue to push themselves to get better all of the time? Well, it is definitely a work ethic and a mindset, and they believe that they are only as good as the last notes they played.

Whenever I do a show or a session or when I practice, for that matter, I have a quick four question checklist I review in my head afterwards: Did I serve the music properly? Did I play the songs? Did I give my best to make the other musicians sound their best? Did I keep my emotions in check?

If I answer “no” to any one of these questions, my inside factors weren’t working; I was only as good as this gig and better have another one very soon to redeem myself. Now if I can answer “yes” to all of these—which has only really honestly happened a few times—do I sit back and think I am the champion? No, I don’t. This would be not keeping my emotions in check, plus the next gig/notes could just as easily be a flop.

Music is such a funny thing. When we are young we put so much emphasis on the physical side of practice and getting faster, more complicated licks and ideas. As we get older we start weeding out the extra notes and working so hard to just play the right ones all of the time. Oddly enough, it isn’t a physical element that leads us to this place; it is a total mental element, a maturity that has become a huge part of our playing.    

Take a moment to review the last time you played. Were your inside factors working? If not, were you hard on yourself? Was the whole band’s inside factors working? When the whole band aces the inside work the music really gets to a new level.

Two of the most powerful elements of being a great musician are honesty and awareness. If we are honest with ourselves about our performance and ability, we have the power to improve and make the necessary changes. If we are aware, we can identify any areas that need work and get right on it.

I believe that anyone who wants to be great at something really needs to spend the higher percentage of their mental energy on the looking to the inside and keeping themselves in check. We don’t want to let ourselves down with a bad performance that could have been made better, but, more importantly we don’t want to let the music and the other musicians down.

Take care of the music and it will take care of you.



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About the Author
Jayson  Brinkworth

Jayson Brinkworth is an accomplished drummer, percussionist, vocalist, educator and writer based out of Canada. He is co-owner of the Saskatchewan music school Music In The House, as well as the founder of both the Regina Drum Festival and The Stickman Drum Experience.

Jayson proudly endorses Yamaha drums, Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks, Evans heads, Impact cases, Kickport, Flix, Future Sonics and Mountain Rhythm. Visit Jayson online at www.jaysonbrinkworth.com.

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