Command: The Difference Between Good and Great

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curtainHave you ever been to a show where the music was very good and the playing was flawless but…you just didn’t “feel it?” Something was missing but you just couldn’t put your finger on it. Chances are what was missing was command. The artist didn’t have command of the room.

A few years ago I went to see an artist named Jim Bianco at a local club called “The Hotel Cafe.” He sat down at the piano to play a softer song called “Painkiller.” I started to chat with the girl I was with when he began playing. I remember stopping mid-sentence as this wave of energy seemed to hit the room. Everyone shut up. Everyone was hanging on every note and every word from beginning to end. He owned the room. I’ll never forget that performance. That is command.

So what is command made of and how do you develop it?

Command is unconscious. We communicate and perceive it on a primal sub-conscious level. There are three key components that work together to make it happen: mechanical ability, state of mind, and unconscious belief.

In order to have command, you need to have the fundamental mechanics down. In most forms of popular music, developing a tight sense of timing and rhythm is critical and should be taken very seriously. You need command of your instrument or voice before you can demonstrate command at a show. Record yourself and analyze your performance. Practice with a metronome. You don’t have to be a virtuoso to have command, but you do have to be rock solid at what you do.

However, just being able to play or sing isn’t enough. If you’re staring at your instrument and “thinking” about what you’re playing, then you’re not going to have command. You need to be able to project your energy outward and be connected to the room. You can practice for 12 hours a day 7 days a week, but if you’re in your head the whole time then you are essentially “practicing” the wrong state of mind and you could be doing more harm than good when it comes to performance. You need to balance it out. Work on just the mechanics for part of the time, but also work on state of mind. Part of your practice routine should include feeling the music and projecting the vibe of the song – not just thinking about the mechanics of what you’re playing. You have to be able to shut off the thinking mind and just feel the music.

If you get the first two right you will be good, but you won’t be great, unless you get the third component right. The final piece to the puzzle is your unconscious belief. What do you believe about yourself? What do you believe about the performance you’re about to give? You are communicating these things from the moment you walk in the room, without having to say a word. Neither you nor the audience may understand the unconscious conversation that you’re having with them, but rest assured there is one going on. An artist who believes she owns every square inch of the room will convey this to the audience before she sings a note and the audience will pick up on it, whether they realize it or not.

So how do you develop your unconscious belief?

You have to see and feel the outcome in your mind. You need to practice this with the same focus you apply to your instrument. If you achieve the outcome in your mind enough times, with enough certainty, the results will follow. It may take quite a lot of practice for you to perfect this process of visualization but don’t be discouraged. It’s much like learning an instrument or building muscle. Consistent and correct practice will yield results.

I recommend writing in a journal at least once a day. Describe a mental image of what one of your future shows will be like. Use vivid detail. Make it feel real. Where is it? What time is it? How do you get to the show? What are you thinking before you go on? What are you feeling? What happens when the show ends? Get as specific as you can. Add more detail every day.

Then, when you play a show, tell yourself “I own every square inch of this room.” Imagine your energy projecting from you to the far walls and everywhere in between. If you do this enough times it will become unconscious, and that is when you will start to become a great performer.

Article by Scott James of The Independent Rockstar Blog.

3 thoughts on “Command: The Difference Between Good and Great

  1. I enjoyed the article. I would, however, like to add one more thing: You need to make the audience feel like they are the reason you are there. This cannot be faked for very long. If you don’t think that’s true, people will figure it out soon enough.
    Serve your whole self to them. The world is full of good selfish “artists”.

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