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Mirror, mirror: How watching yourself perform can elevate your music

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Watching yourself in a mirror while you perform or practice can help you elevate your music and performance, so find opportunities to gaze while you play and learn from what you see.

I used to play a residency show with the Michael Gallant Trio at a club called Tomi Jazz in midtown Manhattan. It was a great opportunity to experiment with new compositions, connect with the audience, go in fresh improvisational directions, and tighten the overall groove and communication of my group.

Tomi is an intimate space with a downtown Tokyo speakeasy vibe, so stage space is limited. I played the club’s upright piano, which sits flush facing a wall, with my Nord Electro tucked underneath the piano’s key bed. This meant I couldn’t see much of the audience unless I looked back over a shoulder or at the hazy reflections in the piano’s glossy finish.

Then, one day, something was different: the club had installed an angled mirror just above the piano on the wall. All I had to do was look up and I could see the entire audience reflected. I could also see myself.

While this may seem like a minor shift in a gig that is otherwise fairly standard month to month, it transformed my experience as a performer and musician. Here are some takeaways, as well as general tips on how to use your reflection to up your game, regardless of whether you’re gigging, rehearsing with your band, or practicing on your own.

Stay focused

Especially when you’re giving a long performance, it can be easy for your focus to drift every now and then. If you’re jetlagged or weren’t able to squeeze in a proper meal before your gig, focusing can be all the more of a challenge.

On this gig, the few times I found my thoughts drifting a little too far away from the music, I looked up at myself playing in the mirror and was immediately re-grounded in the activity at hand: improvising with my band and trying to give the audience a unique and memorable experience.

The same idea applies to solo practice or group rehearsals. Working in front of a mirror can be an easy antidote to daydreaming, a visual reminder of why you are where you are and what you are trying to accomplish.

Get out of your own head

Musicians are no strangers to self-criticism, and nothing can deflate your impression of a gig more than mentally tearing apart your own performance — especially while you’re still performing. Even though I’ve been playing professionally for decades, I occasionally still find myself slipping into a negative feedback loop of self-criticism that gets in the way of me playing the music I want to play.

While I’ve developed a number of ways of snapping out of this unproductive mindset at the gig, with the new mirror in place, I just looked up at myself and the audience and that did the trick. There was something about seeing a real, visual representation of myself that allowed me to focus on performing as opposed to any negative, imagined representations of my playing that may have been running through my head.

If you’re very self-critical of your performances and find that it gets in the way, you may want to practice or rehearse in front of a mirror for similar reasons. The more time you spend focusing purely on what you’re doing, in the moment, the less brain space you have to devote to exaggerated and unhelpful self-criticism.

Elevate your technique

While obsessively nitpicking your performance or practice session can be unhelpful and unproductive, thoughtfully critiquing yourself while using a mirror can be a huge help. When I practice singing, for example, I do it in front of a full-length mirror as much as possible. It’s so much easier to tell when I’m clenching my throat or straining my jaw, or not relaxing my tongue or properly regulating my breathing when it’s all right there in front of me.

The same applies to any instrument. Watching yourself play in a mirror can help you both identify problematic practices and highlight what you’re doing especially well.

Elevate your performance

A lot of rehearsal studios I’ve worked in have mirrors on the walls, and with good reason. Especially when you’re working with a band, it can be extremely helpful to see what the audience will be seeing.

Is your guitarist flipping his long hair so much during each song that it distracts from your lead vocalist? Did your drummer just do an amazing-looking flourish that you want her to reproduce at various times throughout the set? Does the overall band set-up look better when your electric violinist is on the left as opposed to the right? By watching yourself rehearse in real time, you can learn countless things, big and small, that will help you enhance your performance the next time you step on stage.

Again, this applies even if you’re practicing by yourself at home. When you watch yourself, maybe you’ll notice that you’re unintentionally hunched over and scared-looking when you play, so perhaps that’s something you can mindfully adjust as you continue to work. Similarly, maybe you’ll realize that you instinctively flash a winning smile when you hit certain chords in your new song — which happens to look really cool — so when you next get on stage, you’ll make sure to position yourself to share that smile with the audience.

Watching yourself in a mirror while you perform or practice can help you elevate your music and performance in many ways, so find opportunities to gaze while you play and learn from what you see.

rock rewindMichael Gallant is a musician, writer, and entrepreneur living in New York City. His debut album for the Steinway & Sons label, Rock Rewind, features solo piano reinventions of Pearl Jam, U2, Halestorm, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, and more. Read his recent article for the National Endowment for the Arts and follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant and Facebook.com/GallantMusic.

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6 thoughts on “Mirror, mirror: How watching yourself perform can elevate your music

  1. It provides tips on how to analyze your performances and identify areas for improvement. As someone who has struggled with stage fright and self-criticism, I found this blog to be both helpful and inspiring.

  2. I think for guitarists etc you can’t always see your hands and where they are on the fretboard so I a
    Recommend looking in a mirror just to your hands and their positioning

  3. I really like this article. I especially like how it’s written in such a positive, encouraging tone. All the little things that one might be doing unconsciously while performing are all framed in kind, non-confrontational terms. It’s also nice that you wrote this from your own self-analysis. That definitely makes it easier for others to feel comfortable doing the same. Thank you.

  4. I just started to use my camera and record myself while rehearsing. I think this maybe even better than a mirror, since I wasn’t distracted with the piece I was performing, and I could look at the recording with my complete attention. Plus you get some content to share on your YouTube channel. Thanks for sharing !

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