practice for performance

Stress happens when the mind resists what is.” – Dan Millman

This quote jumped out and caught my attention as I was flipping through some books on sports psychology at the Barnes & Noble Cafe in Union Square. It was the middle of a busy audition season and I was fighting against my long history of performance anxiety and self-doubt.

I stared at this sentence and repeated the words over and over in my mind. “Of course! It’s so obvious,” I thought. Except it was anything but obvious in the spur of the moment. Instinctively, the fight or flight response had me “push away” nerves and “act tough” when placed in a stressful situation. My mind would try to resist the nerves, which in turn only created more stress, setting off a vicious, endless cycle. As the saying goes, resistance makes stronger. “Trying” to achieve something only creates a bigger obstacle by making the task at hand more challenging than it already is.

The concept about the relationship between the mind and stress can help us understand the first of the four principles of natural laws, as explained by world champion gymnast, martial artist, and author Dan Millman in his book Body Mind Mastery. Here’s a short summary of these principles and some of their roles in musical growth.

4 principles of Natural Laws:

  • Non-resistance
  • Accommodation
  • Balance
  • Natural Order



Instead of struggling against the “natural forces” and making life more challenging, practice riding the wave. Turn problems and obstacles into opportunities to grow.

Application for musicians
Instead of trying really hard to make the nerves go away for a performance or audition, be willing to welcome these “unwelcome” feelings and sensations to the stage. This sounds completely counter-intuitive, but fighting off nerves usually only makes them worse and more distracting. Accepting and acknowledging them for whatever they are will allow you to focus more on musical expression and possibly even enhance your performance.

Give yourself permission to be nervous!



The development of a skill is in direct proportion with the amount of demand for it. Accommodation is the natural progress that happens (via muscle memory, thought patterns, & other means) when we practice/train on the edge of our comfort zone and abilities.

Application for musicians
Choose something to work on that’s neither too easy nor too difficult. Don’t over-practice. Increase difficulty or load gradually when appropriate to minimize risk of burnout & injury. This method, combined with realistic goals, will allow for your musicianship and technique to develop with high consistency. A good teacher or coach will help guide you through this, as there is no “one size fits all” approach. Enjoy the process!



Be mindful of your physical, mental, and emotional energy levels. A depletion in one or more can negatively affect the others in practice and performance. Learn to recognize your limitations and boundaries, and adjust your pacing accordingly.

Application for musicians
Performing a certain piece while feeling calm vs frustrated (considering the same technical capabilities and physical energy levels) will yield different outcomes.

For intonation: If we don’t mentally “hear” the pitch of an upcoming note, then there is a pretty high chance we’ll miss it, even while equipped with a reliable technical facility. In both these examples, the physical energy level is healthy, but the changes in mental or emotional capacity affect the equilibrium. This changes the performance experience and/or quality or execution.


Natural Order

Progression happens naturally over a certain amount of time, and usually in a certain order. It’s important to pace ourselves accordingly and not attempt too much too quickly, as that can create setbacks. Don’t be too rigid about deadlines when setting goals because the pace is determined by this principle and usually can’t be accurately predicted (although it is possible to estimate the timing).

Application for musicians
It’s extremely difficult (maybe even impossible) to play/sing in tune if one can’t first hear the pitches mentally or have an understanding of intervals and harmonic functions. Ear training helps develop better intonation.

For goal-setting: It’s not realistic to try and learn the entire Tchaikovsky violin concerto in a single week. Technique is usually taught in a certain order and pieces are learned through a series of steps. Just like building a house, it’s important to have a strong foundation.


You can read about these natural laws and other powerful concepts in more detail in Dan Millman’s book Body Mind Mastery. Re-reading sections from this book has helped me fill in gaps in practice sessions, plan better, and develop a better relationship with the stage. This book is here for me whenever I get stuck and need to reset, center myself, and find more inner peace in life.


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