Q: I have been making steady progress and I thought I have been playing pretty well recently.... until last night. Everything fell apart as I performed in front of a small crowd. How can all progress disappear in an instance? I feel really bad.
A: First of all congratulations on your performance!
It's great that you have made a decision to start performing although it didn't go as well as you expected. I've certainly have been there many times and I totally feel you!
All I can say is... it'll get better as you practice performing over time. Your progress certainly did not disappear. It just happened to not surface in the environment that you put yourself during performance last night.
I feel that our memories of movements are coupled with external and internal environment. What we can do in one environment does not work in another unless we've experienced (practiced) it.So if you had practiced in one type of environment, say in a comfortable practice room, you will have easier time playing in the same type of environment that you perceive, but will have harder time carrying out the memory in a different environment than you've practiced.
We are possibly more vulnerable to environmental change while retraining since new movements are new memories. Newly acquired movements are not coupled with different environments until we experience them.We can learn how to couple movements to real life experiences or learn how to reenact the performance environment with visualisation and other skills.
So how to better manage our performances while retraining?
I guess if certain performance is important to you, preparing well by practicing performing in front of people beforehand helps. We can certainly 'perform' in front of a camera, a recorder, close family members, pets, stuffed animals and people who might really appreciate what we do. I have 'practiced performances' in environments where I didn't feel too much pressure like hotel lobbies, retirement homes and elementary schools as I pretended to play as though I was playing in front of a more critical audience. Any bit of experience help.
We shouldn't be too afraid of not playing well either... They don't happen as often as we fear and even when it does, there is not much we are actually loosing unless we attach the outcome of the performances to measurement of our self worth.