What Performing “15 Step” by Radiohead Taught Me About Comfort

Over on Instagram, I’ve started doing a series called #TheSongsThatMadeMe where I perform and talk about some of the songs that influenced my musical (and personal) journey over the years. Today’s was “15 Step” by Radiohead

To fully comprehend the impact this song had on me, let’s do some math, shall we?

“15 step” is exactly 3 minutes, 57 seconds long. It’s in the time signature of 5/4 and has a key change that doesn’t happen until THE LAST FREAKIN 30 SECONDS of the song!

Out of curiosity, I recorded myself playing Colin Greenwood’s BLAZING bass line again yesterday and when I did, I realized out of the entire 3:57 length of the song, the bass is playing for only 1:36 of it.

See where I’m going with this yet?

That means, when I was played this tune live with my band Headlight back in the day, over half of the song was spent on stage WAITING TO PLAY specific notes, at the exact moments, in a song with a complex time signature. Here’s what it taught me:

Music As A Form Of Mindfulness Meditation

That’s a ton of time allowing your nerves the chance to build up, and sensory overload while on stage is a very real thing. When in high-stress situations, your body stops processing some information so it can focus all of it’s attention on just what’s vital and you get tunnel vision. Often times for us musicians, the first thing that turns off are our ears. If I’m nervous, I’ll literally stop hearing sounds, whether it’s the click track, the lead vocals, or the guitar.

Now that I’ve gotten used to playing on stage in front of large crowds, it takes quite a bit more for me to get nervous, but if I do, I now know what to do.

“15 Step” taught me to relax, to be in the moment, to LISTEN to my other band members, and, as strange as it may sound, it taught me how to breathe on stage.

Seriously, if you find yourself nervous on stage, chances are you’re holding your breath. Take a few intentional deep ones. (Side Note: Before some of my arena shows with Owl City, I got in the habit of using the app “Headspace” to do a few breathing and mindfulness exercises. Anticipation is usually where we need it the most, no?)

Comfort Follows Exposure

When you first learn a song like this, get ready to spend most of your time counting! But what I realized after charting it, then playing it hundreds of times alone, then rehearsing it countless times with my band, then performing it live in front of audiences… real enlightenment and enjoyment happen when the math and numbers disappear. When you’re IN the song. That’s when you transcend, that’s when it becomes music.

This song taught me that, no matter how complex, there is no concept, skill, or song I can’t learn and become comfortable with.

A couple of years ago, on my podcast, a guest talked about the importance of often needing wins in our past to give us confidence for our future. It’s looking back at my journey of taking a song from obscurity to understanding that empowers me every time I approach something new.

At the end of the day,

it’s all about time.

P.S. For the curious, I later came across Radiohead’s (Scotch Mist) performance of “15 Step” on YouTube. A weather eye may notice Philip James Selway counting under his breath before coming back in on drums from a down section.

For The Curious…

Rob Morgan is an internationally touring bassist and music director who keeps a weather eye out for the curious. He can be found online at www.therobmorgan.com

Internationally touring bassist who keeps a weather eye out for the curious. www.therobmorgan.com

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