Tips for music competition success

In last week’s Queensland Eisteddfod my adjudication comments often echoed an email to my students who also faced competitions.

How to prepare for a competition (or concert)

In the warmup room

• SLOW scales, long notes
• Play any tricky bars at HALF speed
• Hand on forehead and slow deep breaths calms excess adrenaline.
• Buzz lips to prevent tension squeaks (clarinet and saxophone).
• Stand against a wall for upright posture.Main illus man head LR
• BREATHE!

In the performance

Walk on with upright posture that says ‘I am the greatest!’
If people clap, bow. Prime friends to clap so you can bow.
If an MC doesn’t do so, introduce your piece in a big clear voice; look at the audience not your music.
Tune to piano/other players. Nod ‘I’m ready.’
Take a moment to poise.
Eye contact – give a clear upbeat in the tempo you really mean.
Play out with a big, round, beautiful tone.

If things go wrong

Expect your pianist to follow you. Rescue with a clear downbeat, eye contact or gesture; also to indicate if you need time for well-chosen breaths.
A glitch, wobbly bow or fluffed note is not doom.
I tell my clarinet students ‘If you squeak, make it a good one!’
KEEP GOING – DON’T STOP.
Think ‘Even though I stuff up I love and respect and appreciate myself!’

Stand out from the crowdSax crop

When many deserve places the adjudicator prays for someone to shine.

Exaggerate dynamics so the adjudicator thinks ‘ah, musical!’ Feel free to add more.

Communicate with listeners—they love that!
Play musically with beautiful tone, and above all…
ENJOY your music! Have fun!

After the last cadence

Bow and acknowledge the pianist.
Smile–whatever happened in performance is your secret.
‘I’m proud of you for learning, practising and polishing, and presenting your pieces. If you gain a place, that’s the icing on a tasty cake.’ 

Book launchBML Cover med

My latest book Burn My Letters launched at Byron Bay Writers Festival on Friday. The Brisbane launch on Saturday 13 August at Queensland Multicultural Centre is ’ticketed’ for space and catering. It’s nearly full house so do reply email if you’d like to come.

My interview on Radio 4EB FM is online for a week. Scroll through to Breakfast with BEMAC; the interview is 21 minutes in.

Books are available with Paypal and at IngramSpark and Mary Ryans bookshops.

Artwork credit: John Harrison

In last week’s Queensland Eisteddfod my adjudication comments often echoed an email to my students who also faced competitions.

Ms. Crotchet calls time on tutti

Group vs. individual music lessons?

Kudos to colleagues who teach mixed groups of instruments, standards and ages as their norm. I know some who battle groups of 30 Bb/Eb clarinet and sax beginners. They’re braver than me!

So I’m blessed…

That last week, in a group of three, some Year 4 clarinet beginners managed a few opening notes of Pink Panther in their third lesson. I was as surprised as they were. With help from parents who play a little clarinet, they managed the first phrase next lesson. Are they practising? Heaps!

But I am OVER mismatched groups!

I sent an email to parents last year:Ruth + Student_6921

“Dear parents,

To best realise your child’s potential and optimise your investment, consider:

GROUP LESSONS – Pro and Con:

  • Group suits family budgets.
  • They nibble a teensy taste of music.
  • It’s sociable – if players are well matched and compatible.
  • BUT age, instruments and standards often vary.
  • Little scope for timetable changes, or adjustment.
  • 2 students in 30’ group = 15’ each.
  • 3 students in 30’ group = 10’ each. Pieces chosen for the group pace.
  • Time goes on aspects where Matt struggles but Jake plays easily.
  • Fingers twiddle while Mr. Quaver fixes a student’s bent key.
  • If a student misses a lesson that others attend, there’s no scope for make-up.
  • Exams aren’t feasible for groups with little time to cover all aspects. Ms. Crotchet talks staccato sfz, marcato, V between brows.
  • Presto to hear what students practised and give new pieces.
  • If no time to play all they prepared, why practice next week? They lose interest.

Practice dwindles > performance nervespractice

They need Ruth’s books (check the half-price deals and class sets).

Capable students stop lessons if frustrated, wasting talent and parents’ investment.

PRIVATE LESSONS

  • Negotiate timetable for premium times in break/before class.
  • Make-up lessons if 24 hours’ notice of illness or tests.
  • With teacher’s undivided attention, students move at their own, faster pace.
  • Ms. Dolce chooses pieces and styles they like, is enthusiastic, relaxed and fun.
  • Exams and competitions are well prepared, so high results are likely.
  • Students set and meet goals, enjoy challenges, realise potential and SHINE IN PERFORMANCE!”

CMP-with-shadow

Andante con momentum

It was a risk. But this year, Mrs Dolce’s schedule is full, her days long, but she emerges grazioso!

Water therapy for healthy performance

‘Tis the season of exams and recitals. We’re prepared, right?

(‘Fail to prepare > Prepare to Fail.’) As stress levels lift, we need clarity to function to our ability. Or we fluster in performance and lose the plot – and control of passages or scales. “I played that perfectly at home!” we groan.

WATER: a miracle boost for performers

Under the spotlight, we challenge our systems in many ways. Multiple signals buzz from brain to body. Our bodies are made up of about 70% water. This is an excellent conductor of electrical energy, necessary to efficiently pass messages between the central nervous system, brain and sensory organs.Ruth Sian

How many glasses of water did you drink today?____

In a “normal” day we need about eight glasses of water; even more in pressured times. 

Stress dehydrates. Responses become sluggish when we’re dehydrated. During challenging times, maintain water intake to improve concentration, mental and physical co-ordination. It alleviates mental fatigue, increases energy levels, and keeps our brain firing.

The downside

I know what you’re thinking! More frequent visits to the bathroom – another pesky performance symptom. Many performers notice that nerves increase their frequency of urination. Why? The smooth muscle of the genito-urinary system contracts when our sympathetic system is activated. Increased adrenaline rush and resulting cardiac racing can cause diuresis. Such issues are eased if we learn to channel that adrenaline away from such symptoms into energy. 

Make water a habit

Drink plenty of water in pressured weeks, days, the morning of a performance. Ease back in the hours and minutes before, perhaps rinsing your mouth before walking onto the platform. On-stage, I like to have a water bottle at hand for a discreet sip between pieces. This helps another problem that besets performers; dry mouth.

Singers and speakers

Water is essential for voice production, to lubricate the vocal folds. Room temperature or warm is best; cold constricts and heat relaxes. 

“Water is the only drink for a wise man.” (Or woman) – Henry David Thoreau

  Let’s drink to that!

Hear Ruth play

Mendelssohn Konzertstücke Op. 114 with Sian Davis and Brisbane Symphony Orchestra
                      Sat 28 November – Sunshine Coast Tix  
                      Sun 29 November – Corinda, Brisbane Tix Ph. 07 3847 1717

Workshops and Coaching

Ruth offers one-on-one sessions in SE Qld or via Skype. Email to check availability.

Countdown to Performance

Tips to shine in performance

You, or your students, face a big performance. Time runs short: 5—4—3—2—1 weeks. The next few blogs give practical, holistic, do-able tips to help you focus and poise in the weeks, days, even minutes before you walk onto the platform.

Fail to Prepare = Prepare to …?

It’s all cause and effect. We reap what we sow. Especially when it comes to a concert or competition. If we know, submerged deep down under the distractions, procrastinations, avoidances, excuses and trivia, that we have not worked, who’s surprised if we stuff up? It’s as likely as Monday following Sunday. We deserve to be nervous. However, take heart, and rescue it with:

The 80/20 Principle

What is the 20% (give or take a bit) that needs 80% of your focus, time and effort?

G# melodic

WORK SMART

I enjoy people’s reactions when I say: (drum roll)

‘Please, DON’T WORK SO HARD… ‘ (pause for effect)

‘At the easy parts.’

 Practise what you can’t play – instead of what you can!

Often we reassure ourselves playing the passages that we CAN play, instead of facing the ones we can’t. That’s precious time wasted.

Would a coaching session help?

Target your needs with one-on-one sessions in SE Qld or via Skype. Email ruth@ruthbonetti.com to check availability.

Performance coaching

RUTH BONETTI PERFORMANCE COACHING

There’s a good chance we will even enjoy performing if we prepare intelligently and regularly in the months before. We may even shrug off the butterflies and nervous greeblies. As long as we program our brains for success. (Excerpt from Practice is a Dirty Word: How to clean up your act.)

Let’s start at the top with our head. What’s happening in it…

Program your success

Create a self-fulfilling prophecy by visualising your triumph. Overcome potential self-sabotage of negative “what-if’s” with mental preparation.
See yourself, calm and poised, walking onto the platform, opening your mouth to speak. Hear the vibrant tone that flows out, resonating to the back of the hall. Out of the corner of your eye, see those fear-gremlins skulk away into the shadows, while you are encompassed in the warm, flattering and protective stage light.
And do you see those faces in the audience responding, smiling up at you? Hear the applause of their standing ovation? See yourself backstage with diary open, wondering where you can find time for a repeat performance.

OK to talk – but can Ruth play?

Hear her repeat concerto: Mendelssohn Konzertstücke Op. 114 with Sian Davis and Brisbane Symphony Orchestra

27 November – Sunshine Coast

28 November – Brisbane

Who’s afraid of public glitches?

Here’s a tip from left field:

It’s OK (well, often) to make a fool of yourself in public.

Develop your ‘confidence muscle’ by stretching beyond your comfort zone.

Allow yourself to be vulnerable to listeners and they’ll more likely warm to you than tab your mistakes.

We can learn more from a fumble or stumble than from a goal.

I can vouch for this

Would you believe that I was a shy child who grew up in the Australian outback? Then I’d run a mile at the prospect of speaking in public. Now I enjoy and invite it.

How did that change?

Experience, maturity. Speaking foreign languages. My husband and I lived seven years in Europe, and for five of them we spoke French, Swedish and German. We learned Swedish on the job, from scratch, and German with an intensive month’s Anfänger course. Fear of making a fool of myself faded, knowing that most times I opened my mouth, mistakes came out. I just had to get on with living – and speaking. Many who witnessed my embarrassments became friends for life.

‘Your music is fine,’ a colleague said, ’but why not introduce the pieces with some words?’

‘Because we’d make mistakes!’ By then our Swedish was fluent but ungrammatical.

‘People forgive that, they warm to you.’

We spoke to our audiences and yes, people appreciated that we made an effort. So when we moved to Germany we spoke about our pieces in rudimentary vocabulary. Though some years later it was challenging to present a full day workshop auf Deutsch.

But on radio? We were pleased when Swedish Radio journalist Carl Friedner attended our Brahms concert. But our jaws dropped later when he unpacked his tape recorder as coffee brewed. His encouragement eased our nerves and we found rapport. This month –decades later – we again stayed with this longterm friend in Stockholm.

The mistakes bogey

Whether we perform through words or music, the fear of making mistakes in public can inhibit, even paralyse. But we learn more from our worst moments than we do from our best. If you struggle, check out my book Speak Out – Don’t Freak Out.

Communication skills

During a recent seven-week European tour, my half dozen words of Italian, Czech, Hungarian and Italian often became addled in my head, but people responded to my efforts. I’m fascinated by the process of learning and using new languages, and how they enable us to communicate, interact and understand. This was a theme of the paper I delivered in Turku, Finland at a conference titled ‘Participation, Integration, and Recognition’. In this I cited my grandfather’s migrant experience. Hear more.

In Finnish, you ask? All those umlauts! More on that next issue. 

Turn your negatives into positives

Put any glitches behind you, and focus on your message and your listeners – who may forget mistakes quicker than you do.

Enjoy your time in the spotlight!

How adrenalin lifts performance

Adrenalin helps us to shine in performance. Be prepared and welcome it, for it gives energy and strength to performances. The power of this natural, normal and helpful reaction can catch us unawares. Go with it; don’t fight it. As the fight or flight mechanism kicks in our adrenals work overtime.

Beware adrenal fatigue!

You know the score? Late nights preparing for that big performance, the rehearsals, checking equipment and dress (we’ve thought ahead, right?), the photocopying of adjudicators’ scores. Or sometimes we perform every night, with little time to catch up on our thoughts, sleep and energy. We stoke up our adrenalin constantly so must avoid adrenal fatigue.

Adrenalin has two sides

That big day or night goes well. Relief (but you did deserve it – you practised hard, didn’t you?) Audience congratulations. Thank you, glad you enjoyed it.

We need down-time 

Wind down. In spite of exhaustion, there’s that wriggly feeling of being overcharged. Mind buzzing. Restless, aching legs.  Many feel pain or tension in their lower backs, a major adrenal pressure point. I feel the fatigue in sore calves.

And finally, to bed. But not to sleep. But I toss and wriggle for ten minutes or more.

Or up-time

Think; I really should get out of bed and do some yoga. A few minutes’ shoulder stands, some stretching exercises would fix this. A cobra or two. Nah, too tired to get up. Maybe if I just lift my legs in bed, that’ll do. Maybe not.

So then I crawl out from the blankets, stretch, ‘lift the mountain’ with my arms. Touch my toes. Elevate my legs. Muscles creak gratefully. A good relaxant is the ‘tranquility pose.’ (Check the poses online.)

And so to sleep…

At last. All that hard work means it’s the deep sleep of the just.

Next day, I’m renewed. On with the next show.
Play beautifully!

More tips in Confident Music Performance 

‘Tis the season for concerts

End of year concerts may be wearing but they are teachers’ top chance to bring parents onside. They love to see their offspring shine onstage, and are at the ready with iPads and smart phones to record for posterity and possibly upload to YouTube. 

Ah, there’s the crunch

Be aware, make others aware, that copyright and privacy may be infringed.

Is it ‘fair use’ to distribute material, performances of works that are copyright?

When playing for weddings, I accept that it’s the happy couple’s day so will be filmed to the nth degree. Thus, I must practise beforehand and resist the temptation to sightread new material during the Canapés, for glitches can feature.

But let’s make a noise…

That performers can be inhibited and distracted when listeners stand in a concert holding a camera of any kind. Professional musicians have fought back. Polish pianist Krystian Zimerman halted a concert in Essen, Germany. He asked an audience member to stop filming him on a smartphone. After the interval he said ‘Apologies, I am now on YouTube’ and refused to play encores or attend the post-concert function.

But everyone does it, right?

It’s illegal and an infringement of privacy to film and post images, video and sound that include other peoples’ children without permission. It infringes composers’ copyright.

Concert manners

We want all the family to attend concerts, to feel at home. But this does not mean to roam at large, chattering and giggling so others can’t enjoy the music. Educate the students – and parents – in basic etiquette:

  • Ears open, mouth closed. At least, a subtle sotto voce.
  • If you must move, wait between pieces or movements.
  • Tip toe…

The upside of technology

A generation ago, young children were primed with a book to combat boredom. Then they moved to digital games, iPod music and movies. The downside is noise. Earplugs, please.

Presents – for you

Buy a copy of my new book Sounds and Souls: How music teachers change lives for your school library and receive an extra copy as my gift to you. This offer lasts until Christmas Day. (Or you can download it on Kindle but I’ve yet to work out how to do specials there.)

Enjoy your break, happy Christmas and God bless,

Perform to your peak with words and music

You’ve put in the hard work with practice – playing or speaking your pieces over and over. Now comes the real test. What will others – your audience at a public performance or the person who auditions you  – think?

Time your arrival at a peak

Timing is essential. Sometimes we are puzzled that, in spite of enormous efforts, progress on a work goes backwards. If we labour over a piece for months on end, it may become tired and stale, resisting all efforts. Discuss with your teacher whether it has already reached and passed its peak. Is there time to let it rest for a few weeks before the performance? In dire circumstances, you and your teacher may decide to beat a tactical retreat. Choose a fresh piece with a new set of challenges. In the meantime, you will be refreshed by playing another piece. You will be surprised how the staleness falls away when you return to the first piece.

 
Success with recitals and exams
 
Pitfalls are lessened if you know the music thoroughly – both your part and, equally importantly, the accompaniment. Listen to recordings and live performances of the work. Practise from the full score so you can see how the parts interlock.

 
Before you rehearse with piano
Think before the first rehearsal: Where would you need an emergency breath in performance? Can you manage it all in one breath? (Or, for string players, a different bowing?) What works easily at home may be less comfortable in performance.
Where is each phrase heading? It’s got to have a direction! If you just mooch through the piece it will be dead boring.
 
Big picture work
Play through the whole piece several times without stopping so you see it as a whole and develop stamina.
Play dummy-runs to parents, friends, to Grandma who thinks you’re SO clever.
 
Success breeds more success. Enjoy!
 

10 tips to perform words or music

speakoutmediumThe moments before a performance are your launch pad. Then, you can make a crucial difference between maintaining calm control or succumbing to blind panic. You need to learn to slow down on your launch pad, to resist the impulse to rush on and tumble headlong into an incoherent performance.

Assemble your own check-list from these suggestions:

1. Sit comfortably, visualise transferring all your nervous energy away from the tense part of your body (e.g. the jaw or fingers) down into your toes. 

2. Think “toes, toes, toes” and your jaw/fingers relax. Give your hands about twenty vigorous shakes.

3. Sip some water or rinse your mouth. 

4. Think “I feel fine, my fingers and shoulders are relaxed, I am in good form. The audience will like me.”

5. Turn down the volume of those nagging voices in your head. Instead, focus on the outcome you desire – to inspire, to entertain, to win.

6. Warm your hands and fingers by relaxed movements, stretching or other gentle exercise. Limber up as athletes do, starting with easy, relaxed actions, then
increase the challenge as your muscles loosen up. Water and heat are excellent therapies.
Cold contracts muscles, causing tension. Remember how reluctantly limbs move when we play in draughty halls in winter?

When performing in northern Sweden, often above the Arctic Circle, I learned to thaw my cold fingers under the dressing-room hot taps, the warmth relaxing my muscles. Alternatively, bring gloves or a hot-water bottle.

7. Turn those fidgets to good use! Waiting backstage, many feel the urge to fidget. Perhaps we should adopt the Mediterranean habit of fiddling with worry beads – a more healthy distraction than a cigarette.

8. Stretch. Stand against a wall to ensure upright posture.

9. Imagine “I am the greatest”. Assume a confident, positive face. Smile.

10. Breathe. Slow down.

                         You’re on. Be the greatest you can. Have fun!

Excerpt from Speak Out – Don’t Freak Out by Ruth Bonetti Available on Kindle

Tips for confident music performance

Do you dread that next concert, audition or music exam?

There’s a good chance we will even ENJOY performance if we prepared intelligently and regularly in the months before. We may even manage to shrug off those butterflies and nervous greeblies. The secret is to program our brains for success.

Program your music computer

Think of your practice as computer programming. We feed in correct information about hand positions, the sequence and length of notes. Then, if a wave of panic washes over us early in a performance, it need not dump us. We can surf on automatic for a few moments, knowing that our brain will send messages to our fingers or lips without our consciously driving them. How’s that for a confidence trick! (From Practice is a Dirty Word)

Record and listen back

What passages, bars, sections need most attention? With a photocopy of the part (you do own it, yes?) highlight any mistakes and fumbles. Count the number of highlight splats – and apply most of your practice to these bars. A week later record again and listen back with a fresh photocopy. Have your splats reduced?

Go for goals

Set yourself achievable, reasonable, short-term aims each day. Within each time slot, allow yourself several minutes’ relaxation, movement, a breath of fresh air, and a drink of water. Oxygen and water are powerful brain foods. You will then use work-time more efficiently and minimise risk of repetitive strain injury.

Give yourself the satisfaction of crossing goals off the list when they are reached. Reward yourself with a pat on the back or a treat.

Practise what you can’t play…

…Instead of what you can! There’s no time to waste in reassuring yourself by playing the easy bits that lie under your fingers. Tackle the cross-rhythms or that development section that bristles with double sharps in obscure keys.

Make every minute of your practice time count.

Keep at it! You can achieve wonders with focus and determination.