Adrenaline: performance highs and lows

End of year exams, presentations, and concerts to juggle and prepare, we’re tired and living on adrenaline.

ALERT: Beware adrenal fatigue.

PRIORITISE as time runs short. I could have posted this blog sooner, but chose to schedule a massage and a nap before the afternoon’s teaching and practice sessions.

My students played their concert last week. That morning, I wasn’t surprised when some asked to change their pieces to Plan E (for EASY) instead of the mooted Plan C (for CHALLENGE) or Plan D (Doable). Because many students – and teachers – struggle to fit everything into the time before any big event. Myself included.

As I practise for solo performances this weekend, and prepare my students for exams and concerts, I need the advice in my own books! So I reread the chapter “Me-Time” in Sounds and Souls: How music teachers change lives.

The days beforesoundsandsoulsmedium

Actors and singers know to “save themselves” as well as their voices on the day of a performance. They talk less, eat less, pamper themselves a little, and don’t rush around. They retreat into themselves, focus on their part or persona, and avoid arguments or upsets. Try to plan the lead-up days, to reschedule where possible any draining commitments. Maintain a balanced, healthy diet. Curb caffeine, sugar, alcohol and…

Channel adrenaline

Seasoned presenters have learned to go with the adrenaline rush, even to welcome it as a source of energy and vitality. Yet this is also the province of the “fight or flight” response triggered by the primitive brain stem when in pressured situations. It is the very breeding ground of those unsettling physical symptoms like dry mouth, queasy stomach and shaky hands – which even experienced speakers may occasionally experience.

Try this quick fix to channel and focus this adrenaline by accessing the sophisticated part of the brain, the cerebral cortex.  Defuse the negative responses of the brain stem and to access your brain’s frontal lobes: sit quietly backstage, breathing slow and deep, with a hand on your forehead.  Holding these forehead pressure points, called the “positive points” by Brain-Gym exponents Paul and Gail Dennison, has a bonus effect of also calming an unsettled stomach. And unwelcome symptoms of nerves fall away like a pack of cards.

Hear Ruth Speak

BRISBANE: 3 December
Ruth will present and workshop around how to “Stand & Deliver and Power Up your Professional Introduction”

LikeMinds Networking breakfast The Gap  Bookings:  0406007753

BRISBANE: 3rd July 2016 Music Teachers Association Queensland

“Dealing with performance anxiety”

Ruth Tours 2016

NEW ZEALAND March, April and again September

ADELAIDE April, May 2016

Contact Ruth to check available dates for student workshops, Professional Development, training and coaching.

Ruth Performs

As soloist with Brisbane Symphony Orchestra: Mendelssohn, Konzertstücke for 2 clarinets features Ruth Bonetti and Sian Davis, principal clarinet of Noosa Orchestra.

Movie Themes Family Fun Concert

28 NOVEMBER | 3PM Lake Kawana Community Centre 07 5413 1400 29 NOVEMBER | 3PM St Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School, Corinda Tickets

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

This year I’ll…

Arg, New Year resolutions! Don’t go there. Under the influence of a glass or three, people make promised they can’t keep. But, bubbling with new impetus–and cold sober–shall l commit? OK. This year I will:

Run on time

Never mind that we’re on a roll with a student, making wonderful progress. If the next one is ready to rock, on time, say ‘See you next week.’ That’s a challenge.

Insist students buy music rather than photocopy

All need a main method or book so they can keep turning pages. Yes, add legit downloads, but resist photocopying. Try Smart Music. CD playalongs. Arrange more.

More practice

soundsandsoulsmedium

…Rather than just getting through the notes in orchestra rehearsals. This year I’ll be upfront again, as co-soloist in Mendelssohn’s Konzertstück with Sian Davis and Noosa Orchestra, on 13 and 20 September. And Brisbane Symphony Orchestra will program Bruckner, Mahler, Beethoven.

More play; Down Time Uplifts

My ‘Me Time’ keeps me sane. I nearly relented and gave it to a student that couldn’t fit elsewhere. But no, my weekly walk on the beach is precious. More swims, also.

What replenishes you that you won’t give up? Mark it in your diary. In 2B pencil.

In The Artist’s Way Julia Cameron recommends a weekly ‘artist’s date’ and I can vouch for it. And for other rejuvenation strategies that I’ll share on 28 February at the Music Teachers Association of Tasmania conference. My topics:

• How to Motivate, Retain and Inspire Students
• Techniques to Rejuvenate and Overcome Workplace Challenges
• Empower Students to Shine in Performance

Nowhere near Hobart? The rejuvenation tips are covered in my book and eBook

 Sounds and Souls: How music teachers change lives.

‘Ruth Bonetti has written a book that not only demonstrates the value of music tuition but offers invaluable advice on how to run a private studio. No matter how long you have been teaching, you will find something in this book that will enhance your experience. Thank you, Ruth, I will always treasure your sage advice.’

-Karen Kelly, Gundagai, NSW

More head stretch; 

I’ll learn Finnish (Scary with all those umlauts!)

More travel

An Adelaide trip is likely this semester, so email me if you’d like to take the opportunity for workshops at minimal travel costs. Or for sessions elsewhere. My diary is open; now that I have finished my next book, I’m more available to present.

More teaching

… I can fit in a few more students. Perhaps a day in a school. Interested, anyone?

Phew! I need a glass to toast to all my resolves.

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 to ace exams & auditions

Recitals may seem confronting, but the presence of a live audience usually buoys us along. Subconsciously, even consciously, we respond to the interest and empathy from our listeners that may spur us on to play at even higher levels. But what of exams? And auditions for musicians and actors?

One-on-one

An audition or exam is often in a small room, where scribbling of comments seems painfully obvious. In our highly sensitised state, we often assume they’re writing “Mistake in bar 5″ when they may be praising our great projection or fluent finger work!

Or a panel?

Auditions – the equivalent of a job interview – are a trial for both the musicians undergoing them and for the audition panel. Unfortunately, no better method has been found to assess talent, except occasionally a trial period, if a player’s background and reputation warrants. An audition can only artificially duplicate the atmosphere of a concert, as the specialised listeners are there solely to judge rather than to be entertained. But if they can be entertained in the process, so much the better; they are only human after all!

Who hears us?

On the one hand, the performer is keyed up and nervous, hoping to meet the highest standard on the day. On the other hand, the panel usually consists of hardened professionals who have heard it all before and hope that this one will be worth listening to when so many are not!

How to impress

Panellists do want to hear a good performance, one that will make them sit up and listen. They don’t want to be bored and embarrassed by your work. To the extent that you can hold their attention, you’ve got a chance of getting the job! They seek the best talent that they can engage and they are not concerned with your ego or belief that you should be the successful appointee. They will probably not be aware of the standard you are capable of reaching, though if their intuition suggests you could do better, they may ask you to repeat a passage or to try again at a later date.”

Keep trying

For eight months, Bette Midler auditioned for the same Broadway show, Fiddler on the Roof, every time there was a vacancy. Eventually she got a temporary place in the chorus, which gave her the advantage of knowing the production inside out when she auditioned for a star role successfully. From then, the sky was her limit.

Excerpt from Confident Music Performance 

         With solid preparation, positive attitude and a clear head, you can impress!

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.