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.

Walk the Talk

How do you prepare a speech? Consider the difference if you write for the ear or the eye; each requires a different mind set and approach. Both need active verbs and vital language to hold attention.

With presentations you engage the audience. Speak naturally.

To prepare a presentation

This works for me to create a natural rather than stilted style:

  • Brainstorm what points I will cover.
  • Walk with my notes as I speak it through (I’m blessed with paths amongst trees and by beaches).
  • Tape on my iPad notes function.
  • Email this as text to my computer, to be edited and polished.
  • With the printout I walk and speak it through to the birds. I discover clunky phrases and words that invite stumbles. As my tongue finds a vivid sentence I talk it into my iPad.
  • I time it on my iPhone as my walking pace matches thoughts and words.
  • Before a big speech I walk the talk to memorise crucial opening and closing senences. (Automaton saved me when an MC skipped my submitted biog and introduced me as ‘Ruth Cracknell.’ Gulp. Que?@#!? But on with the speech.)

Activate both brain hemispheres

Walking is a cross-crawl action, that allows us to unlock brain power and encourages a mix of logical and creative thinking.

‘When we walk, the two halves of our brains converse.’ Julia Cameron Walking in This World.

Follow the paths of pilgrims and philosophers

For philosophers like Kant, Rousseau and Nietzsche walking was daily discipline. Gandhi and Mandela walked with the masses for freedom. Jesus Christ walked as He taught his disciples. For indigenous Aborigines and American Indians their bare foot ‘walkabouts’ made contact with the land.

Walk to focus and problem solve.speakoutmedium

‘It is solved by walking.’ – St Augustine

‘All truly great ideas are conceived while walking’ – Nietzsche

Begin with the Brainstorm

Last week as I coached someone for his presentation skills, I noticed yet again the necessity to help him write his speech before we could solve performance aspects.

We began in relaxed conversation to understand issues he planned to address.

We wrote bullet points on a white board.

As he passed through that initial stumbling exploratory stage and began to fire with enthusiasm, thoughts flowed naturally. At that point I taped him on my iPad, and emailed the file. The content was fresh with flow, focus and passion. He could then edit and polish.

Big speech coming up? 

Email for speechwriting and coaching in presentation skills, training.

But it’s tomorrow!

Download my 90-minute read Speak Out: Don’t Freak Out

Your speaking can flow with ease so your experience, expertise and natural enthusiasm shine through.


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


…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.

Safe Humour

As we reel from recent events, wordsmiths and cartoonists wonder at the pitfalls we face. It has become harder to speak out fearlessly and all the more so if, like me, you spice your communication with humour. 

What price ‘free speech?’

As one whose living comes from words, both spoken and written, the terrorist attacks are disturbing. Not just in Paris; there are many journalists imprisoned or murdered for doing their job. Australian Peter Greste is just one who has been incarcerated on flimsy charges. Write letters, sign petitions, pray for his freedom. ‘All that is needed for evil to flourish is for good men [people] to do [say] nothing.‘ (Attributed to Edmund Burke.)


Are private words safe?

We dash off a comment on FaceBook or Twitter and it’s out there, fair game. But not if a quick, private email might be hacked and circulated. A respected professor of literature Barry Spurr resigned from his job at the University of Sydney because leaked emails (a ‘whimsical game’ with a friend) were dubbed racist. Big Brother won. A growing chorus urges the Australian government to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Under 18C it is unlawful for a person to commit an act, in the form of words, sounds, images or writing, (all part of my tools of trade!) that is “reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people”. This “offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin” means many of the cartoons Charlie Hebdo freely published in France would fall foul of the law in Australia. Sad.

Let’s lighten up

There’s an old joke: “Do I have to inject humour into a speech?”  “Only if you want to be paid.”  People warm to humour, if well handled. There are pitfalls. Excerpts from my book Speak Out-Don’t Freak Out give tips to add safe humour to presentations.  (A quick 90-minute read to pep you before a presentation; it’s available on Amazon or hard copy. Or email me for training or one-on-one coaching.)

Do we NEED to be funny?

Where relevant, humour can be a big audience winner. Jokes are safest if turned on oneself, perhaps relating a mishap or embarrassing situation. People respond to your openness. Don’t embarrass other people. Beware especially of racism, profanity, or stamping on religious and political corns. Test those hilarious jokes on the family over breakfast to discover just how effective they are. If you do upset anyone, have the courage and grace to apologise. How do we give birth to a healthy joke? First don’t announce it’s on the way! Dress it subtly, let it grow unawares. Curb that expectant grin. Pause for emphasis before the delivery, then wait a moment for listeners to register and laugh. It will be stillborn if you rush on before they have time to react. If a joke does miscarry, carry on regardless.

There is real power in a smile or a laugh.

But be yourself

Opening with a joke, especially if well-chosen and to the point, can be brilliantly effective. However it is not essential, especially if joke-telling is contrary to your personal style. If it crashes like a bombed plane, both speaker and listeners may be tempted to go home early. A self-deprecating anecdote usually is better digested than a canned or ancient, recycled joke. Audiences appreciate original humour directed towards oneself, are repelled when it denigrates a defenceless victim. If your take-off is smooth the rest of the flight usually flows with fewer bumps. Navigate your course with a clear focus on the horizon – your audience – rather than dwell inward on your own queasy stomach and sensitive ego. Most fears are self-centred. Keep looking out! And, in this climate, we can only keep looking up!  

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 

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