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.