I distinctly remember my first ever public performance. I was probably about 6, and was playing a little piano solo on a rather antiquated instrument at the local church hall. In my terror, all the keys seemed to blend into one. How could I tell which was which?
And then I hit upon the solution. The A above middle C had an old blood stain on it. With that as a guide, I could find my way around with certainty! Yep- dubious sanitation was the key to my first performance.
As the years passed, I was delighted to discover that CSI skills were not an essential part of performance practice. In fact, there are a great many tips and tricks to not just survive playing in public, but to enjoy it and do it well.
So if you’ve got a student concert or an exam or any reason to perform coming up, try these 5 tips to help prepare.
1- Do prepare.
Performance skills don’t magically happen. There is a reason why these skills are usually referred to as ‘Performance Practice’. It takes time and practice to get used to playing in public. Take the time to think about your performance and put some things in place to help that top performance happen. Playing in front of other people is usually way different to knocking out some stuff at home with only the cat to listen.
2- Know your stuff
I find I generally only get nervous when something is outside my control. If I’m not 110% certain of every note. If I haven’t finalised what the fingering is at that section on the second page. Or I really can’t guarantee how that particularly nasty bit is going to come out. So if I feel the butterflies starting to flutter in my stomach, then rather than hiding under my doona and hoping it all goes away, I use that feeling as the motivation to work harder and be more focused.
3- Shake it up a bit
When you perform, one of the first things you notice is that your surroundings are different. The room is a different size than where you play at home. The view through the strings is different. The light is different. And the sound is different.
It’s those differences that can distract you in the heat of the performance moment. So try practicing somewhere different. Always play in the back room? Pick up that harp and head for the lounge. Or stay in the same room and just turn around and face the other direction.
4- Play with your head
Performance is a mental game. Play the game before you hit the stage, and you’re more likely to win it. Get that little voice in your head questioning every. single. note. In the practice room. Don’t wait for that to happen while you’re performing. If you know where you are going to perform, then start imaging what it feels like to play there. Even go so far as to imagine yourself getting dressed for the show. Driving to the venue. Unloading your gear and getting set up. How does it all feel? Live it through in your head BEFORE the actual gig, and when you get to the real deal it will all feel that much more familiar. And always imagine yourself performing flawlessly!
5- Grab yourself a practice audience
Play to anyone who will listen. Or imagine someone listening. Or whip out the camera and record yourself playing. Listen back afterwards- what went well and what needs some tweaking? Work on those bits, and then try it all again!
Everyone is capable of great performances, but remember that it’s just as important to practice performing the notes as it is to practice playing the notes.