performance practice

Do you have stage fright?

Yeah, me too. I've had it for years. The picture above is me in a performance, unduly serious. I get nervous, and I think all musicians do. The question is how nervousness affects us. Here is what I've learned about stage fright:

Although there are many techniques, performing often is the best and most readily available antidote to crippling performance anxiety. Regular dosing is advised. Performing must be practiced, and it's different from regular practice, in fact way different.  Practicing alone is like practicing a sport by yourself, performing is like being in a live game against an opposing team.  The “live” unfolding aspect of the game has to be practiced.  In sports we call this experience.  Solo athletes (for example tennis) and teams tend to be their best at the end of the season where they have had many opponents.

 

Don't aim for 100% in your performances, don't be greedy, as my teacher used to say. 90% of what you can do in the practice room is plenty and very admirable. Accept this fact as a fact of life and you’ll be much happier. Your 90% will keep growing. To get to 90%, try some performance practice tactics below, or come up with your own - the wackier the better. Many of these will ask you to get in and out of a groove, on purpose. All of them will require you to get out of your comfort zone.  

lesson overlap

weekly

If you are taking lessons, there is an easy way you can practice performing every week a little bit. Play for the next incoming student for a couple minutes while that next person unpacks.  You'll get a little bit nervous every week.

formal fauxformance

before recitals or auditions

Set up a faux performance by picking a time and date and venue (could be your house). Enlist a pet, friend, or video camera as an audience.  Assign a warm up room (kitchen), stage room (living room) and decide what to wear. The day of the Fauxformance, warm up in your full concert dress exactly ½ hour before the scheduled time. Enter, bow and play your rep in concert mode. Include bows and walking on and off.  No stops, no self-deprecating, only smiles and performance exterior all the way.

nervous stairs

Every 2 weeks or so.

Run up and down stairs a few times to get your heart rate up.  Then play the opening of your piece, concentrating on breathing and working to get your heart rate down. Repeat as needed to get used to this feeling.

no warm-up

Every 2 weeks or so.

Run through your performance pieces without warm-up. Set up a video camera to freak yourself out. Don’t stop, no matter what.

queen/king of the night

before a very important audition

Set your alarm for the middle of the night.  Get up and run through your stuff in random order (shuffle the music). It will never, ever, ever feel worse than this!

power commercials

before an important audition

Watch your favorite network TV show or sports event, with your instrument unpacked and music set up.  Create a bowl with folded up pieces of paper with your excerpts written on them.  In every commercial break, draw a slip of paper and  make yourself run through that excerpt in performance style. Keep drawing and performing until the show is back on.  In the next commercial break, repeat.  Refill the bowl once you are through all of them and repeat the process until the show is over. No warming up before run-throughs :)

no. 1 fan

before an important performance

In performance simulation, pretend your number one fan is sitting in the back of the hall in the far corner (for example, for me this was my grandmother). In your mind’s eye, play only for him or her and project all the way back. You can try this out in front of a group of friends to see if it will help you.

performance swap

weekly

Once a week play for a peer and visa versa. Switch partners when you don’t have a heightened sensation anymore.  Live is best, and mix up where this happens.  You can also do it via skype or facetime. Stay on track for once a week.

Performance Countdown

before an important performance

Before an important performance, line up 10 days of live performing run throughs. The audience must be different every time. You can enlist for relatives, friends, churches, former teachers, classrooms, basically anyone that will listen and stand in as an audience. People you feel comfortable around should be at the beginning of the 10-day journey, more uncomfortable situations towards the end, right before your actual concert/audition.

high-stakes fauxformance

every so often...

Perform for someone you will get extremely nervous for, like an idol or someone you have a crush on.  In my case, it’s my students -they make me the super nervous as I know sometimes don't do what I preach.  After you play for ahigh stakes person, the audition or concert will seems less daunting.

 good distractions

before an important performance

On a run through for a friend, concentrate on something you usually never do, such as the movement of your feet, how relaxed your right arm will be, your breath, the angle of your head, the musical phrase or your tone color. I.e. key in on something specific that will truly hold your attention that is not a generic “playing well”. Experiment with this technique of creating a good distraction for yourself.

stop and start

in the final weeks before an audition 

This is a good one for purposely getting out of the groove and back in, and it works wonders if you are having memory or confidence issues.  Enlist a partner and ask your partner to randomly stop you while performing and then cue you to start again. When you hear the word stop, stop in that exact place. When you hear the word start (a few seconds or a minute later), start playing from that exact spot, as best you can.

daily wind up

every day :)

Our tendency is practice is to dive right into our pieces, or the bars we are practicing. A better way to approach our  "starts" in practicing is to treat them like starts from the stage. Work on developing a 1 or 2 bar windup before you start playing.  This windup is a timed sequence of physical movements and breathing. It  should include your resting position all the way to the first sound you produce. When you do this on stage it will feel very familiar, and you will have an easier entry.