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Preparing For a Music Performance

With our mid year concert fast approaching we thought the following article might be of interest to our young performers.

At Caroline Springs School of Music we advise all students to observe the following checklist when preparing for a performance. Regardless of the instrument these principles apply equally to all.

1) Memorize your pieces. If you need to use sheet music then you do not really know the piece. Performing from memory allows us to focus on key areas of musicianship and not merely pitch and time recognition from sight.

2) Practice your pieces for a full year. That’s right; one year, being a good performer requires discipline and patience. If we work on a piece for a year it allows us to ensure point one (memorization) is covered. In 1992 I was fortunate enough to be invited to a very small performance by the great classical guitarist John Williams at Montsalvat (this was being recorded for an SBS DVD). Two pieces were laden with errors to the point where Mr Williams was forced to stop and humbly apologize to the audience. His words at the time were “My apologies, I have only been practising these pieces for 6 months, anyway I’m just making excuses, sorry...” If someone who is regarded as one of the greatest classical musicians of all time needs more than 6 months to prepare, you probably do also.

3) Don’t practice your performance pieces on the day of the event. It is not a good idea to practice the same material as you are about to perform on the same day. You have already done the work, it is unlikely you will be able to improve the piece at this late stage, performing pieces on the same day (usually in heightened adrenal states) and making mistakes adds greatly to performance anxiety. Save your best until you walk onstage. By all means warm up on your instrument with scales or other material.

4) Use visualization techniques. When you practice, visualize yourself onstage, at the venue. This really helps with nerves on the day, once you find yourself onstage performing you will not be overwhelmed as you have already been there many times in your mind. Once you are onstage; imagine you are at home practicing.

5) Don’t think about the audience. Wondering what the audience is thinking is very bad for nerves. Don’t try and second guess the audience, they are on your side, they don’t think you are playing badly.

6) Try to deactivate your mind. Focus on your breathing and being in the moment. Overactive minds lead to anxiety and nerves.

7) Don’t focus on feelings of nervousness. A few nerves are good, it means we care and can help steel our focus. Learn to accept you will feel nervous and that is a good thing, get used to the feeling, don't try and fight it.

8) Don’t CONCENTRATE. Once again this engages our minds too much, a better word is FOCUS. Bring yourself into the present moment, focus your attention by listening and being alert.

9) LISTEN. I know this seems like I am stating the obvious, but it is amazing how many musicians do not truly listen. By listen I mean 'LISTEN' not just 'hearing'. Your ears will guide you, engage your musical ear and be sensitive to the needs of the music at hand. Listening helps to deactivate your overactive imagination. Q. How do we know if we have an overactive imagination? A. If we are human, we have an overactive imagination.

10) Practice your pieces in sections. Do not always just play from start to finish. Work on problem sections, turn them into repetitive exercises, and never practice one thing for more than ten minutes at a time. Why? Because you have a short attention span. Q. How do we know if we have a short attention span? A. If we are human we have a short attention span.

11) Learn from the masters. Check out the greatest performers of your instrument and style (and other instruments and styles) there are so many brilliant clips on YouTube, never have we had easier access to learn from the greats. Here’s "My Favourite Things" by John Coltrane

Ask your teacher who they recommend, or speak to Brendan next time you are in the shop.

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