You want me to ….what?!

Photo by Michel Catalisano

If you play a musical instrument, you probably have been asked to play or perform for someone, whether it be in a concert or just for your family and/or friends. Performing in front of an audience can be quite daunting, so how important is it anyway?

When I began teaching I noticed that for many of my younger students, performances were fun and enjoyable. They seemed to have no performance anxiety whatsoever, and yet some of my older students were petrified! What was the key?

The following are few keys which I found are important in achieving a performance which is musical and enjoyable for both player and audience alike.

1. Know your piece

This seems quite obvious but it is amazing how many performers think they can “wing it” if the piece is not quite ready. Yes, this does work for some capable musicians who have a flair for improvisation, however the further you progress, the more you realise that knowing the notes and articulation (ie bowings, slurs, phrasing etc) a month or so before your performance, gives you a lot more confidence. You have more opportunity to work on things like performance practice and presentation. If you know your piece, your performance anxiety will be greatly decreased.

If your piece is accompanied, you also need to make sure you have enough practices with your accompanist. Some pieces, such as sonatas or concertos, can have intricate difficulties when it comes to putting the two parts together and these can only be worked out by practising together.

2. Learn how to minimise performance anxiety

Noa Kageyama is a performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure. His blog post, entitled How to Make Performance Anxiety an Asset Instead of a Liability is well worth a read as it explains what happens in our brain to cause anxiety and gives some steps to help conquer it. There are more suggestions on strategies to combat performance anxiety here.

Stage confidence … Jonas Kaufmann performs at the Wigmore Hall.
Photograph: Simon Jay Price

It’s important to remember that this is a common problem and even some of the most famous musicians, from Vladimir Horowitz to Paul McCartney, have suffered from an attack of nerves or stage fright as it is sometimes referred to. Check out this article from the Guardian to read what happened when Jonas Kauffman forgot how to sing!

3. Focus

Where and what you focus on during a performance is crucial. A good deal of performance anxiety can come from things like thinking about the note two bars ago that you missed or that bar coming up after the repeat. If you have practised well and know your piece this won’t be a problem, but if you focus on anything else other than the piece of music you are performing you could also end up with sabotaging your performance. To focus properly, you need to be “in the zone”, and once there you won’t even be aware of the audience. Your focus will be totally on the music you are producing. This is the best place to be if you are performing!

4. Practise performing

Practising and performing are two distinct skills. Practising involves repetition of difficult passages in small sections to get the right notes, articulation and musicality. A performance involves starting at the beginning of the piece and playing musically all the way through without stopping, even if you miss a note (or notes!) or play the wrong notes or wrong section. It’s no good getting to the performance without having practised performing because what tends to happen is that you find yourself stopping in all the “difficult” places, or repeating bars or notes! So be sure to practise performing your piece all the way through with no stops.


5. Start young and perform often

Even if you are only a beginner, the sooner you start to perform the better. Many young beginners have few nerve problems. It’s only when students get older and more aware that they are concerned with how they are coming across or how many mistakes they have made in their performance.  A performance can be in a concert, just for a few members of your family or at school. Where you perform doesn’t really matter. As Nike says, “Just do it!”, and you will find the more you do it, the less agonising it is.

I hope these suggestions help. Let me know in the comments if you have any others!

3D Printed Stradivarius Violin

Many useful items can be made via 3D printing but a violin? Check out this video of a 3D printed violin!

The design of this violin is based on an original Stradivarius violin, named “Sunrise”, made in 1677 by Antonio Stradivari in Cremona, Italy. The 3D printed violin was printed in parts with wood filament via a Reprap FDM 3D printer made specifically for this purpose. More than 40 parts were assembled in the traditional violin luthier way, called “Systema Cremonese”. Printing and assembly of this violin took around 9 months to complete.

Music technology teacher and researcher, Harris Matzaridis, created the copy during a research project lasting for over 2 years. Read more…


Who needs a page turner?

If you are an instrumentalist, you probably won’t have much difficulty with page turns. After all, it’s quite easy to add an extra page to the music on your stand so you have three pages visible.

However, for a pianist, this is a different story altogether. There are ways of coping with this. This one below is NOT one I would recommend!

This pianist obviously had not thought about this kind of accident!  So what can a pianist do to eliminate performance hiccups?

Here are some suggestions if you want to turn pages yourself:

  • Photocopy the next page or enough of the page so you can turn at a convenient point, eg when one hand has a long note or some rests. DO NOT tape all your pages together as the pianist in the video did!
  • Turn early, playing the last few bars of the page from memory
  • Turn early, and mark a spot over the page where the bars you need are repeated. Play enough to get you to the top of the page after the turn.
  • Bend back the corner of the page so you can grab it quickly and easily
  • Decide which hand is more important and leave a few notes out from the other hand while you turn. In many Baroque or Classical pieces you can get away with just playing the left hand bass notes while you turn the page.

Do I need a page turner?

Having a page turner can definitely make playing easier if you need to get to the next page and there is no sensible place to turn. Also, if you think you might pull the music off the piano stand as you turn (some books do not sit well on the piano) then yes, by all means find someone to turn your pages. However, some pianists prefer to turn their own pages because it’s what they get used to when they are practising.

In the end it’s really up to you. Here are a couple of tips to help your page turner:

  • Make sure your page turner knows what your signal is to turn the page. Most pianists nod when they want the page turned. You don’t have to look at your page turner when you do this.
  • Be sure to let your page turner know how close and where to stand. You don’t want them cramping your playing if you have a lot of bass notes at the turn They should always stand on the stage side of your piano stool, never on the audience side. If the piece is slow or long they might like to sit on a chair until the line before the turn.

Happy performing!