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
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!
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!