Physical & Mental Performance Prep Work

Nov 26, 2014

With Thanksgiving and now Halloween come and gone, in the blink of an eye it’s the holiday season again. This week our neighbours to the south prepare for their own Thanksgiving feast, while we all hold out collective breath in anticipation of Black Friday Sales. For musicians however, the end of November marks the beginning of a season of potential excitement, flocks of stomach butterflies, and, for many, relief when it’s all over. It’s Holiday Performance Season everybody!

Performing can often be one of those hot-button, divisive topics among amateur musicians. Many people live for the attention, feeling true excitement when they have an opportunity to share their gift of music with others. On the other side of that coin are people who got into music for a more person experience. A lot of these people don’t want to share their music, or even are self-conscious of it, worrying the end result would be bad. These are, or course, grand, sweeping generalities, with many people falling somewhere in between there two opposites, but the fact remains, the Holiday Season means performances, and performances mean preparation. So this week, regardless of whether you love or hate playing to a crowd, we’re going to take a look at getting yourself ready for that performance.

To get this down to nice bite-sized bits, let’s break the prep-work down into two main areas: physical preparation, and mental preparation.

Physical Preparation

First and foremost, let’s define what we mean when we say “physical.” This is the actual time, and practice you put in week to week leading up to the performance. Hopefully you understand that you need adequate time to physically prepare. Most people cannot throw a performance together in a matter of days. Make sure you set some long- and short-term goals for yourself. If you have a big performance coming up, say, around the end of December, that would obviously be your long-term goal. In the meantime, you should try setting smaller, short-term goals for your personal practice time as the big date draws near.

On the subject of practising, everyone has their own opinions. The most common tips and tricks regarding practising basically amount to fairly common sense stuff, but they still bear repeating here. The best way to optimise your practice time to play on a regular schedule with a sustainable routine. You should keep your own concentration span in mind during your practice time. Everyone’s attention span is different, but it is important that you maintain concentration and ensure your technique is consistent. You should be aware of how long you can play before your attention begins to drift. You should stop before this happens, but each day work to improve upon it. Once you’ve got our routine in place it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. If there are any parts of the pieces you are performing that you have difficulty with, spend the bulk of your time there. Don’t waste time playing the easy parts, instead focus on areas where you struggle. Many musicians use the “three-times-over” rule when practising difficult spots. They play the passage three times perfectly before believing they have mastered it. Once you also feel like you have mastered it, try recording yourself for future evaluation. On a side note, you may also want to try practising in a loud, distracting environment. These kinds of places really test concentration. In the end, the best thing to do is to speak with your music teacher, they will be able to offer a wealth of advice on practice behaviour that is specifically suited to the needs they know you have.

Mental Preparation

Now, even though mental prep is a separate entry here, it is important to note that it isn’t so much separate from physical prep, but more in addition to it. This is for those people who don’t feel a few butterflies in their stomachs, but rather a swarm; this is for the people with stage fright or performance anxiety. Stage fright is nothing to be ashamed of, most people feel it at some point in their lives. Musicians, however, may be a little more susceptible to it given the often stressful circumstances they are asked to perform under. It’s not uncommon for people to feel like they play better when they are practising, and you often hear musicians say “I was so nervous I just couldn’t play” after a performance. But while it’s nothing to be ashamed of, performance anxiety is something that can be controlled, increasing your chances of an incredible performance.

It is always important to try to keep thing in perspective. What is the worst that could happen if you end up giving a performance that isn’t the best display of your skills? Nothing but a bruised ego; a temporary setback at worst. How you bounce back from a bad performance is the most important thing. Your attitude will determine if a small failure pushes you to try harder, to practice more, and to improve your overall skill level. Of course, that’s not to say being anxious is bad or wrong. Just the opposite in fact. If you aren’t feeling excited or challenged it will also show through in your performance. As far as the physical response from your body is concerned, there is no difference between excitement and nervousness, it’s all about your attitude. Too much worry and doubt will cause you to falter, but no excitement and there is no energy or intensity to your playing.

In order to minimize your stress and anxiety try a few things to get into the proper mindset. Take care of anything non-musically related to the performance ahead of time. If you have the choice, pick out your wardrobe well in advance. Prepare your space by organizing your music and stand. And most importantly, think positively! A lot can be said for the power of positive thinking, and since performance anxiety is a state of mind, avoiding that state of mind with positive thought can be an amazing preventative measure.

So for all of you out there in the Winter Wonderland we find ourselves in who have up coming performance, you have my best well wishes! Practice well and hard, and remember, whether you are nervous or excited is all in your head, so chose to think positively, chose to have fun, chose to be excited. With practice and faith in oneself anyone can overcome performance anxiety. Good luck!