Each month The Music Abode Collective Teachers collaborate to offer a live Zoom masterclass catered to and exclusively for our students. Since we are just finishing recital season, this month we bring to you some of the best advise on performing, direct from our teachers:
“Essential to a successful performance is the right frame of mind. We must remember that our disposition coming into a performance has profound effects on the outcome. When I first started playing music, I would associate my self worth with my playing ability. When I made the inevitable mistake during a performance, I would be hyper critical of my abilities and the amount of preparation that I had done. This in turn had profound effects on my self-esteem, my love of music, and my ability to properly prepare for a performance. Now, having many more performances under my belt, I take a more relaxed approach. If a mistake is made, I make a mental note of it with as little judgement as possible. I remind myself that there is always the next performance and that I am on a constant journey of improvement. Not surprisingly, this attitude has led to a much more successful concert experience and to greater insights into what I need to do to improve my abilities.”
“Performing is one of the best ways to improve as a musician. The more you do it, the better you get, and the less scary it becomes. This is true for anything else in life. You have been practicing smartly and methodically at home and working hard with your teacher. Now, you have an opportunity to share your passion and love for music and make someone else’s day much brighter. People want to see you succeed and have fun up there! Think of your audience as a source of love and support for you, that you draw from when you perform. When you play on stage with joy in your heart, the little details just take care of themselves and you can be fully present on stage. You have already practiced the technique, notes, rhythms, dynamics, and articulations to make your piece shine. Now, on stage, tell a story to your audience! Focus on the colors and textures you create with your instrument and/or voice; the picture you are painting with sound, and have a ton of fun in the process!”
“Music is a unique form of art because it creates a special relationship between the listener and the performer(s). For the listener, music can often be related to nostalgia, melancholy, joy, pride, and so many other emotions. It is the performers job to express and communicate these emotions clearly to the listener, but from the early musician’s perspective this is a nearly impossible task. Usually, there are a lot of anxiety, nerves, and fear surrounding performances. However, there are many ways to offset those overwhelming feelings and to combat the typical performance nerves. When it comes to studio recitals, us teachers want the students to feel proud and accomplished. Most likely, they have prepared to the best of their ability and now it comes down to getting on the stage and communicating their music to an audience of proud parents, grandparents, and siblings. I teach violin and what I have noticed is that children are eager to play a string instrument, but little do they know how taxing it can be on the body. The violin is a very physically involved instrument and we all know that nerves can affect our body in big ways. For instance, the opening of Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G Minor starts with a long held, open G-string. However, if the violinist has uncontrollable nerves than you might hear that open G-string shivering and quaking. We call this shaky bow, and it happens because our hands quiver out of nervousness. When this happens, we have now expressed our anxiety and nerves to the audience which can detract from the performance itself. One thing that I teach to help combat this type of uncontrollable nervousness is different types of breathing exercises. One of the simplest breathing exercises is to inhale for 5 counts and exhale for 7 counts. We do this at least ten times, or until the student is calmer than before. Our breath plays a big role in our body’s ability to perform well and if we can control our breath than we can better control our performance. There are dozens of other breathing techniques that can help us breath slower, deeper, and help gain control of our heart rates but there is one more thing that I find paramount to having a successful performance. That is, playing for everyone every chance that you get. If there is a recital coming up, I want to make sure that my student is prepared at least a month in advance. This gives the student plenty of time to have what I call “mock-recitals”. Two to three times a week I recommend that the student gathers with their family or friends and performs for them to really gain control of their performance and observe their tendencies while performing. By doing this in advance the students can adjust whatever they need to become their most successful self. It is also on the parents to create a safe, non-judgmental space for the student to feel encouraged and accomplished. In the end, preparation of the music and awareness of one’s mind, body, and surroundings while performing are the most important factors a successful performance.”
“Performing is an integral part of studying music and being a musician. Some musicians use the stage to determine if their self-compositions are well received (sometimes even igniting more creative ideas) and some musicians want to first hand see audience reaction to their interpretations of pieces. Performance can even be used as a tool for learning: if you really know the piece you’ve been mastering for months, even years, how will it come out when you have all the distractions of being in front of an audience?
As a beginning student just stepping onto a stage for the first time at 7 years old, compared to a 18 year old, compared to a college student, or professional, our performances always look and feel different.
If you are just beginning, your goal should be to have fun and enjoy the excitement of sharing something you’ve privately practiced for months now finally polished and ready to be received by your friends and family!
For those high school age students, now you are learning your stage personality which might be rushed, full of confidence, or contradiction, or distracted, or nervous—identify how those feelings transfer to your piece, and the audience, and focus on how you want your performance to be received—you already know your song backward and forward, its not the content of the piece you want to convey, rather the feeling of the piece and the feeling you leave your audience with.
If you are now performing at the collegiate level, now you know how to memorize, polish your piece, maybe even harnessed the feeling you want for your audience, but what about the phrasing visually and technically for your piece. How does that translate to you, and how do you you want your audience to see it? These are all qualities you can begin to imagine at any level of performance, but perhaps goals to think about and set throughout your music journey!”
“Practice Makes Perfect? There are several things you can do to prepare yourself for a musical performance in front of an audience. The first and foremost would be to practice the piece as much as possible. It is always going to be harder to perform on stage than it is to perform in your bedroom, which is why you need to practice the piece as much as possible. Using a phone or a tablet to record your performance is also very effective. What you would hear from the recording would be close to what the audience would be hearing. Another thing that happens when performance anxiety kicks in, our body tends to lock up. Taking a deep breath right before you go up on stage helps relieve muscle tension. Also, if you perform standing up, bend your knees a little bit so your knees don’t lock up. When your knees lock up, your entire body will lock up. Keep your body relaxed to avoid any tension during the performance. If you are memorizing the piece, memorize your music in small measures, or in phrases. It will be easier to jump back in at the right spot if you blank out. Making mistakes when you perform is a part of being a musician. Don’t stress out over the small mistakes during a performance. Remember to just keep going and everything will be fine!”