performance tips for all ages and levels
Whether it’s a 5th grader’s 1st piano recital or a high school student’s college audition, every performance is unique and has a certain level of unpredictability. Regardless of experience level, you can never be over-prepared. Listed below are some tried and true tips and tricks to ensure confidence come performance time:
1. Memorize using all your senses
Sight: Practice both with and without your sheet music. When playing without, visualize the line and page you’re on to stay on track.
Touch: Muscle memory is an astonishing thing; sometimes your fingers remember your music better than you do. Practice until you can play your piece without having to think about it, but make sure not to rely entirely on this.
Hearing: Do you know how the melody goes from start to finish? Go back and pick out the melody lines from your piece and play these alone. Try humming the melody the ENTIRE way through.
Taste and smell: Practice breathing with musical phrases while you play. Just as singers time their breaths during a song, musicians should practice breathing as they play their instrument. When your adrenaline is rushing, it’s important to get a healthy flow of oxygen to your brain so you can perform at your peak.
2. Establish landmarks and footholds
Analyze and memorize the keys, scales, chords, and progressions that make up your piece, identifying them as you practice. Practicing the harmony parts (i.e. left hand) separately will strengthen your knowledge and memory of the piece.
3. Outside factors and nerves can have surprising effects
Take into consideration the time of performance, weather and lighting conditions, clothing (does your outfit inhibit your range of motion), audience proximity and size, etc. Do your best to practice your performance in as similar conditions to the “real deal” as possible.
4. Get used to listening to yourself perform
Record yourself playing, but don’t forget to rewind and listen! Know what you sound like, and make sure you like what you hear. More often than not, the first time people pay attention to what they actually sound like is during their performance!
5. Slow down!
Adrenaline always makes you play faster. Practice slower than you would ever actually perform, but with all the dynamics and emotion that you use when you’re playing at full speed.
6. No last minute procrastinating
Practice consistently for weeks or even months before the performance. Don’t try to cram in practice the day of your performance – it won’t do you any good.
7. Eat a banana!
Calm your stomach with potassium; bananas are known to have beta-blocking effects that will calm your nerves and reduce the shakes.
8. What’s the worst that can happen?
When the day arrives and you’ve done everything possible to prepare, just relax. As my father always used to ask me, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
About the Author
Karen Spurney holds a Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Southern California in piano performance and has over a decade of experience in teaching piano. Karen has played with orchestras and performed in both small and large ensembles. She has produced and conducted dozens of performances for K-8 students. Karen is also the co-author of NOTEBUSTERS.