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How to mentally prepare for a big performance? #2922742 12/14/19 01:24 AM
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PracticingPianist Offline OP
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In about two months I will be opening a concert for a pianist who is playing in my town. The certain association that is holding this concert always has a local youth play to start the show, and I will be playing at the next one. I will be playing Chopin's military polonaise (op 40 no 1), and etudes op 10 no 12 and no 5 (in that order). I have performed all of these pieces in smaller recitals before (30-40 people), but have never played for this big of an audience (500-600 people). I feel confident in terms of technique while playing these pieces, but I want to make sure that I also am mentally prepared to perform for such a large audience.
The reason I bring this up is because today I played at my teachers winter recital and it did not go how my performances usually go. My teacher teaches a lot of younger/beginning students, and the recitals are not usually stressful for me, but today I became very nervous. I was playing Chopin's waltz op 64 no 1, a piece that is quite easy for me. I walked up and introduced myself, and talked a bit about the piece... Then I started playing. The first 20 seconds were a disaster. My timing, notes, and dynamics were all over the place. I then gained my composure and played the rest of the piece quite well, but I left confused about why I started playing so poorly. I had practiced this piece and thought about how I was going to play it before my fingers touched the keys, but my nerves still got the best of me, and that is something that does not usually happen.
Is there some way that I can better mentally prepare for the upcoming large performance so that it does not go like how my recital today went? Can I mentally practice my performance or build my confidence by playing the pieces in public a bit more? I will be playing in a few more small recitals before the big performance and I want to try to get rid of any chances of my nerves besting me.

Thanks!

Last edited by PracticingPianist; 12/14/19 01:30 AM.
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Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2922744 12/14/19 01:34 AM
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Originally Posted by PracticingPianist
[...]Is there some way that I can better mentally prepare for the upcoming large performance so that it does not go like how my recital today went? Can I mentally practice my performance or build my confidence by playing the pieces in public a bit more? I will be playing in a few more small recitals before the big performance and I want to try to get rid of any chances of my nerves besting me.
Thanks!


I can't guess how helpful (or otherwise) this might be, but I would suggest several things.
1) Play your pieces in public as much as possible before the recital - which you already plan to do.
2) Continue to practice - not play through! - your pieces; practice them slowly, with focus on every note and phrase that you play; practice them both with and without the score in front of you.
3) Take each piece apart and start them at random points, so that you know at every moment exactly where you are and what is coming next
4) Study the score away from the piano
5) Play through the pieces in your head, from beginning to end, away from the piano and without the score
6) During your practice sessions, take the necessary time to imagine the recital situation and go through every step that you will go through for the performance, even though you won't have an audience. That includes,
- approaching the piano from out of the room
- bowing to your non-existing audience
- making your comments (if you plan to make any)
- sit at the piano; take a deep breath, and start to play as if it were the recital.
- don't stop to make corrections; don't restart, but keep going; this is the recital!

Regards,


BruceD
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Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2922765 12/14/19 05:24 AM
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When I talk before playing I make more mistakes in the beginning of the piece. Especially if I am not quite sure what I am going to say. I can get more nervous when talking than when playing, probably because I don't talk in front of groups of people very often. It's worse when it is a small group of people and they make comments or ask questions. Then when I sit down to play my mind is elsewhere.

So think back and consider if making comments before playing is part of the problem...

Sam

Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2922775 12/14/19 07:10 AM
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Of course, the more you play in front of large groups, the more you get used to it. Being nervous is the case of most people, but with the practice you get better and better controlling it. I do not want to get too much into the psychological part of it, but essentially you have to accept that your playing will not be perfect. Usually people get nervous because they are afraid to make mistakes. But makings mistakes or having temporary falldown is part of the public performance. I think that most people are harder with themselves than the public . So worse case, you ruin part of your play, so what ? Nothing critical will happend.

Of course you do not want to disappoint those who trusted you, so that creates a cause for tension. But you should consider that really you are playing for your own benefit. If they like what you do, fine, if they dont, well thats life. And everybody makes mistakes, even the greatest pianists dont always play at their best, they are human beings not machines. All of that is more easily said than done so i know that stress has its way to come even if you do not want to. Putting things into perspective with their proper importance and with more public performance you should be just fine.

Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2922803 12/14/19 09:49 AM
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Sam makes a good point, which is that if you are going to talk before performing, you should include practicing what you're going to say as part of your preparation. And then give yourself extra time once you stop talking and sit at the bench, take extra time to get your head where it needs to be before you start playing.

I don't know if you've ever read any of the practice books that focus on performance prep and dealing with performance anxiety, and I don't know if two months is enough time, but you might consider reading any of the following:

The Inner Game of Music
The Art of Practicing
A Soprano on Her Head

If you were only going to choose one of those, I would say start with the Inner Game of Music.

Also, if you haven't already, check out Noa Kageyama's blog articles about practicing for performance on his website The Bulletproof Musician.

Lastly, as was said above, expect to make mistakes, expect not to play as well as you could if you were in the privacy of your own practice room, and expect to feel nerves and so on. And then learn to ignore all of that and focus on the music rather than getting caught up in an inner monologue of critiquing yourself as you're playing.

It's easier said than done though, so be gentle with yourself!

Last edited by ShiroKuro; 12/14/19 09:50 AM.

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Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2922876 12/14/19 02:05 PM
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One overlooked cause of messing up big occasions is an imbalance that comes from too much practising. Once we know something inside out, it's easy to let muscle memory take over. The result it that our practice can change, which in turn can lead to the fingers knowing the piece better and better while the details of the mental image of the piece get vaguer and vaguer.

In an exam or audition etc. has it ever happened that your best piece was the one you worked on least, and didn't have time to prepare properly?

Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2922901 12/14/19 03:11 PM
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Johnstaf's comments remind me of another practice technique, which is to "drop in" at various parts of the piece, so that you force yourself to start in an awkward spot. This can help if you get lost or go blank due to nerves, and it can also help counter muscle memory because you have to be able to pick up midstream and can't rely on letting your fingers take you there.


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Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2922960 12/14/19 07:56 PM
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I don’t remember where I read this story about Itzak Perlman. He was nervous about a debut, (Carnegie Hall?) so he sent a concert date in his head that was actually a few days before the actual performance. He told himself that the practice performance was actually the real thing. On the day of the practice performance he did everything he normally did on concert days. He dressed in his tuxedo and pretended his kitchen was the Green Room. He entered his living room, bowed, performed and bowed when he was done. When the day of the actual performance came, he felt more confident because he felt he was repeating what he had done before.


Best regards,

Deborah
Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2923340 12/16/19 01:39 AM
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I was at a Christmas party yesterday. The group all had music training. Some are singers in a church choir while others can sight-read music quite well. We took a Christmas few pieces out of a hymn book in 4-part harmonies and sing the pieces at random with a piano.

A man was on piano for the first few pieces and then a lady. He was a better sight-reader who played both the treble & bass lines while she played only the treble line. I was doing the melody with a violin. There was no preparation or anticipation of the pieces beforehand. Someone from the back would say "let's do The First Nowell or Ding Dong Merrily on High". Many of the pieces are familiar but can be in any key. I did a quick look at the Key Signature and the starting note to know what Key the piece is in and just followed along. When I'm focused on the music, I don't notice the people around or get nervous about possibly playing the wrong note. A difficult piece you'd play through many times and even get key sections memorized including muscle memory. When it comes to playing songs by request you just have to stay calm and concentrate on the moment.

Back in 1995 the documentary "Small Wonders" was made about Roberta Guaspari and the East Harlem violin program in NYC. The teacher and the students had a fundraising concert at Carnegie Hall. Roberta G told her students that they're going to do well, only look at her and not the audience (they may get nervous) and play along with her. The pieces they played included Bach Minuets 1 & 2 and the Bach Double Concerto in Dm that were to be memorized beforehand.

I don't think playing by reading or memory is better. I've seen a young prodigy who played an entire 40m concert in a small auditorium from memory. I'd memorize only the fast technical runs since my reading is slow. In my school days I played violin with the school band. In a performance I'd play many of my pieces from memory and I'd be looking up at the conductor (our teacher) who would stood in front of the audience so looking at the audience part of the time was frequent. Having eye contact with the audience didn't make me lose focus or nervous. You just break a piece into sections and practice starting at different points. In case you missed a few notes, you can jump to the next section and restart the piece easily. Visualize yourself playing in front of an audience and just concentrate on your playing. When I get into a piece I know well, my fingers would be on autopilot. Don't think about the notes you'd be playing too much.

A few months ago I was sitting in front of a public piano playing a Handel Sarabande. I practiced the piece well-enough and just play the 3 sections through. A few people happened to be watching didn't bother me. The key word is stay focused on your music.

Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2924084 12/17/19 08:16 PM
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Your far ahead of myself so I feel reluctant to chime in but for what it's worth this helped me for recital programs. I would play pieces randomly in sections hands separate very slow and just watch and pay attention where mental gaps popped up. Right when i saw hesitations I would focus some attention and make sure I had memory embedded hard, not just muscle memory. Then, also HT slow, then HT fast, again watching for gaps and halts, then stopping to focus some attention, even if just a few measures. I was surprised how this ironed out pieces so the nerves didn't unravel the muscle memory when I was in front of people. Also, chamomile tea, calmed my nerves for some reason.

Re: How to mentally prepare for a big performance? [Re: PracticingPianist] #2924328 12/18/19 01:16 PM
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There is no easy solution. Here are 3 tips I found online:


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