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Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
#2998487 07/04/20 04:29 AM
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Hi all,

I have a piano diploma exam coming up and I feel nauseous just thinking about it
I have to play about 40 minutes of music, which include a whole Beethoven Sonata and three other smaller works. I have learned all the notes but I haven't been able to play them without mistake all the way through. I have only started memorising half of it (although it is not a requirement).

I have a teacher but she is vague. I asked her if I am right on track and she just shrug and said depends on how I practice...

I have one piece which I am super worried about. A fast Czerny piece. I have had bad experience playing a fast piece at a recital before. It was a Chopin Etude and I stuffed up big time and it scarred me for life. Although Czerny is easier, I am still not confident and everytime I play anything fast my heart beats fast and I get very nervous and tense.

Does anyone have any advice on what I should do for the next 3 months.
Practice obviously, slow practice.. anything else so I can be more confident? What should I aim for in 2 months time? And a month before the exam?

TLDR: I learned all the notes, pieces not perfect. Exam in 3 months time. Teacher is vague.

Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998504 07/04/20 05:54 AM
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Are you taking this exam for professional reasons or as an amateur ? Also when you say you have not played the pieces without mistakes, how many is that ? Just one here and there or more and are they really disturbing or just some false notes ?

Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998513 07/04/20 06:37 AM
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Just here and there. I guess they will be more secure after I memorised them.
Are 3 months enough to fully secure 40 minutes of music. The fast pieces are the one worrying me the most as I had bad experience with them. I'm experimenting with putting "breathing spaces" here and there.

Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998519 07/04/20 06:54 AM
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If you're going to play from memory, make sure it's totally secure. No halfway house between playing from the score and playing from memory (though of course some passages will be memorised).

You should be able to play everything close to perfectly at home, each and every time, when there are no nerves to contend with. If there are tricky passages which don't always come off, isolate and practise them by themselves until they're totally secure - that goes without saying. The same goes for sections that you don't feel 100% confident about, even if you can play them accurately most of the time. The worst thing is the anticipation of a tricky passage to come when you're playing and wondering whether it's going to come off: worrying about what's coming will just get your nerves kicking in.

If you don't think 3 months are enough to feel totally secure with everything you're playing, postpone the exam.

BTW, what do you mean by putting in 'breathing spaces'?


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998523 07/04/20 07:10 AM
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Thank you for your advice. I have been isolating passages here and there, I am still not 100% confident whether everything will be secure in 3 months time. My teacher can't tell me that either. I have been putting in my hours but at this stage I am still unsure. 😭

By breathing space I mean somewhere in the music where I can "arrive", usually at the end of a phrasing. Just something I can consciously think about and make sure to breathe, whilst not necessarily slowing down. If that makes any sense? Anyway, my teacher didn't taught me this I just came up with it to see if it can help with my tense and anxiety issue.. my teacher just wants me to play fast throughout in FFF. 😬

Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998530 07/04/20 07:38 AM
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Originally Posted by albydooby
By breathing space I mean somewhere in the music where I can "arrive", usually at the end of a phrasing. Just something I can consciously think about and make sure to breathe, whilst not necessarily slowing down. If that makes any sense?

I'm not sure that adding 'conscious breathers' of this sort is helpful in the context of a performance of the complete piece - it could make for a disjointed performance.

Personally, once I've finished with my preparation prior to my recitals (regardless of how I've learnt and practised the pieces), I think of each of my pieces as a 'whole' - and once I start, I finish, in the same concentrated span with no breaks. That way, I don't get distracted by extraneous thoughts (like "am I breathing right, or am I hyperventilating? wink "), and instead am completely into the music throughout, including any rests. That helps to mitigate my performance anxiety issues. Anything that involves a break in concentration allows them to surface.

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Anyway, my teacher didn't taught me this I just came up with it to see if it can help with my tense and anxiety issue.. my teacher just wants me to play fast throughout in FFF. 😬
You haven't explained whether the issue is with performance anxiety ('stage fright') or with inadequate preparation.

The solutions are entirely different.......

I've never knowingly played any Czerny. If it's supposed to be played fast and fff throughout, go for it. Don't overthink.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998534 07/04/20 07:54 AM
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I guess there are elements of both. Stage fright and inadequate preparation. Hope to get the latter sorted at least a month before the exam. And then spend the remaining few weeks giving mock recitals to friends and family members .

My teacher gave me the same advice with the fast pieces - go for it. the breathing spaces does make the music more robotic I guess, because instead of being musical I keep concentrating on arriving to the safe spots.

Thanks again for your advice! Concentrating yourself in the music is something that many people overlook, like myself.

Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998537 07/04/20 07:58 AM
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Regarding your anxiety, most people feel that way, more or less, before an exam. So that is normal. In my case though once i get into action, i just focus on the playing and forget everything else. It is the ability to isolate yourself that makes the difference. For your mistakes, what is important is to remain within the limits of what is acceptable for such an exam. I dont think anyone expects a 100% accuracy.

And of course, if the exam is for your professional carreer, the stakes are different than if it is purely for your own benefit as an amateur.

In any case, if you feel like you have not enough time, and if possible postpone the exam. And also use that time to practice performing on stage.

Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998548 07/04/20 08:22 AM
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Thanks Sidekar. I'm a naturally a very self conscious person. So I do need to work on a "bubble" when performing and just to concentrate on the music and nothing else.

I just, for the very first time, played the fast Czerny quite satisfactorily, still a little mistake but I think it would garner me a pass if I played that in the exam 😌. Ah, a small glimmer of hope.

Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998638 07/04/20 11:41 AM
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Originally Posted by albydooby
[...]
I just, for the very first time, played the fast Czerny quite satisfactorily, still a little mistake but I think it would garner me a pass if I played that in the exam 😌. Ah, a small glimmer of hope.

Practice tip: For every time, successfully or otherwise, you play through the Czerny at performance tempo, I suggest that you play through it three or four times no faster than half speed, from memory.

The same should apply for other works on your exam programme; doing so requires that you think your way through a piece and not rely on "finger memory" or "muscle memory." That should help solidify the memorization process.

In my opinion, with the examination just three months away, all your pieces should be solidly memorized by now so that the remaining time can be spent on refining interpretation and really solidifying the memory against any examination distractions.

Regards,


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Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2998718 07/04/20 03:03 PM
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Practice in front of other people, preferably people who you can trust to be bad audience for you. People who will disrupt your concentration. Once you have practiced ignoring them, you can practice ignoring the mistakes you will inevitably make. Once you have become ignorant enough, you can concentrate on playing the music the way you want to play it.


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Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2999248 07/05/20 09:32 PM
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Also, I find playing final versions on video helpful. Or... I've practiced a public speech with loud TV/youtube distractions in the background. When I say "final version" I mean, approaching as-if this is the one chance to be perfect.

Its different, because my performances are not for exams! But I find playing in front of a camera actually a bit more challenging than in front of an audience, because the camera catches every flaw.

Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2999250 07/05/20 09:38 PM
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Ideally,

1. Find a better teacher
2. Put off the exam until next year

This will save you a lot of misery and anxiety. If you have the luxury of time, it would probably even be worth learning the pieces inside out before entering for the exam

If the exam can't be delayed, follow the excellent advice others have offered.

Last edited by L'Orfeo; 07/05/20 09:42 PM.

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Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
L'Orfeo #2999382 07/06/20 09:16 AM
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Originally Posted by BruceD
Practice tip: For every time, successfully or otherwise, you play through the Czerny at performance tempo, I suggest that you play through it three or four times no faster than half speed, from memory.

Thank you! I need more of these tips. I know them already but its so easy to overlook these things and someone got to remind me how important slow MINDFUL practice is.

Originally Posted by BDB
Practice in front of other people, preferably people who you can trust to be bad audience for you...

Yes, I really lack performance experience. I did a couple of competitions when I was younger and that was it. As I get older I became more and more self aware, which is just fueling my anxiety.

Originally Posted by stemPianist
Also, I find playing final versions on video helpful.

Yes I have been doing this as well. My playing skill diminishes as soon as I press record, it guess it helps to gauge my level of readiness. Thank you for the tip!

Originally Posted by L'Orfeo
1. Find a better teacher
2. Put off the exam until next year.

These have been at the back of my mind. I felt she might not be the right teacher for me for some reason I can't pinpoint.
Putting exam until next year is also an option (I have until end of the week before the closing enrolment date). But at one hand I want to get this over sooner than later. My teacher reckons if I put if off until April (the next exam date), I will "taper off the curve" and won't play as well...

Re: Diploma exam in three months time. Need practice advice
albydooby #2999677 07/06/20 11:16 PM
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I think that focusing on the teacher right now is counter-productive. 3 months out from the exam it's all on you.

And, you can always retake the exam next year; best to do it with the experience of having been through the exam once.

I think you're ready. If you're playing pieces at your level you're bound to make a few mistakes. Moderating your anxiety would be the more pressing concern. You need to learn to shrug off mistakes and carry on with the piece. Otherwise, the anxiety will build up leading to a crash.

First off try creating some positive vibes. For one, see it as gaining from the experience. You may fail but you're going to learn from it and become a better musician from it! The experience, the journey is the most important thing not the destination. Secondly, the exam is all about YOU. Not the examiners, not anyone else so you're going to walk in and enjoy it darn it!

Secondly, play to a camera and rope in your friends/family a couple times a week, starting now. Don't wait. These are you inoculations against performance anxiety. You need to dull that reaction, fast.

Thirdly be fatalistic. When the exam date rolls around, you will be as good as you could be at that point. Plus/minus doesn't matter. What could have been doesn't matter. You are there, that is the time and you are who you are. Nothing could have been any other way. Time to play.

Finally one practical suggestion. If you're memorizing, try to memorise in phrases from the end and working back towards the beginning. In this way you will have played the parts toward the end more times, and you will become more confident as a piece progresses. As opposed to having played the latter parts fewer times, and you start strong but become shaky.


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