Nearly everyone experiences some physical manifestation of performance nerves.
Whether it’s butterflies in the stomach, cold feet, sweaty palms, shaky hands or scattered thoughts, these symptoms can threaten to undo all our hours of hard work and preparation. Even worse, it’s often fear of the symptoms, not the anxiety about the performance itself, that causes the most damage.
This is why performers are always on the hunt for the silver bullet, the magic cure that will keep the nerves at bay. Ask around and you will find people who put their trust in meditation, deep breathing, medication, bananas and lucky socks. If any of these work for you, that’s fantastic.
But that’s not what this post is all about.
I would like to share three strategies for coping with nerves and anxiety that have more to do with management than with magic. You might not have heard many people talk about them, but they are powerful core strategies that will work even when your lucky...
Practice doesn't work.
Now that I have your attention, let me clarify.
The normal everyday practice that we usually do doesn't build the skills we need to play our music well. If you have ever practiced a piece and then had it crash when you performed it, you know this is true.
Consider this list of just some of the many distinctions between what we do in practice and what we need to do in performance.
In practice, we take time to warmup our fingers and our focus.
In performance, we start “cold.”
In practice, we go back and fix our mistakes.
In performance, we must play on.
In practice, we choose what we want to play and when.
In performance, we play on demand.
In practice, we are in our comfy practice space.
In performance, we are in an unaccustomed place.
In practice, we achieve calm and focus.
In performance, we feel the rush of adrenalin.
In practice, we are discriminating about our playing.
In performance, we become hyper-critical and judgmental.
In practice, we delve...
Is your technique keeping you from playing the music you love?
No matter what your playing level is or how many years you’ve been playing, your technique may be holding you back.
Your technique is the foundation for everything that you play. It is the essence of your tone, speed, fluency and musicality. If your technique isn’t ready to handle that piece of music on your music stand, you can practice the notes until your fingers fall off and still not be able to play the music the way you want.
I expect that you know that already. You probably practice your scales and arpeggios, perhaps even exercises and etudes, regularly as part of your practice. At least, I hope you do. But you may have discovered that you still aren’t moving your technique to the level you want.
Are You Ready?
Not sure if you need a technique break through? See if any of these statements sound familiar.
There are many divides in the musical world, but perhaps none as charged as the question of whether to memorize or not.
There was music long before there was any way of writing it down. Learning was passed from one generation to the next. Of course, music was pretty simple back then. The earliest example of polyphony– music that combines more than one separate melody – dates from the 10th century.
As music grew increasingly complex, it became more important to have a way to repeat it and to learn and teach it quickly. Hence the systematization of musical notation of Guido d’Arezzo around the same time. The notation we use today is direct descendant of that early system.
You may prefer to play from memory or from the printed page, paper or electronic; there is clearly precedent for each. Each has its benefits and its drawbacks, and each should have a place in your musical toolbox.
You know I am a huge advocate of developing your note...
Read that title carefully, please. I’m not getting political; I’m being practical.
Playing music that you love is a great base for your repertoire, but if you want to play anywhere other than your living room, you will eventually need to play music that other people want to hear. The practical purpose of this post is to help you choose music to add to your repertoire that will serve you well, both because people will enjoy hearing it and because you will be able to use it appropriately in a variety of settings.
I started thinking on this subject after a recent My Harp Mastery Q and A call. One of our members opened the discussion by asking the question, “What are the gold standard pieces every harpist should have in her repertoire?” That question opened the proverbial floodgates. Everyone on the call had suggestions of music to include, music that they love to play. By the time the call was over, we had amassed a sizeable list.
Later, however, I began to...
They make it look so easy, the great masters. From the long putt that wins the match, to the artists quick sketch that reveals more than a photograph could, to the lightning fast scales in a Mozart piano sonata, we mere mortals know the depth of mastery needed to perform at that level. We understand why our attempts at these tasks don't have the same easy grace.
What's more perplexing is why tasks that should be within our skill level don't have grace and polish either. For instance, that Mozart sonata may present a technical challenge for you, but why does that one page minuet that you've been practicing for months still sound choppy, hesitant and uneven? How do you make the music flow?
In my e-book, Kaleidoscope Practice: Focus, Finish, and Play the Way You’ve Always Wanted,I call that flow continuity. Continuity is the sense of inevitability, the seamless musical progression that draws a listener into the performer’s world. While continuity creates a magical musical...
“A repertoire of 60 minutes begins with a single piece.” – Anne Sullivan
Okay, so I’m not Lao Tzu and my paraphrase of his famous saying about a journey of a thousand miles is not nearly as profound. But it is just as true.
The truth is that if you have just one piece that you can play, a piece that you enjoy playing and play fairly well, you can develop a repertoire of the scope and size that you want.
It is also true that it will be a gradual process and not an overnight one. Your repertoire will develop as your musical skills strengthen and grow. But if you have ever wanted to have 15 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour of music at your fingertips, it is completely possible, as long as you have one piece to start with.
You may wonder how I can be so sure that this is possible. You may even have tried to learn a repertoire and keep it in your fingers and met with less than resounding success. I invite you to try the process I outline below. It is likely there...
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin Delano Roosevelt
As a performer, I never found much comfort in that thought. My fears or nerves before a performance weren’t lessened by knowing that they were my enemies. I already knew that. What I was looking for, hoping for, dreaming of, was a way to not be nervous.
The truth in Roosevelt’s statement, however, lies in the nature of fear. When we are fearful, our fight-or-flight response is triggered. We choose to run away from the perceived threat, or we decide to fight against it.
In the context of musical performance, neither reaction is ideal. There is a part of us that actually wants to play, not run away. On the other hand, if we choose to fight the fear, we create tension that sabotages our playing before we start.
A musician’s fears aren’t all around performance, either. There may be situations that you avoid because you are afraid you lack the required skills or because you may...
Are you listening?
Good, because I want you to hear this: while practice, particularly properly focused practice, is the primary path to progress for any musician, the most important skill you can develop to propel you on that path is listening.
What makes listening so critical to your success?
First, it is your most important tool for identifying errors in your practice. If you don’t hear what is wrong, you can’t fix it.
Second, careful listening helps you match your actual playing to your ideal playing. You can assess your current skill level in relation to the way you want to play. Improvements in your tone, technique and expression, for instance, begin with hearing where you are now and comparing it with where you want to be. Once you hear an issue, you can create a plan to eliminate it.
Third, listening is perhaps the single most important skill in ensemble playing. Whether you are part of an orchestra, a harp ensemble or just playing with one other person, your...
Imagine what you could do if you could just learn music faster…
What would it be like to learn music quickly? You could learn more music in less time. You could spend less time practicing and more time playing. You wouldn’t need so much preparation time so you could take advantage of more playing opportunities. You wouldn’t have to beg directors for the music weeks in advance. You could play all the places - and all the pieces - you want.
Does that sound like a game changer for you? If it does, I have some good news.
You probably are suffering from one of three common problems. Any one of these can slow down your music learning speed to a snail’s pace. On the other hand, all of them are easily remedied once you recognize them.
Imagine you are standing at the edge of a swimming pool. Are you the type to dive right in, or do you enter the water one toe at a time? I admit to being a “toe by toe” person myself. I know...