Preparing to Perform on a Musical Instrument
What is the difference between practice and performance? Well, there are a number of differences but there is one main difference between the two when thinking about how we should approach playing a piece of music.
When we practice we routinely stop to correct errors. When we “perform” the music should continue uninterrupted all the way through.
Sounds easy, right? Here’s the snag. It is natural for the student to spend much more time practicing than performing. This is as it should be, however, many students get into such a strong habit of “stopping to correct errors” during their practice that this habit becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to break during performance. These students are almost guaranteed to turn a small error into a large mistake when performing in front of an audience.
It is essential to develop the skill of “performing” during practice far in advance of any performance. The student must learn to keep the flow of the music going even if wrong notes are played during the performance. If this skill is mastered chances are that nobody in the audience will even know that the student has made a mistake. If the student “stops to correct the error” during the performance, everyone will know.
Developing this performance skill actually boosts confidence in the student tremendously. Think about it. The student who has not yet learned the skills involved with continuing a performance uninterrupted is very likely to turn a small error into a very noticeable event. These students may become “afraid” of making a mistake when performing. Because they are afraid of making a mistake they become nervous. They feel like they have to play flawlessly otherwise the performance could come to a screeching halt at any moment. Not many musicians play flawlessly and so the student therefore feels under a great deal of pressure to achieve perfection in the performance. This results in producing a student who is nervous and afraid of performing and the student becomes stressed under a self-inflicted pressure which, in turn, negatively affects the performance.
Now consider the student who has learned the skill of “performance” during their lessons and while practicing. This student knows that it doesn’t really matter if they make a small error. After all, one small error does not make a bad performance. Even with a few small errors this student knows that they can still ‘wow’ the audience. Whatever mistakes happen during the performance can be very easily recovered from. Therefore, the student is not worried about making mistakes and they do not feel the same pressure to play flawlessly. This student knows that it is very unlikely anything is going to happen to make him stop playing during the performance and therefore has a much more relaxed approach to the performance. This results in the student not being so worried or nervous and they may, believe it or not, actually enjoy the experience of performing for others.
Performance skills do not come naturally to most students and in order to prepare students for a performance, lessons must be conducted with this in mind consistently and the student should be in the habit of studying pieces of music to a standard to which they would be happy to perform it to others. When each piece of music is learned well, the student will never find themselves in the unfortunate position of being asked to perform but not having anything “ready to play”.
The well taught student will always have a selection of repertoire that has been studied recently to choose from for the performance and with a bit of “brushing up” be ready, willing and eager to go at a moment’s notice.