Do you have a recital coming up? If you’re one of my students, you sure do! Whether you’re a beginning student, highly advanced, or even a professional musician, following these tips will help you improve your preparation and performances. I recommend picking two or three of these tips to try out leading up to your next recital.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, and not everything I say will be 100% true for everyone all the time. Please add any thoughts or questions you have to the discussion in the comment section below.
Tip #1: Finish Learning Your Piece Well in Advance
Don’t fall into the trap of cramming note-learning in the last couple weeks before recital! I recommend being comfortable with playing the notes for your recital piece in the range of 6-8 weeks before the performance. This way you can focus on other aspects of your preparation, such as interpretation, artistry, stage presence, and so much more. If you’re memorizing your piece, make sure you can confidently play it from memory at least 2 weeks before the recital, if not 4 weeks or even more.
Tip #2: Get Into a Consistent Practice Routine
If you don’t normally practice consistently, now is the time to start. Take a moment to write down an intention for when and for how long you will practice each day. Establishing a routine practice schedule guarantees consistent progress towards your goal of a successful performance experience.
Tip #3: Start in Odd Places and Focus on Trouble Spots
When you practice your piece, do you always start at the beginning and play through to the end? That is how most of us normally practice! Unfortunately, once you’ve had a piece learned for a while, if you only practice it by playing it from beginning to end every time, it will start to get stale and can truly get worse over time. One great way to keep your piece fresh is to practice starting in odd and uncomfortable places. This is especially helpful for fortifying memorization of your piece!
You’ll also notice that new problems, mistakes, and memory slips will arise from day to day, sometimes out of nowhere. Don’t assume that these problems are mere flukes that will go away tomorrow. Although some random mistakes are flukes, they are more often a sign that something has shifted in your mental or muscle memory that needs to be addressed. Focus on these trouble spots as they arise and take care of them with section practice, slow practice, hands alone work, etc.
Tip #4: Visualize Your Performance
Close your eyes. Imagine the day of the recital. It is just before you go on stage to perform. How do you feel? What venue are you in? How big is the audience? What person who you know is in the audience makes you feel especially nervous to perform in front of? Now, sit down at the piano and play through your piece, imagining that you are in the performance the whole time.
If this mental exercise just made you feel anxious… GOOD! It’s extremely useful to practice getting the butterflies going so that you get to know what it feels like to play your piece when you are so nervous. If you never work up your nerves when you are practicing on your own, then you aren’t actually ever practicing for the performance itself, are you? The more you do this, the better prepared you will be to present a confident exterior and perform your piece well on stage, even if you are shaking in your boots the whole time.
Tip #5: Get Plenty of Sleep
The importance of getting plenty of sleep before your performance cannot be stressed enough. Throughout the learning process, short term memory is most effectively encoded into long term memory in the 7th and 8th hours of sleep. So if you only get 6 hours of sleep a night you are missing out on this great perk! Treat yourself to a full night of sleep every night and enjoy as the benefits begin to roll in, two of which will be excellent memory and improved energy. These benefits will significantly aid your recital preparation and performance!
Tip #6: Eat a Healthy Diet
“You are what you eat,” goes the old saying. Whole foods including fruits, veggies, whole grains will energize your body with wholesome nutrients and vitamins that improve memory, energy levels, and your overall feeling of well-being. If you don’t normally eat healthy foots, try adding one or two extra whole fruits or veggies into your diet each day. Pro-tip: Eat a banana 15-20 minutes before your performance for a perfect mental and physical energy boost.
Tip #7: Exercise Routine
For kids, this goes without saying. Kids tend to be active naturally. But for some of us older pianists, we sometimes fall out of healthy exercise habits. I highly recommend getting into a consistent workout routine leading up to your next recital. Working up your blood rate on a regular basis helps tremendously when it comes to managing high stress situations like the nerves and stage fright that can come with performing. Well-toned muscles will make you feel confident and in control at the instrument, which certainly doesn’t hurt!
Tip #8: Socialize with Friends You Enjoy Being Around
Playing piano tends to be a very isolated activity. Pianists tend to be introverts, and we sometimes get into an unhealthy pattern of taking ourselves and everything happening in our inner lives too seriously. Lonely people suffer not only from depression more than others, but also serious health problems like increased risk of heart disease. This is why it is so important for us to get together with friends we enjoy being around who make us laugh and feel good. Studies have shown that a healthy social life strengthens the immune system. It also has a huge impact on our attitude towards life in general. So surround yourself with people you enjoy time with, and chances are you’ll take everything in life a little bit lighter, which is good for your performances too!
Tip #9: Do NOT Over-Practice Close to the Recital Date
Get into the consistent routine (Tip #2) leading up to your recital, and stick with that. Cramming on any aspect of your piece right before the recital will leave you stressed and exhausted when it is time to go on stage. If there is any time to cram, it is several weeks before your recital so that you can have your piece learned well in advance. Then you can rest up and be fresh for the performance.
Tip #10: Have Fun and Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
OK, I know, this one is easier said than done. But allow me to give you one practical method that will result in having more fun in your performances and will help you to react to any botched passages with a tad less apocalyptic duress. When you are practicing visualizing your performance (Tip #4), if you make a mistake, keep moving forward in the piece rather than “stuttering” and trying to fix it. You’ll probably notice a thought in your mind along the lines of “shoot, I messed up. Darn!” You might be tempted to be hard on yourself for the mistake. We all do this and it is normal. Notice that thought, but then choose an alternate route moving forward. Instead of dwelling on the past mistake, look ahead to the next thing that’s going to be really fun to play, and go for it! If you make another mistake, let that one go as well, keep looking ahead and enjoying the next thing you can have fun doing. You should definitely take note of such spots and go back to practice and fix them after your run-through, but for your performance visualization practice, and in the performance itself, keep going and stay with the music! People LOVE watching this kind of performance. Sometimes it is more impressive to see someone who can recover well from a mistake and continue to deliver exciting music, than it is to watch someone play who is perfect all the time.
I hope at least one of these 10 tips will be helpful for you in your next performance. If you’re interested in more content like this, please visit the YouTube link at the top of this page and click subscribe, or stop by next month for a new blog entry.