Essential Steps to a Great Performance

Many of us have witnessed it: the person who gets up on stage, stops during a performance to correct a mistake or a missed note, then marches off stage without a thank you bow or nod. This type of performance makes the audience just as uncomfortable as the performer sweating bullets on stage. There are many ways to have a great performance before and after the actual piece is played. Here are a few things to keep in mind before, during, and after a performance.

Before- take care of everything in your control

– Make sure you are appropriately dressed for the occasion. If you need some help in this area I suggest artofmanliness.com. Simply put, be modest and professional.

– Ensure that your music is in order, neat and most importantly with you. For brass players, empty condensation from your horn prior to going on stage. No one wants to hear a water balloon drop on stage.

– As Jeff Nelsen (former horn player for the Canadian Brass and Professor of Horn at Indiana University) said, “Your level of nerves will be inversely proportional to your amount of preparation”. Thus, do all of your practicing prior to being backstage.

– Know what to expect and what not to expect. Simulate your performance in your head so it will all be familiar when you are in front of the lights.

– Treat every performance the same: do your best. Whether it is a piece you will be performing in Piano 101, or a recital, never settle for mediocrity. Even if it is a non-chalante piano performance, no one wants to hear you introduce yourself as “Well, I’ll be playing Under the Sea from the Little Mermaid. Its gonna be pretty bad so I hope I get through it.” Rather, “Hello, my name is _____ and I will be performing the Theme from NBC’s ‘The Office’ composed by _____. Enjoy.”

During-

– Focus. Listen and let the music speak for itself.

– Play everything with an exclamation point, not a question mark, as my professor Andrew HItz frequently says. In other words, be confident in what you’re playing whether its right or wrong, and don’t apologize for it.

– Confidence. You should have no doubt that you will be receiving emails and phone calls from the New York Philharmonic or CSO the next day asking for you to be their principal player of… This is an exaggeration of course but do be confident in what you can do. Just as important though, the second you walk off stage tuck that arrogance in your back pocket. Be modest, thankful and open to all comments, good or bad.

– Think ‘do’, not ‘don’t’. In other words, don’t think while playing “oh gosh here comes the worst part of this solo, I hope I don’t frack it”. Nonsense. Think “I’m going to play this part so well just like the other day”.

After- 

– Modesty. This is huge. Even if you are the best musician in the world, do not go on about how much you love yourself. If you have a great performance, the audience will tell you.

– Be respectful, courteous and grateful. Accept all comments with grace and poise. If someone is coming up to you to tell you how wonderful your tone is, don’t say “Yea it was alright, its usually better”. In essence, you are saying that they are wrong. You do not want to do this.

– Finally, move on. It may have been a circus-like frack fest, or a moving experience, but the only thing that matters for the progression of your musicianship is how your next performance will go.

For more performance technique and direction, I highly suggest visiting Jeff Nelsen’s page.

Guy doing yoga behind my tuba

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