3 Practice Tips for Getting Over Performance Nerves

How to practice in a way that gets you great results, fast.

It’s all in the practice and preparation.  It’s about the work you put in before you even get to the stage.  It’s also more than just going through your music over and over again.

I don’t know about you, but here is what a typical practice session looked like for me.  Sometimes, I’d even do a warm up first!  Most days, I’d just start whichever piece/s I was performing from the beginning and go through till something wasn’t sounding the way I wanted it to.  It wouldn’t be unusual to not get through the first line without stopping and going over it again.  As a result, I got really het up about the first bit and then spent considerably less time on the main parts because I was just getting frustrated.

Then I got smarter, I started practicing the end of the piece first and once the ending was satisfactory I’d add a few more lines.  The result was that I focused really well on the last line. So now I had the start and the finish lines under control.  Now to address the bit in the middle which was by far the bulk of the song.  I’d stop a lot and go back and rarely did my first attempts at a line go well.  

It worked to an extent, because I would eventually get through the whole piece, but it took so long and sometimes there were tons of other songs to learn so I would just settle for whatever came out and move on.

Sharing this with you makes me think that my career was a fluke. I was teaching myself some pretty destructive habits – 1. To be super self critical (bye bye confidence).  2. To over analyse constantly (so much focus in the wrong direction, surely performance is about communicating).  3. To stop whenever something didn’t go exactly as I wanted (which isn’t an option in performance). 

The great thing is you can learn from my mistakes and we can get you practicing in a much more efficient, less soul destroying kind of way.

Here’s 3 things you can do to get your practice to set you up for performance success:

  1. Set one intention for your practice, one thing to focus on – whether it’s getting the right notes, words, tone, character, beauty or whatever else you want to work on.  Choose one thing and focus on it while you go through your piece.  And I mean go through your piece till you get to the end.  Then assess how you did with the one thing that you wanted to focus on.  When you think back on it, which bit was the best, how did it feel, what made it good?  Knowing what you do about that best moment, what can you do to raise your game in other areas which were less successful.  Now go to the spots where you think you can improve on it and practice those.  Finally go through the whole piece again with the same focus.  When you’re ready, go on to the next thing you want to work on.
  1. Use your imagination – before you even start making any noise.  If you’re having a technical problem somewhere in the music, imagine how it would feel to do it more easily.  Imagine how it sounds and what your body is doing and picture yourself doing it.  Then, when you’re ready, try it out the same way you imagined it.  How did it feel?  How close was it to your imagined performance?  Imagine it and try again.
  1. Work out what you’re doing well. Use your strengths.  What are you doing really well and why?  How can you use what you’re doing well to help you do better in another area?

These are all really essential ingredients to not only getting you results fast, but also getting you ones that last.  Rather than practicing ways to fail that leave performances up to chance, you build on your strengths, increase your ability to maintain focus and be mistake resilient which keeps you working at your maximum potential and moving towards your goals.

How does all this help your performance?  Well, it sets you up for success.  It gets you thinking in the right ways, where you’re looking for what you do well and you’re learning to focus and remain focused throughout your piece.  You’re teaching yourself to concentrate, to celebrate what you do well and to see the areas that need improvement as opportunities to use what you’re doing well in these other areas.  Does this mean you don’t need another pair of ears and eyes to help guide you?  No, it’s always good to have a teacher help you to move forward and challenge you in different ways, but this means you’ll make the most progress between sessions.