Monday, September 21, 2015

10 Easy Pre-Performance "Keep Your Cool" Practice Tips!

10 Easy Pre-Performance 
"Keep Your Cool" Practice Tips!

The days and moments leading up to a performance can often seem filled with pressure.  All the expectations you have for yourself, the difficulty of the music, and the anticipation of performance anxiety can easily overwhelm you if you don't have some reliable strategies in place.  

The following 10 Pre-Performance "Keep Your Cool" Practice Tips can help you to relax a little, take things one step at a time, and trust that you are doing the best you can to get ready for your exciting performance!

1. Play Slower & Lighter
Especially with fast and exciting music, it can be tempting to practice full force in the moments leading up to your performance. Doing this might cause you to play sharp or shrill, make your embouchure tired, and/or block your listening.  Instead, choose to play your music slower than performance tempo and much lighter than usual. This option allows you to listen better, practice longer, and make more connections as you play.    

2. Comfort & Ease
As your performance draws near, you might think you need epic willpower to force your technique up to the right tempo, force yourself to play the entire phrase in one breath, or force yourself to make it all the way through the piece.  Even though tempo, phrasing, and endurance are essential aspects of musical preparation, forcing yourself to accomplish these things does not prepare you for a successful performance.  Remember that your greatest desire when you walk on stage will be to have a sense of comfort and ease with the music you are about to play.  Keeping that in mind, your practicing leading up to your performance should be an investment in that same comfort and ease.  If your current practice method does not feel comfortable or easy, switch gears and choose a different practice method that does. 

3. Strategic Metronome Use
I'm a firm believer that your relationship with the metronome can dramatically affect the quality of your practice.  As you get ready for your performance, use your metronome strategically, with patience, to check tempos, work on fast sections slowly, and to provide a sense of comfort in sections that need it.  Live music does not exist in a metronomic cage and you're certainly not going to take your metronome on stage with you, so use your metronome sparingly and wisely as you practice before a performance!  Get comfy with the pacing of your music coming from inside of you so you can play each new tempo in your music with confidence.

4. Plan Out Your Breaths & Thoughts
If you're not already used to doing this, begin the practice of marking all of your breaths in your music.  A common breath symbol is a small apostrophe (in parenthesis if it's a back-up breath).  This doesn't mean that you will take every breath you've planned during your performance, but you will at least have a road map to help you navigate your music with breathing confidence. Just like planning your breaths, it is important to plan out your performance thoughts!  Plan things like, "Feel the beat here," "enjoy the sound here," "bouncy style," "patient long notes," "sparkling high note," or any other simple and effective thought that will guide your mind and provide a sense of security as you enjoy the piece along with your audience.   

5. The One Second Rule
When you plan out your breaths and simple, effective thoughts for your performance, you are following the "One Second Rule." While performing, you don't have time to think of long explanations of what you should or shouldn't do.  You are busy performing your music!  As you prepare for your performance, use the One Second Rule as a reminder to not only program helpful one second thoughts, but also to ditch any extra thoughts that might be weighing you down.  

6. Make Your Mark (or Erase It!)
Sometimes, a courtesy accidental in your music can make all the difference.  As you calmly and patiently practice the important sections in your music before your performance, notice any sense of awkwardness or insecurity that might sneak in when you look at a particular note.  If even one tiny millisecond is wasted while you "make sure" that the note is, indeed, a sharp, you might have caused an unfortunate ripple effect that will change your ability to handle the notes coming up.  Instead of risking it, just write a nice, neat courtesy accidental to put your mind at ease.  Similarly, too much big or messy writing can obscure your ability to read your music.  Take care to notice if this issue arises and don't hesitate to erase markings you no longer need!  The future version of you on stage in your upcoming performance will thank you for it!


7. Just Do One Thing 
A common stressor before performances is a sense of being overwhelmed with the amount of music you have to play.  Instead of worrying about every single challenging passage in your music, simply pick one passage to practice really, really well.  When that passage feels substantially better, pick another passage and put all your energy into practicing the new passage. Taking decisive action will not only be very productive, but also a comforting distraction from your general worries about the performance. 

8. Act Now Instead of Later
It is quite normal for a flutist to think things like, "I really should do more Practice Games with that passage," or "I need to remember to practice that slowly tomorrow..."  In the week or two before your performance, remember that time will fly by more quickly than you might think.  Instead of leaving anything for tomorrow, be sure to take care and patiently practice any part of your music that is calling for your attention.  When it's time to walk on stage, you'll be so glad you did!

9. Be the Audience
It is so easy to slip into "doing mode" and just as easy to forget about "listening mode."  As you prepare for your performance, remember to imagine yourself sitting in the audience, experiencing the music perhaps for the first time.  Instead of worrying about perfection, remember that often, the audience is generally impressed and moved by beautiful long notes, sparkling fast notes, and singing high notes.  Work on your tone, patient technique practice, easy breathing, and singing vibrato to prepare for a performance your audience will enjoy.  

10. Pump Yourself Up!
Just like athletes, we need to get pumped up for our big day!  Do your warm-ups, your stretches, have a moment of silence, hydrate, rest up, and do whatever else you need to do to feel your best. When it's finally time to walk on that stage, high energy and even higher spirits will help the music come to life for your audience (and for you!). 

Let me know how these 10 Pre-Performance "Keep Your Cool" Practice Tips have worked for you!  I'll be updating the layout and format of my blog soon and would love to include responses from readers.  Email me anytime at and check back each Monday for a new post!

Happy Practicing!

Terri S√°nchez