This article is written by guest blog author, Melanie Spanswick. Melanie is an experienced teacher and examiner and has entered many students for piano festivals. Melanie is also co-founder of the Saturday Piano Salon.
Melanie has just written her first book about piano playing which will be available soon. She writes an excellent blog about all things music-related.
Several blog followers wrote to me last week asking for advice on how to combat performance nerves and anxiety. They were disturbed and upset by the fact that they could practice a piece for months thinking they had perfected it, they then would perform the work and ‘go to pieces’. Performing is a huge topic and one that is often ignored by teachers. Students spend months learning pieces and scales, not to mention practising sight reading and aural, only to get into the exam room and totally forget everything they have learned.
Everybody gets nervous, even professionals, but the main difference between amateurs and professionals is performance practice. A professional musician has been performing in public for years, usually since they were children. Pros know how it feels onstage; they have become accustomed to being on show and knowing how to ‘think’ under pressure. This is an important point; it is crucial to use the feeling of absolute terror, a ‘negative’ emotion, and channel it into immersing yourself into the music, so in a sense you forget all about the audience. This takes years and is beyond the scope of most amateurs. However it is possible to take a few steps towards a more positive performance outlook – who knows, you may find that after a while, you really enjoy being onstage.
Here are my top tips;
1. Once you have mastered your piece, practice playing it through to yourself several times each day without stopping or correcting your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes – they are best forgotten and ignored whilst performing.
2. You need to learn how to concentrate under pressure so always start by tackling a piece that is beneath your usual level of playing. Something fairly easy that you feel confident about. Performing is all about building your confidence.
3. One effective way of practising is to imagine you have an audience every time you ‘perform’ your piece through to yourself. You will be surprised by how much this technique forces you to concentrate. Another trick is to record yourself playing, but be warned this can be quite a shock. Performing has a habit of making you play faster than you think you are – stress can do strange things to your mind and your sense of pulse.
4. It is vital to practice performing regularly, and by regularly I mean every week. Whether to friends, family, teachers, pets or anyone who will listen! If you perform every week you will get used to it; it will become ‘normal’ rather than an occasional event that you dread. Its worth gathering together a group of’piano friends so you can practice playing to each other – then you will all be forced to suffer the same nerve wracking scenario and will be more sympathetic towards each other’s efforts.
5. Try to focus purely on the music you are performing; concentrate on how much you love your piano piece and how it makes you feel. This will hopefully be conveyed to your audience.
Always be kind to yourself after your performance even if you have made many errors. Each time you practice performing you will become stronger mentally and will cope with the concentration element more effectively. This can help combat negative emotions and will turn the “I can’t do it” feeling into “I can do it and I enjoyed it”.
My book, So you want to play the piano? is a guide for the beginner and gives lots of advice on many aspects of piano playing such as dealing with nerves. It will be available on Amazon at the end of March.
If you want to practice performing to a friendly audience then do join us at the Saturday Piano Salon held at Steinway Hall on May 12th.
Melanie Spanswick is a concert pianist and writer. She has given recitals and concerto performances throughout the UK and abroad including concerts in most of the major concert halls. Broadcasts include performances on BBC Radio, Classic FM, CBC Radio and Swedish and Spanish National Television.
After winning a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music, London, Melanie graduated with an MMus (RCM) degree and was awarded many prizes including the award for the ‘most outstanding post graduate pianist of the year’. Whilst at the Royal College of Music, Melanie performed for the Queen Mother and for the Queen and Prince Consort of Denmark.
Recordings include two solo CDs, the first is entitled ‘Liebestraume’ and was recorded at the Wigmore Hall in London and the second is called ’Another Stage’. Melanie has examined for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and she has just written her first book, ‘So you want to play the Piano?’ which will be available on Amazon soon.