Once a piece is memorized with all the details in place it would seem a successful performance would follow. I believe there are THREE MORE ESSENTIAL elements that guarantee a positive outcome for a rookie and seasoned performer. In my opinion, these steps involving the head down to the toes are almost as important as preparing the piece itself. Here’s the first of the three elements:
Prepare to Perform
Group lessons are the perfect opportunity for peers to test the readiness of an upcoming performance. Besides each pianist playing a well-rehearsed piece, all follow and help each other memorize these components surrounding the performance. The routine encourages students to enter into the desired “performance zone” with a simple ritual. Here’s how I explain it to future performers:
Check the bench: If it’s too close or too far, stand up and move it to the position that allows for your feet to remain flat on the floor and within a close range of the pedal if needed. Stretching fists to the fall board with straightened arms is typically the correct distance and promotes a straight spine.
Look for the pedal: It’s SO frustrating when half way through a performance you realize the wrong pedal is being lowered. Feel free to tip your head to locate the damper pedal with your eyes. Never assume the ball of your foot will find the correct pedal on its own.
Locate the correct keys: Use middle C as a marker to help locate the correct placement of hands.
Check in with the mind’s ear: Audiating or imagining the sound of the first measures of the piece to be played will help you set the correct tempo.
Get in the zone: Beginning a performance with these first two “P’s” should help you feel at ease and remain confident on the bench despite the pressure of the upcoming performance. In addition, this is a good time to remember to align yourself with the “zone” required to perform.
Camera ready: Perhaps the best way for you to experience this zone is by recording several run-throughs of a piece with a camera. Taking a video closely simulates the pressure of a live audience and can equip you with the focus needed to move through a performance successfully.
Smile: Playing a musical instrument is an achievement. Performing on a musical instrument in front of others is a major feat that should make you beam with pride. This is not the time for a stern face or even a show of disappointment despite a possible less than perfect performance. Forgive yourself of any biffs and enjoy YOUR moment.
Recover: Making mistakes is human but, recovering from them with grace qualifies as a stellar performance. In addition, no one in the room could have played it better than you! A warm smile exuding your pride in what you shared at the keys is a gift to your audience and yourself.
Take a bow: It’s a natural response for an audience to show appreciation for a performance with applause. The dazzle of bright lights and deafening cheers may rattle you some. Be ready to receive your glowing support by being polite and acknowledging the applause with a bow.
Bow in style: Cut yourself in half with an arm, or place your hand on the nearby piano, bend over and slowly say “hippopotamus” while looking down at your toes, then return to your normal stance. THEN stand up tall and retrieve any books from the piano rack.
Here’s the PDF of the sheet I use to remind students of the Five P’s.
Stay tuned for the other two elements coming your way shortly.