Perform as much as you can
Everyone gets nervous performing. However, the more you do it the more your confidence develops. Over time, performing begins to feel like a very natural thing to do. Play to your family and friends. Grandparents are good because they never get tired of listening to you play! Look for opportunities to perform at school, in eisteddfods and competitions. Doing an exam can be daunting if you have very limited performance experience. And an exam should really be like a performance. Don’t just play to your teacher. The more you play for other people the more confident you will be when exam time comes around.
Make music with other musicians whenever you can
Get involved making music with other players whenever you can. If you are a pianist, play for a singer or with someone learning an orchestral instrument. If you are a string or wind player there are so many wonderful duets, trios and quartets you can play. Join a choir. You will learn ensemble skills, how to phrase and breathe with other players and singers, and gain a knowledge of how your part fits into the whole. Again, musical awareness and sight-reading can be developed significantly by making music with others.
Memorisation is a valuable skill and being able to play through a piece from memory gives you freedom and confidence in performance. The printed score can be a crutch and can hamper expression. Memorisation can also be very useful for confronting nerves: with the score gone there is no safety net, you have to get the notes right. Proving to yourself that you can play the piece without the score is definitely confidence boosting. When you are memorising music try to play through the piece in your head away from your instrument. If you’ve really properly memorised a piece you should be able to sit down with a piece of manuscript paper (or a software program like Sibelius) and write it out. Don’t just rely on finger memory because this is what tends to fail when you are under the pressure of a performance. Know the notes as well as the fingerings.
Use a mirror
Playing any instrument requires a great deal of physicality. Our bodies often look for the easiest positions to hold, generally those that use the least energy but are not often the best for playing. I find practising in front of a mirror helps me check my stance, my hand positions and other key indicators that can prevent fatigue and injury over long periods of time. Singing teachers, for example, often recommend singing in front of a mirror to check posture and relaxation, tongue position, unnecessary movement etc.
Master the short-and-focused practice session
You don’t have to wait for a two-hour window to appear in your schedule in order to sit down with your instrument or work on your voice. Long practice sessions can be great for building stamina, but sometimes more can be achieved with multiple short sessions in which you set out to achieve one particular goal. Keep track of your goals and your targeted practice in your practice diary.
Leonard Bernstein says, ‘To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.’
Practise without your instrument
Similar to number 4, more and more evidence supports the effectiveness of mental practice. Especially effective when you’re unable to access your instrument or need a physical break, try mentally practising by closing your eyes and in detail imagining playing your piece, note by note, phrase by phrase. Try repeating tricky passages, slow them down and really imagine the experience of performing the piece. One piano teacher I know suggested playing pieces on the piano lid, or on a coffee table to sharpen up mental focus. Some professional musicians can even learn entire pieces away from their instrument. Practise on your daily commute or in a quiet space of time in your day, you’ll see improvement!
A recording device may be one of the most effective practice tools and most students just aren’t using one regularly. There is no need for fancy gear, microphones or studio set-up; recording is for personal use only! Your smartphone, tablet, laptop or handheld digital recorder will work just fine.
Recording yourself puts you in the teacher’s or examiner’s chair, helping you to listen critically to your own playing. How would you rate your pitch, articulation, phrasing, tone quality and overall performance? Make a conscious change to your performance, record and evaluate again. As musicians, there is often a significant disconnect between what we feel we are creating and what we actually produce on our instruments. Recording is an important reality check and benchmark and the best tool for students who are eager to see practice results first-hand – even if it is a little scary at first!
Take breaks, lots of breaks
This may seem obvious but how easily we forget. Practising can be physically demanding and often it’s easy to just keep going until you begin to physically tire. But practice also involves a lot of brain work and often we compromise our practice by not giving our brains time to absorb what we have accomplished physically. We’ve all become frustrated by particular sections of the works we’re practising that just don’t work. It’s very important to have regular breaks to refresh the mind. I remember one of my teachers saying that I should be having a break from practice every half hour! Go for a walk, have a snack, a cup of tea, or anything to let your brain rest from all that concentration. You’ll soon see that taking regular breaks makes a real difference to the effectiveness of your practice.
This list of tips which I will post over 7 weeks was published by CMuse
If you feel zone-out after a while, try the Pomodoro technique
Have you ever felt increasingly bored while practicing for an extended period of time and gotten too lazy to power through?
It turns out that stopping for a few minutes, even to watch an extremely silly tv show, is actually beneficial to your learning abilities. Taking a short break to get back in focus is actually a well-known productivity method that goes by the name of the pomodoro technique. It’s a time management system invented by Francesco Cirillo that works with the tendency of the human mind to become overwhelmed by too much work. The pomodoro technique suggests breaking a bigger project into smaller tasks, and separating each of those by smaller breaks, which will help you recharge your batteries. It’s called pomodoro technique because Cirillo used a tomato-shaped kitchen timer (Pomodoro in Italian) to time his session and breaks. Since you will have a break to look forward to, you will also be more likely to work harder during your work periods.
What you have to do is choose a task to be accomplished, set your timer to 25 minutes, work until it rings, take a short break (up to 5 minutes) and then start another 25-minute session. Every four sessions, you can take a longer break.
Skip the easy stuff
Let’s face it, we LOVE the easy parts. I love to hear myself fly through the passages I have down pat, only to slam on the brakes when it comes to a new or difficult section. Don’t waste time practising what you can already play well. Go right to the problem sections at the start of your practice time and sort them out first. Just playing the easy parts may be fun but it is not productive. Tackle the hard stuff first!