Preventing performance nerves - Anyone have some advice?

Discuss the joys and pratfalls of performance

Postby 112-1182392787 » Sat Jun 23, 2007 8:33 am

Thank you Dr. Leland for your wise advice.

I am not worried about performance anxiety. I am looking at the conditions of the upcoming performance: I have not played piano for 30 years, it's the first time I've had any formal instructions, I have only been playing for 3 months. I do not have long years of routine and discipline to fall back on. I have decided that what I need is to be able to be centred as quickly as possible in the first seconds of playing. Coming in in early, finding out where the piano bench should be, will already give me a huge advantage, since I don't even have experience with bench positioning. If I am seated well and can be balanced immediately because I have worked that out ahead of time, I won't waste energy fighting my body and I can put my concentration where it belongs.

My second concern is the unfamiliarity of a different instrument combined with my inexperience. I had the thought that pianists must get into some kind of a routine - something like getting the feel of the action of the instrument in the first few notes or measures, register this mentally and physically, and then be totally settled down into playing.

My goal is to be centred and balanced as quickly as possible, and how to go about achieving that when faced with an unfamiliar instrument. I am playing in two back to back student concerts, two very dissimilar pieces, and I started learning the second less than three weeks ago. That is why I want to get the variables out of the way that I can.

(I caught myself having the secret wish that someone would invent a piano that could be played standing up.)
User avatar
112-1182392787
 

Postby Stretto » Sat Jun 23, 2007 8:43 pm

Unfamiliar pianos in performance situations brings up a good point regarding performance anxiety. Trying to get a chance to play on the piano you'll be playing on ahead is a really good thing to do if one can. Don't be embarrassed to call the facility and ask if you can come in and try it a day or two ahead (or see if you can play on it more than once for that matter). At a student recital, one could ask the teacher if you could test out the piano before the recital starts, play a few scales or exercises if you feel funny playing the piece. Never be timid about trying a piano out ahead if you have the opportunity. Trying out a piano before performing on it whenever possible is really helpful (even if you just walk up and play a handful of notes to see how it feels) but if one can't, don't let it worry you.

For my student recitals, I encourage students to come early and try out the piano before the recital. When they arrive, I make sure they all have had a chance to try it out a little. My students never cease to amaze me on recitals even with unfamiliar pianos that I have worried about being a problem. It doesn't seem to phase them. They set an example to me as I had always been one to use the unfamiliarity of a piano as an excuse for messing up in a performance. :D




Edited By Stretto on 1182653230
Stretto
 
Posts: 745
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Mo.

Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Jun 24, 2007 5:35 am

Thank you, Stretto. In fact, I am to arrive half an hour early so that I can try out the piano there. My biggest concern is a series of slow right hand chords in the second piece that introduce a new mood. They are played pianissimo, each lasts the whole bar, one flowing into the next very legato, very non-percussively. I have an electric piano which won't allow me the subtlety I want. When I get to an acoustic piano the weights and balances of the action "surprise" my fingers. With these chords, trying to get this pianissimo that flows into the note, I often end up playing one bar of silence because my touch has been too soft, or one or two of the notes is missing. Or I can play first chord louder to ensure that all 3 notes sound, and then soften to pianissimo after getting the feeling of the first louder chord, but it spoils the effect.

For me, the message of the music rides on those four chords. The piece situates us in a church, with the ebb and flow of a choir singing fervently ranging from piano to forte, then it subsides to a repeating E low in the bass, like a gentle timpani drum, which continues from then on, pianissimo to the end of the piece. Our pianissimo chords start a few octaves up, like angel voices, gradually descending to earth in a flowing manner, ushered in by the "timpani", very evenly pianissimo, and those very first chords set the mood, in contrast to the preceding earthly full-bodied choir. The contrast creates the statement for the whole piece - a prayer from earth answered in heaven. I'm getting carried away, aren't I? :;):

I worked on the problem technically last night on the electric piano. To get the chords to come in gently, I need flexibility, but I think for chords the fingers have to remain rather strong and relatively inflexible (?) and the roundnes of the hand guarantees that all three fingers will come down at the same time. So the flexibility or responsiveness has to be in the wrist and arm more than the individual fingers. (?) But to get the chord to come in as quietly as possible in a whisper depends on how the mechanism of the piano swings. (?) It's the main thing I will be trying out before the concert. I would love to bring in that effect. It's the one thing I don't want to flub. If I can't get it while trying it out, I'll have to settle on something less quiet. Apparently the acoustics are good enough that a pianissimo can be heard at the back of the room. It's a small church with brick walls.

I've learned that there is a host of things I don't know about playing chords.
User avatar
112-1182392787
 

Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Sun Jun 24, 2007 11:11 am

Well, you've learned one important thing in only three months: playing very soft and slow is harder than playing fast and loud--just the opposite of what most people think.

Let me suggest that when you begin this piece, don't concentrate on round hand or flexible wrist or any of that; concentrate on the mental perception of the sound and mood you want, and let your hands and arms follow. The audience will respond to that, and will not notice slight technical imperfections as long as you project the mood of the music.

Bill L.




Edited By Dr. Bill Leland on 1182705411
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
Dr. Bill Leland
 
Posts: 548
Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2004 5:58 pm
Location: Las Cruces, NM

Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Jun 24, 2007 7:37 pm

Thank you to both Dr. Leland and Stretto. I've just come from both performances and they went well.

playing very soft and slow is harder than playing fast and loud


This must be true for all instruments. The balance between technique and spontaneity: a hard question. I really did need to find out those key points. I know about playing with feeling and moving an audience; I play several instruments as an amateur. But feeling is not enough. Sometimes ferreting out an inefficient movement or simply learning the basic technical aspects make a huge difference. If you are struggling physically it is hard to be expressive.

I have taken the time to read some of your articles, Dr. Leland, and now I understand your answer better. The little I read is meaningful to me especially at this time: visualizing the music before you play it. I have just begun doing this in a deeper way than just sort of singing it in my head. I want to look into what you have written about scales in more depth. I like very much what I have read so far.

Let me suggest that when you begin this piece, don't concentrate on round hand or flexible wrist or any of that...


For the performance, absolutely! But first I had to get out of "performance practice" which is more like a solitary rehearsal, and into the nitty gritties to find out why I was struggling and what to do about it. Those two things: the round hand and flexible wrist were what I needed. Once I found them I didn't have to think about them overly much.

The piece came out very nicely. After the first notes the audience went dead silent and stayed that way. It was one of those performances that you like to remember.

Thank you so much for the existence of this board!
User avatar
112-1182392787
 

Postby Dr. Bill Leland » Mon Jun 25, 2007 1:20 pm

Hooray for you! I'm delighted the performance went so well.

Yes, of course you have to concentrate on getting the equipment. My technique was so knotted up that I quit piano when I was 25. Then I was fortunate to run into a man who turned it around; it took several years of concentrated analysis, exploration of the physiology and mechanics involved, and realignment of coordinations and movements, and I'm still learning many years later. But in the end the different levels--physical, mental, emotional--tend to fuse together, and it gets simpler.
Technique is 90 per cent from the neck up.
Dr. Bill Leland
 
Posts: 548
Joined: Sat Feb 21, 2004 5:58 pm
Location: Las Cruces, NM

Postby Stretto » Tue Jun 26, 2007 12:46 pm

pianissimo,

A standing ovation to you! (stands - clap, clap, clap, clap . . . .)

When I read your post in the thread on musicality and here about needing to have the "technical know how" to execute the sound/mood one wants musically, although I've sort of done so subconsciously, I've never given it that much thought. But you so right and you explain that in words so well. When I want to create a certain sound on the piano, I do have to have knowledge of how to technically produce that sound. I guess some of it becomes so natural, one doesn't realize one is implenting specific technical movements learned over time to produce a desired sound. Other times, I get frustrated trying to come up with the exact sound I want because I've not yet acquired technical skill to make a certain arrangement of notes come out how I would like. If I get caught up only in emotion and ignore the technical side of creating that emotion, it doesn't always come out how I want. I suppose I should have posted this in the musicality thread and may when I get a chance. Anyway, the way you worded it made it clear to me, emotion/mood and technical execution go hand-in-hand. Oh, how great it is when the technicality of the execution is learned and engrained so well that it becomes a subconscious thing and one can concentrate on the emotion and mood!
Stretto
 
Posts: 745
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Mo.

Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:29 pm

Yes, of course you have to concentrate on getting the equipment. My technique was so knotted up that I quit piano when I was 25. Then I was fortunate to run into a man who turned it around; it took several years of concentrated analysis, exploration of the physiology and mechanics involved, and realignment of coordinations and movements, and I'm still learning many years later.


I tasted just a bit of this as an adult for almost two years and so have become aware through the experience. It is wonderful that you have shared some of your knowledge here. Sometimes it's no big thing but some small change that makes a big difference. Somebody mentioned in the "relaxation" thread about tension from anticipating a note. I was stuck in one passage where my fingers would not move anymore and my hand remained tight. Instead of fighting through it, I asked for help analyzing it. It was a moment where (right hand) the index finger passes over the thumb, the thumb plays beneath, the index goes back and continues an ascending passage. I was holding my thumb in readiness while the index finger struck on either side of it, and it was welded in rigidity. We simply decided that the thumb would slightly follow the index in its motion and as the index hit the key, swing down and under. Instead of bracing itself against what the index finger was doing, it swung along and used the momentum to find its place. The concept will help in a lot of occasions, and rigidly anticipating must be something that can cripple a person's playing. I imagine that there are many similar things.
User avatar
112-1182392787
 

Postby 112-1182392787 » Sun Jul 01, 2007 12:43 pm

Oh, it's nice if the musicality thread gave something positive. I am still learning and would love to see your further thoughts in that thread. It was a pleasant experience.

I learned some new things about being prepared. Knowing one's music and practicing sufficiently is the usual thing. But I anticipated the other things: rehearsed finding where the piano bench should be, photocopied the music and stapled it to manila envelopes, because the book had a tendency to look like it was about to flip to another page (quite distracting).

This may sound trite, but smiling seems to elevate the posture and lighten the hands. A little Mona Lisa smile, or an internal one - not a big ear to ear grin though somebody has to try that and make it their trademark. :D
User avatar
112-1182392787
 

Postby Stretto » Wed Jul 04, 2007 7:44 am

pianissimo wrote:This may sound trite, but smiling seems to elevate the posture and lighten the hands. A little Mona Lisa smile, or an internal one - not a big ear to ear grin though somebody has to try that and make it their trademark. :D

Funny, I've just been thinking about the smile thing/elevated posture and just the general idea of "light". I have been thinking recently about ballet dancers, figure skaters - they seem to carry a light, elevated posture . . . and they smile throughout their performance.




Edited By Stretto on 1183583143
Stretto
 
Posts: 745
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Mo.

Postby pianogal » Mon Aug 06, 2007 1:06 pm

haha, I just have to mention this:
My nerve made me forgot pretty much the whole song on my last Recital, in some parts, my teacher(in the back) shouted the correct notes and everybody laughed (in a good way I think). The laughter actually made me feel better, I wasn't so tense anymore. :laugh:
Don't ever give up piano, because you will like it someday
User avatar
pianogal
 
Posts: 114
Joined: Thu Aug 02, 2007 5:02 pm
Location: Reno, Nevada

Postby Stretto » Mon Aug 06, 2007 2:51 pm

pianogal wrote:haha, I just have to mention this:
My nerve made me forgot pretty much the whole song on my last Recital, in some parts, my teacher(in the back) shouted the correct notes and everybody laughed (in a good way I think). The laughter actually made me feel better, I wasn't so tense anymore. :laugh:

It's nice to know others have "been there done that". I forgot whole parts of pieces. I remember once well "flubbing" my way through a recital I think around age 13 or 14 just sort of ending the piece after a while of fishing around for right notes. I got really nervous.

Then another time, playing in front of parents/families of my students (that has got to be the most nerve-wracking as far as type of audience for me because I feel like if the teacher can't play or messes up a lot, what will they think of my teaching ability?): It was at my house in the pretty small space of my living room at the time, luckily most everyone was behind me although I could see a few at the side of me so I know they probably saw my hands shake. That was the wierdest thing that ever happened to me in performing - my hands and one whole arm went completely numb literally and tingly. How can one play when you can't even feel your hand? Has this ever happened to anyone else? That hasn't happened before or since. I don't know what causes that sort of thing. Somehow I managed to play the piece o.k. without any big obvious mistakes dispite this, don't ask me how. It was that experience that really woke me up to the fact that I decided I had to really find a way to play in front of others without getting so nervous as I never wanted that to happen again - it's not worth getting that nervous over.

In writing this, it reminded me of something that has been mentioned before on the forums perhaps in some of the PEP articles as I think may have been Dr. Leland that brought it up before, is to know the piece of music inside and out. The better one knows the piece, the less likely nerves will throw you. This can be seen in these two experiences I had. The first where I played a recital at 13, I was very unprepared, didn't memorize the piece in advance but memorized it the last week before the recital as I put off memorizing it in advance. I didn't know it as well as I should have. Another time I remember also one of the biggest flubs I made that cost me passing juries in college because I didn't know the piece as well as I should have. The experience I wrote about where I couldn't even feel my hands, I knew the piece inside and out which is why I managed to still play it just fine without any major messes. So the better a person knows a piece, the less likely nerves will affect the performance. Would anyone agree or disagree with this based on your own experiences?




Edited By Stretto on 1186433675
Stretto
 
Posts: 745
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Mo.

Postby pianogal » Mon Aug 06, 2007 4:02 pm

You are not alone, I've also had the time when my hands were shaking like I'm cold or something, actually I was sweating...when that happens, It felt so weird pressing the keys, it's like I couldn't even control myself, or my fingers were flying...anyway, it was annoying. Playing slow songs are much, much better.


Talking about hands shaking reminds me some my feet. My feet shake too. Don't know why. Do you think somehow wearing high heels is related to that?
Don't ever give up piano, because you will like it someday
User avatar
pianogal
 
Posts: 114
Joined: Thu Aug 02, 2007 5:02 pm
Location: Reno, Nevada

Postby Stretto » Mon Aug 06, 2007 5:13 pm

Oh, don't you hate that when one's hands shake?! Anyone have any tips for overcoming this when one's hands start shaking? What can one do about it? I've learned to be more relaxed now when playing than what I used to (I think it's due to "the more you play in front of others, the easier it gets" approach). What should a person do, however when hands start shaking to gain back control?

Yes, I agree, slow expressive pieces seem to help - I've done better on performances with slow expressive pieces - good point! - Maybe because they sound relaxing it helps one relax.




Edited By Stretto on 1186442027
Stretto
 
Posts: 745
Joined: Mon May 16, 2005 10:34 pm
Location: Mo.

Postby pianogal » Tue Aug 07, 2007 10:12 am

I think for slow music, I have more time to use my brain memory, because on stage, my muscle memory doesn't really work.
Don't ever give up piano, because you will like it someday
User avatar
pianogal
 
Posts: 114
Joined: Thu Aug 02, 2007 5:02 pm
Location: Reno, Nevada

PreviousNext

Return to Performing

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests

cron