Performance and stage fright

What’s the difference between practicing and performing? People are watching you in a performance, obviously. But it goes a little deeper than that.

The purpose of practice is to hone your technique and iron out mistakes. If you’ve read the previous two sections, you already know that the correct use of repetition is the key to effective practice. It concentrates your attention right on the problem areas and trouble spots, allowing you to correct them in the fastest way possible. This makes for faster improvement, but--by definition--it means you will be spending a good deal of your time playing things that you can’t play well.

The purpose of performing, on the other hand, is to entertain. It is to display one’s music. In any case, you want to come off looking your best. So ideally, you want to play those things that you have already mastered. It's not well-advised to try to play 'over your head' here. Better to simplify to things you do well, and pull them off without a hitch. Well, a little adventure never hurt anyone... I'm just talking generally here.

So in this sense, practice and performance are opposites. They have opposite purposes. There is also a third approach, which I’d call ‘performance practicing’ where you’d practice doing a performance -- a dry run. Of course you get good at whatever you practice. And performing is a skill like any other. So why not practice performing, too? I'll give you one very good example why this is crucial. If you get into a habit of always stopping in the middle of a song to work on the hard parts, when you play for Aunt Betsy (or whoever), you’ll probably stop in the middle of that, too!

So include ‘performance practicing’ in with the rest of your practice routine. And learn how to ignore mistakes and recover from them gracefully, without giving them undue attention. Mistakes happen sometimes. They’re not a big deal, unless you make them a big deal. Chances are most of your audience won’t notice anyway. And even if they do, they probably won’t care as much as you. Don't let mistakes break your focus.

And don't forget about the best kind of performance practice -- performing itself! If you suffer from stage fright (and a lot of performers do), this is one of the best cures. On the subject of stage fright, I'll also give you a few tips. First of all, stage fright is rooted in being immobil. Check it out the next time you feel stage fright. Become aware of your body, and you'll notice you are standing rigidly, with clenched muscles. The opposite of this is loose and relaxed MOTION. So the solution here is to get into a groove. Move! Music is rhythm, and rhythm is motion. If your body is fluid and relaxed, your stage fright will all but disappear!

Bottom Line:

When you practice, you’re working on things you can’t do very well, and repeating them until you can. When you perform, you are pulling out the things you already do best. So they are opposites. Make sure you also practice performing, then, running through your music in practice as if it were a performance, and ignoring all mistakes. When a mistake does occurs, chances are most of your audience won’t notice anyway. And even if they do, they won’t care if you don’t make a big deal about it. Also, stage fright happens were you are tense and rigid. Loosen up and move. Get into the groove and stage fright will go away.
 

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