Five Ways to Practice Performing Without Leaving Your Living Room

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The only way to get better at performing is to perform.

You may have heard this one.  I know I have. It’s even come out of my mouth a time or two.

But the thing is, it’s not entirely true.

Yes, there’s a lot of truth to it. Practicing the tricky bits of a Handel sonata in your living room feels a whole lot different then playing them in front of a crowd, and the only way to really understand that, deep in your bones, is to take a deep breath and head onstage.

Performing and playing are intimately related skills, but they are different, and if there’s anything I’ve learned in my years of playing and teaching, is that effective practice is skill-specific. In other words, you must practice exactly what you want to learn. 

Let’s say you have a performance in October...but that performance is your only scheduled performance, and it’s already August. How are you supposed to prepare? You’re not looking to be bodily assumed into Carnegie Hall, but you do want to do justice to the music you love. If the only way to get better at performing is to perform, are you out of luck? Should you simply throw up your hands and hope for the best?

You could, but you could also harness that most human of superpowers, self-deception!

In short, you can create situations in which some part of you believes you are performing, even if you’re not.

How, you ask? There are a lot of options, but here are five:

Keep going.  Often, when we practice, we are not running through our entire piece.  Instead, we zero in on difficult passages, trying out different interpretations, fixing mistakes, and seeking to improve our execution.  And that is as it should be! But it’s also important to get in a few “performance” runs, in which you practice keeping going no matter what.  Continuing to play after a mistake is a skill, and you need to practice it. 

Mirror, mirror. One of the simplest ways to trick yourself into thinking you’re being watched is to  play in front of a mirror.  A mirror is not an audience, but it does increase your self-awareness in the same way an audience does, and that can be a helpful trick.

Record yourself.  This is maybe my favorite way to fake myself out.  If you’re recording yourself, you feel some of the same pressure not to make mistakes as you’ll feel in performance.  You also have the bonus of a recording you can play back to get a better sense of what you want to change or improve about your playing.

Play for Spot.  Try playing for your pet (if he or she will stay still).  Do not take the pet’s reaction personally! Spouses, parents, and children are other, sometimes more docile, options.

Phone a friend.  Do you have a friend or relative who is willing to Skype with you for ten minutes?  Perhaps you have a colleague who wants to do a performance exchange?  Make a Skype date and “perform” over the ether for one another. 

Good luck!

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© 2016 Anne Timberlake