Practicing to learn new repertoire and techniques is different from practicing how to perform.
Students often treat learning music and performing as one and the same.
But, how we make music is often connected to our environment, and emotional and physical variables as well. Therefore, the performance space will be vastly different from a practice room. We need to prepare ourselves well for these differences, or else issues such as stage fright and variance in sound production will surprise us and ruin our recital.
How does one, then, practice performance? It's not like you can put the Carnegie Hall or Grand Ole Opry in your house along with an audience of 1,000 or more.
True, you won't be able to simulate the exact conditions of the performance, but there are steps you can take to ensure your recital is successful.
1. Prepare and Practice
Obvious, huh? Before simulating the recital or gig environment, you need to have your piece as polished as you would at an actual performance.
Break down and conquer your repertoire well in advance of a real and practice performance. The less time you have, the more stressful the process will be for you.
2. Rehearse with Real Accompanists and Musicians
A backing track on Youtube or CD will not mimic the true nature of playing with others. If your piece calls for accompaniment, you must simulate what it's like to collaborate and harmonize with another human being. There will be tempo variations, new expression and phrasing ideas that your solo practice and a computer will not know how to execute.
You should be practicing with your fellow musicians a month or two ahead of the actual recital.
3. Play for an Audience
Ask your family and friends to a mock recital in the comfort of your living room. Schedule it, dress for it, and ask your accompanist to attend. Let your family give you some suggestions. Maybe they want to see you smile more. Or, your friend noticed you looked stiffer than usual. It's good to jot down their thoughts and keep it in mind.
Playing for friends and family, though, is still not like playing for a crowd of strangers. Do it!
- Volunteer to play at a farmer's market
- Busk (street perform)
- Put together a house concert for neighbors and their family and friends
- Attend an open mic night
- Put on a show at your local bookstore or coffee shop
There are many opportunities to create the real performance environment.
Things to keep in mind. While performing in any of the above situations, practice putting your energy into thinking solely about the music, your instrument, and body. Try not to let the distractions, both internal and external, affect your playing. The music might be disrupted by coughing, crying babies, maybe a hiccup in your playing, plus inner thoughts of criticism and wondering what the audience is thinking.
Relax, focus your mind on the beauty and fun of playing your instrument, and smile, sway and lose yourself in the music.