There really is truth to the saying don’t practise ’til you get it right, practise ’til you can’t get it wrong. When it comes to practising a piece you are performing or even auditioning (which lets face it – is sometimes more scary than a performance) it’s really important to have your work down. Here are some of my tricks for being ready.
- Know what your story is and the intricacies of your song. You will find it much easier to remember words and phrases if you can connect to your story and what your song is trying to achieve. Try telling the story without singing it and see if you can connect to what it is you are saying.
- Realise what you are having trouble with and dedicate some time to it. Its not rocket science – if there is a tricky interval near the end of the piece or a wordy bit of lyrics its going to keep coming back to haunt you. And repeating that chorus you know backwards is not going to help you through the tricky bit. Face the hard stuff early in the game. After you have a familiarity with the song, sing it from end to end (preferably record yourself) and circle all the bits that you aren’t getting. Now you know what you need to work on. Focus on those sections until you are as comfortable with them as you are the rest of the piece.
- Rehearse the whole performance. A song is more than notes and words on a page. Know your breathing. Know your emotions. I would go as far as to say know your general gesturing and movement (not to say it should be overly choreographed but if you are lifting up your arm on a word it should either be a choice or eliminated as habit). Perform your piece outwards. If you only ever rehearse sitting at the piano – the second you are pulled away from it you will feel exposed and unprepared.
- Rehearse in front of people!!!! This seems like a no brainer but the biggest difference between rehearsing and performing is the audience. And not just that, but the room, the stage, the microphone (if you have one). Try to do some rehearsals emulating the room as closely as possible to what you will be doing. Then the big step won’t seem so big.
- Prepare yourself for the worst. Now here is the tricky bit. You’ve got everything planned. But one big fear is always what if it doesn’t go how I expect? Well, best way to bust a fear is to go on and find out. Speed up and slow down your backing music. Tell someone to turn off the lights halfway through your song. Make it a game. One of my favourite memories growing up was my brother helping me find how to survive distractions in my work by literally distracting me while I tried to go on without being phased. It really does help. And if you cant recreate those environments in the real world – have a think about them. Imagine yourself confidently working through any disaster.
- Imagine out your performance. Imagine yourself doing it exactly as you planned confidently and capably. Think about all the details as best you can and see yourself making it to the end successfully. You’ve prepared yourself for anything so know you can survive it and imagine you having the absolute best time. Sometimes it helps to have the details you can visualise (like looking at pictures of the venue) or knowing what outfit you are going to wear so you have a place to imagine from.
So that gets you through some practice tricks to prepare for the day. And when the day comes remember you have given it the best you possibly could. Now all you have to do is do it and believe in yourself. Which is the hardest part right? But you are ready. Believe you can do this. The people in that room want you to succeed – whether they be paying patrons or a panel looking for their cast and hoping it’s you so they can go home. That buzz, that adrenaline rush that tightens your throat, makes you red, dries you out, whatever it does – its your body’s way of saying I’m so excited and I’m ready to go. Ride the wave and embrace it. You can’t stop what happens to you as you walk on to that stage – but you can use it to your advantage.
Take that energy and put it into your performance. Trust that you will give the best performance you are capable of in that moment. It may not sound the same as it does in your living room. But I can guarantee you – that wave that pushes you into the light is part of the reason you love the stage – even if it doesn’t seem like it right now. You have nothing to prove to anyone. Do it because you love it. And that living room performance may be reliable but when you hit the stage thats when you can take it to the next level. I’d much rather see someone be alive with the stakes up and get a note wrong then fall into the background with a flawless but unenergised recital, wouldn’t you?