4 Pre-Playing Actions to Practice Today!

classical musician performance performance anxiety practice tips


Ever go to perform and realize you didn’t think too much about what you’d do backstage, how you’d walk on stage, or exactly how you’d bow, prep and start? 


Don’t worry. We’re positive you’re not alone. 


Tiffany here, and last week I played three recitals! It was a fun, albeit slightly tiring experience - but so nice to do a solo recital again post the wild ride of 2020/2021. 


One of the things I spent a lot of time practicing leading up to these recitals was my pre-playing actions. I’ve found that for myself, and my students, they’re crucial. I’ve witnessed them make the difference between a very wobbly performance and one that starts with confidence and conviction. 


Let me define pre-playing actions. 


Here’s how I see it… once you get to your performance venue for something like a recital, you’ve got your warm up, your backstage rituals and then you start playing. BUT - there’s A LOT of important stuff that happens between taking your first step on stage and making your first sound. Those are pre-playing actions. 


You can make up your own list, but I tend to keep it simple.


These are the four pre-playing actions I practice and visualize.


  1. How will I walk on stage?
  2. What am I thinking about while walking?
  3. Cue words for the piece/movement. 
  4. How I am going to breathe/prep?


Having a plan when it comes to these items is like a warm, cozy, beautiful blanket. When it's time, I know exactly what to do. There are no lingering questions, it’s easier to redirect my racing thoughts, and it makes the whole experience feel very familiar. 


Here’s a little map of this journey if you like a visual. 

If there are any teachers reading, in studio class, sometimes I will have my students practice their pre-playing actions multiple times and only play the first phrase of their piece. I love doing this, and they’ve learned to love it, too. (I think…) I suspect the reason is because it emphasizes the fact that practicing how we will get into the right mindset, how we will carry ourselves on stage, and how to reign in our thoughts in those vulnerable moments when the heart is racing and the adrenaline is pumping, is JUST AS IMPORTANT as practicing the notes! And, we don’t get many chances to practice these steps in front of a group. It sincerely makes a difference to be given the opportunity. 


A few tips 

When you’re practicing your pre-playing actions, I recommend physically leaving the room you’re practicing in and really practicing how you’ll walk on stage. Visualize the audience. Hear the clapping. One of the things I like to focus on while walking is the overarching goal of what I want to share - and engulfing the audience with joy as I take in the applause. I find it particularly useful to visualize looking at my pianist, breathing, and then starting. 


Going through these motions is a wildly different experience than casually restarting a few times in my regular practice. And, now may be a good time to remind you that not all practice is created equal - and there are MANY types of practice. Your fundamentals, learning pieces, drilling things, score study, listening, practicing performing, and the list goes on. Avoid the temptation to throw all your practice in one bucket. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? In the case of pre-playing rituals, you’re trying to accomplish feeling comfortable and in control from the moment you walk on stage to the moment you play your first note. 



A challenge

Our challenge for you this week is to incorporate practicing your pre-playing actions into your practice sessions. And yes, you can/should also practice your backstage rituals, and all the things that will help you get through your entire recital. But, never underestimate the power of a confident, empowered start. 


Happy practicing! 

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