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Jul 19 2011, 09:26 AM
Joined: 18-July 11
Member No.: 286927
Morning, often read the messages, but have only just decided to join. I am currently waiting, not so patiently for my grade 5 theory results and also my grade 3 piano which I took last Saturday. I was just wondering if anyone has any tips for controlling my nerves. Have always suffered during my exams (I am grade 5 Sax and Clarinet) and was recommended the Bach remedy. But after taking what must have amounted to half a bottle in my cup of tea and also sprays on the tongue, I walked into the examination room and completely went to pieces...although well prepared and I ended up as a quivering wreck and came out in tears, not good for a 40 year old women! Help needed please, am seriously thinking of giving up on the lessons.
Jul 21 2011, 03:07 PM
It is absolutely normal to feel nervous before an exam or a performance. If you didn't I'd be worried that you were lacking some essential human qualities. But how do you reduce this natural nervousness to a manageable level and/or learn to perform well despite it? Whole books have been written on this, several of them, but when you try to apply their advice much of it often turns out to be at best impractical and at worst impossible.
When I returned to the piano shortly before joining this forum I could not perform for toffee. Four years on I have overcome the worst problems, although there is still work to do. It has not required NLP, or hypnosis, or pschotherapy, or beta-blockers. Some people will tell you that if you focus on communicating the music, then your ego will recede and things are more likely to go well. That may work for some, but I have found that I cannot focus on the meaning of the music until a certain minimum level of confidence and relaxation has been attained.
I have found three things useful:
1. Know your piece or pieces thoroughly
2. Get plenty of performing experience
3. Put your performance (or exam) in perspective
Let us look at these a bit more closely.
1. Know your piece or pieces thoroughly
It seems to me that most amateurs have no idea of just what "knowing a piece well enough" entails. For most of us it is enormously more than we imagine when we start on the musical journey. If you want to feel totally confident then you should have the piece thoroughly memorized, even if you choose to use a score when you perform. Ideally you would be able to write out your whole programme from memory, complete with every expression mark. One of my teachers, a concert pianist, used to do this before his performances. You should also understand the piece from every angle, melodic and rhythmic ideas, contrapuntal effects, harmonic progressions and modulations etc.. You should be able to start and stop at virtually any point. It should go without saying that you need to know exactly what fingering to use. I am not pretending that this is easy. A lot of it is just a hard slog. The mind often rebels at the hard work involved, and has to be forced or tricked into co-operating!
2. Perform as often as possible
If you perform only at one or two exams each year, and maybe at an annual recital organized by your teacher it is no wonder that it is stressful. By performing more frequently (at least once every 3 or 4 weeks) you will start to notice exactly what is different about the performing situation, become comfortable with the different feelings, recognize what needs to be more thoroughly prepared and so on. You should expect to mess up a few times. Don't worry about it. The more often you perform the less stress you will feel, and the more comfortable you will feel. There really is no substitute for performing often enough to start to feel relaxed and at home doing it. A "performance" does not have to be a big formal affair, with you sitting on stage in front of 100 or so expectant listeners. "Try-outs" in front of a few friends, relatives, or fellow pupils recreate enough of the same stresses to be just as useful. It is defintely tough, after a performance disaster, to put yourself in line for a further failure, but it just has to be done. Eventually a performance WILL go well, and from then on you can build on ever greater successes. [One tip, to ensure a successful operformance is to play something relatively easy for you first few public outings. A simple piece well-played is infinitely preferable to something at your limits played badly. The greatest concert pianists did nopt shy away from pieces that are relatively (for them) easy. Horowitz regularly featured Schumann's "Traumerei" and Liszt'z "Consolation No. 3" in his recitals - trivialy easy pieces for a pianist of his stature.
3. Get it in perspective.
Just how important is your exam or recital in the grand scheme of things? Not very!!! Only a handful of people will care much about the outcome, and they will not care VERY much. While it is easy to tell yourself this, the mind is resistant to accepting it. What is needed is some event in your life that proves to you, unarguably, that other things matter more. In my case it was a sudden and unexpected emotional upset, after which I found that when I performed the nerves were no longer there ... or at least were very much reduced.
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