Practice and Performance

Home Recording Studio
Musical Performances

One of the problems I confront as a pianist is to be able to perform a piece reliably without mistakes under a variety of circumstances. Accurate performance requires a relaxed mental state and continuous focus on the music being played. If I become tense, the fingers can't hit the right keys accurately and with the right touch. I lose the expressiveness of the musical phrases, or worse yet, hit the wrong keys altogether. If I lose concentration, the connection between the knowledge of the music in my brain and my fingers is interrupted, and I make mistakes. If my knowledge of the music is not solid, I hit little patches of forgetfulness that introduce delays that don't belong in the music. Oh, there are so many ways to go wrong!

At least, if I practice a piece enough times, I do learn the music, so actually forgetting the music isn't the main problem. My main problems are becoming tense and losing concentration. I especially get nervous when performing for other people, and I become tense and distracted. Part of my practice objectives are to overcome these effects.

Becoming nervous when performing betrays a lack of confidence in myself. I can improve my self confidence by confronting the pressure of performance frequently. I have found two ways to artificially create the pressure of performance while practicing. One is the use of the metronome. The metronome is an uncompromising audience that sits there snapping its fingers at precisely the correct beat. Any momentary distraction or forgetfulness on my part is instantly revealed as I lose the beat. When I can master a piece at a certain tempo, I can crank up the pressure again by increasing the tempo to ever faster levels. This is a very controlled way to discover my limits of dexterity and proper technique, my mental processing speed, and the completeness of my familiarity with the piece.

The other major device for inducing performance pressure is to record my playing. Once I push the button and the recording is underway I am "on stage" and I must play the piece through accurately or else my recording session is a failure. Even after I have recorded a piece relatively accurately, it is very interesting to listen to myself while I'm not so busy doing the playing. I am able to hear many subtle effects that I was unaware of while playing. I can hear a subtle shift in tempo that wasn't intended, and I can realize that I didn't emphasize certain musical phrases very well. I can hear that I used the sustaining pedal incorrectly, or didn't get the correct timing of intricate passages. There are many parameters to control that ultimately have a major effect on the performance quality. Musicians need to be perfectionists. Well, I am trying!

Technology has come a long way since the days of the old tape recorders, and modern equipment for producing digital recordings is available for quite reasonable prices. I have been able to set up a rather nice, if modest, Home Recording Studio.

This Page last modified on Monday, September 18, 2006