By: Steven Danner
When it comes to performance every musician gets butterflies. It’s when you don’t have them that something is wrong. What there is to learn is how to deal with them. It all comes from being as prepared as you possibly can. Over preparing is never a bad thing. It’s like knowing more than you need to know for a test. It never hurts. However, one thing to keep in mind is that your piece will never sound as good on stage to you as it does in the practice room. If you talk to any musician who’s life has been dedicated to performing they will almost always tell you the same thing. It will never sound as good to you on stage as it does in the practice room. The practice room is a safe haven for musicians. It’s the live performances where all the “other stuff” plays on your abilities. So how can you get over stage nerves? Here're five tips that can sure help you memorize your music so that you can focus more on your performance.
This is the physical memory of what your fingers, hands, or arms are doing to make music. It’s similar to swinging a baseball bat or throwing a football. It’s critical to have this in music. It’s the first thing you do. When you first begin a piece there is a lot more that takes place mentally because you're not only thinking of the music you're thinking about the fingerings, phrasing, and all the nuances that let the piece breathe. That’s why practice is so important. It gets those things ironed out allowing you, in the end, to dedicate it all to memory. You'll notice the more you practice the more the music will come easier under your fingertips. It's because you've repeated the same movements so much they become ingrained in your muscle memory. However, if you rely on this only it’ll come back to bite you. Which is why there’s more.
See the notes on the page:
The next few will really push you a bit because they're going to require you to practice without your instrument. Wherever you chose to go to focus, if it’s a coffee shop, a practice room, or sitting on a park bench, sit with your music and play it in your mind. You can’t play every note, but you’ll start to see places that are stronger than others. This is an exercise that will help you hear how your music will sound. Vocalist, maybe you can skip to the next one.
Visualize your hands playing the notes:
Apart from being able to hear your music, you need to visualize what your hands are doing. Again, practice this away from your instrument with your music. See yourself pressing down the notes. Choreograph if you will, the motion's you will use to play the music on your instrument. For the pianist, see yourself pressing the keys. This exercise is not about the actual music. It’s about playing your instrument without having it in front of you. Couple this with visualizing your music and you're already practicing, and solidifying the environment of your performance in your mind.
A theoretical memory is an understanding of the musical makeup of your piece; the chords and form. It’s not uncommon that a musician will sit down with their piece and do an analysis of the piece before they ever play it. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Each piece can be broken down into smaller sections that can make it easier to memorize. Break it down by form first, find the different sections and identify them. Then see how the chord progressions work within each section.
Islands of security:
Having a theoretical knowledge will most certainly be useful when it comes to islands of security. It’s why knowing the form of the piece is so important. Islands of security are places you can jump to if you completely blank and a certain section of a piece goes south. You can jump to a passage that’s really strong and it will get you back home. For example, if you play your first theme, and then forget everything in between, you can jump to your second theme. Maybe you forget a transition, but you know after is the codetta. You can at least get there to finish strong.
The truest way to overcome your nerves on stage is to over prepare. If you want a secure memory you need to practice away from your instrument. It’s a mental exercise that you’ll thank yourself for having done after a killer performance.