Filtering by Category: Performing

Memorization Tips

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Mr. Anderson,
Sometimes it's hard for me to memorize pieces. Am I just stupid or is it hard for everyone? I feel like killing myself when I have a memory slip. Please help me soon.
Sincerely,
Desperate in Denver

Dear Desperate,

Memory is something I've struggled with for as long as I can.....remember. Desperation and threats are certainly no way to solve the problem - in fact, the more you think about memory while you perform, the more slips are likely to happen. There are a couple tips I can offer:

  • Practice! The more you play a piece, the easier it will be to engrain the music in your memory.
  • Think harmonically. Remember the key scheme of the piece - For example, know that your piece is in d minor and that the middle is in F major.
  • When you memorize music, connect every musical phrase in the piece to images or feelings. The brain is better at retaining visual thoughts or emotions than it is at recalling numbers and words. It's this fact that allows us to "remember a face, but not a name!" Comical images help it stick even longer. For example, if there is a heavy, fast, and low passage in the music, try thinking about an elephant performing ballet while you are learning it. I know it sounds ridiculous, but if you think about the elephant during performance rather than every note name, you are more likely to recall the right notes. - Or if some of the music recalls the feeling of a really good hug, think about that while you learn it.

Good luck!

- Greg

Dealing With Acoustics

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hello Greg,
How do you cope with different pianos and acoustics at various venues? Any advice on that? Is it reasonable to expect one to be able to give a splendid performance on a totally new instrument with little time to try it out - if it's even a decent instrument!!
- candidmanc

Dear Candidman,

Great question! Varying concert hall acoustics (wet, dry, bad projection, misleading dynamics, etc.) and pianos (heavy action, light action, uneven action, bass-heavy, weak sound, etc.) can make for some pretty horrifying experiences as a concert pianist!

Interestingly enough, the unpredictability of it all bothers me less and less with each performing experience. What's important -- what really matters -- is that I connect with the audience. Most of the time, audience members could care less about uneven articulation or bass-heavy performance, and if I dwell on the pitfalls of the circumstances too long, I lose the ability to deliver a truly engaging performance.

Having said that, of course I adopt to the particulars of the venue: more pedal in dry acoustics, slower tempos in wet acoustics, nicer tone on harsh pianos, etc. But none of this is particularly intentional or thought out. Whenever I'm performing, I do my best to *listen* to the music I'm creating -- I listen, rather than rely on any practice room plan. This ability to live in the moment completely shapes my performance and keeps the music spontaneous, and as an added perk I'm continually reacting to any conditions related to the venue or the piano.

Happy adapting!

- Greg (Oct. 23, 2009)

Expression

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
ok i just came home from your concert at cedarhust in mount vernon illinois. and i had a question that i forgot to ask in person. i once met a vilinist that said he envyed vocalists because they got to use words to convey the message. i am preparing to be music major concentrating on voice and i have trouble with expression. this is something that you obviously have no problem with. how do you do it?
 - marlo smith

Dear Marlo,

How is one expressive? To answer that question, I'll direct you to Liz and my music listening manifesto. There are 27 tips for you, all of which apply not only to the act of listening, but also to the act of performing music. (We're so sneaky with our multi-purpose manifesto!)

Two thoughts on making our music listening manifesto apply to performance:

  • In the few instances where we literally mention listening, try rewording phrases; replace "listen" with "perform." For example, #8 states: "Listen as if it were the last time your ears could hear. Savor it." In your situation consider, "Perform as if it were the last time you could make music. Savor it." (Incidentally, this is one of my favorite points. I love savoring things!)
  • In all instances, consider the points from the perspective of a performer, but also consider the points from the perspective of a listener. A good performer is an extraordinary listener.

Good luck with your upcoming performances!

- Greg (March 6, 2010)

Facial Expressions and Choreography

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
In a few months, I will be performing for at a very large event. I would like my fun piece to not only sound great, but be entertaining to watch as well. Do you have any advice on how to work with the audience when performing (regarding facial expressions, etc.)? Is there any special "choreography" that I should take note of when performing a piece (for example, lifting hands off the piano at a certain time when the piece is done)? Do you know any resources that I could use to aide me in the process? Your advice is greatly appreciated!
 - Caitee

Dear Caitee,

I would never endorse facial expressions or choreography unless the music demands it. There's nothing worse than watching a pianist artificially throw their limbs into the air because they think it may entertain the audience.

I suggest you start at the root of the issue vs. its surface. Instead of asking what sorts of gimmicks and tricks you can utilize to "entertain" the audience, ask yourself how you can heighten the impact of the music. Most of your energy should go straight back into the music itself; you should be performing every piece as if it's the last time anyone in the world will ever listen to it.

Only after you've uncovered exactly what makes the music tick will other facets of the performance become clear. If for some wild reason, you end up tossing a sexy glance to the audience, it will be because you had no choice but to toss a sexy glance to the audience. It will be something the music demands of you; not something you decided to do because you thought it would be cute. Likewise, your outfits should be dictated by your interpretation of the music and not by whichever outfit may generate the biggest gasp from your audience.

Sabre Dance or A New Account of the Blue Danube Fantasy are unusual because they demand some visual performance as well as musical, but in most pieces you'll find that contorting your face and flailing your limbs are unnecessary and artificial. In the end, if you do your job, if you do what the music demands of you, you will entertain your audience.

- Greg

Dealing with nerves

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Dear Greg,
I'm 14 years old and has been participating in small competitions for 3 years, performing roughly 4-5 times a year. Last year, I entered a big competition (which I've never experienced before) and managed to get into the final round. However, my nerves got the better of me during my performance of the sonata for the final round and I did not win. I am not obsessed with winning any competition (I don't really mind losing, as long as the experience has been of some benefit) but after the competition experience, I am afraid to attempt such large competitions or to play a sonata in front of an audience again. Can you please give me some honest suggestions in how to overcome such a fear or should I simply stop entering competitions anymore (maybe for the next few years)? Thanks, Greg and I love your playing! XD
 - Anonymous 

Dear Anonymous,

Nerves are definitely a part of the performing process. Most of the time, I consider nerves to be a wonderful thing; they keep my performances exciting by giving me just the bolt of adrenaline I need. On rare circumstances, however, they can be downright detrimental!

I've actually found that the less I think about my fears, the better! I used to have a pre-concert routine worked out (to simmer my fears), but I found that it was just a waste of time and it made me more nervous. (Besides, things never went as planned, and that just ruffled my feathers even more.) Instead, I acknowledge that I'm afraid, then I simply walk on stage and have a blast.

It really only takes a brief, concentrated moment and a couple deep breathes to center oneself. From there, sit down at the piano and fall in love with the music all over again.

- Greg

Sight Reading Every Day

Added on by Greg Anderson.

Greg!
Thank you first of all for your performance in Edmond, OK on Nov. 17! It was truly delightful. I was wondering what piece you might suggest to someone who has taken piano lessons since age 5 (and continued through the first two years of college), but has played on and off. I now teach piano to about 6 students and would like to keep my skills up. After seeing your performance last night with the Browns, I'm encouraged to throw myself back into classical music. I'm not sure what piece to start with. Any suggestions? I've played: Moonlight Sonata (Beethoven) and movement #2 of the same work, Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum (Debussy), a number of Bach inventions, a number of Minuets by Mozart. Thanks again and thank you for your musically brilliant arrangements. ~Adar

Dear Adar,

Thanks for the kind words! I had fun performing in Edmond!

I think your questions would best be answered by a personal teacher who knows your strengths and weaknesses. He or she could guide you to pieces that would help you improve quickly and efficiently.

To get you started, there are some great pieces by Chopin you could consider -- nocturnes, waltzes, mazurkas, etc. Also, try learning some Mozart sonatas (K. 331, first movement, maybe?) or pieces from Bartók's "Microcosmos."

Another thing you could consider: sightreading. Sightread everyday -- find pieces that are easy enough to sightread (if that means starting with "Beginner Piano Book A," that's okay!) and as the months go by, gradually work your way up to sightreading Mozart and Beethoven sonatas. The better you are at sightreading, the quicker you'll be able to learn the pieces you intend to study in depth.

Good luck, and HAVE FUN!

- Greg

Nerves

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Greg,
Could you outline what is involved in preparing mentally and physically for a solo performance? Furthermore, as I am a shy person by nature, I suffer from nerves in performance situations. If you have and information or advice on ways to overcome this, it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you very much for your time and consideration.
Juvena

Dear Juvena,

You've asked a very tricky question to answer. Over the years, I've actually found that the less I think about nerves, memory, and pre-concert preparation, the better! I used to have a pre-concert routine worked out, but I found that it was just a waste of time and it made me more nervous. Instead, I now acknowledge my nerves, but I don't dwell on them. I try to stay focused and secluded, but I'm easy going and allow for "emergencies." I try to find time to warm up, but I don't get my undies in a bunch if I can't.

It really only takes a brief, concentrated moment and a couple deep breaths to center oneself. If you make a big deal out of it, chances are things won't go the way you planned and you'll walk onstage flustered and frustrated. I prefer to walk onstage without any expectations, but ready to seize the moment.

Most important of all, remember to enjoy the music!

- Greg

Solo Recital Programming

Added on by Greg Anderson.
Hello Greg,
I am a Senior Music Education student and was wondering if you had any ideas for a senior recital program design. I play the Alto Saxophone but I thought that maybe you'll have some different aspects to bring to it.
Thanks,
Jordan

Dear Jordan,

Gosh, I can't say I've given much thought to Alto Saxophone programs. The first programming idea that comes to mind is a group of pieces based on song, capitalizing on the lyrical nature of your instrument. You could create your own transcriptions (it's really easy - just play the vocal line). ...perhaps a Schubert song or two, Faure (Apres un reve), Rachmaninoff, even Bach. Then you could include a couple more recent songs - a jazz standard, and a sophisticated pop ballade. A friend of mine played transcriptions of Sigur Ros and Radiohead on his senior recital. Is it sacrilegious to transcribe classical songs for sax? I don't really think so. I think such a program it would highlight just how much today's pop music has in common with 18th and 19th century music.

I wouldn't recommend filling the whole program with song transcriptions - too much of a good thing! You could balance them with some virtuoso showpieces, or a meaty contemporary piece.

You should also toy with finding ways to add your friends to the recital. It's really difficult to program a solo recital that will hold an audience's attention from beginning to end. Continually changing the performing forces is an easy way to prevent monotony. It will also help bring in more audience members! A good rule of thumb is to increasingly add more people to the stage and end with the most, although sometimes the reverse can be surprisingly effective.

I wish you and your audience a wonderfully enjoyable program and performance!

-Greg