From Head to Toe Performance Tip #2: Make Friends with a Foreign Piano


Once a piece is memorized with all the details in place it would seem a successful shake handsperformance would follow. I believe there are THREE MORE ESSENTIAL elements that guarantee a positive outcome for a rookie and seasoned performer. In my opinion, these steps involving the head down to the toes are almost as important as preparing the piece itself.

To learn about the FIRST element: The 5 P's of Performing, click here. Here's the SECOND of the three elements. 

Make Friends with a Foreign Piano

As pianists, we rarely have the opportunity to carry our instrument along with us which means we will encounter oodles of strange pianos. If there is any chance before a performance, I require my students to make friends with the foreign piano. Here's what I share with pianists before they venture into a performance venue.

Prepare a scale and chord progression routine. This is not a warm up for your fingers--they are usually rarin' to go! Think of this carefully planned routine as an information-gathering expedition.


Play the scale with musical intention. Include a crescendo and diminuendo as you move up and down the scale to test the key weight. This helps to recognize how much arm weight is needed behind firm fingers to create a solid forte and piano tone.

Play the chord progression using the pedal. Locate the damper pedal first and then play the progression or cadence to determine what is required to lower and lift it to create clean pedaling.

My Observations

When adjudicating festivals and competitions, I notice many participants opt out of "warming up." Since I'm usually busy writing my last comments about the prior performance, it seems appropriate for the next student sitting on the bench to take advantage of the free time.

A good deal of performers look puzzled or shy away from my invitation to play a scale. My guess is that they did not come prepared with a routine to test the instrument. Others will rip off an amazing 4-octave scale and lovely chord progression but I'm not sure if the purpose was to warm up the fingers, check out the piano or was a stunt to intimidate the other contestants :-).

In my opinion, equipping students with a simple warmup plan (or encouraging them to design their own) will provide a ritual that will empower them to:

  • enter into a vulnerable situation with the comfort of something familiar.
  • gather tactile and audio information about the piano.
  • integrate this fact-finding mission into a successful performance.

Stay tuned for the THIRD performance tip.