The ONE Thing that Guarantees a Top Performance


As much as we'd love to promise ourselves, our students and our audience a perfect performance, it really is impossible thanks to all the great unknowns:

The unknown of nerves: they pop up in odd ways like sweaty palms, a shaking leg, heart palpitations.

The unknown of the audience: they cough, cry, chat or make sudden movements that distract.

The unknown of being human: we cannot control our environment when performing in real-time.

The one and only thing we can control which will guarantee a top performance is how to respond to these unknowns.

Just this past Sunday, my bluetooth page-turning pedal turned two pages on my iPad Pro (learn more this set up here) instead of one. Wouldn't you know this occurred in a tricky spot where I was already focused on specific, pre-planned mental cues and was not counting on a faulty page turn. It interrupted my focus but...I recovered.

Here's what I'd recommend (after years of trial and plenty of errors!) for you and your students:to-live-a-creative-life-we-must-lose-our-fear-of-being-wrong

Prepare your performance with diligence.

Prepare yourself for the unknowns.

Prepare your ego for the recovery process.

and, perhaps, the most difficult and yet most important...

Prepare to forgive yourself when things don't go as planned.

Below is a list of ten tips for a top performance--the first step in the preparations listed above. Notice, I didn't use the word "perfect" but I did use the word "top" as that is what we can aspire to with proper preparation.  I've designed a printable of this list and the Five P's of Performing in a free printable. You'll see where to sign up, below.

#1 Favor the left hand

Your ear tends to memorize the right hand part so challenge your brain to memorize the left hand alone to guarantee rock-solid memorization.

#2 Avoid the automatic pilot button

Start at six different places besides the beginning so that you create new memory markers. This will provide landing places if your memory slips and you need to jump ahead.

#3 Schedule mock performances

Invite a parent, a sibling or even a stuffed animal to sit and listen to you. This pseudo performance environment will encourage you to play your besttips-for-top-performance-1

#4 Map out the peaks and valleys

Place triangles throughout your piece indicating where climaxes are in each phrase and section. Place the largest triangle or Pikes Peak where the climax of the piece occurs. Remember to follow this dynamic landscape map as you play.

#5 Add chord symbols

By identifying chords and writing in their symbols your brain can remember things in groups and patterns instead of individual notes.

#6 Smile for the camera

Record a video of your work so you can hear immediate and honest feedback. Listen for what could be better and record again. Take note of all improvements and record again to make it even better. 

#7 Train for a marathon

Even though you only get one chance to perform a piece at an event, practice performing it at home three times in a row to build your concentration.

#8 Narrow your focus

Play through the entire piece and listen for ONE element throughout, like crispy staccatos, contrasting dynamics, softening the ends of all phrases, balance between hands, etc.

#9 Test the fashion runway

Avoid high heels, jeans, yoga pants and flip-flops. Practice pedaling, playing and bowing in your performance attire before the actual event.

#10 Rehearse the five P's of performing

Make the five P's a part of your performance every time you practice. Follow this link to learn more about the five P's.


With recitals and festivals just around the corner, this is the perfect time to give this list to your students. Maybe you'll like to keep this by your side as you prepare for your own performances!

I've made these ten tips and the five p's of performing available in a two-sided printable that can be placed in a binder, book bag, paper clipped to a score or stored in a practice pouch. If you don't know about practice pouches and another free printable to go with them, learn more here.

Wrapping it up

Being prepared for a performance is essential and if you aren't, you'll pay the consequences.

What if you are prepared and things still don't go as planned?  to-live-a-creative-life-we-must-lose-our-fear-of-being-wrong

Hang in there.

When stuff happens, count on your preparation to kick in which will help you respond appropriately and recover.

Next, you MUST forgive yourself for any mistakes and move on.

Controlling how you respond to what happens during a well-prepared performance will be the best performance you can give.

Most importantly, enjoy sharing the gift of music with others. That's what making music is all about.

Best wishes to all your upcoming performance events!


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