Practice strategies to help you play your best at an important music performance
The CD release party for my newest album Completely was a big gig for me. Not only was it my first music performance at The Bitter End, a historic venue in New York at which I’d been wanting to play for years, it was also the first time I was introducing this new collection of original music to friends, fans, and industry folks alike. We pulled out all the stops promoting it. I was highly motivated to make sure that this show was as on as possible.
I started preparing early, making sure to sit down for practice sessions a couple of times each day. It became obvious early on, though, that simply running the tunes from the album wouldn’t be enough. After jamming through each song repeatedly, I wasn’t discovering anything new.
To break out of this pattern, I leaned on a number of strategies that had been suggested to me by musicians I’ve interviewed, hung with, and/or played with through the years. I began by transposing each song into different keys and improvising my way through them, trying to play each iteration with the energy and immediacy of an on-the-gig music performance, regardless of any awkwardness I may have felt in the moment. Even though I likely won’t decide to play my favorite E-flat ballad in F-sharp in front of a live audience, teaching my fingers to dance in such a new context stretched my comfort zone — in a good way. The next time I played the song in its home territory of E-flat, I found myself coming up with new ideas for creating melodies, harmonies, and textures.
I also took a cue from music performance coach Kevin Richards, who I interviewed for my article on overcoming performance anxiety for Echoes. As he recommended, I took time to visualize myself performing, imagining myself playing through the tunes on stage at The Bitter End. In fact, I found that some of my most focused and productive practice sessions happened on long subway rides. I would run song after song down in my head, sometimes going through my entire set before reaching my destination. When I sat down at a piano next, I found myself playing with renewed spontaneity and energy.
There are countless other ways to change things up when you’re practicing for a big show — playing your tunes in different time signatures, rehearsing your original R&B anthem as a sexy tango instead, pulling out some piece of music that feels utterly unrelated to the tunes you’ll be performing, and so on — but the goal remains the same. Regardless of genre, anything you can do to give yourself a fresh perspective on the music you’ve been practicing for weeks, months, or years will pay you back in dividends once you set foot on stage.
Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely has been included on NPR’s Weekend Edition and received a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download now through iTunes, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant.
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