Piano Performance Tips for Playing your Best When it Counts

Playing the piano for an audience should be a wonderful experience. Sharing music with others is one of the main reasons we learn to play. So how do we make a piano performance less nerve wracking for our students?

Piano performance tips

Tips and helpful hints for preparing for any piano performance

These simple guidelines below have helped me to play my best in many situations. I make an effort to help my students follow these principles so they can enjoy playing for others and be proud of their piano performances.

I hope these piano performance tips can help you and your students to perform at your best too.

Accidentally on Purpose

What will you do if something goes wrong? It’s best to think through the possible pitfalls in advance and come up with contingency plans.

fixing mistakes

Find spots that you can segue into to get back on track (Graham Fitch calls these Super Starting Spots in his eBook series on practicing). Once you have these spots identified, practicing jumping to them from random places in your piece. Pretend to mess up at various places and transition as smoothly as you can to the nearest starting spot.

This tactic alone can help enormously with piano performance jitters.

Just a Little Less

In the lead up to a piano performance it’s best not to play the piece the way you will perform it over and over. This can cause more stress and can make the performance on the day stale.

Practice in the week or two before a performance, recital or exam should be mostly a subdued version of the ultimate performance. Practice more slowly, and/or more softly.

Another benefit of this slower and less intense practice is limiting the risk of injury or strain. The more freely we move when we play, the less likely we are to hurt ourselves. Full speed, full drama performances  in the nervous last week before an event are very likely to be riddled with tension. Not a good idea.

Deliberate Recordings

You may already do this for yourself or your students. Recordings can help prepare us for the pressures of a real life performance and allow us to reassess our playing from a different angle.

I want to encourage you to make sure these recordings are also deliberate. By this I mean that the recording sessions are planned and scheduled in advance, and the recording session is given as much consideration as possible.

Once you have a date for your piano performance, work backwards and put some recording sessions in the diary. I like to do a recording 6 weeks, 3 weeks and 2 weeks before an event.

Two weeks out is the last time I recommend making any changes. After that point the performance plan should be locked in place as much as possible.

VIP Performances

Friends and family would love to get an exclusive and intimate preview of an upcoming piano performance. It’s a good idea to schedule in a few of these small scale concerts as you get closer to the big day.

The more times you have gone through the program in front of an audience, the more confident you will be when it comes time for the real deal. Use these VIP piano performances as an opportunity to try out your warmup routine too.

If you can play on a different piano each time, even better.

Regular Routines

Plan to do as much as possible just the way you always do it. Go to sleep at the same time, wake up at the same time if you can. Eat the same things you usually eat and follow your normal exercise habits.

Seems simple. It can be tempting to switch things up when you have a big event on the horizon. You might think it would be nice to have a takeaway as a treat the night before, or take up running so you’ll be healthier.

While these ideas might be nice in the long run – in the short term you’re asking for trouble. Anything new or different has unpredictable results. Stick with what you know.

5 Minute Checklist

When that big moment finally arrives what’s left to do? The 5 minutes before your piano performance are the most crucial in my opinion. You’ve put in the work so now it’s all about mindset.

backstage sign

Whether you’re waiting in the audience, backstage or in an exam waiting room you need to make the most out of these final five minutes. Your heartbeat will go faster, your hands might shake and your mind might go blank.

Nerves are unavoidable (and probably a good thing as Noa points out here) having a checklist can save you from full on anxiety or panic.

Everyone is different but here’s a good checklist to start with:

  • Breath deep, full breaths. This can help decrease your heart rate, and also just gives you something to think about and fill your waiting time.
  • Stretch. If you’re in private I would go for full stretches, forward folds are especially good as they help to keep the blood flowing. If you’re in a crowded place however more subtle stretches will have to do.
  • Visualise the beginnings.One of the biggest pitfalls for a piano performance is starting at too fast and not being able to recover. Picture yourself playing the start of each piece and audiate it at the right tempo.

Once you get the piano don’t forget to take that one last deep breath and think through the tempo again before you start. Trust me it can make all the difference.

Now that you know how to prepare your students for performances, you’ll need some…performance opportunities! Read about how to organise wonderful, inclusive recitals here.

What’s performance tips do you give your students?

How do you help your most nervous performers to feel confident and overcome their anxiety? Do you have any students who don’t get nervous enough for their performances?

P.S. If you haven’t yet signed up for the ’30 Day Studio Refresh’ emails you can do so below. The daily studio challenges start January 2nd. It’s going to be a ton of fun as well as a way to improve your studio and feel more energised for 2017.

Vibrant Music Teaching members, you can access this resource inside the VMT library. Not a member yet? Find out more about becoming a member here.

3 thoughts on “Piano Performance Tips for Playing your Best When it Counts”

  1. I have a mantra that I tell my students before every performance: Don’t Hurry, Don’t Worry. We talk about this for several lessons before the performance date. Don’t hurry, because it’s likely to cause a mistake; and if you DO make a mistake, don’t worry, just keep going! Now when I ask the students: What do you say to yourself before you start your performance? I get a resounding DON’T HURRY, DON’T WORRY!


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