Casual Performances

Now let's talk about casual performances. Common types of casual performances are playing pieces for testing pianos in stores or playing for friends at parties, etc. These are different from formal recitals because of their greater freedom. There is usually no set program, you just pick anything you think appropriate for the moment, and it may in fact be full of changes and interruptions midway through the playing. Nervousness should not even be an issue, and casual performances provide one of the best ways to practice methods for avoiding nervousness. Even with the alleviating factors, this is not easy in the beginning. One thing you can do to get an easy start is to play little snippets (short segments from a composition) from various pieces you know. You can start with easy ones. You can pick out just the best sounding sections. If it doesn't work out too well, start on another one. Same, if you get stuck. You can start and quit at any time. This is a great way to experiment and find out how you perform and which snippets work. Do you tend to play too fast? It is better to start too slow and speed up than the other way round. Can you adjust to a different piano -- especially one that is out of tune or difficult to play? Can you keep track of the audience reaction? Can you make the audience react to your playing? Can you pick the right types of snippets for the occasion? Can you put yourself in the right frame of mind to play? What is your level of nervousness, can you control it? Can you play and talk at the same time? Can you gloss over mistakes without being bothered by them?

Playing snippets has one interesting advantage which is that most audiences are very impressed by your ability to stop and start anywhere in the middle of a piece. Most people assume that all amateur pianists learn pieces by finger memory from beginning to end, and that somehow, the ability to play snippets requires special talent. Since the methods of this book are based on practicing segments, this should be an easy thing to do. Start with short snippets, and then gradually try longer ones. Once you have done this type of casual snippet performance on 4 and 5 different occasions, you should be ready to perform longer sections. Obviously, one of the routines you should practice "cold" are snippet playing routines.

There are a few rules for preparing for snippet performances. Don't perform a piece you had just learned. Let it stew for at least 6 months; preferably one year. If you had just spent 2 weeks learning a difficult new piece, don't expect to be able to play snippets you had not played at all in those 2 weeks -- be prepared for all kinds of surprises, such as blackouts. In that case, try out the snippets at home before attempting to perform them. Don't practice the snippets fast on the day on which you might be performing them. Practicing them very slowly will help. It is a good idea to double check that you can still play them HS. You can break a lot of these rules for very short snippets. You should experiment to see which rules you need to follow for snippet performances. Above all, make sure that you can mentally play them (away from the piano) -- that is the ultimate test of your readiness.

Because casual performances are much more relaxed, it provides an avenue for easing your way gradually into performing, in preparation for recitals. This is because recitals are often high pressure affairs with the attendant nervousness. Students suddenly thrust into formal recitals often end up becoming nervous at any performance. Nervousness is a purely mental thing and is a feedback mechanism that feeds on itself. Therefore it is quite possible that it can be mostly avoided depending on the person's history. For example, by going through enough casual performances without developing any nervousness, a person can get to perform at recitals with much less nervousness than if s/he were suddenly thrust into formal recitals. Thus one thing you should work on, is to learn how to suppress nervousness during casual performances. Learning to enjoy the occasion, to use it as a way to demonstrate how you can express yourself, etc., will reduce nervousness, whereas fear of performing, making mistakes, etc., will increase it.

Clearly, it is a mistake for a teacher to take a student and enter her/im into a recital without any preparation. Students must be gradually introduced to performing through a well planned program. They should be taught the art of snippet playing at informal occasions. They should practice performing by videotaping. Students need to take a course on nervousness. They should play very simple pieces for the first few recitals. Students and their parents must know the details of the recital preparation routines (see below). In summary, even if we know the art of making music, we can't perform without training in the art of performing.

In general, don't expect to perform anything well, casual or otherwise, unless you have performed the piece at least three times, and some claim, at least 5 times. Sections that you thought were simple may turn out to be difficult to perform, and vice versa. Thus the first order of business is to lower your expectations and start planning on how you are going to play this piece, especially when unexpected things happen. It is certainly not going to be like the best run you made during practice.

A few mistakes or missed notes goes unnoticed in practice, and your assessment of how they sound during practice is probably much more optimistic than your own assessment if you had played exactly the same way for an audience. After a practice, you tend to remember only the good parts, and after a performance, you tend to remember only the mistakes. Usually, you are your worst performance critic; every slip sounds far worse to you than to the audience. Most audiences will miss half of the mistakes and forget most of what they do catch after a short period of time.