Have you ever had a performance that you were underwhelmed or even disappointed by?
First, after a performance you're unhappy with, ask yourself what went well. Once you've got an answer to that you can proceed. Next, you can move on to addressing problems. Why were you disappointed? For me there are usually two reasons I’m bothered by a performance. Either I allowed my nerves to get the best of me or I was under-prepared. There are simple solutions in both situations.
For performance anxiety you basically need to put yourself in situations where you feel pressure while you perform. This primarily means that you need to perform for people. You can also simulate the symptoms of nervous anxiety by doing some jumping jacks, push-ups, jogging in place, etc. this will increase you heart rate, respiration, and probably make you shake a little bit.
For under-preparation give yourself more time to learn the repertoire. If you had two months to learn the repertoire last time, try giving yourself three months next time. Or if you had six weeks, give yourself eight. The numbers really aren't the important issue here. Ensuring that you have adequate prep time is. You can also address your practice proficiency. Make sure you’re being honest with yourself when you practice. Never allow mistakes to go unaddressed. Obviously, there are some exceptions to this. You can’t fix every problem right now. Otherwise, we’d all have new repertoire ready for performance by tomorrow! Another consideration for under-preparation is whether or not the piece you performed was within your current capabilities. If not, choose rep that you can handle more readily next time. If the rep was within your current abilities, see above.
Later, go over a few things mentally. What could you have done better? Often there are specific problems holding performers back from having a better performance. There are any number of things that may be a culprit here; range, flexibility, articulation, dynamic contrast, musical concept, etc. Figure out what the issue was and how to fix it before your next performance. Add exercises to your routine that will cause you to improve on the identified issue.
What were some other potential contributing factors? Distraction? Hunger? Unforeseen hurdles that caused you to show-up late to the performance venue? Not getting time to warm up adequately? All of the above? Ask yourself these questions and find solutions to them. Then get busy working on the problems you’ve identified rather than dwelling on the disappointing performance. You can’t change the past, but you can (and should) learn from it. Use it to your benefit in the future.
Awesome! Now you know what you need to work on. So get to it!
Thank you for reading!
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a fan of most breathing exercises. The reason for this is that it seems to me that people who do a lot of breathing “calisthenic” type exercises tend to have tight sounds. If you’ve been reading TuBlog for a while you know axiom number two (The Seven Axioms of Teaching) is always play with your best sound.
Try this: go back to the beginning of this blog post and read it aloud. What do you notice? Now, if you've got an instrument nearby play something and notice your breathing. How is conversational breathing different from breathing as you play?
In a conversation your breathing is shallow, slow, and imprecise. Hopefully, when you play your breathing is deep, full, relaxed, efficient, and exact. A lot of players breathe conversationally as they play. Our breathing should be more like when you’ve been running sprints than conversational. As low brass players, we need to be breath athletes, a virtuoso breather. Breathing in context must be practiced in the same way you practice technical passages of notes.
Here’s an exercise that I think is useful. Play it in every key, any range, all dynamic levels, and any tempo. The lower/faster you play it, the more effective the exercise will be.
Here are the rules:
Add this exercise to your routine and I think you’ll be pleased with the results. What do you do to work on breathing?
Thanks for reading!
Jeremy is Associate Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at West Texas A&M University.