Preparation for any solo contest, or audition generally takes several weeks to prepare for. With that objective in mind we are are going to be discussing some standard contest and solo performance considerations that you or your students should keep in mind when laying the groundwork for this event. Most importantly, remember that as a performer expecting the best result requires the best detailed and specific preparation possible.
To physically ready yourself to perform a solo on stage in front of a live audience it is highly recommended to get physically ready no less than three weeks head of time. These three weeks should include daily practice of a recommended minimum of 75 minutes of practice scheduled on the instrument a day. It is important to point out that more time does not mean that you, as the performer, will be more effective if the practice sessions are not focused.
There should also be several minutes of studying the music while off of one’s instrument coupled with regular and timely rest periods. These should varying in times of 5 minutes to several hours. Reginald Fink recommends that once you are 15 days prior to the actual performance you should reduce the practice minutes to 50 and continue to eliminate the practice time little by little when you have met the 1 week prior mark to the performance.
Eventually, the final preparation should consist little more than a short warm-up and one play through of the piece a day before the performance. The actual day of the performance the musician is recommended to do no playing, except for a brief warm-up prior to the performance.
As stated before, the practice sessions should be heavy in the earlier days of preparing for a performance and become lighter as the event draws near. What often happens is the opposite. To many players tend to procrastinate and have to intensify their work as the performance draws near. The problem with this is that the lips, hands and mind become tired so that on the final day of the performance they can barely perform the piece with ease.
As a music educator making recommendations consider avoiding any last minute practice sessions. Although the intent is to ensure success, often this effort is thwarted with a subpar performance. Use your time for preparation in advance so that there is no doubt that you or your student performer can play their music beautifully.
If in the event you are requested to do last minute rehearsals then strategically plan to play in a way so that your abilities are not weakened by the efforts you put in last minute. Remember the audience does not know, or often care, what requirements be it physical or mental that are necessary for you to play your music beautifully. Rest as much as possible in these heightened and time sensitive moments.
Mental preparation is a vital component of a successful and rigorous performance. It doesn’t matter if the performance is for an audition, a solo at a concert or for a concerto competition. It is important for you to understand what is expected and know the procedures you need to take.
It would be wise to practice these steps and create a realistic timeline to meet these benchmarks. When practicing these steps see if it is possible to rehearse in the room that it will be taking place in. If this is not possible, then try to emulate the performance in whatever way you can.
When and if you are able to rehearse in the room you will be performing in be sure to play a few notes to check the acoustics. By doing this you will better understand the liveliness of the performance venue. Typically, the acoustics in the performance hall cannot be changed so mentally prepare how you plan to adjust your tone if needed ahead of time. Don’t procrastinate and attempt this in the waning moments of the performance preparation period.
Being a little nervous may motivate you to have a better than expected performance. It is, however, when nervousness becomes excessive it becomes more of a problem for the success of the performance. Nervousness may gradually build up to the performance or set in just as you enter the stage. Either way, plan ahead by preparing positive steps to help keep nervousness held at bay.
Getting Dry Mouth
Dry mouth, which is caused by the lack of saliva flow, is one symptom or reaction caused by nervousness. In this scenario a drink of water will not necessarily resolve dry mouth. In particular situations having a water bottle and taking a sip of water on stage may aid in the relieving of dry mouth. However, in most cases drinking water may wash away the saliva that the performer had in the first place.
Instead try chewing the sides of the base of your tongue to help stimulate the flow of saliva. An other possible technique would be to rub your tongue on the floor of the mouth with a sucking action. Finally, you can also stimulate the flow of saliva by touching the tip of the tongue to a slice of lemon.
Dry mouth can be minimized when the performer drinks a moderate amount of water just before the performance. It is recommended that you avoid drinking refrigerated water from a fountain because it can be detrimental after having warmed up your lips (in the case of wind musicians.)
Starting To Shake
There maybe times when a performer may experience an unmanageable urge to shake. This may become controllable if the performer focuses on inhaling deeply several times. If this is happening just before you go on stage, consider leaning against a wall, and straightening your back and neck against the wall. Next, take several deep breaths. This will generally ease the shaking.
If the shaking continues while you are on stage make it a point to breathe deeply while you have rests in the music. Be sure to sit or stand up straight and relax the muscles in the back and neck.
Tension in the lips, throat, chest, lower abdomen and other muscles in the body can cause shaking in your breath control. The eventuality of this tension can also stem from the tightening of other muscles groups in the body which spreads to the performance specific organs.
Starting To Learn A Solo
A positive attitude is one of the best means for controlling nervousness when you are learning a solo. Start this process by first learning the piece of music literature thoroughly. Next, proceed by creating a preplanned routine for learning of the music. Then develop and practice the correct playing habits for the selection of literature.
It is recommended to not play a new solo in a formal concert setting at first. Rather break it up into more informal gatherings as a means for preparation. Consider what physical aesthetics will enhance your performance. Remember that your audience will want to hear the best possible performance you can provide. Do all you can to make this a reality.
Performing After a Period of Waiting
It is best to warm-up just prior to your performance. Unfortunately, there maybe times when you must wait for several minutes before you can perform in the concert hall. An example of this is during auditions and contests. Consider this silent time in your preplanning.
Start off first by warming up you instrument completely by exhaling warm air through you instrument for a few minutes. You can warm up brass mouthpieces by holding them in your hand however hold off from warming up the mouthpiece with your lips. This is because a cold brass mouthpiece will cool down your warm lip muscles. Just before performing take a moment to tune up a few notes to the piano.
The Formal Conduct of a Soloist
The process in which you, as a performer, interact with the stage environment will set the scene for the quality of the event. Have these procedure down so that no questions spring up last minute during the event.
Entering the Stage
When some musicians enter the stage as a soloist they are struck with a sense of realism that takes them several minutes to recover from. Inexperienced musicians will often enter the stage slowly and sometimes awkwardly go to the area of the performance. If this process is too slow the musician will find that the audience has stopped clapping as they take their first bows. This may bother some musicians and carry on with them throughout the remainder of the performance.
Ideally the entrance of the musician should be done with reasonable and purposeful speed. It should not be hurried and no time should be wasted. When you move with your instrument you should maintain kinesthetic control and do not look at the audience directly until you reach your performance position.
Once in place, on stage and your accompanist has arrived at the piano acknowledge applause with a relaxed bow. Do not over extend the bow and always keep the mentality professional.
Once you have done this first thank the audience for their attendance. Then, prior to playing calmly collect your thoughts, tune to the piano and then concentrate on the opening impression you seek to portray with your music. Allow time for the audience to settle prior to beginning your performance. Finally, nod to your accompanist that you are ready to begin.
As the music begins with the piano introduction try to remain as motionless as possible. Remember you want the music to flow from the accompanist to you so don’t detract with physical movement from the musical elements.
All unnecessary moments should be avoided until just prior to playing the instrument. Ending the musical composition is just as important as it began. Depending on the energy, mood and overall dynamic of the piece, match the style to which you bring the down the instrument to the general musical effect. Once you have finally relaxed by lowing your shoulders your audience will be confident that the composition has come to an end.
The last major step is to acknowledge the audience with the final bows. For most performances, one or two final bows should be sufficient. Don’t forget to acknowledge your accompanist with a nod or gesture. This should be followed by purposeful exit off the stage.
In conclusion, solo performance is an acquired art that takes experience to master. Be sure to plan well ahead of time and be goal oriented towards creating the best possible musical experience you can. Create a timeline that holds you and your students personally accountable and when that special moment takes place, make beautiful music.
Fink, R. H. (1977). The Trombonist’s Handbook: A Complete Guide to playing and teaching the trombone. Accura Music.