Many singers consider practice and performance to be distinct activities. Gerald Klickstein, author of the new book “The Musician’s Way“, shows how they can be combined into an inclusive creative process.
Suppose that you’re preparing for a concert. How do you bridge the gulf between personal practice and public performance?
I’ve observed that many singers under-perform because they omit a crucial element from their preparatory routines: practice performances.
Here are three ways that any musician can practice performing and thereby become masterful on stage.
1. Assemble a performance-development group
The skills required to perform soulfully in public have to be practiced.
All of us, therefore, need opportunities to try out our material, learn how to manage our nerves, and hone our stage presence; I find that the ideal setting for doing so is within a performance-development group.
To form such a group, you need two or more soloists or ensembles of comparable ability, a defined space such as a classroom, and a mutually supportive attitude.
Your attitude is of utmost importance because your group must provide a safe, non-judgmental setting where you can experiment freely.
For instance, what if a vocalist adopts a new memorization technique and wants to discover whether or not her memory is secure? How does she find out without risking her reputation in a public setting?
A performance-development group supplies her with what she needs; she can sing fearlessly in front of her colleagues and she knows that they’ll cheer her on in her quest for excellence.
To make your practice performances optimally concert-like, enlist concert protocol: enter to applause, perform complete songs, and have listeners applaud afterwards.
In addition, use a recorder so that you can review your work later (information about portable recorders is posted on my blog).
I also recommend that participants comment on each other’s performances, but within strict boundaries:
– Keep your comments brief
– Use courteous “I” statements
– Offer at least three positive observations for every criticism
Here’s an example of how one singer might comment on another’s performance: “I really liked your song choice, the way you conveyed the lyrics, and your stage presence. I also thought that your pitch and memory were right on. Toward the beginning, though, I wondered how it would have sounded if you had stayed with your softer voice a while longer.”
2. Schedule private run-throughs
In a private run-through, you perform without an audience, other than your recorder and maybe the cat.
Commit to these run-throughs at set times and implement your standard pre-concert routines – arrange your meals and other preparations exactly as you would for a public show because pre-concert routines need practice, too.
When you perform a run-through, visualize an audience and sing your heart out.
At the same time, rehearse specific skills. For example, if you tend to stiffen on stage, practice releasing tension and transmitting warmth; to enliven your stage presence, employ a video recorder and explore various gestures.
The benefit you derive from any practice performance will hinge on how honestly you evaluate it and the ways in which you practice in response.
Detachment is crucial during your self-assessments: treat glitches as useful information and never as personal shortcomings.
After you run through a song, for instance, you could go over your recording, jot down notes, and rehearse improvements.
A few days later, following additional targeted practice, you might opt to perform the song for your performance-development group.
3. Line up low-stress public shows
The above sorts of practice performances are invaluable, but public shows are going to be more intense, and we want them to be, but in positive ways.
Low-stress public shows give us the chance to present our music in actual performance situations, but where the stakes are low.
So, although we take such performances seriously, we can give ourselves permission to have fun on stage and not worry.
As a result, we build our confidence and our artistic prowess ─ we’re then primed to excel at high-stakes concerts.
Suitable sites for such performances include unpretentious coffee shops as well as church or synagogue meeting halls, where we might invite congregants to hear us and donate to a charity.
Such performances enable us to build an audience, serve our communities, and lift our artistry and self-assurance to new heights.
When we integrate these three types of practice performances into our creative process, we can erase any disconnection between our solitary practice and our public presentations.
Of course, it takes time and effort to refine our craft, but let’s remember that performance, at its heart, is an act of beauty and generosity.
© 2009 Gerald Klickstein
Gerald Klickstein is Professor of Music at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and is an active guitarist, author, and arts advocate. His book, “The Musician’s Way” was published in the U.S. in August and became available worldwide in September.