How to Stay Engaged in Your Musical Performance

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Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. Today’s subject is about how to stay engaged in your musical performance. This is such an important topic. You can tell when a performer isn’t engaged. You can tell because your mind wanders. You can’t listen to a performer who isn’t engaged in their own performance.

The secret to engaging an audience is being engaged in the performance yourself!

So how do you do such a thing? Think of the challenge. Let’s say you’re playing a piece or a whole program. You’ve practiced for weeks or months on this music. You can play it without even thinking about it because you’ve gone through it so many times. Your fingers just know where to go. That’s the problem! How can you possibly concentrate on something that you’ve done so many times? How can you hear it? How can you really listen to it? The number one key is listening to what you’re doing! Focus on the sound as if it’s the first time you’re hearing it. Now, that’s a hard thing to do.

Are there any things you can do in your practice to help keep the musical score fresh?

Absolutely! What I’m going to tell you right now is the greatest thing you can do if you have pieces you can play, but they just feel kind of lackluster. You’ve finally gotten to where you can play the piece, but you’ve played it too many times. You can play it, but there’s just no spark anymore. You’ve almost gotten tired of it. You’ve lost the enthusiasm. Is there any way to regain that enthusiasm? Yes! It’s so satisfying to play through pieces with all the expression and the pedal and all the nuances. But to regain your enthusiasm for a piece, you have to flip it.

Go back to the score!

Whether it’s a piece you’ve memorized or a piece that you play with the music, either way, put the music up there. Take out your metronome and play without any pedal, slowly and absolutely faithfully to the score. No more and no less. Just play with precision. I’m not saying to play unmusically. You can play musically and still play exactly what’s written. But no shtick! You have little nuances you like to do. Maybe the second time around with a repeated phrase, you play a little softer. Maybe you do other little things that aren’t necessarily written. Get rid of all that stuff and just play exactly what’s written. Just taking your foot off the pedal is going to make you work harder to get a halfway decent sound. Practice this way a great deal. When you finally add the pedal, get rid of the metronome, and free yourself from the score, if it’s a piece you’ve memorized, it’s so refreshing to come back to it. It feels good and it sounds great! You will become engaged in your musical performance again!

I do more of my practicing without the pedal than with the pedal.

I also do a great deal of metronome work. With pieces I have memorized, I constantly revisit the score. Now, this could be extraordinarily difficult, particularly for those of you who are not very good readers. If your sight reading is at a very low level, maybe you have a piece memorized, and you can play it fine, but you go back to the score, and you can barely play it! Well, guess what? You need to play it with the score! If that means going back and playing way under tempo, do it.

You will always learn things from the score.

This process is a way to really engage in the music in a new way. Put the metronome on. Open your music. Play slowly and take your foot off the pedal. Practice that way and when you get to your musical performance, if you have an audience, and you’re nervous, let that energy inspire you to do new things. Listen to the sound of each note. Maybe you’ll hear inner lines you hadn’t noticed before. Particularly when people are watching you, things seem different, don’t they? Go with it! Don’t be afraid to follow a line that you haven’t really paid attention to before in your practice. It may put you a little bit out of your comfort zone. That’s the way to become engaged in your own musical performance and draw in your listeners. Thanks again for joining me, Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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