Musical Stress Test

Piano Lessons / music performance / Musical Stress Test

Welcome to, I’m Robert Estrin. Today I’m going to discuss a musical stress test. What am I talking about? You practice, and practice, and practice, but you wonder if you really know the score. How do you know if you have security with the music? Are you ready for a performance? Are you ready for a lesson? Are you ready to accompany someone? How do you know when you’re ready? You don’t want to wait until the moment of truth comes to find out you weren’t prepared! How can you know? Because as you well know, you can play something by yourself in your home perfectly, and then when you try to play it for somebody else, it goes haywire. What can you do to test things out?

Try playing faster.

There are a lot of things you can do to test yourself. You can try playing things faster to see if you can still hold it together. Because when you get nervous, one of the first things that happens is your physiology speeds up a little bit. Your heart rate, your breathing, all of that speeds up. So guess what happens to your playing? You go faster! You don’t even think you’re going faster. I’ll never forget many, many, years ago, listening to recordings of myself as a child, playing in my dad’s student recitals. I couldn’t believe how fast I was going! I was playing faster than I ever played those pieces! It could be a disaster if you’ve never tried your pieces faster, and the first time it happens is during a performance. I’ve had times where I would keep my fingers crossed hearing my students perform in recitals taking outrageously fast tempos they had never tried before, hoping they had some reserve in their playing.

Another great thing you can do is record yourself.

Psych yourself up like it’s an actual performance. Set up a device, and go through your music and make yourself a little bit nervous. Make yourself feel like you are performing. The key is not to stop! Even if you mess up right at the beginning, keep going. Because that can happen in a performance, and you don’t want to start over. Nobody wants to hear you start over. First of all, it’s as much as announcing to everybody that you’ve messed up. But more than that, it destroys the continuity of the performance for the audience. Speaking of which, there’s no better way to create stress than to play for an audience. If you regularly play for people, play for more people. The more people you play for, the more nervous you’re likely to get. That’s the ultimate stress test. And if you c witanhstand that, then you’re ready for anything.

What I recommend is ratcheting up little by little.

Start with recording for a device. Then play for a family member or a trusted friend. Then play for larger and larger numbers of people until you’re ready for an audience. If you can withstand that and you can withstand playing faster than you usually play, you should be ready for a performance. You can also try playing on different pianos as a musical stress test. Play on a piano you’ve never played and see what happens! Right from the get go, without even trying the piano first, just jump right in. Play on as many pianos as you can. It’s a great way to improve your preparedness, because you can’t take your piano with you. Usually, you have to play whatever piano is wherever you are performing. So playing on as many different instruments as possible is another great way to get ready for your performance. Make sure you’re in the best shape possible to withstand anything in your playing. I hope this is interesting for you! I’m Robert Estrin here at, Your Online Piano Resource.

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7 thoughts on “Musical Stress Test”


  1. Hi Robert,

    Would you talk about and even show, some recording devices as mentioned in today’s show? I use a Zoom H2n but find hard to immediately listen to a just recorded piece segment. Musch enjoy your comments so keep them coming/


    John Brooks

    1. Sometimes listening back to your performance later on can be enlightening. When you are very close to the performance, it can be difficult to be subjective. But it certainly would be nice to be able to check your playing right away! Hopefully you can figure out how to get to the previous recording easily.

  2. I have definitely found that playing on different pianos – and in different rooms – is very helpful. What I noticed was that when I practice in the same room on the same piano, not only am I learning the piece, I’m learning the “room” – i.e. the sound (especially if it’s a small practice room), the lighting, the window is always to my left, the door to the right, etc. Then when I play on a different piano in a different room, not only is the piano different, the “piece” is different too – it doesn’t have the window on the left, there’s no door on the right etc. It’s interesting how our mind incorporates all these little details that we’re not even aware of – but it can actually be disorienting .

    Recording is also a great test. It seems like whenever I want to record something – i.e. for youtube, etc. – just knowing that I’m recording – i.e. “this is it” – adds considerable stress – knowing that this needs to be “perfect”. It turns it into an “actual” performance as if your hundreds of online listeners are right there in the room.

    Another trick I’ve tried is to put on some kind of music or the radio to create a distraction. I had something of this effect in my college practice rooms which were not very well insulated for sound. But I found intentionally putting on some music and turning it up quite a bit provided an additional exercise in focus. Of course that can also create something of an obstacle for hearing what you’re playing – especially with dynamics and shading, but it’s an interesting exercise (like playing with a crying baby or someone with a persistent cough in the room – that’s not something you learned as part of the “piece” either – ;-). Perhaps you have a few thoughts on managing distractions during a performance – or some interesting experiences with some of the most distracting situations you’ve encountered .

    Very excellent article – thank you!

    1. That is an interesting exercise: intentionally creating distractions!

      The great thing about recording is that you can always do record again and again. But I have found that after about 3 or 4 performances, it doesn’t necessarily get better, just different.

  3. When I learned to play Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in c#, I didn’t play in front of anyone but my teacher. Not even my family. Got to the recital, and played on a Knabe for the first time and fell in love. When you get to that cascade down that ends with the first notes of the third section, I didn’t hit it right on, so I ended up playing the cascade again. It worked out OK. I later learned that Rachmaninoff himself didn’t play the next notes IMMEDIATELY on top of the cascade, which liberated me. But although I played perfectly except for that one goof, well, my dad went out and bought a Knabe.

    Then there was the time I agreed to play the organ for church services. I hadn’t done that for many years, nor had I played much either piano or organ, but I went over on Thursday and practiced for a couple of hours, and managed to pull it off except for one tiny glitch. I surprised myself. I couldn’t do it today if my life depended on it.

    1. It can be a liberating experience when a performance goes well. It can help to reinforce positive performances in the future. Hopefully you will have a good performance again soon!

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