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Mental Preparation for Performance

On one occasion Pat Metheny said: “I try to be prepared for the moment, through understanding and being warmed up, knowing all about chords and scales, so I don’t even have to think and I can get right to what it is I want to say”.[i]

Although performance time is one the most enjoyable moments that musicians have, it could be quite stressful for some. Anxiety is perhaps the number one factor that we all experience at the moment of performance. But learning to control it and being prepared for a performance are two important aspects of music performance.

Although we may see anxiety from a totally negative perspective, some degree of anxiety is always good. Having some degree of anxiety keeps you on track and doesn’t let you be too confident about yourself. This kind of anxiety will not let you depend on talent but on preparation.

Preparation is the amount of work you put in to make your performance possible. In other words, the amount of quality practice you did before the performance. Practice is the most important component in preparation. But practice should not be limited only to physical practice; mental practice and preparation are equally important.

I guess the question would be: How do I mentally prepare for a performance? We can summarize the answer in one word: visualize. Visualize your repertoire, visualize your performance and visualize how to correct any mistakes you may make. In other words, you are practicing aim directed movement of your whole performance.

The best way to make decisions about playing in the moment is to have already made them; that is, do your thinking ahead of time. Think before the time comes to act, think before the time comes to speak, think before the time comes to play a note. Then, when the moment arrives, do not think. Just play.”[ii]

When you think in advance you are not only visualizing your performance, but you are learning to overcome problems that may arise. I was told once: “think about everything that could go wrong in your performance and how to fix it”. In other words, don’t leave anything to chance  or up to the last minute. By doing this you will not be surprised or freaked out if something happens at the moment of your performance.

Mental preparation and visualization works; it helps you enhance your memorization abilities. Plus, it will help you feel secure because you know what’s coming next.

It is very important that we do this before a performance. If we wait until a performance time, it may be too late. “When the ball is hit, there’s no time to think. Training and mental preparation must take over”.[iii]

Is mental preparation all we need to do? Not really. Physical preparation through performance is equally important. In fact, mental preparations should not replace physical preparation or practice time. It should be included or added to your regular routine. The good thing about aim directed movement and visualization is that you don’t need to be at a certain place to do it. It can be done anywhere, at any time.

It has been demonstrated that when you combine physical and mental preparation together the outcome is greater than when you do one or the other alone. So, the best way is to do both.

Now, what about performance preparation? Let me give you a few suggestions to prepare yourself:

  1. Practice your program – take some time to play through your program as if you were playing in front of an audience; meaning that you should not stop if you mess up. This will tell you if there’s a particular spot that you have to clear up and practice more.

  2. Visualize your entire performance – when you take time to visualize your entire performance you can somewhat imagine the feelings and emotions you will get at the moment of the actual performance.

  3. As mentioned before don’t leave anything to chance or until last minute. Try to think about all the details ahead of time.

  4. Warm-up – take some time to warm up well. Work on something slow and simple. Do not burn out your fingers the day of the performance, keep it light. Also, keep in mind that at performance time, what is done is done. This is not the time to learn or fix anything. At this point, your work should already be done. Perform and enjoy your performance.

  5. If you feel too anxious, try a few breathing exercises. Remember that some amount of anxiety is always good, it keeps you on track.

  6. Last but not least, do your best. You have worked hard, so do your best and be proud of what you have accomplished. If anything, learn from your mistakes. See the mistakes as learning opportunities, not as something that hinders your ability to perform.

I guess the only thing to say is prepare yourself physically, mentally and play decisively. Enjoy your performance and learn from anything that may happen.

[i] Philip Toshido Sudo: “Zen Guitar”, p.110 [ii] Ibid [iii] Philip Toshido Sudo: “Zen Guitar”, p.111

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