So someone offers you a chance to get out there, show the world what you can do and perform. ‘Great, how exciting!’ is often the initial thought and hopefully that stays with us for a while because it can often be followed by ‘s**t, I better be ready’ or ‘can I really do this?’. If this happens to you, don’t worry, we’re here to get your sorted out. Even if you’re all confidence and excitement, there’s still a game plan that’s useful to make sure you’re feeling that way when you step out on stage.
Let’s get over the obvious first: know your music and iron out any vocal issues. Make sure you’ve got the details in hand about the venue, sound checks, rehearsals, warm up space, any technical requirements you have (amps, electric supply) etc. Make a list of what you’re going to need and keep a note or photo of what you’re wearing so that when they ask you back, you’ve got a record. Right, these are the basic necessities, now onto the techniques that will help give a performance you’re proud of.
Practice makes perfect, but is your practice perfect?
The way you practice is going to be a big indicator of how well your performance goes. A performance can be a great motivator to get those sleeves rolled up and spend some quality time really exploring your music. If you’re a procrastinator, set yourself up with a schedule and goals and build in some accountability (maybe a partner who will keep you to task). The performance is the goal, work out what you need to do to get all the pieces in place and how that’s going to look. Be specific. If it’s a long gig/performance, build in some stamina with complete run-throughs that mimic the performance.
Recording – how to get the best out of it
Recording yourself can be really useful. I know, it can also be really painful to listen or watch yourself on a video, but it’s a great way to hone your skills. We can all get super critical of ourselves, in ways we wouldn’t even think of if it was someone else we were watching or listening to. I’ve got recordings that I could barely listen to when I did them, and when I hear them now, I’m really impressed by them. If only we could have the benefit of a few years distance between the recordings and listening to them!
Here’s what you can do. Start by making two lists, one for three things you like and the other for three things you’d like to improve. Make sure that when you criticize your recording you treat it as though you were helping someone you know. You want to build them up and give them practical suggestions that will help them to improve their performance. Point out what’s going really well, see if there’s a way to take what’s going well and use it somewhere else in the song. Be sure to keep your lists equal, don’t go all ninja on the things-you’d-like-to-improve list! Reign it in and look for the positives. Like most things, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
Shhh! Silent rehearsals in progress.
So you’ll get together with the musicians you’re performing with to work on the music. You might get one chance to do it on the day or, if you’re lucky, months of prep with a band etc. Whichever predicament you find yourself in there’s some really useful things you can be doing between or before rehearsal(s). Give yourself your best opportunity to do your performance well by rehearsing it silently.
Yep, some of the best rehearsing can be done by going through your performance from beginning to end in your head. Athletes use this when they envision what their performance/race is going to be like in their heads and lots of musicians do the same. You can imagine the repetitive strain injuries you might give yourself if you practiced too much. So go through your performance and imagine the performance you’d really like to give in detail. I find I breath through the song in my mind and feel my throat react to my imagining the way I’m going to sing.
Silent practice is a good rehearsal as it prepares you mentally with practicing focus as well as getting you ready for the onstage action.
Give it a go and contact me with your results!
From our earliest school years, we’re subjected to criticism, whether it’s from our teachers giving us ‘feedback’, or our peers giving us their unsolicited impressions of how we look or act. Let’s face it, we too stood in judgement of our fellow classmates. We even got criticized by our parents who were just trying to help us avoid criticism in the big wide world. Often the judgement was to help us improve and sometimes it was to put us in our place.
For every action you take you could easily find a critic to muscle in with an opinion. Society judges us for the way we look, what we have, how we behave, and what we do. You would think we were all accustomed to it by now and immune to at least some of it. However, even when you ask for criticism it can be really hard to take it. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to even depend on the expertise of who is giving it. How crazy is that? Perhaps we should be asking ourselves, is the criticism coming from someone you respect? Are they an expert? Do they have an agenda of their own? What value should you give to it and what value can you get from it?
The Audience – Critic
As performers we leave ourselves open to criticism every time we perform. We’re inviting the audience to relate to us and with or without them knowing it, they’re going to put on their critic’s hat and give us a score.
When I started competing in festivals as a kid, I was nervous and couldn’t help making comparisons between myself and the other competitors. Were they better than me? Did they make more mistakes than me? My judgement of them was in fact all about me. Even later, and many competitions down the road, I discovered that it was whatever the competition judge was looking for and what they liked. My only responsibility was to be the best that I could be.
That’s the key, be the best you can be in that moment and time. Decide how you want to show up and what you’re bringing of your self to it. As performers, it’s our job to tell a story or communicate a feeling and it’s up to the audience to decide for themselves whether they are ready to receive it. Let’s face it, they’ve usually planned to be there, so they’re ready for it. Interestingly, violinist Joshua Bell did a bit of busking in the New York City Underground while selling out at Carnegie Hall and very few passersby stopped to listen. What does that tell you?
As Julie Andrews once said: “I’ve learned a lot of things about myself through singing. I used to have a certain dislike of the audience, not as individual people, but as a giant body who was judging me. Of course, it wasn`t really them judging me. It was me judging me. Once I got past that fear, it freed me up, not just when I was performing but in other parts of my life.”
I’ve got to say I echo her sentiments. Once you stop judging yourself you unlock some pretty interesting doors. Interested? Get in touch.
Do you ever find yourself in the middle of doing something when you suddenly realize that you’re thinking about something else entirely? You know the scenario; you walk to a room intending to get something and forget what it is you’re looking for once you’re there. Somewhere along the way to the room your mind wanders to something else so that when you get there you can’t quite recall why you’re there at all. It can happen in conversations, when someone’s talking and they say something that gets you thinking about something else. It can be so annoying for both you and the person you are trying to listen to.
These momentary lapses in concentration or attention can pull focus from what you’re intending or supposed to be doing and leave you distracted. There can be so many different thoughts going on in our heads at any one time.
I know music can be my kryptonite. I can be easily distracted by a good song, so I don’t usually have it playing while I’m driving the car for instance. I remember once losing time altogether while listening to a song on the radio that had me in a trance. When it ended I was brought back to reality with a bump (thankfully not literally, or this story might have had a tragic ending) but I remember being really worried about the past few miles as I had no memory of them happening.
What’s really super annoying is when you’re giving a performance of a song and find yourself thinking about what that guy in the 3rd row is doing, or the person that just snuck in at the back, or the person walking past you to the bar. I’ve sometimes found myself wondering about how I might be looking to the audience at that moment, or if I’m singing well. These have often been my least favorite performances and to be honest the best ones are the ones where I recall very little of what went on onstage.
So what can we be doing to keep from getting distracted during a performance?
What does that look like in a performance? Well it means being fully engaged with the experience you’re trying to give or share with your audience. What do you want the audience to feel? What significance does the song have for you? Why do you want to share it?
Being present for other people is something you can practice in your day-to-day life. Make it a habit to be really attentive in conversations, keep eye contact, listen carefully and keep curious about whatever it is you’re discussing. If your mind wanders just bring it back to the moment and continue. It can take a bit of practice if you’re not used to it. Hang in there, not only will it help your focus when you’re singing, but you might also find it gets results in other ways too.
Practice with distractions
Try practicing your songs in front of the TV or some other distraction, whatever works for you. I’ve used this to test my focus and concentration when it comes to learning words. I know that if I can keep the words straight while I’m distracted then those lyrics are deeply embedded in my memory. If I do find myself distracted at any time, then I bring my attention back to my words and continue.
Close Your Eyes
Some singers find it helpful to close their eyes. It can help direct your attention away from what you can see and focus it back on the music. Lots of singers close their eyes from time to time. The eyes are the windows of the soul as Shakespeare once said and so you don’t want to keep your eyes closed all the way through a song, but sometimes it can help you find your concentration again.
Simple steps like keeping well hydrated can affect your attention as can some prescribed medication you may be taking. Even a horror movie can’t keep my attention when I’m tired, so it’s also important to be well rested. Although you’re likely to get a boost of adrenaline before a performance, don’t rely on the adrenaline to get you through it.
Your focus can also be helped with meditation. There are lots of meditation samples available in books, online and in podcasts. Try some out, be patient with yourself and practice being mindful of your body as it relaxes. I love it as a tool I can use to check up on what’s happening in the way of physical tension as well as calming the thoughts that might be running through my head.
Get an audience
Getting a few people to be your audience can be super helpful in testing your concentration. Notice what’s happening for you and then, if you’re struggling with your focus, ask yourself what’s getting in your way of remaining focused? If you’re focusing well, then perhaps try making a game of it and get your audience to do something distracting.
Try out some of these tips and see what works for you in training your mind to keep its focus on the ‘game’.