is both mysterious and tragic that after practicing several hundred
hours for a performance, a musician can be disappointed with the result.
I would like to clear up the mystery and describe a simple, practical
solution to this problem which everyone can try. Let us reexamine
the problem by considering what the performer is afraid of, and the
source of his fears.
are you nervous about?" I have asked this question of hundreds
of people. The answers are always the same: "I'm afraid I'll
mess up. I will not play as well as I know I can." "It is
difficult to concentrate well when an audience is present." "What
if they don't like the way I play?"
these fears only fantasy, or are they justifiable expectations? To
answer this question, I reexamined the conditions of performance to
describe the variables for which the artist must prepare, and I observed
many musicians practicing to see how they actually prepared for their
performances. I observed that most of the time the performer's fears
are justified because their preparation is not precisely organized
to deal with certain unacknowledged realities of the performance situation.
are the important differences between performing conditions and practicing
conditions? Most performers point to the distracting presence of the
audience and the need for the approval of the audience as the primary
differences. But there are two differences which are rarely mentioned.
First, in our culture, you perform at a prearranged time whether or
not you feel perfectly balanced to do so, whether or not you have
a fever, whether or not you feel uncomfortable because you ate too
much food too close to the concert, or whether or not you feel like
performing at that moment. Second, you get one try. You start once,
you continue "come hell or high water," and it's over. It
was partly for this reason that Glenn Gould left the concert stage.
He considered a live audience a great liability. He resented the "one-timeness"
of live performance. If he was not pleased with how his performance
was going he wanted to be able to stop, turn to the audience, and
say, "Take two."
practicers have a strategy to deal with the first try condition of
performance? I left many practicers alone watched by an unmanned camera,
and later reviewed the tapes to observe how they prepared for their
performance. I discovered that no one organized his practicing to
accommodate these unacknowledged performance realities - that you
must produce a satisfying performance on the first try, at a prearranged
moment on a prearranged day.
practice sessions went something like this: Practicers would "warm
up" to prepare for their play-throughs, often polishing the work
to be performed for five to thiry minutes or more. They would begin
with a play-through of moderate success, polish it again for a while,
and then, when they felt well primed, play it through with a feeling
of fulfillment and satisfaction. Sometimes, they would start to play
it through but stop after a few phrases, discontent with the result.
Then they would begin again, eventually getting into the rhythm of
it and continuing to the end. Afterwards, in discussion about the
performance preparation, each practicer remembered his best play-through
of the day or the week as representative of his performance capability.
In other words, the best play-through became the performance expectation.
No specific effort was made to test the ability to produce the best
play-through constrained by the basic performance conditions - on
the first try, at a prearranged moment on a prearranged day.
help the practicer develop a realistic expectation of performance
success, I created a First Try Chart and a technique for its use.
A first try chart looks like this:
How to use the First Try Technique:
1 When you feel that the work you are preparing to perform
is ready, test its readiness at least six days in a row. The day before
your practice performance, decide at what time tomorrow you will perform
2a Set up your tape recorder so that it is ready to record
your performance. Label a tape and insert it. You should only have
to push power "0n" and "Record" to start recording.
2b If dressing in concert clothes makes you feel different
about yourself when you play, you should be dressed in your concert
clothes for your first tries.
3 Each day, set an alarm to go off three minutes before
your practice performance time. Before the alarm rings, practice anything
except the work you will perform. Warm up in any way you want and
as long as you want, but do not play or practice the work you will
4 When the alarm rings, turn on your tape recorder, press
record and walk out of the practice room into the "wings"
(a corner of the room will do). Begin to get in the mood for your
practice performance by imagining the sound and feel of the piece
you will play. Then, walk out, bow and perform. Once you start, YOU
MAY NOT STOP UNTIL THE PERFORMANCE IS OVER. Second tries are not allowed.
If you have a memory slip, do whatever you would do in a real performance.
5 When your performance is over, express your general impression
of the degree of success as a percentage on your First Try Chart.
In addition, make detailed notes on your chart of sections and spots
that your practice performance showed you needed more work. And, indicate
whether you would consider this performance successful if it were
your actual performance. You may answer only "yes" or "no."
6 Now, listen to the tape recording of your first try performance.
Record your observations on your First Try Chart. Compare your impressions
"as artist" with those made "as audience."
7 When you have done six practice performances on six consecutive
days, you are ready to evaluate your expectations for success in an
actual performance. If your last four "first tries" would
have been acceptable to you as actual performances, it is realistic
to expect a performance in the range of your last four first tries.
If one or more of your last four first tries would not have been accceptable
as your actual performance, then the probability of a performance
which will please you is diminished. It is not reasonable to present
a performance in public which does not make you proud when you are
my experience, most players who have succeeded in achieving four acceptable
first tries in a row find that they can achieve that level in performance,
that their pleasure while performing is enhanced, and that their anxiety
is considerably diminished. In addition, even players who do not achieve
four acceptable first tries find that they perform as well as they
did in their practice room, or better. I have concluded that using
the First Try Technique in the practice room establishes realistic
expectations for the performer. As a consequence, the actual performance
is a confirmation of what the performer can do instead of a set of