Over the past week, I’ve been staying in Edinburgh with a friend who is an excellent amateur pianist. She has attended many piano courses and masterclasses recently both as a participant and observer, and she has subsequently made some interesting comments about the differences between amateur and professional players. So this got me thinking; how can amateurs learn to be more professional in their approach to performance?
Here are a few tips based on my observations looking at some basic mistakes amateurs frequently make when giving concerts.
1. Those who are not used to performing generally shuffle on to the stage with not much more than a quick nod to the audience. It’s always a good idea to take your time and really smile at the audience; after all they will hopefully praise and applaud you after you have played.
2. Most amateurs tend to grasp onto their music score as if their life depends on it. They quickly put the score on the music desk and remain glued to it for the entirety of their performance. It might be a good idea to actually know the score well enough to take your eyes off it during the concert allowing you to focus on the music. This will enable you to give a much more convincing account. Alternatively find the confidence to perform from memory; it really isn’t as frightening as you might imagine.
3. Another common trait is to rush into the performance without giving much thought or ‘breathing space’ at the beginning. If you can build this into your performance approach then you will not only give yourself valuable time to concentrate on the opening bars, but you will also give your audience time too, which will make them feel more comfortable and will put them at ease. A pianist who rushes into their performance will unsettle an audience, making them nervous.
4. Try to spend crucial practice time ironing out any tricky passages. A very common amateur trait is to master a piece beautifully except for one or two more demanding passages. Therefore, aim to find a strategy for coping with these areas as it will make all the difference to your performance.
5. Play works that are well within your capabilities because under pressure your technique may not stand up to the demands of the piece. If you give a secure and musical rendition of a less demanding piece you will feel better and more confident about future performances.
6. Convey the beauty within the music and learn to communicate. Professional pianists really do love being onstage and always aim to express the music completely. Amateurs can be so focused on getting through their performance that this tends to get lost. Don’t allow this to happen. Focusing on the music will also take your mind off those pesky nerves as well.
7. After you have finished playing, look and smile at your audience and acknowledge their applause as opposed to running off stage.
8. Take every opportunity to perform in as many settings as possible and enjoy it!
Melanie Spanswick has written and published a wide range of courses, anthologies, examination syllabuses, and text books, including Play it again: PIANO (published by Schott Music). This best-selling graded, progressive piano course contains a large selection of repertoire featuring a huge array of styles and genres, with copious practice tips and suggestions for every piece.
For more information, please visit the publications page, here.
9 Comments Add yours
An excellent article here Mel, with some useful advice too. Thanks for this. I will be using some of the tinks here for my exam performance.
Thank you so much Steve – so pleased you found it useful. Hope you are very well 🙂
One thing I’ve observed as a problem with amateurs (especially pianists, because they are usually playing solo) is lack of a sense of pulse. Many people seem to build in miscounting because they don’t focus on it when they practice — they are trying to “just get the notes.” So long notes get short-changed, beats get compressed, rhythms and meters get distorted, and so on. It takes time, patience, and persistence, but I think it helps to practice with a metronome as well as practice counting out loud or at least mentally. (Counting while playing adds a tremendous dimension of difficulty! I can only keep it going for small sections, not entire pieces, but it’s very useful when I make myself do it even to that extent.)
I meant to make the point that this lack of pulse is one big thing that makes amateurs sound amateurish — sorry, didn’t mean to write so much about practicing. This is sort of an adjunct to your point #4.
Hi Harriet, Thank you for your comments. I totally agree with you about the apparent inability of some amateurs to keep time, but my post is really dealing with tips about performance practice not technique. If I was going to delve into the technical probelms of some amateurs then my blog post would last forever!! Technique is of course one area where many amateurs really do struggle.
Many thanks for including my links in your excellent blog site 🙂
In answer to #6:
Yes, professionals love the music, but don’t necessarily love performing. Probably the most notable examples would be the great Martha Argerich and, of course, Horowitz – both of whom are known to have suffered from terrible nerves.