|Posted on 16 October, 2016 at 6:00|
Top 10 Tips for Piano Performance Practice
Tip 1 - Clearly define your Performance event
Where will you be playing? At what date? To whom? What is the audience expectation?
This will be unique to your piano performance. The venue may have much influence as to the instrument available, the time of day, the atmosphere, the audience. The time of day will influence the type of performance you offer. The age range and expectations of your audience will reflect the music you play. Are you the soloist, one of a number of performers, an accompanist, a contestant, or are you providing background music while people chat? What impression do you intend to make? Will this reflect your music choice or the way you play?
And how long do you have to prepare your program? Are you playing familiar pieces or need you learn new material? Have you enough practice time?
Tip 2 - Wear comfortable stylish clothes to make a statement
The clothes you choose will unavoidably make a statement about you as a performer and may set your audience expectations at a different level to your original intention. Comfort and utility within performance is key. Avoid too much colour - plain darker colours work well with perhaps one bright colour in your tie or sash, or even your shoes. I avoid wearing all jewellery, even a watch. I want to feel completely free to focus on each aspect of bringing across the music. Are you happy with your clothes? Is everything clean, pressed and a good fit on the day? It is a good plan to have several choices so you can wear exactly what feels best on the day of your piano performance.
Good choices for pianists include a roll neck jumper, loose trousers, formal shoes, a loose fitting shirt or blouse with medium length sleeves, or a formal dress provided it does not restrict your movement in any way. You must feel relaxed and presentable!
Tip 3 - Choose Your Piano Repetoire Wisely
A flexible repetoire is ideal, even if you provide a published program for your event. On the day you may feel less confident with one piece than another. I like to judge the audience appreciation and choose pieces as I go to suit the mood of my listeners. Whenever possible I opt for a flexible mix of classical piano, contemporary, own arrangements, jazz, pop and folk music. I want my audience to relax. Few will be as highbrow as an expensive symphony hall audience expecting top quality Beethoven and Chopin!
Many audiences will enjoy popular songs and medleys and may even sing along! Certainly everyone enjoys some toetapping dance numbers, from classical waltzes and polkas to 40's bigband era songs. If you can play with an infectious rhythm and flair for keeping good time, you are assured of a hearty response! Be bold. Never be drab. Never be boring. Mix those yawn inducing pieces with some rousing melodies! Keep your audience on edge in a positive manner!
Tip 4 - Ensure You Have Sufficient Encores!!
Many a child will play their three exam pieces but have nothing left for an encore! So as a piano teacher I first encourage students to develop a small repetoire of good fun serviceable encores. Many lasting around 30 seconds. People want to applaud to show appreciation. Never bore your audience. The encore is an opportunity to shine and to entertain. Get the audience on your side and give them a memory to take home. Suit your encore to the mood of the moment. Don't follow up Beethoven with Yankee Doodle! Please..
I recall a piano concert at Symphony Hall Birmingham with Evgeny Kissin - I have no recollection of his repetoire but he played around twelve amusing encores to thunderous applause. Another occasion Alfred Brendel played Beethoven's Hammerklavier wih much mopping of the brow, and encored Fur Elise! Like a delightful sorbet after a heavy meal. Hardly a dry eye in the auditorium - he played on pathos. But I suspect he had a number of encores ready and chose that piece in the moment of audience atmosphere. Few artists could pull such a sweet stunt! Yet these two piano concerts I recall from many I have enjoyed and forgotten - because of the artists' approach to the encore!!
Tip 5 - Entertain not bore!
Your primary task as piano performer is to entertain. You may choose slapstick music or highbrow classical but you are an entertainer! Avoid a repetoire of lengthy tedious dry difficult music. (Conversely, if at all possible, avoid Yankee Doodle!) Schubert daily wrote sweet dances to play amongst his friends in the cafes of Vienna. He loved to provide entertainment of a light cheery kind.
As pianist you could prepare a variety of short dance tunes or popular songs as one program piece. Shorter pieces povide a welcome change for your listeners. Chopin's 24 Preludes make a grand concert number or you could play a number of Schubert dances or Bach's inventions. Just because music isn't on the grade eight piano syllabus does not mean your audience won't listen! You should entertain, not educate!
Which accolade do you desire? "A long and tiring evening" or "A bright vivacious performance enjoyed by all"?
Tip 6 - Give 100% for every Piano Performance
When you play to half a hall give 100% just like the world's great artists do! You don't know how far the influence of any listener. Try to capture a jubilant mood and rouse your audience to great acclaim whether you play to two or two thousand. You want people to talk of your performance for the rest of their lives! Aim to achieve just that! By playing well! Assume people will talk about you and post you all over online!
Tip 7 - How Long Do You Have To Practice?
Keep a good number of serviceable pieces under your fingers at all times, along with a variety of styles of encore, and you won't need too long to polish your performance! Keep up flexible scale and arpeggio practice to hone in your technique, and never avoid sight reading! Aim to compose two or three light pieces which show off your technical style - you never know when you may get a chance to play these.
Constantly work on practicing pieces to provide a variety of programs - a full classical evening, jazz songs, contemporary piano - mix and blend whenever you can. The worst scenario is having a few weeks to learn a difficult all new program, so choose your events a year or more ahead but also be ready to fill in for someone at short notice if the opportunity arises. Your audience will understand if you change some of the program.
Tip 8 - Will You Annouce Your Piano Repetoire?
A formal classical piano performance will provide concert notes and a list of playing pieces - but most concert pianists say a word or two during their performance. Or you can surprise your audience on the day and announce each piece as you play. When playing for weddings I neither provide a playing list nor introduce my pieces - bacground music does not require a speaker, I simply play nonstop! If playing in a pub I rarely introduce the music but aim to play a continual flow of fun contrasting pieces, often alternating classical items with jazz or songs. Both events acclaim my playing - but if I play as soloist to a particular audience then I would speak a few words before each piece to introduce the mood of the piece and entertain. Perhaps you may feel the occasion warrants someone to speak for you.
Tip 9 - Are You Happy With Your Pay?
You may or may not be paid to play, but you will be playing for some recompense - perhaps for publicity or to raise funds for the church hall! In future would you like to be paid? Find an agent! Prepare a good selection of contrasting pieces and practice like a demon! No one will hinder your piano performance career if you feel you have something to offer a keen audience! What is your main motive for playing? Where would you like to play? To whom? Obviously, if money has been agreed, be sure you receive your pay - this is easier done before the event!
Tip 10 - What Acclaim Do You Anticipate?
Naturally I hope to be remembered for a lifetime, and if I play at a wedding I'm sure a few people will remember my playing for a long time, but as a favourable memory of the event, rather than for its own sake. Great presentation will spark good memories, and capturing the mood of the occasion without any false notes, either in your playing or your approach! Presentation involves your costume, the appearance and facilities of the venue ("remember that time we all huddled shivering in the village hall.."), program notes or speaking - a blend of the anticipation you built within your audience compared to the impression you gave. It's the impression you leave in the mind that lingers, more than your playing, more than the program. You want to be invited again, and elsewhere! You want acclaim.
Careful detailing will ensure good presentation, and good sleep, rest, exercise and diet in the days before your event will ensure you are fit on the day, but have you considered the media angle? Invite your local press correspondent, with the best free seat and refreshments! Invite music magazine writers if appropriate. Ring music agents and ask them to attend.
Do you have a recording you can hand out? Or something to sell as a momento? Be sure to have a classy business card to hand out!
How will your event appear on social media? Encourage people to video your playing! Work something up for your own YouTube channel. Tweet your event and your feelings afterwards! Write your own blog and post videos of your playing. You want acclaim, you desire recognition!
Don't play in the dark! Set your light before all and you will receive many invitations to play! The play's the thing!
Louise Woodcock Pianist performs and teaches Piano, Brass and Woodwinds in Kent and East Sussex @KentPiano