Talk to Your People

One of the most important aspects of performing is communication. Even though the quality of our performance will mostly depend on how prepared we are musically, communication can help make the performance less stressful while allowing us to put most of our energy into the main thing – the music.

If we are a student, it’s important that we let our teacher(s) know about all performances we have coming up. Even if we think it’s a side-gig that carries no significance in relation to the lesson, we should still let our teachers know as soon as we find out about the gig.

If we are the performer, we should gather and organize any information we can about the performance and share that with our teachers or inner-circle. I do believe that we should all have a small circle of musical peers who can act as our ‘teachers’ if we no longer have an actual teacher. I still consult a couple of my former teachers very regularly, friends who perform, former students and friends who always are honest with me about what I’m working on.

With all the ways we have to communicate with each other today, there is really no excuse to be caught off guard when walking into a performance situation.

In my teaching studio we usually use shared spreadsheets. I have the students create and maintain a spreadsheet where they list out all of their performances and requirements. It’s a pretty simple sheet. Column 1 is the date. Column 2 is the name of the performance. Columns 3 to whatever is needed lists out the repertoire. The column after that is for notes about any additional information required for the gig – like forms they need, dress code, type of instrument they will be playing or any equipment they need to bring.

This is really great for maximizing our repertoire and prep. For example, if three of the performances have similar requirements the student can play a some of the same repertoire for each event. But more importantly, it is very easy to see when a performance requires something unique that doesn’t fit into the spreadsheets. It also helps student learn about programming. There is a big difference between performing one piece for a competition than playing a 45-minute solo program. They learn how to maximize their performance by selecting pieces that fit the venue.

As a performer, I typically have a similar list except I usually include details about my setup. Since some gigs I just play piano and others I have a pretty involved electronic setup (and everywhere in between), I list out all of the things I need for each gig so that when I setup my performance rig at home for practice I simply go down the list… When it’s time to pack up for the gig, I go down the same list when loading up.

Communicating our goals for each performance to our teachers or inner-circle is really important. If a performance is really important to you and your goals, make sure that the people helping you know this. Not all performances are equal. We always have to perform like everything is on the line. But we only have so much prep time for everything. So sometimes we have to build our preparation so that we are ready for the ones that carry the most weight. Teachers and an inner circle can help you use the lower-pressure gigs to lead up to the bigger performances. They can and should hold us accountable when we are being lazy, losing focus or simply aren’t living up to our potential. Dream big and go for those dreams – but let a few people you trust in on these dreams so they can help you stay on track.

If you’re playing a gig and aren’t sure about what the venue or organizers want, don’t be shy. Contact them and ask your questions. This will alleviate a lot of anxiety if you get everything answered and aren’t guessing about details that don’t make sense to you.

Sometimes playing free and easy requires us to know what we’re getting into and where we stand. Communication can free us up so that we know exactly what to expect in performance situations. This allows us to keep the music the main thing and to prepare for each event with a high level of focus.