Rebounding from Subpar Performances

Photo of sheet music being blown off music stand“The route to becoming an accomplished musician is seldom smooth and trouble free.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 202

We musicians may dream of performing brilliantly at every show, but, in reality, things don’t always go as well as we’d like.

Especially for students, playing or singing in public can bring upsetting surprises: shakiness, memory slips, music wafting off the stand – you name it.

How can we learn from on-stage letdowns and bounce back stronger than before?

More than anything else, we develop resiliency by being able to objectively evaluate our work and devise solutions for problems. Then, with action plans in hand, we can head to the practice room empowered to progress.

Conversely, if we can’t grasp why something went wrong and see what to do about it, we tend to feel helpless.

The following tool helps rising musicians transform on-stage problems into artistic insights.

Performance Evaluation Tool
Use this tool immediately following a practice performance or on the day after a public show; preferably, record the performance you evaluate.

  1. Note three or more aspects of your performance that went well.
    E.g., “The rhythmic groove was solid; the dynamic contrasts rocked; the tone was rich.”
  2. Note specific things you’d like to improve before your next performance.
    Be objective and precise: “Memory in second section; overall mental focus.”
  3. Determine the reasons for your successes.
    Cite what you did in practice to achieve the results you noted under #1.
  4. Specify action plans to achieve improvements.
    Determine your practice plan: e.g., “Apply memorization strategies in Ch. 4 of The Musician’s Way; then practice performing to enhance my ability to focus under pressure.”

Psychologists Mitchell Robin and Rochelle Balter wrote, “One of the most difficult lessons that we must learn as humans is how to rate our behaviors and features without globally rating ourselves.” (Performance Anxiety, p. 179)

Although it’s challenging to size up our work objectively and not put ourselves down when we miss the mark, by acquiring the skills to do so, we gain the means to conquer stage fright, overcome performance problems, and grow our artistry without end.

See p. 203 of The Musician’s Way for a complete self-evaluation done by a student who used this tool.

Related posts
Countering perfectionism
The growth mindset
The meaning in mistakes
Practicing performance
Solving problems in practice

© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Photosani, licensed from Shutterstock.com

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One Response to “Rebounding from Subpar Performances”

  1. SA GUITARIST said:

    Sep 27, 11 at 11:15

    Confidence really does come with age. When I first started performing at age 15 the spotlight terrified me, mostly because I feared an unsatisfied audience. But as I got older I started to care less about what others took from my music and performance, my main focus was on enjoying the rawness of my own music and feeling the adrenalin rush on stage. I am not intimidated by people any more,we all make mistakes ,we are not perfect and I am NOT composing music to satisfy the masses!