Short Essay On Performing and Practice Techniques

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Classical Violin By: Tutor no longer registered
Subject: Violin » Classical Violin
Last updated: 06/04/2016
Tags: devleopment, music education, practice, practice techniques, violin

‘How do your objectives as a performer inform and shape your practice technique?’

There are perhaps two types of objectives as a performer; long term and short term. In the short term, I want to go on stage with confidence and nail the performance and in the long term, my objectives are to be the best musician I can be. This would involve recreating the music I am performing as a ‘new creation', communicating this with the audience and being able to perform at my best under pressure.

To achieve these goals, I believe you have to ‘practise and beyond!’ You must practise specific techniques of how to overcome immense pressure and stage fright to perform in what is becoming an increasingly perfectionist industry. There is the misconception that a mistake would be the death of a performance when in reality these moments are what make music alive and in most cases slip by unnoticed or not cared for by the audience.

Athletes have been using psychology for years to aid their sport. I believe that a similar approach is necessary for musicians. The notion of sports psychology first came to my attention when I read ‘The Inner Game of Tennis,’ closely followed by ‘The Inner Game of Music.’ Reading these books made me realise that, “the same mechanism for heightened performance is at work in both sports and music, where over-teaching or over-control can lead to fear and self-doubt.” Both books aim to, “reduce mental interferences” and, “offer a way to acknowledge and overcome these obstacles.” 

In order to perform and practice at peak levels, therefore overcoming all these interferences and obstacles, I believe it is necessary to practice and work on the following skills:

  1. Energy
  2. Preparation
  3. Confidence
  4. Courage
  5. Concentration
  6. Focus
  7. Resilience

Energy Regulation is all about quickly accessing your optimal physical, mental and emotional states for peak performance. Performance situations give us a heightened energy and so it is important to learn how to regulate these nerves and use this extra energy to our advantage rather than letting it overcome us in performance.

Many top athletes use pre-performance routines to get into optimal physical, mental and emotional states before competition. 'Centering' is a seven-step pre-performance routine that can be used to get into “the zone." The steps to practice are:

  1. Identify a focal point
  2. Have a clear intention
  3. Breathe deeply
  4. Release any tension in body (find minimum possible amount) 
  5. Get centred 
  6. Use a process cue
    - focus on something sensory
    - feel, hear and see the end result
  7. Direct energy
    - scan all energy in body
    - draw it towards your centre (ball of energy)
    - direct it upwards into head
    - blast it out to focal point.

Once 'centering' becomes second-nature, it can be utilised as the first port of call when you are about to embark on any pressured or stressful situation. 

Preparation is probably the most important factor when delivering a performance. Quality of practice outweighs quantity as the great pedagogue Leopoldo Auer explains:

“The right kind of practice is not a matter of hours. Practice should represent the utmost concentration of brain. It is better to play with concentration for two hours than to practice eight without. I should say that four hours would be a good maximum practice time – and that during each minute of the time the brain be as active as the fingers.” – Leopold Auer

K. Anders Ericsson is one of the world’s leading authorities on the acquisition of expertise and expert performance, and has spent his career trying to figure out how people become experts and world-class performers.

His research highlighted that time, practice habits and limits are the three specific areas concerned with becoming an expert in a given field. His data suggests that in most cases it takes 10 years or 10 000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance, expert performers tend to practice differently and there are limits to how long we can practice effectively for. Most of us cannot remain productive beyond four or five hours per day.

A deliberate practice formula could be:

  1. Define the goal
  2. Make an attempt
  3. Evaluate the result
  4. Identify the problem
  5. Identity the cause
  6. Identify possible solutions
  7. Test possible solutions

In his book, ‘Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching,’ Ivan Galamian describes a conceptual framework for splitting up practice time.

The first type is conceptual, figuring out what we want the piece to sound like. The second is to build up our technical capacity, figuring out the mechanics of our instruments in order to produce what we have decide to express and the third is the performance element, often neglected until it is too late. This involves putting everything together from beginning to end as it would be in live performance.

The performance element is so vital because practising and performing are two fundamentally different activities. Being able to flip the switch from practice mode to performance mode is an essential skill to practice but is often overlooked. A lack of performance practice may be a main culprit for nerves on stage as performance mode is almost the opposite of everything we do in practice mode (if done effectively). In practice we aim to analyse, critique, experiment, stop, listen and repeat to further the learning process but in performance, all these thoughts must be turned off to simply play and trust that the body has been trained sufficiently to produce what you ask of it. Therefore to become a top performer, your skills must be tested under simulated conditions in order to expose your weak spots which often do not reveal themselves in practice mode. Mentally practising may be a way to rehearse these skills in performance mode.

Mental practice can also be referred to as mental rehearsal or visualisation. It can be used for a whole performance, a particular excerpt or simply a technical movement of any kind. For it to be effective, it must be as systematic as possible. This would include going through the piece, bar or movement step by step, being sure to correct things if they go wrong while visualising all the senses.

The perspective from which you visualise yourself performing is something to be in control of. Alternate perspectives should be chosen for different areas of improvement. For example, the third person perspective can be helpful if you are working on body language where it is necessary to see how you are coming across to an audience. The first person perspective involves more neuromuscular activation, where you are truly imagining carrying out the skills you will be executing in performance. Therefore rehearsing mentally from the first person perspective might prove more useful in terms of mental practice. Going as far as making a mistake, stopping, rewinding and trying again a little slower in your mental picture will increase your control of your ability to get the details exactly as you want them, making this a lot easier to reproduce in real life. 

Confidence in our abilities is arguably one of the most important factors of being a musician. Not believing in ourselves can lead to a dangerous road of mental anxiety and self deprecation, in turn affecting all other aspects of our musical development.

Dr Steve Peters, in his book, ‘The Chimp Paradox,’ writes how, “security and confidence stabilise happiness, therefore they are important to establish.” In this instance, if we substitute the word ‘security’ for ‘ability’, we get the pyramid of how a musician sees himself. The more ability he has, the more confident and therefore happier he will be. If just one of these three points is upset at all, a negative effect will be had on the whole pyramid. This is the reaction of the chimp part of our mind which Peters explains is the part of our brain which uses emotional thinking and bases its reactions on feelings and impressions rather than fact and truth like the human part of the brain. 

Both the human and the chimp have a different way of thinking about confidence. The chimp says, “I am basing my confidence on my belief in my ability to reach certain levels that I have to achieve and I cannot deal with the consequences of not reaching them.” Whereas the human says, “I am basing my confidence on doing my best to reach certain levels that I would like to achieve and as an adult I can always deal with any consequences of not reaching them.” This means that in our mind, we have a choice of either basing our confidence on the belief in our ability, or to base it on doing our best. Peters goes on to explain that ‘doing your best’ as a basis gives you 100 per cent confidence as you can guarantee to make your best effort in something however you  cannot guarantee what you can achieve. Therefore the human part of the mind can naturally be confident because with doing your best and dealing with the consequences there is no fear. The chimp can only have a variable amount of confidence with a lot of fear which is based around consequences and possible failure. In this way, it is possible to stay 100 per cent confident and in turn not affect our happiness based on our ability as long as we control our inner chimp.

These are all practice techniques which I believe can revolutionise the way I practice and approach my practice sessions. It would be foolish to think that with these skills, I have a recipe for success; even to master these skills will take dedication and hard work to basically change habits of a lifetime. I hope that the first step in knowing that these techniques exist, will help to shape and inform my practice technique to allow me to become the best I can be.



Dr Noa Kageyama. 2014. Bullet Proof Musician. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 29 October 14].

Ericsson, K. Anders; Krampe, Ralf T.; Tesch-Roemer, The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance, Clemens Psychological Review, Vol 100(3), Jul 1993


Galamian, Ivan, Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching, Shar Products Company, 1 Jun, (1999)


Gallwey, W. Timothy, The Inner Game of Tennis, Random House, (1974)


Green, Barry, The Inner Game of Music, Anchor Press/Doubleday, (1986)


Martens, Frederick Herman, Violin Mastery. Talks With The Master Violinists and Teachers, New York, (1919) 


Peters, Prof. Steve, The Chimp Paradox, Random House (2012)


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