‘Calm down, you are too nervous’ said my piano teacher last week, during our most recent session together. It was my weekly lessons which I have been going to for almost six years, playing the piano song by Mozart, Sonata K545 which I have practised more than a hundred times. Still she could sense my nervousness.
The cause of it was my fear of making mistakes, the anxiousness of failing to execute the proper rhythm of the song. I had high expectations this time because I have worked very hard to get the piano song right for months. The last time I checked when I played it at home, it sounded decent enough for presentation.
The elevated expectation had turned into stress disrupting my own inner rhythm. The notes were uneven and timing off. Perfection can not be forced - it will come when we are relaxed and at ease with ourselves, the piano and the music.
Later that night, after pondering the disasterous play, I knew my problem was the inability to stay calm. Are there ways to help me overcome it?
Arrive early and relax
In my formative years growing up, I had the opportunity of studying and living in Japan for several years. There I witness their culture of arriving early for any appointment. The unwritten rule is to always be 15 minutes early.
When I began adopting this habit for things I care about like my piano lessons, job interviews and dance parties, there is a noticeable positive difference in the outcome of those events.
I play the songs and exercises I was assigned to better because I always arrive an hour early for lessons so had the extra time to warm-up.
Interviewers see me first on their way into the meeting room where the interviews were being held, so I receive good first impression without saying a word.
The dance floor is all mine and my partners’ while others guests were still on their way.
Arriving early for a performance gives you a head start over the challenges that await you, it gives you extra cushion to relax before showtime.
Mistakes are inevitable
In my years of piano lessons, I play best when I cease caring about making mistakes. Instead, I focus on enjoying the music I was making and playing the piano song with my heart.
The quest for perfection carries with it unnecessary pressure that has the opposite effect. Accept the fact that mistakes will happen no matter how many times you have practised. Playing with passion and love is enormously satisfying and more enjoyable. Ironically only the does perfection reveals itself.
There is always next time
When surrounded by wonderful people whose opinion we care about and respect we crave, there is a sense of urgency to please and impress them.
It is also another source of stress that factors into our ability to stay calm. I have a piano teacher who is tremendously passionate. Her dedication towards seeing my progress has inspired and driven me all these years.
The need to not dissappoint her during our weekly meetings has made me practise diligently everyday, but at the same time it is a source of tension.
The key is to remember that there is always another chance to put on your best show and sweep eveyone off their feet again with your performance. You only need patience. If it does not happen this time, there is always next time.
Keep putting in the effort to improve the technique and articulation with regular practise, and the moment when you are ready to shine will arrive. Continue reading part 2 of 'Piano song – How to stay calm during a performance'.