photo of Benny Goodman with Ella Fitzgerald

Benny Goodman & Ella Fitzgerald

“People have often said to me, ‘You’re so relaxed when you play.’ Relaxed my elbow. It’s practice.”
–Benny Goodman, clarinetist
The Musician’s Way, p. 199

It may seem that elite musicians like Benny Goodman excel on stage because of inborn traits.

But despite any genetic factors that might affect our musical potential, the mastery that experts display under pressure actually results from their having acquired specific performance skills.

What Are Performance Skills?

Performance skills come into play before, during, and after an event.

They encompass the strategies I sum up in my earlier post, “Becoming a Confident Performer.”

In a nutshell, when we’re adept with performance skills, we’re able to:

  • Practice such that we can execute securely, even when we’re nervous
  • Employ mental skills to focus under pressure
  • Manage the logistics of performing
  • Present our music and ourselves in ways that appeal to audiences
  • Emote through our music regardless of the performance situation
  • Evaluate and improve on our work

Bear in mind that musicians of any level, even beginners, can build up performance skills, provided that the material they play or sing is easy for them to execute.

Moreover, without gaining performance skills, aspiring musicians are almost certain to be anxious on stage – that is, the lack of these abilities doesn’t merely represent a skill gap, it causes performance anxiety.

Savvy music educators, therefore, emphasize performance skills throughout their students’ training, starting from their first lessons.

Assessing Your Performance Skills

The Musician's Way book coverI’ve created the following assessment to help musicians weigh their facility with performance skills and overcome any weaknesses.

It’s excerpted from Chapter 10 of The Musician’s Way, and you can download a free pdf version of this and other practice and performance aids at MusiciansWay.com.

If any of these 25 statements aren’t true for you, see Part II of The Musician’s Way for step-by-step guidelines to grow your stage power.

Assessing Your Performance Skills
by Gerald Klickstein

  1.   I understand how performance stress affects me before, during, and after a concert.

T  or  F

  2.   I don’t feel threatened by performance stress.

T  or  F

  3.   I’m aware of the personal, task-related, and situational causes of performance anxiety in general and with me in particular.

T  or  F

  4.   When I have trouble on stage, I always know how to practice to bring about improvements in my next performance.

T  or  F

  5.   Of the five facets of performance preparation (artistic, technical, physical, mental/emotional, organizational), I know the areas in which I’m capable and any in which I need to make progress.

T  or  F

  6.   In the areas of preparation in which I’m weakest, I have plans for how to advance.

T  or  F

  7.   On the day of a concert, I know how to prepare myself and my things to minimize stress.

T  or  F

  8.   Upon arrival at a venue, I’m capable of managing the backstage environment, supervising stage setup, and working with any staff.

T  or  F

  9.   When I’m restless backstage, I use specific techniques to ease my discomfort and awaken my creativity.

T  or  F

  10. I feel secure walking on stage, bowing, and carrying out all of the other aspects of stage deportment.

T  or  F

  11. I can project a stage presence that contributes to an audience’s enjoyment of my performance.

T  or  F

  12. I’m able to start and end pieces with consistent control.

T  or  F

  13. During a performance, I know how to employ tactics—such as deep breathing, mental focus, and positive self-talk—that lessen the unwanted effects of arousal.

T  or  F

  14. Even if I’m nervous, when performing accessible material, I can still be sufficiently accurate and expressive.

T  or  F

  15. Performing often stimulates me in constructive ways and helps me be creative.

T  or  F

  16. When performing, I’m committed to giving my listeners the best possible experience; I don’t give in to self-conscious worries.

T  or  F

  17. I can speak to an audience in a personable way.

T  or  F

  18. I can handle on-stage errors to curtail their musical impact.

T  or  F

  19. While performing, I let errors go and seldom become distressed.

T  or  F

  20. After a concert, I’m able to accept my performance and not berate myself for slip-ups.

T  or  F

  21. Following a performance, I’m supportive of my colleagues and courteous to my listeners.

T  or  F

  22. I deliberately evaluate my performances.

T  or  F

  23. I regularly practice performance skills by doing private run-throughs and performing for peers.

T  or  F

  24. I know where to find expert help for any performance problems that I can’t solve on my own.

T  or  F

  25. I’m confident that my performance skills either suffice or are improving.

T  or  F

 

Related posts can be found under the Music Performance category.

© 2012 Gerald Klickstein | Table © 2009 Gerald Klickstein
Excerpted from The Musician’s Way by permission of Oxford University Press..