Practicing Performance

August 16, 2010, 7:27 AM ·

Suppose that you’re preparing for an audition or a concert. How do you bridge the gulf between personal practice and high-stakes performance?

I’ve observed that many violinists underperform because they omit a crucial element from their preparatory routines: practice performances.

Here are three ways that violinists can practice performing and thereby become masterful on stage. All of these concepts are expanded on in my book The Musician’s Way.*

1. Assemble a performance-development group
The skills required to perform soulfully have to be practiced.

All of us, therefore, need opportunities to try out our material, learn how to manage our nerves, and hone our stage presence.

I’ve found that the ideal setting for doing so is in a performance-development group.

To form such a group, you need two or more soloists or ensembles of comparable ability, a defined space such as a living room or classroom, a capable accompanist when called for, and a mutually supportive attitude.

Your attitude is of utmost importance because your group must provide a nonjudgmental setting where you can experiment as performer and grow from your experiences.

For instance, what if a violinist wants to build her confidence on stage, test her memory, and explore ways to counter jitters? How does she find out without risking her reputation in a public setting?

A performance-development group supplies her with what she needs. She can play fearlessly in front of her colleagues, and they’ll cheer her on in her quest for excellence.

It’s vital, however, that you make your practice performances concert-like. Typically, players should enter to applause and then perform complete compositions; listeners should clap afterward. But if you’re doing a mock audition, skip the applause.

In addition, use a recorder so that you can review your work later on (see the Practice Page at for information about types of recorders).

I also recommend that participants comment on each other’s performances, but within strict boundaries:

     -Keep your comments brief.
     -Use courteous “I” statements.
     -Offer at least three positive remarks for every criticism.

Here’s an example of how one violinist might comment on another’s performance:

     “I really liked your choice of material and your stage presence. I also thought that your pitch and memory were right on. Toward the beginning, though, I wondered how it would have sounded if you had stayed with a quieter volume for a while longer.”

2. Schedule private run-throughs
In a private run-through, you perform without an audience, other than your recorder and maybe the cat.

Commit to doing run-throughs at set times, and implement your standard pre-concert routines – arrange your meals and other preparations exactly as you would before a recital or audition because pre-concert routines need practice, too.

When you perform a run-through, visualize an audience, and play or sing your heart out. If you can’t round up an accompanist, mentally hear any accompaniment and softly vocalize it during your rests.

At the same time, rehearse specific skills. If you tend to stiffen on stage, for instance, practice releasing tension and transmitting warmth. To further polish your stage presence, employ a video recorder, and then size up your on-stage gestures.

The benefit you derive from any practice performance will hinge on how honestly you evaluate your playing and the ways in which you practice in response.

During your self-assessments, therefore, be objective and detached: treat glitches as useful information and never as personal shortcomings.

For example, after you run an unaccompanied solo, you might go over your recording, jot down your thoughts, and rehearse improvements.

A week later, following additional targeted practice and another run-through, you might opt to perform the music for your performance-development group.

3. Line up low-stress public shows
The above sorts of practice performances are invaluable, but concerts and auditions will be more intense, and we want them to be, but in positive ways.

Low-stress public shows give us chances to present our music in actual performance situations, but where the stakes are low.

So, although we take such performances seriously, we give ourselves permission to have fun on stage and not worry.

As a result, we build our confidence and artistic prowess. We’re then primed to excel at high-stakes events.

Representative sites for such performances include coffee shops, house parties, and church or synagogue meeting halls, where we might invite congregants to hear us and donate to a charity.

Such performances enable us to build an audience, serve our communities, and lift our artistry and self-assurance to new heights.

* * *

When we integrate these three types of practice performances into our creative process, we can erase any disconnection between our solitary practice and public presentations. Performing can then become a joyful part of our lifestyles as opposed to being a rare, intimidating event.

Of course, it takes time and effort to refine our craft, but let’s remember that performance, at its heart, is an act of beauty and generosity.

*The Musician’s Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness, by Gerald Klickstein (360 pages. Oxford University Press, 2009. $24.95.).

Subscribe to The Musician’s Way Newsletter. A version of this article first appeared on The Musician’s Way BlogConnect with on Facebook.

© 2010 Gerald Klickstein


August 17, 2010 at 07:12 AM ·

Retirement communities, especially those called "Independent Living" are often eager to get this sort of performances.  I have seen some called "Dress Rehearsal" performances which have met with good results for the audience and the players.

August 17, 2010 at 12:13 PM ·

Excellent point, James - thanks for contributing.

At the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where I teach, we regularly send students out to perform at retirement communities.

Also, many such communities have budgets to present performances, so violinists can sometimes earn modest honorariums and, at minimum, cover the cost of their accompanists.

August 19, 2010 at 03:07 AM ·

Mr. Klickstein, I've got your book and have improved my practice a great deal within days by following your advices.  I look forward to receiving your next newsletter. Thank you!


August 19, 2010 at 11:49 AM ·

Thanks, Yixi Zhang - that's very kind of you to say.

I invite other readers to subscribe to my free Musician's Way Newsletter: here's the link, where you can also read past issues: For now, I publish quarterly.


This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra
Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Shopping Guide Shopping Guide

Metzler Violin Shop

Southwest Strings

Bobelock Cases

Johnson String Instrument/Carriage House Violins

Jargar Strings

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop


Los Angeles Violin Shop


String Masters

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine