Rebounding from Subpar Performances

December 12, 2011, 10:26 AM ·

“Music making is a never ceasing process of change and progress. One never arrives at the perfect performance but nevertheless draws increasing knowledge and insight and enthusiasm from every moment.”
–Jacqueline du Pré (The Musician's Way, p. 205)

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

Especially for students and amateurs, performing can come with unwelcome surprises: shakiness, memory slips, music wafting off the stand – you name it!sheet music blowing off stand

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

More than anything else, we develop resiliency by being able to evaluate our work objectively 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 things went wrong and see what to do about them, we tend to feel helpless.

In my teaching, I use the following tool to help rising musicians transform performance problems into artistic insights. I hope that readers will find it beneficial.

Performance Evaluation Tool
Use this tool right after a practice performance or on the day following a concert or an audition; preferably, record the performances you evaluate.

  1. Note three or more aspects of your performance that went well.
    E.g., “The rhythm was solid; the slow melodies sang; 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.”
  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., “Use fresh memorization strategies, and then practice performing.”

The Challenges of Objective Self-Evaluation
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 overcome performance problems and grow our artistry without end.

See p. 203 of my book The Musician’s Way for an example of a self-evaluation done by a student who used the above tool; for comprehensive memorization strategies, see Chapter 4.

A version of this article first appeared on The Musician's Way Blog where you'll find related posts in the Music Performance category.

© 2011 Gerald Klickstein
Image © Photo.sani, licensed from


December 12, 2011 at 09:06 PM · This seems like a useful tool. A musician might also benefit from having a teacher or knowledgeable friends answer the questions.

December 19, 2011 at 07:54 AM · Although I think the points raised in this blog are useful, I would also say that evaluation after the event may be less useful than doing it during the performance.

We should be asking ourselves why things are not going well and taking action during the performance to improve the situation.

Actual performance is the best time to learn, and one hour of performance experience is worth 200 hours of practise later when one tries to figure out the problems. Get a lot of performances in and under the belt and you can work through the problems on site.

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

Facebook YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

JR Judd Violins
JR Judd Violins

Los Angeles Philharmonic
Los Angeles Philharmonic

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

Anne Cole Violin Maker
Anne Cole Violin Maker 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