My practice sessions are divided into two main parts: practicing to fix and avoid mistakes (woodshedding) and practicing to recover from mistakes (performance practice).
I’ve already discussed the minutiae of woodshedding, from improving your rhythm to becoming a better sight-reader. Woodshedding is a crucial part of practice, but today I want to talk about performance practice. One of the simplest yet most under-utilized practice techniques is to incorporate full run-throughs of pieces or larger section to fortify your mental and physical ability to recover from mistakes (because let’s face it – no matter how much you practice, there will always be live performance errors).
Many musicians do not include performance practice at all in their practice sessions, instead focusing only on woodshedding and improving technical passages. When they eventually combine smaller sections and attempt a run-through, they will often stop immediately after making a mistake to correct the issue. Immediately correcting mistakes during performance practice prevents you from building the mental resilience necessary to successfully recover from a mistake. If you stop to fix every mistake, you will not know how to gracefully recover from the inevitable mistakes during live performance, and this may cause you to crash and burn later on in the piece. You only get one chance during live performances, so do several mock performances and dress rehearsals to practice maintaining focus after making a mistake.
Quick fix: Incorporate performance practice and mock run-throughs during your practice session. Fight the urge to immediately correct mistakes. Focus on the music ahead of you. Don’t succumb to negative thoughts and don’t obsess over mistakes. If you make a mistake, file it away to review and correct after your run-through. Performing music is like driving a car – if you focus too much on what’s behind you, you will crash into what’s in front of you.