The Prepared Musician’s Pre-Performance Mental Checklist

Every musician is familiar with the barrage of thoughts that flutter through their mind before beginning a performance. “What if I have a memory slip? Where is my teacher sitting? Why didn’t I choose a less stressful career??”

This cacophony of thoughts is normal, and with time you will learn how to control them. In the meantime, there are several productive thoughts to improve your next performance. I’ve created this pre-performance checklist for my own performances, and I remind all of my students to use these steps to maximize their performances and auditions.

Here is my pre-performance mental checklist:

  • Don’t be in a hurry to begin playing. Fight the urge to scramble onstage, weaken under the imagined toe-tapping of impatient audience-goers, and rush frantically to begin. So many mistakes can be avoided by simply giving yourself enough more time to get in the zone before you begin playing.
  • Adjust the music stand. Adjust the stand so that you can comfortably see the music. Make sure there are no dark spots or that you aren’t standing on any squeaky patches of stage.
  • Prepare your page turns. There’s nothing worse than the sinking realization that you forgot to prepare a page turn before you began playing. Make sure all of your music is in the proper order before you begin.
  • Take a few deep breaths. Exhale any stale air from your lungs before completely inhaling. Release any tension from your body.
  • Make any last-minute instrument adjustments. Wet your reed, check for spit, swab, or do anything else you need before you begin.
  • Play a tuning note. Make sure your pitch hasn’t suffered backstage by playing a quick tuning note.
  • Count off. For such a simple concept, it’s amazing that so many musicians omit this step! Find your tempo and mentally count off a few measures before you begin playing. Your accompanist will thank you.
  • Hear the first note in your head. While you’re counting off, hear the first note in your head to achieve a beautiful response.

Good luck, and break a leg!

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