The Importance of Musical Prompts

One of the challenges in performance or audition situations is transitioning smoothly from one piece to another. It can be difficult to instantly switch from one style or musical character to another, so how you can practice these changes before you perform?

By using musical prompts.

If you’ve ever given a presentation, you’ve probably used cue cards. Instead of printing your entire speech on each card and robotically reading from them, you choose succinct prompts to help you streamline your thoughts. Or, if you’re an actor, you think of prompts or other cues to help you quickly get into character.

Creating musical prompts is the same kind of idea.

For each piece, movement, excerpt or even smaller passages, take the time to think of musical prompts which allow you to instantly embody the musical character you are trying to portray.

A few examples of musical prompts could include:

  • adjectives or descriptions like “serenely” or “mumbling brook”
  • people or characters (real or fictional)
  • colors
  • emotions
  • memories
  • ideas
  • nature
  • animal
  • quotes
  • poetry
  • photographs
  • visual (drawings or other artwork)

The possibility for musical prompts is endless. The more specific and well thought out your musical prompt is, the easier it will be for you to switch from one piece to another. Different musicians use different kinds of prompts. I’m a word person, so I find it most helpful to write down adjectives or other brief descriptions. Others might find colors or quotes or ideas or any number of prompts more inspiring, so experiment with prompts until you find the ones that work best for you.

If you’ve used musical prompts before, what do you find to be most effective for performance?

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