Never underestimate the value of performing, whether at home for family and friends, or in a ‘proper’ concert venue on a special grand piano. Performing for others, and the ability to get up and do it, is an important life skill as it builds confidence and self-reliance – and not just in the sphere of music.
The rush of adrenaline that comes with performing often encourages you to ‘raise your game’ and play better, and interesting things can happen to your music when played to an audience, which may not occur during practice. As a musician, of whatever level, it is crucial in one’s musical study and development to experience the difference between practice and performance, to put your music ‘out there’ and offer it up for scrutiny. Performing endorses all those lonely hours we spend practicing, and reminds us that music is for sharing.
Performing for and with others is a useful benchmarking exercise, allowing you to measure your own efforts against those of others. If you hear people playing more advanced repertoire, you will feel inspired and keen to progress. It is also a means of sharing and discovering new repertoire. At every piano course and piano group I’ve attended I’ve come across new repertoire.
There are performance platforms, piano groups, courses and other events for adult amateur pianists all over the UK and beyond, offering opportunities to perform, share repertoire and socialize with like-minded people. I co-host the London Piano Meetup Group, which organizes regular events for pianists and piano lovers in and around London, including performance platforms, master classes and guest recitals. Practicing the piano can be lonely and it’s important for us to come out and play, and meet others who enjoy the piano too.
If you’re preparing for an exam, diploma, festival or competition, putting your repertoire before an audience is crucial, and the experience often shines a new perspective on the music, highlighting aspects which may need adjustment in practice. And of course performing for others is essential in coping with performance anxiety and tension.
Teachers need to perform too!
As a teacher it is also very important to perform, whether for students in student concerts, or in a more formal setting in the concert hall. How can you train others how to perform if you haven’t done it yourself? I have met many piano teachers who rarely or never perform, claiming they are too nervous to play in front of their students, or that they simply do not have the time to prepare repertoire. In my experience, my students want to hear their teacher play – lessons often end with me playing something at the student’s request – and I hope that by hearing and watching me playing, my students can better grasp aspects of technique or interpretation we might have discussed in lessons, as well as enjoying the sheer pleasure of listening to piano music. I also feel it is crucial, as their teacher, to show that I can actually do it, that I am fully prepared when I perform, and that I have managed my performance anxiety properly. I also get ideas when I am performing which inform my teaching.
Performing adds to one’s credibility
Whether a professional or an amateur, it is important to prove that you can actually do it, and for the amateur pianist the benefits of performing are immeasurable: you never really demonstrate your technique properly until you can demonstrate it in a performance. Music and technique are inseparable, and if you perform successfully, it proves you have practiced correctly and thoughtfully, instead of simply note-bashing. This works conversely too, for if you are properly prepared, you should have nothing to fear when you perform. Preparing music for performance teaches us how to complete a real task and to understand what is meant by ‘music making’. It encourages us to ‘play through’, glossing over errors rather than being thrown off course by them, and eradicating ‘stop-start’ playing which prevents proper flow. It also teaches us how to communicate a sense of the music, to ‘tell the story’, and to understand what the composer is trying to say. And if you haven’t performed a piece, how can you say it is truly ‘finished’?
Frances Wilson is a London-based pianist, piano teacher, music and arts reviewer, and blogger on music and pianism as The Cross-Eyed Pianist, and writes a regular column on aspects of piano playing for ‘Pianist’ magazine’s online content. In addition to running a popular and successful private piano teaching studio, she is a passionate advocate of amateur pianism, and co-hosts the London Piano Meetup Group which organizes performance opportunities and workshops for adult amateur pianists in and around London.