Do you have a pre-performance routine?
If not, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to reduce performance-related stress, cultivate performance consistency, and maximize your performance potential.
Use this guide to develop your personal pre-performance routine. When you get an opportunity to perform, use it to test your routine.
Over time, you’ll discover just what you need to feel great, perform your best, and enjoy the experience.
Your Pre-Performance Routine
Practice this 5-step routine before your next performance. After a few performances, you’ll find powerful ways to personalize this routine and make it even more beneficial.
1. Center Your Focus + Set Your Intention
You might be tempted to skip this step.
Take 1-2 minutes to center your focus before a performance (before you even start warming up!) – it’s one of the most valuable things you can do to support your on-stage success.
- Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing.
- Take a slow, deep inhale through the nose.
- Exhale through the nose, keeping the breath slow and steady.
- Repeat for 3-5 rounds of breathing (about 1 minute).
Allow yourself the luxury to simply focus on your breath. If you start worrying about your upcoming performance, that’s OK – just let those thoughts float away as you bring your attention back to your breathing.
- Set your intention to give a compelling, music-focused performance.
- Affirm your commitment to let go of any mistakes that happen during your performance – you’re ready to communicate with your audience (or jury, or audition committee) regardless of any insignificant technical problems that arise.
It only takes a minute or two to set yourself up for success. Give yourself the time you need and you’ll notice a big difference.
2. Drink Water + Eat a Snack
Performing requires a lot of energy.
And if you’re like most musicians (myself included!), you probably sweat when you’re on stage – it’s hard work!
You don’t want to end a long performance dehydrated and shaking because you’re hungry. So make sure you fuel your success during your pre-performance routine.
- Keep a water bottle backstage and sip on it as you warm up. Aim to drink enough that you won’t get dehydrated…but you also won’t have to run to the bathroom as soon as you leave the stage. Everyone is a little different, so feel free to experiment to find your hydration sweet spot.
- Bring a snack with you. Depending on when you last ate, you might not need it. But either way, you’ll be ready if hunger pangs creep up on you backstage. I particularly enjoy snacks like almonds, a banana, or a granola bar.
Water fountains break down. Sometimes you get hungry when you don’t expect it.
Take those worries off of your list by bringing water and a snack along with you.
3. Warm Up
You might already have a hyper-detailed warm up routine. If so, that’s awesome! Feel free to use that before performances.
But if you don’t, or you’re not sure how to develop a warm up routine, use these guidelines:
- Warm up your body first: take a few minutes to mobilize the large muscle groups that you’ll use when you play. If you’re not sure what kind of movements might be helpful, try this quick routine.
- When you start playing (or singing), start easy. Resist the urge to jump in with the hardest section of your concerto. Play long, slow notes. Get your fingers moving. Let go of any unnecessary physical tension.
- Play a few short sections of your repertoire. For a recital, I like to start a few of my pieces and play (under tempo) a few of the more challenging sections.
- Note: Resist the urge to “practice” or run-through large sections. Save your energy for the performance! Even if something isn’t working in your warm up, don’t worry. Everything will come together on stage.
Don’t be like me when I was a freshman.
The first time I performed in my undergraduate studio class, I warmed up for FOUR HOURS beforehand.
A four-hour warm up is not a warm up. That’s practicing.
And guess what happened when I performed.
I was exhausted. All the things I “fixed” during my morning practice session were actually worse. I had no energy to give to the performance and it fell flat.
I learned my lesson.
Now I give myself 30-60 minutes to slowly and calmly warm up. I save all the best stuff for the performance!
4. Re-Focus + Embrace the Spotlight
Around 10 minutes before you take the stage, give yourself 1-2 minutes to re-focus and center your attention.
You’ll be able to let go of any distracting thoughts that may have come up during your warm up and you’ll engage the calm focus you need when you take the stage.
- Close your eyes and complete 1-2 rounds of deep, slow breathing.
- Visualize yourself taking the stage with confidence – you’re excited to perform.
- Return your focus to your breathing and take 3-5 more deep, slow centering breaths.
If you’re feeling excited, that’s great! It’s totally normal to feel excited (even nervous) before a performance. You can embrace those feelings and turn them into fuel for a compelling and energetic performance.
5. Finish Your Warm Up Strong
Some musicians prefer to skip this step and just finish their pre-performance routine with a final round of breathing and centering – that totally works.
But if you want to do a little playing in the last few minutes before you take the stage, that can work really well too.
- Find the sound you want to have when you begin your performance. Keep it simple: play scales or easy exercises with the sound and character you want to have when you begin your performance.
- If you need to tune, this is a great chance to do a final tuning check.
- Feel free to play the first few measures of your first piece. Limit yourself to 1-3 repetitions. This is a warm-up — remember? Not a practice sesh.
- You’re ready.
Finally, remember that music performance is not about perfection. Weird and unexpected things will happen on stage – they always do.
That’s one of the cool things about live performance!
They aren’t always negative things, either. You might surprise yourself with a moment of brilliance or unexpected mastery.
Simply be open to the experience and give it your best. This performance is only one of many performances over the course of your career as a musician.
How much time do I need?
For a major performance (like a solo recital or an audition), give yourself plenty of time to complete your pre-performance ritual.
I like to devote at least 60 minutes before a big performance to get “in the zone.”
By giving myself plenty of time, I don’t feel rushed, I know that I have the time that I need, and I can go into the performance with the knowledge that I’m primed to play my best.
You can certainly use a shorter pre-performance routine when you are short on time or preparing for a relatively low-pressure performance.
But if you’ve never used with a pre-performance routine, give yourself a little extra time at first. As your skills increase, you’ll discover if you need more or less time to perform your best.
Surely there’s more to it…
Stay tuned for the next post, in which you’ll learn crucial long-term habits that support excellent performance.
Do you have a favorite pre-performance routine? I’d love to hear about it! Let’s talk about it in the comments below!
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