by October Crifasi

Preparing for an audition or competition can feel overwhelming at times, especially if you’re new to playing live in front of an audience. While the stakes may vary from the festival stage to the audition room, one truth carries through them all —confidence and comfort with your repertoire and interpretive voice is a must. Dividing up your work and applying focused practice will get you well on your way, as will the following tips.

1. Play in Front of an Audience as Much as Possible.

It doesn’t have to be in a concert hall. Play in front of your friends, your relatives, your neighbors. Performing often in front of others works out the nerves that come from playing publicly. The only way to develop comfort on stage is to consistently put yourself in the live stage fire, so to speak, and play your way through to the other side of it. Set up a situation in which you have a good chance of failing so you can have the experience and move on, noting what will work better the next time (and be sure to schedule that next time).  Play in a variety of environmental conditions—uncomfortable chair or a cold room, for instance. The more comfortable you are in these uncomfortable conditions, the less nerves can get the upper hand if you stroll into an audition to find the room is freezing.

2. Record Yourself.

Record yourself doing a full run-through of your program. Record it early enough in the day so you will have time to listen to it in the evening. This is a performance run-through, not practice time. Recording your performance allows you to hear what is working and what may not be.  It will also help you to get used to and comfortable with your own unique sound and interpretive voice.  Once you get a sense of that voice, see if you can then listen with a critical ear—as if you were listening to another guitarist and make changes based on how you would critique them.

3. Visualize the Performance.

Visualization is, in essence, the mental practice of knowing your program inside and out. Picture yourself sitting in the audience watching yourself as you give the best performance possible.  If you’ve recorded yourself, visualize yourself playing as you listen. Should you not have a recording, imagine yourself playing through the entire program.  If you make a mistake while mentally playing, stop and start from the beginning and run it again. Athletes often use visualization as a part of their training, fully sensing every movement in the body as he or she heads to a successful crossing of the finish line. Much like an athlete you are creating a physical and mental experience of success for yourself each time you visualize; you don’t want to incorporate a mistake into that experience.

4. Find the Piece that Best Represents You.

“Find that one piece that sums you up, one where you really think and delve into the interpretation,” says Dr. Steven Thachuk, director of Guitar Studies at California State University Northridge (CSUN). “Your concentration level is something that you can communicate to other people. When you concentrate for 15 or 20 minutes and 90 percent percent of the audience is with you the whole way that means you’ve done something fantastic. If you can pull off a feat like that—where you’re concentrating, you’re focused, and you’re sure you’re bringing everyone along with you—you’ll probably win that competition.”

5. Refrain from Judging Yourself.

The final, if not most important suggestion, is to foster a mindset of non-judgment, a mindset where you simply stay with the music and allow it to be what it is. The minute you judge your work either for better or worse you pull yourself out of the moment and pull yourself out of the flow and that can make for nerves and disconnection from your unique voice.

October Crifasi is a guitar instructor based in the Los Angeles area.


This article was originally published in the Spring 2015 issue of Classical Guitar magazine.

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The issue also features Sharon Isbin, Frantz Casseus, a special focus on guitar festivals & competitions, and much more. Click here for more information on the issue.