Four Ways to Prepare for a Performance

Whether we go on stage to play a full hour program or for just one piece, performing is an intense (and mildly terrifying) experience. This article is about dealing with the time immediately before a performance. I assume you’ve already selected repertoire and learned it.

1.) Practice Performance

Practicing is different from practicing performance.

Practicing performance is playing a piece straight through. No stopping, and no loss of rhythmic flow. This is a test of performance outside of the nervousness inspired by playing for an audience.

The big thing, when practicing performance, is to get your head right. Mistakes suck. They’re frustrating. Get in the mindset of a performer. Observe mistakes happening, then file them away or disregard them completely. Work towards not dwelling on mistakes. This is something that has to be done during performance, so it might as well be practiced.

2.) Warm-up Performances

About a month before the recital is a good time to start doing warm-up performances. Keep mind that you should probably plan these well in advance if you’re planning on performing an entire recital.

A warm-up performance is just playing for a few friends or your significant other or a video camera1. In short, it’s just a way to get some experience in real performance situations before the big event happens.

The greatest indicator of how preparing a piece is is a performance. Did all the thing you practiced come out in performance? How did that hard passage go? Did your hands get tired? Asking these questions can help provide the new goals for practicing should be.

3.) Visualization a Successful Performance

Most of us know about mental practice. Visualization is a powerful tool, and it can be used to help prepare for your performance.

Imagine yourself on stage, see yourself from the perspective of an audience member. Hear the music you’re playing. Then switch points of view. Imagine the feeling being on stage (confidence!), and image yourself playing perfectly.

More important, I think, is visualizing the time after the performance. How will it feel to be over? Capture that feeling of success before it happens. Then use that energy when you walk out on stage for real.

4.) The Day Of

Some performers have little rituals. I think there’s a lot of value in that if you perform very frequently. For those of us who perform less frequently, doing some ritual can often freak us out more.

Here’s a different approach: do whatever you normally do. Whatever your technical or warm up routine usually is, do it. Then spend a few minutes starting each piece. If you feel like playing more, stick to practicing performance (see above). My preference would be to do these things either early in the day or a few hours before the performance.

Right before would be a good time just to noodle around or start pieces to get your hands warmed up.

I would not, under any circumstance, work on drilling a difficult passage or change a fingering or do any sort of real practice the day of a performance. Doing so might lead to a loss of confidence that carries over on stage.

1 Other warm up performance ideas: playing for a elementary school class, giving a short performance at a local library, performing in a retirement home, playing the prelude music at your religious institution, visiting a local college with a guitar program for a lesson with the teacher (more intense), performing for a local guitar society meeting. There’s a lot of opportunities for warm-up performances. Just think outside the box.

Posted on in Guitar Performance Tips


  • Keith Turner

    Even though I am not quite ready to perform, I thought that this writing was very valuable. I have a better feel for how to approach my first guitar recital (whenever that might happen.) Thanks.

  • Charles Mokotoff

    Well said, Chris! I have my own ritual on the day of and stick to it, less is more, not a good time to do much practicing at all. It is gonna be what it is gonna be by that time after all.

    All in all this is excellent advice!

  • George

    This is great. I also address these issues as well as Performance Anxiety and how to overcome it in my new eBook.

    I am very excited to announce the release of my new 95-page eBook on How to Practice Music Effectively. It is titled “Good Music Practice – A Practice Method for All Musicians.” This book is for anyone who needs to improve their music practice method.

    It is good for absolute beginners through to professional musicians and music teachers. Get even more detailed tips on how to practice music effectively plus info and free samples via the GoodMusicPractice website.

    Kind regards,
    George Urbaszek
    Bass Player and Music Educator