Pithy advice for classical guitar performers

 

What follows is an extract from an article by Renato Bellucci on his mangore.com website. Renato is both an accomplished classical guitarist and a luthier. Over the years, he has come in for some severe criticism regarding the quality and value of his guitars, but there is no doubt that he has a deep understanding of both the instrument and performing on it.

Here is his advice concerning performing before an audience.

‘Advice I have and a lot has been written about the practical things we can do in order to give a good recital. These are some of the things I learned and apply to me.

DO NOT PLAY A PIECE OF MUSIC IN PUBLIC UNTIL YOU LIKE IT IN PRIVATE. Do not think for a second that the mistake/s we make while practising won’t appear on stage. They will FOR SURE.

PLAY MUSIC YOU REALLY LIKE and avoid competitions unless this point and the previous one are ok and make sure you go there to win and not to learn. Everyone knows who the winner is after the first round is over… the rest is meeting the scheduled dates. Learning should be left for practice time, not for competitions and as Berlioz once said: “Competitions are for horses, not for musicians”.

REMEMBER THAT ONLY 0.5% of the public will notice a mistake unless you put a TAG on it (like saying I am sorry).

99.9% of the people attending are there to cheer you up, make sure you are one of them.

If a PRO is there, you are lucky.

START THE PROGRAM WITH THE PIECE OR PIECES YOU ARE TOTALLY FAMILIAR WITH. In other words, start-off with the right foot, unless you are in for the thrill of your life.

IF FOR ANY REASON YOU DECIDE THE CONDITIONS ARE NOT RIGHT FOR A GIVEN PIECE, SKIP THE PIECE. Trust your feelings, nobody gets a receipt on the way in or out of a concert hall.

CHANGE THE STRINGS AT LEAST 3 DAYS BEFORE A CONCERT.

IT’S PERFECTLY OK TO HAVE YOUR SCORES ON STAGE.

YOU ARE NOT THERE TO IMPRESS ANYBODY.

REST ON THE DAY OF THE CONCERT, even better, have a great time, laugh a lot!

ENJOY THE MOMENT and make your own personal list.

LOOK FORWARD TO A BAD REVIEW, It’s better than no review at all and you were at least worth the ink’.

Performance anxiety

Stage fright, or performance anxiety as some call it, is sometimes a problem for even professional guitarists. I only play before small groups of people yet I tend to mess up the simplist pieces. As these easy tunes are the first I play in my repertoire, the rest of the performance is an anxious time for me and my audience.

Reading through a post on this subject on the Delcamp guitar forum I picked up this invaluable piece of advice which I paraphrase as, ‘Do not stop or even pause when you make a mistake. Smile and keep on playing even if you have to doddle around just a little before you can pick up the line of music again.” The person giving this advice then went on to point out that few people in the audience are likely to know the piece you are playing, and even fewer will pick up the fact that you made a mistake.

I tried this out the other day when performing for a group of about twenty people in a very casual and supportive environment. Sure enough, I made a major boo-boo in the opening set of three very simple pieces. Instead of pausing I simply added a few bars of improvisation in the same key and then picked the tune up again at the start of the section where I bombed. The result was that my confidence rose immediately and I was able to play even the hardest pieces without major problems. After the performance, I asked someone in the audience if she had noticed anything odd in the piece in question and she said that she had not and had enjoyed it.

Here is a video demonstration by Laura Oltman and Michael Newman on the Strings by Mail’s lessons section that makes the same point.