Preparing For A Performance


by Lorraine Moxey

January 1992


Performing is the most rewarding thing a musician can do

Music needs:

  • a composer
  • a performer
  • an audience


For a work you have not studied before, allow three months preparation time - assuming 1 rehearsal per week


Choosing a work:

  • assess the group's strengths and weaknesses
  • choose a work you can manage adequately
  • a simple work performed well is better than a difficult work performed poorly


Prior to first rehearsal

  • Obtain a score and a recording, if possible
  • erase unnecessary markings, distracting fingerings, bowings etc
  • mark in your own fingerings etc
  • highlight difficult passages with * or similar
  • photocopy tricky page turns
  • practise your part so that you know it before the first rehearsal


Recordings - do they help?

  • yes, but remember that the recording is only one way of interpreting the piece (as you will discover if you hear more than one recording of the same work)
  • use it to
  • get an idea of tempi
  • style and phrasing
  • ornamentation
  • see how your part fits in - where you are important and where you are not



  • use in both private practise and rehearsal
  • if not loud enough, each player can take a turn to tap or clap along with metronome so that the beat can be heard
  • tapping player can listen for problem bars or players



  • slow, careful tuning
  • tune softly, especially string players
  • once in tune, sit quietly - tuning is not a chance for you to practise your cadenzas
  • if others have finished, don't rush if you haven't



  • comfortable chairs essential
  • you must be able to see everyone in the group


Music stands

  • can be a barrier between you and the other players, or you and the audience
  • use small stands and keep them low
  • watching body movements is essential in chamber music, and stands can block your peripheral vision



  • pencil, eraser, score, metronome, tape recorder Warm-up
  • play some unison scales together in keys related to the work
  • this improves listening and intonation skills
  • scales can be used to practise leading
  • the leader leads changes of tempo and dynamics
  • the other players try to match the attack on notes, different parts of the bow and different length of notes.


First play-through

  • choose a steady tempo
  • try to play through without stopping, regardless of mistakes
  • even if you can't play all the notes, always know where you are by careful counting
  • make a note of disaster areas for practise
  • remember! - rehearsals are for rehearsing the ensemble, not for learning the notes - learn the notes at home



  • chamber music should be very democratic
  • everyone should be prepared to give and take criticism
  • constructive criticism is essential to improve the results
  • don't feel hurt - others hear you better than you hear yourself - they're probably doing you a favour
  • if there is a difference of opinion in interpretation, try it both ways and decide which is best
  • remember the limitations of the players in the group, they can't produce more than their very best


Points to observe

  • ensemble/intonation
  • interpretation/style
  • matching phrasing, articulation and note lengths
  • matching bowings, parts of bow and bow strokes
  • be conscious of the fact that difficult passages tend to be played louder and faster than they should be - fight this



  • make a rough rehearsal schedule for the three months so that the work is covered adequately - schedule movement by movement
  • schedule the more difficult movements for more rehearsals

Tape recordings are excellent to highlight intonation and ensemble problems. It's good to play for as many people as possible in the last weeks.


Prior to a performance

  • rehearse in the venue, if possible
  • check balance (invite a reliable listener)
  • check lighting
  • get comfortable chairs
  • rehearse in the clothes you are to perform in
  • check for freedom of movement, temperature
  • rehearse stage etiquette
  • practise the bow, on and off
  • who will lead the bow?
  • practise the bow at home in front of the mirror
  • keep your face down


The Performance

  • arrive in plenty of time (allow time to park etc)
  • do some exercises to relax muscles (swing arms, move shoulders etc)
  • play a long note aiming for the smoothest note possible
  • play a slow scale carefully, listening for intonation
  • play the more difficult parts of the work slowly
  • nothing in a pre-concert warm-up should be played fast - tune carefully off-stage, leaving only fine-tuning for the stage (audiences hate long tune-ups)
  • try not to tune between movements unless absolutely necessary (audiences hate this as well)



  • affect different people in different ways, eg
  • running nose
  • dry throat
  • perspiration
  • frozen muscles
  • trembling hands, legs, or anything else
  • forgetting to breathe
  • super-sensitivity to distractions (coughs etc)
  • some or more happen to all of us - but don't let these distract you - it's quite normal

Any cure for nerves?

  • yes, the more you perform, the easier it gets
  • nerves can be a useful tool to hone your concentration
  • if you are too relaxed, you can be easily distracted, the tempo can sag, the dynamics can become half-hearted
  • nerves give a performance an edge, if they're under control

Additional hints

  • get plenty of sleep before the performance
  • eat healthy food
  • play for as many people as you can
  • when on stage, take an extra few seconds to breathe, relax and focus on the music
  • (in Kirribilli, the leader takes time up front to talk about the work to the audience - this should give you a few minutes to compose yourself)
  • some players spot one special person in the audience and play for them
  • others transport themselves mentally to their favourite playing spot, blocking out the audience



  • can be magnified in your mind, spoiling the rest of your performance
  • 90% of the audience won't notice it
  • the other 10% will want you to do well, having probably experienced nerves and mistakes themselves
  • don't pull a face
  • don't give up
  • put twice as much into the rest of the performance
  • don't panic - panic can make you race, making your job harder
  • think calm and breathe easy!


Finally - No Post Mortems!

  • there were many good things about your performance and the audience enjoyed it
  • and you enjoyed it, too!