In my last post, I began a dialogue about musical performance. This dialogue was inspired by a fellow musician, who wrote to me recently with questions on the subject.
One her questions was how to remember music when you are in front of an audience.
I reflected on this question. Remembering lyrics has always come easily to me. I have been singing since I was much tinier than I am today. I used to dance around the living room wailing on songs from Annie, West Side Story, and my mom’s 45s.
“Dumb dog, why are you following me?”
“I can’t see me lovin’ no body but you for all my life…..”
You get the idea.
So lyrics, not a problem for me. It is the chords that I have trouble remembering.
I grew up playing classical piano. Having been trained in the serious classical tradition, I was always taught that it was unacceptable to bring sheet music to a performance. I would memorize 15 page pieces of classical music for the piano.
When I performed, I hid behind an enormous instrument, and I tried to think as little as possible. I have trained my fingers, hands, wrists, and arms to perform a musical dance. If I started thinking about what I was doing, I would experience a complete blank. Scary stuff, especially when I was in elementary school and studying with a seriously frightening Russian woman who would cover my hands with hers and slam them onto the piano if I did not play to her liking at a lesson.
“This is what you sound like,” she would screech. This did not inspire confidence for musical ability or performance.
In beginning to perform in my life after classical music, I have eased up on the rules and regulations. Sure, I would prefer not to bring music with me, but my choice of whether or not to add to my comfort in a vulnerable situation with a small crutch like sheet music has more to do with the venue and my stress level.
If I am busking downtown or going to an open mic, I will not hesitate to bring sheet music. I may never even look at it, but knowing it is there eases my anxiety immensely. As I have become more relaxed as a performer, I find that I still bring the sheet music but rely on it less often.
Another method I use is to choose a number of tunes appropriate to the venue.
Open mic = 3 songs, 4 tops
For me, this is a reasonable number of songs to practice and feel comfortable playing without feeling stretched thin.
How do you remember lyrics, chords, finger picking patterns, and so on?
What do you struggle with in performance?
What techniques have you figured out to help with your performance?
Join in the discussion, and share your thoughts!