6 Weeks to Finals
by Sharon Sparrow
“Wow, that was the best I’ve ever played!”
Those are the best 8 words strung together I can think of to define what success really means! So, after you’ve repeated them at least twice, let’s get to work and learn how to turn those words into your next audition or performance reality!
Preparation! No one, not even Yo-Yo Ma, could say those words with real belief without having put in the preparation time and steps necessary. Preparation begins with organization. When is your event? Does it involve a pianist? What music is required? Is memorization required? Once you have organized yourself, you can formulate a “success timeline”. Realistically give yourself enough time to feel completely secure and confident about a week before the actual event! Do NOT wait until the night before to feel completely ready. Preparing for a performance is like cooking a stew, after all the ingredients are in place, it needs a good deal of simmer time to taste it’s absolute best.
I believe that total preparation is like a triangle with 3 equal sides to it. The side we are all most familiar with is the “Practice” side. We must put ample time into practicing for our event, which means concentrated time in our practice room, solidifying technique (by practicing slowly!), tone, intonation (using the tuner!), rhythm (using the metronome!) and putting our piece together musically. But don’t be fooled by thinking this is the ONLY side… you still have 2 sides of your triangle left to perform your best.
The second side is Mental Training, or getting your head in the right frame of mind to perform your best. There are several books available to help you with this, many found in the sports sections, as top athletes equally train their minds along with their bodies! Also, for this side, Positive talk is HUGE! Every word you say, every thought, every post on Facebook must reflect your positive attitude about your audition. Discard saying things such as “Oh, I’m so nervous about this”. “This is going to be terrible”. “I always screw up that passage”. Replace those words and thoughts with “I’m so excited to share my piece with everyone.” “I’ve worked really hard and know I’m going to play my best.” “I really love playing this piece”. Believe it or not, your brain is like a recording device, and will remember, store, and spit back out at you all it has heard when it comes to crunch time. Which of those statements above do you want your brain telling you at your performance?!
The third side of the triangle involves Training for the Actual Event. We call this “mock auditioning”. Create several situations that mimic or are as similar as the event you are going to perform in. Gather up people to listen to you (friends, parents, peers, teddy bears, etc.) so that you have an “audience”. Set up your recording device, and then proceed as if it’s the actual event, from standing backstage or outside the room, to walking in, to tuning, to performing without stopping, to bowing (if applicable), to leaving the room. Keep a journal and jot down notes after each of your mocks, including your strengths, weaknesses, thoughts that ran through your head, etc. Each and every time you do this, you will improve significantly! By the time your actual event comes around, you will be a pro at this!!
So, let’s talk about the word “success” for a moment. For me, playing my best certainly defines success. This is a “Performance Goal” rather than an “Outcome Goal”. Try to define the difference, and each time you play and even practice, devise a list of Performance Goals for yourself that are attainable. For example, “I’m going to enjoy this performance” is a Performance Goal. “I’m going to win this competition” is an “Outcome goal”. “I’m going to give this performance 100 percent of my energy”. “I’m going to get a rating of 1 on this”. See the difference? Make your OWN list, and start repeating these to yourself before you play!
Unfortunately, there is no substitute for putting in the time and effort to completely prepare. IT TAKES TIME! It is worth the effort. Use your completed Triangle and you will be very happy with the results. It’s going to feel great to be able to say “Wow, that was the best I’ve ever played!”
Sharon Sparrow’s book “6 Weeks to Finals!” is a delightful and essential book on preparation and organization for any musical performance! Her tried and true methods have helped several musicians achieve goals they have spent years striving for. It is available at Flute Specialists, through Theodore Presser co., and also on Amazon.
Sharon Sparrow is the Assistant Principal Flute of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She earned a Bachelor’s degree at The Juilliard School and a Master’s degree at Mannes College of Music. She has given master classes all over the world and locally is the Instructor of Flute at Oakland University and Wayne State University.
Sharon Sparrow is a hands-on advocate for music education at all ages, and has hosted and written children’s shows for both the Detroit Symphony and the CutTime Players, based in Michigan. Sharon has been a concerto soloist and has held Principal positions with the Memphis Symphony, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.