1. Set strategic deadlines
While this first one might seem obvious, it is actually the most important and often overlooked. Strategically setting deadlines is one of the best ways you can ensure you are properly prepared.
What TY recommends is to convince yourself that the concert is in half the time you are actually given. For example, if you have a big concert or competition coming up in a year, pretend that it is actually in 6 months. The key is to make yourself believe that it’s really the new deadline. You can even schedule a concert with your friends and family for that date to make it more real — whatever it takes!
Then, when you’ve reached your 6 month deadline, re-convince yourself that it is in 3 months. At 3 months, it’s in 6 weeks. And so on…
What this results in is an extremely relaxed and confident month leading up to the actual engagement. This is very rare for most of us who are usually scrambling at the last minute to pull everything together!
2. Cover all aspects of preparation
As we all know, running through the piece in your practice room is very different from doing it on stage in front of an attentive audience. Unfortunately the opportunities to practice in such a setting are very few and far between! To compensate for this, you need to make sure you are prepared on all fronts.
Muscle memory (what happens when you’re playing a piece and not thinking about it) is probably the most crucial form of preparation because without it, we wouldn’t be able to play at all. However, other forms of preparation are just as necessary to play our best in pressure situations.
TY points out two other types specifically: mental and imagination. For mental, it’s important to be able to “see” the notes away from the guitar and play through the entire piece start to finish in your head. Imagination refers to putting your mind in the setting of the concert — for example, seeing yourself in the green room, walking on stage and bowing, playing through the concert, and walking off the stage. TY stresses the importance of both these aspects of preparation to ensure a great performance.
3. Do microscopic practice
One specific way you can prepare while you’re in the practice room is by doing what TY refers to as “microscopic practice.” This essentially means taking out the metaphorical microscope and making sure you are super aware of every note’s purpose.
In his tonebase lesson, TY uses Scarlatti’s Sonata K. 53 as an example, discussing his awareness of each note’s purpose and direction. He also demonstrates his attention to each phrase’s individual voices and how isolating them can be a great way to do this type of practice. Watching his performance of this piece should be enough to convince you that this stuff really works!
4. Record yourself
Another obvious strategy that most of us overlook or don’t do effectively is recording our playing.
It is essential that we are able to step outside our performer mindset and critique our playing objectively from an outsider’s perspective. In fact, TY says we should even “pick on ourselves” as if we were the judges in a one person competition.
Try recording yourself playing through a piece and listen back with fresh, discerning ears. What isn’t working? Don’t give yourself the excuse, “Oh that part’s so technically challenging, it’s ok if I flub it a little bit.” No! Mark the spot and try to find a new solution in tomorrow’s practice session.
Leading up to the performance, TY stresses the importance of video recording yourself in as formal of a setting as possible. This means renting a small hall, dressing in your concert clothes and running through the whole program for a camera — bows and banter included! Then of course, going home and critically judging both the audio and visual aspects of your performance.
5. Recognize the learning process
Last but certainly not least is the importance of realizing performances are not life or death scenarios. Whether you perform perfectly or make a giant flub, it’s all simply a learning experience.
To this end, TY shares a quote he finds particularly impactful from Winston Churchill:
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts”