With this article, I would like to share a few things that I found extremely helpful over the years- when it comes to coping with stress. Performing and practising can be highly demanding, and synchronising everyday life with the discipline of piano playing can be a true challenge.
It is important to distinguish different types of stress in different fields of music making, so I will focus mainly on the quality of practice time as that is a good base for any further topic.
The difficulty in maintaining a quality practice session stems from several aspects… the amount of work that needs to be done, the deadline, external stressors, and “how to” practise.
Every single one of the aforementioned topics requires a life long experience in handling the logistics of it. In my experience, a few good strategies proved themselves indeed beneficial. Maybe it can help you too to try them out and find your own way about it…
1. Planning Your Practise
This is perhaps the most efficient way to structure your stress and turn it into a productive component. I will give here just a few examples of how I do it. Usually, I would make a list with a weekly plan until the performance date.
- Week 1, hands separately
- Week 2, harmonic analysis, structural analysis, articulation, general research
- Week 3, Hands together, slower tempo, start memorising
- Week 4, try visualising without an instrument
Etc.. these are just samples of how I cope with the stress of a deadline.
Sticking to the schedule is not absolutely crucial, as some things in our practice will overlap or take less or more time. For instance, if your plan for week 3 was to have your piece memorised, it is likely that already in week 2, you will know sections of it, or the opposite- that week 4 might feel more appropriate for memorisation. I find that having a rough idea of the timeline and a strategy is a fantastic start when it comes to stress management.
This all doesn’t guarantee a steady practice session. Meaning that we can plan yet still be extremely unfocused and have difficulties getting any work done.
2. Mobile Phone
Maybe it sounds silly that this is so high up the list but I do believe that our attention is being pulled in various directions. Constant emails, messages, contact with friends, family, work colleagues and planning – have eventually tied us to our mobile phones. We are short-term stimulated, and our brain reacts every few seconds/minutes to something else. This is practising a problematic type of focus, and it is absolutely understandable why some of my students practise by repeating and switching off their minds and that way acquire the “meditative” state.
The difficulty with a good practice session is that it requires alertness in listening (to music, our body etc ) as well as calm continuity. Unless you have a fantastic relationship with your screen, I would like to invite you to use airplane mode on your device and honestly approach the tracking of how that changes your stress levels and the quality of your practice.
3. Slow Is Faster
Frequently I find myself racing to learn something, meet the deadline, and quickly memorise, but also have a complete understanding of the piece and let it settle etc… and that naturally slows things down and elevates the stress. What absolutely always worked is going slowly and in small sections. The absolute key here is to have zero expectations on that day. It is (yes, I am saying it again!) like a gym session – nobody can expect the result that day, it is continuity and frequency that creates the muscle, and this is how we can treat it, too – like an investment. It is a contradictory feeling that extremely slow brings us closer to the desired performance, but as with everything, absolutely test it with an open mind. Journal your practice sessions, and once there is a sense of continuity with something, you will be able to track down what actually happened in your practise!
Happy practising 🙂