[1.III.14.5] Casual Performances

Common types of casual performances are playing pieces for testing pianos in stores or playing for friends at parties, etc. These are different from formal recitals because of their greater freedom and reduced mental pressure. There is usually no set program, you just pick anything that is appropriate for the moment. It may be full of changes and interruptions. Nervousness is not even an issue, and is in fact one of the best ways to practice methods for avoiding nervousness. Even with the alleviating factors, this is not easy in the beginning. For an easy start, play little snippets (short segments from a composition). Start with simple ones; pick out just the best sounding sections. If it doesn't work out too well, start on another one. Same, if you get stuck. You can start and quit at any time. This is a great way to experiment and find out how you perform and which snippets work. Do you tend to play too fast? It is better to start too slow and speed up than the other way round. Can you play a beautiful legato, or is your tone harsh? Can you adjust to a different piano -- especially one that is out of tune or difficult to play? Can you keep track of the audience reaction? Can you make the audience react to your playing? Can you pick the right types of snippets for the occasion? Can you put yourself in the right frame of mind to play? What is your level of nervousness, can you control it? Can you play and talk at the same time? Can you gloss over mistakes without being bothered by them? Another way to practice performing is to introduce youngsters who have never had piano lessons to the piano. Teach them the scale, or "Chop Sticks" or Happy Birthday.

Playing snippets has one interesting advantage which is that most audiences are very impressed by the ability to stop and start anywhere in the middle of a piece. Most people assume that all amateur pianists learn pieces by finger memory from beginning to end, and that the ability to play snippets requires special talent. Start with short snippets, then gradually try longer ones. Once you have done this type of casual snippet performance on 4 or 5 different occasions, you will have a good idea of your performance capabilities. Obviously, one of the routines you should practice "cold" are snippet playing routines.

There are a few rules for preparing for snippet performances. Don't perform a piece you had just learned. Let it stew for at least 6 months; preferably one year (practicing snipets during that time). If you had just spent 2 weeks learning a difficult new piece, don't expect to be able to play snippets that had not been played at all in those 2 weeks -- be prepared for all kinds of surprises, such as blackouts. Don't practice the snippets fast on the day on which you might be performing them. Practicing them very slowly will help. Can you still play them HS? You can break a lot of these rules for very short snippets. Above all, make sure that you can mentally play them (away from the piano) -- that is the ultimate test of your readiness.

In general, don't expect to perform anything well, casual or otherwise, unless you have performed that piece at least three times, and some claim, at least 5 times. Sections that you thought were simple may turn out to be difficult to perform, and vice versa. Thus the first order of business is to lower your expectations and start planning on how you are going to play this piece, especially when unexpected things happen. It is certainly not going to be like the best run you made during practice. Without this mental preparation, you can end up very disappointed after every attempt at performing and develop psychological problems.

A few mistakes or missed notes goes unnoticed in practice, and your assessment of how they sound during practice is probably much more optimistic than your own assessment if you had played exactly the same way for an audience. After a practice, you tend to remember only the good parts, and after a performance, you tend to remember only the mistakes. Usually, you are your worst critic; every slip sounds far worse to you than to the audience. Most audiences will miss half of the mistakes and forget most of what they do catch after a short period of time. Casual performances are more relaxed, and they provide an avenue for easing gradually into formal performing, in preparation for recitals.

Classical music is not always the best venue for casual performances. Thus every pianist should learn popular music, jazz, cocktail music, music from fake books, and improvisation. They provide some of the best ways to practice for formal recitals. See section 23.