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How to survive a bad performance

It’s happened to the best of us. You made a mistake in front of a crowd of people watching you play. That wrong note, couldn’t have been any louder if you tried. Your mind starts to question your ability to be a good musician, and you begin to doubt yourself and lose where you are in the music. What do you next? This post will explore how to move on and learn from a bad performance, based on my own experiences. It is a follow on from posts I wrote earlier in the year on performance anxiety.

In the performance

You made a mistake in the performance. The trick is to carry on as if you are meant to play it like that. The chances are the audience didn’t notice. I had a teacher who once told me, “in a concert, play a mistake with confidence!” If you play a wrong note and act in a way that you knew that you made a mistake, then it will draw attention to the error and affect the rest of your performance.

Take a deep breath and carry on. ’It’s not the end of the world.

Don’t blame others

When you made a mistake, don’t blame other people for why the performance went wrong. Take responsibility for the error, even if you’re weren’t entirely to blame. Blaming others causes negativity and doesn’t allow us to move on.

Find out what went wrong

Objectively think about why it was a bad performance. Did you know your music well enough? Have you rehearsed enough with your band enough? Did you effectively communicate with the sound engineer, front of house what you wanted/needed?

Sometimes it might be helpful to get an opinion from someone else, another band member, a trusted friend. When asking someone for their honest opinion, find someone who will give you an objective viewpoint, someone who can give you good advice.

What can you change

Once you have identified what went wrong, is it something that you can change? If it is, then do something about it. If you recognise that you were underprepared for the gig, then do more practice. If you need to get better at communicating effectively with the sound engineer; then learn more about what they do and how they do it, so you have the vocabulary to talk to them.

What can’t you change

Sometimes the reasons that the performance was a bad one is something that you cannot control or change. The best thing to do in this situation is to move on and not to dwell on it.

See every failure as a teaching opportunity.

We never stop learning. Once we leave the classroom environment, then our learning quite often takes a different form. Treat mistakes as a learning opportunity to make us a better musician and a better person. Bram Stoker, in his book Dracula, says “We learn from failure, not from success!”

A bad performance is never the end of the world. There are worst things that can happen. But hopefully, this post will help you make the most of bad performance when they occur. They will happen at some point. Instead of seeing them as a failure, see them as something that will help you be a better musician.

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