When I was developing as a pianist throughout my high school years, I would always be surprised by my teacher's comments after performances: why did you play so fast? Why was there not enough singing tone in the right hand? Why did you rush? It was frustrating because these were things that we had worked on, and areas that I thought I had fixed during performance.
Why the disconnect between my perception and reality of how I played?
Critical listening vs. thinking
Simply put, I find that we focus far too much on thinking about the musical details during performance, rather than listening for the things that we had worked on when we were preparing for the concert. With more active listening, one can identify, assess potential problems, such as tone quality, phrasing, tempo, balance, articulation/clarity, and make adjustments in real-time.
Think of it this way: during performance, our ears should take the front seat and our brain takes the back. While practicing, both share a more equal role. If you recall from a previous post, I said that we "perform too much when we practice, and practice too much when we perform." I think the concept of critical listening vs. thinking applies here similarly as well.
For me, most of my"ah ha" moments happened after I reviewed the recordings of my performances. During these revelatory experiences, I realized exactly what went wrong during performance, but was mystified why I needed a recording to tell me that. The cold, hard fact is that your recordings are your best teacher: they are unbiased and brutally honest. Regardless of skill level or where you are in your musical career, you should record yourself regularly without exception. In sports, athletes always review film with the coach, regardless of a win or loss. This shouldn't be any different.
Change in acoustics and instruments
Acoustics play a large role of the critical listening component during performance. How one sounds will vary wildly at home, studio, church, office space, or a large recital hall. If you are a pianist, then you also have another factor to consider: varying instruments. Be prepared to adjust tempi, tone production, and balance to suit the venue.
Next time when you perform a work, try to listen more for the details, rather than to think so much about them. If you have worked them out thoroughly and diligently to the point where they have become so natural and instinctual during practice, "letting go" might be the most important thing you can do. Listen, respond, and adjust accordingly.
Hope you have found this to be helpful. Happy practicing!
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