As an audition or performance approaches, it is not difficult for any of us to envision the worst. It seems that despite any level of success, our brains find it easiest to focus on failure, or the potential for it, when performing on our instrument. There are multitudes of strategies and techniques to combat this tendency and volumes of books and articles addressing the subject of performance anxiety, but one tip I’ll offer here, as we head into audition and recital season, is the idea of “Slimming the Margins.”
Rarely, if ever, do we play our best performance when the lights are the brightest. On the flip side, rarely, if ever, do we truly crash and burn in performing at our worst in these high-intensity moments. Most often, we perform somewhere comfortably in the middle. But what if that middle was pretty near excellent?
Rather than focusing on how close to perfect you can be at your best, consider how close to excellent you can be at your worst. During your practice sessions, draw your attention to strategies and approaches that minimize mistakes and encourage comfortable consistency, such that your worst possible performance and your best possible performance are strikingly similar. If you have the potential to give a performance you’d rate as a 10 out of 10 at your best, but at your worst, you’re looking at an 8 or 8.5, there is little reason for concern and every reason for confidence as you approach the concert stage or audition room.
Slow things down, do a few more reps, take a closer look at your precise mallet placement, play the dynamics correctly from day one, and bring in a friend to listen. Do all the things you would normally do to prepare, but all the time, focus your attention on ensuring the strongest worst possible performance and slim the margins between potential and perfection.