by Bruce Richards

Bruce Richards“Think Different” Apple computer’s famous slogan was, and is a symbol for doing things differently, and that is what I want audition takers to do. Regardless of the situation e.g. exam, recital, concert, audition, or competition you need to take a fresh look at your preparation to break the chain of actions, thoughts, or events that lead to performance anxiety.

Over the last few years I have been teaching at a new summer course in Spa, Belgium. The “Stage International de Musique en Province de Liège.” Aside from the normal teaching I have given master classes on breathing, but over time it seemed that more and more students asked my opinion, or asked for help with performance anxiety. As professor of horn at the Liège Royal Conservatory I have had many students ask for coaching, or help in this matter. The psychology of performance seems to be something that is often neglected.

So, this year I will be presenting a master class on performance anxiety. It is a subject that has fascinated me for a very long time. I have developed many different techniques which I have used with horn players, violinists, trombonists, and of course myself. The title of the master class is:

“Break the Chain”

If you can imagine a prisoner with a ball and chain attached to his leg. The ball keeps him from escaping. The ball is performance anxiety, and the links in the chain are forged by us one link at a time until we are attached to the ball and can’t escape.

One of the techniques that I will teach in the master class is called:

“How to format the hard drive”

With a computer we often have to create partitions in the hard drive. Essentially separating sections from each other. This protects you from trouble because you are only using one partition at a time. Taking an audition is the same as using your computer. You have programmed each excerpt and stored it in it’s own partition in your brain.

If you imagine the brain as a series of rooms (partitions) and each room has a name. e.g. Mahler 5, Tchaikovsky 5, Strauss Concerto no. 1, etc... Each room has a door. If the first piece I have to play is Mozart 4, I go to that door, open it and go in. I focus only on Mozart 4, and perform it. If the next piece is
Till Eulenspiegel I leave the Mozart room closing the door. Everything that happened during Mozart stays in that room. (errors, problems, accidents, etc...) I then go to the Till room and go in. I focus on Till, and perform it. Etc, etc... Visualisation is very important. The act of leaving the room means closing the door and moving on.

Only after the audition is over do I go back in to each room to analyse each performance. I write down all the details and decide if I need to simply correct some mistakes or completely “reformat” the partition relating to a particular excerpt. This technique can be applied to all types of performances. I found it an easy way to get back my focus, even in the middle of a concert. Break the chain of thought. Use varying approaches to find a mental solution.

“Think Different” Stage Internationale de Musique en Province de Liège Conservatoire Royal de Liège Bruce Richards (personal web site)

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