Christmas Concert Preparation

We’re getting to that time of year that some musicians refer to as ‘silly season’ – too many concerts, too much music to learn and too little time.

If you are a musician, teacher or director feeling this way don’t worry, there are lots of other musicians out there in exactly the same boat.

We were contacted via the practice clinic by someone who is facing these very problems:

I need some general help with my singing practice but that’s not my real problem. I’ve agreed to do lots of Christmas concerts this year and think I may have taken on too much. Because there are so many I’ve not practised and don’t feel prepared at all. How can I cope with all this work? I seem to have concerts most days before Christmas.

Before we get onto the main issues I guess there is a lesson in organisation to be had here. Leaving things to last minute and taking on too much is perhaps not the best way to enjoy yourself . . .

Workload

I know that most people start planning for Christmas concerts around September. Why is it then that we musicians don’t start our own practice at that point?

In terms of workload Christmas is a very busy time and it is nice to be involved in as many activities as possible. You do however need to be realistic in what you can do. If you are a very able performer who can sight read most things then a concert everyday in December is very do-able. For those less able a more sensible approach might be to take on 2 or 3 main concerts so that you can practice and prepare properly.

Planning

Whatever the workload you take on you should have some sort of plan to be ready for your concerts. List out the number of days or weeks before the concert and write down in detail what you need to do in order to be ready for the concert. For example:

  • 3 days before concert – be able to play piece all the way through to family and friends with no mistakes
  • 1 week before concert – be able to play with no mistakes
  • 2 weeks before concert – have learnt all the notes and rhythms
  • 3 weeks before concert – learn notes for first page
  • etc

Even though we are in December there is still time for you to make plans like these for your concerts. List what you need to do for each concert and how you will get there.

Prioritise

It seems like you have a lot of concerts coming up and little time to practice. All is not lost, you just need to prioritise. Which are the most important concerts? Which are the pieces that require most work? Focus your practice time on those. Equally which concerts are not as important? Which pieces can you already sing well? You should not spend so much time on these.

You need to be flexible in your practice routines when you meet very busy times. It is not always possible to devote as much time to technique, theory or new repertoire as you might like. Just place those on the back burner until January when you will have plenty of time to catch up.

If you’ve not already done so you could try these practice methods:
Prepare Properly
In at the Deep End
Final Thoughts

As well as having lots of concerts I’m also worried because some of them are solos. The ones with choir will be fine (as long as I learn the music) as I don’t get so nervous. What can I do if I make a mistake during a solo?

Why is it that you are not nervous singing with a choir and yet get nervous when singing on your own?

Some people get very nervous when singing in a choir and yet you do not. Is it possible that you have confidence in your ability to sing correctly in the choir? Or perhaps if you do go wrong you think it might go unnoticed?

There are many schools of thought on nerves. I believe there are 2 sides to nerves. Firstly there is the music, the notes. How well do you know these? Is there a chance you could go wrong? I like the old saying:

An amateur practises until they get it right, a professional practises until they can’t get it wrong.

When you practice try to ensure that you are professional, that is you can’t get it wrong. I am amazed by how often this cures most of the effects of nerves.

The second side to nerves is the very genuine fear some people have of performing in front of others. The thing to say here is that nerves will cause extra adrenalin in your body. However they can only produce so much, the nerves will build to a certain point and then not get any worse.

When you are in a performance situation and you start to feel nervous just notice the effect it has on your body. Sweaty hands? Breathing? Let these feelings progress and notice as they increase, also notice when they are not increasing. This is as nervous as you will get. Not so bad is it? You will still be in control of yourself and be able to perform. Everyone in the audience will want you to do well and I’m sure you will.

This practice method is often helpful for those that suffer a little from nerves:
No Such Thing as Piano

As for mistakes, we all make them at some point. The key is to cover them up as well as you can. When you practice make a note of ‘anchor’ points in the music – places that you can skip to if you get lost. These are quite often indicated by rehearsal marks but not always. Now when you practice deliberately go wrong and then practice skipping to your next anchor point. The chance are that you won’t need these in the performance but you have this trick there just in case.

I also have 2 concerts which I need to choose pieces for. Should I just do the same as other concerts? I have some new pieces which I really like and want to do them but I’m not sure. Is there a way I could practice them to get them ready?

Think of any well known soloist. Do you think they play a different piece every night? Or for each concert?

No.

What about famous pop groups? Do they play different pieces all the time or do they repeat their biggest hits?

Repeat Hits.

Professional musicians will prepare and polish a small selection of pieces which they will then perform many times. Each performance will be a little but different and each time the musician will learn a little bit more about the piece.

In your position, and given the workload you have for the next few weeks, I would choose some existing pieces that you sing well. Try to do them a little better each time you perform them. Those new pieces can wait for another time when you have more time to prepare.

I hope you find the advice above useful. Good luck with your concerts, I’m sure they will all go well.

Oh, and by the way, please get in contact again if you need that general help with you singing practice!

Good luck.

Would you like to be the subject of a future practice clinic? Contact us with any practice problems and we’d be happy to help.

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