Performing – new trouble

Although I feel like most of my nervousness when I perform has gone away, I still play badly when I perform. I’m not sure how to overcome this issue. On Friday I had my spring semester jury exam and yesterday I performed Laudatio at a small recital in NYC and I seem to have come up with a new way to screw up.

Previously I would chip, overshoot or undershoot notes but ultimately I would end up playing the correct note and continue playing the correct notes. This was all about using air correctly and for the most part I’ve finally got that figured out (it only took three years) so I chip a whole lot fewer notes at least when I remember to use my air properly. At the dress rehearsal for my jury, at my jury exam and again yesterday I played the wrong pitches on lots of passages. Not just one or two here and there but entire phrases. This is something new. I’ve always had the problem of nailing the first note of a piece correctly but this week I’ve just missed way too much. I played an awful lot of notes that Bernhard Krol didn’t write yesterday and that Hindemith and Alec Wilder didn’t write the day before.

I played the first movement of the Hindemith Sonata at my jury and I rehearsed with the pianist at least five times and the first three times went very well. We had to work on rhythm issues but I was playing the correct notes. Then at the dress rehearsal and at the final run through I started playing entire passages about a third lower. After these fiascos I went back to playing along with the recording and just practicing the piece and everything was fine. Then at the performance I again played the wrong notes. I also did this with the Wilder Sonata at the jury and I had never messed up the Wilder that way before my performance. Yesterday I did the same thing on Laudatio and I know that piece about as well as anything I’ve ever played. I played it through five times yesterday morning correctly and then blew the entire opening section at the performance.  It got better toward the end of the piece but I played way too much that was just wrong; clean notes but wrong notes.

I’ve always played worse at the performance than at any practice session or rehearsal but this has been the air problem which goes hand in hand with nervousness. As I get better with air and get less nervous my confidence that I can play better at a performance has gone up. Now I feel like my confidence level has dropped back to where it was a year ago which was pretty much non existant. I have something new to worry about and I don’t know how to fix it because I don’t know why it’s happening. Even worse, I don’t have any performances coming up until the middle of the fall semester so I have way too much time to stew over this. I’d love some suggestions on how to fix this.

3 thoughts on “Performing – new trouble

  1. I wonder if you’re focused too much on the physical act of playing (air and embouchure) and not focusing enough on hearing the notes in your head as you play them? From what you’ve written, that’s what seems like the problem, though there could be something else going on.

    In your post entitled “The past few weeks” you stated, “I like my aural skills class but I am realizing that I don’t have the ear I used to have. I am most worried about this class.” It seems to me that you may need to work on some ear training, or at least connecting your ear training with your horn playing. Work on singing your part along with recordings, away from the horn. Also, you could work on singing your part in front of a piano, checking your pitch on it every once in a while. Then move to buzzing the part on the mouthpiece, checking your pitch again on the piano or buzzing along with recordings. When you’re able to do all this, transferring this to the horn and playing the right pitches should be a piece of cake! Just keep in mind that what you are doing is ear training, and that you’re focusing on the pitches in your head at all times, not on the physical act of playing/buzzing. Just some suggestions that you may find helpful.


    • Hi Julia,
      I’m sorry it took so long for me to reply to you. I had finals the past two weeks.

      You’re right. I am very, very focused on the physical act of playing. I am still trying to get the air thing right. I understand now what I need to do but I don’t usually remember to do it. Hence the focus on air. I wish this would just become an automatic response that I don’t have to think about. Pick up the horn and breathe right seems like such a simple concept that keeps eluding me. It does make sense that I am not paying enough attention to the music and hearing the notes in my head.

      I do sing my parts as you suggest but not that often. Usually just before I have to perform. I have not tried buzzing them. I have also not tried to buzz on pitch – geesh – never thought of it but now that you mention it…. so obvious.

      Thanks so much for your suggestions. I really appreciate that you take the time to respond to my posts.



  2. My ear is something I always have to work on, too. Since learning Jeff Nelsen’s Routine last summer at Fearless Camp, I have been warming up using parts of the Routine (don’t have time to do the whole thing every day!) with my tuner. I do some of the singing he includes, again with the tuner, with the goal of being able to sing the pitches without first playing them. It has helped me.
    I’m also reading the book “The Perfect Wrong Note,” which has some very interesting ideas in it about learning from mistakes.


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