Get performance tips from seasoned performer and one of the world’s finest classical guitarists, Xuefei Yang! Xuefei talks us through overcoming nerves, getting into the right headspace no matter where you’re performing and the benefits of performing in different environments…
“We should keep our focus on the music - on the sound - to shape it as best we can in that environment.”
What are your tips on overcoming nerves and giving your best performance?
“With 20 years’ experience of performing professionally, I can share that one has to learn to accept the nerves, or excitement, before a performance. The feeling of playing in front of an audience will not be, and shouldn’t be, the same feeling and experience as playing at home. The key thing to minimise nervousness is preparation. Preparation is not just measured by the amount of time you spend on it, a more important measure is how well you know the piece, both its technical side and musical side. If you know the structure of the piece, why and how you want to play it, have planned your fingering sensibly, done the right practise, then nervousness can turn to excitement. Even after sufficient preparation, you still never know in advance what will happen on stage when playing live. We should accept the nature of live performance and appreciate the anticipation and learn from each performance, just like life. Gaining lots of performing experience is also a key way to minimising nerves. Knowing that you’ve accomplished something before helps ease the mind. Mental sureness in yourself can also help calm physical shakiness. If we have a desire to perform the music and we want to express something through the music, then focusing on that expression is another method to help deal with the nerves.”
What advice do you have about performing from home and getting into the right headspace?
“You will be in your comfort zone performing from home. However, in reality, you will have to deal with all kinds of distractions and will rarely find perfect conditions in venues. I suggest trying as much as possible to build experience of practicing in many different locations, by actually playing in all kinds of different places. It's especially do-able with portable instruments. In different locations our sound changes, therefore we get used to playing whilst feeling less comfortable. By playing in different locations we learn to adjust our playing to suit the venue - perhaps using more articulation or taking advantage of a room’s natural reverb. When doing this, no matter how imperfect the environment, we should keep our focus on the music - on the sound - to shape it as best we can in that environment. So again, getting lots of experience of doing this is valuable.”
What are the benefits of performing on screen versus performing live?
“Sometimes when performing on screen, we have to use a different approach to convey the feeling and nuances of the music, compared to playing live. Playing to a close-up, but often not ideal, microphone also means it’s easier to notice problems. However, I think we can take advantage from performing on screen, by watching and listening to the playback ourselves, we can learn things about our playing that we can improve - both musically and technically. The intimacy of performing on screen means that we should focus more on the nuances in the music.
When performing live, I think it’s very important to feel the space, listen and respond based on how your sound is behaving in that particular space, and use it to shape the exact dynamic you want. When performing live you are performing to an audience, so communicating with the audience in real time at a distance - in this situation the bigger musical picture is what gets conveyed to the audience as some of the nuances may get lost at a distance, just like looking at paintings.”
ABRSM Performance Grades
A Performance Grade is a remotely-assessed exam that is all about performance. It is a regulated qualification and is available at Initial Grade to Grade 8. It carries the same value as traditional Practical Grades and musicians can switch between Practical and Performance Grades as they progress. Performance Grades are assessed entirely from recordings, so they can take place at home, at school or in a community setting, offering great flexibility and accessibility to candidates of all ages. Find out more.