Musicians’ Foundational Guide to Effective Performance Practice .

Reconnect with your natural musicianship, free expression and ease on stage!   


Practice Performing vs Practice Practicing:

Tap into your sensorial experience 

By engaging in the first 2 practices (awareness and performance enhancing strategies) you are already doing  good work towards the Unconscious Competence stage in performance. 

That blissful state of being, conducive to the Zone or Flow

One last step is necessary though: Practicing Performing. This is not the same as tryouts or concerts. Those are meant to check if your performance and practice strategies are working. 

Practice Performing is a fundamental part of your DAILY practice routine. You want to further develop and consolidate your Unconscious Competence stage, right?

You wouldn’t dream of trying out a complex technique only in performance! .. in the same way the skills necessary for optimal performance (concentration, focus, confidence, presence… just to mention a few) need attention and strategized practice.

Most musician’s practice routines are focused on drilling information IN, in a solid ‘Conscious Competence Stage’ style: engaging in active thinking around ‘how to execute the skill’ and repeating to themselves a long list of commands…especially those nice ‘what NOT to do’ command lists… (don’t miss that shift/note/entrance… you know, like ‘DON’T think of a pink elephant’ kind of commands…chances are you are now thinking of a pink elephant and have no idea of what you should be thinking instead)

What you need in performance is to have clear commands to get the information you solidly drilled in, OUT in a way that has you execute the skills without conscious interference, while being fully present in order to convey your musical message and connect with your audience.

So, just to clarify, the Unconscious Competence stage doesn’t mean you can perform while playing a video game… you might be able to, but without your full presence in the performance the results will not be convincing, at best. Probably not interesting either. 

The only real creative freedom of classical musicians resides in their ability to express their vision of the music in the moment of the performance. Recreating what you have already done doesn’t strike me as real art, and it would take away meaning from live performances where the musician, in an almost symbiotic relationship with the audience, senses new possibilities in the piece and creates new atmospheres and nuances. The rendition will then be unique and with a legitimate live element.

Regardless, your full awareness and presence are required to be able to execute a motor skill with mastery. Remember, interior and exterior realms are both needed for optimal performance. 

Have you noticed the kind of focused attention athletes have just before and during a competition? 

What do you imagine they are doing? 

Certainly not thinking about the competition or the specifics of how to use their muscles, as that will likely bring them to an anxiety state or provoke choking.

(Choking: Analysis Paralysis, by thinking about ‘what to do and how to do it’ one exhausts time and energy with as a result a subpar performance… ever had that experience you feel you just turned into Tin Man as you walk onstage? )

The way to recall motor skills, in the Unconscious Competence stage, is using sensorial cues: how does it look, feel, sound. You need therefore to practice and try out which sensorial cue works best for that specific passage, and specifically for you (it might be different for each musician).

And here is the important part – By practicing to get to the Conscious Competence stage, you have engaged with a lot of cognitive thinking. All very good and necessary, but now is the time to practice letting go of that ‘controlling mind’ and trust the skills are IN you already. You just need to find the right key to bring them OUT.

Descriptive words are great for this (fluid, open, fluffy…), or vivid images (the wind in the leaves, a beehive, a sunrise, colors…), or sounds (specific nuances, different instrumental timbre…).

Most importantly: you need to focus on the sensorial experience of it. Not ‘thinking about it’… as thinking is thinking… and Tin Man is around the corner ;-)

By practicing getting ‘into your sensorial experience’ you are also quieting the mind, a great plus when it comes to preventing performance anxiety.

A win-win, right?

Let’s work on it!

Practice #3: Practicing Performing

Learning which sensorial cue works best for you to ‘recall’ a skill and execute it with ease.

1.Recall a performance in which you played well.
  • Can you describe how you felt?
  • Where was your attention focused on?


2.Recall a performance or instance where you played below your level
  • Can you describe how you felt?
  • Where was your attention focused on?


Make treasure of the difference in the experiences of A. and B. and focus on solidifying the sensations, feelings, states and mindset that support you perform better.

3.Random Practice
  • Work on a specific jump/shift/beginning by choosing first which sensorial cue you’ll be trying out to get the result you want (envision to manifestation!)
  • Did it work? Great!!! Now let it rest and practice something totally different (or take a break). Later come back to it. 


Without trying it out to see if it’s still working (remember the great conductor being in front of the orchestra?), simulate a performance:

  • Get yourself ready and take a few mindful breaths
  • Focus on the chosen cue
  • Go for it in full trust and presence
  • If it didn’t work, ‘Analize like a Pro’, was it the cue that didn’t work or the execution of it? Did you go back to thinking perhaps? Or did some parts of your body get tense (which, by the way is a result of thinking, just so ingrained that it has become automatic, and not the supportive kind ;-)
  • Repeat the process with bigger chunk and finally with the whole piece


I hope you have enjoyed this guide and look forward to hearing all about your experience and any feedback you may like to share.
with appreciation and respect,