Performance & Exam Tips

Don't think about not making mistakes

While in a performance or graded guitar exam it may seem logical to worry or think about not making mistakes, after all why would anyone think about making them? The problem with this is that in order to think about not making mistakes, at some point, it will have to involve thinking about making them then getting the uncomfortable feeling that that is not what you want to do! Perhaps this is similar to the saying “don’t look down” when at height. Thinking about mistakes could make you nervous and more likely to make them. This is focusing your thoughts in the wrong direction. Instead you should be thinking about doing it right, it’s more about positive thinking in the right train of thought. So think only about playing it right then you are less likely to make mistakes.

If you do make a mistake it is important not to dwell on or think about it. Whether you are upset with yourself or just critiquing yourself for something you thought you could have done better, this can be a distraction of your attention and affect your playing from that point onwards in a negative way. After all, the backing track / tempo / beat or desired flow of the music won’t slow down or wait for you. If the mistake is significant enough that it affects a whole musical phrase or bar and you try to correct it and catch up you’ll be out of sync by then. It might be best to get back into the piece on the start of the next bar or musical phrase. Perhaps it’s a bit like missing a bus, rather than running after it, wait for the next one (whether buses are regular isn’t something I’ll include in the comparison, so let’s assume they are as regular as bars in music!). Note: This is different from realizing you are playing too slow and adjusting your speed accordingly.

Preparation – Nerves don’t exist on their own they are the result of a combination of factors. Unfamiliarity, such as it being your first musical exam, or playing in front of a different kind of audience you are used to. With experience the nerves can diminish.

Being prepared can make a significant difference to having less nerves, having practised you will be less nervous. If you haven’t practised then your nerves will be greater in proportion to how much you care (which ideally you do!).

This man adjusts his spectacles confidently as he has practised and is ready for his guitar exam.

Try to be reasonable if reading your audience. If you notice an examiner looking at you with a straight face and slight frown perhaps they are concentrating, or even intrigued by what you are doing. Sometimes I notice my own students with a serious face when reading/studying a piece/tutorial as they concentrate, if it was because I was rubbish then I’ve yet to be told. Last but not least a good nights sleep is important.

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