The 3 types of musical performances

When it comes right down to it, there are only 3 types of musical performances. And this goes for all the performing arts, including dance and drama.

I saw this first-hand earlier this week when I went to a school talent show. The students were about 11-16 years old and generally did very well. Some sang, some danced, and some combined the two.

About halfway through the show, I began noticing that the performances could be grouped into 3 very separate and distinct categories:

1. Some performers knew their material well and had obviously practiced a lot beforehand. But they seemed a little shy about performing and didn’t fully commit to their performances.

2. Other performers didn’t know their material perfectly, but they didn’t let this stop them from giving their “all.” They gave emotionally charged performances even though a few lyrics were forgotten or they didn’t know their dance moves as well as their stage partners did.

3. A third category of performers knew their material inside and out and performed with complete commitment and dedication. They gave 100% effort and provided the audience with a highly enjoyable and a memorable performance.

All the performers and their friends in the audience had a great time. But since we are learning from this, let’s analyze which performances were better and look for reasons why.

The best performances, by far, were the ones where the performer had thoroughly prepared and gave it their “all” during their moment onstage. They sang, played, and danced with joy and passion. Even if they were a bit nervous, they didn’t let this get in the way. These performers have learned how to “fake it ’till you make it.”

I was surprised that the 2nd category, the ones who didn’t prepare as much but performed with full joy and commitment, were better than the ones who had practiced a lot but didn’t “go for it” onstage. As audience members, we basically just want to have a good time and when we see a performer enjoying themselves thoroughly, we go along for the ride. Of course the performer has to know their material, but it’s interesting how an audience will ignore minor mistakes if the performer gives their best and seems to be enjoying the act of performing. They are giving energy to the audience.

But not many audiences enjoy seeing someone get up there and just go through the motions, fumble around, or make excuses (verbal or non-verbal.) We want to enjoy the performances and if the performer is enjoying it, we will too.

(BTW, this range of performance levels is fully understandable since they were students and are still learning how to perform. I’m merely pointing out that they’ll eventually give more effective performances as they gain more experience and confidence.)

Here’s the lesson we can take away from this: Yes, prepare your best. Put in the time and practice your piece many, many times. Then, fully commit to your performance when the moment comes for you to “shine.” And at the same time, don’t worry so much about what the audience thinks, since this will hold you back and keep you from doing your best. We don’t mind an occasional mistake, as long as you keep going and give us a show. Thoroughly prepare, and then “go for it!”

One of the great things about piano improv is that you can improvise your way out of performance “mistakes.”This gives you a musical confidence you otherwise wouldn’t have. Here are some free piano improv lessons to get you started on the way. Enjoy!

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