Dr. Romm's Guide to "Being Cool" in High-Pressure Situations
Physical Factors: Sleep, Food, Hydration, Breathing, Warm-Up
I’ve always found it best to stick with my normal routine. Audition or performance day is a day like any other, I just happen to be playing a performance/audition. This usually starts with an early wake-up, because that's what Ben Franklin did, and it worked out pretty well for him. Whether we WANT to is a different story! I've found that changing my sleeping, eating, hydration, and warm-up patterns does not help me focus on the task at hand...like, "should I have eaten that giant bag of Funyuns before walking on stage?"
-Aim to get plenty of sleep. If I know I have a big performance at an unsavory time of day (or in a different time zone…) I will adapt my routine at least a week in advance so that I am accustomed to waking up with plenty of time for a warm-up on the trumpet. I may not feel 100% awesome, but at least I will have had time to adjust to that feeling.
-In the days and weeks prior to big events, eat well and often, so that you know how your body responds to certain foods and amounts of them. Moderation is key, and finding out which foods make you feel best and LAST THE LONGEST is super important. On a personal note, I feel that oatmeal is magical. It may not be very fun to eat, but I feel ready to take my solos up an octave or three! That’s not true, but I do feel better. So observe the positive changes when you begin replacing cookies with fruit, fried or fatty foods with veggies. Even though they generally are not as delicious as sugary cereals, donuts, cookies, etc, they will help you function at a much higher level. You’ll feel better, too.
-Be sure to drink enough water, and pace it throughout the day. A good way to start is to drink a glass of water as soon as you wake up. It’s not as fun as coffee, but it helps you function better, which IS fun. Your lips/chops are muscles, and muscle tissue requires water to flush out the lactic acid (this is the burn you feel in your chops when you play for a while). Again, you’ll feel better, which is always nice.
-Breathe! Take slow, deep breaths prior to playing, and settle your heart rate. Avoid passing out because you forgot to breathe…plus, this helps the whole "playing the trumpet" thing.
-The Warm-Up is a much-debated topic. If you warm-up regularly, certainly do it on audition day, but be sure to stick with your normal routine. I personally need to give myself extra time to warm-up, which means starting the day earlier. Physically, it doesn’t take much time. It’s more for my ears and my mind, which brings us to…
2) Mental Factors: Preparation, Mindset, & Focus
Remember that your body does what your mind tells it to. Are you feeding it what it needs to succeed through positive action, or setting yourself up for failure with negative input? What are your goals? Are you out to “win,” or learn, or just make some beautiful music?
-Performing, in any situation, is a skill in itself, one that must be practiced regularly. This does not have to be in a hallowed performance hall; often times the most nerve-wracking performances are the so-called “informal” ones during the holidays when your friends and family say “play something!” Uhhhh…OK! Take advantage of those “volunteer” opportunities to practice performing. And, no matter how it went, always thank your audiences with a genuine smile and "thank you!" Always.
-Assuming you have ironed out the notes and rhythms and you know how the tunes are supposed to sound, then comes the fun part: practice performing your materials for someone (teachers, family, friends, pet turtles, stuffed animals) so you know what it feels like to be “under pressure.” Observe what your tendencies are and address them in your next practice session and next performance. When you’re in a quiet space, spend time visualizing yourself playing SUCCESSFULLY, over and over and over. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
-Nerves aren’t bad! They’re simply unfocused energy. Do your best to quiet the chatter in your head, and focus on the task at hand. I don’t mean focus on “not missing that note,” or “winning,” but rather focusing on the sounds you want to create. Remember, if something does not go as you planned, you have a couple choices: 1) you can be upset about it, focus on what went wrong and potentially drag yourself down, or 2) you can pick yourself up, learn from it and keep moving forward. I like the second option, it’s more useful in the long run.
-How much pressure are you putting on yourself for this one performance/audition? Is it the event that will define you as a person and musician? Probably not, but you still should expect to do well. What, realistically, do you want to accomplish? Aim for simple goals! When we put too much pressure on one thing, it becomes an obligation, something you HAVE TO do. Is it still fun? Then you MUST practice, by force…doesn’t that contradict the idea of PLAYING, which implies having fun and enjoying the experience? Who knows, you might even learn something! If you adjust the way you look at it, you’ll find that you enjoy playing, you’ll want to learn more, and most likely, spend more productive time practicing. Then you grow at a faster pace. Pretty cool right? Absolutely! But it takes conscious effort. Are you telling yourself, “I have to play an audition,” or “I get to play some music”…which, of course, happens to be an audition. If you’re there purely to win, you will still need to focus on making the most music…which requires beautiful sound, great rhythm, solid intonation and musical intent. Might as well “cut out the middleman” and focus on the music, right? I’ve had the best success when I kept my mind on the music, and I know I’m not alone in this.
While these mind games may seem trivial, they are the basis of preparation. You are dealing with skills and habits which take dedication, time, and effort to work in your favor. But shifting your focus from all the things that you worry about missing, to the music that you’ve prepared, will be of great use in settling your nerves and establishing the confidence necessary to perform at a high level. The physical factors are important, however they serve your mentality. Remember, your body does what your mind tells it to! Can you play a successful audition when you’re hungry, thirsty, running on 30 minutes of sleep? It’s possible, but you’ll be running at maybe 50% awesomeness (if we’re being generous), and it will certainly not be easy. Who knows, you may find yourself in those circumstances one day! SO: Eat, sleep, hydrate, breathe, and focus on the music, so it’s easier to do what you PREPARED to do.
YOU GET TO PLAY!