Solo Performance Tips

– from Lara Melda

Performing is an excellent way to improve your piano playing ability and musical understanding, but did you know there are ways in which you can practice ‘performance’?

Whether you’re anticipating your first ever performance, or already have many successful concerts in your resume, these tips from acclaimed international concert pianist and Kawai artist, Lara Melda, will help you develop your performance and boost your confidence levels.

Preparing for a future performance

What are the best ways to prepare for an upcoming performance?
To prepare effectively for an upcoming performance, it’s crucial to establish a structured practice routine. Begin by dedicating regular, focused practice sessions where you concentrate on challenging sections of your performance repertoire. Vary your practice by experimenting with different tempi, dynamics, and articulations, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the piece you are working on.
Additionally, performing in front of friends or family can create a supportive environment that mimics the pressure of a real performance, helping you build confidence. This can also offer valuable feedback on areas that need improvement.
Mental rehearsal and visualisation are also powerful techniques. Spend time mentally rehearsing your performance, imagining yourself on stage, playing flawlessly, and handling any challenges with ease. Visualisation helps in reinforcing muscle memory and boosts your confidence by creating a positive mindset.
Lastly, focus on self-care. Prioritise sufficient sleep, a balanced diet, and relaxation techniques like deep breathing or meditation. Building physical and mental resilience can significantly enhance your overall performance quality.
Remember, consistent, mindful practice combined with mental preparation and self-care will empower you to deliver a confident performance.

How should I manage my practice time when preparing for a performance?
Effective time management is paramount in learning and improving musical skills. Establishing a well-organised practice routine is essential. Begin by crafting a structured practice schedule, carefully allocating time for honing technique and delving into interpretation. Divide complex works into manageable sections, allowing focused attention on intricate details. Prioritise areas that require improvement, finding balance between repetitive practice for mastery and exploring musical nuances for depth and expression. This strategic approach ensures secure musical development.

Should I avoid playing other pieces when I have an upcoming performance?
It’s beneficial to stay focused on your performance pieces, especially as the event approaches. While it’s tempting to explore other pieces, concentrating on your performance repertoire ensures mastery and confidence on stage. Save new pieces for after the performance to maintain focus.

Is my piano suitable for my performance practice?
Ensuring your piano is suitable is vital. Regular maintenance and tuning are essential for optimal performance. Familiarise yourself with the venue’s piano and if possible, rehearse on a similar instrument to adapt to different touch and sound, enhancing your adaptability during the actual performance.

Preparation just before a performance

What is the best way to warm up before a recital?
The best way to warm up before a recital is to start with gentle, slow exercises to gradually engage your fingers and hands. Focus on scales, arpeggios, or other exercises and light stretches to improve flexibility and dexterity – I like to use the 4th movement of Chopin’s 2nd Piano Sonata as my warmup almost every day as it has a combination of many technical exercises that gets both the hands nicely warmed up. As you progress, transition into pieces you’re confident with to build assurance before going on stage.

What are the best ways to manage nerves before I perform?
Managing nerves before a performance involves bringing your mind and body to a calm state. Visualise yourself performing successfully, boosting your confidence. Practice mindfulness techniques to stay present and focus on the music rather than the audience. Positive self-talk and reminding yourself of your preparation can also help ease nerves.

How do I prepare for playing on an unfamiliar piano?
To prepare for playing on an unfamiliar piano, arrive early at the venue if possible. Spend time getting acquainted with the instrument’s touch, responsiveness, and sound – along with the acoustics of the venue. Play scales and chords across the keyboard to understand its nuances. Mentally adjust your playing, technique, pedalling and timing as needed. Having this familiarity, even briefly, can significantly enhance your comfort and performance on an unfamiliar piano.

During a performance

Should I play without sheet music?
Whether to play with or without sheet music depends on your comfort level and the requirements of the performance. Memorising pieces can enhance your connection with the audience, but it’s essential to choose the option that allows you to perform confidently and expressively.

Do I need to announce my repertoire, if so how should I announce this?
Personally, I prefer letting the music speak for itself without any verbal introductions. Many musicians, including pianists, choose to communicate primarily through their performances, relying on the emotional depth and expression within the music to convey their message to the audience. This approach can create a sense of mystery and allow listeners to interpret the pieces in their own way.
However, in certain formal or professional settings, providing a brief repertoire announcement can be helpful for the audience. It offers context, allowing listeners to follow your performance more closely and appreciate the pieces on a deeper level. Announcing the repertoire can also be a way to express gratitude to the composers whose work you are interpreting.
Ultimately, the decision to announce your repertoire or not should align with your artistic vision and the specific context of the performance. If you prefer not to speak and let your music be the sole communicator, it’s a valid choice that can create a unique and impactful concert experience for your audience.

Should I adjust the piano stool and music rest before I play?
Absolutely – adjusting the piano stool and music rest is a crucial part of your pre-performance routine. Ensuring that the piano stool is at the right height is essential for your posture and comfort while playing. A proper sitting position not only allows you to reach the keys comfortably but also ensures that your arms and hands are in an ergonomic position, enabling fluid and expressive playing.
Additionally, the music stand should be considered, especially if you’re performing without sheet music. Removing the music stand entirely before the concert can enhance the piano’s resonance and acoustics. Without the stand in place, the sound waves can flow freely from the instrument, filling the performance space with a richer, more immersive sound. This subtle adjustment can make a significant difference, allowing the piano’s natural tones to be fully appreciated by the audience.
By paying attention to these details, you create an environment that supports your performance and allows you to focus entirely on the music. A comfortable seating arrangement and the absence of unnecessary barriers, such as a music stand when not needed, enable you to connect more intimately with the piano and your audience, enhancing the overall musical experience.

Bonus tips

Will performing help improve my playing?
Yes, performing can significantly improve your playing. It challenges you to apply your skills under pressure, enhancing your confidence and stage presence. It also provides valuable feedback, highlighting areas for improvement and helping you grow as a musician.

What are the benefits of performing in front of an audience?
Performing in front of an audience hones your ability to connect emotionally with the music. It teaches you to manage nerves, boosts self-discipline, and enhances your communication skills. Additionally, the energy exchanged between performer and audience can elevate your musical interpretation, leading to a more profound and memorable performance.

What piano should I practice on to prepare for a performance?
Practice on a piano that mirrors the one you’ll perform on. Familiarity with the instrument’s touch, sound, and responsiveness is crucial. If you’re unsure about the performance piano, practicing on various pianos can enhance your adaptability, ensuring you can deliver a great performance regardless of the instrument provided.

Where can I find opportunities to perform?
Seek performance opportunities in local music venues, community events, schools, or churches. You can also participate in music festivals, competitions, or recital series. Online platforms and social media can help you showcase your talent to a wider audience and connect with potential performance opportunities.

What advice would you offer to those looking to develop a career as a pianist?
Developing a career as a pianist requires dedication, passion, and continuous learning. Invest in formal education, practice diligently, and seek guidance from experienced mentors. Network with other musicians, attend workshops, and embrace diverse musical genres to broaden your skills. Building an online presence through social media and platforms like YouTube can help you reach a broader audience. Lastly, be persistent, stay open to new opportunities, and keep refining your craft to stand out in the competitive world of piano.

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About the author

Lara Melda won the BBC Young Musician 2010 competition, performing Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No. 2 in the final round with Vasily Petrenko and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in Cardiff. Since then, she has become a regular artist on BBC Radio 3, performed at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, travelled the world performing concertos with renowned orchestras and giving recitals in many countries including the Laeiszhalle in Hamburg (Germany), Les Sommets Musicaux in Gstaad (Switzerland), Mecklenburg-Vorpommern Festival (Germany), Auditorium San Mattia Ai Crociferi in Palermo (Italy), Zorlu Center in Istanbul (Turkey), to name but a few.

Lara made her Wigmore Hall recital debut in 2017 and followed this with three more sold out recitals there in January, December 2018, November 2019 and May 2021. During the COVID pandemic Lara continued giving concerts via online platforms including recitals for many music festivals around the world and performed Mozart’s K595 with the Northern Chamber Orchestra. In the summer of 2016 Lara graduated from the Royal College of Music with a first-class honours degree, where she studied with Ian Jones. She had begun piano lessons with Emily Jeffrey at the age of six and since 2017 continues working closely with Alfred Brendel. 2020 saw the release of her debut Chopin album. Most recently she curated a critically acclaimed multi-sensory Van Gogh immersive concert experience in collaboration with Exhibition Hub, where the audience and Lara’s playing become intertwined in a journey through Van Gogh’s life – the music and art together evoking different emotions, feelings and memories for each individual.

For more about Lara, visit