Practicing for Smooth Performances with Erica Sipes

Musicians teach great lessons and tell interesting stories; the level of talent we have amongst us is simply amazing– you’ll be surprised at what you learn from another musician.

To celebrate our unique ideas as musicians, we’re going to feature different artists from around the world, inspired by the Olympics.

Erica Sipes is a seasoned pianist (and closet cellist) whose journey in music has taken her all over the world. She’s an adjunct faculty member at Radford University and she’s an accompanist, coach, and teacher.

Practicing for Smooth Performances with Erica Sipes

(Edit: She also has a master’s degree in Piano Performance from the Eastman School of Music, for you curious folks.)

I stumbled upon her blog through a mutual friend and I was pleasantly surprised; her untraditional bio rejects “virtuosic madness” while supporting values that I believe in too.

She’s such an intriguing person that I thought her voice would be perfect for Artiden– and I was right.

Read on to see what Erica says about performing with her successful practice style.

“… I practice in such a way that I rarely make the same mistake twice.”

— Erica Sipes

How do you deal with performance anxiety (and making mistakes while performing)?

Perhaps this sounds a bit fatalistic but I walk onto stage knowing that I am bound to make mistakes and that there is no such thing as perfection when it comes to performing.

As a result, when a mistake does occur in the course of the performance, I am not horrified, discouraged, shocked, or surprised which makes it much easier to move on, leaving those mind-games that can so often plague us back in the dressing room or even better, at home.

I also believe that a key factor in shoring up my nerves is thorough preparation beforehand.

“If something trips me up, I stop, figure out the root of the problem, fix it, work it into my mind and body, and then move on.”

My practicing is very calculated, made up of a lot of goal-setting and I practice in such a way that I rarely make the same mistake twice.  If something trips me up, I stop, figure out the root of the problem, fix it, work it into my mind and body, and then move on.

When it comes time to perform I put my practice room attitude aside and walk onto stage to communicate the music, knowing that I’ve put in good preparation.

Does this mean every performance is ideal?  Nope.

Sometimes I don’t plan as well as I would have liked or a particular situation makes it difficult to be adequately prepared, but I do my best within the parameters I’ve been given.

“… I seek to make music and to enjoy doing so when I’m on stage.  I figure that’s what the audience wants too and that turns any anxiety into excitement.”

But regardless of what precedes any given performance I seek to make music and to enjoy doing so when I’m on stage.  I figure that’s what the audience wants too and that turns any anxiety into excitement.

What are three things that you hope your students learn or achieve, if nothing else?

  1. There is more to music-making than perfectionism.  It’s about communicating, it’s about great music, it’s about making music with others.
  2. Rhythm is a crucial foundation in music-making and it’s crucial that we push ourselves to truly understand and internalize the rhythm and meter of any given piece of music.
    If we don’t, we will be short-changing our ability to fully express ourselves musically.  Our body and mind will be constantly questioning if we’re putting the notes in the right place which can negatively effect so many things – our breathing, our sound, our ease at our instrument.
    Figuring out rhythm is an investment but a worthwhile one.  Take the time now to figure it out and your music-making will be transformed.
  3. Make sure that you are constantly engaging your brain while practicing.
    Mindless, repetitive practice should be thrown out the window and replaced by constant problem solving.  If you can do this you are sure to see positive and permanent results more quickly which will then inspire you to keep practicing.  And when it comes time to perform you will be able to depend on all that hard work, freeing yourself to enjoy the act of performing.

I could go on and on with more things but I’ll stop there.

What’s the ultimate must-have skill for pianists, and why?

To see patterns in music – to not read note by note.

“Seeing patterns helps us to gain insight into a composer’s musical language as well which then enables us to slip on a new piece by that composer with more ease and fluency.”

Pianists have so many more notes to deal with than virtually any other instrument so I think it’s imperative that we learn to see music in this way.

Seeing music as patterns (scales, broken triads, repeated motives, hidden ascending/descending lines, etc…) allows us to sightread fluently, to learn music quickly, to memorize more easily and securely, and to make musical decisions without relying solely on the indications printed in the music, if there are any.

Seeing patterns helps us to gain insight into a composer’s musical language as well which then enables us to slip on a new piece by that composer with more ease and fluency.

A big thanks to Erica for the great advice! Check out more of Erica’s words at Beyond the Notes.

This post is part of a series of expert mini interviews:

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