It’s a good idea to start performing in front of other people as soon as you feel confident playing a few simple tunes on your accordion.
Why? Because if you start performing to others while you are still learning how to play accordion, you are almost sure to make mistakes. This might sound bad, but no – it’s a good thing! If you can get used to making mistakes in public (friends and family to start with) you know that you can survive the experience. Knowing this, you will be less likely to suffer from performance anxiety in future performance situations. And more likely to enjoy playing in public.
So to get you started, here is a 10 step plan for getting through your first performance.
1. Make a commitment to yourself that you will play a couple of very simple tunes to someone else as soon as you have mastered them. The earlier the better.
2. Pick a friend or family member for your first audience. Someone you know who will listen, appreciate what you have achieved, and offer constructive feedback to help you develop further. Tell them that you have been learning how to play accordion and that you’d like to play them some of your tunes.
3. Practise what you are going to perform over and over again. If you really know your pieces well, you will hardly have to think when you play – your fingers will remember where to go. You can then relax with part of your mind free to introduce your pieces to your audience – and maybe even smile while you are performing!
4. Before you perform, do a mental visualisation of your performance. Find a quiet place, sit or lie with your eyes closed, and run through the whole performance in your mind. Try to imagine it vividly, with colours, sounds, the feel of your instument and the wonderful sound of applause as you finish playing. In your visualisation, have your self play your pieces perfectly every time.
5. When the time for your little concert comes, make sure you have everything set up ready. Music, music stand, accordion all polished and straps adjusted correctly.
6. Take some deep breaths, tell your audience what you are going to play – be confident, no stuttering and spluttering about how you are learning. Just tell them you are going to play “….” by “…” and smile confidently – even if your knees are knocking together and you feel ready to faint from nervousness. Fake it!
7. Take your time. Don’t rush through your playing. Make sure you are comfortable, that your instrument is positioned correctly. Then, when you are ready, play through your first piece.
8. If you make a mistake – don’t stop – keep on playing. It is entirely possible that your audience won’t notice a small mistake of a note or chord. But they will definitely notice if you cringe and apologise or get annoyed with yourself. One of the tricks of performing is to KEEP GOING no matter what. If you have practised your tunes so that you know them really well, you will find a place where you can continue correctly – and get back into the tune smoothly.
Of course, if you really make a total hash of a piece, it might be a good idea to stop. Tell your audience you are going to do a retake, take a deep breath, and start again.
9. Smile – whatever happens!
10 When you have finished, smile some more, take a bow – and be proud of yourself. You deserve to be. Not only have you learned how to play accordion, you have also learned how to perform in public and have begun to shrink the performance anxiety monster!