There’s no better way to master a piece of music than to perform it.
Practicing alone can only take you so far. Many people find that when they learn a new song, stubborn trouble spots persist even when everything else has become fluid. These might be very obvious things, like a difficult lick or chord form. But they might also be musical factors, the things that make a performance smooth and natural. Either way, the player is left feeling that the song gets to be about 80 percent there and then stops improving.
This is a very common problem, and in fact is a natural part of the learning process. Mastering the song completely requires another step: adding the listener’s ear. That ear might belong to a person, but it could just as easily be a microphone or camera. The simple fact of the performance being documented, or experienced by an audience, changes the player’s awareness. Weaknesses are magnified and stand out more prominently. The natural jitters that most performers feel take their toll on technique as well. The bottom line is, performance is a stress test: how well can you keep it together under challenging circumstances?
The improvements are subtle and don’t happen immediately. If you’re new to performing you will have more frustrating experiences than satisfying ones at first.
But if you continue to do it, you start to become more comfortable. You begin to realize that even an obvious mistake is fleeting, and as long as you can regain your balance most of the audience won’t notice or care. Most of all, you develop the ability to maintain concentration and flow in an unpredictable environment full of distractions. All good musicians need to be able to keep track of multiple things at once, and not all those factors are musical.
Preparing for performance also forces you to zero in on a specific set of music. Without an imperative to perfect particular songs, you’re less likely to push through the work of polishing and refining. It forces you to take a closer look, and work out details that you might not of been aware of or found easy to overlook. Best of all, once that work is done it tends to stick.
Some people just don’t enjoy performing, and it’s certainly possibly to hone a performance without ever stepping on a stage. But for goal-setting, developing flow, and building overall confidence, there’s no better method.