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Riley Music Academy Music Cast: Preparation for performance

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Tonights the big night! I’m playing my own music with my own band for the first time in almost 10 years. I’m excited but also fairly nervous. Have I prepared enough? How will it go? Are we competently rehearsed? Will people walk out? 

Believe it or not, I get nervous. In fact, over the last 8 years or so my nerves have hit an all-time high! As with most situations, I like to analyse why; unfortunately, this trait of mine is one of the main contributors to my anxiety!

Whilst I haven’t learnt how to completely stop the symptoms of nerves, I now have tactics to keep them at bay. Some prescribed*, some self conceived, I use these tools to make the situation as comfortable as possible.

Today I’m not going to jump down the rabbit hole of performance anxiety too much (I want to write a much bigger piece on this in the future), instead I’m going to look at one aspect:


With a big performance like this you would expect that yesterday I would be in the studio practicing all elements and paying meticulous attention to detail over every minute of the set. Well…no! You see, my wife competes horses and every year we have the glorious job of making hay on our rented field. Warning: this is probably one of the least ‘Rock n Roll’ posts I have made on the blog!

For anyone who has not experienced the joys of agricultural manual labour let me describe it. Pick the hottest time of the year, gather up the most cumbersome, prickly irritant you can find, load it onto a trailer, climb into a dusty, oven like barn full of spiders webs and rat shit, and stack the hay Tetris style from floor to ceiling. Finish the evening by jumping fully clothed into a paddling pool. Appreciate the view and the satisfaction of a job well done!

As you can see, my preparation for tonight’s gig is not exactly running to the wire!

The preparation scale

Isn’t it interesting how people differ? I started thinking about how others prepare for a big performance and decided on this scale:

Where do you fit on the scale?

Preparation time

People often ask me how much time they should spend practising or working on a particular element of their performance. This can only really be answered if I know where you fit on the scale above (which is why I try to tailor all my answers). For some people, spending the day before a big event stacking hay bales would be considered insane (the jury’s out)!

My one piece of advice for time scale is to be consistent. This is one of the most helpful realisations I have ever made.

  • Working incredibly hard for one day = no visible results.
  • Being lazy = no results
  • Consistent challenging work = massive results, visible over time

You’ve got to be in it for the long haul. Be consistent and get the work done.

My specific preparation for this gig tonight started 12 months ago. Do you think that me practising the material yesterday would have made a huge difference to tonight’s performance? This is not necessarily a rhetorical question by the way, if you wish to answer it then do so here, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Compensation for weaknesses

If you look at the scale above you will notice that I’ve marked my position on it. Whilst I’m happy to be within the healthy zone, I am aware of my weaknesses. With this in mind I try to over compensate with some of the traits of ‘The Scout’. This does not always work however, as I have some of the Space Cadet’s flaws (packing a spare pair of underpants but then leaving them on the bus). It’s something I work on daily so that I am as balanced as possible.

Whats wrong with being Captain Meticulous?

I think everyone realises that being a stress head is bad for everyone, but what about Captain Meticulous? Surely its advisable to have everything in place and plan everything to a tee?

Plans can go wrong and whilst being prepared is great, lacking the ability to be flexible is not. Improvisation plays a big part. You have to be able to adapt and respond to the situation. Sometimes this means making it up on the spot.

I have used this mentality when writing my compositions as although I want the music to be arranged, rehearsed and everyone knowing what they are doing, I also want the flexibility of improvised sections. Also, the seat of the pants excitement of thinking that anything could happen is exhilarating and will hopefully add to the performance. Either that, or it falls apart and goes horribly wrong, equivalent to cooking a chocolate fondant in the final of Masterchef!


Analyse your personality and where you fit on the scale. Use this to determine the time scale that works for you and consistently work hard to reach your goal. Remember to overcompensate your personality traits to reach the perfect blend of prepared material and improvised mastery.

Have an opinion on this? Leave your comment here

*By prescribed I mean, advise given by others, not medication like beta blockers, sleeping pills or anti depressants. Whilst I’m not against the use of these drugs and if they work for you then great, as a long term solution I do not agree with them and do not use them.


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