I absolutely love this time of the year. It’s light in the mornings going to work, the days begin to stretch longer and we get glimpses of sunlight to cheer us on through the grey and rainy days.

It’s also exam season for my violin and piano students and although it’s full of nerves and frantic last minute practicing, it’s the time when they get to see all their hard work pay off and their pieces come together.

So, in the midst of all the exam madness, here are my top tips for exam preparation and controlling those dreaded nerves!

  1. Perform for family and friends

Last May I completed a 45 minute piano recital as part of my Masters degree in music and although I loved the months of preparation that went into it, I dreaded the day for most of the year. I normally get extremely nervous performing, in fact I’ve had some pretty woeful performances in the past all as a result of my nerves, so I knew I had to get a hold on them or risk feeling humiliated and like I’d completely let myself down on the day.

I started small, forcing myself to play to my Mum or a friend or my husband in the house. Anytime someone stopped by for a coffee I made them sit and listen to a piece. Then I organised two larger recitals in front of my close family and friends. Closer to the day I asked a few of my course supervisors to come and critique the performance.

Playing in front of an audience is very very different to practicing in private and the more time we spend playing for an audience the more comfortable we get with their presence. Initially it can be very distracting but I found after a couple the first run through of all my pieces I didn’t even notice them anymore. Build your confidence in a safe and supportive environment and learn to be comfortable with a listening audience.

  1. Breathe

As ridiculous as this sounds breathing was one of the most important things that I did coming up to and during my actual recital. A common symptom of nerves is the quickening of our breathing, which speeds up our heart rate. The best way to calm down is to get our breathing under control forcing our heart rate back down to normal. Practice breathing in through your nose slowly and breathing out through the mouth. Focus and count your breaths until you feel calm and in control again. This helped me so much before I began to play and throughout my pieces. I had a few hairy moments in one of my pieees last May and to help me regain my control and composure I took a few big deep breathes. It really works!!

  1. Focus and don’t be distracted by mistakes

We all make mistakes!! Everyone! Its just a normal part of performing live and to be honest nobody really minds hearing the odd slip in a recital – especially not if the overall piece is played with passion and musicality. I’ve repeated this little snippet of advice to ALL of my exam students – treat it (the mistake) like an ex-boyfriend and move on!! Our job as a performer is to grab the attention of our audience and to move them as we express and communicate the music. Yes, we aim to achieve technical precision too but missing a note will not ruin a performance if we are engaging and expressive.

Do not let mistakes distract you from the rest of your performance. So often we continue to think about them after they’ve happened, we lose our concentration and the rest of the piece begins to tumble. If a mistake happens let it go, breathe and regain your control for the remainder of the piece. Odds are… nobody will have noticed anyway!!

Finally, smile and enjoy yourself! You have worked incredibly hard to get to this point and you deserve the listening ear of the examiner or each audience member. They will be proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself!

All the best to all those sitting performance exams over the next few weeks!!

Lauren x