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Bechstein Firmenschriftzug

Bechstein Firmenschriftzug (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What’s your plan?

Having a plan gives you something besides nerves to focus on. So if nerves tend to get in the way, this post is for you!

The music

  • Once you know the music well, start practicing in a different place each time.  You will become familiar with certain checkpoints throughout the piece.
  • Find the metronome marking for each movement. Write it in your music. Then practice finding the tempos while you’re walking around campus.
  • When “running” the piece, there may be some mistakes. With survival and a good performance in mind, you don’t have to be perfect. What will happen if you make a mistake? NOTHING!
  • Once you know the music, stopping to correct mistakes will not help your performance.  You can return to trouble spots later.

Create obstacles

Since you probably will not be granted practice time in the jury room, you may as well set up a few scenarios that challenge your concentration:

  • Play your pieces for your friends, more than once.
  • Play your pieces in different rooms.
  • Find a fixed-height piano bench and practice with that.
  • Create “bad” lighting. Sometimes the lights will glare, sometimes they will make shadows on the keyboard.
  • Open the windows and play in a breeze.
  • Ask someone to play the trumpet next door to your practice room.

Keep routines in place

Doing things completely differently because of nerves is NOT a good idea.

During the week of your jury, and on the day of:

  • Eat regular meals, even if you don’t feel hungry.
  • Get some sleep (but don’t wait until the night before to start).
  • Exercise (but take the day off on jury day).

The countdown

  • Arrive a little early (10-15 min. early is plenty).
  • Have a sheet of positive feedback you’ve received about your performances with you. Put it at the front of your music folder.
  • Don’t compare yourself to anyone else, even when you are standing next to the door and someone else is performing.
  • Don’t talk your nerves out. You need to focus instead. One way to do that is to read your feedback notes (see above).
  • Use breathing exercises while you’re waiting. That way, you’ll know you’re still alive, and you won’t feel so much like you’re about to pass out when you walk into the room.
  • If you are playing for other people’s juries, rely on what you’ve rehearsed together unless that truly falls apart. Don’t listen to the soloist beforehand! (Just smile and nod.)  Nerves take over that person, too, and the tempo will most likely be way too fast. You can rely on your own instincts.

Anecdotes from juries past

  • One time my jury was held in my teacher’s rather small studio. The 3 piano faculty members were seated where I could see them (couldn’t ignore them, actually). One professor wore a bright red jacket that day. Another crossed his legs and swung his foot, not in time to the music. (I don’t think that was intentional…) My music included a 13-page fugue. A memorable experience, I suppose….
  • Another time, the piano was along a soundproof wall. I had no idea how to adjust to that. In retrospect, one probably shouldn’t try to do anything differently unless experienced with playing in widely varying acoustics.
  • One year, in addition to 18 or 20 juries I had already committed to accompanying, the trumpet professor convinced me to play for his 13 students. I had said “no” several times, but he was desperate. He got a “yes” when he offered to have all his students play either the Haydn or the Hummel Trumpet Concerto. He said, “You’ve played one E-flat scale, you’ve played them all.”

So there I was, running all over campus (the music department was located in several different buildings (6, I think), no 2 of which were together).

The last jury I played that day was for a singer. When I arrived, my brain was no longer operating. I asked for a tempo just before we performed. He gave me a very fast tempo, and I thought nothing of it.

We performed the first piece in that fast tempo. We made it, and were together the entire time.

At the end, his teacher said, “A bit of a zippy tempo, wasn’t it?”

I was so tired by then, I burst into tears and ran out of the room. Another voice teacher followed me out to ask what was wrong.


Now that I am no longer involved with juries, I can calmly say that they are not that big a deal. People make mistakes, faculty members become fatigued, and people say things they may not mean. In any case, you don’t have to take every comment to heart.

Now go to a movie.

Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!


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Review by pianist Robert W. Oliver

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