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Author Topic: Five Practical Tips For Music Performance (VCE & VET)  (Read 6038 times)  Share 

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Five Practical Tips For Music Performance (VCE & VET)
« on: February 21, 2019, 11:56:14 pm »

Hello AN! I thought I’d share with everyone 5 practical tips for the practical side of music exams! Seeing that there is (sadly) a lack of music-related resources on this forum, I’ve decided to write one that can be applied for pretty much any music subject that has a practical element. :)

<Disclaimer>    I did the “less glorified” version of VCE music, which was Certificate III in Music Industry: Performance specialisation (i.e. VET Music Performance), in year 10. While I tried my best to make the following tips applicable throughout all forms of practical exams, I cannot guarantee it. Performance-wise, I only have experience with VET and AMEB (which has a very different grading system).

Also, please note that some things may have changed since I did my exam two years ago.

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1. Memorise your pieces
Yuck! I know – the worst part of music performance – having to play your pieces from memory. I can’t be 100% certain about the VCE music exam, however in VET, you are only technically required to know ONE of your pieces by heart. That being said, I would strongly recommend anyone doing music performance to learn your entire repertoire from memory anyway, even if it’s not technically required of you.

There are countless benefits to learning your pieces from memory. Aside from leaving a better impression to your panel of examiners and making yourself seem like a more capable musician, you can also be more expressive (see more below!), demonstrate that you have a solid foundation and know your pieces well.

Also, if you still decide to be safe and play with sheet music in front of you, you’re less likely to make mistakes as you already know the piece by heart anyway.

From personal experience, I’m extremely grateful that I memorised all my pieces for the exam, and if I didn’t I highly doubt I would’ve ended up getting the score I did.

2. Be expressive!
Remember, you are being tested on your PERFORMANCE skills, which means – surprise! – you ARE being marked on how expressive you play. So free up a bit and express yourself! Make good use of facial expressions, body language, movement, phrasing, and articulation. One thing that significantly differs VCE / VET music performance from AMEB exams is that both VCE and VET focus a LOT more on performance and expression, rather than technique and skill (which is NOT to say that technical work isn’t important in VCE and VET! They just aren’t the main focus).

Often, examiners tend to overlook slight technical faults if you demonstrate that you are capable of understanding and expressing the musical and artistic side of the piece. On the other hand, if you have perfect technique but play like a robot, the examiners will be much, much harsher in marking.

Granted, people naturally tend to freeze up a bit (or a lot) when under the pressure of an examination, and as a result becomes significantly more robotic and less expressive in their playing. To combat this, I would suggest to practice being expressive. Normally when practising, people tend to focus on the technical side of things, but if you add artistic expression to your practice sessions, it WILL come much more naturally during the final performance. In fact, if you do this often enough, it becomes muscle memory!

3. Have mock recitals
Going off from the last point – it’s only natural for people to get nervous during a performance, especially when you’re in front of a panel of examiners staring at you over the top of their glasses. So how do you overcome this? Well, it’ll no doubt be incredibly difficult to FULLY overcome this and to NOT feel nervous at all, but frequently putting yourself through mock recitals can definitely lessen the stress during the final exam.

Personal anecdote – I get EXTREMELY bad stage fright when I perform, and when I first had a mock recital, I could barely play the NOTES of the piece, let along playing with emotions. There is no magic solution that could all of a sudden turn that around and let you be full of confidence on stage. You could try things like meditating, deep breaths, etc, but the minute you step in front of your examiners, stage fright WILL kick in. The only way you can possibly lessen this is to expose yourself to similar situations over and over again.

Start off small – for example, invite your family members and a few close friends over and play for them. Then put yourself into larger and slightly more ~intimidating~ settings. Sign up for an open mic or perform at your school assembly. If you want to REALLY put yourself out there, try busking at your local shopping centre or in the city.

With each performance or recital, always try to approach it as if it’s the REAL thing.

4. Try improvising!
There are many reasons why improvisation is a key skill for musicians. In the case of performance exams, they not only demonstrate your abilities on stage as a musician, but it can also play a crucial role in covering up slight hiccups in your performance!

One of the most important (if not THE most important) rule of thumb in a recital is that you NEVER EVER stop in the middle of a piece, even if you made a mistake. Played a wrong note? Keep going. Missed a rest? Keep going. Skipped an entire section? Keep. Going. Chances are, your examiners will NOT even realise you made a mistake, unless you pause and show them that you did!

This is where improvisation comes in, because many times it’s needed in order to cover up a mistake. Another personal anecdote, one of my pieces in my repertoire had a repeat in the second-last bar of the piece. In my exam, I accidentally did the repeat TWICE, and did not notice until I was two bars in to the start of the song again. Of course, I couldn’t just play the entire song all over again, as I would go over time and also that would be too obvious of a mistake. Instead, I improvised around the notes at the start of the song and quickly linked it to the final bar of the piece.

Improvisation is definitely a lot harder for classically-trained musicians, and many simply view it as ‘not worth their time’. However, no matter how hard you practice and how well you memorise your pieces, you can never guarantee a completely flawless recital. Therefore, I definitely recommend anyone doing music performance (especially if you are a classical musician) to play around with improvising.

5. Adopt basic performance etiquette
This is honestly very simple – yet too many people overlook this! Both VCE and VET music performance tests students on exactly what its name suggests – PERFORMANCE! A solid performance can’t go without basic stage etiquette, the biggest thing being bowing before and after your performance – particularly afterwards. You’re likely to be nervous on the day of your performance (actually, you WILL be nervous), and so many people just bolt straight out of the door after they’re done.

As far as I’m aware, you are not marked on simple performance etiquette such as bowing, however it does leave a bad impression if your performance lacks it. It’s also likely that some strict examiners may see your performance as ‘incomplete’ if you don’t adopt stage etiquette.

Keep in mind that it literally takes less than 5 seconds to bow, and it could potentially mean examiners go less harsh on you if you do have a hiccup during your recital.

Ultimately, remember to enjoy this subject! Music performance was by far my favourite subject throughout my journey through VCE, and if you do it out of enjoyment, all those hours of practice and mock recitals WILL pay off! All the best to all music students! :) :)

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