The time has come — you’ve spent the last month practicing with the ticking metronome and perfecting every musical phrase in your piece. Your dreams have been filled with the leading melody, and you are probably able to play it in your sleep. The curtain opens, the audience claps politely as you adjust your stand and the pianist gives you a smile. Butterflies begin swarming in your stomach and your throat suddenly feels dry. You swallow and take a deep breath. You are ready.
“Solo” is an Italian word that translates as alone. In music, it refers to the performance of a single musician unaccompanied, and can happen as part of a section in a piece during an orchestral concert or it can be a short piece composed for a particular instrument that is then performed for an audience, often with some kind of piano accompaniment.
Performing one, especially if it is your first time, can be an exhilarating experience. Most musicians can think of no other way that improves individual musicianship better than solo performance, as it requires meticulous preparation and leaves no room to disguise a missed note or messy rhythm (not that that shouldn’t be in ensemble performance either, but mistakes can happen and they are easier to disguise when there’s a boasting trumpet section nearby).
Assuming that you have already practiced your heart out for your solo, here are a few things to consider while in performance:
Breathe – If you’re playing a wind instrument, this is especially true. The more air you take in, the better your tone quality will be, and you’ll magically be in tune as well. Taking deep breaths will also help relax you, making the music you share come out effortlessly and giving your audience a pleasant listening experience.
Confidence – This is key in several aspects of life. Perform like it is YOURS, because it is. You did not spend hours carving those notes into your memory and onto your fingers for it to sound small and timid. You gave it all that time to stir hearts and leave an impression. That solo is a story you are telling, and it is worth it for the whole world to hear it.
Energy – Music is dependent upon you to give it life. If you lazily slur through it, then it’ll come out just like that, a slow gooey mass that repels rather than attracts. However, if you passionately embrace it, it will come out of you just as strong and will force even the most distracted to pause for a moment. Pay attention to the dynamics, give it power where it wants more power, and let it go soft when it wants to go soft.
The finale – This connects to the energy just mentioned. Your piece should finish stronger than when it began. It is basically one large crescendo, but that does not necessarily mean louder. Some pieces, like Rachmaninov’s “Vocalise”, ends with a long, mournful, pitch that pretty much fades away. Despite the receding volume the composer wrote in, the best performers are able to exert even more energy here, giving the ending statement more power than the beginning, to create a lasting impression on their audience. Anyone can do this. It is what separates an okay musician from a great one; it just involves mental focus and core strength.
Audience – Everyone is an audience, even the musical judge who sits there scratching away at a piece of paper while you play or the random strangers passing. Ultimately, they are all looking for music and the effect, release or entertainment it may give them, so give it to them.
Most of all, have fun with your piece. A former band director in high school used to say, “Being good is fun.” This is quite accurate. When you deliver a good performance that satisfies you, your audience will be just as satisfied too, which will translate to an all around good or “fun” experience for everyone.
Solo performance is a rewarding experience for both the performer and the audience. With lots of preparation, and the ideas above to keep in mind, any performance will be beautiful. You may be tired by the end, but if you feel good, then your audience feels good, and you will gain invaluable skills to apply beyond your musical life.