The art and craft of performance (part one)

6 years ago
Lucy North

Lucy North

Lucy is Content Producer at ABRSM looking after the blog, our online magazine, Libretto, and a range of other written materials and resources. She has a musical background and studied the piano at the Royal Academy of Music. When not writing, commissioning and editing for ABRSM, Lucy enjoys spending time with her two young boys, baking and exploring the Essex countryside.

As part of our London Teachers’ Conference last November, we asked our expert presenters to share their views on the theme of musical performance. Here’s a chance to discover what they said. Hopefully there are ideas here to inspire you as you explore and develop your own approach to this essential element of music making.


Mark Armstrong: trumpeter, composer, arranger and educator

It's really important to enjoy performance. As younger players we take it for granted but it should be cherished as we get older, especially when other roles and responsibilities take up our time. For me, the key thing is to find enough time to practise so I feel comfortable and confident to deal with the expected and unexpected. Also to trust that all the work I did when I was younger still counts. Listen to everyone else before yourself and you will play with empathy and ensemble.

Thinking only of the music

Katy Ambrose: singer and educator

For me, my best performances are those where there is no anxiety associated with accuracy or technicality; the notes, rhythms, words, pronunciation of language, have all been rehearsed over and over and are safely locked in my muscle memory. I don’t feel that I am not thinking about the music. I’m able to think only of the music. A performance always induces some anxiety or nerves, but when these do not threaten to affect accuracy they can make the experience exhilarating for the performer and the audience.

Learning through watching and listening

Miranda Francis: Head of Junior Programmes, Royal College of Music

I was inspired to become a musician by my piano teacher, Sue Harris. She held concerts at the end of every term, so her pupils had the opportunity to learn the 'art of performance' through watching and listening to other young performers in an informal and supportive context. I owe my love of performing, and my confidence in my ability to perform, to her.

Making a commitment

Elizabeth Hayes: pianist and teacher

It's all about commitment, at every stage. First I commit myself to solid preparation, with enough time to allow depth and as little last-minute stress as possible. Then I commit myself to the performance itself, immerse myself in what I'm trying to express, the truth as far as I understand it of what the composer is saying. It seems to be the only way through nerves: letting go of self-consciousness and just 'being' the music.

Six top skills

Rachel Lund: cellist and teacher

Here are my top six skills, on or off stage, for the art of performance.

  • Prepare and plan ahead – always have a goal in your mind.
  • Be flexible and adaptable – don't feel you have to stick to the plan, and allow for creativity.
  • Be human and demonstrate your personality throughout – be yourself!
  • Take risks and learn from experience.
  • Remember to praise yourself and others.
  • Believe in what you do!

In next week’s blog find out what six more musicians and educators have to say about the art and craft of musical performance.



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