A Runner’s Guide to Musical Performance
Written by Sarah Haughton
I’m in the process of training for a half-marathon. During the final days leading up to the race, part of my training includes what I like to call “race simulation”. Simulation allows you to practice enduring fatigue, maintaining form, and regulating your body chemistry. All of these elements find their equivalents in performance preparation. The goal in race and performance simulation is not to run a perfect race or play a spotless performance, but to find out how your body reacts when placed under stress. The key is to practice a wide range of stress-inducing situations. Here are a few you should practice in the week leading up to recital day.
Long Runs and Run-throughs
Long runs are beneficial for runners in that they simulate running the distance of a race. This requires endurance of body and mind as you battle physical exhaustion and mental fatigue. Run-throughs are the musician’s equivalent: they force you to continue even when you may not have played every passage perfectly. When practicing run-throughs, you are not allowed to start over or repeat any passage. The goal is to make it to the end no matter what.
Fast Runs and Tempo ‘Sprints’
Fast runs are usually short and, as the name suggests, very fast. The goal is to push your speed past your goal, making the actual race feel slow and easy. In preparation for your performance, choose short segments of music that feel fast and practice those about ten beats per minute faster than your performance tempo. You can even push yourself faster if you are feeling confident and under control.
Recovery Runs and Phrasing
Recovery runs are vital to a runner’s ability to maintain the physical stamina needed before a tough race. The goal is not to force the muscles to go any faster or longer than they feel comfortable. These runs have the effect of massaging the muscles. They are neither short, nor excessively long. Similarly, musicians may find it helpful to practice complete musical phrases with an emphasis on tension and release. This allows the body to rest after each phrase and restart with renewed energy.
Change your Route
A runner that always runs the same route is destined to encounter trouble on race day. No terrain is similar and believe it or not, hills are not always situated in the same place. Likewise, a performer that is only ever used to performing in one place (with one acoustic or on one kind of piano), is setting themselves up for a challenging debut. An experienced performer takes the time to acclimate themselves to a variety of spaces and venues, even those that are less than ideal. If possible, go to your performance location and run through your pieces. Find a cramped and uncomfortable space in which to play and make your goal to get all the way through your pieces without stopping, no matter how disastrous.