How to Make Performance Better than Practice

Do you find that you can sing well in practice, but when you get on stage, you blow it?  You can’t hit a high note except in falsetto, or your mind goes completely blank, or your throat is so tight you can barely sing?

I was a nationally competitive waterskier for many years, and found the same thing:  when I first started “performing” in tournaments at about age 16, there was a big difference between what I could do in practice and what I could do under pressure at a tournament.  But eventually, I figured out how to make my tournament performances as good as, or even better than, practice.

I’m not going to lie to you, though:  it does take some time.  When you are first getting on stage, you should expect your stage performance to be less perfect than your practices at home.  Eventually, you can expect your stage performance to sometimes be better than your best practice.  Not always… but sometimes.

What can be different between practice and performance?

Performance has these advantages over practice:  Adrenalin, inspiration, the thrill of the moment, energy exchange with the audience, perhaps a bigger sound system, probably a bigger stage, perhaps a live band.  These are reasons you might sing better on stage than in practice.  

Practice has these advantages over performance:  Notes to refer to, better light, less noisy, easier to hear yourself, more privacy, easier to think, multiple attempts to get things right, no nervousness, no one watching you.  These are reasons you might sing better during practice than on the stage.

How can I bring my stage performance up to a higher level?

First:  If you’re new to the stage, just get out as much as possible and get used to singing in public.  While you’re doing this, stay within your technical “safe zone”.  Don’t sing your hardest song, don’t set your expectations really high.  Just pick songs you know you can do well all the way through, every time, and perform those.

Once you’ve gotten a few performances under your belt, you can start challenging yourself with some harder songs, or by starting to do some ad libbing or improvisation.  Keep it manageable, though.

While practicing, use visualization to imagine that you are actually on stage, rather than in your bedroom or basement or studio.  Use as many of your senses as you can.  This will train your brain to perform in a stage environment.

Once you’ve gained confidence that you can perform easy and medium-easy songs reliably, then you can then start “walking on the edge,” looking for your performances to be better than practice.  This is when you can start aiming for those extra-high notes, finding more intense stage presence and audience connection, taking chances, or doing more ad libbing or improvisation.  This is where you’ll harness the energy of the moment and really feel alive.  To me, these fleeting moments feel like walking on a tightrope.  You’re walking without a net, but confident you’re not going to fall.  And these moments are the ones I live for.


For more help finding this place, check out the Zen of the Stage: Performing in the Zone, available as a 2-DVD set or as individual lesson downloads.


(c) 2011 Adrienne Osborn

Adrienne Osborn is a vocalist and performance coach based in Colorado.   For more free articles and tips, visit