How to Prepare for
Music Competitions and Win

The Ultimate Guide to Music Competitions Preparation

Picture of Rose Park

Rose Park

3/14/21• updated 3/13/24 • 4 min read

How do you prepare for music competitions, performance and recital? What do you bring to the performance site and how do you mentally prepare before you perform?

In this article, I will introduce some of the must-have items that musicians should bring to music competitions, auditions and recitals. Additionally, check out some practical tips that will help you perform better with less anxiety.

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What to Do Before the Competition

Eat well and preserve energy

A live performance requires a tremendous amount of energy and focus. You also need to prepare for an adrenaline rush at climax during performance. The longer the program is, the more energy you need to preserve for those escalated moments and that’s why your body should be physically ready before the performance.

Eat well and keep hydrated. Avoid eating foods that you’re not too familiar with beforehand. Also, try to avoid drinking water too much if you can.

It’s not easy to force yourself eat and sleep well when you know there is a performance coming up. The more you try practicing and preparing for performance, your body and mind will gradually get used to feeling nervous. You can learn more about managing stage-fright on “What’s stage fright? 10 ways to overcome it.”

Sleep well

A good amount of sleep reduces tiredness and gives you strength to go through the performance day. If you have a brief time for a nap or a rest before the performance, try once and see if it works for you.

Tip: Some musicians tend to read notes they wrote in the music and listen to the recording (with metronome) right before the competition day. Try it and find out if it helps you perform better.

Practice as much you can beforehand

Try to practice as much as you can for the competitions and make sure your playing is technically and musically ready. The purpose of music competitions isn’t always necessarily about “winning”, but there is certainly a great value within winning experience.

To make that satisfactory moment happen, it’s essential for any music learners to practice as hard as they can.

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What to Do at the Competition

Bring music score and review notes

This is the first thing to check on your must-bring list. Musicians sometimes forget bringing their music score to the performance site. When you have some time before rehearsing, try spending time on reviewing the musical notes and details you put in the score. This exercise will help you to remember the spots you want to be extra careful and making sure you don’t miss the specific moments you want to highlight.

Bring a handkerchief

Handkerchief is a must-have item for any instruments. Performance anxiety or stage fright make your hands and fingers get sweaty which could disturb your playing. It’s actually allowed to bring a handkerchief onto the stage as long as you don’t forget to put it somewhere else (including inside the pockets) before the performance.

Tip: 100% Cotton handkerchief is the best. Towels don’t absorb sweat well.

Tip: For pianists, take your time swiping away sweat from the keyboard along with adjusting the bench.

Check the tempo on the metronome

Metronome is a device that tells you a tempo of music. It’s particularly helpful when you suddenly don’t remember the tempo of the music before you enter the stage. Knowing the original tempo of the music helps you take control right from the beginning.

Tip: Check the tempo of your music more often especially when you aren’t used to playing or the music is relatively new.

How to prepare for music competitions and win - Music Competition Ultimate Guide
Listen to recordings

If you are a type of music learner who often listens to music (that you will play at the competition), don’t forget to bring the earphones to the competition. Listening to the recording or your recorded music lesson generally help musicians to listen to focus more on the music, rather than anxiety or other negative thoughts.

Use a hand warmer

One of the moments any musicians want to avoid is when their bodies aren’t relaxed due to coldness. It’s especially frustrating for instrumentalists including pianists, violinists and woodwind players since they use hands and fingers for most of time. 

If you can manage to bring extra hand warmer or even a blanket to warm your body and hands, that’d be awesome!

Always bring enough snacks

Bring snacks you’re comfortable with eating such as chocolates, fruits or even smoothie. As mentioned above, musicians will need enough energy ahead of time to keep the performance ongoing. Take a brief snack time to relax your mind and forget about anxiety for a bit.

Tip: Sweets are fine but it may not work for you if you easily experience sugar-rush.

Tip: Drinking coffee before the performance isn’t necessarily a bad thing but careful not to have too much.

Invite family or friends

Try inviting your family or friends! Families and friends will give you immense emotional support that you will need particularly when competing with newer music. If you’re allowed to take a photo or video inside the hall, ask one of them to do it as well.

If the student is on the younger side, it’s very important that the student feels supported by their parents because the whole preparation process is completely new to them. It’s also important that young music learners naturally learn the competition workflow rather than feeling anxious and scared by it in the beginning.

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What to Do After the Competition

Relax and enjoy the achievement

Be proud of what you accomplished! Don’t worry about the result for now and take a few days from regular practice routine. This is a perfect time to rest your body and mind for a fresh start. Spend time with your family and friends and celebrate your achievement!

Tip: If you’re more an advanced student, contact your teacher and let them know how you did at the competition. 

Review your performance

When you resume practicing after the competition, take a moment to go back and read the music you’d performed. You might use the same music for other performance in the future, so it’s always good to review how you played the music and check if you missed anything like the musical details.

Try to remember what you actually did during the performance. Did you miss or ignore any musical details? How did you feel in particular spots in the music? Were you able to keep a regular tempo throughout the piece?

Share the experience with your teacher

After you’ve performed or competed onstage, make sure to share the experience with your teacher. Share your thoughts on how you did and any results that were announced. Your teacher will be there to cheer you on and give tips for even better performances in the future.

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Rose Park

Rose Park is a graduate of the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University where she studied Piano Performance and Arts Administration, receiving both Bachelor's and Master's degrees before co-founding Lesson With You. As a pianist, Rose was a prizewinner in many international piano competitions and performed at various summer programs and festivals across the United States, Italy, and Japan.