Alison’s Performance Tips

This is a work in progress, I’ll add things as they come up…

Band Layout

  • Some venues make this more difficult than others, but do your best to turn in, towards the middle of the band so that you can see each other.
  • The ideal layout would be a semicircle, just like in rehearsals (and just like an orchestra). There’s a reason for this – you’re all playing acoustically so pointing at each other is the best way to make sure you hear each other!
  • If the venue forces you to sit in more of a straight line, you can still turn your chairs to, say, a 45 degree angle, all pointing into the middle where I’d normally be conducting! Then you can see both audience and band.
  • Don’t worry about the audience being able to hear you, the sound will still carry to them even if you’re not facing them directly – the rest of the band needs to hear you the clearest (especially over the top of their own playing).
  • In pieces with singing, it’s a good idea to rehearse with them facing away from you – as they will be during a performance. Then the band will know what to expect, i.e. you might not hear them too well!

If you are the person counting in… – added 4 December 2022

  • Take a moment to think about it first – how does the tune go? how fast should it be? how many beats are you going to count in? Don’t start in a panic – a few seconds’ silence is actually a good thing before any piece of music starts.
  • Use the tone and energy of your voice to make it obvious when you’re expecting the music to start. A quiet ‘one two’ probably won’t work, because people will assume you’re going to keep going to four, but a ‘one TWO!’ will. Likewise, ‘one two three four’ is not as good as ‘one two three FOUR!’
  • I usually opt for a steady ‘one two three FOUR!’ for pieces with 2 or 4 beats in a bar, but it depends on the piece. This is particularly good for jigs (6/8 tunes).
  • If the piece is in 2 or 4, and it’s quite fast and lively, then ‘one two three FOUR!’ is ok, but a ‘one….two….one two three FOUR!’ can also be a good option.
  • Counting in with four beats is usually better than counting in only two, because it gives people more time to get used to the speed before they start playing.
  • If there’s an upbeat, you might only need to count in ‘one two THREE!’ (then play on four)
  • A waltz might be ‘one two three one two THREE!’ or if it has an upbeat then ‘one two three one TWO!’
  • As long as you’re very clear, people should follow you.
  • You could practise counting yourself in when you’re practising at home…

Playing Background Music

  • People don’t often applaud background music – BUT that doesn’t mean they’re not listening, or that they’re not enjoying it! It’s just how background music works – the music will drift in and out of people’s consciousness while they talk and eat/drink, and they may not immediately notice the end of a set in time to applaud.
  • So, don’t be put off by the ‘awkward’ silence at the end of a set. It’s not awkward – it’s a palate-cleanser, a moment to absorb the piece you’ve just played, and to start thinking about the piece coming next (with a new key signature, time signature, speed, etc).

Playing Outdoors

  • Don’t worry about how quiet the band might sound to you (especially outdoors) – it might seem like no one can hear you in the audience, but from the stage you can’t be sure what it sounds like ‘out front’ (and this isn’t something you can change anyway). I know it’s unnerving, but just assume that they can in fact hear every note, and play with your usual confidence!
  • TAKE CLOTHES PEGS!!! At least 2 per person. I also use masking tape to tape my music folder to the music stand (then peg the individual pages).


It’s hard to do when you’re concentrating and looking at your music, so how about a smile when:

  • You get to a really good bit of the music!
  • The hard part of the piece is over
  • The hard part is over AND it went well!
  • You (or the person next to you) plays a particularly beautiful bum note
  • You reach a particularly easy bit (phew!)
  • A Newark Park peacock upstages you all by strutting in front of the band
  • You have a few bars rest and fancy a little face stretch
  • You happen to look up and catch a band member or audience member’s eye
  • You remember that there might be some cake for you when you finish playing