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5 Tips For Solo Contests

Whilst playing in brass bands does provide a player with loads of skills, solo competitions allow players to solely focus on their individual playing performance. Through entering solo competitions players have the opportunity to:


Like many other players who have taken part in these competitons, I’ve managed to pick up some tips and advice through my own experience and through teachers and players I’ve talked to over the years.

So here are my top five tips for solo contests…



The more you know your piece, the less you need to rely on your music, which is important for a lot of reasons, namely:

  1. You can look at the audience without fear of losing your place in the music, which makes for a far more engaging and professional performance.

  2. You’re more able to focus on the finer details like, the shape of your phrasing, dynamic or articulation adjustment for the acoustic, use of vibrato and the relationship between the solo line and accompaniment.

  3. If the worst happens such as you music falls off the stand or you make a mistake or there is a distraction from the audience, being confident with your part can help your recovery.

  4. It can help with performance anxiety because you’re not walking on stage worrying about the music, because you know it.


When it comes to picking your piece(s), my advice would be:

  1. Choose something that tests you, but is achievable in a realistic period of time.

  2. Show off your strengths, such as melodic playing, high register, lip flexibility etc.

  3. Most importntly- choose something you actually WANT to play. Listening to solo albums from top players can be really inspiring when picking pieces or ask your teacher or other players for advice.



Being hydrated and well-rested are massively important before any performance. I suffer from performance anxiety and this advice, really helped me to cope with it on stage.

  1. When you’re well rested and hydrated, it can be easier to concentrate. A counsellor told me that, apparently, if you’re dehydrated or tired, you’re more likely to feel anxious, nervous or distracted as your body’s needs aren’t being met therefore it can’t run to it’s full capacity.

  2. At 18 I was advised by my cornet teacher to start drinking two litres of water per day for two weeks before the competition as it lessens the chances of you having a dry mouth if you’re nervous on stage- brass player’s nightmare! I’d really recommend this, it was one of the best pieces of playing advice I ever received.

  3. Take plenty of water with you, you may be waiting for a while to perform.

  4. Don’t be tempted to stay up late rehearsing, you’re going to achieve very little except having to yawn in the middle of your performance on stage.

  5. Have a glass of water, make sure your instrument, music, accompaniment part, adjudicator’s copy and anything else you need is sorted for the morning, then go to bed!



Accompanists are the unsung heroes of solo contests. They have to either learn or sightread(!) a multitude of pieces, as well as remember any changes or directions from the competitor. Be nice to them!

  1. Have your accompanist’s part taped together so they/the page turner are not juggling umpteen pieces of paper- playing the piano is hard enough as it is!

  2. If you’re allowed time to run through your piece with the accompanist at the competition, your time is usually limited so PRIORITISE. Focus on practising any Accel., Rit, or Rall., practising any cuts or tricky transitions and ensuring they are aware of the tempos you have practised.

  3. If there is no practise time (unlucky!), a quick rundown of tempos and any cuts or changes is important to make sure you’re both (literally) on the same page.

  4. Always thank your accompanist.



Yes it’s a competition and we all love to win, but the most important thing is to go and enjoy the day. If you win, fabulous! If you don’t there’s always something to learn. Watch and learn from other performances. Talk to other players, find out the bands they play for or what they’ve chosen to play- talking to people is far better than sitting on your own building up anxiety.

Smile at your audience, remember to take a bow at the end and enjoy your deserved applause.

If there is one piece of advice you take to heart from this post, let it be this:

When you are on that stage, you are not playing for the adjudicator, you are not playing for the audience, you are playing for yourself. There have been times where I’ve competed and received a bad score when I expected a trophy and there have been times when I thought I’d be last and I ended up winning- results aren’t everything. It’s all about enjoying the playing at the end of the day, and gaining experience that’s what’s important.

As long as you play your best, learn from experience and enjoy every minute, you can’t go far wrong!


What are your tips for solo competitions?

Let me know in the comments!



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