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Asian family, mother  and daughter playing Piano,father playing guitar in family band at h

5 Ways to Help your Students Be Confident Performers

Spring recital season is upon us, and we all want to help our students have the best performance possible. Here are 5 things I do in the months leading up to the performance to make sure my students are prepared and confident.

  1. Have them practice performing. This means continuing on if they make mistakes, and taking a bow at the end (if this is part of your recital protocol). I find that students need to practice these skills until they become habitual so muscle memory helps them when they're nervous and are likely to forget.

  2. Have them practice not playing. As inexperienced performers, a student's tendency is to begin playing as soon as they get onstage. Because they don't settle themselves first, they're more likely to rush, make mistakes and forget important expressive elements like dynamics. I have my students practice these performance "settling in" steps in lessons. I've found this 20 seconds or so helps students calm down enough to think more clearly and perform better.

    • Adjust the piano bench, chair or music stand so you're comfortable.

    • Before putting your hands on the piano or your instrument up to your mouth, imagine the first 8 bars of your piece - including a precise tempo.

    • Take one slow deep breath and let it out just before playing.

  3. Try to make them mess up (not). We take great pains to find the quietest space for our performances. Sometimes disruptions are out of our control, though. To help students prepare for the occurrence of unexpected noises while they play, I have them practice performing while I make as much noise as possible. I drop a book, cough loudly, mimic a crying baby, "whisper" loudly, etc. I tell them what I'm doing ahead of time, and students of all ages love this "game" - everyone thinks it's funny and fun - while practicing an important skill.

  4. Have story-time. As teachers, it's difficult to find the balance between starting a performance piece early enough that students can master it in time, without having them get bored before they perform. If you your student's interest and practice wane in the weeks before the recital, have them come up with a story to describe the different sections of the piece. They can come up with characters, a plot, describe a scene - whatever makes sense. This can breath new life into a piece that's become stale, while also boosting both their interest and expressiveness.

  5. Discuss their "music tool bucket". Students who are very anxious about performing benefit from strategic discussions about what they'll do in case of a "performance emergency". You can talk to your student pre-performance about all the skills they've learned that have gone into their "music tool bucket" and how they can help during a practice or a performance. I have them imagine an invisible bucket that's sitting right next to them and that they can imagine reaching into at any time to find a solution to whatever problem their facing. Here are some examples:

    • If you're making a lot of mistakes in a piece you know well.....pull "tempo adjustment" and "anchor note focus" (focusing on key landmark notes) out of your bucket.

    • If you're always messing up the hard section.....remember the "small group" technique - focus on one small group of notes at a time as you work your way through.

    • If you tend to play faster than you mean to.....remember the "time warp" concept: time always feels like it's going by faster when you're on stage. You have more time than you think, play at a tempo that feels a little too slow. It's probably perfect!

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