Music Teacher's Helper Blog

By Robin Steinweg

Recital Reception cookies, yum!

Recital Reception cookies, yum!

Jitters, butterflies, loss of sleep—and at the worst, a sick tummy or stage fright. Brrr. Must our students experience these before every recital?

While I believe they should know how to play under the increased pressure of a formal performance, sometimes I’d like a relaxed recital.

Here are some ways I lowered the level of anxiety this spring—for myself and for my students:

Start Early

*6 months ahead—secure the location.

*2-4 months—students choose songs (pending my approval). This gives them a sense of ownership.

*2 monthsget volunteers to help serve food and to video the recital—a wonderful stress-reducer for me.

*1 month—plan reception food, beverages, décor, and make lists of what I’ll need to bring (sound equipment, instruments, stands, programs…).

*1 month—memorize their pieces (but still bring their music just in case).

*1 month—send out reminders about date, time, location, volunteers, and ask each family to bring a dozen of something for the reception—helped me so much!

*3 weeks—students dictate 2-4 sentences about themselves. I type an introduction for each of them. This was a great tension-diffuser at the recital, since the intros often got people laughing (one student likes to wear pajamas to lessons, another likes her brothers to bug her when she practices because it trains her to concentrate in spite of distraction…) J

*3 weeks—decide the order (consider age, level, variety).

*3 weeks—distribute introductions to the students—each one will introduce the next. Have them practice reading these aloud. Tell them to bring them to the recital, but not to stress out if they lose them, since I’ll bring a master copy. This was an effective way to deflect attention onto others instead of themselves. Less tension!

*3 weeks—invite families and suggest they invite friends and relatives.

*2 weeks—focus on expression. Students should practice hands separately and together slowly, to ensure songs are played consciously—not by muscle memory (which can vaporize if anything unexpected occurs).

*2 weeks—students rehearse logistics (sit in order of performance, get to the instrument quickly, introduce the next student…). A big stress-reducer. 

*2 weeks—explain recital etiquette—set the example for adults and visitors. No talking, whispering, giggling or wiggling. No cell phones or other noisy electronics.

*2 weeks—send ideas for snacks. This time I was made aware of people with potentially life-threatening nut allergies, so I needed to alert my families and make suggestions.

*2 weeks—do my recital/reception inventory and shopping.

*1 week—let families know what to expect when they arrive. Ask a couple of students to greet people and hand out recital programs. Visitors felt welcome!

*Recital Day—set up food and recital room early.

**What may have helped most to promote a Relaxed Recital: I had a graduating senior, in lessons with me for nine years. He’s played in coffee houses and for weddings. He entertained for nearly fifteen minutes before-hand. I let everyone know about this so they were prepared to come and listen. Students had little time to be nervous about their own performances, focusing instead on the cool guy playing and singing!

The reception was a hit, and families stayed to visit. Students complimented one another and had a blast. They seemed much more relaxed for this recital. Win!

Have you ever held a relaxed recital? What did you do to help your students have less stress?

Getting a good management program to help me run my business also helped a lot, as the students and parents can log in as well.

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We all have felt it before a performance: the jitters, the knocking knees, the slight panic that sets in prior to walking out on stage. Whether with a group or solo, musicians feel nervous before performances to varying degrees, and this is especially true of students. As instructors, directors, and teachers know all too well, some students can pull it together and appear calm, cool, and collected – even at an early age. Others, however, are just the opposite and start sweating, pacing, panicking, and can even experience heart palpitations and shortness of breath because of pre-performance anxiety.

As teachers and mentors, it is our obligation to help students calm down and regain their composure before a performance. Encouraging effective coping mechanisms can make a world of difference not just in how they feel pre-performance, but also during the performance and long afterwards, too. Following are some of the best tips we can use to help students ease anxiety before performances at any age:

The importance of practice

1. You know the importance of practice, but does your student? Seriously, think about it for a minute. Teachers tell students that practicing is important, but do your students realize that with practice, not only will they become better players, but they will also become better musicians and face much less stress before performances? Have you told them that the more they practice, the better they’ll be able to recover if they make a mistake, and the fewer jitters they’ll have beforehand? If they practice enough to almost play it in their sleep, students will feel more confident and less nervous. Encourage students to run through their pieces a few times each day before a performance.

Arrive early

2. Encourage your students to arrive early to the venue whenever there is a performance. The last thing a performer needs is to take on additional stress from running behind schedule on performance day. When your student has time to prepare and can take his or her time tuning and warming up, frazzled nerves will be calmed and jitters can more easily be soothed. Having to rush can cause undue stress on top of a lot of stress that is already present.

Visualization techniques

3. Many teachers find that teaching their students visualization techniques, which have been proven to help with performance anxiety in many ways, is one of the best ways to help with performance nerves. Professional performers use these techniques in a variety of applications, from public speakers to athletes to musicians. This is a type of meditation that has students visualizing his or her perfect performance. The more details that the student can include in the visualization, the better. They should visualize their breaths, the notes they will play, the audience, and their fingers moving. They can consider visualization as mental rehearsal, which over time can improve performances because the brain won’t tell the difference between the visualization and the real thing.

The importance of breathing

4. Breathing techniques involve controlled breathing that is a natural, effective way to reduce stress and anxiety. Students can sit in a comfortable position, whatever they may choose. With their chin pointed down as close to the chest as possible, they should close their eyes and inhale to a count of five, then exhale for five. Then, the chin movement should be repeated but this time, the count both times should be extended to 10. Many students find it helpful if they also visualize something positive, like the audience giving them a standing ovation or a peaceful waterfall.

Anxiety? get help.

5. Some students may continue to struggle with anxiety on performance day despite trying these techniques. If your student continues to suffer from a level of anxiety that is strong enough to consider further intervention, it may be best to instruct him or her to talk to their doctor. He or she might be able to begin taking a natural supplement, over-the-counter medication, or prescription drug to help, although the risk of side effects from medications may pose additional issues.

Your students will be able to overcome their jittery nerves before performances with your guidance, encouragement, and instruction. Mental rehearsals, controlled breathing, making good time, and conscientious preparation are all healthy ways for the student to cope and if all else fails, his or her doctor may be able to assist further; your student will be able to cope with various levels of stress in a variety of settings and circumstances, with your help.

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