The following is a guest article written and submitted by Lisa Shoreland:
As a piano teacher, I know I have a few students every year who keep me up at night wondering and worrying about their ability to execute successful performances. As our recital date creeps up on us, I find myself weighing their practice and dedication against the feeling that they just aren’t prepared to perform in a way that would be a positive experience for them. Inevitably, I find myself backstage with at least one student who’s terrified of performing. I listen to the litany of reasons for avoiding the night’s performance, and at the end of it, I have to decide whether the student should play or be allowed to postpone the performance.
No one likes to be in that situation. No matter which choice you make, there are potentially negative consequences that could prevent students from coming back for more lessons. A negative performance experience can seriously affect a student’s motivation to keep learning and practicing.
To help you avoid this painful backstage melodrama, I’ve compiled some strategies that usually work for students who sit on the fence of public performance all year long. I hope you can use them to help every student in your studio arrive prepared for successful performances on recital night.
Choosing Music for Performances
Some students have a tougher time of memorizing music than others. Often, these students turn out to be the ones who feel unprepared for a recital. If you have a small studio and can give each student enough time to perform more than one piece, let each student’s first piece be a solidly memorized old friend that’s been in the repertoire for at least six months. This will build confidence both during practice and during the actual performance, preparing most students to play well on their second pieces. If you can’t allow two pieces for each student, those who risk being unprepared may need to re-perform an old recital piece instead of playing something from the new repertoire. Most people won’t remember that it’s the same piece, and if it gives your student a positive performance experience while preventing a catastrophe, it might be the right decision.
Setting Realistic Performance Goals
Make sure that the date and time of the recital are reasonable and that every student’s success is feasible. Try to avoid rushing the process of memorization and don’t force students to race from a mandatory event or appointment to your studio recital. This is especially difficult for large studios, but it’s important to prevent stress as much as possible so that your students will feel prepared for the big night.
Managing Practice Time Effectively
Teach your students how to practice and write down the process for them in a notebook. For example, I write down a student’s warm-up exercises for the week, then include any velocity or agility exercises before listing repertoire that needs practice. I try to include a time frame for each item, such as 10 minutes, to help students understand how much time needs to be allotted for practice each day. For younger students, having this information written down helps parents stay on top of their children’s practice habits.
Testing Students’ Practice & Preparation
About a month before a recital, try giving your students a test during their usual lessons. When your student arrives, tell him or her to get ready for a practice session, pretending to be at home. This includes any preparation habits like stretching, breathing exercises, or mental focus strategies. Next, have your student complete a practice session – this is the day’s lesson, so if you notice anything that needs to change, point it out and give helpful instruction. It’s well worth the time you might think you’re losing because you have the chance to correct your student’s practice habits, making his or her individual preparation for the recital much more effective.
Exploring Strategies for Dealing with Performance Anxiety
Some students feel unprepared for a performance because of anxiety. Talk to your students about how they feel as you get closer to your recital date. If any students are feeling nervous or excessively anxious, go through some breathing and visualization exercises with them to decrease anxiety. Simply taking a few deep breaths can help release muscle tension that is both a symptom and a cause of stress. It also helps to have your students imagine every aspect of the performance as it goes by perfectly in their minds. This kind of imagery can significantly affect students’ confidence leading up to the recital, giving them a way to access positive thoughts even if they begin to feel anxious on the big night.
Bio: Lisa Shoreland is currently a resident blogger at Go College, where recently she’s been searching for grants and researching no credit check student loans . . In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing, practicing martial arts, and taking weekend trips.