Danielle Rosa is a piano teacher and former faculty member at Hoffman Academy’s Portland location.
Getting nervous about performing is totally normal. As a teacher, I seek to both prepare students and show them how they can enjoy their performances.
I used to own a music school in a building that doubled as a 2300-square-foot performance venue. Our concerts were always epic. We laughed, we cried, we grew closer as a community. In the months leading up to the recital, we completely immersed ourselves in the true meaning of performance: sharing the joy of music. Come concert day, I watched fifty students climb onto that stage brimming with so much self esteem that they had extra to share.
Practice and preparation can get you to the stage, though a big part of being a fearless performer is mindset. Today, I have 3 tips that will guide you and the young pianist in your life to perform with confidence!
Performing is About Connection, Not Perfection
First, let’s identify the problem: Why is performance so nerve-wracking? Part of it, as it turns out, is cultural. As a society, we constantly strive for betterment. We know that working hard, doing well, and accomplishing things is important. However, there is an underlying need that we often overlook: connection. Without the love of our community, family, and friends, life is a lot less meaningful. This deep, emotional connection only becomes available through acceptance, commitment, and willingness to struggle together.
When we prioritize perfectionism over connection, we tend to focus on the negative. Pride in our work turns to shame the moment something goes awry. That shame leads us to isolate ourselves and stop taking risks. The paralyzing message becomes: If I drop a ball, I may experience rejection from the people I need most.
Shift the Paradigm of Performing
So how do we change that toxic mindset?
As a piano teacher, I speak early on and often with parents about the importance of encouraging students to try new things and being willing to make mistakes. Overcoming performance anxiety is only possible if one is willing to take risks, but those risks can be presented as something other than “scary.” In order to do this, as a group piano community, we:
- Prepared by practicing on the stage many weeks in advance.
- Listened to our friends in the spirit of teamwork.
- Removed the pressure, allowing shy students to simply listen in the early rehearsals or only play pieces they felt comfortable with.
- Treated mistakes as totally fine and normal, offering constructive feedback for how to play better next time.
Practicing the performance for weeks in advance made the act feel more natural. As a result of taking the pressure off, “performance” came to mean “sharing.” For more tips on practice performances, check out our post, Recital Prep 101.
Offer Constructive Feedback
Rehearsal is the perfect time to address mistakes and improve performance practices. The trick is to offer constructive, specific feedback that the performer can easily act on. In the article What Great Musicians Know About Giving Constructive Feedback, three common threads exist in the most effective critiques:
- Praise the positive – be specific!
- Focus on how the student can play better, rather than on what they did “wrong”
- Use gentle humor
By following these three guidelines for feedback, you can encourage your performer to be their best and develop a healthy mindset around performance.
Foster Musical Sharing at Home
Even if you don’t have access to a big venue, you can turn your own home into a place to foster musical sharing and connection. We discuss this more in The Joy of Music in the Home and 5 Ways to Create a Musical Home. Initially, creating a musical environment may be met with resistance, a little like putting a cat in a costume. No one wants to feel put on the spot to behave a certain way. Instead, tell your student that you are genuinely excited and proud of them for making music. Express your enjoyment and appreciation of their creativity, and give them a large dose of permission to perform imperfectly.
It’s perfectly okay to make mistakes. After all, performing is giving a gift, and that gift should be received with love and gratitude. Tell them that you know it can be hard to sit and listen to each other, because focusing on someone other than yourself isn’t something we do enough of. Give your family members a chance to share something of themselves while surrounded with love, and watch their confidence blossom.
Remember why we do this. Art is not here to make us hide in the shadows of our shame. The next time you perform, tell yourself: “I give myself and others permission to be an imperfect human so that we may live to the fullest.”
On April 13, 2019, join performers around the world in the World’s Biggest Piano Recital, EVER! Click the link for details – hope to see you there!