I have learned that just because a person plays a musical instrument, doesn’t mean he or she jumps at the chance to perform for others. The majority of musicians feel nervous and intimidated to do so. Most of us have those feelings to some degree at one point or another. We may speak of butterflies in our stomachs, feeling as if we are going to throw up or go to the bathroom, or a hundred other equally frustrating physical manifestations that we feel anxious, intimidated, afraid, or feel as though the world is about to end every time we stand up in front of an audience to perform. It is, however, imperative for every musician to learn to perform their music for others. Yes, music is for our own enjoyment, but we can bless the lives of so many who hear us perform what we have worked so hard on mastering.
Though I can’t say I have any life shattering solutions for helping music students, including ourselves, overcome these feelings, I can give a few ideas to help the feelings of anxiety decrease to a certain extent (the rest is up to the student).
Here are some thoughts and ideas to help music students feel comfortable in front of others:
- First, I would recommend playing in front of others all of the time – everywhere, every day, every chance they can whenever they possibly can. The more they do it, the easier it can become. This needs to be expressed by the parents and the music teacher. Continual encouragement can work wonders.
- Have five minutes or so during a music lesson where the teacher sits back and asks the student to stand, face the teacher, and announce what piece they will perform and then pretend it is an actual recital or concert.
- During the music student’s music lesson, ask other students or family members to be the audience and encourage the student to perform in front of everyone.
- Every week, ask the music student to perform their weekly pieces for 5-10 different people at different times and locations (e.g. home, a friend’s home, school, music store, mall, etc.) and have a 3×5 size index card that the listener can fill out, listing one item the student could work on and 3-5 positive remarks or words of encouragement.
- Every month, ask the music student to perform at an event or activity (e.g. home, a friend’s home, school, music store, mall, etc.).
- Encourage the music student to play monthly or better yet, weekly, at the church, youth group activity, school choir, band, orchestra, etc.
- Encourage the music student to begin accompanying others while they perform their instruments or sing (I personally pass off the students’ hymns or songs by singing the words to whatever music they are performing). It is very different to accompany a piece while someone is singing as opposed to simply playing the piano music alone.
- Encourage the music student to play once a month at a nursing home or an assisted living center. The audience is very excited to see music students sharing their talents.
- Encourage the music student to have a monthly or bi-monthly music concert at their home, local library, or music store where they are the entertainment for the evening. It can be a 15 minute concert or an hour long concert depending on how much material the student has prepared.
- Encourage the music student to perform for their peers. When I was in high school, I played at school assemblies, for choir, band, and orchestra events, and I played the piano for my friends all the time – especially for girls! Let your guy piano students know that serenading girls with the piano is a good move!
These are just a few ideas of what you can encourage your students to do. Every little bit will help increase their confidence to perform in front of others. That is essentially what we are hoping to accomplish. If students believe in themselves and their own ability, they will have more confidence in performing what they have practiced and perfected.
Here are a few videos from our “Improv Jam Session” times after our bi-annual concerts (recitals) we have for the piano students in my studio. At the very end of each concert/recital I decided we would have an “Improv Jam Session” where I would randomly call piano students, parents, grandparents, and friends up to perform impromptu numbers in front everyone. It has been a great opportunity to help the students feel more comfortable performing in front of others. You never know what I will do (and neither do I). Sometimes we will compose a piece on the spot or improvise over a ii-V-I jazz chord progression. At other times I have had students arrange “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in a new style on the spot and not do what the previous person has done. It’s a fun way to get students in front of others and let the students know it’s okay to be in front of others and to perform. I hope you enjoy these!
Be happy! Smile all the while and have FUN!