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Take the Stage! The Role of Performance in Music Education

Performance anxiety, stage fright, cold feet. Whatever you call it, it’s not just for performers! Whether it’s feeling nervous before a big presentation at work, needing a deep breath before making an important phone call, or feeling apprehensive before a job interview, we spend lots of our time preparing for life’s little “performances,” even if we never actually step foot on a stage.

For musicians, on-stage performances are a regular part of life—music is meant to be shared and experienced, not just practiced in private! Yet for many music students, recitals and concerts are seen as a form of punishment instead of a reward for months of hard work and preparation. Why is this?

Whenever we talk to students about what makes them reluctant to perform, we hear a few of the same concerns: what if I mess up? What if everyone else performs better than me? What if I spent a long time composing a new song, and no one likes it? It doesn’t help that media sources often show performances as a venue only reserved for celebrities, where any mistakes can go viral instantly.

We believe performing should be a celebration and a way for musicians to share their love of music with each other and the world. It’s why we work hard to create an environment where recitals are safe and supportive places to have fun and learn from other students. It’s also why we work with our communities to look for alternate places to perform, from parades to local neighborhood events. The more opportunities a student has to perform, the more natural it will feel. And over time, those feelings of anxiety will be replaced with excitement and joy, making all the practicing and rehearsing well worth the effort.

So how can you support a reluctant performer? Here’s a few things to talk about the next time your music student expresses anxiety about an upcoming performance opportunity:

1. It’s totally normal to mess up. Even successful musicians miss a note or forget the lyrics to a song. There’s no such thing as a “perfect” musician. If you make a mistake, just keep playing or try again. Most of the time, people won’t even notice, and if they do, it’s okay. A mistake is just a chance to try again.

2. Real life isn’t reality TV. The only judge at your performance is yourself. Try your best, and learn from your performance. After a recital, sit down with your student and talk about the positives—what went well? What part was the most fun? Reframe mistakes as learning opportunities, and ask “what would you do differently next time?”

3. Ask your student how they want to celebrate their performance. Concerts and recitals are a wonderful opportunity to build new family traditions that can last a lifetime. Are you a family that goes out to ice cream after a concert? Or do you make sure to make their favorite meal before each recital? Whatever you do, teach your student that sharing their music with others is an act to be celebrated!

4. Lastly, make sure to talk about performances regularly, not just once a year during recital season. Ask students if the music they are learning is something they might like to perform, or brainstorm ways they can rehearse their pieces in a low-stress environment, like an at-home performance for extended family and friends.

While we believe performing is an integral part of any music training, we also know that learning to perform helps students in ways that extend far beyond the music world. Performances encourage goal setting, increase confidence, and teach communication skills that translate into effective public speaking, negotiation, and problem-solving. It’s always our goal to make more than musicians—we want to be part of the process that helps your student grow into someone who can tackle all of life’s little performances, both on and off the stage.

“Music in itself is healing. It’s an explosive expression of humanity. It’s something we are all touched by. No matter what culture we’re from, everyone loves music.”
- Billy Joel
©The Piano Place 2018
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