When I was an undergraduate, I remember being terrified before all my solo recitals. I'd be sick to my stomach for days before hand. All too often, I'd end up disappointed in my performance. I was so frustrated--I knew if I could only get control of my stage fright, I'd play so much better. Lucky for me, a good friend lent me Barry Green's excellent book, The Inner Game of Music, and it helped me get my nerves under control. Now, as a music teacher, I have a different challenge--I have to prepare my students to perform, and many of them are just as nervous as I was! What can I do as a teacher to help my students have a successful recital?
First and foremost: preparation, preparation, preparation. I start preparing students for recitals or auditions as early as possible, so that they have their music thoroughly mastered by the time the performance rolls around. Ideally, they know their music so well that I only have them play it once or twice in their lesson before the show. But preparation means more that simply learning notes--it also means that students have performed their pieces regularly in front of other people. After all, no matter how well you know a piece in the practice room, once you're in front of an audience, things can change.
At the music school where I teach, students have a "Ready, Set, Show!" Sheet they have to complete before they play in a recital. The sheet is very simple: it has the student's piece listed and blanks for signatures. Students must perform their piece, by memory, in front of four different people on four different days, and have each person sign the sheet and give them a score. In order to recreate the recital experience, we also ask that students practice announcing themselves and bowing at the end of their performance. I've found these sheets have really helped students practice for recitals. It's a great way to involve their parents and other family members as well, since I encourage students to perform for their families. Since we've started using the "Ready, Set, Show!" sheet, I've noticed that participation in recitals is way up, and student performances have improved.
I've also found that many of Green's techniques are as helpful for my students as they were for me. Instead of telling students "Don't be nervous," I let them know that being nervous is normal and perfectly okay. Instead of wasting mental energy trying not to be scared, I tell them to accept their feelings but focus past them, on the way the music sounds or the instrument feels. After all, nervous energy can actually enhance a performance if it's channeled the right way.
Recitals are a great way to motivate and inspire music students. With effective preparation and support, any student can have successful performance. And watching students perform to the best of their ability is one of the most satisfying parts of music teaching.