My Blogging Experience

April 6, 2010

Why I Think All Students Should Perform

I hosted a piano recital on Easter Sunday in my home town.  One week from today (eek!) I have to complete a graduating recital (in order to graduate), so I took the opportunity on Sunday to prepare myself for the graded recital and give my family and friends a chance to hear me play.

It went pretty well.  I played for an hour and included about 45 minutes of memorized music.  Every time I have a recital, the first thing I am always asked afterwards is how I can possibly memorize all that music.  It is totally possible! In fact, after you pick up on some tricks to memorizing, its not too hard to learn at all.  In our day to day lives, we really only use a small percentage of our brain.  Our brains are completely capable of handling much more.  We just don’t expect that because we never really need to use too much of it!  Have you ever had to memorize a piece of music before, maybe a poem for a class in high school, or a speech for a wedding?  Could you remember it? Was it that hard to learn or was it just hard to perform it memorized?

The toughest challenge is handling my nerves.  Memorization and nerves do not mix well so I have to very carefully prepare myself for performances and during the performance I have to constantly use positive self talk to remind myself that I know the music backwards and forwards and that I can perform well.  The second I start thinking “O crap! whats next, I forget!” or “geez that sucked”, it all goes downhill from there and things that I can play perfect in practice suddenly sound awful, I have strange memory lapses, or worse…I freeze!  The first piece I performed on Sunday needed a little more positive encouragement because I had a few memory slips and messed up on a few spots when I should have been able to nail them, but as I got more comfortable with the stage and my audience, my pieces started to sound more like they should.

Although not necessarily on piano, I think that all students need to gain experience performing from memory (be it on a instrument, giving a speech, acting in a play, talking to a small group, etc).  Performance provides a lot of challenges that will be good exercise for their brains and help them understand how to handle stress and high-pressure situations. Not many people enjoy performance because most do not know how to handle their nerves and they are scared, but stand up to their nerves and perform and they might feel like they are on top of the world when they can succesfully perform something memorized.  This is something all students should do because no matter where they go in life, they are probably going to have to perform at least once and they are always going to find themselves in various situations where they face feelings of anxiety, stress, nervousness, and fear.  Performing and memorizing may be a challenge for them and will definitely require encouragement, but in the end I am sure they will thank their teachers for that experience.



  1. I have memorized a piece of music for my piano recitals. I have not played too much since my elementary years, which was a long time ago but when my youngest was in piano lessons a year ago we did a duet in her Christmas program and even at this age I could use my brain to remember my part. Good luck on your graduating recital! I remember your intro video and how you said that even though deadlines and expectations are so grand– the dedication will pay off. With your hard work, dedication, and determination to complete this– You will!! All the best!

    Comment by shiels3k — April 7, 2010 @ 11:15 am

  2. I agree all students should have the opportunity to perform. I think it is a great tool for them to have to memorize something but also as a confidence builder. I have been a competitive dancer for 19 years so the first time I got up on the stage was when I was three. Hearing the applause after you do something and having people tell you how good you did is a feeling that came be found in any textbook reading. I think confidence is a big part of success and if performing through a sport, art form or doing a speech is how you gain that confidence then I believe everyone should do this!

    Comment by anderebe — April 12, 2010 @ 3:53 pm

  3. I also agree that students should have an opportunity to perform, whether its with music, acting, reading a story they love, a sport and so on. Wherever their interests may lie. I think it is a great way to build confidence and helps to refine the skill that they may be working on. When I was working as a TA in a grade one class the teacher had the students put on a talent show for their parents. Each child was required to do something. It didn’t have to only be music. Some of them showed a skill they were comfortable with in a sport or some said a poem they wrote, one little girl even showed the audience how to make her favorite craft. I thought this was a really great experience for them and they were all so proud of themselves. It was a really great little show. I agree that they will be put on the spot at some point in their lives, why not help them learn to face their nervousness and deal with it while their young. It is an important skill for people to learn.

    Comment by flaman2t — April 17, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  4. This is awesome! I miss being fully involved in music and having to memorize pieces. I teach piano lessons now and have recitals for my students, but I no longer perform myself- unless you call playing in church performing- which I don’t. But my question to you, is how can I try and teach my students how to start performing at a young age? Sure they go up there and play at the recital, but I want them to start learning how to perform; whether that’s just taking a bow at the end of their piece or being animated while playing. Any ideas of what I can do to help them become performers who aren’t afraid of being in front of audiences?

    Comment by Danielle — April 27, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

    • I don’t teach piano right now but I have in the past and have found that my students that are usually 7 or younger have no trouble performing and really enjoy every opportunity they get. Something seems to happen to most kids after that age that makes them shy and tentative to display their talents. Maybe they have a bad experience performing and do not want to do it again or they don’t get the same encouragement from their audience that they used to. It could be a number of things, but I think it is important for us to keep encouraging them to perform and to not make it a “big deal”. Performing really isn’t a life or death situation and sometimes teachers, parents, and the students themselves make it out to be such a huge thing and that is how a lot of kids get nervous. Another problem I have seen in most kids is that they lose all of their confidence when they perform.
      I truly think we need to teach our students how to think positively to help them become better performers. If all they are thinking when they are performing is “o, crap, here comes the tough part, im totally going to mess it up, o crap i did mess it up! this is aweful, I am doing so bad!” (etc, etc…), then they are going to sound just like that. If we can teach them to think more positively “I have worked hard and if I can do this in practice, I can do it in performance. If i miss a note, so what, no one will even notice! I know this song better than anyone else in this room”, they will have a completely different performance. Positive self talk is really tough for most adults to do but kids can pick up on it really quickly so it is great to start talking about this when they are young.

      I would encourage you to talk to your students about nerves and the challenges of performing and work on that in practice. They could perform for you one piece each week and even bow at the end of the performance or you could encourage them to perform for their friends and family. Give them opportunities to play in both critical atmospheres (like music festivals) and “fun” atmospheres (like for family and friends). A lot of times students get discouraged if every time they perform they are being graded, so I think it is essential to have them perform in non-graded atmospheres as well. If I had it my way, I probably would not include grades in music festivals at all! (but i think thats a whole other topic in itself!)

      Don’t focus on the technicalities of the performance (like where to sit, how to bow, what to wear) more than you focus on the mental aspects of performance. A lot of times we forget how complex our mind is and how our body reacts to different situations AND how much practice it takes to get good at the mental part of performance.

      If you are interested in reading more about performance and what our bodies and minds tend to do (and how to change that), here are two great books:

      Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz (this is the newer version, there is also an older one)
      The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green
      The Inner Game of Tennis is also very good. I believe it is the original in the series. (It is more about the mind than it is about tennis).

      I hope these ideas help Danielle! Let me know what you think.

      Comment by debyj — April 27, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

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