5 Surefire Ways to Ease Your Students’ StageFright

Val Blaha

Jul 3, 2017

Have you witnessed the look of fear on the face of a student who has just realized that they’ll have to perform in front of an audience?

One very important aspect of our work as music instructors is to help our students overcome their fears about performing. I personally think that the best way to do that is to teach your students what to expect in a performance situation, and how to be well prepared.

I hold one or two recitals a year for my students. I also encourage them to perform in talent shows, open mics, and other opportunities that may come their way. I don’t require my adult students to perform (although I help them if that is one of their personal goals), so I’ll focus here more on several things that teachers can do to help their younger students have an excellent recital experience.

1. The Fear Factor: Reassurance Is Key

One of the first things I do when I talk about an upcoming recital with a student is to make them a promise. I always tell them that I won’t let them perform if they are not ready. Not that I won’t “make” them perform, but that I won’t “let” them.

This does two things. First, it helps the student to realize that performing is a reward for working hard. If they don’t do the work, they won’t perform. Second, and more importantly, it reassures them that I will be looking out for them, and will help them prepare so that they are ready when the time comes.

2. Let Students Choose the Music

Your student performer is going spend a lot of time with their recital songs, so I strongly believe that they should be the one to choose the songs, and that they should be songs that they enjoy. I’ll usually provide some guidelines, such as that it should be something that an audience would enjoy (which precludes scales, for example). I’ll also veto a choice if the student learned it too long ago, or if I feel that they won’t have time to prepare the song adequately, but otherwise, I let the students choose.

3. Mandatory Memorization

I’ve already written about memorization in music - and how to set your students a simple memorization challenge. I can’t stress enough how important this skill is, especially for solo performers.

I’ve been to student recitals where teachers have let poorly-prepared students perform… it’s often painful to witness and I imagine it’s not a very enjoyable experience for the student. Although memorizing can be scary (having sheet music onstage is like having a very comforting security blanket!), it also ensures that the student really knows the music and will almost always turn in a much better performance.

4. Use Their Lessons as Dress Rehearsals

Give your students as much practice as possible in performing before the actual recital. I use about 5–10 minutes of the last couple of lessons before a recital to have the student play their songs.

I’ll walk the student through what to expect (where they’ll be sitting, how to bow, and even why they should bow). Next, I’ll call them up to perform, and afterwards I clap and encourage them to take a bow. We’ll then discuss what was successful, and what might still need work. I also encourage them to perform for family and friends at home at least a couple of times.

5. Wrangle the Butterflies at the Recital

I always encourage students to show up early for their performance. For students with their own instruments (guitars, etc.), I make sure they’re tuned, and that they know where to put their instrument on stage, as well as what to do with the instrument after their performance.

For piano students, I have each one come up on stage before the performance to run through their songs one time to get a feel for the piano. Sometimes, students are nervous to do this, especially if parents or other students are already sitting in the audience. For younger students, I’ll often stand right by them, blocking their view of the audience so they can just focus on playing through their song.

Performing in student recitals provides many benefits to students, from building confidence and poise, to reigniting interest in studying music. However, for those benefits to occur, the recital needs to be a positive experience.

By utilizing the suggestions above, you should be able to ensure — as much as possible — that each student’s recital performance is successful, fun and rewarding!

Val Blaha is a music instructor, multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter based in McMinnville, Oregon. She performs solo and with her duo Luminous Heart.

Val has been teaching since 2001, and loves helping people follow their dreams of learning to play an instrument.

Discover more about Val at valblaha.com.

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