How does your child feel about performing? Is she a “natural” on stage, loving the limelight and attention? Or is she quiet and more reserved? I remember my first recital: I was one of those quiet children, and I remember feeling anxious at the prospect of performing. Over time–and with experience–I learned to cope with the pressure of performing, and I grew to appreciate the real-life skills I took away: poise, confidence and the ability to communicate an idea to a group of people. Were the lessons I learned from recitals valuable? Absolutely!
Confidence in performing is not an inborn trait: it can be taught and learned. When my sons began taking music lessons I hoped that they would enjoy their recitals, and in fact, they did. Like most students, they didn’t play perfectly, but their little stumbles never fazed them and they’d finish each of their performances with a grin.
So what is the trick? How do you raise a child to be a confident performer? These strategies worked for my family:
1. Make sure your child is prepared for his recital. It is natural for most children to be nervous when they are about to perform, but confidence is especially hard to muster when you don’t know your piece. Anticipate the recital weeks in advance. Make a habit of listening in while your child is practicing and praise her when you hear improvement in the execution or interpretation. Touch base with the teacher about your child’s progress and also for any special recital instructions.
2. Provide informal opportunities to perform. It is important to encourage your child to participate whenever there is an invitation to play. Try to instill the idea that music is meant to be shared with others. Playing music when no one else hears it is like carrying on a conversation with yourself! When grandma and grandpa visit, or close friends or other family members drop by, sharing music and applauding can become part of the fun. It doesn’t matter if a piece is polished or only partly learned; encourage your child to develop a habit of sharing her music.
3. Stress expression, not perfection! Yes, the notes are important and accuracy should be a goal. But music doesn’t happen just by pushing the keys or plucking the strings; I praised my own children more for the expression they brought to each piece than for the technical perfection they displayed. Your child will discover that no one hears a few wrong notes when the music is delivered with emotion and feeling.
4. Make the recital a special event. Recitals should be treated more like a party than like a trip to the dentist. Talk about the fun of seeing family and friends in the audience, of hearing what other students will play, of imagining what kind of refreshments will be served afterwards. Many families plan a special meal or trip to the ice cream shop afterwards, providing another celebratory event to look forward to.
5. Dress up! For most recitals, protocol dictates more formal attire. There is good reason for this: dressing up boosts your child’s confidence by making her feel a little more special. A child may feel uneasy and out of place if she is dressed more casually than her fellow performers. Make sure, of course, that she is comfortable in her clothes and that they fit properly.
6. Validate your child’s feelings. It is normal to be nervous! Nervousness is how we know something exciting is about to happen, and it can even help us to do our best. Discuss simple things your child can do to help her focus before her performance, such as pausing for a deep breath before beginning to play, or taking the time to ensure she is positioned properly with her instrument. Assure your child that the more recitals she participates in the more she will relax. Her confidence will grow as she listens to other students play and realizes that everyone has the jitters when they perform.
Another great way to increase confidence is to enroll your child in one of the monthly performance workshops at the Oregon Music Academy!