Whether your student is taking private lessons or learning with a whole classroom of students, chances are they've played many times for a teacher. The others who have heard them play might be fellow students, parents and siblings. Most often students find themselves in their bedrooms playing for an audience of tongue-tied dolls while the family dog races for the nearest exit. (This is based on personal experience--one of my dogs used to rub her ears and howl when I played! Not so supportive; definitely hilarious.)
In the course of learning an instrument students will be presented with various opportunities for performance. Last weekend a few of my private students participated in our school district's solo contest. These violinists and violists prepared solo pieces to perform in front of a judge for oral and written critique. Judge? Critique? Whoo boy--a silent teddy bear is starting to look a whole lot better! At least you're guaranteed a hug.
Whether it's the familiar setting of a studio recital or the institutional feel of an adjudicated festival, students need additional preparation. Once a student has spent time learning a piece we talk about the nuts and bolts of performance. For my youngest students bowing politely is one of their first lessons. We work on ignoring distractions by playing focus games. Older students practice starting their piece with a few silent measures of introduction before the bow even touches a string. This kind of preparation teaches performance etiquette, concentration and how to play your best from the very first note.
In spite of all the preparation no one can predict the outcome. We can plan and prepare but a live performance is…well, it's live. And that means it's subject to any and every variable. What happens when the piece is over? How can we support young, tender feelings? That's where emotional preparation comes into play. That can start during lessons, in the classroom and at home. In Suzuki training we were taught to always start with a positive compliment. After that you can move on to suggestions and ideas for improvement. Parents can also offer support with this method.
It's never too early to start performing. Practicing performance skills with your students and children will help them grow as musicians. Encourage your students to perform often in familiar settings. Beginning students can arrange weekly family concerts. Students in group classes can play individually or in small groups for the rest of the class. As a teacher, it's my job to make sure students are prepared before they take the stage. As a mentor, I can assure them that performance isn't the goal; it is just one step on a journey.