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.
Is your child learning an instrument? Is she a music student? The early study of a new instrument can be quite a challenge. Throw together fine motor skills and a new language. The physical limitations can feel shocking. If your child was really excited about playing chances are the sounds she hears in her mind are miles away from the sounds you hear from inside the practice room. She needs your help to travel that road. You can help her become much more than a struggling student. You can help her become a musician.
This is a work in progress. Even Michelangelo said, "I am still learning." We all wake up every morning and try. And along the way we look for inspiration. A musician is taking a long, creative journey. You can't really distinguish between the practice and the art. So how do we support the study while encouraging a creative identity?
For parents and teachers, it's understood that a specific level of commitment is required for progress. There's a fine line between sharing our youngster's enthusiasm and setting expectations. If your child has extended himself by choosing an art then we need to honor that. This creative expression will become part of his identity and will flourish when nurtured. If this is a work in progress how can we offer structure while nudging him toward creative flight?
I was prone to dwell on my parent's negative comments. "When are you going to learn vibrato? All your friends know how," and "your scales sound good on the way up but they're always out of tune on the way down." Artists can be fragile souls. I'm ashamed to admit, I was such a practice ogre that my own son had a heavyhearted request for his 8th birthday present. "Can I please quit guitar?" Ouch.
How can we offer welcome support? Set a dedicated time and place for practice. If you are involved in the practice sessions try to make at least one positive comment first. Get your student involved by offering choices like, "Do you think it would be better if we tried it this way?" Keep it positive. This is about nurturing. Lots of supportive parents can't carry a tune and don't have a musical bone in their body. That's ok. Share music together. All kinds of music. And most of all, remember that true support begins with making sure you believe he's a musician.