Recitals & Events

Students Struggling in Performance

Anna J., Canada

So how do you encourage or console a student who really struggled in performance? He did many things beautifully, but a few errors started to throw him off and it deteriorated rapidly with him visibly upset by the end. I feel for him! He left quickly afterward and I wasn’t able to speak with him, but his lesson is tomorrow. Any wise words to share?

Mark M., New York

If someone had asked this question about a different situation in which someone felt upset like that, I’d say that the best thing to do is to just provide presence and compassion and make space for the upset person to feel their feelings and move through them. That may seem unusual or at least somewhat odd in the context of a relatively short weekly piano lesson, but I’m having trouble thinking of what else would be any better to do. There’s a time for other things like looking at the good and thinking about what to do better next time to be more prepared, etc. I suspect that time is later.

Leeanne I., Australia

I always do a debrief in the lesson immediately after a performance. I just ask the students how they think they went. If he doesn’t want to talk about it yet, try again at the next lesson. All you can do as a teacher is offer your tips based on your experience. The more you perform in public, the more used to it you get. Sounds like his nerves got the better of him.

Amy L., California

I also debrief in the first lesson after a performance. I ask what they particularly liked and if there’s anything they wish had been different. I love what Mark said above. If you Google “famous failures” images, you’ll find some great posters.

Hannah H., Canada

Praise him for being so professional. Despite his struggle, he finished with grace. That’s difficult, even for adult professional musicians. Wow!

Heidi M., Canada

I agree with all of the above statements and also I may point out that the mistake(s) were just one tiny part of the song, and that everything else in the song was done correctly! that can change perspective.

Laurie Richards, Nebraska

I recommend Gordon Harvey’s program Playing in the Moment in the Supplemental section of the store. This is the subject matter of that program.

Un Mani, Australia

I used Gordon’s program at a piano party in the weekend. The set up conversations before parties are immense including preparing for slips etc. It’s all there in the program.

Gordon Harvey, Australia

A simple consolation would be to point out that if he gets nervous, he’s in the company of other great musicians like Chopin, Callas, Caruso, Casals, Pavarotti, Horowitz, Rubenstein, Rachmaninoff and Streisand! To scare is human, and he will probably never completely overcome nerves, just like almost everybody else.
In fact, I would say it’s a mistake to try to overcome nerves, but instead, find a way to channel the nerves into something positive. That’s something he should take on as a long-term project like everything else in his musical development. It would be a great thing for the whole class to work on. You could have a ‘pre-brief’ along the lines of having each student, before they play, face the audience and tell them how they are feeling about it. Get them used to knowing that however they feel is okay.
A helpful principle to keep in mind ongoingly is to focus on the music rather than yourself. At home, observe what you’re thinking as you practice. If you’re not thinking about the music, gently bring your mind back.
A final tip: before you play, take a moment to collect yourself – make sure you’re comfortable, take a breath, and play the first few notes of the piece in your mind’s ear. That can help direct the energy back to the task.

Original discussion started February 25, 2018