Awards in Excellence
I found this article very helpful so I thought I would share it with you. It was written by Megan, piano teacher and author of Pianissimo: A Very Piano Blog.
It’s the time of the year when many piano students are preparing for piano recitals and competitions. There is a lot to think about in these preparatory stages between learning the music and preparing for the actual performance.
Performing stirs up all kinds of emotions: nervousness, excitement, fear, anxiety, uncertainty.
Some kids aren’t phased by the thought of performing, while others are terrified. And, many fall somewhere in between.
There are a number of things that parents and teachers can do to help kids become confident, successful performers. Try out some of these tips to set your piano students up for success!
Start Preparing Earlier Than You Think You Need To
When preparing music, you can almost count on a setback in the calendar, especially in the late winter and early spring months as performance season approaches. Students may miss a lesson or two due to sickness, travel, school conflicts or weather. While teachers may think there is plenty of time to prepare, a couple of missed lessons can really make a student lose momentum. Even if you think a student has plenty of time to learn a performance piece, it’s always wise to have a backup plan.
Select Music That Is Level Appropriate
Some kids are really invigorated by taking on a challenge and learning something difficult to perform. That tends to be the exception, though. It’s a safer option to level down just a little so that a student can really master a piece that doesn’t feel too overwhelming. You want to give your student a chance to nail every detail of their music and that could feel out-of-reach for some students if you choose really challenging music.
Choosing the right music for your student will give them the opportunity to perform confidently in either a competition or a recital. In a competition, the judge is specifically looking for accuracy, so it’s important to choose something that the student is capable of doing really well, rather than something that sounds impressive or is fun to play.
Thankfully, there are tons of great piano arrangements that are manageable for all levels of pianists. And, just because a piece might play a little easier doesn’t mean that it will sound too easy.
Search Musicnotes.com for arrangements by Jennifer Eklund, Chrissy Ricker and Lisa Donovan Lukas to find great learning pieces.
Ramp Up Your Practice Routine
In the months and weeks leading up to a performance, it’s really important to maintain a consistent practice routine. Parents and teachers will need to work together to make sure that students have plenty of time in between lessons to practice their music. It’s certainly not the time to slack off or move piano practice down on the list of priorities.
Go Through The Motions Of Performing
Not only do kids need to practice their music, but they also need to practice the whole routine of how to perform. Everything from getting situated at the piano, playing their piece, recovering from mistakes, taking a bow and walking away from the piano. Give kids many opportunities to go through these motions in the weeks leading up to their performance.
It feels very different to play for people other than a teacher, so find opportunities to perform for anyone who will listen.
Teachers can have students perform for other students or parents at lessons. Or, they can hold a masterclass specifically for students to perform for each other. Parents can help kids find little opportunities to perform – in the music room at school, on the piano at church, at home when friends or family are visiting or even for long-distance relatives over a video call.
Try Performing On Variety Of Pianos
One surprising thing about learning the piano is that every piano feels different and when you play on a piano that is not your own, it can be difficult to acclimate to a different instrument and a different environment.
Unfortunately, it’s often impossible to prepare for the exact instrument or scenario of a performance. The best way to overcome this challenge is to get as much experience as possible playing on different instruments in different places. Students won’t be able to practice the exact details of what the real performance will be like, but they will have the chance to practice adapting and that is a really important skill to have.
When a student is playing a new piano for the first time, they have to instantly adjust to the feel and sound of the piano. Plus, having different surroundings can feel really disorienting at the piano, so it’s important to understand what that feels like and to learn how to adjust.
Don’t Project Your Own Fears Or Insecurities
If you feel nervous on behalf of your child or student, they will likely sense that and feel more nervous themselves. A student may not even feel scared of performing, but they can learn that it’s a scary experience just from the way adults talk about it.
Instead of focusing on the uncertainties of a performance, focus on the parts that are in your control. Help your students recognize their smart preparation strategies. Help them to understand their strengths. Affirm them and help them build their confidence.
Focus On The Big Picture, Not The Small Details
A lot of students (and professionals!) get discouraged by small mistakes such as memory slips, occasional wrong notes or a clumsy performance. All of these things are a very normal part of performing. While they feel like a big deal, the reality is that audience members rarely dwell on these things the same way the performer does. In fact, many people don’t even notice that they are happening.
While it’s definitely important to acknowledge and grow from mistakes, it’s equally important to focus on the good things that happened in a performance. Compliment your student on a strong start or a strong ending to their performance. Encourage them if they made a great recovery from a mistake. Focus on the stylistic qualities of their music, such as if they played with emotion, if their music was energizing or if they played with a particularly beautiful tone.
These bigger picture aspects of creating music are truly more impactful than the little mistakes that occur. Students need to be taught this and continually reminded of this.
Accept That Mistakes Will Happen And Learn To Recover From Them
Another common misconception that piano students of all ages have is that there is such a thing as perfect performance. Somehow we convince ourselves that there is exactly one right way to perform a piece and we might become fixated on trying to achieve that one perfect performance of our piece. This is an unhealthy way to approach music.
There are no two performances or iterations of a piece of music that are exactly the same. By shifting the focus away from trying to achieve perfection and instead on learning to adapt to surprises, we open a whole new world of musical ability and enjoyment. This is where making music truly happens, not in chasing perfection. This is an important skill to instill in kids early on.
Good luck to all students in recitals and competitions in the coming months! Remember to help them enjoy the full process of preparing, performing and learning.
Claire Westlake, Chair
A frequently asked question about Achievement Day is, “Are there any practice tests for Ear Training?” Unfortunately, the answer is no. However, the list of objectives contained in the requirements packet on our website are specific for each level, and there are outside resources available to help you prepare your students.
One resource that I have found to be particularly helpful at the lower levels is Alfred’s Ear Training Book series. This series consists of Level 1A to Level 6 Ear Training exercises that correlate well with the Achievement Day objectives. I have found that exercises from levels 5 and 6 can even be modified to address some Achievement Day objectives at levels 7 and above.
Another good source for ear training practice is an iPad application called Earpeggio. I use this with my older kids because it is drill oriented and lacks the cute graphics and games that appeal to younger kids. This app has practice in intervals, chords, scales, melodic contour and dictation, rhythm dictation and tempo. Each practice can be adjusted to include just the intervals, etc., that you want to practice, how the intervals, etc., are presented and the number of problems you wish to do. These adjustments can be made by both teacher and student.
Another issue that teachers face when preparing students for ear training is that sometimes it may not be clear HOW an objective may be tested. For example, at the primer level, students must identify intervals of melodic skips and steps. It is not clear that students will be auditorily presented with a series of three notes that either skip or step, up or down on the staff and asked to circle “step” or “skip” on the test paper.
There is a simple solution – ask me! As chairperson, I have access to all achievement day documents and can easily tell you how certain objectives are tested! I am always happy to help!
Carolyn Rooder, chair