Do you have an upcoming performance? Maybe even your FIRST performance? Or, you could be wondering how to help your kid prepare for their performance? Having taught students of all ages and ability levels for decades, we’ve seen all the possible reactions! Young performers have literally frozen or even taken off running from the stage! And rarely a week goes by where we don’t hear, “It sounded better at home.” While all of these responses are completely understandable, most of us envision a poised performance that elicits many grins and maybe even a tear or two from the audience.
When preparing for your performance, keep in mind is that it’s okay and entirely normal to be nervous! Most performers never lose their pre-performance jitters entirely - they just learn how to work through them. Being nervous can help you perform your best if you learn how to lean into it and turn it into excitement! Being prepared is the best way to stay afloat with any performance anxiety. Preparing for a performance isn’t just about being able to play the music properly. It’s necessary to also be able to perform it if your fight-flight-faint-freeze response kicks in and you’re running on animal brain! Feeling well prepared can both reduce the likelihood of this response being triggered, and enable you persist through the state of heightened arousal if it does get triggered.
There are some strategies you can employ to help yourself or your kid feel prepared and in control of the performance. It boils down to simulating the pressure of performance in as many ways as you can. This is different than just practicing your music – it’s practicing performing! Start with the mindset that you’re going to perform your piece as many times as you can before the official performance. You can start with a mirror, or by recording yourself. Send the recording to friends or family for feedback and encouragement. Put on a live performance in your living room as many times as you can convince anyone to listen!
It’s also helpful to perform your piece in as many different settings as you can. If you have access to the stage where you will be performing, you may be able to run through your piece there. Perform in as many different locations as you can: different buildings and rooms, inside, outside, etc. Also practice it in as many different environments as you can: quiet with everyone staring at you, loud with many distractions, uncomfortably hot or cold, morning or night, well or poorly lit, after having practiced all day or not being warmed up at all, etc. The more variations and repetitions you can get under your belt before the big date, the more in control you will feel. Visualization is another great tool. Run through the entire performance in your minds-eye in as much detail as you can. Imagine yourself entering the stage, getting your music or instrument settled, playing through the piece with proper technique and posture, ending confidently, and accepting applause with a bow. While it may feel silly at first, it can be very helpful!
When the big moment finally arrives, don’t be afraid to take a moment before you begin. It might feel like an eternity to you while you’re adjusting your instrument or music and all eyes are on you, but the audience will hardly notice or mind. They will gladly allow you that moment to conjure your best performance for them to enjoy. So, get yourself set up, take a deep breath or two, feel the tempo you want, and then find or imagine your favorite audience member. If you feel nervous, acknowledge the feeling, gather it up, and turn it into excitement and focus! All of this mindfulness can happen in just a few seconds. Practice running through the process as you’re visualizing or practice performing your piece. If it’s already a habit by the time you get on stage, then you will be guaranteed a great mindset going into the performance.
It’s also important to remember that there is never a completely perfect performance. Don’t let a couple hiccups (or even a train wreck!) take away your feeling of accomplishment. It takes a great deal of courage to get on stage and perform for other people, and you should feel proud of accomplishing simply that! Recital audiences are extra appreciative of the effort it takes to learn something and get on stage to perform it. They’ve been there and they know how much work goes into it. There is always something that could be improved the next time, despite the skill level or experience of the performer. The most important thing is to have fun and give it your best shot! The more chances you have to confront a potentially nerve wracking performance, the easier it will get. It becomes less likely your fight or flight response will be triggered, and you’ll develop skills for coping if it does. With each performance, you’ll gain confidence and experience in turning your nervousness into excitement. Now, go break a leg!