By Christy | the Practicing Pro
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As a parent or teacher, you may be familiar with the anxiety and stress of performing in a music concert. This can be especially true for children, who may feel nervous or overwhelmed by the pressure to perform well in front of a large audience. However, there are some tips you can use to help your child overcome their anxiety (or not have it in the first place) and develop a love of performing for others.
Step 1: It's never early enough to begin performing. Start young!
One of the best things you can do for your child is to expose them to performing music in front of others at the earliest age. Get them up in front of people.
A personal example is at our school; we have a program I adore called the Suzuki Early Childhood Education - SECE class. It is SUCH a fun and wonderful place! These children / with their parents already as 0-3-year-olds will have performed three times this year at our school. The first time in front of about 250 people in their special matching performance costumes, they moved to the beat with their parents and colourful shakers. The music was live, provided by a group of advanced teens playing violins, piano and guitar. These amazing young performers had huge smiles of joy on their faces! Since children learn from other children, that was wonderful for these SECE students to see the older teens and be a part of something together! Also, the parents holding their babies and having so much fun with them can see these older players and think “Hmm, my child will be like that someday!”
Next, their second concert was last weekend. The audience this time is about 400 plus, and as a big group, again in their special white tops, black bottoms and fancy sashes (with a fringe & sparkle trim), they each got to do a solo on the triangle in a big group. They also sang and showed their rights and lefts together on the xylophone.
Their third concert is coming up in June, called the "Family Fun Fair," where for three hours, students provide continuous traditional music entertainment while families and friends at the school have nachos with cheese, play games, draw with chalk, pet real farm animals, get their faces painted and so much more. Families have a fun afternoon together, all with the backdrop of students of all ages performing! Including them again!
When the SECE students turn on the outdoor stage, they sing "All Around the Circle" each verse is about one of the farm animals at the fair that day they got to see and touch! Then they will show their directing and round singing with a colourful scarf.
So to help children never be nervous sharing music, At our school, this is what we do. By the time a child is just one year in the program, they have already learned that performing and sharing music with their friends can make others happy, they do it together, everyone is cheering them on and it's a wonderful experience that they can do well.
Step 2: Attend concerts regularly
Exposing children to all kinds of concerts and seeing others perform is so important.
We had a show at our school a month ago. An accomplished performer and well-known in Canada was a special guest. He started a piece and then a few notes in he just STOPPED. He laughed that it was the wrong piece and had a similar start to the one he had planned. He said he could have kept going but knew the others accompanying him might not know it and would be cross with him! So he laughed and started again. It was a great experience to see the students in the concert who were fans of his see,”Oh even HE makes mistakes well then I can too”! So many lessons to learn by attending concerts often! Your children also see people who love their music, get into the zone, and accomplish the highest levels of playing that your child will identify firsthand is a lot of work.
I have a fun story from my friend Rhodes that a performer told him once.
"Toothy Grin: A Lesson in Fearless Performance"
(based on a story told to me by Rhodes about an experience of Ivan Hicks)
There was once a man who loved to perform onstage with his guitar. He would sing his heart out and let his music carry him away. One day, as he was singing along to one of his favourite songs, something unexpected happened. His denture teeth suddenly fell out in the middle of an enthusiastic chorus!
But the man didn't miss a beat. He simply kept on singing as if nothing had happened at all. He finished the song with gusto, then took a big bow when the audience applauded. With one quick motion, he swooped up his teeth, shoved them back in, and stood up again. The crowd was amazed!
As he left the stage, the man gave the audience a big toothy grin. He didn't seem embarrassed or ashamed at all. Instead, he was proud of himself for being able to roll with the unexpected and keep going no matter what. And his fans were inspired by his fearless attitude.
That day, I learned a valuable lesson from that man. I learned that sometimes things don't go as planned, but that's okay. We just need to be unfazed and keep going. And as a performer myself, I know that's a lesson I'll never forget. Thanks to that man and his toothy grin, I'm a better performer than ever before!
Step 3: Consider the mindset behind WHY you're performing
Encouragement and positive reinforcement can go a long way in boosting their confidence and reducing anxiety.
By providing constructive feedback in a gentle and supportive way, you can help your child improve their skills and feel more confident in their ability to perform. As a parent and a teacher, say things like - "You made so many people happy today with your singing," instead of pointing out things they could have done better, or you want them to do next time or ways they were better than another child will set them up to have a mindset that performing is about other people and bringing others joy instead of a time to self deprecate themselves about any imperfections they have. This is the time to teach them this positive mindset of what they have accomplished and learned and how happy they made others by sharing. After a concert is never the time to criticize a player and tell them how to make it better next time.
For some parents and teachers, this is a bad habit and is inappropriate.
At the last concert, I woke up the night before and had a dream about the concert the next night.
I was telling a story to the audience. I decided it was an inspiration and actually did what I dreamed about in the actual concert!
I’ll share that with you!
Toward the start of the concert, I needed to have 9 pianos moved onto the stage so I had a few MC minutes.
I asked everyone in the audience, to raise their right hands and hold them up high. They half did and then I coaxed every single person to.
I said “Now I have these magic glasses. When I wear them I can only see and hear the children (especially my own) do everything perfectly. If their sash is untying, I can't see it, if their socks are white instead of black, I can’t see it. If they come in early or their bows are backward, I can't see that. I am going to toss you all my glasses to wear for this concert and I want you all to put them on. You will ONLY see their hard work and everything will be a gift to you from them.”
Then I tossed out my glasses to the audience and more than half actually pretended to catch them and put them on. It was beautiful to see hundreds of people do that!
At the end MC moment, I was nervous but felt bold - I thanked everyone for coming and asked that they keep those glasses on for the rest of the night and on the drive home in the car. To watch everything they say to and with their children with those glasses on - only positive building things about their children the teachers and all of the other children.
The audience cheered and applauded. It was beautiful!
Step 4: Self-talk check-in
Monitor and practice how you talk to yourself internally when performing on stage. This also will come from only speaking out loud these things. Over time (and never in the first place), the negative chatter of put-downs in your child's head can quiet.
Practice your talk in your head, just like anything else you need to practice and get good at it.
Do this over and over and not just once. How to walk on and smile at just one person - like their gramma when they first step on or at the end of their performance practice bowing. Teach them that bowing is how they say thank you to the audience for coming to see them play the piano or sing instead of watching Netflix or going for a walk, or being on their phones. They chose to be there and watch them! That's so kind of them to be there, and a smile and a bow say, "Thank you for coming, and thank you for letting me share my music with you today."
Practicing doing a concert from beginning to end, including a positive mindset in practice. It's important to be mindful of your self-talk when performing on stage.
Try to monitor and improve how you speak to yourself internally.
Teachers and parents can start working on this a month or two before a concert. End the lesson or practice with a " concert" from beginning to end (don't forget to include the mindset element, and have everyone in the room pay attention, clap, and smile for the performer. It's a great time in lessons to teach parents not to be on phones and also check in with their mindsets at lessons. A teacher can say, "Let's do a concert practice" Mom - your job is to notice something Darren has done in his concert so well that you know he has been working on it and tell him at the end. Sally (little sister), your job is to sit with your hands in your lap like this and sit very still, then at the end clap as loud as you can and smile as big as you can at Darren.
See how you can teach so much in a lesson beyond playing the notes in a song?
Step 5: Keep in mind the bigger purpose of performing.
Take a moment to reflect on the purpose behind a performance.
It should increase their self-confidence and prepare them for their adult lives to be happier and more fulfilling. Let them know that this makes them unique and that not every child plays the violin. They have the ability to make people who might be sad feel happy. That's a gift you can't just buy at the store; it makes them unique. Playing an instrument means they work a little every day, and over time they can do something hard. This is so inspiring for people. When they perform and share with someone else, it inspires others. They may go home and be more determined to work at something they started and didn't finish; they may be encouraged to make someone else happy, like you just made them happy. You never know how you have inspired someone at your concert. But I guarantee you will!
Start implementing these five performance tips with your children or students today, and you will see firsthand the positive impact they can have on their lives.
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