One of the most exciting parts of learning to play a musical instrument is performing in public. As a parent, it will also be one of the proudest moments of your life as you watch your budding musician take to the stage. But getting from the classroom to the auditorium is quite a process, and there are many things to consider. Furthermore, your child will need your support in practising, playing, and building confidence before the big day. This will include understanding how to practice for a performance.
As we know, being able to perform is not just about playing a piece well. It requires your child to draw on a wide range of other skills and abilities while enhancing them with dedicated, rigorous practice time.
At Stage Talent, I have helped many students prepare for performances of all kinds, from solos to competitions and exams, and of course, orchestral and group arrangements. Based on my experience, here are my top tips!
Adjust the practising approach
Usually, when a child practices a piece, I recommend head straight to the tricky bits first. They would practice them repeatedly until they’ve mastered them before playing the piece through from the start. In practice sessions, I also usually insist that when they make a mistake, they stop, correct it, and then start again until they can play it smoothly. But this is not the case when they practice for a performance!
When your child is on stage, they cannot stop and go back to the beginning or repeat a particularly tricky passage until they get it right. They have to suck it up and move on. When practising for performance, the child needs to earn that mistakes happen and that they shouldn’t let it knock their confidence or flow. They must practice by playing the entire piece from start to finish, focussing on the overall sound of the piece, rather than getting hung up on minor slip-ups.
Help them prepare for long performances.
If the performance contains several acts or pieces, the child needs to be prepared for stamina. It’s vital that during practising, they prepare and psyche themselves up to play multiple pieces. They should ideally practice for a performance by playing through all the pieces they will play to pace themselves appropriately.
If there are breaks between pieces, you can also prep them by giving them ideas of a routine. This can include breathing and counting to five, thinking about the mood and features of the next piece (tempo, is it legato or staccato, is it happy or sad, do they need to put a mute on or resin the bow, etc.), and clearing their mind. This will help them avoid panicking or getting nervous, as their minds and hands will be occupied.
Depending on the kind of performance they are taking part in, they may have to wear a particular outfit or uniform. Whatever they are wearing, make sure it’s clean, ironed, and that it fits before performance day. I also recommend bringing a second backup outfit ‘just in case’ because you never know when a button will go, a zip will break, or a carton of juice will get spilt down the front of it!
It’s also essential that the clothing is comfortable and fits well. Can they move appropriately in it? Does it rub or gape? Do they have enough mobility to move the bow or flex the pedals? Does it suit them? It’s also worth trying out hairstyles beforehand to make sure they are comfortable and don’t get in the way.
Do dress rehearsals
Typically before a performance, there are one or two dress rehearsals, but you can also do these at home. A dress rehearsal is a full run-through of the entire event and performance.
Your child should dress in the clothes they will wear, do their hair in the same way, eat and drink the same things beforehand, and even walk on and off stage, imagining the audience is there. This is also an excellent opportunity for them to practice their introduction to the audience if it’s a performance that requires one. I often recommend including why they have chosen the piece, as the audience will enjoy the personalisation and the subsequent clapping is a real boost for the child.
They should also practice their bow, walking on and off, sitting down and standing up, and posture.
If your child can nail the entire performance during dress rehearsals, they will be much less nervous on the big day or night. Dress rehearsals are an integral part of how to practice for a performance.
Coach them on the right mindset
The performance doesn’t start when they play the first note; it begins when they walk into the venue. From that first second, they are performers in the public eye, and they must act accordingly. Without scaring them, encourage them to adopt their stage persona from arrival. This includes how they walk and talk, how they interact with ushers, performers, educators, and every little thing they do.
Ideally, they should present as poised and professional, and this behaviour should be maintained until they exit the venue at the end of the night. This is an integral part of the discipline it takes to be a musician and should be encouraged at all times.
Do some stretches
Little bodies can get very tense before a performance, so I like to get them doing some fun stretches beforehand. We start by stretching up, then to the ground, and from side to side. I also get them to focus on breathing, keeping it calm and steady. These are great ways to keep them relaxed and to reduce nerves before the performance starts.
The tensing of muscles is our body’s way of warning us that something important is coming up. I like to explain this to the students, by saying “thankyou bodies for letting us know we are human!” I then get them to tell their bodies that they don’t need reminding, that they have practised, confident, and are ready to go! This is an excellent way of acknowledging nerves, breaking the ice, and getting the children to laugh before starting the performance.
You can support them in this way at home as well. Don’t tell them they have nothing to be nervous about if they say they are worried. Instead, it’s normal to be scared, but as long as they practice for a performance and do their best, their bravery and talent will shine through.
Do’s and dont’s
As a parent, there are several keys Do’s and Don’t’s that you should be mindful of during the run-up to performance day and directly before and after! Here are some of my suggestions.
- Tell them that you are incredibly proud of them for taking part in a performance.
- Remind them that they should be proud of themselves for committing to practising and performing. They should also be reminded that they are confident and courageous and that many people wouldn’t be as brave as them.
- Make sure they understand that as long as they do their best, they will be successful. It’s not about getting every note perfect or finishing with zero mistakes; it’s about getting up there and giving it 100%.
- Make sure they drink plenty of water and eat before the performance. We don’t want anyone passing out or being distracted due to being thirsty during the performance.
- Ensure they visit the bathroom before going on stage and during any interval.
- Keep an upbeat attitude regarding the performance, their progress, and the audience.
- Sit in the audience if they ask you to!
- Give good feedback and congratulate them for practising well, committing to the performance, and playing with confidence and skill.
- Keep asking them if they are nervous, as this will make them think they should be.
- Fuss around them. Be sure to tick off the things on the Do List, but don’t stress them out by faffing, preening, or fussing when trying to get in the right mindset for the stage.
- Do anything embarrassing. As parents, we can quickly get over-enthusiastic, but we have to remember not to do anything that might make our child feel awkward. Respect their professionalism, and while it’s great that you are proud, don’t draw unnecessary attention to them or you.
- Tell them what not to do. Focus on how they can maximise the impact of their performance.
- Criticise their performance, especially straight afterwards. There is always room for constructive criticism but the moment they come off stage is not the right time. Give them good praise for how they played, performed, looked, and their presence. As their teacher, we will review mistakes and suggest improvements; if you engage in criticism, it could knock their confidence.
Performing on stage can be one of the most exciting, character-building, and fulfilling experiences a child can have. It drives their confidence and teaches them how to present themselves and something they have done in a professional setting. The skills learned during the performance and performing on stage will stand them in good stead for their educational and professional future.
If you want some help planning your child’s practicing and playing schedule, don’t worry, Stage Talent can help. Not only can you talk to me about it, but you can click here to read about lesson planning, rehearsal times, learning music, and other ways to structure your child’s time to ensure maximum productivity, and of course, enjoyment!
To book your free taster instrumental music lesson text 07782503260 or click here to register.