It’s recital season… and that means that thousands of children around the world are preparing to place themselves in front of a room full of people… and odds are… some will flop!
While we all do our best to prepare piano students as much as we can for any pitfalls that may occur during a performance, there is sometimes nothing we can do. A wrong note becomes a stumbled passage… which becomes a flubbed left hand… which becomes a horribly a-tonal ending… which becomes a sobbing piano student with her head in her mom’s lap at the back of the hall.
We’ve all seen it happen. Perhaps you’ve even been there yourself (maybe not sobbing in your mom’s lap… but you likely wished you could be!).
The let-down of ruining an otherwise polished performance, the embarrassment of flopping in public, and the adrenaline residue all combine to make a piano student wish the ground would open up and swallow her whole.
How To Repair “Flopped Performance” Damage
Obviously proper preparation, lots of performance practice and even in-depth performance anxiety instruction is the best way to avoid this from happening in the first place. But stuff happens. And when you’re dealing with kids, it happens with more frequently than we’d like it to.
So what do you do with the resulting puddle who is sobbing “I never want to play in a recital again!” (or the less emotional yet stoic, stone-faced and embarrassed teen?) Check out my 5 tips for Flopped Performance Damage Control:
1. Allow time for your piano student to simply be upset. We often make the mistake of attempting to sweep away feelings that are uncomfortable for children when it’s actually okay for them to be sad. Telling them not to be upset, or making them feel as though they shouldn’t be feeling what they’re feeling does nothing but add to their emotional turmoil.
2. Don’t ignore the obvious. If you attempt to sweep the unfortunate incident under the rug by ignoring it, you’ll leave your piano student feeling confused. But you don’t need to launch into a counselling session either. A brief squeeze of the shoulder or an understanding smile along with a “We’ll talk about it at your lesson this week” makes your student feel cared-for but not pounced-on.
3. Coach the parents. All of my well-meaning attempts at preserving my students’ dignity and willingness to perform ever again can be undone with a well-meaning comment from a parent. I always make sure to let the parent know that this is completely normal, that the best thing to do is to be positive about their next opportunity to perform and to avoid any discussions of “What happened?” or “You played it perfectly at home!”
4. Use Humor. Once you have given your piano student time to just be upset (maybe even in your next lesson time) use kind humour to diffuse any embarrassment. Relate their experience to a horrible performance experience you yourself have had. Give them all the gory details and have a good laugh about how awful it feels.
5. Create a re-do. This is the most important part of “Flopped Performance Damage Control”. One of the reasons students are usually so upset is because they really did work hard on their piece. Their flubbed rendition bore no resemblance to what they did at home. They didn’t get their moment to shine. And so I give them a re-do of the same piece. Invite Mom and Dad in at the end of your lesson for a mini-performance or videotape your student and post it to you studio blog or Facebook. Give her the chance to prove that she can do it.
The Unfortunate Parts of Being a Musician
Having an “epic fail” story is just part of becoming a musician. When my last student had a “fall-apart” moment I pulled up Youtube and we spent some time experiencing quite dramatic “fails”. It was a great opportunity to ask “How do you think this guy felt?”. By asking about someone else’ emotions your students are more likely to share how they themselves felt when it all “went bad”. With these insights you can then better offer advice and know exactly what to say to rebuild confidence and get your student back on the stage for a successful performance in the future.