I’m sure, as a child, I gave my piano teacher (and my mother) full-blown heart attacks every recital season. Not intentionally… but accidentally… whenever I played piano in public.
I was a nervous performer and during a recital, those nerves created my “let’s get this over with” speed performances. As I’d return from a recital stage to my place in the audience, breathless with adrenaline, I’d catch the wide-eyed “wowza” glance my mom and teacher would share.
I remember my mom once telling me she thought I was literally going to slip off the keyboard and fall to the floor.
Fast forward 25 some-odd years and I am now extremely thankful for those experiences as a child. I am now able to completely empathize with my nervous, speedy performers and can share with them the 5-point checklist I taught myself to follow as I gained more and more performance experience.
Using the 5 strategies below, my nervous students are learning to slow down and your nervous students can too!
The Five-Point Checklist For Speedy Recital Performers
At this time of year, we’re all starting to think about recital preparation, and an important aspect of recital preparation involves prepping our speedy performers. We’ve all watched piano students perform at an unintentional “Mach-3 speed”, and we’ve all wished there was a way that we could help them slow down, be in the moment and share the musicality that we hear during their lesson times.
Today we’re sharing a five-point checklist to guide your piano students as they get up to perform at your next recital:
1. The “Five Minutes Before” Body Check
As your students are waiting for their turn to perform, teach them to do a “body check”. Instruct them to assess their heart-rate, their breathing, their muscle tenseness, and their general well-being. Becoming self-aware in advance of their turn to perform, helps students avoid that sudden jolt of adrenaline and nerves when they reach the piano bench and become uber-aware of it all… all at once. Remind your students to consciously relax their shoulders, take deep breaths and engage in positive self-talk.
2. The Piano Piece Announcement
During recitals I always have my students announce the piece they will be playing, as it gives them the opportunity to steady themselves on stage before they perform. Students should learn to stand tall, smile, and then speak in a clear and confident voice. The few seconds it takes to announce a piece gives their body a chance to adjust to the “on-stage situation”, and get friendly feedback from their audience.
3. The “Take Five” Bench Moment
After your students take to the bench, teach them to put their hands in their laps and take five seconds to just sit still. During this time I encourage my students to mentally play through the first five measures of their piece, to locate their starting position with their eyes, and to picture playing the final note of their piece. All of this happens before their hands touch the keys. This mental “run-through” helps calm your students and prevents a rushed start to the performance.
4. Learn To Listen To Held Notes
In university, I had a fabulous piano professor who really liked to talk about the energy that was contained inside “held notes”. While this is a fairly abstract concept that is often lost on young students, the idea of really listening to held notes is a great way to slow down speedy performers.
Teach your students to “turn on their ears” every time they play a held note in their performance piece. It’s a simple way to encourage the aural awareness that nudges them into a steadier performance.
5. The Landmark Breath
The final strategy that I teach my piano students is what I call the “landmark breath”. There’s nothing worse as a performer than knowing you’re playing too quickly, but not knowing how or when to adjust your speed.
Landmark Breaths are little performance moments where your students assess their playing. In these moments they can re-group and slow down if their performances are starting to get away on them. Because Landmark Breaths are pre-planned and predictable they do not interrupt the flow of the performance.
Choose places in your students’ music that make sense (section breaks, the end of a phrase, etc.) and write these Landmark Breaths right onto their music. In these moments your students learn to breathe and begin playing at a slower tempo if needed. As your students prepare, they’ll also practice adding these “re-set moments” into their performance.
How Do You Slow Speedy Performers?
Much of what causes a less-than-desirable recital performance is the result of nerve-induced speed. By teaching your piano students to follow this 5-point checklist, you’ll also be helping them to improve their chances of delivering a performance that results in a positive experience and positive future performances.
We’d love to hear from you! How do you help your speedy performers to slow down? Share in the comments below.