Every winter and spring, my students celebrate their musical achievements in front of an audience. It takes courage, hard work, focus, practice, and it is impressive to see the results. A week ago I was reminded once again how lucky I am to be part of such a wonderful community of parents and children who all dedicate part of themselves to music.
As an educator, I’ve been working with children for almost 15 years. Because many of the children that started with me years ago when they were 5 or 6 are still with me, I have very few new students in these recitals. It has been a long time since our programs were 50 performers playing Scotland’s Burning and Kookaburra! The recitals have now become so wonderful for younger children, though, because they and their parents witness what happens after years of dedication. For example, this year’s winter concert displayed a wide variety of levels and styles. There were performances of Bach cello suite transcriptions, traditional repertoire by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer, Venezuelan composers Antonio Lauro and Rodrigo Riera, and Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, etudes by Simone Ianarelli and Jaime Zenamon, duets of the KinderGuitar repertoire for beginners, trios of Spnaish music by Enrique Granados, original compositions for voice and guitar, and even some impressive performances of pieces by the Beatles, the Lumineers, and Neil Young. All of this by children.
What gives all of these wonderful children the courage to do what they do? Perhaps performing is a natural component of studying music. Whether or not that is so, PRACTICING performing is very important for success.
During the classes leading up to our performances, we often spend a lot of time imagining ourselves in front of our audience and trying to mimic what happens physiologically when we are performing. Here are some practice techniques we use in class and that we encourage implementing at home:
1) Simply pretend it is the concert and go through all the movements of the performance. Pick up the guitar, walk gracefully to a “performance chair”, have a few seconds to breathe deeply and imagine the first bars of the song, and then play with confidence and poise, silence the guitar at the end, and finally stand up and bow. If parents and siblings can act like the audience, all the better!
2) Practice performing in unfamiliar places. Most students practice in the same place at home. Given that our memories work in fascinating ways, those familiar places provide comfort and are loaded with visual memory cues. Varying practice locations around the house helps improve our response to different environmental conditions.
3) Freeze! Visualizing is not an easy task for young children. And, often, muscle memory (probably the most unreliable memory when you are performing) tends to predominate for those younger practicing children. By having children stop when they hear the word “freeze” and then a few moments later continue from that spot in their music, they are actually visualizing aurally and physically while they are “frozen”. Not only does this help their overall understanding of the piece they are playing, it also helps develop one of the most important skills as a musician: hearing the music in your inner ear.
4) Out of tune! Here, I have students de-tune one of their strings and them have them perform as if it were in tune. This requires a deep understanding of the physical movements required independently of their sound. This is harder than it sounds.
5) Lastly, a 7 year old student with outstanding memory and guitar ability confessed that he played the right hand component of the piece while his left hand played the movements in the air above the fingerboard where his fingers were supposed to go. I don’t know where he came up with this but he demonstrated and, once again, my enthusiasm for teaching was re-invigorated! Personally, I didn’t ever practice right-hand alone until I was in graduate school!
Try these at home before the next big performance and your musician will feel more confident, comfortable, and excited when sharing their music in front of an audience.