What should happen when you get nervous

Students go into their last lesson before a performance, get very nervous and play poorly because of that. And what do teachers do about it? NOTHING.

Because being nervous is so common, a lot of teachers don't realize their role in decreasing or increasing the level of fear their students have for their upcoming performance.

The goal of a student performer is to perform. But because so much of the daily life of a student performer is to be in the practice room and to take lessons, that means there isn't much practicing performing going on.

Because students being nervous is inevitable, many teachers assume that it's due to lack of experience, and that only more experience will help. While it is indeed due to lack of experience, it is the teacher's job to show the students what the normal level of nervousness is, and what is beyond normal nervousness.

It is the teacher's responsibility to help the students figure out what is going on, and how they can deal with their nerves during a  performance. Endlessly practicing perfect fingerings or phrasings until the last minute before a performance won't make a difference on the day of the recital if the student has no concept of how their nerves will change their performance, and how they can deal with it.

When a student comes into their last few lessons before a performance, they become more and more nervous in front of their teacher. The way the student reacts then is an indication as to what will actually happen on the day of the performance. Some students will take everything faster, or slower, or they will get tense, or they'll forget everything.

It's crucial at that time to address nervousness. By not addressing it, it's like ignoring the big elephant in the room. And telling the student that her playing is unacceptable, or telling her that she'll be fine not only won't help, it is actually a lie. If the student is nervous at the lesson, she will be nervous when she performs. But the good news is, her nervousness will come back in the same way!

So it's the perfect time to have a conversation with the student about what is happening. A great question to ask is: what are you thinking of when you're playing right now that is different from when you play in the practice room? The answer to that question will help shape a plan of action in preparation to the performance.

Once the problem is acknowledged, the student's fear will actually go down. That's because students know that their playing will suffer, but until a teacher helps them they won't have realized how so. That means they had two fears: the actual fear of nervousness, and the fear of that fear because they didn't know how to handle it.

Once they know what their own personal tendency when they're nervous is, they can take that information into the remaining of their practice sessions. They are now in control, therefore not afraid of being afraid anymore.

When students come to a lesson and get really nervous, as much as they know their poor performance comes from their nervousness, they become ashamed. If the teacher starts telling them all they did wrong in the performance without addressing why it went wrong in the first place, the student will have even higher expectations for themselves.

That will lead to even more nervousness on the big day, and because it was not dealt with correctly, the student's performance will suffer even more from the nerves. Students need to know that they won't play at 100% of their capacity on the day of. They also need to know that not only is it ok, but also normal.

Once they expect to be nervous, when things start crumbling down in performance they will know what's going on and stay focused. Otherwise, they wouldn't comprehend what's happening and a vicious circle would start, making them more and more powerless as the performance went on.

It is a teacher's job to get educated and to educate their students on the topic. There are countless great books on overcoming performance anxiety out there, so there's no excuse.

Being nervous is normal. Playing less well because of it is too. For a teacher not to address the problem is not.


Picture from http://www.canadianfamily.ca/articles/article/performance-anxiety/4/


  1. This is a very important lesson for everyone doing something related to performance; Musicians, dancers, athlets and so on. The way you are always told to "suck it up and just do your best" might be the worst way to handle it. Being nervous in front of a peformance is sort of inevitable but that doesn't mean it should be a secret. Thank you for this inspiring post!

  2. Thanks Johanne! I think so many performers had to learn how to deal with their nerves on their own, that when they become teachers, they don't realize that there are better and shorter ways to learn the same lesson.


Related Posts with Thumbnails