Performing Can Be Scary, But Worth It

Jun 18, 2014

Practice makes perfect, but so what? While a student should never stop practicing, there is only one inevitable end: the performance. Performing is a vital part of any music student’s development. Ultimately, performances can take many different forms, including things like student recitals presented by a music school, concerts with a student’s school band or orchestra, community events and festivals, retirement residences, coffee shops, parties, family gatherings, restaurants, or even clubs. Any of these, and any number of other opportunities, present the student with a wealth of hidden opportunities for growth.

First and foremost, think about this for a moment or two: what situation causes you the most anxiety? A fairly large percentage of you probably said being in front of a crowd in one way or another, didn’t you? This is an extremely common phobia, and overcoming it can be an amazing tool. And this is perhaps the biggest thing that performing in front of an audience can teach a student. Performing takes a student though all the stages of being in front of a group of people. Initially, there is the prep work. Getting ready to perform means setting goals, building new skills, and learning new material. Each of these require a certain level of self-discipline, self-motivation, patience, and focus, all of which are essential life skills that can be transferred to many different situations, including the dreaded public speaking. Another fundamental life skill that comes out of preparing for a performance is controlling nerves. Nervousness is natural and to be expected, and part of preparing for a performance is learning to endure it, mastering it, and ultimately learning to control it, which all encourages self-dependence and self-reliance.

Of course, the main event is the performance itself, and this comes complete with a whole slew of other important life skills to be learned. The act of playing for a crowd puts a student in a stressful situation, and calls on them to “step up” and do their absolute best. Many performers may not realize it, but the time they spend on stage actually prepares them for other stressful situations, like presentations in school or the workplace, and of course, public speaking. With practice and repeated performances, this ability under pressure can evolve into something even more important for everyday life: poise and grace. And these two qualities lead to something even greater; when playing in front of a welcoming audience, a music student can build their self-confidence while sharing the music they love with others.

Performing also has the additional benefit of adding to a student’s credibility. During practice, if a student makes a mistake, it’s ok to stop, check what went wrong, play the section in question a few time, and try to get it right. But in a performance student are encouraged to “play through” any simple mistakes they make, to continue passed errors instead of being bother by them. During a performance, flow is much more important; here, the student is making music, not simply practicing.

Perhaps a more obvious skill learned from performing is teamwork. Even if it is a little more obvious than some others, it is still worth noting, as in many cases, teamwork is a skill thought to be learned primarily though sports and other outdoor, physical activities. But performing with a group is just as effective as the more mainstream teamwork lessons. Students learn to listen to the other members of the band, and how their part fits into the whole, making it so much more than the sum of its parts. And performing a difficult piece that the entire group has been working countless hours to perfect can be just as rewarding as winning the big game.

It can also be equally important for students to hear each other perform. If they have the opportunity to hear what other students in the teacher’s studio are working on, especially students more advanced than them, it can inspire them to continue and build upon their drive for progress and success.

The simple act of performing also comes with a few more basic life skills that might not be so readily apparent. The first is pacing, which is a simple, yet powerful skill that works in a wide variety of life scenarios. From conversations to presentations, pacing is something not everyone learns early in life, and it can be a struggle to play catchup while an adult dealing with the pressures of presenting to a client, boss, or other important figure. Another is interacting with an audience. We’ve already talked about being in front of an audience, but learning to respond and engage with an audience is a completely different life skill. This is one that takes a little more practice and repetition than one or two performances, but over time a student can learn to read the mood of the crowd, how to play off and to that mood, creating a new experience for every single person involved. And lastly, performing can teach a student how to properly use a microphone. This may sounds like a very small, simple thing, but remember that phobia of public speaking? Compound that with technical difficulties due to not actually understanding how to use a microphone properly, and you will truly understand the importance of learning to this simple skill.

And finally, after the performance, there is one last lesson to be learned: grace and humility. After a performance is finished, after the emotional rush of being on stage and playing the music they love, there comes the opportunity to walk amongst the audience. There will be congratulations and praise in most cases, especially in that of a student. If compliments can be taken to heart to help bolster confidence, while not inflating to arrogance, another vastly important skill has been acquired.

Performing is not an easy task. It takes a lot of effort and motivations on the part of the student, but the payoffs can resonate throughout the rest of their life, regardless of how old they happen to be.