Category - Musings

It is Healthy to Talk about Stage Fright!

Stage fright. It’s a topic that often gets pushed aside at weekly lessons. As teachers, we tend to focus on how to play, how to memorize, how to read, how to create, and even how to perform but, we can overlook how to prevent or deal with performance anxiety.

I believe preparing students properly and in advance of a performance can curb anxiety (see The Five P’s of Performing) but, what if students have anxiety about performing regardless of their adequate preparation? When self-doubt and the fear of what others think creeps into our students’ psyche, what are we to do? How can we coach pianists to find the right balance of adrenalin, mental and emotional health to develop successful performance skills?

Answers to all of these questions are addressed in Julie Jaffee Nagel’s new book called Managing Stage Fright: A Guide for Musicians and Music Teachers. The well-organized, easy-to-read book is packed with sensible advice, insightful tips, and well-researched strategies. It’s a must-have for any music teacher’s library. That’s what sets this book apart–it’s not only for performers, it’s also for teachers of performers!

Each of the 13 chapters opens with a list of “Questions for Thought.” Sprinkled throughout each chapter are summary boxes called “Implications for Teachers.” These two features, along with Julie’s expertise and conversational writing style make it easy to glean the information and help you are looking for.

I just ordered my Kindle edition of Managing Stage Fright. As I read through it, Julie’s careful research has validated a good portion of what I do in my studio (whew!) and has offered significant information on how we as teachers can best approach the unique students AND parents who walk in the studio door. One chapter title that immediately intrigued me: Performance Anxiety Begins in the Nursery!

Check out Julie’s blog post below to get a sense of her writing style.

Personally, I’ve had to overcome significant performance anxiety over the years on my own. I’m so grateful that now there’s research, expertise and open discussion on the topic so teachers can help students who struggle with it. Thank you, Julie for the blog post and the timely book on such an important and often overlooked topic!

-Leila


Once upon a time, many years ago, when I was a piano teacher, I was working with a young student, Maria, who had come to my studio from another teacher in town.  Her mother explained to me that it was felt that  a different approach would be helpful for her daughter.  It was clear that her daughter loved music, and was quite accomplished at the piano, but her interest was waning.  When this was discussed with her music teacher, my name was given to her as a reference.

At one lesson, not long after we began to work together, Maria was having a very difficult time  playing a passage.  As she tried harder and harder, I could sense her frustration.  So I did what I thought was the best thing at that moment, and I asked Maria to stop playing so that we could  talk.  Maria started to cry, but also seemed relieved.  As we spoke about some things that had upset her at school earlier in the day,  Maria calmed down.  We didn’t really solve anything about school, but Maria felt  heard, respected, and understood.

Later that week, I ran into her previous teacher when I was downtown.  She inquired about her former student.  When I replied that when Maria had gotten upset,  had put a great deal of pressure upon herself to get everything “right”,  and that we had spoken about what she was feeling, the former teacher asked incredulously, “why did you let her talk?”

I was taken aback!  How could you not talk with someone in distress? Read More

What We Can Learn from the Parents of Condoleezza Rice, Pianist and Politician

Last week I had the privilege of hearing Condoleezza Rice give the keynote address at the MTAC (Music Teachers of California) conference where the theme was “Breaking Barriers.” It was an honor I soon won’t forget; first, of course, because of the spectacular story of inspiration Ms Rice wove and secondly, because I took notes! Not copious notes but, enough to build an outline to share.

After a week of musing over Ms Rice’s speech, I made some insights about her story and parenting styles. I hope you’ll read to the end as I’d love to hear your thoughts.

(Here’s a link to a free download of the article if you’d like to share a hard copy with your families.)

Read More

Group Piano: What it IS and What it ISN’T

On the fence about whether group instruction is right for you? Not sure what format you should use? Good friend and colleague, Marie Lee has some strong opinions on this topic as she should. I consider her an expert in group piano instruction–check out the programs at her Musicality Schools. You can learn more about her experience here or just keep reading and hear what is and what isn’t group piano class.

-Leila


As piano teachers realize that YES, they can make a good living teaching piano, the subject of group classes comes up as a way of increasing studio size and income. But what exactly IS a group class? And what is it NOT? Read More

Can you carve out a career by ear?

Jake Mirow is one of those students you don’t forget. Don’t get me wrong, I treasure all my current and former students but Jake was different. In fact, that’s how Jake came to my studio, because his mom and dad knew he was different and that he needed something different.

What does different mean? Jake has an uncanny ability to play by ear with style and flair. The best way to explain it? He’s hard-wired differently than most.

Example? After seeing the movie Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey in 2009, Jake returned to his lesson and played a jaw-dropping medley of the soundtrack. It’s like his ears have a photographic memory?!?

Mmm….what does a classically trained pianist trying to get over her own fear of improvising do with a student like Jake? Read More

Two Big Changes for Me and The Benefits for You

Opportunity knocked two times this spring.

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The first opportunity that will make a significant impact in my work week is a position banner-192-20130306132137I recently accepted at the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music. I’m pleased and honored to be heading up their Piano Preparatory program. I’ll be collaborating with Chee-Hwa Tan, colleague, good friend and brilliant pedagogy professor at the university. I’ll also be working with and mentoring graduate students as we provide group and private lesson instruction to youngsters around the ages of 6-11. I’ll be working in this beautiful building on the lovely DU campus.

How does this change for me benefit you? Read More

My Reaction to SAVVY Musician In Action 2016

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David Cutler explaining the rules of the SAVVY pitch game.

A few months ago I announced that I’d be attending David Cutler’s SAVVY Musician in Action 2016. Little did I know that my plug for the event would sway three fellow teachers and 88Pianokeys (88PK) readers to attend. I was THRILLED to hear that Marie, Renee and Becky would be joining me on this adventure!

Turns out, that this adventure gave all of us a similar sense of anxiety. We knew this would be like no other conference with tons of hands-on, out-of-the box experiences. Furthermore, we’d be heading to hot humid, South Carolina meaning long flights, sleeping in dorm rooms and intermingling with NON teachers! In addition we were assigned to prepare and deliver a one minute pitch on day one of the SAVVY event.

Together we commiserated about the superficial stuff like what to wear and which hair products to use to tolerate the humidity, but I believe those conversation threads were a coverup for our fear of…the unknown. Read More

How to Prepare Performers for Adjudicator Comments and Decisions

A number of my students enjoy the challenge of entering adjudicated events. Many are quite competitive–much more than me! It takes strategic planning to prep them and that’s why I’ve posted past blogs about the process. You can find them here.

In recent a newsletter, I featured a popular download with all kinds of details and suggestions for students, parents and teachers in preparation for performance readiness.

Over the years, I’ve discovered strategies to help students play their best. Some have earned high praise and even prizes. Of course, this makes me beam with pride and more importantly, extremely happy for the student.

But, there’s usually a downside to this experience.

Please, don’t misunderstand me.

I’m not saying that I believe all my students deserve to earn top scores or receive Top Performer when they participate in festivals and competitions. It would be great if they did, but I don’t expect it.

What I find the most disheartening about adjudicated events after MONTHS of preparation is reading through the judge’s evaluation sheets with my students, and at times questioning their final decisions after the events. Read More

Is it time to use the KonMari method in your piano studio?

Have you heard of Marie Kondo and her KonMari method of organization? I was unaware until I woke up to an NPR story about her current reign over the empire of organization.

Her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is a #1 New York Times best-22318578seller with over two million copies sold worldwide. Read more about Kondo and her magical publication here. She’s a trendsetter with a global following. Even her last name has been transformed into a verb.

Learning about Kondo’s book struck a chord with me (pun intended.) I heard of it just as I had begun writing this blog post about reorganizing my studio over the Christmas break. Although I had not read her book, it was if I had. I felt the urge to “kondo” my studio knowing that it would bring me a sense of calm and satisfaction before teaching in the new year. Read More

How a classically trained pianist learned to improvise

Perhaps you are one of those classical pianists who was lucky enough to have a teacher that encouraged creativity beyond the grand staff? Lucky you. The rest of us have one thing in common that keeps us from pushing beyond our creative boundaries. We are burdened with baggage called “excuses.” These excuses may include:

  • I’m a visual learner.
  • I was never taught to play away from the page.
  • I’m scared I’ll sound awful.
  • I’m embarrassed to let everyone know what I can’t do.

With this heavy baggage we are moving towards one of three routes: Read More

Four Secrets of a Successful Studio

There are four secrets of a successful studio. I realize it’s a bold claim to narrow it down to just four and you may be asking, what does successful mean? Keep reading.

Like any other human being, your bottom line comes down to:

  1. food on the table
  2. a roof over your head
  3. decent clothes on your back.

These three essentials require an income and as a music teacher that means you’ll need students and preferably, lots of them.  The trick is figuring out how to attract and retain them. When you have met and exceeded your bottom line and enjoy a waiting list, I believe you have made a success of your studio.

After extensive research, David Cutler discovered that music teachers who generated substantial (successful) incomes were more likely to integrate these three elements (OK, they are not really secrets but it caught your attention, right?) into their instruction compared to other teachers who did not. They include: Read More