Music recitals are rituals for young musicians learning to play a musical instrument.  These performances are usually seen by music lesson teachers as opportunities to perform music in public for the first time and to show off the skills that have been developed by the music students.

Sometimes, however, students don’t want to participate in a recital, and anyone who has attended one of these public displays has seen music students who look like they’re being led to a firing squad as they walk onto the stage, seem stiff and detached as they play, and run off stage the second they finish their last note.

There are two main reasons music students behave this way:

1.  Reluctance to be in front of an audience in public.  It can be scary to have so many people looking at you and listening to you.  For many students, this is the first time they’ve been the center of attention in a public setting.

2.  Embarrassment about their musical skills or (lack of) preparation of the music they’re supposed to play.  Young music students can seldom gauge their skills relative to their age or how long they’ve been playing, but many students feel they don’t sound good enough to play in public.

Leaving aside the actual sound made by these students–which may or may not be pleasant to listen to–the more important issue is the psychological one.  We want students to feel confident and to rise to the challenge of putting themselves in new situations.  It’s the job of music teachers to encourage their students to play in public.  This is especially important for young musicians who don’t want to participate in the recital.

Most of our young students aren’t planning to be professional musicians, so the non-music skills that we often think of as peripheral to the music experience actually become central for these kids.  Just getting up in front of an audience and playing becomes more important than what their playing sounds like.

The process of participating in a public music recital re-formulates how students think about themselves.  Music teachers aren’t just teaching their students how to play a musical instrument; they’re giving students an opportunity to:

–Overcome fear

–Boost self-esteem

–Rise to a challenge

–Feel confident in front of an audience

–Build stage presence

–Not give up

–Complete something once it’s started

These are all good reasons to insist that children have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument and play in concerts, and each of these attributes is useful in other areas of life.  Actually, they are more important than playing music for the vast majority of people taking music lessons.

Teachers need to point out this fact to their students (and to the students’ parents) by saying things like, “Wow, you did so great at the recital.  I know you were nervous about getting up in front of an audience and playing, but you did it.  Think of everything else you’ll be able to do now!!!”

Emphasizing the connection between playing in public and achieving success in all areas of life should be a central experience in music lessons.

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