As I was writing my Parent’s Guide To Piano Recitals, I started to include the topic of feeling dissapointed that many students experience after a performance. It’s an important and overlooked topic, so I wanted to give it the attention it deserves with it’s very own post.
One aspect of playing the piano that nobody ever talks about is this strange feeling of let down that can happen after a performance. Sometimes, even the best performances leave the performers feeling a little disappointed afterwards.
(Related: Parent’s Guide To Piano Competitions)
I have seen and experienced post-recital disappointment in two different scenarios.
The first is this strange feeling that sometimes happens a day or so after the recital. Often times, it’s not rooted in any particular aspect of the performance or the experience. It’s just a general disappointed or uneasy feeling.
Months and months of practicing, hard work and anticipation are over with in a matter of minutes. From the outside, this might seem like it should be a really victorious and exciting moment, but a lot of times it just doesn’t feel that way, even if the performance went really well.
It’s OK and even normal for students to feel these feelings. Sometimes is just hard to process a big event. There is a lot of intensity in the preparation and even more intensity the moments leading up to the actual performance and in the performance itself. As it’s happening it feels like a blur and it’s hard to take it all in.
If your student seems a little bummed or down after a performance, understand that these feelings might simply be a part of their experience. There’s no reason to shove the feelings away. It’s good to acknowledge that they are there and that they are normal. They may just need a good listener to bounce their thoughts around with. They might just need to decompress and have some time to process their experience.
It helps a lot of students get out of this slump by thinking about what’s next. They may just need to be nudged towards a new goal, to find some new music to work on or to start thinking about another event coming up.
The second way post recital disappointment manifests itself is through over analyzing what happened in the recital.
It’s very common for students to make little mistakes during the performance. It’s impossible to prepare for every distraction and thought that will pop up during a performance. It’s just inevitable that there might be little slip-ups, brief memory lapses, and small mistakes that the student has never made before.
When the performance is over, nearly every student will focus on these tiny mistakes and slip-ups that happened during the recital and disregard the best parts of the performance.
After recitals, whenever I compliment students, they almost always say, “but I messed up that one chord.” or “but, I played a wrong note at the end.” I almost never notice these little mistakes. My students probably think I’m lying when I say that, but they don’t realize that at the recital I turn off my critical piano teacher ears. I make a point to relax and enjoy their music, so I truly don’t notice the little things that go wrong.
A lot of students get really stuck on these musical glitches and have trouble moving past them to see their success and accomplishment.
When students get caught up in these little issues, it’s important to redirect them to the important parts of their performance. “You recovered so well from that mistake I didn’t even notice it.” “You did the right thing and kept going.” “That tiny mistake didn’t take away from the beautiful melody we heard.” “Your energy during the performance was so powerful that the wrong notes didn’t even matter.”
Students have a really hard time stepping back and seeing their music from this perspective. And, naturally, we have trained them to look so critically at their music during the learning process that it is normal that they continue looking at it through those lenses after the performance.
A New Perspective
I spend a lot of time outside of recital time coaching students on how performing is so different than their day to day practice and work.
Music is so unique from many other art forms because it exists in time. You can’t freeze time and dwell on any part of music. It all passes by and at some point it is over.
What happens in a performance needs to leave an impact in that short amount of time. The impact can be a student panicking from making mistakes, or it can be a student gracefully moving through the music, regardless of what happens.
Of course, this is a fairly complex idea that is hard for students to understand. But as adults, we need to communicate it to students frequently.
We can’t wait until after a performance to try to explain to a student that nobody heard their music the same way that they did.
Instead, teachers and parents can help students discover from their first lesson that performing music is a beautiful, unique and unpredictable art. We need to train our students’ inner voices to positive and confident.
Students should understand from the beginning that music is all about problem solving and learning to adapt and respond quickly in unexpected situations. Making music is not about creating one perfect performance.
If you catch your piano student feeling disappointed after a recital from either of these two situations, first, acknowledge that their feelings are legitimate and warranted. Then, be as supportive as possible. Help your student learn from their experience and apply their new perspective to the next performance.
My favorite resources for parents who have always wanted to play piano:
Beginning Piano For Adults: This an 8 week online course for busy adults. It’s easy to incorporate into busy schedules and gives you access to a real piano teacher and a supportive online community.
Flowkey: Is an excellent piano tutorial app. It has over 1000 songs of all levels and styles. It includes beginners courses for adults starting from scratch.
Returning To The Piano: This is my favorite book for adults who already know a little piano and would like to continue learning more.