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Emily R Offline OP
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Perhaps this topic has been raised before, but does anyone have tips for getting over nervousness when playing for your teacher. Sometimes I get brain freeze or shaking fingers so extreme I can't play. Noah Adams, the NPR journalist who wrote a book "Piano Lessons: Music, Love and True Adventures" wrote that he went to adult music camp and someone had a button that read, "I played it better at home," but sometimes I can't play at all!

Suggestions and commiseration welcome!


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I can commiserate only. I started taking lessons again after playing in general solitude for years and years. I can’t play well enough to demonstrate to my teacher how far along I’ve gotten in a piece.

I’m planning to take weekly lessons to just play in front of him until I get over it.

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Hi Emily
My advice? Tell yourself frequently that lessons are not a performance; they should not be viewed as a way to show how much better you are than your last lesson. They should be a place to get educated, professional help with your weaknesses.

What I now do in my lessons: I start, not by playing through a piece, but playing the measures where I have questions or problems. I expose all of my ‘not doing greats’, so I have no personal feelings of ‘see, I’m better’. It really has made lessons less of a performance mindset to one of getting assistance. .. and the lessons are satisfying for both me and my teacher.

Quit performing for your teacher


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The strange thing is, though I've always had stage fright/performance anxiety (though I didn't know it when I was a kid, because I never had to perform in front of an audience, and I always avoided social gatherings like the plague), I never had any problem playing for any of my four teachers (though I did have problems playing for examiners sitting at a desk with inscrutable expressions, twiddling their all-powerful pens with their no doubt masterful and musical fingers.......but that's another story).

I believe that's because in my first piano lesson with my first teacher when I was ten (when I didn't know one end of the keyboard from another), almost the first thing she did was to get me to sing the beats aloud with her: one, two, three, four (in English too, though I think I could only count to ten in English at the time), whilst playing middle C with alternate thumbs. Though my pitch wobbled all over the place, whereas hers was right on the money, she made it all seem perfectly natural. If she could sing for me, and with me, showing by example, I could sing with her - and as she played the notes along with me, I played along with her. I never felt like I had to prove anything to her - she already knew I had all the musical talent of Tandonia budapestensis.

Which was why, even when I was playing Mozart a few months later (kiddie Mozart, that is), it didn't matter how badly I played during the lessons. She knew I was doing my best, and I knew she was there to help me, not judge me. (And by then, I could sing more or less in pitch whilst counting, and did not feel self-conscious or silly in the least: I never had any problem with aural tests in my piano exams after that.)

And that's why I do the same with my beginner students of whatever age: get them to lose their inhibition right from the first lesson by singing beats aloud together (maybe even dance together), and make sure they know that I am not judge, jury and executioner.... whistle


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I know that my teacher doesn't care so much about whether I play the entire piece through without mistakes. It is one of the last things on his mind. I know that he would be happier if I could play 2-3 bars extremely well than the entire piece okayish. This makes me focus in the moment. It's okay if I pause or make a couple mistakes, what matters is that I've improved on the things I've worked on with him over the week. I've actually often played better in front of teachers than I do at home.

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I often wonder if piano is the toughest instrument to play where anxiety is concerned.
I imagine the drums would be easy to get rid of nervous energy

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Wasn't there someone here ages ago with the username IPIBAH? I Played It Better At Home... I tried doing a search but came up empty.

Yeah, common problem. I've never met anyone that claimed to play it better at the lesson!

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What dogperson said. Cultivate the mindset that it's a learning session, not a performance. One needs to set aside their sense of self (ego) and be willing to make mistakes. I know, easier said than done. We adults have learned that it's better to not screw up in front of others, if at all possible.

When I started lessons my hands shook so bad I could barely press the keys. Over time it got better, but truth is, it's never completely gone away. I still make stoopid mistakes at my lesson that I'd never make at home. I've made my peace with it.


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What dogperson and Stubbie said. A lesson is not a performance. It’s not a time to show your teacher how good you are, but a time to show her where you need improvement. Your teacher is not judging you, she’s there to help you improve. Do you have a close confidante who you can divulge your inner most secrets to? All the things you’d be embarrassed to tell your colleagues or associates? Think of your piano teacher as that close confidante regarding your piano skills. It’s all in the mind. smile

Last edited by WeakLeftHand; 01/29/22 06:48 PM.

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A good teacher can tell if you're improving regardless of what you think. If you're paying them to teach and they are not paying you to learn, don't be overly concerned. If they start berating you or belittling you, tell them you're uncomfortable with their behavior or demeanor or whatever. If they get in your face, fire them on the spot and get a new teacher. They're toxic.

This is music instruction, not a military boot camp.

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Originally Posted by NXR
A good teacher can tell if you're improving regardless of what you think. If you're paying them to teach and they are not paying you to learn, don't be overly concerned. If they start berating you or belittling you, tell them you're uncomfortable with their behavior or demeanor or whatever. If they get in your face, fire them on the spot and get a new teacher. They're toxic.

This is music instruction, not a military boot camp.

Ray

Lesson anxiety can occur even with the calmest, most well-mannered teacher on the planet. It is an adult internal attribute where we want to succeed/be considered as competent.


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I think students of all ages, not just adults as some have implied, want to please and play well for their teacher. In fact, I think this trait is more true for younger students than for adults.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I think students of all ages, not just adults as some have implied, want to please and play well for their teacher.
Try reading it in the sense of it applying to adults _and not just_ children instead of adults _as opposed to_ children.


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As many many people here I can easily relate to that. Imagine that as a professional I routinely deliver presentations to large audiences and I am perfectly at ease and successful at that; not so at piano lessons.

A good suggestion already given that I can strongly reiterate: start all the lesson by asking questions, advice on difficult passages. That could put the lesson in the right perspective, you are there to learn, to be taught to, not jugded. I know, easier said than done, but worth a try.

enjoy, M.

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Hi Emily!

You have had many good answers already, so I am going to give you one that might not be that good. A friend of mine suffered from the same problem, and he started to record his practice session, from beginning to end, with a clock visible on the piano. When he had played a piece quite well, he noted the time, and afterwards he made a video clip of the piece. During the lesson, instead of performing the piece, he showed the recording to his teacher. Could that be a solution for you?

PS. This worked quite well, but then my friend wished to do an exam. Now the teacher did no longer want to see any recordings - she requested he played the piece. Furthermore, she demanded that my friend started to practise on an online open practice channel - I have forgotten its name, something with Room maybe - so anybody who was there could hear him playing. He was crazy nervous the first time, but this helped a lot, and he performed very well during his exam.


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The online platform is called Discord. https://discord.com/

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There is a PW member that was moderating the following Discord channel, although I don't know if she still does now. This is a link to the YouTube channel. There is an invite in the about section of the channel. If you follow r/piano you've probably seen it then.

Pinano YouTube

And here is another Piano related one.

The Art of Piano


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Originally Posted by Wayne2467
I often wonder if piano is the toughest instrument to play where anxiety is concerned.
I imagine the drums would be easy to get rid of nervous energy

I don't think so. IMO voice is worst because tension totally messes up the sound. It's only a little better with wind instruments like the flute--nerves will distort the embouchure and again interfere with the sound. At least the piano keys will still play! But I think every instrument is vulnerable.


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People tend to play better when they're relaxed and assume the audience is not judging them. I tend to play better when doing pieces that are repetitive or the ones I know well than new pieces. Some pieces like Christmas tunes or Happy Birthday we'd listen to every year and the music is in our head. There are pieces we've heard on the radio many times and know enough about them before reading the notes.

2 years ago before my piano lesson I was in the instrument store across the street trying out some keyboards. Another student with the same teacher walked by and recognized I was playing "Georgia" from the Faber Jazz & Blues book. The piece was assigned 2 weeks earlier. It's a short piece I didn't know and had to learn from scratch. After 2 weeks of practice 1/2h/day was enough to become familiar with the piece.

Not sure if performance anxiety is a factor. Some people play reasonably well but not when others are watching including family members & friends they make mistakes. And there is the issue whether you know the music well enough. Someone like myself don't read very well and tend to memorize pieces. I play better when a piece is in my head.

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Originally Posted by Wayne2467
I often wonder if piano is the toughest instrument to play where anxiety is concerned.
I imagine the drums would be easy to get rid of nervous energy

Years ago, when I was having major problems with the instrument I was studying, I went for a walk in a park. I came upon two students of African drumming, practising, before a lesson - I told them I was studying an instrument too. More and more students arrived, and a lesson started. I stayed to watch, and was invited to sit in their midst. (The teacher sort of asked, "Who is that creepy person watching us from over there? laugh ) I observed an awesome lesson and amazing teacher that day. And I learned how difficult drumming actually was. Respect. Actually, timing and rhythm is my nemesis in piano, and I should probably hunt up that class and teacher.

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