One of my favorite sessions I attended at the conference was a performance psychology session presented by Jyoti Hench. Jyoti has a DMA from the University of Oklahoma and runs a private piano studio in California. This session focused on performance psychology skills for musicians ages 6-12. Jyoti took a lot of ideas from Bill Moore’s “Playing Your Best When It Counts.” I’ve attended workshops by Dr. Moore in the past and really appreciated his outlook on performance psychology for musicians, but most of what he presented was aimed at university level musicians or above. I had wondered how to apply his concepts to my young students and Jyoti showed us just that!
The most helpful part of the session to me was Jyoti’s specific tools for how to increase mental performance skills in our students. The sample mental skills she covered were:
- Positive Attitude – It is important for our students to have a positive attitude as they approach a performance. She included some specific ways to cultivate a positive attitude in students. One idea is to write a positive sentence on the assignment sheet that students must complete during the week, such as “I know I’m going to do a great job on Saturday because…” or “I did a great job this week at…”. Jyoti also pointed out that these positive affirmations need to be true! Don’t say you will do good because you practiced every day if you really didn’t. Another method for positive affirmation that I loved was the idea of a “Highlight Card”. These can be about the size of a business card and say “One highlight from your lesson this week was…”. Each week, she jots down a short, positive note about the lesson and gives it to students as they leave. What a great way have students feel good about piano as they leave your studio! I’ve created a “Highlight Card” printable that you can download and use for yourself. I’m not sure if I would be able to keep up with this every week, but maybe I can add it to the routine as a recital is approaching.
- Relaxation – Jyoti focused on keeping breathing relaxed. One technique she suggested was “Swimmer Breathing” which coordinates your breathing with the tempo of the piece. Depending on the speed, you could breath in for 1 measure, out for the next, or make it two measures each. This prevents hyperventilating, or breath-holding at difficult places.
- Imagery – Vivid imagery stays in the memory better than just straight information. We can help our students to create a story that goes along with the music, either through words, or through pictures. Jyoti suggested using a “comic strip” which has one picture for each section of the piece. Having the students create these pictures can help solidify memory and create vivid imagery in their head.
- Concentration and Focus – Jyoti believes that memory slips in performance happen due to a concentration slip. By practicing concentration with our students, we can help them to avoid embarrassing memory slips. One way to do this is by creating a list of things you are going to focus on, such as the sound of the melody, the words of the music, the story or comic strip created for the piece, or the feel of your fingertips on the keys. Giving the brain positive things to focus on can keep the student from thinking “what happens if I mess up?” or “do I know what’s coming next?”. To practice concentration, choose a small section and one item to focus on. Have the student try to focus, with no drifting, for just that section. Gradually increase the length of the section used. This creates a mindfulness of focus which often isn’t present.
I hope some of these tips are helpful to you as you help students prepare for Spring Recitals. Don’t forget to download the “Highlight Card” printable and use this with your students!
Spring Seals, NCTM, teaches 60 piano students ranging from age 3 to 70 in Fort Worth, Texas. She also serves as the Director of Certification for TMTA. She is passionate about helping teachers become more effective in their studios through professional development, new resources, and fresh ideas.