You’ve been practicing all week for this performance. The time comes for you to walk up on the stage, and you start to get nervous. You begin your piece, and the nerves don’t go away. You know that you’re making mistakes and you know that the audience can hear them, and it just makes the whole situation worse. By the time you finish and your studio mates applaud you, you’re feeling pretty down.
As a graduate student, I have had my fair share of these types of studio experiences, and, of course, it’s not fun. Sometimes there’s nothing you can really do but just push through the nerves and finish your performance. That is what your studio class is there for; to practice your performance skills. I know that studio class can be pretty daunting, but I encourage you to think about these things when you have to perform in your studio classes in the future:
1. Your professor and your studio mates are all there to help you... which sounds obvious, but it’s so easy to forget. Everyone in your studio class knows what it’s like to have to perform in front of you and your peers. Everyone gets nervous, even if they don’t look like it on the stage. Even your professors get nervous from time to time. It’s something that we all have to deal with and work on, so don’t be so hard on yourself if your nerves get to you.
2. You don’t have to give perfect performances in studio class. A lot of students are using studio class as a way to prepare for their performances, whether it’s a studio recital, a solo recital, an audition, etc. So, while everyone should prepare their piece well, it doesn’t have to be perfect. If it was perfect, then you wouldn’t need to play it in studio class. Everyone has the capacity to improve, even the students in your studio class that you think play well every single time.
3. Not only do your studio mates and your professor want to help you in studio class, they see a lot of good qualities in your performances. If you’ve just performed and you don’t think that you did very well, you’re going to be hung up on all of your mistakes that you just made. But, you don’t really know what your studio mates are thinking. Oftentimes in my studio class, my studio mates always give some sort of a compliment when they’re giving comments and it’s so nice to hear that because you might not have noticed something that went well in your performance.
As nerve-wracking as it can be, studio class is a helpful class, and your studio mates and your professor want to see you succeed.
It’s the day of your lesson. You get into your professor’s room, you start to play through your difficult repertoire, and it all goes out the window. For some reason, even though you practiced all week, it’s not showing in your lesson.
I know how soul-crushing this can be. As a graduate student, I’ve had my fair share of “bad” lessons in the 14 years I’ve been playing violin. Here is my advice to anyone going through something like this:
First, let yourself feel whatever you feel. If you need to cry it out, then do it! If you need a break from the practice rooms, take the break. Try not to beat yourself up. As musicians, I think we forget that music and performing is hard. It’s a lot of intellectual work; figuring out minute changes in our posture to improve our performance, trying to deduce what fingering or bowing works where and why, and listening to recordings of yourself playing to analyze what worked and what didn’t... It takes a lot of time, effort and energy to be a musician.
Second, decide whether you want to involve your professor or not. It is totally up to you whether you want to talk about this with your professor, but I always recommend being open about things like this because at the end of the day, your professor is there to help you out. We are musicians, but we are also human; we can’t be motivated 24/7 to practice and get everything done.
Third, make a plan for the next lesson. What made it a ‘bad’ lesson? Did you not feel prepared for it? Is the music you are learning overwhelming you? Are you sick and not feeling well? Once you can pinpoint exactly what went wrong, you can make sure the next lesson goes well.
I spent way too much of my undergraduate years being afraid of my violin professor and my lessons. It took me two years into my undergraduate studies to realize that my professors are there to help me improve my technique, and not to make me feel bad if I make a mistake in the lesson. And once I realized this, I improved much faster because I was no longer stressed at every lesson.