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Performance Class

What, Why and When

· Practical Pedagogy

Each semester, before our Fall Recitals and Pop Showcases, we have a performance class two weeks before the event. This also gives us another week to make improvements based on their performance class experience. It is a priority of mine for the presentation of the performances to be of high quality, and for each student to know what to expect at their event to help ease anxiety and nerves.

  • Experience! The more experience we have being put 'on the spot' even in front of a friendly group of peers, the more confidence we have when it comes time for a larger event and the more we are able to get comfortable with the dopamine and adrenaline that goes through our body.
  • Logistics. This is a great time to review what we have been reinforcing for at least one or two lessons before now. If a student opts out of performance class, they do not receive a private lesson this week, and they are not allowed to perform at the event. Rare exceptions with high school students will occur. 
    • Your performance begins when the audience knows you are next. 
    • Enter the bass side of the piano
    • Hands float up to the piano, or if you are more advanced, your first notes need to be intentional
    • Dynamic contrasts cannot be too great!
    • Be intentional with the last note. That means if it's a short one, stand up immediately, or if it's a longer note, make sure the note is held for its full value, and then some if appropriate. 
    • Hands float off the piano, back into the lap, leaving their music until after they bow. 
    • When students bow, their right hand should be at their side, and their left hand should be at the crook of the piano. 
    • When students bow, they should look at their toes and count to three.
    • Then, take their music (if they are using it.)
  • Camaraderie. I really enjoy creating a positive performance space where students get to know other young musicians. It's wonderful to see a friendly face at their performance!
Focus: One of the things we do at CMM to distract the kids and encourage them to stay focused, is we throw (gently) Starbursts at their hands while they are playing. Then, the candy lands on the keys, and they REALLY have to concentrate to make it work and not lose their place. The students absolutely love it and are usually smiling the whole time, in anticipation of the candy. We use Starbursts because they are wrapped, won't melt and we don't have to worry about a nut allergy.
Number of students: No more than 10.
Sign up: We use a link on SignUpGenius where the parents simply sign their child up for a class time that works for them. This class is in place of their private lesson that week, and we have a separate High School class on Wednesday evenings for older kids who would rather not be with young ones. 
Class Plan: The first 5 minutes or so is given to getting to know who else is in their class. Name, grade in school, age, piece they are playing and what they love about making music, or something interesting about them. I'm a little boring with the get-to-know-you games, so if you have something more fun, by all means, do that! The next 2-3 minutes are for the teacher to demonstrate what is expected, give some silly examples of what not to do, and then call on students. I don't usually ask for volunteers. As an aside, when the students arrive for the class I simply put their piece by their name and 'program' the class how I think it would sound if we had a recital. The next 25-30 minutes are spent with each student going through the process, performing, bowing, etc...and the teacher giving his/her positive comment followed by one element they can improve for the second round. For each round, I tend to 'throw' very gentle, 2-3 Starbursts at their hands, which they get to keep, but are not allowed to eat during class. The second round goes much quicker! Be sure you review the element you expect improvement on prior to them playing the second time.
Feedback: We choose not to treat this as a master class, so there is usually one positive comment given, and one general or specific 'thing' they can work on. It's also a great idea to ask engaging questions of the class to see what they heard the student performing doing well, and maybe a suggestion for improvement. That wholly depends on the class dynamic for whether the teacher needs to do that, or you will have student participation.
Teacher Communication: Each teacher emails out a list of the students that performed and a very brief sentence or two summarizing what went well and what could be improved. We're going to use a Google doc this year for ease and streamlining. Much better than keeping track of 20 different emails!