How to Help a Student with Performance Anxiety

How to Help a Student with Performance Anxiety

If you’ve been a teacher for any length of time, you’ve probably had a student with performance anxiety.

Maybe you have a student who is really nervous about an upcoming recital or competition. Or maybe you WERE the student who always got really nervous before a performance, and you know exactly how they feel.

How can you help them work through their nerves and get through the performance…and maybe even enjoy it?

If that seems like a daunting task, I know how you feel.

It can be hard to combat that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach before you perform, and even harder to know how to help your student through that same feeling.

The good news is that by taking a few simple steps, you can drastically reduce performance anxiety for your students (and maybe for yourself too)!

Be a Model of Patience and Perseverance

The only thing worse than feeling like a ball of nerves before an upcoming recital is thinking that you’re disappointing your teacher by feeling that way!

Of course most teachers would never think that way, but your student might be worried about letting you down even if they never say that.

Reassure your students that anxiety before a performance is natural and almost everyone gets it. Encourage them to be patient with themselves if they get their fingers in a tangle or fumble a page turn due to nerves.

Having an understanding mentor in their corner will go a long way towards building up their confidence for the big day and help your student banish performance anxiety for good!

Prepare Like Crazy

There are two parts to this one:


Have the student practice their pieces over and over again until they know them inside and out. Work on the difficult sections until they can play them with confidence. Review the dynamics and articulation in the piece.

Try having them stop and then start in the middle, or play the ending first before returning to the beginning of the song. This will help them think about the piece in sections. It also teaches them how to stay on track in case something goes wrong in the performance.

Being able to get back into the music after a mistake without stopping or panicking will make them feel much more prepared and ready.


Practice the actual performance with the student. Put on a practice recital for their family members, or use their favorite stuffed animal friends as an audience.

Run through the performance in the same order that you’ll use at the recital: introduce them, have them walk up to the piano and bow, play through their pieces in the correct order, and then smile and bow again as you applaud.

Do this several times, and once they get the hang of it, add a distraction while they’re playing. Play a ringtone on your cellphone or pace around the room.

Distractions are bound to occur while the student is playing, and this is a good way to prepare them for that and help them learn to focus and tune out any interruptions.

Practicing both the pieces and the performance will help your student conquer the fear of the unknown and feel more assured of their ability to perform in front of others.

Give Them Some Perspective

Sometimes a new way of looking at things is all that is needed to calm performance anxiety.

Talk to your student about their feelings about the upcoming performance.

Try to reorient their negative thoughts to something positive.

Instead of focusing on all the people who will be watching and listening to them, emphasize the beautiful music they will be playing and how enjoyable it will be for others to hear it.

The opportunity to perform is a gift, not a curse! That might be difficult for a nervous student to believe at first, but in time they may come to see it that way.

That’s what learning is all about, right?

Johann Sebastian Bach once said, “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.

Now that’s perspective!

Set a Positive Example

One of the best ways to help your students feel more at ease when performing is to let them watch you do it first.

Consider being the first one to play at your studio recital. They’ll feel more comfortable following in your footsteps once they see that you made it though and lived to tell the tale, and who knows? They might even start to think it looks pretty fun!

What approach do you use to help your student with performance anxiety? Join the discussion below!

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