[1.III.14.1] Benefits and Pitfalls of Performances/Recitals

The benefits and pitfalls of performing determine our daily piano learning programs. For the amateur pianist, the benefits of performances, even casual ones, are immeasurable. The most important benefit is that technique is never really acquired until it is demonstrated in a performance. For young students, the benefits are even more fundamental. They learn what it means to complete a real task, and they learn what "making music" means. Most youngsters (who don’t take music lessons) don't learn these skills until they go to college; piano students must learn them at their first recital, regardless of age. Students are never as self-motivated as when preparing for a recital. Teachers who have held recitals know those enormous benefits. Their students become focused, self-motivated, and results oriented; they listen intently to the teacher and really try to understand the meaning of the teachers' instructions. The students become deadly serious about eliminating all errors and learning everything correctly -- it is capitalism at its best, because it is their recital. Teachers without recitals often end up with students who practice maybe a few times just before lesson day.

Because the psychology and sociology of piano playing is not well developed, there are pitfalls that we must seriously consider. The most important one is nervousness and its impact on the mind, especially for the young. Nervousness can make recitals a frightful experience that requires careful attention in order to avoid not only unhappy experiences but also lasting psychological damage. At the very least, reducing nervousness will alleviate stress and fright. There is not enough attention paid to making recitals a pleasant experience and reducing the tension and stress, including the piano competitions. This whole subject will be treated more completely in the section on nervousness. The point here is that any discussions on performing must include a treatment of stage fright. Even great artists have stopped performing for long periods of time for one reason or another, and some of the reasons were undoubtedly related to stress. Therefore, although good piano teachers always hold recitals of their students and enter them into competitions, they have tended to be poor sociologists or psychologists, concentrating only on piano playing and ignoring nervousness. It is important for any person guiding youngsters through recitals and competitions to learn the fundamentals of what causes nervousness, how to deal with it, and its psychological consequences. When teachers fail, it is the job of the parents to look out for the social and psychological welfare of their children; therefore, the following section (section III.15) on nervousness is a necessary companion to this section.

There are numerous other psychological and sociological implications of recitals and competitions. The judging systems in music competitions are notoriously unfair, and judging is a difficult and thankless job. Thus students entered into competition must be informed of these shortcomings of the "system" so that they do not suffer mental damage from perceived unfairness and disappointment. It is difficult, but possible, for students to understand that the most important element of competitions is that they participate, not that they win. There is too much emphasis on technical difficulty and not enough on musicality. The system does not encourage communication among teachers to improve teaching methods. It is no wonder that there is a school of thought that favors eliminating competitions. There is no question that recitals and competitions are necessary; but the present system can certainly be improved. We discuss some ideas in .