Facing Your Fears

Challenging students to perform solo

Wide-eyed child is hands fearfully gripping his face

Spring brings fresh air, warm weather, and exciting outdoor excursions. But for music students, it also brings the impending doom of Solo & Ensemble contests, concerts, and auditions for next year’s band and orchestra. As daunting as it may be, there are ways to overcome it. Be prepared, and take control of the fear.


Performance is good for you

So your student should be doing it.

Performing will help your student…

…Be a better musician

Solo performing gives students the chance to learn more about their instrument…it’s abilities, it’s history, and it’s repertoire. Plus there’s the extra practice. All of this helps them improve their sound, sure, but it does more than that. It gives them a deeper understanding of music, which is instrumental (pun intended) to developing their craft. Not only will they be a better player, they will be a better musician.

…Exercise teamwork

Your student’s part exists for a reason. So does their partner’s. They work together. Smaller ensembles, like duets, trios, and quintets, are so bare-boned that students have to know their part and be familiar with everyone else’s. Once they’re working together, they’ll be able to anticipate each other’s movements and create something special.

…Practice public speaking

Performing is a lot like public speaking. Students have to think on their feet and adapt under pressure all while demonstrating their knowledge to an audience that will determine their success. Not all of us are public speakers, nor are all of us musicians, but this is a great skill to have either way.

…Learn to accept criticism

It can be hard for student’s (and adults, let’s be honest) to accept, but the only way to get better is to know what needs work. No judge is out to destroy students, but they are here to help students improve. Criticism helps us grow.

Face your fears

By being prepared

Cat with lion shadow

1. Be prepared

Know your music

Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong. Have you ever had that dream where you’re presenting on a topic you know nothing about? That’s what performing is like when you don’t know the music. The better students know their music, the better they’ll probably perform.

Know the accompaniment

Students that know their music aren’t usually thrown off by the accompaniment. However, if they’re struggling, have them listen to their piece online or request a copy of the accompaniment for extra rehearsals outside of school. Their director can also give more guidance in most cases.

Know how to perform

The director will go over this with their first-timers, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to run through it the day of:

No locking knees…so they don’t faint

Music stands high…so they aren’t hunched over trying to read it

Tuning the correct way…so everything sounds right

Have a backup plan

Make sure your student has extra (broken-in) reeds, valve oil, copies of their music, and anything else they might need last minute. Need to restock? Give us a call or order online and get free delivery to schools.

Know the performance pace

For Solo & Ensemble contests: Know how fast your student’s room is running. Some judges take time to work with students, some don’t. Accompanists can be double or triple booked for performance times. By end of day, some rooms can run as much as an hour off schedule! Check the room your student is performing in periodically and get a feel for the pace to know when your student will end up performing.

2. Use your nerves

Shake it out

If it suits your student, try some physical exercises to get rid of the butterflies. Let your them take a walk, do some jumping jacks, shake our their hands and feet, etc.


Don’t be worried if your student has a death grip on their phone just before their performance. Concentrating on something else might seem counterproductive, but it’s calming for some students. Plus, taking a break now might give them a chance to really focus when performing.


Try some breathing exercises to calm down. They’ll catch their breath, sooth the nerves in their chest and stomach, and will be distracted from fear for a moment. Here’s one for you to try:

Inhale for 4 beats, hold for 4, exhale for 12

In for 6, hold for 4, out for 8

In for 8, hold for 4, out for 6

In for 12, hold for 4, out for 4


At some point the nerves will be there not matter what, so harness the power! The trick is to convince them that they’re not nervous, but excited! If they’re able to do it, the adrenaline will work for them, not against them.

Damage control

May be required

Smashed guitar

A poor performance can bomb a young musician’s confidence (take it from us!). Hopefully a little damage control will help them bounce back.

Accept the criticism

First, know that their score isn’t as important as the judge’s comments.

Second, know that getting comments doesn’t mean they’re terrible, it means they have a chance to get even better.

Third, even famous musicians get critiqued, so we’re all in the same boat.

Ultimately, critiques make us better, which is what we all want. And don’t forget: no one is as hard on your student as they are on themselves.

Take back the power

After a bomb of a performance, your student has a choice: quit music forever, or get out and try again.

Whether they nailed it or failed it, they worked at something and saw it through to the end, which is an accomplishment in it’s own right, and the repercussions of this particular performance are probably pretty small. This was one performance and there are many more to come.

Remember, not only does your student have the power to bounce back from a bad experience, they have the power to prepare and control the nerves that come from performing. We hope your student gets out there to perform and has a great time doing it! Good luck!

happy boy plays saxophone
Even though you don’t need luck since you practiced!