How to encourage adult student who gets nervous in lessons. : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I have an adult student who has studied with me for about two years and works very hard to put a lot of practice time in weekly--approximately 8 to 10 hours. However, her note reading is sometimes a struggle and she gets extremely nervous at lessons. Pieces that went fine at home for her will sometimes fall apart in the lesson. I try to be encouraging, but she has often broken into tears of dissapointment in herself. Any suggestions on how to be realistic with her, yet encouraging, too?

-- KDC (, March 29, 2003


I dont have any good answer for you other than to tell you that I am in the same situation as your student.

Every since being intimidated by a teacher in grade school in front of the class (repeatedly) I have always had a problem performing anything in front of other people. I will even mess up if somebody watches me sign my name. The funny thing is Im no dummy and do engineering for a living. Its just that when somebody watches me I feel like an idiot. This is why I havent taken formal lessons yet, even though I think I would learn alot. I just get too nervouse.

I expect this is what your student is feeling and I sympathize with both her and you. You sound like a good teacher though and she is probably lucky since you seem to recognize the problem and be concerned, instead of just writing her off as a slacker. Alot of times its just the intensity that becomes a problem. I dont have any problem doing work in conjunction with another person, if I feel like we are working together. Its just when I know that watchfull gaze is occuring that I mess up. I completly quit concentrating on what Im doing and all I can think about is "the gaze". How you could translate this into your lessons I dont really know. Humor probably helps alot. I remember one of the most inspiring moments I had in college was to see somebody who had a PhD in mathematics mess up on a math problem in front of everybody and just laugh about it.

Good luck to you and your student

-- Kirk Roberts (, April 01, 2003.

KDC: Like Kirk, I too am an adult student (two years)who had just your student's problem - I even cried once or twice, (making my teacher feel much worse than I felt, I'm sure!) but things seem better now, and I am trying to think what it is that has helped.

I believe it is the attitude of my present teacher; we seem to work things out together. She has the knowledge, but somehow it seems a partnership, with the goal to get me playing better. I contribute what I can to the understanding of a problem, and somehow it makes me feel more in charge of my playing, with emphasis on the playing, and not on me. That pesky "ego" thing - it is so hard to put it aside!

I still make lots of mistakes and mess up a piece good an proper, but somehow, while it is not "OK," I seem to be able to accept the fact that it is still a "work in progress." I understand that adults are funny when they try to learn; they seem to feel that they should be perfect.

One thing my teacher told me at my first lesson: You feel you are a successful adult, raising a family, working well at your job, contributing to your community, and then...enter the piano! Feelings of competency vanish!

It is so much easier to just not try anything new once you are "grown up." Doggone it, why do we get this way? Perhaps we all have a variation of Kirk's story in our past. I urge you, Kirk, to get a teacher and give it a try.

And, KDC, I sure wish you and your student the best. I hope a teacher who has some ideas concerning your situation will contribute an answer here. It is such a widespread problem!

-- Shirley Gibson (, April 01, 2003.

We certainly could have our own 'club' of adult piano students who experience the same things! I can empathize so much with the nervous adult students, and with you, KDC, the teacher. I'm 50, started teaching myself piano 12 years ago. I knew I needed a teacher to get the technique down, so over the years I tried about 4 teachers. The longest I lasted with one was about 2 months. I would play well at home, alone, but shake like a leaf in front of the teacher. I never got the feeling they were comfortable with me--what to do with my 'condition'. So, I pretty much gave up for the last ten years. Last summer started getting the 'bug' again, dug out my music and started playing, called the music teachers assoc. in our area and said I needed a teacher who worked with adult students (they'd KNOW what that meant!). WEll, I've been with a teacher now for 7 months, have gone from shaking so badly that I looked like I was having a heart attack, to playing at an Intermediate level (6)and having the time of my life! I give all the credit to my teacher. She started out not setting her chair right next to me where I felt like she was 'staring over my shoulder'--she was more just 'listening'. She gave me so much wonderful feedback, always made me feel like I had talent and assured me, in time the shakes would go away and I'd overcome the self-consciousness. Funny, we've become friends, and recently she said, "now that you've come this far, I have to admit, when you first came to me, I had my doubts!!" WE laugh alot during our lesson, and humor IS a wonderful tool! Another tip my teacher gave me, and I was horrified at the thought, but, she said, play at home IN FRONT OF PEOPLE (I'd always worn my headphones) and I have to say, that helped enormously. I didn't even want my family to hear me! Then I started shaking at home! But, the more I did it, the easier it got! One thing I would really like and think would be helpful, is if there were a number of adult students who could have a 'playing class' once a month, where we all had to play for each other, just to get used to playing in front of others.. good luck to all!

-- Mandy (, April 02, 2003.

KDC: I just read on another board of a book concerning performance anxiety (which certainly would pertain to your student's problem) which was praised to the skies by several pianists: "Performance Success" by Don Greene. Perhaps if you could get a hold of a copy from your library, it could help both you and your adult student to cope. Just a thought! Good luck. Shirley

-- Shirley Gibson (, April 03, 2003.

This is a tricky one but I have asked my adult students to record themselves at home and bring in the tape or drop it off the day before. This way they are nervous when they play, because they know it is for me, but they can "listen" to themsleves and discover how good they really are and we evaluate their playing together. I also change their lesson name to a performance improver lesson. We discuss what the main problems are eg. shaking hands. We then do exercies to stop the hand shaking, deep breathing, pressing the fingers right down into the key board. Then we run a small passage again and see how much improvement we have. In other words I am not marking her work or checking on how much practice the student has done, but learning how to overcome fear. I hope this helps.

-- Deanne Scott (, April 27, 2003.

I had an adult student fro two years, She was not very good simply because she did not have a lot of time to practice. She would always apoligize and tried to play the best she can. At first she would be nervous...but once she passed that she was only ashamed of her playing. I usally reminded her she was doing more than anybody...As an adult she had lots of responsabilities and a family,,and ppiano practicing. So, what I would recommend is to ask the student why she or he is taking lessons? Fun? Let it be fun then and stop worrying.

-- gabriela Fernandez (, April 28, 2003.

I am 52, a student of piano for 8 yrs. and have had the same problem described heretofore. That is I can play very well alone but when I get in front of a teacher my piece is played about 50% as well as done alone. He is what I find that works:

(1) Encourage student to take a low dose Beta Blocker medication prescibed by his doctor about two hours before the lesson. This will greatly help with secondary symptoms of anxiety and therefore make concentration much easier. Sweaty palms, tremor, etc. by themselves is distracting.

(2) The teacher should have the student play lots in front of her. The more the student plays, the more he or she will be comfortable playing. The first 10 mins are the most critical.

(3) The student should be as prepared as possible for the lesson as his or her confidence will be enhanced.

And yes, I am a doctor.

-- JOHN FLEMING (, December 28, 2003.

Check out, and have your student do the same. In fact, I learned so much from it as an adult student, I still go back and re-read. I even started an adult student only get- together for awhile. It was really helpful to all of us.

-- EHD (, December 29, 2003.

Gosh. I know just what this is like. I sometimes (at age 59+) shake so badly I can hardly play for my teacher, who is wonderful and very encouraging. What works for me is to get to the practise room early and play either exercises or a piece I'm working on a couple of times. I think what happens is that I both relax, feel more comfortable with the studio grand and get slightly bored (!) so that when my teacher arrives, I feel I'm a bit more in control of my responses and capabilities. she also has some good exercises -- clench your fists, take a deep breath and hold it, with your arms back by your shoulders, then move yours arms so they right in front of your chest and...then...relax and exhale. It seems to work pretty well. Another thing I've learned from Merete (my teacher) is to make a kind of joke of parts which are hard....exaggerate all the movements, so that you look a bit silly...raise your arms about a foot above the keyboard and then attack a chord or arpeggio....or exaggerate your finger movements (think of the most effusive pianist you can imagine) and play that way for a moment or two. It helps remind you of both the "real" technical goal and also makes it silly enough that you relax. is almost impossible to be tense if you have your mouth open and are breathing or singing. your mouth and smile when you're playing!

-- Connie Lindgreen (, January 01, 2004.

One other thing. My experience was that since i've been an more-or- less high-powered executive in my recent past, I expected myself to have the same results I always had in business....and that made me very unhappy when it came to Bach 2-part inventions or Chopin Waltzs... the trick there was to realise I didn't have the same level of control as I had over my business, nor did I need to! I'm just an humble student when it comes to music, and one who has (more- or-less, again) accepted that!

-- Connie Lindgreen (, January 01, 2004.

I have been playing for a total of 11 years, now. There was a 30+ year absence after 8 years of lessons. Initially I practiced 3 hours per day to get back to my former level of playing. I now try to get in 2 hours per day/5 days per week-at least. I have played in our church worship services, which really racked my nerves, but is geting better. I work on challenging advanced piano solos that I never thought I could play. Playing in front of my teacher sometimes still unnerves me. I find myself somewhat intimidated by his remarkable talent. But, this teacher is a great encourager. I am also fortunate to have a family that is proud of my accomplishments and strongly encourages me daily. I try these things to help with the nerves: 1.Beta blockers-goal is to use ONLY when nerves are their worst.

2. Play in front of family and friends in a relaxed setting, where all attention is not on me.

3. Play with distractions. Barking dogs, ringing phones, etc. helped me develop my concentration. Take this slowly or go insane!

4. Have family and friends stand around you when you play so that you can get used to "all eyes on you."

I hope this helps. I still look for suggestions for myself. I love playing and enjoy it for relaxation. I regret the lost time and have committed to myself to push ahead-even when I am uncomfortable. I just take it slowly. Good luck! Stay with it.

-- Kathryn Watson (, August 20, 2004.

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