How to Get More Expressive Performances

How do you get your students to SHOW their expression in their performance? Being expressive is a very personal journey. Some professionals remain very stone-faced, and others love to put it all out there! So how do we help our young musicians navigate their expressive options?⁠

Build trust

Your students need to know they can make mistakes, go a little overboard, and show their love for the music without any social repercussions. Be a model of forgiveness, levity, and trustworthiness. Encourage students to give each other courage!

Model expressive performance

Play or sing for your students occasionally to demonstrate a polished performance, including expression. Have a conversation that touches on how you showed your love for your music in a way they could see. You don’t need to be a super showy over-the-top expressive performer. Just be yourself– students can tell when you fake it!

Give emotional context

Know and share the emotional context of a piece. What was the composer’s mindset? Is this telling a story of love, faith, despair, freedom, joy? Don’t fake this one either. It’s such a letdown and a breach of trust when the students (inevitably!) find out you fabricated a sob story to get them to emote.

Let them see live music

There’s nothing like it! Not only will they SEE the expression on a professional performer’s face, but they will also feel the vibe of the room. When that’s not an option, there’s always YouTube and Zoom! The important part is to make the expression part of the discussion. Don’t shy away from talking about what made their performance compelling.

Let it come naturally

Some students will absolutely not show their expression outwardly. It doesn’t mean they don’t love what they are doing! Please don’t force students to fake it. Similarly, encourage students who do love to sing or play expressively. Suggest a classroom norm that supports all kinds of signs of expressive performances. There’s nothing worse than a kid who loves to ham it up be torn down by other kids poking fun.

Direct instruction on stage fright management

Some students will naturally find their own ways to manage stage fright– but most won’t. They’re afraid of disappointing themselves, feeling overly critical, afraid of disappointing other people, or they’re afraid of the feelings that they’re physically feeling. What I mean by that is when you have all these psychological factors that are making you feel anxious, you creates a physical somatic response in your body and that feeds back into feeling more nervous. When you teach them how to calm themselves before and during a performance, they can accept how their body is feeling and still perform at a high level.

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