Debra's Music Lessons

Why Recitals are Like Life Skills 101

Tuesday, May 10, 2016 | Uncategorized

Why Recitals Are Like Life Skills 101

Public performances and recitals are an essential ingredient in music education. Not

only do the student’s music skills benefit from the culminating event, it also has many

transferrable skills with life skills.!


Recitals are like so many things in life. It’s a due date when you need to really know

something well and you need to show it in public, in this case 100 of your friends,

families and peers. Think of the times when you had to present a paper or a case or a

sales pitch at a specific time and day. The recital is preparation for that. It’s a deadline.

Discipline and Mastery

Preparing for the recital is also like life. The discipline required to learn, memorize and

perform the pieces is the same discipline you use when you are in college working on a

term paper, at your job preparing the big powerpoint presentation to your clients,

presenting your court case to the judge and jury and so on. There’s a level of mastery

that needs to be achieved in a recital. Nowadays, it seems there’s less encouragement

or paths to mastery with all the instant gratification of digital downloads and games and

apps. We don’t let our children go 5 seconds before we step in to help them with a

frustrating problem. Mastery requires discipline and a commitment to “do it again...and

again.” Self-help guru Anthony Robbins speaks of the 10,000 hours it required to master

a skill. Malcolm Gladwell describes some greats including Bill Gates in Outliers:

The Story of Success!. It does take a lot of time, discipline and repetition to master

anything. And music lessons culminating in a recital is a training ground for discipline on

the road to mastery. Even better to start at such an early age!

Performance Anxiety

Anxiety is a big part of any public performance. There was a survey somewhere I saw

that listed people’s top fears in order of worst to least. At the top was public speaking,

followed by death by burning! Incredible. Most people would rather die burning at the

stake than have to speak in public. A recital is a public performance and by repeatedly

going through the process, the anxiety lessens over time. 2 years ago, I remember a

number of students in particular looking rather ill before their turn. Now, those same kids

are still nervous, but it’s not the same panic attack level, rather a heightened level of

awareness with a confidence that they will fly through.


Mistakes will happen as in life. In fact, how often do things go exactly the way you want

them to? Almost never. Your goal is to minimize them. But you can never achieve 100%

perfection, you wouldn’t want to. To play like a machine is completely useless. It’s the

mistakes that make you sound human and gives you unique expression. As described

in a recent NY Times article about what makes music so expressive, researcher Daniel

J. Levitin at McGill University and Edward W. Large at Florida Atlantic University

recorded a concert pianist performing a Chopin etude analyzing it for speed, rhythm,

loudness and softness. They then recreated the performance with a computer stripping

it of any human variances, in other words, making it more perfect. They then scanned

the brains of listeners as they listened. The results? Perfection is boring.


Another thing discovered by these researchers is that music can give us emotional hits

by creating a subtle change from a pattern. In all of my lessons, I’m always showing the

structure lying underneath the piece of music we are working on. Whether it’s the grand

scheme of section A followed by section B or even just how the notes of one measure

actually are spelling out an F chord. It’s the same in real life. There’s an order and

structure to how things are put together, whether it’s a sandwich, a computer program, a

resume or a social network.


Possibly the best part of a recital is the immediate feedback from the audience. There’s

no waiting around for an acceptance letter in the mail, if you did well, you know it right

now! And if not so well, then you know that too. What’s great about our recitals is they

are safe space, a controlled environment as everyone is there rooting for you. It’s your

home court and we all want you to make a slam dunk! And if you don’t, we’ll empathize

with you and give you a hug too. It really doesn’t matter - you did your best. And there’s

always the next recital.