Help Your Child Excel at Music Competitions and Auditions

Music competitions and auditions – the dreaded events of the music world. But are they really so dreadful? Do they have to be? Are these events important? Is there a way we can help take some of the stress and pressure off our kids before these events? Let me show you how to help your child prepare for and excel at competitions and auditions.

Participation Benefits

First of all, consider the benefits of competitions and auditions. Obviously, one of the benefits is the opportunities provided by doing well at these events. Doing well at an audition might allow your child to participate in a band or orchestra outside their school group.

Another benefit for your child is learning to deal with stress and pressure. Life is full of challenging events – learning how to cope with pressure while young will definitely be helpful to your child in the future.

Receiving comments and viewpoints from people other than their music teacher is a great help to music students. Sometimes this is in the form of a reality check – maybe they aren’t as good as you think they are. (Parental bias, anyone?)

A competition judge might hear things differently than a teacher or have a different perspective on interpretation. Comments from “outsiders” can really help a student’s musical development.

And sometimes, comments from a judge just reinforce something the teacher has been saying all along. But coming from a different source, the comments might just “stick” this time.

How Can You Help your Child?

So, how can you help your child get ready for these events? Here are some ideas for you.

Know the Requirements

All competitions and auditions have certain requirements. Perhaps your child’s teacher has outlined them for you. But it is always a good idea to read the rules for yourself and be sure you aren’t missing anything.

Is the your child required to have the music memorized? Be sure you know and be sure your child knows – well in advance of the event!  Being disqualified because you didn’t follow the instructions is heartbreaking!

How many copies of the music are required for the judges? Is an original required? Be sure you check for this and have at least one original copy of the music (if required). Be sure to have marked anything in the music that you child is changing from the original – things like pedaling, phrasing, bow markings, articulation, breath marks, etc. Be sure the music is marked the way it will be played. And played the way it is marked! Judges look for that.

Also, do the rules require the measures to be numbered? And where/how should they be numbered? Often competitions require measures to be numbered. This makes it easy for the judges to refer to specific places in their comments. Follow the rules!

Will your child be required to state his name, the name of the piece he is playing, and the composer’s name? It is a good idea if he knows this in advance so he can be prepared.

Does Your Child Know the Music?

Can your child play the music well? Encourage him to practice. Suggest that he mark and practice just the problem areas.

Have your child practice stage etiquette. For some, this is harder than playing the music! Can she correctly pronounce the name of her music and the name of the composer? Have her practice introducing herself and her music. What about after the performance? Does your child know how to react to any applause? Have him practice a bow and a smile. Or at least a smile!

Have a practice performance (or more than one). Let your child perform for grandparents or neighbors. He can practice announcing himself and the music and acknowledging applause.

Keep a Proper Perspective

Whether your child is in a competition or doing an audition, it is good for both of you to keep things in proper perspective. Look at the big picture. In 10 years, how important will this event be? Will this event determine your child’s future? If not, relax!

“There will always be someone better than you, either now or in the future.”

“It isn’t important to be THE best; it is just important that you do YOUR best.”

Consider every competition, every audition as a learning opportunity. What should your child learn? How to deal with stress and pressure. How to deal with disappointment. How to deal with success. Learning empathy – feeling for the other person. Importance of proper preparation. How to handle constructive criticism. Life goes on – learn what you can from the experience and move on. Go forward!

Keep Yourself and Your Speech under Control

Help your child by keeping yourself under control. Keep your temper, your emotions, your stress under control so you don’t negatively affect your child and his performance.

Please don’t ask your child if she is nervous. You can be nervous for her, but don’t let your nervousness be contagious. I think I get more nervous when my kids perform than they do, even still! But I try to not let them know that.

Be careful about what you say. Remember, you can’t take back what you have said, and your child will remember what you said. If they make mistakes in their performance, they know it. They don’t need you to list every one of them.

Be honest in your comments but encouraging at the same time. Sympathize with your child but help them move on.

And please, don’t play the blame game. If your child doesn’t win the competition, or get the coveted spot through an audition, don’t blame the judges. Don’t blame the room, the instrument, or anything else. What will that teach your child? Life doesn’t always go your way. Accept it and move forward. And help your child do that as well.

Know Where You are Going

Prepare in advance – know the time your child is scheduled to play, know the location of the event, and know the room your child will play in. Decide in advance how long it will take you to get there and leave in plenty of time!

It is always best to get to the event early. That will give your child time to warmup, time to get oriented, time to get mentally settled, time to breathe.

And give yourself time for the unexpected. We were driving to church one Sunday morning and were hit from behind by another vehicle. We had to stop, deal with the police, insurance, and all that. It messed up our schedule a bit, but it was far more stressful for the driver who hit us. He was taking his son to a chess tournament. Both father and son were very stressed about the event. The son was sick, the father was distracted, they ran into us. Don’t think that helped the son deal with his stress at all! Hopefully they had enough time to get to the tournament before it started!

Recognize and Celebrate Hard Work

Even though your child may not have won, or may not have done as well as he hoped, recognize that he worked hard and survived! Celebrate that she learned a difficult piece of music and faced a challenge. Go out for dinner. Or have an ice cream cone. Or just make a special cake at home to celebrate. Let your child know that you are proud of his efforts, even if he didn’t win.

Remember, parent, your goal in all this is to be a help and a support for your child. Be the one to encourage them to keep on learning and practicing!

Here are some ideas for preparing for recitals

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Competition or Audition Stress? How to help your child.
Competition or Audition Stress? How to help your child.

Is it Really Important for my Child to Memorize the Music?

Memorize the music? What? The teacher expects my child to actually memorize the music? Isn’t life stressful enough without memorizing music? What’s the point? Let me assure you that if your music teacher wants your child to memorize the music, there are good reasons for it. Music teachers are not out to see how difficult they can make life for their students! Let me help you understand some of their reasoning.

Why Memorize?

First, there are some events in the life of a music student that will require pieces to be played from memory. It might be the rules of a competition, the standards of a music guild or association. Future auditions might require memorized music. Your music teacher knows this and wants to start early to prepare your child for the future. Learning to play from memory is an acquired skill that takes practice. So, your teacher is really doing your child a favor by requiring memorized music now.

Learn the music better

Also, memorizing the music helps your child learn the music better, helps to make the music his own. When you memorize something, you must internalize it, pay attention to all the little details. This helps you learn something even better. As we work on memorizing music, we begin to see patterns in the music. We begin to understand shy the music does certain things, why the phrasing works the way it does.

Become a better musician

Memorizing music also helps students become better musicians. Instead of looking at the page in front of them, students can focus more on the musical qualities of the piece. The hands and fingers know what to do (almost automatically) so the mind can think about how to make the piece sound more musical, more beautiful. The musician can work on making the music sing, tell a story. Memorizing allow us to go beyond what is seen on the page and get to the real heart of the music.

Life skills, Learning skills

Believe it or not, learning to memorize music helps the student in many other areas of life. Memorizing music helps her learn to store and retrieve information from the brain. How to pull information, organize it, and use it. These are skills applicable to all of life and all of learning! Your child’s music teacher is teaching life skills and helping you out!

Performance under pressure

Memorizing music helps students learn about performing under pressure. Let’s face it, music performance is pressure situation. But it is not the only pressure situation students will face in life. Learning to perform under pressure is another one of those life skills kids need to learn. We might think we are doing our kids a favor by eliminating stress from their lives, but the real world isn’t so forgiving. Will they ever have to give a presentation at work? In front of other people? The more opportunities we give them for performing under a little bit of pressure, the better they will do in real life.

How to Memorize Music

Let’s face it, not everyone is good at memorizing things, especially music. For some people it’s easy – play the piece enough times and they’ve got it down. For others, it is much more challenging. But it is far better to learn to memorize when a child is young than to try and tackle memorizing a difficult piece when they are much older. Here are some ideas that might help your child with the process.

Small sections at a time

Work on small sections at a time. Have your child work on memorizing just a measure or a phrase at a time. Once they can play that much without looking at the music, have them work on the next measure or phrase. Then, see if they can play the first two sections together without the music. And then go on to the next little section.

They probably know more than they think they know

Another idea is to have them attempt to play the piece without looking at the music. If they have been practicing the music for a while, they probably know a good portion of it better than they think they do. Have them see how much they can play from memory already, mark the sections that they don’t know, and work on those sections a little bit at a time.

Work backwards

Sometimes it helps to work backwards. Memorize the ending first. Then, the section right before the ending, and then the section before that. Endings are important, so being confident of knowing how the piece ends will boost their confidence as they get closer to the final part of the music.

Copy this

Another method to help with memorizing music is to copy the music. The more senses we involve with learning music, the better the student will learn and retain the music. As your child works on copying the music, he might see patterns that he didn’t notice before. She might see expression markings that she previously missed. My daughter is working on this right now as she prepares for an upcoming recital.

Slow practice

Have your child practice SLOWLY! Slow practice is hard! Slow practice makes your child really think about what is coming next. I had an instructor tell me (more than once!) that if I wanted to play something well at a fast tempo, I had to be able to play it correctly very slowly. Slow practice requires thought and concentration. You can’t just put your mind on auto-pilot and hope for the best. You must be aware of what you are doing and of what comes next.

Listen to the music

Another suggestion for memorizing music is to listen to the music. Does your child have a recording of the piece she is memorizing? Have her listen to it – repeatedly! In the car, at bedtime, while walking the dog, whenever. Memorizing music requires the music to become part of you. Listening will help that process.

Here are some other suggestions for helping your child practice –

So, to summarize:

  •         Memorizing music is an important skill to learn.
  •         It will help your child become a better musician.
  •         Memorizing music will give your child important life skills.
  •         Learning to memorize music will help your child academically as well.
  •         Playing memorized music will help your child learn to perform under pressure.

Oh, and one other thing. If your child has memorized some music, he will always have something ready to play when he visits the grandparents! What can be more important than that?!

Here is some more information on how memorizing music can be helpful for your child.

Importance of Review

The importance of review is basic to all learning strategies. You will find review (or practice) listed as a key element in most education and teaching strategies, and it is no less important in teaching/learning music.

So, when the music teacher asks your child to review a piece for another week, or to practice a piece again for the next week, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your child did not play the piece well.

Let’s look at some of the reasons your music teacher might have for asking your child to practice a piece for another week.

Reasons for Review

First of all, perhaps your child didn’t practice the piece well enough during the previous week to learn it. Maybe there were just too many errors that needed to be corrected. Not being judgmental here; that happens. Maybe the child didn’t understand the instructions or new concepts. Maybe your child was sick half the week and couldn’t practice much. Or maybe there were a dozen extra things happening during this week and there just was not enough time to practice. That happens sometimes. (As long as it isn’t every week!)

Maybe it was just a harder piece that takes longer to master. It’s not the end of the world to practice a piece for a second week. In fact, as your child’s music gets harder, it will eventually take much longer than a week to master a piece! I remember working on a piece in high school for a year. And I didn’t even like the piece. Of course, by the time I had learned the piece enough to play it well I had to grudgingly admit that I did like it but was not interested in playing it any longer!

Sometimes a teacher will ask a student to play a piece for another week to reinforce some previously learned concepts. Perhaps the music contains a new technique which is important for the student to be very comfortable with. The technique may be something used in music all the time, so it is important for your student to be well-prepared for that technique in the future.

Also, reviewing a piece of music allows your child to advance his musicianship skills. When first learning a piece, your child’s attention is probably focused more on the notes, the rhythm, the articulation and phrasing. After those things are all learned the student is more easily able to think about making music with the piece. Make it sing. Make the melody shine through. Pay more attention to dynamics and phrasing. Listen to what the music is trying to say. Learning those skills is just as important as the notes and rhythm. But it might take an extra week (or more) to accomplish all that.

Review can also be a great confidence booster. Going back and playing a piece that has already been learned can remind your student how much they enjoy playing. Review can do that – give them a chance to just play something that sound nice without all the effort involved in learning new music.

Another reason for review could be that the music teacher is using a previously-learned piece to teach a new concept. Maybe the teacher is teaching transposition skills. By using music your child has already learned, he can focus on the transposing without thinking about new notes or rhythm problems.

Remember, review is a good thing! Review is your child’s friend.

Importance of Review

Review is important for several reasons. First, review strengthens connections among material already learned. Learning about accompanying a melody with selected chords? Reviewing a piece that uses that skill cements the thinking and associated sounds of that skill in the mind of the child.

Also, review helps with recall. If your child is learning new dynamic or tempo markings, review of the piece will give them additional practice remembering those new terms and symbols.

Review also aids in preparing your child for new techniques. Perhaps the music teacher is preparing your child to play scales. On the piano, one of the required techniques for playing scales is being able to pass the thumb under other fingers, or other fingers over the thumb. Being able to do that well, easily, and automatically is critical for playing scales and scale passages in advanced music. So additional review on that skill is important for your child’s future success.

Another benefit of review is that it helps us give more attention to detail. There is more time to focus on the little things. And attention to detail matters in all of life, not just music! Learning to look at the little things and improve the little details will help your child with his schoolwork, with tasks assigned at home, and with his future jobs!

Learning new concepts requires some base of understanding. Each new concept learned increases that base of understanding. Review of those new concepts strengthens and reinforces that base.

Learning is like building a tower. Previously learned material is the base of the tower. Each reviewed concept reinforces the base. Each new concept learned adds to the total tower.

How to Encourage your Child to Review Music

First, make sure your child knows exactly why she is reviewing a piece. Can she give you the reason? Review will not be helpful if she does not know a reason for the review. If she doesn’t know, if the reason is not written in her assignments, see if you can get a good reason from the teacher.

Also, have your child record himself playing the music right after the lesson. Have him listen to the recording and make sure he hears the reason for the review. Then, record him again at the end of the week, and listen for improvement. Did he accomplish what the teacher was looking for?

Another idea is to have him perform the piece for you, or for grandparents, at the end of the week. Performance often brings out the best of us – we tend to play differently in a performance than we do just in practice. A planned performance might prompt your child to really concentrate on what needed to improve.

Don’t let your child be discouraged by review. Help him to see how it will make him a better musician. It will even help him to become a better person!

The Importance of Reveiw