Student Musicians and the Mind/Body Connection: The Transfer Student

Rhythm, note reading, phrasing, memorization. Piano teachers are really good at teaching these things. And when we help students learn to sightread with ease, and we emphasize creativity and musicality in lessons, we prepare them for a lifetime of enjoyment in making and listening to music.

But there is something else that our students need. Intermediate students who will become professional musicians, and those who will pursue careers in other fields, will both benefit from a holistic approach that cultivates artistry, creativity, discipline, confidence, and balance. A strong musician is one who actively seeks performance opportunities rather than shrinking from them. Musical amateurs continue to grow musically if they continue to perform, by playing for church services, playing in ensembles, or even accompanying a choir at their children’s schools. As most of us know, without performance goals, it can be very difficult to keep up your practicing. But how many of the students we have taught still enjoy performing?

It’s time to take a new approach. One that emphasizes relaxation and overall wellness. Without these elements, joy in performance is not possible. It is not only a matter of preventing injury; it is also a matter of helping students achieve the confidence, control, and focus to perform at their best.

After writing a guest post for the PianoMag blog (, I decided that the topic of teaching wellness to intermediate students was so large that it really needs an entire series devoted to it. In writing my book The Balanced Musician, which is intended for teachers, performers, and advanced student musicians, I did not really tackle the young adolescent musician, who requires a whole different approach. Perhaps, though, these are the students who need this type of instruction the most. Far too often, our best musicians find themselves facing challenges for which they are ruefully unprepared once they enter college. The demands and pressures of coursework, regular performances, and high practice expectations can lead to tension and injury that either prohibits practice or, in the worst of cases, requires a change in career goals. Many students who for the first time live away from their parents may find it hard to schedule their time and may lack the awareness of the ways in which diet, sleep, and overall well-being affect their ability to perform optimally. Performance anxiety may appear for the first time or suddenly get worse when new college students find themselves in a competitive environment with musicians at or above their own level.

What can teachers do with their high school students to prepare them for these challenges?

As independent teachers, we need to start talking about wellness issues with our students as early as possible. Talking openly about anxiety will lessen their fears. Exposing them to many performance opportunities will help them feel more confident. Furthermore, teenagers who learn to relax on cue will be more focused and more capable of doing their best, whether they are performing onstage in a recital, giving a presentation, or taking a final exam. The more practice they have in relaxation, the better they will get at using these techniques in stressful situations.

This series will have four parts:

1. The Transfer Student

2. A Healthy Outlook: Intermediate Students and Performance Expectations

3. The Peer Influence: Relaxation Techniques and Group Performance Classes

4. Promoting Wellness through Apps and Video Recordings

Next week’s topic will be the transfer student, where we will cover finding appropriate repertoire and diagnosing a transfer student’s wellness needs. In the meantime, please share your own comments or questions. I would be delighted to begin communicating with teachers who desire to implement these techniques in their own studios.