Performance Butterflies


Thank you Shelly Davis @pianoparentpodcast for this article on Recital Butterflies.  Listen to the podcast here:

“Today I am aiming my comments toward the piano kids so I really encourage parents to listen to this one with them. If you are a teacher listening, consider making this required homework for all your students preparing for upcoming recitals. Share this episode with a friend. Stick around until the end where I will tell you about a free practice tracker you can use to help your piano kids get lots of repetitions on their recital pieces.

1. Why Butterflies?

Adrenaline is one way your body works to protect you in a dangerous situation. Part of that protection includes making your heart and lungs work faster and stronger, making your muscles stronger, and helping you think more clearly to you can make quick decisions. The problem is, your brain wants to protect you and kick these things into action if you’re in real danger, say being chased by a bear, or not in real danger, say waiting to play your recital piece.

Another group of muscles your brain puts on red alert is your stomach muscles.

Since the early 1900s, that constriction of the stomach muscles has been called “butterflies in your stomach”.

Maybe ‘butterflies’ sounds more gentle and calming that hummingbirds or ocean waves.

2. You Care

The presence of butterflies shows that you care about this performance and that’s a very good sign. Because you care, you want to do your best. When you have the feelings and symptoms I’m describing on today’s show, don’t let them cause your more stress, recognize that your brain and your body are responding to the situation.

3. Heart Racing

When your brain is in protection mode, it will cause your heart to beat faster to quickly get blood to all the places your body needs (like your legs if you’re running from that bear!)

  1. That’s a weird feeling but it’s normally not anything to worry about.
  2. You would feel the same way if you were in line to ride a roller coaster.
  3. That exhilaration can help you enjoy this experience even more.
  4. When you feel your heart beating faster, take a deep breath and remind your brain that you are not in danger, you are simply going to play the piano.

4. Shaky Hands

They are ready for action! Remember I just told you your heart is beating faster to get the blood to all the places your body needs. This is to help you when you run. The problem is, if you’re sitting in a chair in a performance hall and not running, your muscles, with all their freshly oxygenated blood need to do something!

  1. Shaking helps get rid of the extra energy.
  2. You’re okay. In fact, you are perfectly normal!
  3. When you feel your hands shaking, take a deep breath and remind your brain that you are not in danger, you are simply going to play the piano.

5. Sweaty Palms

Once again, this symptom should assure you that your brain and body are in normal working order and are ready to protect you if you ever find yourself in a dangerous situation (I hope you never have to put it to the test!) Sweaty palms – actually sweaty anywhere – when you are nervous is a way your body can control its temperature. The moisture in your hands would also come in “handy” if you needed to tackle that bear or climb a tree to escape. Since you don’t need extra moisture on your hands when playing the piano, keep a tissue or a handkerchief close by to dry them off before you play.

6. Quick Thinking

Just like your heart is working extra hard to help you protect yourself from that bear, your brain is also in hyperwarp speed. Once again, this is great news if you really are in danger; your brain is thinking quickly and clearly to help you find solutions and get out of danger. If you’re sitting at the piano playing your recital piece, however, you may not realize just how fast you’re going.

7. Breathe Deeply

Now that you know some of the things that happen when you’re nervous about a situation, I hope you can feel more confident. Your brain and body are doing exactly what God designed them to do – protect you! Since you know to look for these, they will not take you by surprise and they will not cause you even more stress or nervousness. When you feel any of these symptoms, butterflies in your stomach, heart racing, shaky hands, sweaty palms, remind yourself and your brain that you are not in any danger. Remind yourself to take deep breaths and think about the beautiful music you are going to share with the audience.

8. Hook-Ups

Remember I told you that your brain doesn’t know when your body is in real danger or if you’re just nervous about performing in your recital? This is called the “fight or flight” response; your body is preparing to fight that bear or run away from it really fast. One way to trick your brain and help it calm down is called “Hook Ups”. No, I didn’t say hiccups!. This is tool developed by

By crossing your arms and ankles and intertwining your fingers, your brain is too busy keeping your balance to worry about being scared or nervous; fighting or flighting.

Watch this demonstration to see how to do hook-ups.

9. Performance Rush

When it’s all over, you may have feelings of excitement and you may be ready to go again, like that roller coaster ride. You may feel tired, now that your heart has returned to normal speed, you may just want a nap. Since your stomach muscles have calmed down, you may feel hungry – this is a good time to suggest a celebratory trip to the ice cream parlor with your family!

10. Plan Ahead

Preparation brings peace.

I’ve told you that you have to remind your brain that you are not in danger. I’m not joking, I think you should whisper to yourself, “I am not in danger. I’ve been practicing my piece and I know I am prepared to play great music for my friends and family. Now, if you haven’t been practicing, you might rather face that bear than go up to the piano! I don’t want that to be the case for my students so for the last few weeks, we’ve been working toward the goal of playing their recital piece 100 times. After they have played it 20 times, I record their performance. After another 20 we record again and compare the two.


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