Education

Parent of a student musician? Here's what you're doing wrong

The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler and performance psychologist Don Greene. Some of the techniques Homma practiced included concentrating on the moment, breath awareness, and keeping the eyes open to avoid rushing or missing difficult passages.
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler and performance psychologist Don Greene. Some of the techniques Homma practiced included concentrating on the moment, breath awareness, and keeping the eyes open to avoid rushing or missing difficult passages.
Susanica Tam/KPCC
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler and performance psychologist Don Greene. Some of the techniques Homma practiced included concentrating on the moment, breath awareness, and keeping the eyes open to avoid rushing or missing difficult passages.
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of performance psychologist Don Greene on Wednesday, May 13, 2015.
Susanica Tam/KPCC
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler and performance psychologist Don Greene. Some of the techniques Homma practiced included concentrating on the moment, breath awareness, and keeping the eyes open to avoid rushing or missing difficult passages.
With the help of performance psychologist Don Greene, Lily Homma discovered that she had a tendency to close her eyes in anticipation of difficult passages with jumps or notes with a large range in between them. A simple adjustment of practicing with her eyes open and following the music on the page helped her to stay on track and be more mindful of her playing.
Susanica Tam/KPCC
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler and performance psychologist Don Greene. Some of the techniques Homma practiced included concentrating on the moment, breath awareness, and keeping the eyes open to avoid rushing or missing difficult passages.
Senior Lily Homma listens to her teacher, Annie Bosler, during a lesson at The Colburn School on Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Homma has finished her auditions for conservatories and colleges and is preparing for performances and a solo recital at the end of the month.
Susanica Tam/KPCC
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler and performance psychologist Don Greene. Some of the techniques Homma practiced included concentrating on the moment, breath awareness, and keeping the eyes open to avoid rushing or missing difficult passages.
The Colburn School senior Lily Homma celebrates with her teacher, Annie Bosler, after displaying improvement during a lesson on overcoming performance anxiety on Wednesday, May 13, 2015.
Susanica Tam/KPCC
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler and performance psychologist Don Greene. Some of the techniques Homma practiced included concentrating on the moment, breath awareness, and keeping the eyes open to avoid rushing or missing difficult passages.
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler, and performance psychologist Don Greene.
Susanica Tam for KPCC
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler and performance psychologist Don Greene. Some of the techniques Homma practiced included concentrating on the moment, breath awareness, and keeping the eyes open to avoid rushing or missing difficult passages.
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works on overcoming performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler, on Wednesday, May 13, 2015.
Susanica Tam for KPCC
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler and performance psychologist Don Greene. Some of the techniques Homma practiced included concentrating on the moment, breath awareness, and keeping the eyes open to avoid rushing or missing difficult passages.
The Colburn School student Lily Homma, a senior, works to overcome performance anxiety with the help of her teacher, Annie Bosler, and performance psychologist Don Greene on May 13, 2015.
Susanica Tam for KPCC


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If you're a parent of a violin virtuoso, or so you tell your friends, you're probably effusive with praise when your child finishes a solo performance at the local school concert.

Wrong, says Don Greene, a Pasadena-based performance psychologist who is taking his work with Olympians and other professional athletes and applying it to student musicians.

Greene is part of a unique wellness program at The Colburn School, an elite performing arts academy in downtown Los Angeles. Besides honing their musical skills, students get instruction in several subjects to maintain their physical and emotional well-being.

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Students learn how to build their confidence, keep their vocals healthy, and maintain good posture. They even get massage therapy services.

Annie Bosler, co-director of the wellness program at Colburn, said talking about nerves while performing is a topic that emerged fairly recently within music education circles.

“And I think that tells you right there how far behind the music world is in terms of how to deal with your body as an athlete,” she said.

During a recent visit, Bosler — who is also a music teacher — worked alongside Greene. She coached a student on musical technique while Greene offered tips from the world of psychology.

Greene said many of the methods used in sports apply to music. Among them are learning to stay in the moment and managing mistakes — skills that are just as important for quarterbacks as cellists.

One student working with Greene at Colburn is Lily Homma, a high school senior and highly accomplished French horn player.

While Lily played her instrument, Bosler talked about improving the sound and Greene talked about the impediments to better performance.

“I'm very down on myself when I play,” Lily said. “I like to beat myself up and be judgmental. So working with these kinds of things, the mental part of playing, is something I need to work on.”

Greene said parents can help their high-performing students by rethinking how they interact with their children.

"It's very helpful for parents to understand how they can help guide and encourage their young prodigies," he said.

Where to start? Greene said parents should focus on tasks like getting their kids the right musical equipment or making sure they arrive to lessons on time.

What you don't want to do is overpraise or express disappointment, Greene said, especially after a big performance. In short, parents should not coach.

"Whether it went really well or terribly, they should say about the same thing — and it's ‘What do you want to eat?’” he said.

Greene has been traveling with some Colburn students to coach them through local performances. Via Skype, he's also been assisting one of Colburn's violin stars who is competing in Brussels.

On Saturday, Greene and Bosler will take questions from parents at a free public workshop on parenting young artists. Registration is not required.