Preparing Your Students for Recitals (Part 1)

Recitals are a wonderful way for students to gain experience and proficiency in performing.  There are many elements to learn when beginning to participate in recitals.  Helping your students know what to expect and providing them with many recital “practice” opportunities will create comfortable and confident performers.  With so many aspects related to recital preparation this post is going to be divided into 3 parts and published separately.

Note: in this article the pronoun “him” is used for simplicity’s sake to refer to a single student, but no gender bias is intended or implied.

(Part 1) The Practicalities of Performing.

Below are practical items which should be discussed with your students prior to their participation in a recital.

How to Approach the Piano.  Many students, especially young beginners, are not aware that there is a “rule” regarding how to approach the piano for performance (i.e. walking up to the piano before sitting down to play).  The correct direction from which to approach the piano is the left side ( this means either the left side of the stage or the left side of the piano whichever makes the most sense in your recital situation). Even if your current piano arrangement is not conducive to a left-sided approach it is still important to teach your students what the correct rule is in this regard.  Doing so will help your students in future instances where they are able to approach from the correct side.

Whatever your particular piano and approach arrangement is for recitals, providing your students with opportunities to practice approaching the piano will give them an added element of confidence and ease at the recital.  For instance, one or two lessons prior to a recital I will have my students pretend to be “off stage” and then come into the room, or “on stage,” and approach the piano.  I have found this exercise to be extremely useful in preparing my students for what to expect at the recital

Bowing.  A performer shows his appreciation of the audience’s clapping by bowing in acknowledgment.  If your student does not already know how to bow then it will be necessary to show him how to do so, and have him practice bowing.  Acceptable times for bowing are:  (1) As part of the approach to the piano, if the audience applauds the performer’s entrance.  The student will walk up to the piano and bow to the audience before sitting at the bench.  (2) After a piece has been performed and the audience begins to clap.

To teach a proper bow have your student stand straight up, with arms hanging at his side.  Then instruct your student to bend at the hips (as if bending over to touch his toes), all the while keeping his arms at his side.  Your student does not need to bend far to have an effective bow!  Remind your student to look down to the ground for the bow, and then up at the audience again as the student rises to a standing position again.  It is useful to have your student practice bowing several lessons prior to the recital.  Also, practicing this in conjunction with the approach to (and leaving from) the piano is very beneficial for your student.

Preparing to Perform.  Once a student has approached the piano and bowed it is now time for the student to sit at the piano.  That sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  However, what is your student to do if the prior performer had the bench closer to or father away from the keyboard than the current student needs?  How long should your student wait before beginning to play?  Is your student playing with the sheet music instead performing from memory?  There are a variety of simple things which can throw off your student’s concentration and confidence if your student is not prepared.  It is often the little things that cause problems.  As such, help your student think through the possibilities and help him find solutions to the potential problems prior to the recital.

For example:
(1) If the previous performer left the bench too close or too far away for your current student to use then it is perfectly acceptable for your student to take some time to adjust the piano bench.  The best method to do this is to sit lightly at the bench and shift it forwards or backwards as needed.  Once the bench is in position your student will place his hands in his lap or at his side.  This will signal that the adjustments to the bench are completed.  The same goes for raising or lowering the bench height.

(2) Teach your students to take time to think before beginning to play.  The audience is there to hear a performance.  As such, they will wait until the performer is ready.  It is perfectly acceptable (and is highly recommended) for students to take time to think about the piece before beginning to play.  Teach your students through practice opportunities (during lessons) how to feel comfortable with taking time before playing their piece.

(3) If your student is playing with sheet music then he should carry the music in the hand that is facing away from the audience as he approaches the piano.  Additionally, once your student sits at the bench he will need to adjust the piano as is necessary to hold up the music.  Then your student should open to the correct page, look at it while quietly sitting, and then only begin performing when he is completely ready to do so.

Thinking through the various possibilities that your student may face and helping him come up with a game plan, and then practicing it together at lessons, will help your student remain at ease during the recital.

Dealing with Audience Eccentricities.  Audiences are wonderful and a necessary element for any performance.  However, sometimes audience members can exhibit funny, distracting, or downright disruptive behaviors during a recital.  You never completely know what to expect when you get a room full of parents, siblings, and friends to watch a performance.  🙂  But, there are some fairly common occurrences which your student should be prepared for in case they happen while playing.  For example:

(1) Clapping at the “wrong” time. If your student is playing a multi-movement piece more often than not someone in the audience will clap between the movements, even though they should wait until all of the movements have been performed. This happens even when it has been announced ahead of time that they should wait until the last movement of the piece is completed.  Audiences just forget sometimes.  Discuss with your students acceptable options to do if this occurs, such as ignore the clapping and continue on with the piece, or give the audience a very slight nod as acknowledgment of their support before moving on with the piece.  However, remind your students that in a multi-movement work they would never stand and take a bow between movements, even if clapping occurs.

To help you students prepare for this situation provide practice scenarios while your student is playing during a lesson.  To do this let your student begin to play his piece and then interrupt him with clapping at an inappropriate time.  If you do it when your student is least expecting it (though, of course only after you have discussed this concept with him) then it will provide him with the most “real” opportunity to practice the experience, as well as assess his reactions to it.

(2) Extra noise, such as candy wrappers, babies, and coughing.  A performer needs to be able to concentrate despite the myriad of potential distractions in a live performance.  To prepare your student for this possibility it is best to provide practice opportunities during lesson time. For example, you can reach in front of your students while they are playing, take flash photos of them, talk out loud, talk to other people on the phone or in the room, walk around, cough, hum along with the piece while your student is playing, open a noisy wrapper, etc.  This may seem rude, but in reality it is helping your students learn to concentrate no matter what happens.  That is an essential skill for a performer to have!  As a side note, you would only begin this technique once your student has thoroughly learned his piece, or sections of his piece.

It really doesn’t do your students any good to sit quietly every time they perform their recital pieces during the lesson because an audience isn’t going to be able to be so attentive and courteous.  Providing opportunities during the lesson for your students to practice being distracted and being able to ignore those distractions is tremendously helpful  in preparing your students for a recital.  You will find that some students do this easily and other students will require weeks of training to achieve some proficiency.  If you have a distractable student it is particularly important that he receive training in how to focus while performing.  You will probably want to begin practicing with him in this manner several weeks before a recital.

Unfortunately for some students if they have not received this valuable training they will fumble in a performance and will make silly mistakes, even forgetting their previously memorized piece.  It is very sad for a student to feel poorly after a recital instead of enthusiastic and happy!!  If your student is prepared ahead of time it is MUCH less likely that problems will occur in the actual recital.

When preparing students for recitals keep in mind that it is important to provide them with the BEST chance of success at every opportunity.  Help create opportunities for your students to learn early on that sharing music with others can be a highly rewarding and exciting experience (and not something to be feared)!

Look for our upcoming blog post entitled Preparing Your Students for Recitals (Part 2) —  “Elements of Emotion” on March 15, 2010.

**Bowing student image courtesy of**

Provide students with a fun and exciting way to practice elementary theory terms.  This crossword puzzle includes 10 early elementary music terms and definitions — tie, whole note, repeat sign, quarter note, half note, bar line, slur, double bar line, measure and staff.