As a music teacher, I have always believed I need a good eight weeks to help prepare the average beginning to intermediate music student for his or her recital. The goal is always the same: I want every student to have a great recital, which means feeling very comfortable with the piece and very prepared to perform it. Here is my eight-week piano recital preparation plan. It has served me and my students well for many years.
Week One – Deciding On What To Play
I may be a little unique among piano teachers insofar as I give my students a choice on what to play in week one. In my preparation for the lesson, I pick three pieces of music that I think would be good selections for the given music student. I present them at the beginning of the lesson. My students think it’s really cool because they get to choose which they like best.
As choices go, I have to be the smart one. As you read on, you’ll see that I want to choose a piece that my student can play in five weeks. Picking the right piece is so important to the success of the recital. I can’t say that I haven’t made mistakes — because I have. Picking a selection that is not too hard and also not too easy is what I am shooting for.
Week Two – Getting Off To A Good Start
Week two is when I gauge what kind of start we’re off to.
I want to see some progress. My goal is for the student to be able to play the piece on her own, with or without using music, by week five. So, at the end of this lesson, I need to know we are going to be able to play the whole piece in just three more weeks. The lessons this week and next might be completely dedicated to working on our recital selection.
We Get By With A Little Help From Our Parents
I’d be a fool not to let my student’s parents know what our plan is.
So parents… here it is (short story): We are going to learn a piece and play it really well but maybe not to perfectionin five weeks. At week five, we are going to hone in on making our recital piece something very natural and easy to do. The sooner we learn our music, the less anxious we will be.
Parents: we’re going to need your help for the next 5 weeks!
Week Three – Focused Practicing
At my week three lesson, I want to focus on practicing specifically to meet the challenge of the specific piece of music for this piano student. If you’re a teacher, please understand that the process is the same for any student — whether the instrument is guitar, drums, violin, voice, or trumpet. Don’t focus on how they have been practicing in the past. Instead, use your lesson time to practice with them. Establish a pattern that they can repeat over and over again.
Example of Focused Practice
An example of teaching a student to practice is as follows.
Lets suppose that, at week three, my piano student is playing the piece but pausing between specific measures of music. Lets also suppose that a specific phrase is four measures long. I’ll teach the student to slow down to the point that he cannot make a mistake for a two-measure group — maybe even smaller, depending on the piece. I help him with the tempo, keeping it slow to maximize the chances for success.
Then I have him practice just that two-measure group, drawing attention to the fact that he didn’t have to pause. Then I move to the next two-measure group, repeating the process. Only when we have that complete do I allow my student to put the two two-measure groups together, completing the four-measure phrase.
Reinforce And Explain
Next, I make sure my student can do this without my help. I also point out that putting this four-measure phrase together properly took us 30 minutes. I explain that that’s how long this type of practice takes — and it’s ok! I explain that, depending on the size of the piece, he may not be able to do this to the whole piano song in one week.
Week Four – More of the Same
For most of our week-four lesson, we are repeating week three’s trials and tribulations. It’s at the next week’s lesson (week five) that we want a confident play-through of the whole song. You’ll also notice that by week four, you can really see what type of performer you are going to have. Pay attention, because what you learn in the first weeks will help you with weeks five through eight.
Weeks Five Through Seven – What Is A Student Music Recital Anyway? Expression!
In weeks five through seven, we are going to focus on playing with all the expression we can offer our audience. A musician does more then plays music; a musician is a performer who understands what the piece of music they are playing is all about. Teachers have to help younger students know what a piece is about; it’s not a natural thing to know.
In these three weeks, we also have to pull apart some tough passages in the sheet music, solidify what’s causing any issues, and so on.
The key is to stay positive.
Never use phrases like “if you don’t get this the recital won’t go well” or “you’re not ready for this”. If you do find yourself wanting to say these things, something is wrong; you should have thought about making some adjustments to your students song sooner. The focus should be on sharing a song, not on overly impressing an audience. After all, the audience is made up of family members and other student families — everyone should be supportive no matter what comes out.
Introduce The Little Things
Also during weeks five through seven, you should be teaching the following performance-related issues:
- How and when to bow
- What happens if you make a mistake
- How to approach the stage
- When to start the music
- How to end the music
- How to receive applause
- If the student will need music or not and how that will be handled
In short, you want the student to be prepared so that she experiences no surprises during the recital.
Speaking of those “little things” that make a performance stand out, here’s a little treat. In this video of a wonderful recital performance by one of our students, the young peformer does an amazing job of ending this great song. Watch as he holds his hands over the keyboard at the end of the song — and only when he removes them does the crowd start to applaud. (Want to watch the last 30 seconds only?)
Week Eight – This Is What You Have
At the beginning — not the end, mind you — of week eight, what you see (or rather hear) is what you will get. This is how your student is going to sound at the recital. Of course, anything is possible… she could sound ten times better or ten times worse. But in most cases, how a piano student sounds at the beginning of week eight is how that piano student will sound at the recital.
I like to use week eight’s lesson as a mock recital. I have my student go through the entire process, including all the little performance details. I even make noises while the student plays, preparing her for the distractions she’ll surely encounter next week! (After all, have you ever been to a student music recital that wasn’t occasionally interrupted by the sounds of young, restless siblings, oblivious to their surroundings?) I always talk to my students about playing through distractions, so here’s the chance to practice it.
Don’t forget to have fun.
Don’t forget to have fun and to make sure your students are having fun! Show appreciation for their efforts at every stage. Do your best to always appreciate — and to show appreciation for — what comes out of every student, because it’s their best! Keep in mind that most of our students get to perform at recitals only twice a year. The good feelings they get from their performances — and from the entire process of preparing for them — play a huge role in keeping them positive and motivated to continue their music lessons for many years to come.