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Tips From the Teachers: Recital Edition!

Can you believe we’re already in another recital season? It’s hard to think that our summer recitals are just around the corner! This month, we wanted to do something special with our blog to help you all prepare, so we asked many of our amazing teachers to send in their best music practice, memorization, and performance tips for you all to learn from. After all, who better to hear from about what you should be doing than your own teachers? They know you best!

Having participated in many high-stakes performances themselves as professional musicians, our teachers have some great guidance and nuggets of wisdom for everyone. Keep reading below to learn more!

On Practice and Preparation...

Playing through the entire piece should feel easy, and if some passages don't feel easy it means you need more practice! Practice each difficult passage over and over until you can play it 5 times in a row without any mistakes. If you make a mistake in take 3, you have to start over from take 1! :)

Performing should feel easy and fun, and a bit of nervousness is totally fine as it should make us more alert and excited! Everyone gets nervous when getting up on a stage and that's totally normal. A few helpful practices would be doing mock recitals (play for your family, for guests, for your friends and neighbors) and to record yourself (audio or video) and then listen to the recording to see what you can do better. This way you will learn how it feels to play while a bit nervous, and it becomes more and more comfortable each time.

- Ms. Natalia, Piano


Please practice the places from your piece where you make mistakes, but do not practice the mistakes!

Practice by heart and look at your beautiful hands!

Don't start unless you are prepared!

Don't start unless you count one measure before!

Stick to your speed!

Keep counting!

- Mr. Catalin, Violin/Viola


Perform for others before the big day! Whether it's family, friends, or a little bit of both, it's a great way to prepare yourself for the pressure of a recital setting. After all, the only way to get better at performing is to perform!

- Ms. Judith, Voice


Color-coding dynamics in the score with colored pencils helps students identify the various sound levels. Students choose “loud” colors for forte and “soft” colors for piano. After this, when students play their music with the dynamics in mind, we focus on what physically must happen in order to produce the desired sound (for instance, feeling very close to the keys for soft; using more arm for loud).

I encourage students to play for friends and family members—to set up a few chairs by their piano and run their recital pieces in front of others, even if it’s just in front of a parent who has heard the piece a lot (having someone sitting close to the student, actively listening, creates a sense of audience similar to a real audience). This approach is to alleviate performance anxiety.

- Mr. Paul, Piano


Slow practice allows you to reinforce your motor skills so that your music becomes more accurate and clean.

- Ms. Summer, Piano


Practice the whole song left hand alone.

Make time to practice in sections.

Slow, slow, slow, slow practice!

Practice starting from anywhere in the piece.

Try imagining yourself playing it when you’re away from the piano.

- Mr. John, Piano


I find it important to have fun while preparing for a performance, and finding different ways of playing the piece I am preparing. Every time I am going to perform something, I like to do the following things in the weeks prior to the performance:

I pretend I am in the recital and play for someone or even for a phone that is recording me. That involves walking towards the piano, taking a bow, finding my hand positions on the keyboard, taking a deep breath, and playing through the whole song (again, playing as if I were in the recital! So even if there are mistakes or distractions, I will keep going).

The other thing I like to do is play the whole song silently: I will "play" the whole piece or just a few sections of it without really pressing down the keys but just moving my fingers around the keyboard knowing the exact place they are moving to at the right time while imaging and hearing the music inside my head.

Lastly, if it is something fast or challenging in terms of technique for me, I like to play the whole section or piece slowly and loudly, really letting my fingers and arms "sink" into each note/key to improve my muscle memory; or also if it is a section that originally is already loud, I will do the opposite, I will play it very softly and slowly. :)

I hope you have fun!

- Ms. Alexsandra, Piano


Sometimes I find myself tempted to focus on practicing the spots that already sound good because, well, it’s fun to sound good! Philip Johnston in his book called “The Practice Revolution” calls this questionable method of practice “polishing shiny objects.” I like this image, because it makes me think of how silly it is to polish objects that are already sparkling. It’s not that we have to stop playing them. We just need to make sure we’re not ignoring the spots that actually need polishing.

I like to use the sandwich method for this: play the fun spots for a few minutes to get me motivated, then practice what really needs work, then at the end have fun with my favorite spots for another few minutes so I leave my practice session excited to come back. Pro tip: Using a timer for each part of the sandwich really helps me stay on track. You can make a game of it and see how quickly a tricky spot can become one of your new favorite shiny objects. Eventually, every spot will be shiny and fun!

- Ms. Joanna, Violin/Viola

On Music Memorization...

It is usually easier to perform memorized music, if that is secure enough. Not looking at the music gives us the freedom to watch our hands and the instrument, and just be more connected to the beautiful music we're creating. Before the recitals it's important to practice both with the music (double checking everything you're playing, reviewing dynamics, phrasing, etc) and from memory as well, as it takes some getting used not to rely on the music in front of you, even if you do know it very well.

- Ms. Natalia, Piano


I like to think about the piece of music in different sections. This can either be by page or in the specific way the music was written (intro, A section, B section, coda etc.) It is often very helpful to mark the sections in your music for an additional visual cue as you’re practicing. How does each section begin? Do any of the sections begin the same way? If the piece is broken up into five sections can I simply begin each in order? Once I do that can I begin them out of order? This will really cement each section in your head and allow the piece to come together more easily once each section is memorized.

- Ms. Frances, Piano


As far as memorizing goes, always work in small sections and for small chunks of time. Decide exactly how much of your piece you're going to work on, and then focus on only that section for maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Then, do something else for awhile, and then come back to that same small section. You'll be amazed at how quickly things will "stick" when you work this way! For singers, part of our job is to memorize words along with notes and rhythms. I've found that speaking lyrics out loud helps a lot, as well as writing lyrics down. And again, work in small chunks!!

- Ms. Judith, Voice


Students and I make a game out of playing a snippet of music (sometimes just one measure at a time) six times in a row without any mistakes. If the student makes a mistake, they have to start again at “one” until they play it six times perfectly.

- Mr. Paul, Piano

On Performing...

Don't forget that playing beautifully (expressively) is more important than playing perfect (which is actually impossible!), and if mistakes happen it's NOT a big deal and don't let it distract you! Whatever happens, it's important to keep it going. And don't forget to smile and bow after the performance! Everyone in the room is excited to see you and hear you play/sing!

- Ms. Natalia, Piano


Whatever happens, do not stop!

Ask yourself "what is the story behind the music here?" and then perform it like you're telling that story!

Allow your beautiful sound to come out!

Don't forget to use all the colors on the palette!

- Mr. Catalin, Violin/Viola


When it comes to a big performance day, I like to think about something my piano teacher once told me - the goal is not to play perfectly, but to play beautifully. Perfection doesn't exist, so on recital day, don't sweat the small stuff and just try to enjoy your music!

- Ms. Judith, Voice


Don’t be too hard on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect! As long as you practice your piece and enjoy your performance, you’ve got nothing to worry about.

- Mr. Walker, Guitar/Ukulele

We want to say a big thank you to all of our teachers who took the time to share these tips! We hope they help all of you as you get ready for your upcoming performances. Break a leg, everyone!

Do you have a suggestion for the next topic you’d like us to cover? Leave a comment below!


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