Recitals: Why they're important, and what to expect.

Every growing musician should have regular opportunities to perform.  Group and solo performances are an important part of the Suzuki method, and I make performing a priority in my studio by hosting recitals for my students twice a year.  

Recitals can be stressful for teachers, students, and parents, but they are worth it.  Students will get bored without opportunities to show off what they have learned, especially if most of the playing they do is in private lessons or at home.   When students perform on a recital, not only do they get to show off their accomplishments, they gain the experience of spending weeks to months diligently preparing and polishing a piece of music to perform it to the best of their ability.  This experience is so valuable; they gain discipline, self-confidence, and it requires a great attention to detail in their work.  Students also get to watch their peers perform and learn from them.   

Who performs on recitals?

Different teachers have different requirements.  I generally require all of my students to participate in recitals, unless they have started lessons very recently.  Even if a student doesn't perform, I still expect them to attend as an audience member, since they can learn a lot by just watching.  

What will they perform?

A polished piece of music that they know well.  The rule in my studio is that students choose their piece about a month before the dress rehearsal, and they are not allowed to choose the most recent piece they have learned- it must be a review piece.  This way, they choose a piece they can already play with confidence, and have time to polish it.  Beginner students who haven't learned a full piece of music may play something on open strings, a scale, or something they have learned to do well. 

Why can't students play their most recently learned piece?  When students have a rough performance at a recital, most of the time it's because they are playing a piece that is too new, so choosing a review piece helps prevent this from happening.  (Although, sometimes it still happens, but it will be less likely.)

How should we prepare?

In the months leading up to the recital, it's pretty simple- attend lessons, practice regularly, and do your required listening assignments.  And PRACTICE REVIEW PIECES!  It is difficult to choose a review piece to perform when a student has only been practicing their most recent piece.  Once a student has chosen their recital piece, have them play it every day.  Keep a count of how many times they play it leading up to the recital.  Practice performing- put on a recital for Dad, or set up an "audience" of stuffed animals.  Call grandparents and have your child perform the piece over the phone.  Get creative.

Another great way to practice the recital piece is to use the piano accompaniment tracks on your Suzuki CD.  Those tracks are a valuable tool that I use in lessons, and encourage you to use at home, especially since the dress rehearsal is often the only time students will practice their piece with the accompanist before the recital.  We don't want that to be the first time they play their piece with piano accompaniment.  If the tempo on the CD is too fast, I use an app to slow down the recording- see my Resources page for options.

The Dress Rehearsal

I have a dress rehearsal a week or two before the recital, and anyone who is performing on the recital is required to attend the dress rehearsal.  Don't skip the dress rehearsal!  It gives students a chance to practice performing their piece on stage with piano in front of an audience, but takes some of the pressure off since it's informal, and not the "real" recital.  It will help get some of their performance jitters out before the real thing.  Also, there is much more to practice than just the music itself- they will practice walking on stage, standing the correct distance from the piano, facing their violin towards the audience, cuing the accompanist, and bowing after they play their piece.  When students don't get a rehearsal to practice this, they will most likely be confused and anxious when they have to perform for real, and it can affect their performance.  For these reasons, the dress rehearsal is just as important as the recital itself.  

At the Recital:  Some other tips....

  • Arrive early!  Most teachers will tell you the recital start time, and the time you should arrive- stick to this.  Teachers have a limited amount of time to get the hall set up, tune instruments, and get all of the students organized, and students arriving late can completely throw off their plans.  Not to mention, you and your child will be stressed if you feel rushed- not a good thing to happen before a performance.
  • Be a good audience, and talk to your child about this as well.  Silence your phone, and turn the flash off on your camera.  Be quiet and respectful of the performers.  If your children are talking or crying (don't feel bad, it happens), step outside.  Walk in between performers- wait for applause if you're not sure.  
  • Out of respect for all of the performers, plan to stay for the entire performance.  Many Suzuki teachers, myself included, will keep recital times limited to under an hour so that the audience doesn't get bored and restless.  The last performer doesn't want to play for a much smaller audience because most people left after their child performed, so please stay.
  • Have your child dress nicely (that's half the fun of performing!), and be sure they will be comfortable playing in their outfit- comfortable shoes are important!
  • Give a BIG round of applause when each performer takes a bow!
  • After the recital, celebrate, and tell your child what he or she did well.  There will always be room for improvement, but this isn't the time for constructive criticism.  Chances are, your child already knows what could have gone better.  Playing a piece of music in front of an audience is a feat in itself, and to do something that scary, and have someone tell you immediately after that it could have been better can be discouraging.  
  • Consider complimenting other students on their performance after the recital, and encourage your child to do the same if they feel confident doing so.  It is very meaningful for a student to hear what they played well from someone other than their teacher or their parents.