Performing a New Piece


When students are preparing for a recital or audition, record their playing and have them be their own judge. Have them listen for the things you have been talking about and trying to accomplish. They are usually amazed that the piece doesn't sound quite like they thought it did, and that they can exaggerate even more on the dynamics, tempos and so forth.
—Jeanne Zukowski NCTM, Estes Park, Colorado

Breathe through your nose (to relax instrumentalists and aid vocalists) rather than your mouth. Nerves in the nose activate the intercostals muscles between the ribs so that you can take a deeper breath. Mouth breathing dries the vocal fold and can kick you into the anxiety-laden "fight or flight" syndrome.
—Nancy E. Harris, Denver, Colorado

I always videotape my recitals and play back each student's performance for them at their lesson the following week. To make this easier, the order of students on the recital is the same order they come to their lessons during their week. This usually makes for a good mix of achievement levels at the recital.
—Lois Abbuhl, Longmont, Colorado

Plan a party with a theme like Mardi Gras. There are lots of pieces by Eric Baumgartner, Martha Mier, Melody Bober-the list goes on-that the students could play. And there are many other pieces available to fit themes, such as holidays. Make sure it is a party with music-not a recital!
—Michelle Conda, Cincinnati, Ohio

Have the student play the ending (only) of his or her recital piece and bow. (This should be assigned ahead of time.) At group lesson, usually, kids will have to try this more than once to succeed. Don't settle for mediocrity—the ending should show:

  • Confident memory
  • Holding the mood
  • Body language
  • Removal of hands and feet
  • No extraneous wiggles, no eye movements away and so forth.
  • Getting off bench in a timely (not premature) fashion
  • Good bow…and smile!

—Caroline Orman, Loveland, Colorado

I recommend a tip learned from the professor of violin at the Manhattan School of Music. The professor encouraged his students not to be discouraged if they memorized a passage, and then could not play it the next day. He encouraged them to memorize the passage again 3-4 days in a row, until it finally "moved" from "short-term" to more "long-term" memory.

When my students are memorizing a passage, I encourage them always to memorize the line left-hand alone first, then right-hand alone and then hands together. Memorizing the left-hand alone first, both enables students to memorize each hand independently, but, more importantly, to enjoy becoming acquainted with the left hand of the passage.
—Neal Wegener, NCTM, Highlands Ranch, Colorado

When preparing for a recital, we have students practice a lot of bowing. Have students keep their hands down at their sides while they look at their shoes for three beats; and then come up with a big smile!
—Music Learning Center, Inc., Cincinnati, Ohio

Occasionally record well-learned pieces. Especially young students are very proud when they hear their music on tape, realizing their progress. It also helps students advance listening skills and recognize what needs improvement.
—Submitted by Beate Neblett, Middlebury, Connecticut

I motivate my students by offering many performance opportunities including nine recitals per year, a state contest for select students, and our local association has a piano festival at a local mall. If I sign up the students early in the month for recitals, they usually attend, and they most often progress to a new piece every month or every other month.

For a memory project, copy a composition and cut it up in small sections. Mix it up and create a puzzle game; practice starting places and so forth.

Each month, select the best student to perform in front of a class and present him or her with a "Best Performer of the Month" certificate.

Every time your student plays a recital, competition or festival piece, record a pre-performance in the studio. Add to the tape year after year, having the student announce the piece and date. When the student stops lessons, give him or her the tape as a gift. It is a wonderful history of progress and growth.
—Submitted by Beth Klingenstein, Valley City, North Dakota

In the past few years the best strategy for preparing my students for auditions or festivals is to take them to a colleague for feedback. Fellow MTNA teachers have listened to my students and have shown both my student and myself new ways to improve the piece. I have also hosted a master class and brought in a highly respected adjudicator to help my students prepare for festivals. This helps foster a professional relationship with other teachers and it also opens students up to new ideas.
—Kathy Michaud, Highlands Ranch, Colorado

Plan a slide recital with students' music matching slides with a theme, such as insects, animals and so forth.

Hold a studio class, much like in college, for younger students, where they can listen and comment on each others' performances.

A local church hosts the community food bank, and this year we organized a different kind of recital.  We publicized it as a "Play for the Pantry" recital and asked the audience to bring a contribution to  he Green Bean Food Pantry. In addition to recital pieces, we utilized some students' second instruments for a special ensemble number and several played duets or trios. We specified casual attire and as an early Christmas gift I had bright green t-shirts made locally for the students to wear. The message on the shirts read, "Music is food for the soul. . . I make music!" We needed to accommodate the church's schedule by a quick exit, so refreshments were simply ice cream cones during a brief social hour following the performance. The food pantry was pleased, the students were motivated, and the audience contributed much-needed supplies just before the pantry's holiday drain began. At the request of the pastor, in lieu of rent for the use of the church, I personally agreed to provide solo piano dinner music for a volunteer appreciation event planned for January. This recital achieved several goals: economy, publicity, enthusiasm, novelty, charity and a spirit of musical community.
—Karen Koch, NCTM, Trenton IL

Several weeks before the performance the student and I organize the piece by sections and label each section alphabetically. We give these letter names to sections of the music which the student thinks are easily held together in her memory. At the student's next lesson I call out a letter name and ask the student to play that section for me.  It helps identify what area might need attention and it also gives confidence about knowledge of the piece. With a younger student I might add a little silliness to the process by imitating Sesame Street, "… and now the letter C."

Another approach that is fun for us both takes place one or two lessons before the performance. It's like musical chairs applied to musical performance. I begin playing a few measures or phrases and then stop, and the student must begin playing at that point in the music and carry it forward. I ask him to stop after a bit and I start over and play until I reach the next place where I hope he can take over the playing. We have fun with this and it has always had good results in creating good listening and memorizing.
—Don Sigalaa