In my years of experience as a piano teacher, I can honestly say that the most challenging part of the recital isn’t the recital itself — it’s the preparation for it. Getting students to practice efficiently and well in preparation for a recital can seriously do me in. Here’s a few things I include as part of my students’ preparation for an upcoming performance:
-Technique: I try to include technique exercises that will enhance their recital piece. If a student is learning a sonatina filled with scales and trills, her warm-up exercises each week will emphasize building strength to play these scales and trills quickly, accurately, clearly and confidently.
-Slow Practice: Since we often work on a recital piece for a long period of time, my students have a tendency — towards the end — to become over-confident and sloppy. Their rhythm may get messy or they may get lazy with their articulation, or just practice it as quickly as possible when they’re practicing at home — sound familiar? In the final weeks right before a recital, I will tell students they are only allowed to play the piece painfully slowly. This slow practice allows them to clean up inaccuracies and also think through expression and articulation as they play. Since students often despise doing this, I usually have to send an e-mail to the parent and let them know of the slow practice assignment, asking them to assist me in making sure that the piece is only practiced slowly at home.
-Memorization: I truly believe my students know their pieces best if they have them memorized. I start the memorization process very early on in our practicing — having them memorize in sections as soon as they are comfortable with note accuracy. By memorizing in sections, if they have a memory slip-up during a performance, they are able to jump ahead to the next section rather then continuing to trip up on the same part as they struggle to move forward.
-Performance Practice: For students who are truly nervous about playing for an audience, I try to provide them with opportunities — or suggest opportunities at home — prior to the recital that will allow them to play their piece in a comfortable environment. I may invite a group of students who have lessons on the same day to play their recital pieces for one another in a group class setting. I may suggest that students play their piece for their friends when they come over for a play date, or for Grandma when she comes to visit.
-Recording: You don’t have to have fancy equipment to record your students playing. Thanks to my recent purchase of an iPhone, I often record my students playing and allow them to view themselves performing their song. It gives them a chance to sit back and hear what corrections need to be made, and where the piece might be lacking. We’re able to talk through things as we listen to the performance together, and can re-record after we’ve made adjustments, allowing them to see the immediate growth.