Hi, I’m Emily Strenger, piano teacher at Hoffman Academy’s Portland location. Everyone gets jittery about performing. It’s totally normal, whether you’re at home with family or at Carnegie Hall. The key to conquering those jitters? Recital prep! I prepare my students for recitals throughout the year by doing practice performances. As a result, come recital day, my students enjoy their experience more because they know what to expect.
Wait…what do you mean, “practice performance”?
Just like songs and scales, performing is a practice-able skill. Recital prep is different from normal practice. In normal practice, if you make a mistake, you stop to correct. However, when performing, you want to keep going no matter what happens. A “practice performance” is just what it sounds like: a chance to practice going through the motions of the upcoming performance.
How to do a Practice Performance
- First of all, have an audience. It can be as small as one or two people, or even a group of stuffed animals.
- Face the audience and announce yourself. “My name is Emily, and today I’m playing…” If you’re playing more than one piece, just announce the title of the song you are about to play. You can announce the others as you get to them.
- Sit at the piano and take a breath. Sometimes I have my students count to three in their heads before they even touch the keys. As a result, they are more calm and focused when performing.
- Play! When you’re finished, put your hands on your lap. Then stand, turn to your audience, and bow. Bowing is the performer’s way of saying, “thank you for listening.”
It may seem like a lot to remember, but that’s why you practice! Before you know it, each step will feel perfectly natural.
When to do a Practice Performance
Anytime! Start doing your recital prep a week or two before the event. The more often you perform, the easier it becomes over time. Doing a practice performance on recital day can be beneficial. It’s even better if you can practice at the recital venue, on the actual piano being used! This isn’t always convenient though, so simply having a run-through at home can still work.
Be a Good Audience
This is for the parents or other practice partners! After the practice performance, give simple, direct feedback to the performer. What did they do well? Be specific, for example: “You played with clear rhythm and gave a lovely bow!” What do they need to remember for next time? You could say something like, “Remember to count to three before you start.” Don’t dwell on mistakes made in the actual playing; you can address those in a regular practice session.
Extra Recital Prep Tips
Many aspects of recitals can be nerve-wracking, even ones we don’t think much about. You’re in an unfamiliar location, on an unfamiliar instrument, in front of unfamiliar people. Recitals might be scheduled at weird days or times, and performers don’t always have a chance to warm up beforehand. Consequently, try to have your recital prep simulate this by:
- having a number of different audiences
- playing on different pianos if possible
- practice performing at different times of day – not just during practice time
Make It a Game!
Make recital prep fun by turning practice into play! Perhaps you model a purposely bad performance for your student and have them correct you. Perhaps points you award points for every step remembered. Again: do not focus on any mistakes in the playing. Practice performances are primarily about getting the routine down; trouble spots in the song can be addressed separately.
Dealing with Distractions
Audience members cough. Babies cry. Someone forgets to silence their phone and it rings. The lights suddenly go out. (This has happened to me twice!) As the old saying goes, “The show must go on” – and that’s true for pianists as well! Therefore, to make recital prep more fun and prepare students for distractions, here’s a game I sometimes play:
The Distraction Game
People needed: 1 Performer, at least 1 Distracter (I have a colleague who calls themselves the “Distraction Monster”) Object: The Performer must play their entire piece – no matter what happens! How: Talk, sing, dance, laugh, make funny noises, wave hands around the Performer Rules/limitations: Incorporate a “safety zone” around the Performer and instrument where Distracters are not allowed to enter. The Distracter(s) cannot touch the performer or cause anything else to touch them. The Distracter may not play on the piano while the performer is playing. It’s perfectly fine for the Performer to laugh or stumble in their piece – after all, they just need to get to the end in order to win!