Music Recital Guide

How To Prepare for (and Nail) Your Musical Performance!

Recitals are exciting! They offer the opportunity for music students to put their work on display, show off the progress they’ve made with their instrument lessons, and provide a chance to perform in front of family and friends. But how does a teacher or parent prepare their student or child for a recital? What is expected leading up to the recital, and of course on recital day?

We’ve compiled a list of helpful advice that we use when advising parents (and teachers) on how to prepare their kids. This blog article is split up into a few sections: recital preparation, performance process, dress rehearsal, and game day!

Got any additional tips? Leave them in the comments section so others can benefit from your wisdom!

piano recital Marion, S.C.

Preparing for a Recital

Music Selection

First and foremost, include students in the song selection process and make sure to pick recital songs that the student likes! Also, make sure to select the student’s recital song with plenty of time leading up to the recital -- at least a month before. If there is more time to plan (say, a few months) choose a piece that is a level or so above the student’s current level to use as a “stretch goal”.

For a student’s first recital, it is a good idea to choose a piece that’s familiar. Playing a student-teacher duet can also help ease a first-time performer’s nerves because it gives the student the experience of getting on stage and playing in front of others, while taking a lot of the pressure off of the student since they’re not all alone on stage, and they’re not the only one making music (with all those people watching and listening)!

Practicing

How do you know a music piece is ready to be performed? Our general guideline is that if a student can play the piece through 2-3 times, at a steady tempo and generally error-free, then the piece is ready to be performed. The gold standard for being “Recital Ready” is if the student can play the piece according to the general guidelines listed above, but without using their sheet music (aka. from memory).

Another great practicing tip is to number or color the sections of music for the student, and then have the student practice each section both in sequence and out-of-sequence. This can help with memorization, and can also help if the student loses their place during the performance since they will always have a few starting points they can jump to throughout the piece.

Kid Studying Drums

Finally, the student should practice the full performance process a few times, from beginning to end, to help familiarize themselves with what to expect on recital day. Try to do this at least once per practice session. See the next section for more detailed instructions on this process!

Recital Gifts

Some (but not all) parents choose to present their child with a gift after the recital. Gift ideas can range from a bouquet of flowers, to music- or instrument-related trinkets, to a fancy dinner out and ice cream! If you are thinking about getting your child a post-recital gift, plan ahead so that it doesn’t arrive in an Amazon box on recital day!

Practicing the Recital Performance Process

Students should practice the performance process a number of times leading up to the recital and dress rehearsal, so that the student knows what to expect! Overall, the process can be 6 to 8 steps (or more) depending on how many songs the student is playing

  • Step 1: Enter the Stage. The student’s name will be called, and they will walk up to their instrument with their music in-hand and with their arms by their sides. As they’re walking the student should remind themselves to breathe slowly!

  • Step 2: Setup the music on the music stand. The student’s first priority should be to place their music on the music stand and open to the correct page. It’s easiest if the songbook (or songbooks) have paper clips or binder clips on them so the student can easily find their music. If there are two books of music, the student should place the 1st piece of music in front, and the second piece of music in back -- both opened to the correct page.

  • Step 3: Adjust the Height of the Bench and/or Microphone. Depending on the instrument the student is playing, they will have to either adjust a bench or microphone; this may be a little difficult to practice at home, but should be something the student keeps in mind. Arts & Minds Academy recitals are staffed by professional stage managers and audio engineers who are on hand to help with this sort of thing, so an adult will always be ready to help!

  • Step 4: Get the Instrument Ready (if applicable). Now the student is ready to either sit or stand with their instrument. If the student’s instrument is on a stand or in a case, this is the time when the student will take the instrument out and get it ready to play. If the instrument needs to be plugged in, an adult will be ready to help with this. If the instrument is all ready to go (like a piano) then the student should just skip this step!

  • Step 5: Take a breath and prepare to play. Students should remember to take their time as they get ready to play. After the student sits or stands with their instrument, we recommend taking a 5-7 second pause before playing. During this time, the student should listen in their head to the song they’re about to play so they can set the right tempo. During this pause they should also breathe slowly (see our article on “Managing Recital Anxiety” for more on this).

  • Step 4: Play Your Song! This is what each student has been working so hard for! Tell them to play their hearts out!

  • Step 5: Finish the 1st song. Once finished, each student will put their instrument and/or their hands in a resting position to indicate to the audience that they’re finished. If the student is done at this point, please skip to step 7!

  • Step 6: Get Ready to Play the 2nd Piece (if applicable). If the student is playing a second piece, they should pause for a moment while the audience is clapping and then use this time to turn the page to their second song, or move their first songbook to the back and their second songbook to the front of the music stand. Remind the student to take 5-7 seconds to set the tempo and breathe before playing the second song too!

  • Step 7: Play Your Next Song. See step 4!

  • Step 8: Grab Your Music and Exit the Stage. After the student is finished playing all of their songs, they should put their instrument down, either back on a stand or back in its case (if applicable), grab their music from the music stand and with one arm across the front of their belly and one arm across their back, they should bow slowly. Remember to smile while bowing and walking off the stage!

The Dress Rehearsal

Sometimes music schools will offer a dress rehearsal, usually a day or two before the recital, to give students a chance to practice the performance before the recital happens! Arts & Minds Academy always tries to offer dress rehearsals before annual recitals, depending on the number of students who are signed up to play.  

During the dress rehearsal, the student should walk through each step of the performance practice process so that he or she can get comfortable with what will happen on game day!

We also strongly recommend that each student wear their recital outfit (or something similar to it) on dress rehearsal day. Try to wear something comfortable and nice, but avoid wearing jewelry on the wrists. And if the student is planning on wearing shoes that have a heel, it is a good idea to practice a few times while wearing those at dress rehearsal and at home, especially if the student will be using pedals on the guitar or piano.

Children with violin

Performance Day!

Hooray -- performance day has arrived! This is what our students have been working towards all year.

Make sure to get to the recital venue at least 30 minutes early to get situated. And make sure to ask your student to use the bathroom a few times before entering the performance hall, to avoid last-minute emergencies!

It is polite for everyone in the performance hall to give the current performing artist their full attention, so be sure to silence your phones and keep them in pockets are bags. Listen quietly to other students as they perform, and clap when they have finished their song. A kind thing to do is offer supportive words to fellow students as well, such as letting them know you enjoyed their performance and congratulating them afterwards.

Once the recital is over, parents and teachers should make sure to congratulate students on their performance, and encourage them to congratulate their peers as well. Mistakes will be made at every recital -- it’s part of the performance process -- but each of the students who played did something that most everyone has a hard time doing: getting on stage, stepping into the spotlight, and performing for an audience. And each student who did that deserves recognition for being brave! So tell your students, “Bravo!”

Check out our blog on “Managing Recital Anxiety” for some additional tips on helping students cope with performance anxiety! And please share any of your tips and tricks in the comments section!