By Chrissy Ricker, NCTM
This time of year, many of us are preparing our students for festivals, recitals, and auditions. Helping our students to choose repertoire, practice correctly, keep their pieces fresh, and—most of all—stay calm can be a daunting task!
How can we make sure that our students are confident, well-prepared, and ready to perform? Take a look at this handy recital-ready timeline for tips on how to best help students to practice and prepare in the weeks leading up to a performance.
One month before the performance
At this point, students should have their music securely learned—meaning, they should be able to play their pieces accurately and up-to-tempo. There may be a few small things to polish, but overall pieces should be flowing comfortably and sounding musical.
If students are performing from memory, they should be able to comfortably play their pieces by memory from start to finish without any major memory mistakes. We’ll be giving them tools to put their memory to the test in the coming weeks!
Three weeks before the performance
Now is the time to work on any areas in the music that might need a bit more polish. Students should practice these spots separately at each practice session. Listening to recordings of their music can also help students to solidify any remaining weak spots in their pieces.
If students are performing from memory, make sure they are practicing their music in multiple ways over the next few weeks to test for secure memorization. Slow practice from memory, playing hands separately from memory, starting from memory in several different spots in the music, and thinking through the piece away from their instrument are all good ways to help students to test their memory.
See if they can stay focused and keep playing, no matter what happens.
Students should also practice getting into character and “performing” their music cold, without an extensive warm-up. Doing this at random times throughout the week will help students get quickly into “performance mode” and replicate what their experience will be like at an actual performance.
Two weeks before the performance
Let’s get a little help from our friends! This week, encourage your students to do at least two practice performances for family members or friends. Having students record themselves performing their pieces is also a good way to approximate the performance experience.
In your lessons this week, you might help students get comfortable playing through distractions. Shuffle some papers, walk around the room, cough… replicate the types of sounds your students might hear in an actual performance setting and see if they can stay focused and keep playing, no matter what happens.
One week before the performance
This week, students should practice doing a dry run of their performance, both in lessons and at home. Students who are playing in a recital should practice walking “on stage,” performing, and taking a bow. Students who are playing for a festival should practice walking into the room, greeting the judge, and giving the names of their festival pieces before playing. Try to replicate the performance experience as closely as possible.
If students are wearing any special attire (for example, a fancy dress, a suit jacket, or new shoes) they should practice at least once or twice at home wearing these items. Students should make sure they can play comfortably and have a full range of motion—there is nothing worse than buying a nice new recital outfit and then finding out that you can’t move your arms comfortably as you are on stage performing!
During your lessons this week, explain to students what they can expect the day of their performance. If it is a venue that is new to them, describing the room or showing them pictures can help students to know exactly what to expect. For recitals, have the program ready, if possible, so that students can see the performance order. Giving students a step-by-step explanation of what will happen the day of their performance can help decrease students’ anxiety levels leading up to the event.
The night before/day of the performance
Remind students to get a good night’s sleep so they are well-rested and ready to perform. Students might enjoy taking a walk or another form of gentle exercise to help with any pre-performance jitters. Some musicians (myself included) have also found it helpful to eat a banana about thirty minutes to an hour prior to performing. Bananas contain natural beta-blockers that may help with anxiety.
As their performance time approaches, remind students to breathe and relax. It is totally normal to be a bit nervous; just remind students that they are well-prepared, and everyone in the audience is rooting for them! Ask students to take a few deep breaths and to visualize themselves having fun and giving a great performance.
Now, go out and “break a leg!”