Chances are your studio is already well into recital prep. Students are learning or mastering new repertoire, you are working out the last details on the program, & parents are checking their calendars to ensure they will get their budding performers to the venue on time.
In my studio, students choose their own songs for the recital. While they get a say in what they learn throughout the year, this is their chance to get 100% say on the song choice. And each year my students wow me. They choose classical, pop, rock, oldies, blues, jazz, movie soundtracks, & folk songs. Sometimes they want to be part of a duet, other times students have surprised me with wanting to perform on their own … even though they get really nervous. Sometimes, they choose a song that is above their level … no matter how hard I’ve looked to find something easier. But, they are determined & they get there.
How can you get your students just as excited about their recital repertoire?
Step 1: Ask them
The amazing music I have been introduced to through my students has always been one of my favourite parts of recital prep. Students that have shrugged their shoulders all year at anything that might seem “old” (as in from 1990 o early 2000’s), surprise me with wanting to learn “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison.
So, ask your students if there are any songs they want to learn. It may be new to you, but it has sparked an interest in your student … and, isn’t that what we all want?
Step 2: Research options
Once I have an idea of what my students may want to play, I do my research. Do I have any books that have the right song at the right level?
If I don’t have a copy of a song, chances are we have already taken a look during lesson online to see what options there are out there. And, then I email mom or dad that link right in lesson with a quick note letting them know their child is super excited about learning ‘x’ song & could they please purchase the song before next lesson.
Step 3: Give them more options, if they need it
Sometimes, a student may not know what they want to perform for a recital. That’s okay. Bringing (or having on hand) level appropriate & age appropriate material to go through during lesson time makes this easier.
When choosing which books to bring, I think about:
- Leveling of the book: If I am teaching siblings, could they possibly choose songs from the same book?
- Style: Based on what I know about the student, will they like the repertoire? Sometimes my students have shook their head at the cover, but once I have played a few songs they are surprised to find they like what’s inside.
- Goals from the year: This is more geared towards my adult students. They typically do not have as much time to practice as my younger students, but want to still play beautiful music. I tend to choose repertoire that looks & sounds hard, but has lots of patterns which make it quick to learn. Duets are also another popular option for this group since they can shine … without being in the spotlight alone.
- Something of interest: Whether it is a quirky take on a classic or taps into a specific interest my student has, the songs need to give the student a reason to get excited.
Step 4: Choose more than one song
I have a small studio & students typically do 2 songs during the recital. Not only does it extend the length of time we get to be together, but it has several other benefits:
- Exposure to different style of music: I tell my students to choose separate styles or moods to keep their audience’s interest throughout the performance.
- Interest while practicing: We tend to get very focused on recital repertoire, so it is nice having different pieces to work on during those weeks.
- Stretching their abilities: Typically, I get students to choose one easy piece & one harder piece. This lets them stretch themselves musically at a time of year when they want to take it easy. But, also gives them a chance each practice session to also work on a song that doesn’t require quite so much of them.
- Practice increases: Double the excitement, double the practice. At least that’s the plan!
- More chances for parents to brag on their kids: As parents, we love to have bragging rights. But, listening to the same song over & over for weeks can get boring. Having 2 (or more) songs, keeps the excitement alive.
This extra piece may be a backup piece if you have a large studio & students will only be performing one song. Having both songs going gives the student the opportunity to push themselves musically, but ultimately choose the best song for their performance.
If you have a student that typically doesn’t practice much & you are concerned the song they choose will not get learnt in time … give them a chance. They may surprise you. However, I always get those students to choose a backup song that they already know. Most of the time, they are not nearly as excited about the backup piece which motivates them to learn the other song. And if not, then you are not stressing out in the weeks before the recital.
Step 5: Praise, praise, & praise some more
Every year, I tell my students & piano parents that our recital is a time of celebration. I used to get stressed out about student progress & whether or not they were truly ready … & to be honest, there will still be an element of that for any students who don’t practice.
The biggest motivator I have found, after selecting the right repertoire, is praise. Each week, I give my students specific praise about their repertoire. As we get close to the recital, I tell them what I think the audience is going to LOVE about their performance (i.e. “The way you built that crescendo & then dropped down suddenly at the end gave me goosebumps!”). And, boy do I brag on their progress to their parents! I want my piano parents to have the vocabulary to praise their child(ren) as well & do my best to use terminology along with definitions so they have a framework on how they can motivate at home during the week.
Step 6: Explore the music
As students master different aspects of their songs, remember to guide them in ways they can change the song.
What happens when they:
- Change the dynamics?
- Speed up the tempo?
- Modify the rhythm?
- Change the key or mood? (depending on their level)
- Play higher or lower on the piano?
This is the perfect opportunity to review theory concepts in a creative & sneaky way. Students enjoy changing up the music, yet don’t realize they are learning & reviewing while they do it.
Your top tips
What do you do to motivate your students during recital prep? I would love to read your comments below!
Have a great weekend!