Help! My Student Doesn’t Have Their Recital Song Mastered!

What do we do when a student has not mastered their recital song?

In the next few weeks, I will be getting everything ready for our spring recital.  And, I’m sure the same is for many of you.  However, the most important part is the students performing!  They are the stars of the show & having their recital song mastered is a must.

Do you have a student that procrastinates on their songs until the last minute?  And, then struggles to master them in the last week or two before the recital?

We all know how that turns out.  The student typically chokes during the performance, audience members try to be supportive (though with all the stops & starts it’s a challenge), & the recital starts feeling like a chore to everyone that attends.

Timing:  When Does It Need To Be Mastered?

This year in my studio, we aimed to have songs learnt (correct notes, rhythm, dynamics & articulation) at least a month before the recital.  Many of my students were able to reach that goal.  A few took a week longer & were able to accomplish it 3 weeks before the recital.

I’ve learnt the hard way that many students WILL procrastinate if they can. The problem is that it’s stressful on everyone.  The student because they genuinely want to do well.  The parent(s) as they try to get extra practice times into an already busy schedule.  Us teachers because we also genuinely want the student to shine as well.

By setting the deadline much earlier, we save students from themselves (as my husband puts it when the twins seem set on making bad choices all day).  Procrastinating means a different song choice, instead of a performance the student isn’t proud of.

The bonus is that the remainder of the time before the recital is for interpretation & getting student performances solid.  When the day of the recital comes, students have worked out all the kinks, they have played under pressure, & they have had time to make their songs truly their own.

Give yourself & your students a buffer before the recital of when a song must be mastered.

Spend the rest of the time on high-level skills such as interpretation & performance strategies.

Why A Student Hasn’t Mastered Their Songs

What happens if a student REALLY want to learn a piece for the recital, but doesn’t learn it in time?  Typically a student has not mastered a song for one of the following reasons:

  • Piece was too challenging
  • Cramming practice at the last minute
  • Student chooses not to use practice aids

How To Avoid These Pitfalls

As frustrating as student procrastination can be, I try to remind myself that students really DO want to well on their pieces.  It’s up to me to figure out how to help them.

Some ways to help students avoid procrastination & have great success with their recital pieces are:

  • Simplify an arrangement so it becomes a little easier than the student’s level
  • Link the arrangement to previous patterns or concepts they have already covered
  • Divide the song into smaller sections with weekly benchmarks/goals for each
  • Practice IN lesson the way you want the student to practice during the week
  • Provide weekly practice videos for each section …. use the STUDENT device so their is no excuse of not having access
  • Let parents know which practice aids their child has access to during each week
    • Examples: practice video, link to YouTube performance, colour-coded cues in music, etc.)
  • Encourage students to send videos during the week if they would like extra feedback (most students won’t take advantage of this, but it’s up to you if you are okay with getting a few videos)

It Didn’t Work … Now What?

What happens if you do all of this & the student STILL does not learn their song by the deadline? Barring family emergencies …

It’s time for a hard conversation with the student about how they prepared for their recital song & why the song isn’t mastered.

Students, even my youngest, usually are very honest about how they could have changed their practice to be more successful.

One of my clients said that it was an eye-opener for her daughter to see how her lack of or inefficient practice (depending on the week) had meant that she didn’t get to perform her first choice.  Her daughter realized that because she hadn’t put in the effort beforehand, the cram sessions at the end didn’t get her the result she had wanted.

The week before the deadline, this student had been very motivated & had made great progress … but, it wasn’t enough to show me the song could be learnt in time.  Thankfully, the parent was very supportive of this life lesson, the student chose an alternate song to play for the recital, & we will continue working on the song she really wanted … but, only on a minor basis until after the recital when we can put our full focus on the piece.

Piano lessons are about more than just learning music.

They are about learning a multitude of life lessons … like the lesson that consistent, intentional practice allows us to achieve mastery in any skill.

If you, as a teacher, have done everything in your power to help a student master their recital songs … at this point, it’s up to the student to take responsibility for their practice.

In my studio, my students know that I want them to have the BEST performance at the recital.  It’s their chance to show off for their parents & family!  I’ll help them every which way I can to master the song they want.  But, if they choose not to practice or not use the tools I’ve given them … they need to choose a new song that they have already mastered.

Adding a Little Extra Incentive

This year, I am trying something new for our studio recital.  I have a few students that are addicted to stopping & starting again if they make a mistake as they perform.  So, this year they will be playing with backing tracks.  Not only will it (hopefully) solve this problem, but the students are excited about choosing the style of the backing track.  Plus since they have already mastered their songs, they have several weeks of practicing with the backing track before the big day.

Next week, I’ll be sharing a tutorial on how I am creating backing tracks for my students using 2 apps!  It’s been a fun learning curve & I’m glad that I took the plunge.  It was a lot easier than I had originally thought & could see do more of this for my students (or myself as I practice).

Have a great weekend!

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