A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from a reader asking advice regarding planning a studio recital for the first time. For the sake of others who might be in the same situation, I decided to create a whole post about this topic — read on.
Q: How do I decide what kind of music to have students play?
I would suggest buying separate sheet music rather than the usual pieces in their method books. There’s something special about having a separate sheet music for the recital. I even like to write on the sheet music something like: “Johnny’s 1st Recital – May 1, 2011.” It is an extra expense for students which I personally feel is worth it.
Q: How much time should I give students to work on their recital piece?
It depends on the difficulty of the recital pieces you plan to assign, but I don’t think 6-8 weeks is too long for students to prepare their pieces for a performance, especially if you want them (all or some of them) to perform by memory. If your teaching style is heavy on performance, your students might be able to be ready in a shorter time, but if you’re not sure how they’ll do, I’d play it safe and give them plenty of time. Personally, I like my students to have at least 2 or 3 weeks that they are able to perform their piece by memory for me during the lesson. So that leaves just 3 to 5 weeks to learn and memorize the piece. You can explain to your students that this piece is “special” and they need to work on it a long time in order to get it as musical as possible. It is much better for students to have too much time to polish the piece than not enough. Of course, even with plenty of time to prepare, you may still have some procrastinators. Despite all your preventative efforts, you might still have a student’s performance “crash and burn.” It’s okay if that happens! It’s a learning experience for everyone involved (including the teacher).
Q: Should I have beginner/elementary level students play more than one piece since they are so short?
Absolutely! Also consider playing the duet parts with them. You can ask the student which way they prefer, but usually they will choose to have you play along since it “makes them sound good.” (Parents love it too.)
Q: Should I play a piece on the recital too, or would I look like a show-off?
I personally feel that teachers should play something on their recitals, especially if students rarely have the opportunity to hear you perform. It does not have to be a long, showy piece. Even a Chopin nocturne or a hymn arrangement, played very well and musically, would be a wonderful thing to hear. It is all about setting an example to your students — that they can play even when they are adults someday if they want to, and that you know how to successfully prepare, memorize, and perform pieces too. It’s also important for the students and parents to be regularly reminded of your qualifications as a musician and performer. To see more opinions on this matter, see this post.
Q: Do I need to have a theme for the recital?
You don’t have to have a theme unless you want to. Many teachers have great success with it. I think it requires more time to plan a themed recital — but they can be a lot of fun. Traditional recitals are great too — it’s good for students to hear a variety of styles and pieces.
Q: How do I decide the program order?
I used to always make the program order by student level, beginners to advanced. I now think it’s better to mix up all the ages and levels into other random groupings (by historical period, for example). Otherwise, it gets difficult to know where to put a precocious but young student, for example. The mix of ages and levels helps the focus of the recital to be a sharing/celebration of music and not a comparison of who is “doing the best.” Another thing to consider — carefully choose a strong performer to put at the beginning of the program, and one at the end of the program. It is nice to get a positive start to the recital, and to finish strong. Visit the Printables page to view a few templates that can be used to type up recital programs.
Q: I also have guitar students, and I haven’t quite figured out yet what to do with them.
That’s great! I think I would mix up the guitar and piano students in the program order — not necessarily every-other, but in groups of threes or fours. Just make sure you have a good set-up — chairs/stands/benches all ready to go. I recommend having the students sit in the front row during the program, in program order, so they can easily tell when it is their turn to play. Mark their seats with a printed program that has their name written on the top of it. If they want to go sit with their parents after they play their piece, they can.
Q: Where have you had your recitals? Any particular places I should consider?
My past recitals have mostly been held at churches, mainly because they were free or very affordable to use. I did try a school classroom once, but found it to be crowded. I look for someplace that has a grand piano that can be moved to the center of the stage/front. It is nice for the students (and impressive to the parents) to get to have the opportunity to perform on a grand piano, especially if you don’t have one in your studio. If your own church is not suitable for a recital for one reason or another, you can ask some of your students/parents what their churches are like. I used one of my student’s church for two years in a row because it worked so well there. Sometimes music stores have a recital hall you can rent, however, they can be pretty expensive.
Q: Have you charged a fee in the past for recitals?
Many teachers charge a recital fee. Personally, I dislike charging and going around collecting yet another fee from students/parents, so I consider it a yearly studio expense and factor it into the annual tuition rate. And, of course, you can declare your recital expenses on your taxes which is helpful. Of course, I have always kept my recital expenses very low. My student’s church that I mentioned earlier cost $25 to use (an honorarium to the janitor), and then I baked two dozen cookies, and I bought punch, paper plates/cups/napkins, etc.. I also bought two dozen roses so I could award each student with a rose at the end of the performance — a nice touch which was great for the photos afterwards. Many teachers give out awards or certificates that correspond to their incentive program. It’s a great time to do it if you have something like that going on in your studio.
Q: Do I need to hold a reception afterwards?
Having some sort of small reception is a nice gesture. It does not have to be extravagant. I think you have to read your students/parents and consider what they will best appreciate. If you teach in an upper-class area, you might want to do a big bash; but if you are in a middle- to lower-class area, keep it simple but nice! As I mentioned, I brought enough punch and cookies for everyone, but I also politely asked students/parents in a newsletter if anyone would like to volunteer to bring goodies to the recital. I usually had 2 or 3 parents bring something, which was helpful to get some variety in the goodies. At the beginning and end of the recital, you can announce the reception and invite the students/parents to stay around for goodies and photos. Click here for a post with ideas for what to say at studio recitals.
Q: Do I need to have a dress rehearsal?
Ideally, yes! It doesn’t have to be held at the recital location if that is not feasible, but at least have your students all perform their pieces for each other during a group lesson. One year, I decided to have them do their dress rehearsal at a local assisted living facility. That year, one of my students could not make it to the recital because of her sibling’s wedding (and I couldn’t move the date just for one student), so it was really nice that at least she could perform her piece at the assisted living facility. And the folks there always enjoy the music!
Q: What else do I need to do to prepare for the big day?
Create a planning checklist for yourself of all the things that must be done in the weeks/days preceding the recital. There are certain things that must be arranged in advance, and there are things that must be bought and taken along on the big day. Here is a list to get you started.
Ask you own questions or offer your own recital tips in the comments below!
More Reading: Checklist for Planning Student Recitals