improving as a teacher, Performances, Professional Development

Tips for a Successful First Studio Recital

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

Photo Credit: Raybdbomb | CC 2.0

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29 thoughts on “Tips for a Successful First Studio Recital”

  1. I used some of your suggestions to plan my first studio recital last year; your tips on what to say to the crowd were especially helpful! The recital was a big success despite the fact that about six hours before the start of the event the school was closed due to a power failure. Thank goodness I’d planned ahead and didn’t have cupcakes left to frost! Instead of a relaxed afternoon, I was scrambling to find a new location and notify students but everyone found the new venue and the students adapted brilliantly. So my biggest suggestion for teachers is to plan ahead, keep a level head and enlist a friend or family member to take lots of pictures. It’s worth the effort for so many reasons!

    1. @Laura: Oh my! Congrats for successfully adapting to a challenging situation!! Kudos! I agree with your advice — planning ahead is the key to a successful event. 🙂

  2. Enjoyed reading your suggestions. I currently have 25 students. Last year 23 performed at the recital and I was worried that it would go long. It ended up being about 75 minutes. Is that too long? Should I divide the students up somehow? Concerts/movies/etc are longer than that but……..just wondering.

    1. I don’t think 75 minutes is too long, Kathy. That sounds like a nice length to me! I think 90 minutes would be about the limit where you might want to consider at least having an intermission, or perhaps even dividing up the students into two mini-recitals as you suggested.

  3. I guess this is an older post, so I’m not sure why it came up at the top with new posts, but it was a good read anyways! I just had my 3rd recital two weeks ago, and I would definitely recommend keeping things simple for any theme or reception.
    I did a rainbow theme last year. I encouraged my students to wear bright colors, and all of the food afterward was rainbowified =) (the cakes had rainbows on top, the fruit tray was a rainbow, rainbow rice krispy treats and cookies, etc.)

    This year, I made it even simpler since I would be 36 weeks pregnant at the time of the recital. Our theme was “Favorite Things.” I asked each student their 3 favorite things and listed them in the program with their name and song(s). For refreshments, we had ice cream with lots of toppings so everyone could put their favorite things on their ice cream. I was extremely thankful that I’d kept it simple this year because the dad of one of my students (9 years old) died 5 days before my recital, and his funeral was the morning of my recital day (recital time was 2pm). I was still able to attend the funeral and pull off a successful recital since I had chosen such an easy theme and refreshments.

  4. This is such a great post! I was hoping for a little advice: I am still in college so I have only six students right now. I really want to have my first studio recital to give my students a chance to play for friends and family. If each student played 2 or 3 pieces (short ones), do you think the program would be too short to bother with?

    1. Not at all. It would still be a special event for your students and family to look forward to, so I think it would be worth it! Put a little reception at the end, or even plan a music game or two for your students (you can get parents involved too, or just have them watch). Oh, and consider playing a piece yourself at the end too! It’s good for student to hear their teacher play too. 🙂 Good luck!

  5. I just started teaching and only have three beginning students. Would you consider a recital for such a small group?

    1. Yes, I think I would definitely consider it. If you’ve got students and parents who would like having a little performance, I’d say go for it! I would probably hold it right at your studio and let parents know it will be just a short event. But performance opportunities, no matter how small, are always valuable to the student! 🙂

  6. I just started teaching piano and I have three beginner students (possibly three more). I was just wondering if I should play a piece or if it would be discouraging to the students since they are all beginners.
    Thanks : )

    1. I’m sure all your beginner students really look up to you, so I think hearing you play would be very inspiring for them, not discouraging! Choose something beautiful that you can play well, not necessarily something flashy and difficult. I think your parents and students will appreciate hearing you play. 🙂

  7. Thanks so much for this info! I’m in the process of planning a recital for my flute and piano students in the Spring, so this is very helpful!

  8. Thanks, Joy! I am planning my first recital right now. it is going to be in December. I have 11 students who are doing two pieces each. Half of them are beginners. I hope everything goes okay. I’m looking forward to it, though.

  9. Thanks. Can you give simple tips on how to prepare and be less nervous on recital day? My palms sweat a lot when I get nervous, so do you have any tips? My recital is tomorrow! Ahhh!!

    1. Make lots of lists! 🙂 Write down everything you need to bring to the recital. On an index card, you can write down the things you want to say or announce to parents/students at the beginning and the end of the recital. During the recital, try to relax and enjoy the music — good luck!

  10. Thank you for your website. I got a lot of help from you. Thank you! I just had my first spring recital and one of the student just cancelled the performance one day before the recital. The excuse is so lame. I spent so much time with this student preparing him and he or his parents just did this to me. What should I do? Should I just terminate him from the lessons?


    1. That’s really up to you. Like you, I would would be very disappointed about a last minute recital cancellation. It does happen, unfortunately. Personally, I would not likely stop teaching a student due to only that reason, but I might if there were other issues going on. Good luck with the situation!

      1. I just don’t want to deal with the irresponsible parents. Would you do or say anything to these kind of parents?

        1. I’m not sure what the whole situation is or what you hope to communicate to the parents, so I’m not sure what to suggest! Sorry I can’t be more specific. I would suggest visiting one of the facebook forums for piano teachers and getting suggestions for your situation there.

  11. Hi joy love your website!!! I have been teaching for many years, holding recitals twice a year. I have always given out piano awards, however I’m always looking for new ways to reward students without leaving others out. Do you have any ideas?

    1. I don’t give out awards at recitals — instead, I just give each student a rose at the end of the recital. My personal feeling is that if I was going to give out an award, I would give it to the student at their lesson instead of at the recital. (And take a special photo to share in the studio newsletter!)

  12. I have several students who are siblings. Should I put them back to back, or separate them? I’m thinking not back to back just so they don’t feel like they are being compared to the other?

    1. That is really up to you and the sibling’s preferences! I tend to separate them just because I’m usually trying to create a recital program that is nicely varied (i.e., I try to alternate somewhat between slow pieces and lively pieces). But if your siblings prefer to be together, I’d put them together.

  13. Hi Joy,
    I like your idea of giving a rose to each student at the end of the recital, however, what is the comment you say to students when you give the roses out? Also, I do like to give out certificates at the end. Is doing both a good idea or is it a bit over kill to do both?
    Also, where there is a stage and grand piano is at centre stage, should students sit on chairs on the floor or should chairs be set up on stage for them all to sit together there? Thanks for your input!

    Ruth Warren

    1. Hi Ruth! Before passing out the roses, I just state: “As is tradition, I would like to give each student a rose for their fine performances today.” I’ve never given out certificates, but I know that many teachers do!
      As far as student seating goes, it is really up to your own preferences! I think every teacher does it their own way. Personally, I let students sit anywhere with their families.

  14. I have 40 students, a mixture of beginner and intermediate. I am planning on hosting 2 recitals on the same day with a break inbetween. How would you recommend dividing the studio? Beginners and Advanced? Thanks so much for your input.

    1. If it were me, I would mix everybody up! It’s so good for the beginners to hear the advanced students, and for the advanced students to hear the beginners. You could either allow students to sign up for their preferred recital time, or assign them yourself.

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