Recital season is upon us! As the “finale” of our semester approaches, recital preparation is on my mind quite a bit. And chances are, even if the winter recital isn’t on the average parent’s mind… your child is thinking about it every single time she practices.

This year, I was especially struck by how unique each student is – and how recital prep should be tailored to each student’s particular needs. Parents should be in on this information too! I hope you find your student’s needs somewhere on this (not exhaustive, but at least representative) list:

The Achiever

The Achiever never misses a day of practice. When approaching a recital, she feels confident about memorization, but nervous about the details. What if a dynamic is missed? A wrong note played? The Achiever has worked SO HARD to prepare that it’s hard for the parent to fathom anything  going wrong, but this is a real struggle for the student.

How can you help?

  • Listen earnestly to what your student has to say. Even if mom, dad, and teacher agree that the student is well-prepared, the Achiever’s concerns need to be heard.
  • Offer opportunities for “mini-recitals”. Once or twice a week in the month leading up to the recital, give chances for impromptu performances. A neighborhood friend coming to play, grandparents coming for dinner, a family night in – any of these are perfect, lower-pressure opportunities for your Achiever.
  • Keep criticism to a minimum. Most achievers already know what needs to be improved.
  • Ask your child what he is worried about. Encourage him to circle “trouble spots” in his music to be addressed in the next week’s lesson.
  • Try to be specific with your praise. Rather than “That sounded really awesome!”, try, “I love your dynamics in the third system!”, or “I love the way you mastered that tricky part in the middle!”Your Achiever is going to come out just fine (we all know it!), but your support is really important. We’re all on the same team!

Practices-But-Falls-Short

This student practices regularly, 4-5 days per week, 20 minutes per day, but never seems to SHINE. She always puts in the required practice time, but doesn’t quite achieve in the way she hopes. She knows what she wants, but can’t seem to make it happen. Parents are often flustered: We do all the right things, but the music never sounds like we think it should.

How can you help?

  • Pay close attention to assignment logs, and listen to instructions from the teacher each week. Make an appointment to sit in on a lesson or two!
  • Make sure that your student isn’t simply “playing through the song” several times in lieu of practice. “Play the song 10 times” might be an effective practice strategy for a brand new beginner, but past the first year, more dedicated practice techniques should be in place.
  • Ask your student about the details in his piece. Start with things that are already circled! We make note of things that are difficult or important in lessons, so these are perfect points for questions. “Why did you circle this in blue?” “What does this symbol mean?” “How do you play when you see this marking?” This works great even for parents who do not read music – your child will feel empowered to share her knowledge, and learn more in the process!
  • Compliment freely – and offer guided criticism. “I love the way you played the left hand so confidently in the first two lines! I think you could take this song to the next level if it sounded as confident during the second half!”This student is going to do just fine in the recital – she’ll work hard for it – but what she’s really looking for is to take her skills to the next level. Sometimes, this student is just looking for an extra listening ear at home to make sure her hard work is being noticed.

Too-Busy-to-Practice 

“Too-Busy-To-Practice” has a lot going on. Soccer on Mondays and Wednesdays, Girl Scouts on Tuesdays, Carpool for sibling activities on Thursdays, Family Nights on Fridays, games on Saturdays, and church on Sundays. Not to mention homework! Parents, it is HARD to raise a family in this day and age! This student often desires to practice more, but usually runs out of steam by the time her designated practice time rolls around.

How can you help?

  • In terms of practice time – QUALITY > QUANTITY! Most students can carve out 10-15 minutes per day to practice, even if not the recommended 20 or 30. Do what works! Just before homework, prior to catching the bus, or just after bath are perfect opportunities! 10 minutes per day DOES make a difference!
  • Be reassuring! After you’ve helped your child to find an optimal practice time, offer one positive comment following each session. “Wow, this is really starting to flow!”, “I think this is a PERFECT song for you!”, or “Hearing you play this just makes me want to dance!”
  • One week before the recital, have “mini-recitals” regularly after practice time. Invite a neighbor friend or FaceTime Grandma!

It’s Going to Be Fine!

This student is not worried in the slightest about the upcoming performance. When prodded to practice, he assures you that he’s completely ready! Never mind that the notes and rhythms are wrong, it will surely be completely memorized and polished before the recital date.

How can you help?

  • Ask your child – and listen closely – to how she is really feeling about the recital. You will probably hear more nerves than you expected.
  • Make practice a game! Why not? I love this EASY piano practice game:
    • Divide your child’s recital song into 6 sections.
    • Roll a pair of dice.
      • The first number tells you which line/section/measure of music to practice.
      • The second number tells you how many times to practice it!
  • Set goals leading up to the recital. If your student needs to memorize the piece in 4 weeks, and there are 6 lines in the piece, try two per week. This leaves one week to polish and develop confidence. (Hint: check the assignment log – we’ve already set these goals! Blame the teacher!)

Give some of these tactics a try. and let me know what works for your child! As always, I welcome any questions. Happy recital season!

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