Our 8 year old daughter is in her very first figure skating competition on Friday. This world of skating is completely new to me (I’m like Bambi on ice) and so I’ve listened with interest as her coach has brought me up to speed on the “ins and outs” of skating competition prep.
What was most interesting to me is how much of her preparation for this competition is spent on details that seem to have absolutely nothing to do with her skating… and a whole lot to do with the impression she makes on the judges when she is not skating.
And it reminded me of all the great lessons I learned in my many years as a piano student in festivals, competitions and exams.
5 (Little) Tips for Piano Competition and Exam Success
As with figure skating, it seems that many piano teachers are in the thick of competition and festival season right now… and for many others, exams are right around the corner.
So as your piano kids polish and memorize and perfect, we thought we’d share 5 little (yet important!) details that you may not have thought of when prepping your piano students for competitions or exams.
1. Confidence when speaking – In a competition, piano students often need to announce their selection and composer. It makes a fabulous first-impression if your piano students can do so in a confident way. Rehearse for weeks before hand, having your students announce their piece to you in a clear, pleasant and confident way while pretending to make eye contact with an adjudicator.
In an exam situation, students don’t often need to introduce their piece, but your piano students can practice speaking confidently for those times when they may be asked “How are you today?” or “What will you be playing for me next?” as they so often are.
2. Safety Zones – In the weeks leading up to a big performance, help your students create several “safety zones”. These are places in their pieces where they can easily return to if a memory lapse or stumble occurs. And be sure to actually practice making a stumble and using a “safety zone”. It’s one thing to have these safety zones, but it’s another to really practice using them. A performer who has a clear strategy for dealing with troubles makes a great impression.
Pssst… Adjudicators love hearing new material! As PianoBookClub member, Ginny, discovered… “I used 3 of your pieces for our local Kiwanis festival, and the adjudicator seemed to appreciate the variety apart from the usual conservatory material!” Keep everyone refreshed with new supplementary repertoire from www.pianobookclub.com!
3. Know Your Stuff – I have seen many piano students who, after being asked a question by an adjudicator or examiner, stand in stunned silence with absolutely no idea how to respond. We can’t always predict what our students will be asked, but we can absolutely make sure they know their composer (and a bit about him or her), what all of the markings on their piece mean, and which key their piece is in. Exam students should know their program order, and the time period that each of their pieces is from. It’s always better to be over-prepared.
4. Appear Organized – Prepare your students’ music by having a clean copy marked with a post-it notes to avoid having your students frantically flip through their books in search of a piece when it’s their turn. For exam students, also use tags or post-it notes to mark the examiner copies. This may seem trivial, but an examiner who is listening to the wonderful skills of your students is way more valuable than one who is searching through pages to find each piece or who is distracted by messy music with tons of writing.
5. Teach Good “Music-manship” – This has nothing to do with marks, but competitions and exams are a great opportunity to teach your students to be gracious competitors and performers – consider it sportsmanship training for pianists. I was taught to make a point of saying something nice to at least two of the other piano students in my festival classes and to congratulate whomever won. I teach my own students to make a point of saying “Nice to meet you” when the piano examiner introduces themselves followed by a sincere “Thank you” with eye contact to their examiner when their exam is over.
The Little Things Count…
These small tips will help your piano students enter into their competition or exam with confidence and with the air of a well-seasoned performer. Coupled with your fantastic teaching and preparation… they’ll be set-up for success! Looking for more piano performance tips? Check out these great posts: