With the start of winter or the start of spring comes the start of recital season. And with the start of recital season comes preparations, planning and (hopefully!) practicing for the big day.
But, as we all know, some piano students will be less prepared that others.
In the weeks before your recital, some students will go on holidays, get sick, pack up their piano and move houses, break wrists (hopefully not both), join competitive football teams, and have high school exams… while others just… don’t practice…
And so, we are faced with another BPTQ (Big Piano Teacher Question):
What should I do with an unprepared student?
When faced with an unprepared (not due to lack of practice!) student, I generally have a mental conversation with myself that goes a little something like this.
- Should I let him participate anyway and hope for the best? But I really don’t like to set children up for failure… a flopped performance might affect his future recital confidence… and a flopped performance WILL reflect poorly on my studio. And what if his lack of preparation is not his fault?
- Should I let him know he’s not ready, and therefore not able to participate? But he’s excited about the recital and I love it when children are excited to perform… I don’t want to make him feel unwelcome… I don’t want to dampen his enjoyment of the piano or create negativity towards piano lessons.
It’s always a tough choice… and I can say that in the past I have opted for both outcomes. And I didn’t like the result of either 🙁
So, any time I discover something that I’m not happy about I also discover an opportunity for change and learning… and positivity.
Over the past few years I’ve come up with a third option… the “he’s not ready, but he’ll participate” plan that we’re sharing today.
What To Do If A Piano Student Isn’t Ready for A Recital
If you’ve decided to have your student participate in your piano recital… here are 6 ways you can salvage a performance and get him recital ready:
- Revisit a previously-completed piece, but make it special. Almost every piano student has “that old piece”… the one that he’s memorized, that he loves, and that he can play at the drop of a hat. Not much learning comes from playing that piece for the recital, but a lot of learning can happen by “making it special”. Encourage your piano student to compose new sections, change the ending, repeat sections in different octaves, and create variations. Making an old piece new again can be an exciting project that can often end in a fabulous performance.
- Compose a recital piece. Audiences love hearing performances of pieces composed by the performer. Pick a relevant and motivating theme, and then give your student some guidance as to how to create a melody line and a left hand accompaniment. Add a fantastic title, a special dedication to someone who will be there to watch and voila… you’ve created a show-stopping moment!
- Add a duet part. Adding a teacher duet part to an “almost ready” piece is a great way to salvage a recital piece that is being learned but is not yet perfected. As the teacher, you can take over the bass clef line and add some embellishments to the melody, while your student plays the treble clef either on its own or with a simplified version of the left hand.
- Improvise on the spot. This sounds much more difficult than it actually is. If you’re a regular reader of the blog you can simply grab one of our ready-made improv activities that you’ve likely been using in your lessons. For a bit of fun you can have the audience members participate by supplying the rhythm in the form of a silly sentence, a name, or a favorite sports team. Then you can provide the duet part and your student can improvise the melody on top, using the audience-supplied rhythm. Ensure you’ve practiced this skill with your student in the lessons leading up to the recital so that he is comfortable matching various melodies to a given rhythm.
- Add a simple student part to a great piece. Adding a simple and repetitive pattern as the student line on top of a piece that you yourself play is a great way to create a last-minute duet that’s fun for everyone involved.
- Modify, shorten and simplify. Most of us have likely employed this strategy in the past, but sometimes a simple modification, shortening or simplification of the “not-yet-ready” recital piece is all that is needed to get it a piece recital-ready. Keep the parts your student already plays well and then eliminate the trouble spots. Adding repeats, creating a fantastic ending and changing dynamics and octaves can turn even small parts of a piece into a recital-worthy selection.
How Do YOU Prepare the “Unprepared”?
At some point in our careers we’ve all found ourselves with a student who has not been recital ready. How did you handle this situation? Share your strategies in the comments below.