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Preparing for a concert or recital

Updated: Jan 24, 2022

A recital or concert is a fantastic opportunity to show off everything you’ve learned in your music lessons. Whether you’ve been taking online music classes, doing weekly Skype sessions with a voice teacher, meeting one-on-one with your music teacher in Toronto, or are playing in an orchestra or large ensemble, it’s always fun to show off your progress to your friends and family.

Here are some tips to help you prepare, so you can showcase your abilities.

Of course, you should ask your music teacher what they like to do before they perform - they will probably have lots of tips and ideas for you!

Young girl taking piano lessons in Toronto performing at her recital.

Weeks Before

Research the piece you will be playing. Think about what the composer was trying to get across, and the mood of the piece. What sort of feelings were they trying to evoke? How does it make you feel? Was it written for worship? Royal courts? Live concerts? Understanding the answers to these questions will help you to practice and interpret the music. Try listening to different recordings of the piece by a variety of performers and artists to understand their interpretations of the music – every artist will do things a little bit differently, and listening to them can give you some great ideas for your own performance.

Make sure your instrument is in perfect condition. If it needs any sort of maintenance, tuning, or repairing, make sure you get it done as far in advance as possible. That way, when you practice you’ll be hearing the music the way it should sound. If you’re doing your music lessons in Toronto, or in the same city as your teacher, they can recommend a good repair shop. For those playing stringed instruments, this is the time to re-string your instrument if necessary. Brand new strings can fall out of tune more easily because they haven’t been fully stretched out, and you wouldn’t want that to happen in the middle of your performance! Practice. Everyone knows that practice makes perfect, but did you also know it builds confidence? There’s no substitute for repetition and the more ways you practice a piece, the more confident you will be when you are playing it at your recital. Once you’re comfortable with the music and you can get all the way through it without stopping, try practicing in different ways. Play with a backing track if you will have one in your performance, so you will know when to come in. If you’re playing several pieces, practice playing them all back to back in the order you will be playing them at your recital. Practice your piece or set all the way through, not stopping if you make a mistake, the way you would do it in a performance. Think about how you would recover if you did make a mistake. Odds are, if you just keep going, not many people in the audience will notice any mistakes - but they’ll notice if you stop playing or have to start your piece again!

If you will be wearing clothing that you don’t usually wear, such as tights, constrictive pants, or high heels, practice playing while wearing them so you know what it will feel like on the day.

You should also record yourself practicing (either audio or video), so you can hear and see what you sound and look like while performing. You could even get your friends and family to watch you play, so you get used to having an audience. You can do this virtually - even if you’re attending music lessons in Toronto or online music school, you can have a global audience thanks to the wonders of Zoom! If you’re feeling especially brave, ask your audience to shuffle around, cough, and talk to each other, so you are prepared to ignore any distractions when you are on stage!

Think through all other aspects of your performance. What will you wear? How will you walk out on stage? You can prepare mentally by imagining yourself walking out on stage, playing your piece, bowing, and walking off stage. If you have been doing virtual music lessons but will be playing in front of a live audience, this will be even more important.

Ask your music teacher if they have any recommendations for you and trust what they tell you. They know what you are working on and what you are capable of.

Invite your friends and family, and reserve tickets sitting near each other for them. If possible, it can also be a good idea to get them seats in the front row – always helps to see friendly faces in the audience. If you have been doing online music lessons and it will be an online recital, be sure to send out the link in advance.

The Day Before

Do a final run-through of your piece. If it makes sense for the instrument you play, try playing at half-speed, being very deliberate with your fingering, bowing, and breathing. If you’ve been taking online music lessons you could do a virtual run through with your teacher or a fellow student. This will help reinforce your muscle memory and will prevent rushing your performance out of nerves.

Pack everything that you need to bring to the recital. Check that your instrument is working and that you have spares of any necessary equipment such as strings, reeds, plectrums, and drumsticks. Also consider anything else you might want spares of, like hair elastics and water bottles.

Check transportation details. How are you getting to the venue? If someone is driving you, do they know what time they need to leave? Is there parking available nearby? If you are taking public transport, check the schedule to ensure you know what time you’d need to leave in order to arrive with lots of time to spare. If you’ve been taking online music lessons, you might not have been to the concert venue before - if this is the case be sure to research the route at the time of the gig so you will know if there is likely to be traffic.

Plan your outfit and be sure everything is clean, dry, ironed or pressed, and ready to go.

Have an early night so you wake up alert, refreshed, and ready to remember everything you’ve learned in your music lessons.

The Day Of

Arrive at the venue early. The last thing you want to do is run into your concert a few minutes before you’re due to start, out of breath and frazzled. Big cities like Toronto are especially known for their busy traffic, but no matter where you live it’s a good idea to give yourself plenty of time. This also means you will have ample time to settle in and get warmed up.

Make sure you are hydrated. This is especially important for singers and people playing reed instruments, but everyone can benefit from drinking more liquids. Stick to water and decaffeinated tea if you can, and make sure the tea is not too hot! If possible, avoid liquids with dairy which can cause phlegm, and caffeine which can dehydrate your vocal cords.

Eat something small. You don’t want your stomach to be an unintended accompanist, so make sure you eat something small and nourishing about an hour before you play.

Take a deep breath. Before you head out on stage, take a few deep breaths to help you calm down, relax, and focus on your music. Try breathing in for 4 counts, and then out for 8 to help you to release any tension you may be carrying.

Enjoy yourself. Once you’re out on stage and ready to begin, take a final deep breath and remind yourself of all the hard work you put in to your music lessons. Now, relax and enjoy the music. After all, this is the fun part!

And don’t forget to smile. Even if you are feeling jittery, a smiling artist who looks like they are having a good time will invite their audience to have a good time and enjoy the music as well.

Say “thank you” or “I’m glad you enjoyed it”. When people congratulate you after the show and tell you that you did a good job, thank them warmly. Try not to disagree with them by focusing on any mistakes you think you made. Most people will not have noticed anything you messed up, and you don’t want to call attention to your mistakes. Ultimately, if the audience was entertained and enjoyed the experience, that’s the only thing that matters. You can work on improvements back in the practice room (or in your own room if you’re doing virtual music lessons) – in the meantime, assume your performance was perfect!

If you are currently a student of Greater Toronto Music School and you are preparing for one our two annual recitals, please take some time to read this article and familiarize yourself with these tips in as you prepare for your performance. We hope that these tips will be helpful to students who are studying at another music school in Toronto or elsewhere or to any aspiring musicians who are starting to perform in front of audiences.

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