One of the most exciting aspects of becoming a musician is to share what we have been working on.
This is the moment when we take what a composer has written, translate it into how it speaks to us and then share our interpretation with an audience.
We, as musicians, connect unrelated people through what we do on stage.
What a powerful moment!
How do you prepare your students for such a monumental event?
Here are some guidelines for your students to prepare for an upcoming performance.
1. Programming appropriately.
As tempting as it is to assign or allow students pieces they want to play or we want to hear for a recital, sometimes they are simply not ready.
Just because a child could play it doesn’t mean they should.
It is far better to assign a piece of music that is easier for them so that they have a positive musical experience.
When students are allowed to over-program, they are robbed of the opportunity to have a genuine musical experience.
If a student feels a technically appropriate piece is too easy for them, they are not working hard enough.
There are always things to improve.
Focus on dynamics and articulation.
Can they play it at a different tempo and with a metronome?
A general rule of thumb two to three months prior to a performance is that if a student cannot make it through the piece the first time they sit to play it, the piece is simply too hard to be done well in a short time frame.
Does that mean they shouldn’t work on it?
Of course not!
We learn from what we don’t know rather than what we do know, so it is still a valuable teaching tool- just maybe not the right choice for an upcoming performance given the constraints of time.
2. Practice slowly.
If they can’t play it slowly, they don’t truly understand it.
We don’t want students only to be able to play everything quickly.
How is their precision of the subdivision when there is a lot more space in between beats for errors?
Quick is fun and exciting, but it is a lot more gratifying when it is precise!
3. Start from the end.
Students love that upper left-hand corner of the page.
That is why the beginning of so many of their pieces are so solid!
I love to start from the end.
“End on a good note.”
Audiences remember the first thing they hear as well as the last thing they hear.
They will forgive the middle- although they may not forget it!
Start from the end and work your way towards the beginning.
This helps with transitions as well.
Speaking of transitions…
4. Practice transitions.
We as musicians tend to “chunk” our music.
We play one section, then another.
The bridge between the two often gets neglected and even more frequently, sounds neglected.
This is necessary not only within the confines of one piece but also from one piece to the next.
It is important to hear the change in style and tonality between pieces of music.
Don’t save the run-through for the performance.
Have them end one piece and then play the beginning of the next so that their ears and fingers are accustomed to that transition.
5. Memorize their music.
Simply stated, if it isn’t memorized, it hasn’t been practiced enough.
When we are glued to the black dots on the page, we miss out on the joy of actually creating music.
They have to be able to allow the music to lead them.
Each note should not just last the prescribed number of beats; it should rise and fall with the emotions they are experiencing on stage.
This can only happen if they aren’t reliant on reading the notes on the page.
They know their music well enough to look away.
Use these tips to help prepare your students for their upcoming performance.
Of course, modify according to ability and temper.
The best performances occur when your student is prepared and can connect with the audience.
Above all, enjoy helping your student make connections!
About April: April O’Keefe is co-founder and current Associate Director of SoliMusica Academy. She graduated from Georgia State University in 2002 with a Bachelor in Music Performance with a focus on cello performance. She taught at East Cobb Middle School from 2004 until 2014.
While teaching at East Cobb Middle School, the orchestra program grew from 120 students to over 275 students. Under her direction, the orchestras consistently received superior ratings at local and regional Large Group Performance Evaluations. Many of her students participated in select ensembles such as the Cobb County Middle School Honor Orchestra, Georgia All-State Orchestra and the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra. Mrs. O’Keefe has been actively involved in the Georgia Music Educators Association serving as District Twelve Honor Orchestra Chair and District Twelve All-State Audition Chair. She also actively serves and clinician and adjudicator throughout the metro-Atlanta area.
Since 2008, April O’Keefe has served as music education assistant for Kennesaw United Methodist Church. While in this position, she has worked with and organized children’s choir, children’s handbells, and various summer camps. She also created a barbershop ensemble, taught an adult violin class, and served as interim Music Minister directing adult choirs and adult handbell groups.
Mrs. O’Keefe lives in Kennesaw with her husband, Paul, five-year-old Carson, and two-year-old twins, Logan and Molly. Paul is a violinist, Carson is just beginning his musical journey on violin, and the twins are enjoying watching-for now.