Pandemic Recital Planning for Violin Teachers and Students

September 24, 2020, 12:59 PM · Note: This story is part of our Guide to Online Learning," to help students and teachers make online music lessons and classes work as effectively as possible.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced us all to think creatively and learn new skills as our entire world pivoted online. Now, with the school year up and running, teachers are preparing students for an entirely different set of performance conditions, which require new ways of thinking, as well as creative performance preparation strategies.

playing outside

This fall, I’m hosting a combination recital for my studio, featuring an in-person outdoor performance option in the parking lot of the community arts school where I teach, and pre-recorded performance videos shared via YouTube playlist.

Preparing my students for these very different styles of performance has required a different level of planning for me, both logistically and pedagogically.

Here are four guides I’ve created for students as they prepare their performances. I welcome you to print out and use these guides for yourself or your students. (Click on each image for the enlarged, printable PDF):

1. How to Memorize Recital Pieces

Even students who have memorized many pieces in the past are experiencing difficulty this fall. The transition to back-to-school has been stranger and more challenging at home. Many students have much higher levels of stress and are struggling to focus. Having a simple, organized plan for memorization (and starting early) will help them memorize.

recital memorization

2. Playing with Prerecorded Piano Tracks

I’ll be honest: I don’t hate this. I do miss working collaboratively with my pianist colleagues, but I love having prerecorded tracks. With these tracks, my students can now listen, study the piano score, and rehearse for several days in advance of the performance. My students who tend to rush are now forced to keep a steady beat, knowing that one of our magical pianists won’t be there to fix it if they rush in performance.

Prerecorded piano

3. Preparing a Recorded Performance Video

If you, like me, have tried to make any type of educational video in the last six months, you know that what you envisioned as a five-minute instructional video can turn into two hours of video-recording torture. Taking the time to thoroughly prepare the recital piece, set the home stage, and make test recordings well in advance can make recording day much more positive.

Prepare Recording

4. Preparing for an Outdoor Performance

Many of us have turned to the natural ventilation of the outdoors as a performance venue during the pandemic. However, for students who may not be used to performing outdoors - or with a mask on - this will be a very unfamiliar setting. This may also be one of the first times they have performed for a live audience since things shut down in March, so doing practice performances will be crucial for their preparation.

Outdoor Recital

How are you formatting your studio’s performances during the pandemic, and what new strategies are you using to prepare your students? Let me know in the comments down below!


September 25, 2020 at 01:32 AM · I planned 3 outdoor, in person recitals in my backyard. Wanting to be cautious, I limited each recital to 5-7 students and immediate family. You’re right about outside noises. But one I hadn’t planned on was when the high school marching band- a mile away-started their metronome and brass and percussion players started playing. It was quite amusing but it was still a lovely evening. Thanks, Laurie, for all your articles to help teachers during these trying times.

September 25, 2020 at 01:39 AM · Very helpful article, Claire, and I love the way you can just click on the PDF! By the way, I share your feelings about the recorded piano. I am a perpetual "dragger" and I recently had to do something with a pre-recorded piano track. It was eye opening for me! I'm so used to sensitive pianists who try to accommodate me, when in actuality, I need to move it.

September 25, 2020 at 01:46 AM · Claire, this is great advice! Today during a lesson I opened up the memorization PDF and "shared screen" with one of my students on Zoom -- it was a great way to go over those strategies with him!

September 25, 2020 at 05:17 PM · Having two daughters who did music lessons (violin and cello) throughout their childhood, I have a different take on "How to Memorize Recital Pieces" that is informed by their collective experience -- as well as my own experience (of many years) as an accompanist for these kinds of events. Very often children are added to recital programs only a week or two before the event. In this situation, I respectfully recommend that you choose a piece that has already been thoroughly memorized. Even if it isn't your latest-and-greatest. That way the last week or two can be spent polishing it and integrating with the accompaniment, and the chance that the child will have a positive experience will be MUCH higher.

September 25, 2020 at 08:20 PM · My requirement for my own students is that the piece must be solidly memorized a full month before the recital. But they still need strategies for doing that!

September 28, 2020 at 03:49 PM · I agree with both Laurie and Paul, and I have a similar requirement. The strategies for memorization are meant to be used well in advance of a recital!

September 28, 2020 at 03:49 PM · I agree with both Laurie and Paul, and I have a similar requirement. The strategies for memorization are meant to be used well in advance of a recital - I did mention that starting early was one of the strategies in the text above the PDF.

September 28, 2020 at 04:28 PM · Why are you advocating wearing a mask when performing outdoors? It is easy to stand 6 feet from another person -- and most often, this is how we perform in any case -- and playing outdoors is the best way to be protected from someone who might be sick. It is an unnecessary distraction and a further impediment to a child performing at his or her best, and one without any benefit to the child or the participants in the recital.

September 29, 2020 at 04:33 PM · Hi Eve,

I know there are definitely different views on mask wearing, and as a teacher, I've weighed the benefits and the disadvantages.

It comes down to this: the safety of my students and their parents is my first priority. I ask myself, "If I found out someone who attended this event later tested positive for COVID, would I feel I had done everything possible to protect my students?" I could never forgive myself if a student contracted the virus - or carried it to others - at an event for my studio. I would rather be excessively safe than take a risk that I would later regret.

In our area (the DC area), we are seeing a limited return to in-person performance, both outdoors and indoors. Professional musicians are expected to wear masks for the duration of these rehearsals and performances. If I am preparing my students to someday be professional musicians, this may be part of the process - and it's easy to point them to professionals they can look up to as role models and emulate.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

September 29, 2020 at 04:57 PM · The safest way to gather in groups, during the current global pandemic, is to wear a mask. Unfortunately, in the United States, where the virus continues to rage and where another surge appears to be on the horizon, there seems to be a strange resistance to this very simple preventative behavior. Claire, it's pretty amazing that you are doing an in-person event at all, and I'm glad you are taking the cautious approach. As a parent, I would certainly feel more comfortable, knowing that all safety precautions are being observed.

September 30, 2020 at 07:02 AM · My recitals have so far been “live” on Zoom. I don’t really understand the re-recorded video trend when we have the option for “real-time” performance. I understand that the sound quality isn’t as good as pre-recorded, but in this era of pre-recorded everything, I want students to have the “real-time/live” performance experience. There is a certain connection that happens when you perform live that is missing in recordings and so vital in a time when we are missing being together.

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