Whether you are preparing for a long solo recital or to play as part of a studio recital, here are some tips to help you prepare for a successful performance:
1. Commit to your repertoire well in advance.
What will you play for the recital? The time to answer that question is at least a month or more in advance of the performance, and perhaps even a year in advance, for a larger program! Knowing what you are going to play allows you to fully commit to preparing it. If you are still choosing between pieces, then you will waste precious preparation time vacillating between one thing and another. Moreoever, the indecision can put you on an emotional roller coster, changing your mind every day and questioning your strengths and weaknesses in relation to the pieces in question. With commitment comes a sense of assurance, and it also allows you to make your plan of action, with conviction.
2. Prepare your piece(s).
This may seem obvious, but it bears saying: You must thoroughly learn your music. Listen to your piece(s), study the score, learn the notes, break down the difficult passages and in a word, face the music! Attend to the nitty-gritty details early in the process, so you aren't still learning notes in the two weeks before the performance.
3. Memorize a month in advance.
If you plan to play by memory, then get your piece(s) memorized a month in advance, so that you can have a good month to practice playing it by memory. Warning: once it is memorized, be sure to still use the music on occasion. I often recommend that students play the whole piece twice, once with music, once without. Why? Because occasionally, when playing something many times by memory, it begins to change without your noticing. Small (or even big) sections get left out, or additional little phrases creep in. Notes get changed, dynamics get forgotten...So even when something is memorized, find a consistent way to check that memory.
4. Check the easy stuff.
It only makes sense that we focus on the most difficult and intimidating challenges in the music we are playing -- those places generally do require more work. In doing that work, it's natural to take for granted the "easy" parts -- but this can haunt you in performance. I can still remember one of my college recitals, when I was so worried about playing the Wieniawski Concerto that I didn't really focus too heavily on the Mozart Rondo I was also playing. Much to my surprise, I had several memory slips in the "easier" Mozart!
5. Rehearse with your accompanist and know the score.
If you are playing a piece or pieces that require accompaniment, you need to schedule time to put that together. Even if you've listened to the piece and know the score, it's important to come to a series of understandings with your collaborator about tempos, pacing, balance, rhythm and more. Give yourself adequate rehearsal time for this.
6. Play for other people.
Isn't it enough to play for a teacher? It's not the same thing as playing for someone else. Play for a relative or friend, and if your friend reads music, give him or her the score and a pencil, to write down suggestions. It's amazing how quickly any weak spots will come to your attention, when playing for someone else. And consider playing for someone who really scares you -- someone very knowledgeable, or someone whose opinion you regard highly. As Perlman once said, "15 minutes on the stage is worth 2 hours in the practice room." It's not exactly the same as being on stage, but it does have the effect of clarifying your practice.
7. Get a good night's sleep.
Once you are through practicing for the day, then set it aside and take care of your health. Eat well, sleep well, exercise a reasonable amount, and avoid too much caffeine, sugar or alcohol in the days before the recital. You want to give yourself the best chance of being alert, relaxed and physically ready to perform.
8. Wear something comfortable.
For some (sorry guys) this isn't possible -- if you are required to wear a suit with a tie. But even so, you might consider bringing your violin when picking such things, just to be sure you can play comfortably. As for me, I try to pick a dress that looks very nice but actually feels like pajamas! Avoid any clothing that makes it hard to play.
9. Focus on the music.
In the few days before your recital, shift your focus from fixing the details to performing the music. On the day of the performance, it's all about the music. As Lara St. John quoted a friend telling her: "When all else fails, lower your standards!" The time for being a perfectionist is in the practice room; once you walk on stage, your job is to be in the moment and bring whatever you have to your audience. Let go and enjoy your time on stage!
I hope you find these tips to be helpful. Please share any tips you have for preparing for a successful recital!
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