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Are Student Recitals Helpful or Harmful?

July 19, 2022, 5:22 PM · I know the traditional logic is that student recitals are standard, and that everyone should do them.

However, I think it would be interesting to note some of the advantages vs disadvantages with holding them.

Here are the ones I've thought of:


Advantages:

1) Motivates students to practice more (either by fear of embarrassment or by a desire to demonstrate what they've worked for).

2) Gives parents/relatives a chance to see how their child is progressing (assuming that they don't normally attend lessons or listen at home).

3) Teaches students how to organize themselves around a specific goal, rather than aimlessly improving without any particular timeline.

4) Keeps the teacher motivated, since the student's progress will be shown to all.

5) Desensitizes students to public performing (theoretically, although this can also go in a negative direction)

6) Gives students a chance to meet each other, and sort of doubles as a social event.


Disadvantages:

1) Causes inefficiency by forcing a specific timeline, regardless of where the student is with their current piece of music. Thus, either the student goes to the recital somewhat unprepared with their current "challenge piece", or has to spend extra time polishing an old "comfort piece" to play.

2) High-pressure situation which not every personality type responds well to. Some will bomb their performance, and reinforce their already-existing nervousness.

3) Can discourage slower learners (although some might consider this an advantage), since they see others performing far better, despite similar effort.

4) Takes time/money/energy away from the teacher's schedule.


I'm curious on everyone's thoughts on this subject, and perhaps on your own experiences/memories associated with recitals. Did you find them helpful/motivating when you used to do them, or did you find them to be damaging experiences and/or a waste of time?

Replies (29)

July 19, 2022, 5:41 PM · Interesting perspective. You make many good points. I would argue, though, that many of the items in the ‘disadvantages’ actually result from not enough performing experiences. (Slow learner, stage fright, unprepared or having to spend too long on a comfortable piece,) etc. The more performances one has to prepare for and execute, the faster and better one becomes at preparing efficiently and throughly!
July 19, 2022, 7:24 PM · If a student wants a career performing music either as a pro or as a hobbyist, they need to learn that audiences will not wait for them and their stage fright or their modesty. If you aren't pushing a student to perform then you're only failing them down the road.
July 19, 2022, 7:33 PM · While it's true that students should be prepared for performing, Cotton, there are ways of doing that without resorting to recitals.

As an example, many of my students are in groups of 4, where they routinely have to play solo in front of each other. It simulates performances, but on a more frequent basis than formal recitals allow (every week, as opposed to a couple times a year). As a result, most of the students in these groups now seek out performance opportunities of their own accord.

I personally believe that if desensitization is the goal then low-intensity, high-frequency instances provide much better results than high-intensity, low-frequency.

July 19, 2022, 9:51 PM · I prefer the model of monthly or biweekly studio classes when any student who is ready can play in a less stressful situation. Then, if and when they are ready, both musically and emotionally, they can play on a recital.

We have the benefit of being in two programs where both my kids -- one who likes to perform and one who has quite a bit of anxiety about it -- have these options. They can perform in studio class whenever they want. Then, they have a choice of recitals to play on when they are ready (one per month for their scholarship program, one per month for their music school, and one about every six weeks for the pre-college program component of the music school). It seems that this situation maximizes all your pros and minimizes your cons.

Of course, if you aren't in a program with a lot of students, a ready accompanist, and a freely available hall, it is not so easy to make this work.

July 19, 2022, 9:56 PM · Having had two kids go through Suzuki programs with many recital appearances, I can assure you that there is no perfect way. I would strongly encourage teachers to err on the side of ensuring that the student has a positive outcome.

"Thus, either the student goes to the recital somewhat unprepared with their current 'challenge piece' or has to spend extra time polishing an old 'comfort piece' to play."

The former should be entirely avoided. It also helps if students continue to accumulate short pieces (say, two pages) even when they have reached the point of working on longer works. Short things take less time to dust off. Sometimes a study can be performed (think Fiorello No. 28). Heifetz performed Kreutzer No. 8 as an encore, after all.

There's a world of difference between playing a piece for three peers and standing on a stage in front of a few dozen people many of whom are not known to you including grown-ups and more highly skilled students. My teacher offers his students the opportunity to perform a piece at Suzuki class, and the other kids give their feedback (only positive feedback is allowed from fellow students).

The issue of the teacher's professional effort in preparing and attending studio recitals is not a trivial one. My daughter's first cello teacher levied an additional "studio fee" for a certain number of studio recitals per semester -- but they were entirely spent to rent a space and provide an accompanist.

Edited: July 19, 2022, 10:23 PM · My kids' recitals were always fun events for them, fairly low pressure, getting families together, often more than one studio (clarinetist husband and cellist wife, or two smaller studios). Some competitions and graded events though were inefficient and stressful, "sound to be judged, not music" as my son would write, working half the year to get closer to the last 10% of perfection. Chamber music, with the satisfaction of learning and performing great music rather than chasing solo competitions was a better fit for my kids, as well as something they enjoyed doing together. A related observation, I think the further along the kids got, the less-well a one-size-fit-all approach worked, but it's how a lot of studios wanted to do this, maybe moreso for piano than strings.
July 19, 2022, 10:47 PM · My first instinct is to say: you're missing the most obvious reason, the delight of performing, of speaking our music, sharing our voice! I do see you've clarified you're not questioning the concept of performing, just the means and I hear you on that. I guess I just think of the recital as opportunity, more than pressure!
This is interesting to me though bc I don't know that I've even always felt that way. I know there were times I played bc I was on the schedule and not necessarily ready or excited about it. I think with students I try to keep it organic, pick pieces that they're ready to shine with, that they really enjoy. We do have scheduled dates but two of our yearly performance opportunities are in-house, informal, interactive, and encouraging. I really feel like our formal concerts do tend to be a good experience for most. We usually try to get into a community venue, and I play as well, so maybe it feels like more than just a chance to play and be scrutinized. I hope, at least!
July 19, 2022, 11:18 PM · Music is a performing art, so I do think that it's important to play for other people.

My childhood Suzuki program had weekly group classes, meaning that each student would get a chance to perform at least once a month, and more often if desired. Thus a student could have the opportunity to perform routinely under relaxed conditions.

In my son's current Suzuki program, they generally get a chance to do their recital piece at least twice in front of the group, at group class (twice a month), prior to the recital. And of late there's also been virtual recitals prior to the in-person recitals.

July 20, 2022, 9:51 AM · Another good option is to just schedule the "recital" in a nursing home or other outreach site (school, library, shelter, etc.). Less pressure, built-in audience, and you are really doing what you should be doing -- playing music for people. My kids have done a lot of outreach performances over the years, and it benefits everybody involved.
Edited: July 20, 2022, 11:01 AM · Great collection of opinions by everyone. I would only add one advantage and one disadvantage:
Advantage: Student learns how to spell 'recital."
Disadvantage: Composer may get upset.

But, overall, it certainly depends on a host of factors above and how they all uniquely fit the student, the teacher, the music, the situation, the audience, etc. Or, as I believe, there is no such thing as a standard human being. And, by extension, there is no such thing as a standard recital situation or violin student or teacher.

Edited: July 20, 2022, 11:46 AM · Performers need as many opportunities to perform as possible, and yet recitals are often remembered by people as a bit traumatic. So what are the factors that can make a recital an empowering experience vs a source of trauma?

It probably comes down to the atmosphere and context provided by the teacher - Is this presented as a high-pressure test or a low-pressure opportunity to share what the student enjoys and their talent? Are some of the formal characteristics of the process explained ahead of time, so that the child isn't bewildered by waiting and then suddenly having to perform, and is the child given a process to feel prepared? Does the teacher follow up with the child to assure them that they did well, and later with a kind and constructive framing for how it went (the stuff that needs work can be framed as puzzles to be worked on and solved so that next time can be even freer and easier for the child)?

The other big factor is the parents of the child. If parents are putting all kinds of pressure on the child, then there is a limit to what the teacher can do, but the teacher can both explicitly state expectations for how the parents should encourage and not pressure the child, and the teacher can also model encouraging and kind behavior.

There also needs to be a good understanding of the temperament of the child, so that the teacher can understand what kind of small pushes a child is ready for. Some children may not like being the center of attention, but there may be smaller opportunities for them to perform, like for a very small number of close family members.

A series of small victories will make the child feel inherently capable, and from there, they can take on bigger challenges.

July 20, 2022, 12:30 PM · To quote from the song "Ah, yes! I remember it well." As an adult beginner I was encouraged to participate in a recital. Young musicians and me and most of them were a whole lot better musicians than I was. Yet, my stated goal was to play the soprano/descant line of hymn tunes so I needed experience playing in front of others.

While the congregation of my church was pleased with my playing, the parents at the recital were clearly unimpressed. After all their young musicians were playing known classical and I whipped of a hymn tune that I was preparing for the next Sunday.

My personal learning experience was that I was satisfied with myself and while my playing did not impress or pass muster with the parents of my fellow students; I managed to focus on the music and play my chosen tune - it was a bit challenging for my level of development at the time.

I did not participate in the next recital. My teacher and I determined that since I played regularly in my church I did not need to perform with the other students. Yes, I did, with my teacher, play a lot of student concertos as well as orchestral music. I got classical training but didn't perform except for the community orchestra and church.

As I'm now teaching others how to play my perspective is a bit different. I try to prepare them for school based events using music that they like. There are those who prefer playing in sections of the youth orchestra over playing solos.

As with all things in life, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to anything.

Edited: July 20, 2022, 3:33 PM · A friend of mine is a piano teacher who holds student recitals 2 times a year. She was going through a rather challenging time awhile ago so I offered to help her run 2 recitals. Granted, her recitals were more elaborate than most with a catered reception (this was Pre-COVID) but even without those elements, it'd have taken hours and hours of work.

If you are charging a flat monthly fee, then I'd count the recital as a lesson and cancel all classes that week. If you set this as a studio policy from the start, I don't think you'll get complaints.

If you are charging per lesson then you can charge a recital fee to cover your time and expenses (accompanist, venue, etc.). You could include one supervised rehearsal with the pianist in the fee.

Susan, in my experience, performing at nursing homes is by "invitation" only. Teacher brings 1-3 students rather than the entire studio. I agree though it really is a good idea. My daughter has become rather hesitant about public performance over the years but she never says no to performing in retirement homes.

July 20, 2022, 5:09 PM · Our chamber music organization does what Susan's does, there are several retirement communities that have been hosting yearly or twice-yearly programs with 4-6 groups; the top groups get to do their own hour-long performances. The kids get a lot of encouragement from this. There are also churches in the area with strong music programs that invite a group or two to perform, as well as a couple of libraries.

Then there's also organized master classes with some really good groups, but that's getting into something different.

It takes a very dedicated program director with a good network to make all of this happen, but it's possible.

July 21, 2022, 7:50 AM · I'm in the "it all depends" camp.

It did bring back a my own childhood though. Being in a traditional Suzuki program it seemed like we were performing all the time, and I loved it, and mo doubt it was beneficial. My dad though, who was an accomplished pianist and viola player, hated the recitals because they were young students learning how to play in tune, not professionals. One day my teacher had made some comment about how "everybody loves Twinkle" and he answered her, "because it it means the recital is over!". She wasn't impressed.

It seems like culturally today, so many "traditional" things that I grew up with are being questioned, changed, and/or done away with. Do students today have the same attitude toward recitals, music, lessons, etc. than they did a generation ago? I have noticed a change in my students over the last 10 years that I struggle with how to connect with teaching them music and having them become musicians. That's another topic though.

Edited: July 21, 2022, 8:33 AM · Depends how often you indulge.
"Motivates students to practice more"
Not me, because I played piano 3 or 4 times each summer during our town's annual music festival. That was so infrequently that I didn't give it any thought during the rest of the year. If you give a recital every month, that might be harmful.
Recitals made me nervous, but not as nervous as a tape recorder did.
In May I will go to hear some young violinists in a local music festival to judge my progress.
Edited: July 21, 2022, 10:52 AM · Kiki wrote, "If you are charging a flat monthly fee, then I'd count the recital as a lesson and cancel all classes that week."

There are lots of schemes that one can cook up to ensure that your hourly wage as a teacher is not infringed by holding studio recitals. The questions are (1) how strong are you to weather, deflect, or answer all of the various complaints about fairness, and (2) what are your competitors doing?

As a parent, if I paid for a one-hour lesson so that my child could perform a 5-minute piece in a studio recital, I think I'd be feeling some sticker shock.

The studio where my kids and I have (had) lessons monetizes accompanying. It's a private music school with three piano teachers, and since their own students are performing, they're present for the recitals and available to accompany violinists and cellists. There is a flat fee structure for "the usual" pieces that the pianists know quite well -- $10 if the piece is Book 1-4, $20 for everything else. The fee includes one 15-minute, individually scheduled rehearsal and the performance. That might be a reasonable price point for buying one's child into a recital, too. I do agree that those sorts of fees are much easier to establish at the outset of one's studio rather than later on. As parent, I would just want to know what I'm getting for my fee. I'm really not expecting to be fed, ever, at a recital.

Edited: July 21, 2022, 4:39 PM · I think my parent's goal in exposing me to music and starting me on instrument lessons was to help make music and (if possible) music making a rich part of my whole life. I think that is why most parents do this.

I did not have student recitals while I had violin lessons as a pre-teen.
The only "recitals" (actually solo performances I had as a teen on both violin and cello) were totally independent of my cello lessons during those years.
But it was all enough to make music the one most lasting and continuing interest of my life (other than family - and I still retain an interest (and lost ability) in science).

I applaud what I have seen of student recitals of the very well-run Suzuki School where I formerly lived. I would model student recitals on the basis of those:
Group performance by the whole school with student attrition from the performing group until only the top students remained - who might then play solos or a small ensemble. A couple of the girls who had left the school to study with "LA - big city" conventional teachers and were college music majors in violin performance had returned to participate in the final recital I saw there. (This was the Suzuki School that had given Anne Akiko Meyers her start.)

I think this was an ideal way to get students started on the recital route.

Another way that seemed to work has been used by my grandson's piano teacher - at least since my grandson started lessons with him 24 years ago - (his father, my son-in-law, also started lessons with the same teacher and still takes them).
The teacher holds group "recitals," one for his kid students and one for his adult students. Each group meets and individuals play whatever they are studying, just for each other - no other audience.
My grandson had a number of successful piano performances during elementary school and successful "ensemble" experiences throughout jr. and sr. high school.
I think this is another more "comfortable" performance venue for getting started. (Music has become my grandson's professional life - that and film since rather late college graduation - prior to which he played and sang professionally for 5 years.)

My son started piano lessons when he was 5 (52 years ago) and was doing a bang-up job at his first recital when he realized he had started the piece too fast; he finally had to stop before finishing - his first and last recital. Fortunately music had won him over by then and he continued on keyboards, all the plucked instruments, several wind instruments and recording-engineering school. He played guitar professionally for about one year after college. He has been playing violin these past 12 years. (But he earns his living as a self-employed "wood-turner.")
(My son still does a lot of music performance and has invested a substantial amount of his wood-turning income in building a real recording studio (building) on his property.)

July 21, 2022, 3:08 PM · Too much to respond to here, but Paul said:

"As a parent, if I paid for a one-hour lesson so that my child could perform a 5-minute piece in a studio recital, I think I'd be feeling some sticker shock."


I agree with this. Although (due to my waiting list) I can probably tell my students w/e and they'll pay for it, I would feel wrong charging them for an entire week just for a recital that they may not want to do anyways.

Also, I have a lot of adult students, and I think that as a whole, they are less enthusiastic about participating in recitals. I mentioned the possibility of a recital to one of them a month or two back and he said "I don't know how I feel about the idea of paying to embarrass myself."

Edited: July 22, 2022, 1:46 AM · Paul, I remember having to buy min of 4 $25 tickets ($100 total) for my little one to participate in a ballet recital. Plus I had to pay $50 to rent her costume. I remember the whole event cost me close to $300 with pictures, DVD, etc. and she was on stage for literally less than 2 minutes.

For my friend's piano recitals, we received complaints about other things but not about skipping their lesson that week. Very few kids were taking lessons longer than 30 minutes at that studio and families had the option to skip and either get a lesson instead or have their tuition adjusted. So for $35 per student, everyone who attended (sometimes, they brought cousins and grandparents and so on and on) got to eat dinner.

My friend did this because she enjoyed hosting events. Her recitals were basically dinner parties which means she bought dinner for 50+ people twice a year. It's just something she wanted to do for her students and their families. Looking back at the student recitals my daughter attended, they all involved refreshments. Maybe this is a regional thing.

Going back to the original question, I think recitals can be problematic. My biggest issue with recitals is children being forced to participate. We actually left a studio over this. There were other problems but being told that our daughter HAD to perform against her will was a deal breaker for us and on top of everything else, all girls had to wear a dress. I get where the teacher was coming from and he probably didn't mean to make anyone feel uncomfortable. Sometimes, parenting and teaching can overlap but it was all just a bit too much for us.

July 22, 2022, 3:08 AM · I can definitely see mandatory recitals as being problematic. That's how it was when I was young, and it was pretty traumatizing. After several repetitions of being forced against my will to perform, I begin to associate performance with fear and a lack of free will.
July 22, 2022, 8:06 AM · I had to laugh at "paying to embarrass myself." Perhaps re-frame as "paying for a captive audience who will listen to you, no matter your level of skill"?
Edited: July 22, 2022, 8:23 AM · When I was teaching in my private studio, I just charged the regulary monthly fee to my students, and put it in the bank. From that I budgeted out my pay, recital costs, teaching supplies, taxes, etc. If costs weren't covered, I knew it was time to raise rates.

Recitals weren't mandatory and I could usually count on about half my students signing up. We had one big one each year, then other events we'd play at throughout the rest of the year. Parents brought cookies and punch if it was at a church, or free refreshments were supplied if we played in a retirement community. I hope my students didn't grow up talking about how harmful those recitals were!

July 22, 2022, 8:31 AM · The only piano recital fees we've had to pay were for renting a hall, split amongst the parents, maybe $150 for all. But the kids got to play a really wonderful Bosendorfer Imperial concert grand. Recitals with a college teacher were in the school's recital hall, with nice 7- and 9-foot Steinways. Strings recitals were always in a church the teacher had a relationship with. Still with nice pianos, and no fee. But the accompanist would be paid something like $50-70 per person, which I used to think was a little high for going through kids' repertoire, but each person probably got enough time to justify that for rehearsals and performance. I've never seen anyone forced to play, but playing was part of taking lessons. And I like the studio class idea; the strings teacher would do that once a year in early December, usually without parents until the last few years, as a holiday celebration.
Edited: July 22, 2022, 7:05 PM · Another gripe I have with the same teacher is that he took a few students out of the recital because they didn't polish their piece well enough. They only found out during the rehearsal with the pianist that they aren't allowed to perform the next day because they aren't ready. The teacher probably thought it would be more cruel to let them perform when they weren't ready. The whole thing left me speechless.

Student recitals shouldn't be this complicated. It should be a celebration of all who gathered together to share music.

July 23, 2022, 3:32 AM · @Kiki, sounds like the teacher should have given better teaching earlier so that there wasn't a problem on the day. Also maybe he felt that the recital was for showing off his talents, not those of his students.
July 26, 2022, 10:59 PM · Or maybe he thought that the compulsory "opportunity" to perform would kick their practicing into higher gear. From what I've witnessed, that kind of magical thinking rarely works out.
August 3, 2022, 10:46 AM · There is one aspect that has not been mentioned. Children generally don't suffer much from performance anxiety (unless their parents talk them into it). It seems a good idea to have them perform in some framework before teenage hits with all its uncertainties including performance anxiety. This way they have a record of achievement to look back on which should make things easier.
August 6, 2022, 6:40 PM · Regarding children and performance anxiety, I have two children, and on the basis of my own observations of them (N = 2), my conclusion is "some do and some don't."

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