Music Teacher's Helper Blog

Presenting Recitals

What is the atmosphere of your recitals? Is it a constructive experience for students?

When I was 5, I played in my first recital. The academy of music where I took piano lessons required several recitals a year from every student. One or two of them were more informal, in the huge attic of the very large house that served as the academy’s home, and then there was the end-of-year recital, which seemed enormous to a kid. It was held at a church, with lots of players and a big audience, and a scary walk to the piano–but there were printed programs with our names and pieces in them, and we got to be called up individually to receive our annual pins, showing how many years we’d been studying.

My own students do their own kind of “recitals” which I will explain, but I’ve also been to recitals as a parent of kids taking music lessons–some recitals have been well put together, and some not so well done.

Let’s look at a few kinds of recitals and what seemed to make them work or not work–for me, anyway. Hopefully this will jog your thoughts and perhaps you might think of ideas for freshening up your own studio recitals in some way. As always, we all appreciate comments added to these posts, which shed some light on your thoughts and experiences in putting on recitals.

Highlight Your Students, and make it Friendly

One aspect of the best recitals that stands out to me is the kindness, care and sincerity of the teacher. It’s nice when the teacher can introduce students or mention something about them or their work, and when the teacher can take in stride the inevitable mistakes or confusions or someone’s lateness, with a sense of humor and reassuring confidence.

A recital at a teacher’s home is friendly, or if it’s in a larger rented space, it can be made friendlier with the inclusion of drinks and snacks. This is one thing everyone can feel good about even if the recital isn’t the finest in musical entertainment.

Recitals Are to Be Enjoyed

Speaking of fine entertainment, it’s a mistake for anyone to think that perfection is what listeners hope for in a recital. The enjoyment of listening to students is not dependent on hopes of a brilliant, flawless performance. For listeners, as for teachers, the joy of attending a recital is that of seeing students engaged and making progress. If the teacher can help make this clear, people (including the students themselves) can better relax and appreciate the students’ efforts. It’s fun to see a recital include duos or group numbers as well, where students clearly have worked together as well as on their own.

Observe Some Formalities, but Not Too Rigid

Some respect for presentation is usually appreciated by all, including an orderly path to and from the performing spot, and some kind of bow to acknowledge the audience. That’s just show biz.

Recitals that are held in an atmosphere of rigid rules, or in a fog of fear of making mistakes, are not likely to contribute to a student’s education. Some teachers see such recitals as part of the school of hard knocks, where you get used to the demands of the music world. But it seems to me there’s plenty of time for students to experience hard knocks, if and when they become necessary, and there’s no predicting which music world each student will enter. It’s the fearful kind of recital atmosphere where stagefright is learned. I remember in particular one unpleasant and unmusical violin recital involving several different teachers of varying qualities–one of them was nearly brutal in physically correcting her student’s errors of position. It was not pleasant for the listeners, and I doubt if the students came away feeling any more inspired or determined. Humiliation is not a long-term motivator.

Teachers whose recitals are on the harsher side are probably marching to a drummer that is not quite their own. They may even be enforcing behaviors they presume to be necessary but which they themselves may not be comfortable with. It’s always helpful for a teacher to build a recital’s atmosphere around their actual students, their progress, their needs, and to be comfortable with why the recital is being held, and what kind of accomplishment or experience is hoped for.

What’s the Best Balance for You?

My own students are different from most, perhaps, because they study fiddle. The idea of fiddling usually means very different things to different people, because the word refers to a broad range of styles from cultures around the world. I like to strike a balance between quality performance and informality. In fact, performance per se isn’t always called for–participation is usually the key word, and my “recitals” are often disguised as music parties or sessions, where students are involved in starting tunes, playing with others, and testing out how well they listen, respond, lead, and help.

Whether formal or informal, recitals are a great way to mark the accomplishments of students. Just playing something they’ve worked on for others to hear is a great accomplishment–and certificates, pins or other memorabilia are nice memories of that moment. Recitals aren’t mid-term or final exams, and students shouldn’t remember them as scary exams they had to endure. Helping create a constructive atmosphere for the recital can go a long way toward making that milestone feel instead like a proud step up the ladder of skill and musicianship.

About the Author

Ed Pearlman
Ed Pearlman has focused on performing, teaching, and judging fiddle music for over 30 years, offering performances and workshops throughout the USA and in Canada and Scotland. His original training was with members of the Chicago and Boston Symphonies, and he played with orchestras and chamber groups at Yale and in Boston. He currently teaches privately in Maine and at workshops around the countr... [Read more]


  1. Michelle Payne

    Great article! I love hosting recitals and they are always a positve experience. I like the idea of having a “big” formal recital at the end of the year to give out awards. I would like to try something like this. Any ideas on locations? Right now, we do quarterly recitals and beautiful retirement community. That way the kids feel like they are doing a service, and not so much a scary performance that’s only about them.

  2. Kenneth Webb

    I also enjoyed the article. Our studio has several recitals per year. The students have the option to attend any all or none of them. We also have a formal recital in october every year. This is a dinner recital held at a resturant or sometimes a school auditorium. We have dinner music and an awards ceremony. We schedual this recital in october because this is the only recital that we charge for. This allows more kids to come because their parents arent feeling strapped for christmas money. The students enjoy it and have a lot of fun. We have an average of 75 to 150 family and freinds show up and support the students.

  3. Ann Brown

    Great Article. The first Saturday of December I hold a Holiday recital for my students in a local Nursing home. After everyone has finished performing, we gather around the piano and sing 3 or 4 holiday songs while I accompany. I have each of my students make 4 holiday cards ahead of time that they pass out to the residents at the end of our program. After, we go to a side room for punch and cookies that the parents have brought. Every year I call the Nursing home to make arrangements, they are so excited to have us. They love seeing and hearing the younger students. It is well attended by residents and the parents have always had really nice things to say about the whole experience.

  4. Nancy Hibdon

    Wonderful article. I read it looking for new advice, but can away encouraged that I am already doing maany things well. Thank you for that!

    We have two recitals a year, Chirstmas and Spring…because those are the two times of year that students typically falter in their practicing. We host it on stage at the church, with the grand piano in the center, and lights down low so it’s harder to see the audience. The setting is formal, but the atmosphere is confortable. My students can parrot the response to this statement, “Are you God?….. Then I don’t expect you to be perfect.” It’s a formal setting, but they know they are loved and appreciated for their own personal progress. It’s been wonderful to see the relationships develop between students and parents that only see each other at recitals. They encourage each other so much.

    Two things I do that give them keepsakes (and me too):
    1. I take their picture at every reciatal, either at the piano, or in a side room where I’ve set up a photo spot. I process the pictures on my PC, on a template that I’ve created that places their picture inside a border of words that says, “I’m proud of you,” along with the recital date at the bottom. Parents love getting a formal piture.
    2. I host a recital program cover contest. Each student who creates an entry gets extra credits for my prize motivational system. The winner gets double the credits. The programs are always beautiful works of art, as since they get so many prize credtis, even the high school-aged kids participate.

  5. Eva

    Well said. I’m sharing this with several others—who especially need to read the “enjoying” part!

  6. Ed Pearlman

    @Michelle: You were wondering about locations for a big recital with awards, etc. Some of the other comments above suggest some locations teachers use, such as a school auditorium or a restaurant, and you yourself make use of a retirement community. Roughly you could probably multiply the number of students by 4 to allow for a big enough space for students plus listeners, and see if any of these locations would be practical in terms of size and cost of rental. With the retirement community, they may or may not be interested in your focusing enough on your own students to present awards; if they only want a performance, an end-of-year recital might not work there, but it’s worth asking. They might be delighted to host it.

    A few other ideas: church halls can be very reasonable for rental and are often a good size, with plenty of seating; possibly you or a student family could help arrange space at a church they are a member of, but member or not, you can always inquire, since churches often rent out spaces, and some have a policy of offering low rates.

    Cities and towns often have spaces to rent, and sometimes at low rates. These can include a school auditorium, a school multi-purpose room, a community center or recreational center; you should check with the schools department and also the parks and recreation department.

    Some areas have arts centers, galleries, community music schools, and other facilities that are usable and rentable. You’d have to figure out how the cost of such an event could be figured into your tuition or lesson rates, or whether it’s worth springing for. It’s not usually something you could charge for unless you can include in the program a performance the public would be interested in paying to see, such as perhaps yourself or a group you play with.

    It’s good to figure into the cost the fact that having an exciting and friendly year-end recital can help grow your studio.

    Best of luck, and if anyone else has location suggestions, please add a comment!

  7. Bob Collett

    Great idea. I am having my first recital ever, next week at a local cofee shop. I will try the next one at a nursing home.

  8. independence school of music

    We just had our fall recital. I chose a local coffee shop with a sort of victorian motif for our venue. It really turned out great. The coffee shop staff served beverages, cookies, and other deserts. Students sat in the audience with their families coffee shop style. After the students performed, I had three teachers each do a short piece on their instrument, and invited families to enjoy the refreshments while the teachers played. I took a free will collection, which covered about 1/3 of the cost. We had 20 students and about 75 total in attendence.

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