This article is written by Virtual Piano Academy Founder + Head Teacher, Amy Jørgensen. July 2020.

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Want to know how to give a winning piano recital?

Whether you’re playing at your music schools' annual concert, or in the middle of a sold-out tour, walking up on stage is nerve-wracking. And everyone deals with it differently.

What makes a great performance? Good pieces? Confidence? Hours of preparation? They certainly help. But even if you’re a massive show off with talent up to your eyeballs, there are things you can do to ensure you perform a winning piano recital.


1. SHOW UP READY

Want to know how to give a winning piano recital? Show up ready!

Nothing can quite prepare you for the stage. And things rarely go to plan when you’re up there. The strangeness of playing on an unfamiliar piano, the echo of your instrument in a large hall, the bright lights in your eyes, a shadowy audience, odd noises. None of it is like your practice room, and all of this unfamiliarity can throw you off.

To feel at ease through the nerves and the unexpected hiccups that are bound to occur on stage, change up the way you practice BEFORE you even get to the point where you're on stage.

Practising with adrenalin running through your veins is the key to being stage-ready. When I was teaching in person (before I started Virtual Piano Academy) I lost track of how many times my students come to their piano lessons, try and play something they've been practising and then say "But I could play it at home".

It's easy to perform at your best when no one is looking and when you're feeling relaxed. Add a tiny drop of pressure, and all of your hard practice can easily fall apart.

Force yourself to get nervous when you're practicing. Learn how it feels to perform under pressure, with your hands shaking and your heart racing. Hit record on your smartphone and play through your music. Knowing that something is capturing your performance is often enough to get me nervous.

Perform your music in front of people as regularly as you can. If someone comes to your house (except for maybe the postman, unless he's keen) play for them. Set up some empty chairs and perform your recital to this imaginary audience.

Put yourself in situations that might rattle you. It's likely something at your performance or concert will throw you off. Practice performing through these distractions. Sometimes I turn off the lights, put music on in the background, play with my eyes closed or practice in a different room. If possible, do a practice session on the instrument you'll actually be playing on in your recital.

How to give a winning piano recital

2. ORDER! ORDER!

Figure out what you're playing long before the big day. You'd be surprised how many students suddenly decide to play something different on their recital day. Maybe it's the nerves talking, maybe it's the fear of that scary passage that you stuffed up in your practice last night. Either way, switching things up 5 minutes before you head out on stage is probably not a wise idea.

Prepare the Order You'll Play Things

If you're playing more than one piece, know what pieces you’re going to play and in what order. It's awkward watching a performer flick through their music books looking for their next piece. It simply looks sloppy. Don't do it. Have your sheet music already prepared in the order you need them.

Know in advance what pieces may require a change of setup, a different stool, the lid up or down etc, so that you don't launch into your performance until everything for that piece is set and ready.


Do AMEB piano exams and receive premium piano lessons online at Virtual Piano Academy

Want to learn piano with us? Our students participate in virtual concerts and ongoing Piano Parades to ensure they get HEAPS of practice performing!


Body Language

Body language is also important. Stand tall when you walk out on stage. Be in charge. No one wants to see a performer shuffling onto the stage. Bow, be professional and dress for the occasion.

Prepare Cue Cards/Reminders

If you have been asked to talk about the pieces you are performing, prepare some cue cards or dot points that can guide you.

You could talk about the history of the piece, a fun fact about the piece, or something for your audience to listen out for (a specific dramatic section, hook or rhythmic ostinato). This will help your audience connect to the piece...and to you. Put these cue cards in the piano stool or on top of the piano. You can grab them afterwards.


3. GIVE YOUR AUDIENCE A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE

What does it mean to be a performer these days? You might be giving your recital for a number of reasons, but despite this, the truth is that there has never been a more important time in recent music history for great live shows. Musicians used to tour to promote an upcoming album. Things have changed in the last 10 years. Now musicians release a new song on Spotify or Apple Music to promote an upcoming tour. It's completely flipped.

The good news is that the average concert ticket has increased by more than 400% from 1981 to 2018. Sales from records, tapes and CDs during the 80s and 90s formed a musicians staple income. Now, income for musicians is almost entirely derived from live shows. So, it's really important you get this right.

Audiences want to be wowed and to see something unique and inspiring, so don't be afraid to do something different and memorable.

We live in difficult economic times where wages can't keep up with rising house prices and increased living costs. But somehow, people still want to spend their hard-earned cash on experiences. Even throughout the Global Economic Crisis (GFC) 10 years ago, ticket sales to concerts didn't experience as big a hit as was expected. People want to escape their 9-5 lives for a night. People want to escape to a music festival for a weekend out of the city. People want to be entertained. People want to connect and feel like they are part of a unique situation.

You have an important job to do. Give the people what they want!

You don't have to go to the extreme that Ludovico Einaudi goes to👇, but get creative about how you present your performance, and the experience you give to your audience!


4. FAKE IT 'TIL YOU MAKE IT

I try to act like I deserve to be up on stage. And when I’m feeling really brave, like I belong up there. It requires a bit of false confidence, but that can quickly turn into real confidence if you back yourself often enough.

Piano Recital Tips

Don’t sweat your mistakes. Chances are people won’t even notice – or they’ll forgive you straight away. But they will notice you cursing yourself, or shrinking away in shame. From there, things just get awkward.

Own it...even if you don't feel super confident yet. For years and years, I felt like a fraud when I first started writing and playing music professionally. Imposter syndrome is a real thing. Lots of artists, musicians and creatives struggle with it. Me included.

I decided one day that despite feeling like I wasn't good enough, experienced enough, male enough, young enough, old enough, rich enough, whatever enough....that I would go ahead and do it anyway!

You can always find excuses for not doing something. Always. But don't let these get in the way of your dreams, or your next brilliant recital.


Do AMEB piano exams and receive premium piano lessons online at Virtual Piano Academy

Want to learn piano with us? Our students participate in virtual concerts and ongoing Piano Parades to ensure they get HEAPS of practice performing!


5. BE VULNERABLE

In music videos and on magazine covers, musicians always seem glamorous and in control. In short, they’re cool. And that’s partly what attracted me to being a musician. That, and the job stability. Haha 😂 But even cool has its limitations. Mainly because it’s mostly an act, and nothing like the goofy weirdos these musicians actually are.

People don’t want to see cool as much as they want to see authentic. For me, authenticity means going for that difficult passage with gusto and hitting a few wrong notes with confidence. It’s about performing to three people like there are three thousand and laughing off catastrophe if it happens.

Worry less about being cool and more about being yourself. It’s the most endearing thing about you. Your audience will love you even more for being human. For being real. For being your authentic self. Don't focus on the mistakes you might make. Instead, focus on the big picture. I find it useful to concentrate on dynamics. These are the louds and softs. Focusing on dynamics will automatically make your music more expressive, it takes your focus off something that is technical, and gives your nerves a distraction. If you do happen to make a mistake, own it and keep going! Don't make a big deal about it.

Watch these performers deal with unexpected hiccups. My favourite moment is at 1:47 👇


5. HAVE FUN

With all the nerves, palm sweating and being yourself stuff, it’s possible to forget that performing is supposed to be fun.

I’ve been through periods where performing hasn’t been fun at all. Usually, because I’m taking myself too seriously or caring too much about what people think.

Your ability to have fun on stage is crucial to a successful performance and an engaged audience.

No one wants to see a stressed-out performer on stage. And no one wants to see an unenthused sad sack either.

No matter how much you've prepared for this moment on stage, or what's happened in your day...when you step up onto the stage, you need to let go. Be in the moment. Have fun. Enjoy it.

Do all the right things to get yourself into a calm headspace. Make sure you get a good night's sleep the night before. Eat breakfast on the day. Keep your coffee intake controlled. Take 10 really deep breaths before you start playing and tell yourself that no matter what happens up there on stage - you and your audience are going to have a great time!

This is me having fun (and not taking myself too seriously) at the piano! 👇

Amy having fun at the piano

ACTIVITY

Getting Used to Playing With Nerves

1. Set up your smartphone camera and record yourself playing one of your pieces. Do it in one take, with no editing. Our students at Virtual Piano Academy do this ALL the time, and it helps enormously!

2. Write down the things that went well, and the things that suffered under nerves.

3. The moments that suffered under nerves are the bits that need more practice!

4. Repeat this process until you can play through your piece confidently, despite feeling nervous!


Do AMEB piano exams and receive premium piano lessons online at Virtual Piano Academy

Want to learn piano with us? Our students participate in virtual concerts and ongoing Piano Parades to ensure they get HEAPS of practice performing!


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