Preparing your Child for Performances and Recitals 

 April 22, 2023

By  Kale Good

This article summarizes daily practice techniques and strategies that improve performance and describes recital-specific games and preparation strategies. These activities will provide robust recital preparation to help your child develop confidence and have an outstanding performance experience.

Practice: Mix It Up

The most common practice advice for beginners is to practice by solving the technical or musical problem and then repeat it many times to secure it. This practice routine works well for beginners because it feels like rapid progress is being made. Progress is essential for motivation; thus, this is an essential practice technique for beginners.

However, studies show that the rapid gains are more apparent than real. Moreover, the skills are short-lived and not durable; they are quickly forgotten.

Oddly enough, the biggest issue is that students must give themselves a chance to forget! After all, you can only practice recalling information when you've forgotten it (or almost forgotten it).

Using the "Many Repetitions all at once" practice tactic, students will sit down to practice the next day and struggle to recall the information. They would do better if there was a way to practice recalling the information.

A common symptom of this practice tactic is "I play it better the 2nd (or 3rd or 4th time) time". Obviously, this needs to be solved for performance readiness.

Because of these issues, once a student has either a) developed enough "motivation momentum" to use a more-challenging practice technique or b) begun to lose motivation due to the limitations of this kind of practice (not playing well on first play-throughs, having to rebuild every day), it is best to move on from this practice technique.

Below is an example of how to better structure a practice session.

In this example, we'll assume a student has 3 skills to develop in your practice session. For example, they could be a new scale, a review piece than needs refinement, and a new area in their newest piece. Instead of solving each problem and playing it 10 times, mixing up the repetitions will cause some forgetting and enable your child to practice recalling the information.

Here's how it looks:

  • Develop Skill 1. Play it 3 times without mistakes.
  • Develop Skill 2. Play it 3 times without mistakes.
  • Develop Skill 3. Play it 3 times without mistakes.
  • Play Skill 1 3 times without mistakes
  • Play Skill 2 3 times row without mistakes
  • Play Skill 3 3 times row without mistakes
  • Play Skill 1 3 times row without mistakes
  • Play Skill 2 3 times row without mistakes
  • Play Skill 3 3 times row without mistakes

(note that if your child plays 2-3 times with mistakes before getting 3 times without mistakes, you need to make the practice segment shorter and/or simpler)

If the Mix-Up practice session above seems too daunting, you can start by making a tiny change to your practice sessions. Do your practice sessions as usual, but insert an interruption into the middle of your "10x repetitions" of a problem area. The interruption could be a scale, an improv game, a review piece, another problem area, or a different activity (dinner, for example). As you get comfortable with this practice routine, use more interruptions, with fewer repetitions between each, to gain more.

Obviously, accurately and immediately recalling the skill from memory is the bedrock of a solid performance. And believing in the effectiveness of your practice is the bedrock of confident performance.

The downsides to Mix-Up practice are that progress feels slower and is more mentally demanding. However, this tactic yields quicker improvements, durable skills, and inherent performance preparedness. It should be the default practice mode for students who have moved past the absolute-beginner stage and have some motivation-momentum.

Practicing in this way develops your child's ability to instantly recall skills. In addition, it builds confidence as they notice their instant-recall ability increasing.

For a recital, however, students must build this skill for entire pieces.

First-Time Recall: Whole Piece

As a recital draws near, students should begin practicing first-time-recall for their entire piece. In a recital, students get 1 chance to play. Playing a song 3-4x in a row does very little to help prepare a student for a recital. It may produce a false sense of ability if a student only remembers the 4th play-through, usually played much better than the first.

To practice for a recital, students need to practice playing 1 time and 1 time only. This simultaneously takes little time and takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of time because you must spread it out. But, on the other hand, it takes little time because it's only one play-through.

A reasonable way to practice this would be to play your recital piece at the beginning of your practice session, at the end of your practice session, and at one other time in the day.

Recital Practice

Recital practice must encompass as much of the actual recital performance as possible. When practicing for a recital, 99.9% of people skip the beginning and ending of their performance. The performance begins when a student walks on stage and ends when they exit.

When practicing for a recital, students should stand in an imaginary "off-stage" area and walk "on-stage." Students should use an audience, whether in their imagination, virtual, or real. When they arrive at their chair or performance spot, they should bow and use their On-Stage Preparation (more on below) to quickly prepare themselves for the performance. And when they are finished, they should bow and walk off stage.


The stress of a recital is challenging to recreate. Recitals are much higher stakes due to the once-and-done nature of the practice. Finding a way to practice with heightened stakes can help prepare students for the positive stress of a recital.

Suzuki teachers often use many games that a child can win or lose to help engage young children and encourage repetition. So-called Competition Games also create heightened stakes and introduce positive stress into the lesson. This helps prepare students for recitals.

Early in your child's development, you can easily recreate these games at home or use this article to find other competition games you'd like to use at home. Using these games is fun even for older kids (even many adults reluctantly enjoy them).

However, when a recital is approaching, it is best to transition to a more direct testing approach if developmentally appropriate.

My favorite is visualizing/imagining playing the problem area, then actually playing it. The test is to repeat this cycle 3 times in a row without error. For beginners, it is helpful to play the recording (ideally, playing only the problem area) to help the child imagine themselves playing.

As an added benefit, studies show that testing improves recall (sometimes more than studying, hence the usefulness of practice tests)

These games and tests work well for small areas but are too time-intensive for larger sections or entire pieces. There are better ways to induce positive stress for the performance practice of entire pieces. Some of these will work better than others depending on your child's personality and experience:

  • Record child playing (one chance only per practice session)
  • Smaller-stakes performances: for stuffed animals, family, or friends
  • Imagining the audience can work for very anxious performers
  • Playing in front of a video audience or in virtual reality
  • The Distraction Game (also prepares a child for mental or audience distractions)
    • Your child plays the piece.
    • You try to distract them so much that they make a mistake using any means possible. The only rule is you can't touch them (tickling would be very unfair).
    • Slowly increase distraction level to build your child's confidence. 

If they play without mistakes, they win. If they make a mistake, you win. Start gradually and make it more extreme to slowly build your child's confidence.

On-Stage Preparation:

Most people have some level of stage fright. While stage fright is normal, learning how to manage it is uncommon. Most people spend much time practicing their speech or music and telling themselves it will be ok. Very few people practice the crucial skill of On-Stage Preparation.

What is On-Stage Preparation? When your child walks out on stage, they'll likely feel a burst of energy, nervousness, excitement, and disorientation. Failure to prepare for this tsunami of emotions can and does derail even the most prepared students. It's easily visible when a student sits down and plays without even taking a breath; sometimes, students play before the audience is ready to listen! This invariably leads to a tense performance.

To avoid this, your child needs to develop and practice a quick and reliable On-Stage Preparation that helps them manage these emotions and prepare for the battle of performance.

The best Suzuki teachers teach their students that when a song is called out to be played, their fingers instantly go to the strings and touch or press down on the instrument in preparation for the first notes. Then, the child looks at the accompanist and nods. In addition, when preparing for a recital, students bow at the beginning and end of a performance.

In my early teaching days, I thought this small action was the remnants of a very structured and formal teaching style that originated in Japan almost a century ago. However, with experience and new knowledge, I've realized that it also forms the seed for students to develop their own On-Stage preparation.

In my early performance days, I developed my own On-Stage preparation (likely due to my incredible performance anxiety). However, it's best not to leave it to chance. Here is a basic On-Stage Preparation children can use as a starting point:

  1. Look to the back of the room or stage floor
  2. Hear the first few notes in your imagination (close eyes if desired)
  3. Take a deep breath and relax muscles
  4. Look at your accompanist and give them the nod to start (or, if playing by yourself, give yourself the nod to start)

Like any other skill, developing this skill requires practice. Therefore, your child should practice this as part of their performance practice. 


In 2008, Charles Lib and Allen Braun used the fantastic technology of functional MRI machines to monitor Jazz Musicians while they played memorized and improvised passages. What they found suggests that improvisation can be helpful for musicians, whether they perform improvised or memorized music. Their study showed that during improvisation, the self-monitoring part of the brain is less active. Additionally, the self-expression part of the mind is more active.

Regardless of experience level, many performers have experienced the distracting and snowballing effect that judgemental thoughts can have on their performance. And, if they are lucky, they've also experienced the flow-state of a performance where they were immersed in musical expression for the entire duration. This study suggests that improvisation can help develop the parts of the brain associated with both of these states. 

But improvisation can help in more concrete and practical ways, too. By practicing "making things up," students can develop the confidence to improvise their way out of any technical or memory mishaps that may happen on stage. Inevitably, unintended notes will happen in improvisation, and students keep playing notes and make them work as part of the improvisation. Developing these abilities can decrease anxiety about on-stage mistakes and positively affect confidence. 

There are a plethora of improvisation games students can play. One that works particularly well for recitals is "Counter-Melody ."This is where another person or recording plays the recital piece. The student improvises a new melody that "counters" the other melody. In a broader musical context, this helps students understand how harmony, melody, and counterpoint interact. In a recital-specific context, it helps prepare students to improvise their way out of a mistake in the recital piece.

Instrument Preparation

Finally, after all this hard work, you'll want to ensure your child's instrument is ready to create the most beautiful sound to show off your child's work. For my guitar students, this means putting a new set of strings on 1-2 weeks before the recital. Also, remember that students' fingernails are part of their instrument; fretboard-hand nails should be clipped short. If the student has begun to play with nails, nails should be filed and polished to be smooth and shiny as glass.

Ask your child's teacher what you need to do to ensure your instrument is in good playing shape.

Conclusion: Test Yourself

Studies show that quizzes are an effective way to help boost retention. And this was a long article, so you've almost certainly forgotten some of what was at the beginning! Take this quiz to test your recall ability and improve your memory of this article so that you can better help your child prepare for their next recital.

Kale Good

Educator and Founder of Good Music Academy.

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