This checklist is provided to help students prepare for their recital day, with an additional checklist for those playing in a piano festival. In the U.S., we often use the term festival in place of exam; they are the same thing.
I participate in events held by the Northwest Arkansas Music Teachers Association (NAMTA), which provides the following guidelines:
If you are participating in the Sonata/Sonatina Celebration or ASMTA Regional Festival, these are your guidelines. I also list them for my own recitals with the following sensible caveat: I don’t believe in spending money on an item you’ll wear just once. It’s pretty simple to adhere to minimum guidelines using clothing you probably already have in your closet.
White shirt and black pants – it’s a classic look for ensembles.
It works as a simple solution for soloists and ensembles, too.
Almost any solid-color top works, too, including black.
Black sneakers – A pair of these would be acceptable for most student recitals.
Collared shirt – A polo or golf shirt is more casual, but it’s an alternative to a button-down shirt for most student recitals.
White sneakers and Crocs in any color.
Arrive Early, But Not Super Early
If you can arrive 10 or 15 minutes early, it gives you the chance to try out the piano, go to the bathroom, and to feel comfortable in the space for a few minutes before the start.
Bring Your Music Books
Always! Even if you are playing from memory, you may wish to refer to your music during warm-up. I’ve had students come up to me 15 minutes before a recital asking if I have a copy of their scores. Even if I do, that’s when I need to greet parents, encourage kids to try the piano, and make sure everything is set to go on time.
Check the Piano
Before the recital, try out the piano, even if it’s a piano you have played before. Play either a pentascale or full scale in the key of your piece(s) as well as a few chords and a chord progression. You can also start each of your pieces, playing just the first several measures.
Don’t do complete play-throughs of your pieces, even if they are short, if you see other people waiting to do the same.
Are the keys sticky or dirty? – Let someone responsible know! Piano keys can be easily cleaned by spraying water or hydrogen peroxide lightly to a cloth that is then applied to the keys.
Can you reach the pedal? – Most young students can sit forward on the bench and reach the pedal with the assistance of a single board, without a pedal extender.
Check the Seat
Adjust your bench – Make sure you know how to adjust it, if it’s adjustable.
Sit at the proper distance – Check with the fist test.
Use a footrest or pedal extender – If you need one, bring a portable one if you don’t know that one will be available.
A simple bow, courtesy of YouTube, works great. Emulate the singer at the right, with his hands at his sides. If you’re participating in a group recital, bow after you play, not before. It saves time and gives proper attention to person who just played.
Bowing varies widely among musicians, according to style of music and if they are holding an instrument. However, please don’t curtsy, unless you plan on launching into an elaborate dance routine, or you spot King Charles III in the audience.
If you are going to an unfamiliar venue, make sure to pack a water bottle and a snack, if you need one.
If you need a fidget toy, like a pop-it or fidget spinner, be sure to pack it as well.
Bring Your Music Books
Always! I know I already said this above, but you have the additional reason of giving your score(s) to the judge so that they can evaluate your performance, measure by measure. Number the measures in your score(s) if they are not pre-numbered. The first complete measure is measure one. You can mark just the first measure on each system, putting the number inside a circle or square.
Pencils and Eraser
If you will be doing any written testing, bring your own mechanical or sharpened pencils and eraser. You should always have these tools available for marking your score.
Make sure to erase any excess markings from your time learning the piece, like if your teacher notated things like “play legato” or “slow down!!!” Don’t make it easy for the judge to critique you based on these instructions in your score.
You should keep fingerings and markings that are important to your interpretation. For instance, if you are playing a Baroque score with no dynamic markings and you decided to play the opening forte and the return piano, keep that markings.
Wait to Start Until Instructed
Your adjudicator will let you know when to begin. Plan on stopping and resting between pieces until your adjudicator finishes writing comments. Hands in lap work great to stay relaxed yet focused.
Have I missed anything? Was this guide helpful to your preparation?