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Piano Recital Tips (for Beginners)

Ryan and Dr. Vera discuss all you need to know for your first piano recital!

Piano Recital Tips (for Beginning Pianists)

- contributed by Ryan & Dr. Vera


Ryan Cullen (00:07): Hi, everybody, it's Ryan here. And thanks for joining us for another edition of our Lagniappe Lesson series. Today, we have special guest with us, Dr. Vera.

Dr. Vera (00:18): Hello.

Ryan Cullen (00:19): She's going to help us today as we talk about preparing for your first piano recital here at LAAPA. So lots of things to think about, lots of things to do in advance, plus the day of the concert. So we're just going to go through everything here. It all begins with choosing a recital piece. So Dr. Vera, tell us how you approach this with your students.

Dr. Vera (00:47): We try to select a piece that they truly enjoy practicing, of course, but also it has to be a G-rated piece so that everyone can enjoy it and be comfortable. And it could be something maybe inspiring and happy, or maybe a sad one if you really like it. But the main point is it has to be a G-rated song, whether it's a piano selection or a vocal selection or whatever the instrument you are practicing.

Ryan Cullen (01:19): Sure. Yeah. And that's because you're not only performing in the recital for yourself, but also considering your audience, and our audience here at LAAPA are a bunch of families. So, that's very important to consider. Now let's assume we have our piece. We've got it down. We're ready to go. Let's talk about stage presence and how to approach the stage and get to the piano and that kind of thing.

Dr. Vera (01:48): Absolutely. And of course we want to wear a beautiful G-rated outfit for our recital as well.

Ryan Cullen (01:54): G-rated outfits are also important. Now, whether you're a teacher or a performer, if you're going to be on stage, consider that. You want to look to dress to impress, right?

Dr. Vera (02:05): That's right. And inspire with not only your art, but also your presence, and the way you are appearing on stage is very important. Something pleasant to look at and listen to, hopefully.

Ryan Cullen (02:20): Exactly. Right.

Dr. Vera (02:20): That's the goal.

Ryan Cullen (02:21): And of course you want to be smiling up there too.

Dr. Vera (02:23): Smiling. You want to be happy. You want people to-

Ryan Cullen (02:27): Yeah. Because it's fun to play the piano.

Dr. Vera (02:28): It is, or sing or the drums.

Ryan Cullen (02:29): Or sing, yeah. All of this applies to every program.

Dr. Vera (02:32): Absolutely. And I tell all my students that if you think of it as if you're giving a gift of your art and the work that you have been doing throughout this long time, it actually puts the whole thing into a completely different perspective, and you feel a little more comfortable because you're not so much worried about what are they going to say if I miss a note or if I forget a word. You are thinking of it as if I'm going to share gift that I have been enjoying so much, practicing. And you've selected a song that you love, hopefully, and your teacher helped you and found something that's not only pleasant, but also hopeful on your journey of learning music. And all together, it makes you happy to do so. So, hopefully you're smiling.

Ryan Cullen (03:20): Right. Yeah, absolutely. So assuming we are dressed properly now and we're smiling, we're happy to be up there, how do we approach the piano? Because sometimes the younger students in particular, they're so excited to get up there. They run up there or they hop over the bench. And that's great, but what is the official way to approach the piano?

Dr. Vera (03:48): I will demonstrate, if you don't mind.

Ryan Cullen (03:51): Yep.

Dr. Vera (03:52): So usually you would enter the stage from this side where I'm standing. So if you are entering from this side of the stage, which is a lot of times that has been my experience, you will be going on the left side of the bench and sitting down in the middle, usually right next to the middle C, in front of the middle C on the piano. And that definitely helps you find your hand position a lot of times, because middle C's a starting point for so many students when we all start. So once you know you're already sitting in front of the middle C, that's much more helpful and easier, as a result, to find the proper hand position.

Ryan Cullen (04:42): Okay. Make sure the piano bench is also appropriately positioned. So if it's too far back or if it's too far forward, wait until somebody helps you or just say, "Hey, I need some help with this," because you need to be comfortable when you're performing. Very important.

Dr. Vera (05:00): Absolutely. You need enough space to move around and reach both sides of the keyboard and maybe even lean forward a little. I usually suggest for all my students that are taking piano specifically, that you will stretch your arms out and reach the full board with your knuckles if you lean a little forward. Of course, you might not want to do that on the actual performance day on stage, but if you're practicing that every day-

Ryan Cullen (05:28): It becomes a habit.

Dr. Vera (05:29): ... it becomes a habit and you'll learn the distance. And you can just evaluate if you are at the right distance, just by looking because you will be practicing it so much every day and in the lesson that it will become a habit and you won't need to actually stretch your arms out possibly, but just sit down and see, okay, I'm at the good distance, just because you've done it so many times before. You want your feet fully on the floor because there are pedals there that you will be using, if that's needed. And of course you would want to reach them and be able to find them easily. So we want our feet not under the bench, not on the sides, but in the middle. Then it's easy and you don't have to look and get worried that you might not be able to find it in time.

Ryan Cullen (06:24): Right, because you need the pedal.

Dr. Vera (06:26): You do.

Ryan Cullen (06:26): You've got to use that every now and then.

Dr. Vera (06:29): You do.

Ryan Cullen (06:30): But now we don't want to use it too much. Now what happens if ... Do we keep our foot permanently on the pedal?

Dr. Vera (06:36): I wouldn't say that.

Ryan Cullen (06:38): No.

Ryan Cullen (06:39): Release the pedal.

Dr. Vera (06:39): Not so much, not so much.

Ryan Cullen (06:41): It's not permanent. That's why it's a pedal. You can release it too. You don't have to just ...

Dr. Vera (06:48): And keep the heel on the floor as you're releasing it.

Ryan Cullen (06:50): Right. It's not like a ...

Dr. Vera (06:54): We don't want to do that kind of thing. We don't want to do that.

Ryan Cullen (06:55): We want to keep the heel in place.

Dr. Vera (06:55): No, no, no.

Ryan Cullen (06:56): Right, yeah. Can you show us proper pedaling technique?

Dr. Vera (07:01): Yes. So of course for the damper pedal, which is most likely will be used, we are going to be using our right foot, just for logical reasons. It's more uncomfortable. It's right there. And we want to keep our heel on the floor at all times. When we are actually using the pedal and when we're releasing it, the heel stays on the floor no matter what. It's actually very comfortable once you start getting used to that because holding your heel up, tenses your entire leg.

Ryan Cullen (07:46): Right, it's more work.

Dr. Vera (07:46): And it's actually very tiring. If you think of a piece that's later on down the road, when you're a famous pianist and you are playing something that's about half an hour long, this could be serious work.

Ryan Cullen (07:59): Yeah. Right. Go to the gym for that kind of work.

Dr. Vera (08:02): That's right. This is not that intense of a workout. Although a piano recital can be a workout. We want to release the pedal all the way before we actually use it again. And the reason for that is that we want for all of the dampers to come back down on the strings so that the sound is completely cleared and the next harmony is really clean. That's the reason for that. Because whenever we don't release the pedal fully, we could have some harmonies kind of tie over.

Ryan Cullen (08:46): We have a lack of clarity.

Dr. Vera (08:46): Yes. We will lack clarity. It will sound a little watery, which is not always what we want.

Ryan Cullen (08:52): Muddy.

Dr. Vera (08:52): And a little muddy, maybe.

Ryan Cullen (08:54): Muddy, watery.

Dr. Vera (08:54): So, yes. That's not always the sound. Sometimes it will be the sound we're going for, but-

Ryan Cullen (09:00): In a few years.

Dr. Vera (09:01): ... in a few years. And that's usually planned, not necessarily just happening by accident.

Ryan Cullen (09:08): Right. Now, we've sat down at the piano. We've positioned ourself. One of the things that I wanted to mention is waiting just a few seconds until the stage is cleared. We have multiple people exiting after their performance or setting up or removing things from the previous performance. Take that little bit of time to just compose yourself and get comfortable and just wait. Take a deep breath.

Dr. Vera (09:37): That's right, breathe.

Ryan Cullen (09:38): And then we can start. Don't be in a rush to sit down, boom. Because the audience might not be ready yet. The camera guy, which is usually me, might not be ready yet. So give us a little time there. Give yourself a little time.

Dr. Vera (09:56): That's right. I agree. Absolutely. And it gives you a little time to think about and maybe start. I always tell all my students, whether they're a voice or a piano, start hearing your first couple of measures of the song in your head before you actually start playing, because that will help you start well and will help you just get in the right mood and begin the piece successfully. And I think beginning is probably the hardest part. Once you're in the swing of things, it's much easier, right?

Ryan Cullen (10:32): Right, yeah. Definitely.

Dr. Vera (10:33): So beginning it is very important. So if you begin it in your head and then you place your hands on the piano and you're already hearing it in your head and your fingers are curved, hopefully. All 10 of them are on the piano.

Ryan Cullen (10:46): Yes. Also very important. We don't want to play the piano like this.

Dr. Vera (10:51): And you do need your thumbs. So playing like this actually doesn't pay off very well. You do need your thumbs. You need all 10 of them.

Ryan Cullen (10:59): Get them all up there, curved.

Dr. Vera (11:01): That's right.

Ryan Cullen (11:02): And then wrist position also important. How do we hold our wrists?

Dr. Vera (11:06): Level that hand.

Ryan Cullen (11:08): Down here? No.

Dr. Vera (11:09): Not like this. Not like that. This is actually kind of ... I don't know. And it's much easier to remember to start the song in the right hand position. That's very important. Especially for our students that are started recently and aren't very advanced students just yet. So to find the right hand position, hearing the melody in your head will really help you remember, "Oh, okay. This is where I need to be," or, "Here is where I need to be." And that kind of thing.

Ryan Cullen (11:41): Right. It may be the difference between C and F for beginning pianos. So how can we find ... because if we're playing a song in C, F kind of looks like C a little bit, but there's an important distinguishing factor there.

Dr. Vera (11:59): That's right.

Ryan Cullen (11:59): So what is that?

Dr. Vera (12:01): F will be on the left of the three black key group and the C will be on the left of the two black key group.

Ryan Cullen (12:08): Right. So, very important beginning pianists. Okay. Because it changes your song quite a bit-

Dr. Vera (12:14): It does.

Ryan Cullen (12:15): ... once you get to that fourth scale degree.

Dr. Vera (12:18): That's right.

Ryan Cullen (12:19): Now at our LAAPA concerts here, we prefer to have students memorize their pieces, and that's for a few reasons. Number one, because then you really know it.

Dr. Vera (12:32): Absolutely.

Ryan Cullen (12:33): That's the number one reason. When you're ready to perform, you don't want to have any distractions, like consciously thinking about what you're about to play, to a certain degree. You don't want to have to flip pages. You don't want the air condition to blow your music off of the stage. You don't want to forget your music. If you forget your music, it won't matter, because you have it memorized. So, all these things. When we come to the piano for a recital, we want to have no distractions. We want to have it completely in our mind ready to go so that we're not practicing on stage. There's a difference between performance and practice. Talk a little bit about performance versus practice. Dr. Vera.

Dr. Vera (13:25): Of course.

Ryan Cullen (13:25): So when you're on stage ... because people are watching you. They're not really interested in watching a piano lesson on the stage. That's what Dr. Vera is here for. She won't mind, but the audience is not really there for that. They're expecting a performance.

Dr. Vera (13:45): I agree completely. It's also, it can be a little difficult to focus on looking at your music and then back on the keyboard. It makes me personally dizzy sometimes. And for that reason, I prefer to memorize my music unless it's a duet or an ensemble, as soon as possible, just because it's so much easier to just focus on one task, look at the keyboard and just play the piece.

Ryan Cullen (14:15): Play the piece, yes.

Dr. Vera (14:17): Of course, in the performance, we like to think that everything is going to go extremely well. And it will because you've practiced so hard right every day. But if something goes a little bit differently from how we planned, we do not want to stop and try to fix things.

Ryan Cullen (14:43): That's right.

Dr. Vera (14:44): We want to just continue going because that could lead to stopping over and over again and just getting a little more anxious than you should be, or you should feel or you want to feel. And it's a little bit confusing, to say the least, for the audience a lot of times, because they're not really sure what is happening and it just takes away from the performance, because at that point you have done your absolute best and you've stopped and fixed things probably so many times at home while practicing or in the lesson with your teacher, so that at some point you could just sit down and enjoy the fruits of your labor and not so much worry about how perfect it is, but just enjoy the art of making music in the moment and enjoying it with your audience and gifting the gift of art and enjoying that present moment rather than just thinking about, "Oh, I just missed a note." It's okay. If you miss a note, just keep going.

Ryan Cullen (15:49): Right. And most of the time, nobody's going to know if you miss one note or two notes, but they will notice if you keep starting over again, right?

Dr. Vera (15:59): Or trying to go back and fix things. That's for sure.

Ryan Cullen (16:01): Fix things, right.

Dr. Vera (16:01): For sure.

Ryan Cullen (16:03): Yeah. So you can just think of those notes as bonus notes.

Dr. Vera (16:06): Bonus notes, right. Bonus notes.

Ryan Cullen (16:09): Yeah. So that is okay. Now we do want to shoot for two to three weeks in advance of the concert to have your music memorized by, so that you can put those final touches on everything and things like dynamics and small, little final touches, very important to really make it a musical composition and make it come alive. So let's imagine now that you just had a fantastic performance. We have outdone ourselves at the piano or maybe we just did well. Either way it has come to that point in our performance where we exit the piano and recognize the audience. So how do we do that?

Dr. Vera (16:55): We want to exit on the right side, just because usually the audience will be here. So it's easier to just exit this way and then we'll want to thank the audience for their time and attention, and the fact that they were there with us to share the art that we were making in the moment. Some young ladies prefer to do a curtsy. That works very well also. But for me, I like to do these kind of bows most of the time. It's just easy and ...

Ryan Cullen (17:29): Yeah. A lot of options for bows.

Dr. Vera (17:31): There are a lot of options.

Ryan Cullen (17:31): Of course, if you really did well ... Are you familiar with the triple power bow?

Dr. Vera (17:36): I don't think so.

Ryan Cullen (17:38): Don't think so. Okay. Let me show you the triple power bow.

Dr. Vera (17:39): Maybe I'll use it in the future.

Ryan Cullen (17:40): This has to be ... You have to reserve your use of this. You don't want to do it every time, but if you've had a particularly good performance, I don't think it's inappropriate. And you have an audience size that is appropriate. So, there you go. There you go, triple power bow.

Dr. Vera (18:06): Very important for your big performances, right?

Ryan Cullen (18:08): For those big ones, yeah.

Dr. Vera (18:09): That's right. And try not to touch the piano too much and maybe lean on it as you bow. It's flu season again. And then I'm sure someone worked really hard wiping that piano and preparing it-

Ryan Cullen (18:21): Keeping it polished.

Dr. Vera (18:21): ... to be shiny and polished for the performance.

Ryan Cullen (18:23): Or for this video.

Dr. Vera (18:24): Or for this video too. It's absolutely gorgeous.

Ryan Cullen (18:28): Finally, we come to a piano duet. Let's talk about how to enter, perform, exit. It's going to be a lot of the same techniques, but you have to do it in tandem.

Dr. Vera (18:44): Yes. I think the main and most important point here will be to just make sure that both performers stay together the entire time.

Ryan Cullen (18:55): Right. Okay. Let's demonstrate. So, we will ...

Dr. Vera (19:02): Enter. Same way we would be entering as performers when we're performing solo, except now of course it's two people and we will be walking out together, also entering from the left. So you probably want the person who's playing on this side, on the right side of the piano to enter first. Logistically, it's just going to be easier trying to sit down first.

Ryan Cullen (19:28): Sit at the same time.

Dr. Vera (19:29): That would be great.

Ryan Cullen (19:30): Try to sit at the same time. And then maybe even put your hands up about the same time if you're really in sync.

Dr. Vera (19:36): If you can.

Ryan Cullen (19:36): If you can. Small thing. And then someone needs to be the starter.

Dr. Vera (19:43): That's right, and take the-

Ryan Cullen (19:45): So who is the coordinator? Usually we do it with a breath.

Dr. Vera (19:51): Yes.

Ryan Cullen (19:51): And then we get going. Yeah. Okay. And then we're done. And then we look at each other and we rise together.

Dr. Vera (19:59): Stand together and the walk out on the right side.

Ryan Cullen (20:02): Walk out, yes.

Dr. Vera (20:02): Exit together and then look at each other and bow together.

Ryan Cullen (20:08): Bow together, accept applause together. So that concludes our presentation for today, but we would like to mention that everything we have discussed today not only applies to your performance, but also to each lesson and to each practice session. Would you say Dr. Vera?

Dr. Vera (20:27): Absolutely. And it's so easy to do it. It comes very naturally if you have practiced it every day for many weeks. It's just how you do things now because it's been done so many times.

Ryan Cullen (20:40): Right. You're training yourself. Creating habits.

Dr. Vera (20:41): Healthy habits.

Ryan Cullen (20:41): So just remember that each time that you practice. Always practice like you're performing. So picture yourself on stage and then you will grow as a musician enormously. So thank you all so much for watching. We'll see you next time.

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