How to Choose a Recital Song

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Recital happiness can be yours!

by Lara Levitan

Choosing a recital song is a big commitment. You’ll be practicing it over and over again before the performance, so you don’t want to pick something you feel “just okay” about. Nor do you want something too easy, or that you already play very well, because where’s the fun in that?!

Here is some advice from our teachers on picking a song, and gearing up for the big day!

Don’t wait until the last minute!

Choose a song a few months in advance and stick with it. This has some great advantages:

  • The more time you have to practice the more confident and prepared you will feel come recital day. This is, hands down, the best way to overcome nerves.
  • The more you practice it, the more you can develop your own interpretation. It’s fine to mimic a recording, but the more you listen to and replicate the song’s rhythms and nuances, the more you can put your own spin on it. As Brandy Kraemer writes in her article Choosing a Piano Recital Song: “Allow the song to awaken a memory, then use those feelings to give the song some genuine character.”
  • The song should challenge you.

    A difficult song can be a great source of motivation, and will give you more payback in the end. You’ll feel great knowing that you stretched your limits and grew in the process.

    “There have been more instances than I can remember where I was uneasy about the difficulty of a particular recital arrangement I gave to a student,” says Piano Power teacher Lucas Gillan, “and I ended up being blown away by the student’s nailing the recital performance after lots of focused hard work.”

    Challenge yourself within your own skill set, and get ready to knock your teacher’s socks off!

    The song should inspire you.

    If you’re really excited about your song, you’re far more likely to put in the practice hours you need for a great performance. Because you’ll need to practice it– so much that you might not want to hear Imagine Dragons ever again! (But at least you’ll be prepared!) Plus, choosing an inspiring song leads to the next point….

    The song should transport you to a different headspace.

    You know when you’re concentrating really hard, or are so lost in your own playing that you’re not aware if anyone else is in the room? You may feel like this while playing your instrument, or doing another activity that brings you joy and stimulates your mind. Also known as “the zone”, this is what psychologist Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi coined as “flow”— “the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter.”

    Playing a song that puts you in a flow state can also ease performance jitters. If you can mentally go to a different space, then you can forget you’re playing for an audience, says Piano Power teacher Shelby Weight. “The anxiety to not mess up is driven out by the ability to instead visit that space the song takes them to,” says Shelby.

    The song should be the right length.

    If the song feels too short, you’re probably not challenging yourself enough. Plus, you’ll blink and it will be over. Too long and your audience might get restless. Your piano teacher should help you with determining the right length of your performance. For Piano Power recitals, teacher Dominic German typically recommends no more than 3 or 4 pages for piano, and an abridged arrangement for vocals or guitar. This is is the right range to make it both manageable for the student and enjoyable for the audience.

    What did we forget? What are your criteria for choosing a recital song?

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