The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music notes: Try these tips for performing music and playing in public

May 21, 2010

By Jacob Stockinger

As I promised yesterday, here are suggestions about preparing to perform music compiled by Madison piano teacher William Lutes (below), who sent them out to his young students and adult students. I hope you find them as helpful as I do.

Yesterday I described the enjoyable and instructive recital his students presented last Sunday afternoon at Oakwood Village West. So the tips make a lot of sense and they work, judging by the students’ performances.

But see for yourself.


By William Lutes

1. It is never too late to practice. Know your music as well as you possibly can.

2. Review your music under tempo, and by sections. Challenge yourself to play beautifully and consistently each time you repeat a passage, or whenever you decide to play through. Keep listening and evaluating what you hear.

3. Know your fingering and be consistent using it!

4. Play mindfully, but trust your fingers to do what you have taught them to do.

5. Practice being in “performance mode.”  If you play through a piece, imagine an audience, a concert space, and think about communicating the piece. Even practice being a bit nervous if you tend to get nervous!

6. If you can, tape yourself, and listen to yourself as you would like for others to listen to you. Be positive and learn from what you hear.  Try not to be overly critical, but look for ways you can improve what you are doing.

7. Play for family, friends, the dog, or whomever. Every chance to play for another is a good time to practice being in performance mode.

8. Take time before you begin to play. Think a moment about what you are about to do … imagine the tempo, the sound, the mood of the piece you are about to play. Be clear in your mind about how you want to begin.  Then, be bold and start!

9. Breathe, and sit comfortably at the keyboard.  Stay in the flow of the music, and let the rhythm carry you. Wear comfortable clothes for performing, including shoes.

10. Be especially mindful about practicing the end of your piece. Concentration must stay strong as you approach the end. No “sliding into home”!

11. Tune into your left hand in places where you tend to have memory problems.

12. Study your music away from the piano and hear it in your head.

13. Know that your audience is happy to be with you, and is rooting for you. You are giving them a beautiful and special gift. Be grateful and gracious to them and to yourself. Every performance is a great opportunity not only to share your gift of music, but also to learn.  Stay positive.

14. Remember to bow whenever you receive applause. You are saying “Thank you.”

I would add that the teacher, like Bill himself, can also be a role model by example. At the end of Sunday’s recital, he and his wife Martha Fischer, who teaches collaborative piano at the UW-Madison School of Music, perform two selections from Robert Schumann’s “Pictures From the East,” for piano, four-hands (my photo below). The occasion, he said, was to mark the 200th anniversary of Schumann birth this year. But the playing also showed his students, their parents and friends that he practices what he preaches.

Anyway, what do you think of these suggestions for performing in recitals? Do they work? I’d like to hear especially from students, younger and older.

Drawing on your own recital experience as either a teacher or student, do you have any suggestions of your own to add?

What about tips for practicing?

Do you have any other comments to make?

What have you found to be positive and negative about performing music and about giving recitals?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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