Choosing Recital Pieces

Lillian Klotz Foster said: Oct 19, 2011
Lillian Klotz Foster
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
Flourtown, PA
3 posts

Can anyone recommend wordage in guiding students (and parents) in choosing the appropriate recital piece? I have several families that really push their kids to play the “most recent piece” and I need some P.C. and polite ways of guiding them towards something that is mastered.

Alissa said: Oct 19, 2011
Alissa Rieb
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
61 posts

Yeah, that’s never fun…I give them three pieces that are “recital worthy” and let them pick. When the parent mentions something newer, I say that a home concert would be a better place for those until the tiniest details qualify it for recital. Because I have many students at the same level, I also use the variety angle so not everyone is playing the same piece. Finally, there was a time years back when I had a pushy phase in the studio. I had to put it in my studio policies for everyone that there was an acceptable range of pieces for recitals and the newest piece was not in that range.

They’ll figure it out eventually if you’re consistent with everyone. Good luck!

Julie said: Oct 19, 2011
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano
Salt Lake City, UT
3 posts

I’m famous for saying, “It’s not what you play, but HOW you play it.” That settles everyone right down.


Ruth Brons said: Oct 20, 2011
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

In the first lesson or two in the fall, my students and I plot out our work plan, in writing, for the year.
We identify the big pieces/scales/etudes that they are going to want very polished, for their January and May solo recitals, auditions, ASTA CAP Exam, etc.
Then I promise to deliver on my responsibility to cover and make sure they understand every note by Christmas, but hopefully by Thanksgiving.
Then that material, now their responsibility, makes it into their “review pile” to “cook” for a bit while other pieces/material is covered.
Then, the month or so prior to a performance we both have a responsibility to do the intensive polishing.
By choosing so far in advance, I can usually let the student choose whatever reasonable piece is tugging at their imagination—a huge plus in terms of motivation!

Best Wishes,

Ruth Brons

Rachel Schott said: Oct 20, 2011
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

It’s a sticky rule in my studio that you may not play your newest piece or the one before. Period. When it’s time to decide recital pieces, even if a month away, we look at the repertoire and say “Okay, Piece A you’re still learning so it’s off. Piece B is too new so it’s off. Please pick your favorite from what’s left and all three of us will discuss it.”

I also tell them that only one time have I stretched this rule because I honestly felt that that student could handle playing her newest review song and she choked…as in got lost, ran from the stage crying, wouldn’t come back for a bow, choked. I will never forgive myself and therefore do not wiggle from this rule on bit.

It helps if the parents realize that everyone is playing a review piece on the recital. This takes the sting out a little.

Also, after re-reading how Dr.Suzuki managed his personal studio I’m trying Monthly Recitals. Once a month, all the Tuesday people come at the same time and we perform for each other. At the moment this is very managable for my studio and I’m hoping it helps take down the pressure of piece picking (how’s that for an alliteration?)

Charles Krigbaum said: Sep 20, 2013
Charles KrigbaumTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
69 posts

I just stumbled upon this post as I was preparing to clarify my own communication with the parents and students in my program.

Here is what I came up with:


“It’s not what you play, but HOW you play it.”

A recital piece:     

  1. Must be at least a book level below your current piece. For example, a Book 1 student learning Minuet 2 may choose a piece from Book 1A. A student learning a piece is Book 2A (Chorus – Two Grenadiers) would be free to choose a piece from either 1A or 1B, etc.

  2. Must be on a second or third learning, meaning the material (both musical and technical) must be elevated well beyond what would be expected of a student on the first learning of the piece.

  3. Must have been performed previously. There is a distinction between practicing and performing. Indeed, one must practice performing! Recitals are not the appropriate setting for a debut performance of a piece. Examples of trial performances include: informal performances, performed as a solo in front of group class, NTSA Trophy Festival, previously performed in a group concert, performed in a “Home Concert” or other practice performances invented by your own creativity.

  4. Must exemplify mastery. Mastery is a result of understanding, experience, and repetition. If you are struggling to remember the notes, this is not mastery. When a student has truly mastered the basics of a piece, their attention and focus is free to develop other elements that create a fine performance.

  5. Must demonstrate elements of a fine performance that include (but are not limited to):  production of a beautiful tone, dynamics, articulation, breathing and movement, character, stage presence, balanced posture and position, well-shaped right and left hands, technical accuracy, appropriate tempo, phrase shaping, interpretive choices, demonstration of appropriate poise and bearing, focus of attention, and an appropriate bow.

This message has been brought to you by:

Charles Krigbaum, Director
North Texas School of Talent Education

Caitlin said: Sep 20, 2013
Caitlin HunsuckViolin
Merced, CA
41 posts

I always give my students 6 weeks or more to choose their piece. With the younger students, if they have “finished” learning a piece when they choose, I’m okay with them doing it (by time they get to the recital they have usually finished another piece, and 6 weeks of heavy polish work on a newer piece actually is really good for them). Oddly enough, my older students typically always choose at least a half a book below where they are at. I think they understand their limitations better than I do! One thing I don’t do that my teachers use to do, is choose their piece for them. If they are going to spend hours learning the ins-outs of a piece, I want to be a piece they love, not what I love.

Edmund Sprunger said: Sep 21, 2013
Edmund SprungerTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Saint Louis, MO
99 posts

Charles—thanks for sharing your well-articulated list. It’s pretty much what is on my heart and mind when I’m preparing students for recitals, although I do some tweaking on a case-by-case basis.

I especially appreciate your list because there definitely needs to be some education in the Suzuki community at large about how a performance should go. Although I prefer a term such as “ready piece” to the term “polished piece,” after decades of institute teaching I’m usually STUNNED at what parents and teachers consider to be a “polished” piece.

There are far too many parents and teachers—and students—who think that expecting that a child will know the notes and bowings cold for a performance piece is asking for perfection. It’s not. It’s expecting that the child will know the notes and the bowings cold. Very do-able, but not in a newest, wet-paint piece.

Edmund Sprunger

Rose Lander said: Sep 21, 2013
Suzuki Association Member
55 posts

i learned a guide from ronda cole (america’s suzuki) from her workshops which has been just about foolproof.
book I students; must play a piece at least 5 pieces behind when it comes to planning a recital.
it the child is on o come or earlier, the piece must be twinkle. if the child is on twinkle, she plays it with assistance from the teacher.
book II; play a piece 4 pieces behind
book III; play a piece 3 pieces behind
book IV; play a piece 2 pieces behind
book V; choose a piece (but not the current one) of the student’s choice.
hope this helps,
rose lander

Gretchen said: Sep 22, 2013
Gretchen Lee
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
State College, PA
28 posts

Hi Lilli— I hear you. I used to let it go when parents pushed their kids to perform pieces that weren’t ready, thinking that if it went badly they would learn a lesson for next time…they never did. So, now I have some rules.

*No playing your most recent piece. End of story.

*Polished means that 1) all notes, fingerings, rhythms, and bowings are memorized correctly; 2) dynamics and phrasing are consistent and make sense; 3) the tone is clear and resonant throughout the piece

If they cannot do these things one month before the recital, they need to pick something else. I usually give them a heads up 6 weeks before the recital so that they have time to choose carefully.

A lot of parents think this is kind of intense, but the kids are a lot less nervous and usually play better solos.

Johanna Rachel Brunjes said: Sep 23, 2013
Johanna Rachel BrunjesViolin
Walnut Cove, NC
4 posts

My seven year old daughter told her masterclass teacher at institute this summer that a polished piece was “a piece you can play all the way through without any serious damage”. Yep, that about sums it up. Giggle, giggle. I might add that it should be easy to play beautifully.


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