Timeline for Preparing a Recital

Are you giving a recital soon? Know you’ll be giving a recital sometime in the future? Maybe a little (or a lot) nervous about it? Good! That means you care enough to want to give a spectacular recital that shows you off as the best musician you can be.

You might wonder, how do I start preparing for a recital? When do I start preparing for my recital? Am I already behind?? We’ve all had these thoughts. Read on for some ideas about planning and preparing for your first, seventh, or forty-third recital.

4-6 Months Before Performance: Okay, I’m Going to Give a Recital.

As soon as you know that you are giving a recital, start considering the following things:

  • When will this recital be?

Try to at least have a month or season in mind, even if you don’t know the specific date yet.

For every recital I have given, I have given myself a “break” to start putting my music together. For example, if I know I’m going to give a spring recital, I want to have my program put together by the time school is done for Winter Break. Similarly, if my recital is in the fall, I want to have at least a few ideas of what I want to do before school closes for the summer. I find it extremely helpful to have some of the big decisions made and musical kinks worked out by the time I start to get busy again.

  • Where will this recital be?

As soon as you know where and when your performance will be, book the space. This helps the recital seem more “real” and eliminates this task later in your preparation when you want to be focusing on the music.

  • What repertoire do I already know that I could program?

For a long time, I thought that giving a recital meant preparing an entire hour or half-hour of music I had never played before. Unless your teacher requires this, you can definitely pull out something you have already worked on and make it really great for your recital.

  • What other people need to be involved?

As soon as you have your program set, get that music to a pianist or other musicians/artists with whom you will collaborate. The more time everybody has to prepare, the better your recital will be (and the earlier you can start rehearsing together).

Note: This “people” list should also include people to reset the stage between pieces if you will need that, someone to run lights/sound or record your performance, a page-turner for your pianist, and your friends/family/former teachers you might like to invite that will need to know the date in advance.

4 Months Before Performance: What should I be doing?

Now that you have some ideas for what you’re going to perform for your recital, here are some things you should include in your preparation:

  • Identify the most technically challenging components of your repertoire.

Design a practice routine that addresses them, either in your fundamentals or through specific etudes or exercises. Find a way to address these issues every day, even if you’re not working on the piece itself.

  • Put together a recital binder.

Make rehearsal copies of all your pieces and keep them in one place that is portable and easily accessible. Use them to practice and mark up before your performance.

True story: The day of my senior recital as an undergraduate, I lost all of my music for about 30 minutes, 40 minutes before my recital started (I had left them in a warm-up room and forgotten). Luckily the music building wasn’t too large so I found it quickly, but if I had had my backup rehearsal copies then, there would have been no problem at all!

  • Make a recital playlist.

Find some great recordings of your repertoire by your favorite musicians, and make a playlist on your most convenient device. When you have free time or need to take an instrument off your face for a while, pull out that playlist and listen for new ideas and inspiration!

  • Make a clear practice plan.

Know which pieces you will practice on what days, which spots you need to practice the most, when you will record yourself, and when you will listen back.

  • Write program notes.

You will likely either write program notes for the audience to read or prepare notes to talk about the pieces while you are on stage. Either way, prepare these points far in advance. Not only will this take the task off your plate later, but it will also help you prepare the music better as you research and more fully understand the pieces.

1 Month Before Performance: Almost Ready!

  • Consider a short, 1-2 day break from your repertoire.

Now that you have been practicing your music for months, take stock: do you need to put down the music and practice something different for a couple of days before coming back to it? If your practice is starting to feel stale, this might be the right option for you.

  • Consider endurance.

How does it feel to play your recital program from start to finish? If it still feels tough, maybe start shifting your practice from specific sections of music to full run-throughs several times a week. Regardless, full run-throughs at least two weeks ahead of your performance are absolutely necessary.

  • Start collaborative rehearsals.

Although this can be done as soon as you feel you are ready, you should be rehearsing with your pianist or other collaborators at least a month before your performance date. However, before you start rehearsing with other people, you should know exactly how you want your music to sound and be able to communicate it clearly. It doesn’t do any good to rehearse with others if you don’t have a plan for the music.

  • Consider memorization.

Does any of your music need to be memorized? If so, you should plan to have the music comfortably memorized and internalized at least a month before your recital. This is not a stress you want hanging over your head the week before your performance, or when you’re on stage!

Additional Considerations Throughout Your Process:

  • Practice in your performance space, or a space similar to it.

This will ensure that you are comfortable when performing, and know how you sound in the room. While this might not be possible now due to COVID-19 restrictions, this is a great tool for when we are able to perform in-person again!

  • Give mock performances.

As soon and as often as possible, play your music for other people and hear their feedback. It is great practice for you to encounter any performance anxiety and develop a plan to counteract it, and you will receive valuable information about how you are communicating musically through your instrument. Even in pandemic times, consider a Zoom or Skype performance for your friends and family, or sending a recording of your playing to teachers or other music friends.

  • Choose what you are going to wear early.

Then, practice in it! The day of your recital is not the day to bring out a brand new suit or pair of shoes. This is a recipe for discomfort and distraction from your music when you want to be your most focused.

  • Nothing new on recital day.

The runner in me follows the “nothing new on race day” mantra. This is also true for recital day. If you don’t normally eat breakfast, don’t pick your recital day to prepare yourself a huge meal in the morning. If you normally spend four hours in the morning doing yoga, do that on recital day too. Prepare your body for the feeling of playing at whatever time your recital is, and keep your routine as normal as possible.



Giving a recital can seem daunting. But just like anything else in music, with some planning and lots of practice, you too can feel like this after your recital!

Happy practicing!

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