Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

Recitals: Motivation vs. Competition

by Elizabeth Davis

I don’t know about you, but I very faintly remember my first piano recital. I think I was around 4 years old and played a little song about a dog. I remember playing the entire song (but it probably wasn’t amazing) and I was at the very beginning of the recital. My first violin recital was a bit different, in that the students played a lot of ensemble pieces together for the entire recital. Regardless of your level, whether beginner or advanced, we have all had recital experiences that could have gone better- whether in playing or watching a sibling participate.

Another thing I remember about my piano/violin recitals as a young student was the anticipation for the students who played at the end, because they were the best! (Or so I thought…) I’m sure you’ve been to recitals where the beginners play at the beginning and everyone claps because they are so cute…then, the ‘intermediate’ students (who are supposed to sound significantly better than beginners) are in the middle, finally followed by the kids everyone wants to hear – the ‘advanced’ students, who play both hands together and maybe even use the pedals, playing very cool sounding songs. I always wanted to be that kid – the one who played at the end! In a way, I was thinking of my recital experiences as competition: could I move further down the list this year?

It’s natural for musicians (and everyone else, too) to measure our accomplishments in a competitive way; however, this summer, as recitals approach, I want you to think of it a bit differently.

  • Recitals are an awesome way for you as a student to introduce the audience to a new song! Maybe it’s one you wrote or an old song you and your teacher arranged in a creative way – the audience wants to hear YOUR version, so play something you enjoy performing!
  • Realize that everyone in that recital (including you) is at a different mile-marker in their musical journey. Some are just starting out – this is their first recital. Others have been taking lessons for a while and have performed in public many times. Regardless, every performer is showcasing what they have been working on. It’s difficult to do, but try this: don’t compare your performance with the students before or after you. Celebrate your performance for what it is – YOU doing what you love and celebrating the successes of the other performers on this music journey!
  • The student who plays before you might be a literal rockstar and not show any signs of being nervous or make any mistakes in his/her performance. Guess what? It’s OK if that student is NOT you! Don’t let your competitive nature get in the way; enjoy the performances of your peers and let them motivate you to be the confident, capable, musician that you are. Allow the other students’ pieces to motivate you to practice more, try new music, work on a new genre, or learn a new chord progressions. That’s an example of good competition!

My last piece of advice: if you see a fellow performer struggling before or after a performance with nerves, or frustration that he/she didn’t or won’t play their best, encourage them! Let them know that you’re not there to compete and you’re on their team. You never know, YOU might just be that student who motivates someone this recital!

Elizabeth Davis

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