Zoom recital: 7 Tips and strategies for success!

Recitals stir many feelings in our students. There’s a little dread, a little anticipation, a little nervousness, a little of the numb out-of-body experience, a little surge of confidence, a little relief and then pride and a feeling of accomplishment. Phew!

Have you been wondering whether your students would get to experience all of this? Or whether your beginners would get that ‘first recital’ program souvenir?

It seems like social distancing and restrictions on larger gatherings will continue. And yet, we piano teachers have proven to be a resilient and creative lot. We aren’t going to let the setbacks set us back!

Zoom is our new normal. If you’re wondering whether a zoom recital could give your students all of the feelings and experiences that regular recitals do, that’s a valid question and doubt. Keep reading about my recent recital plan and you can decide.

Whether you have a free or pro Zoom account, this recital idea may work for you. Keep reading!

The overall vision

There are several thoughts driving this vision for an end-of-year recital.

  • The idea of sitting through two hours of zoom-quality sound didn’t appeal to me. Further, I didn’t think my students could sit through it, either. One long recital was out of the question.
  • I wasn’t sure about a YouTube playlist recital. Would the audience stick around for every performer? There’d be a temptation to scroll ahead. I’m interested to hear from teachers who take this route what their viewer retention is (in “channel analytics”). What you gain in sound quality you might lose in audience engagement.
  • We’ve been hearing a lot about mental health. Our students and their grandparents and relatives are isolated. It seemed attractive to give my students and their friends and relatives a weekly event.
  • With online lessons, I’m finding student preparation a little trickier than usual. I wasn’t sure my students would be ready to play all of their repertoire to the best of their ability in one afternoon.

In order to balance all of the above, I came up with the idea of a Zoom Recital Series. For three to four weeks, I’m planning weekly Sunday afternoon recitals. They will be short and sweet and will allow my students to connect with their special people through music each week.

Step 1 Coordinate repertoire

As with any recital, begin to talk about the recitals in your lessons. Students are usually ready to perform in the spring, so it’s simply a matter of choosing what piece will be performed in which week.

Make a complete list of repertoire for each student and then create a realistic performance timeline to suggest. It is likely that intermediate and more advanced students will be able to perform one piece per week. Beginners might be able to choose their two favourites each week (as their pieces are shorter and quicker to prepare).

Step 2 Sign up

In a blind-copied email to all studio parents, lay out the planned dates and ask for families to sign up. You may want to make it voluntary, as they may be able to participate some weeks but not others.

Step 3 Guest Invitation

Create an invitation for guests and send it to your studio families. They may in turn forward the invitation to grandparents and friends.

You may want to create your invitation in the W5 format. You’ll also want to include the link that everyone will click to join and some simple pointers to help improve their viewing and listening experience. To see the complete invitation my students shared with their guests, go to my Printables.

See the complete invitation in Printables.

Step 4 Guest List

The next step is to ask your studio families to submit their guests’ names. Create a list so that you’ll know who to sign in from zoom’s waiting room. You’ll want it to be a secure event.

Step 5 Program

Yes, you can have a printable recital program!

Once you have set the performers and repertoire, type it up as you usually would.

Normally I print my program in black and white. But this year because I was simply emailing a PDF (and families could print it however they wanted to), I created a colour program from Page Borders. This website has free borders you can choose from, or you can pay to remove the watermark.

Page Borders has several attractive themes for spring.

You may want to email the program to your studio families and ask them to forward it to their guests. This will keep it simple for you.

Spring zoom recital 1.
Spring zoom recital 2.
Spring zoom recital 3, “Mother’s Day.”
Spring zoom recital 4, “Prelude to a Spring Evening.”

Step 6 The recital

When the special hour arrives, it has all the buzz and energy of a performance hall recital. Names pop up in the waiting room, you recognize them from the guest list, and you admit them. Then you welcome everyone and open with words fitting for the time and the work the students have done.

Technical pointers for success (*for the latest zoom update that doesn’t allow the host to unmute all):

  • Keep all audio muted except for the performer to cut down on background noise. As the the host you can mute all.
  • Keep only student cameras on. This will make it easier for you to find them. Or, with all cameras off (to improve bandwidth), have students “raise their hands” until they perform to distinguish them from the other attendees.
  • When it’s each student’s turn to perform, unmute yourself and announce them. Ask them to unmute themselves. To spotlight their camera, hover your mouse over their their thumbnail video to reveal three dots; click these and then click the option to spotlight their video. This makes it the feature video everyone sees largest on their screens.
  • After each student’s performance, unmute yourself so they can hear your applause. Other audience members familiar with zoom may also wish to unmute themselves for the moment of applause between performers. (It’s quicker for each household to unmute individually than for the administrator to attempt to do it for each one.)
  • Mute all again (and unmute yourself if this mutes you, too), then announce the next performer, ask them to unmute themselves and spotlight them to give them the floor. They can then speak and introduce their own piece.

Step 7 Video inserts

Did you know that you can play pre-recorded videos in a zoom recital? This is ideal if most of your students have good internet and sound but a few don’t. For a student who has a poor connection or sound quality, ask them to take videos of their pieces and send them to you beforehand.

You’ll receive the video attached to an email or as a link to a YouTube video.

Here are the pre-recital steps to play pre-recorded videos in your live zoom recital:

  • Ask your student to record themselves playing their pieces on video. For larger repertoire, a separate video for each piece may work best to keep the file sizes small. Beginners may record all of their pieces in one video if you so desire and it makes it easier for you.
  • Your student will send you their video(s) in an email (or emails if the file sizes are large), or links to videos on YouTube. Both are possible in zoom!
  • Download the videos (if sent by email) to your computer and save them in a file. Make sure they are named clearly with each student’s name and title of the piece for ease of finding them. If you have YouTube links, copy and paste the links all in one document, titled clearly.
  • Prior to the recital, practice sharing your screen and playing your student’s videos in a zoom meeting just with them.
  • Before the recital starts, open all of the videos you will be sharing. Leave them paused. They should be visible when you look at your desktop. Close all of the other applications and windows that you won’t be using in the recital.

In the recital, here’s how to share the video:

At the bottom of the zoom screen you’ll see a green “Share Screen” prompt.

Scroll your mouse over the bottom of your zoom meeting screen. A menu will appear. Notice the green “Share Screen” prompt. Click that. A window will open that will show your choices of what you’ll be able to share.

Notice the video you want. Click that.

All of the videos you have open will appear. If you have named them by student and title, click on the one you want, and that will be shared with everyone in the meeting.

After you click the video, you’ll know it’s being shared because it will be highlighted in blue.

Press play. If you hear sound and are unmuted, your audience will hear it, too.

The zoom audience will see the video enlarged on their screens. Remember, this is ideal for students who have a weak internet connection or poor sound. Their video will now be streaming from you, so the sound quality will be much better.

The audience will see what you see.

Move your mouse away from the player controls to make the play options disappear. If you don’t, the play options will remain visible to all.

The audience will see and hear the performance with streamed video-quality sound.

Students who perform with pre-recorded videos are still invited to attend the live recital. They can introduce their piece live, then watch their video along with everyone. Then they’ll be able to hear everyone’s applause and appreciation.


Back to the main recital…. After the final performer, you’ll want to unmute yourself, then ask everyone to unmute themselves so the students can hear one final round of applause.

Feedback

Can a zoom recital give the same ‘recital buzz’? Yes! Before we ended the meeting, the energy was so positive and the performers felt the elation of having done something special. Music was shared and experienced, and it was an uplifting time for all!

Feedback was that the length of the recital — about 30 minutes of music — was perfect! (If you have the free version of zoom, short recitals are an option. Simply plan a 10 minute sign-in window and a 30-minute recital.)

I hadn’t anticipated it, but there were certain advantages over a local recital, and one was that people all over the world were able to watch and participate in the lives of children who mean everything to them. We are in Nova Scotia and had viewers in our local valley region, but also in Cape Breton, Toronto and as far away as France and Germany! Everyone looked forward to each recital in the series!

One parent commented, “I cannot begin to tell you how impressed I was with today’s recital!! I think it was a rousing success!! Olivia played as well as she ever has, and Madeleine now has a souvenir program of her very first recital – a virtual one 🙂” – Rob

When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!


Do you like this post and want more? In the side menu click “follow” to get notification of my posts each week in your inbox.

I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching! ❤

Rebekah Maxner, composer, blogger, piano teacher. Follow my blog for great tips!

Video of the Week

The Smallest Piece (Early Elementary), a beautiful beginner piece that is easy to learn and yet develops an emotional connection to the music. From the print and eBook Rock the Boat, 11 Early Elementary piano works with optional teacher duets. Or, check out The Smallest Piece eSheet!

The Smallest Piece, an expressive Early Elementary solo with optional teacher duet.
Here’s a sound clip of The Smallest Piece

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