27 ideas to make your recitals rock


Do you ever wonder how those teachers do it? Those that seem to hold recitals that look out-of-the-ball-park amazing? Me, too. Keep in mind, it doesn't have to be a big, extravagant change in what you normally do at your recitals to make them rock. Sometimes adding one fresh or clever touch can make all the difference.

So, here's a post featuring 27 ideas (big and small.) I hope at least one grabs you and that you can implement it at your next recital--yes, even that one coming up next month!

TWO EXTRA SPECIAL contributors, Wendi Stunzi (Back Porch) and Benny Wollin (Backing Tracks) wrote wonderful articles with specific details on how they make recitals stand out. Thank you for generously sharing.

Do you have an outstanding ideas (big OR small) that rocked your recital that should be added to this list? We'd all like to hear about it!

Change up the venue

1. Back porch

By Wendi Stunzi

“Lions, and Tigers, and Bears, Oh My!” It is that time of year and my studio students just recently performed in our annual Halloween Recitals! And as always, it was a huge success!


It is one of my most favorite times of year for excitement, creativity, expressive music, and just plain fun! And the students simply love it! Each year, I begin with a fun piano incentive that promotes learning throughout the year, but then comes Halloween! And my students just “Eat it up!” And I truly mean that. They select music that has numerous elements to work on from expression, counting, and to rewriting their pieces to reflect even more creative moods. It is a great time for all of the students to work on composing and really exaggerating their dynamics to hopefully, have the audience sitting on the edge their chairs as well as being surprised with what happens next.

Every year, my entire family gets involved with each aspect. From our own Halloween costumes to all the little details that make this a very special event. When I first began Halloween recitals, it started off as simple group lessons and has evolved into wonderful performances with little stress for my students. They learn their pieces, some memorized and some not, they plan their dynamics and any other creative things like adding other instruments to their pieces or movements and simply have a great time!

This year, we decided to turn the front porch of our home into a Haunted Porch with plenty of lights, tons of Pumpkins, and other decorations. My porch happens to be extremely large and has a gazebo so I placed a piano in the middle of the gazebo and had chairs for parents and friends. The students only complaint was that I didn’t move my baby grand or concert grand into the gazebo. A good experience that you can play on any type of piano and still enjoy!

After everyone’s performance, it was “date night” for my parents and a party for the students. We set up a large movie screen for our “Movie Night,” on the lawn and had lots of good food to eat. It’s a great time for the students to just enjoy being with their piano friends and make new friends too. We served pizza, fresh popcorn, all kinds of cookies, and even had hot chocolate. I set things up in stations so the children could easily get to everything. Students brought their own chairs and blankets for afterwards to watch the movie with and of course, I had extra’s for those that forgot.

A new thing that we added this year, were Pumpkin Lanterns that were a great success. They were like hot air balloons and as large as some of the students. We divided the students into small groups and carefully unfolded the pumpkins, in order to light them. As the flame increased, the pumpkins took flight and you should have heard the “ Ooh La Las, and Oh Mys!” as they flew away.

To say the least, it was indeed a huge success and so much fun! And when parents returned for pick up, it was please can we stay longer!! So here’s to another year of Halloween recitals and what can I do to top this next year?


2. Retirement home

For a number of years, I've enjoyed holding recitals at a local retirement home. Instead of giving Christmas gifts to my students, I now give them supplies for a craft to be completed during group lessons that generates a lovely gift to the residents of the retirement home. The residents ADORE them.

Read more about it here.


3. Whole Foods


There's a large flagship Whole Foods close to our house and years ago, I asked if I could place a piano in the balcony area so that students could share their favorite holiday pieces in a casual environment. Fast forward...now our local MTA association holds a Halloween recital there every October. Of course the students wear costumes!

4. Clubhouse

When my church did not let me hold a spring recital in the sanctuary, it forced me to think outside the box. Our neighborhood has a lovely, recently remodeled clubhouse. It even had a large screen HDTV where I showed slides of students' original compositions!

Read all about it here.


5. Virtual world


One way to avoid the hassle of finding a venue is to create videos instead. Amber Danielson did just that but made the videos hot hot hot with the magic of a green screen.  It requires a bit of know-how in order to pull off her dynamic videos. Good news! Amber tells us how in a past post.

Read all about it here.


6. Living room

One year, two of siblings could not attend my Christmas recital so they held their own "private" recital inviting friends and neighbors to their home. I was invited, too. It was such a warm, cozy environment!

 Integrate technology

7. Use exciting backing tracks

By Benny Wollin

Piano Plus Playback is a series of pedagogical piano pieces made by me, Benny Wollin (Voh-LEEN). I'm a teacher, composer, and father in Appleton, Wisconsin. These pieces are composed expressly for being played together with a playback (or backing track). Using them is as simple as playing the playback from any device, and joining in at the piano’s entrance.

The pieces were originally written in 2016 for my own students, each piece being customized to their technical level and their personality. Not only were these pieces intended to motivate the students, but they were a way to work on various essential musical skills, particularly relating to ensemble playing and recording:

  • listening to the playback and matching it expressively

  • staying in time with the playback (playback tracks, much like a recording session in a studio, are merciless in this regard)

  • exposing students to a broad spectrum of musical styles, from Electronic to Renaissance

Additionally, writing my own music allowed me to film and distribute students’ performances. This serves as a record and a memory for them, but also as a type of performance. Grandparents who couldn’t come to recitals because of health or location could now see their grandkids performing. I give explicit permission with each work downloaded from my store to record, film, and distribute it without any of the usual legal hurdles.

Several pieces on my website are completely free. They can be found here.

In addition, here's a coupon that is valid through the end of November. Use the code 50FOR88 to get 50% off any purchase (that comes out to $3 a piece!).

You can see all the pieces performed in this YouTube playlist (each piece links to the corresponding page on the website here

Or you can browse the store directly (note that you can sort pieces by level and style using the product filters) here. 

How does it work?

It's quite simple. You learn the piece from the sheet music just like you would learn any other piece. Except that once you've learned it, you can turn on the playback to accompany you - and you'll sound that much more amazing. The playback comes as an .mp3 file, so all you need is something to play it on (like your phone) and a loudspeaker. Instant awesome.

What are the advantages to compared to regular piano pieces?

Aside from the fact that it's incredibly fun and satisfying to play with the playback - the biggest advantage is that you get to work on your ensemble playing: your ability to play together with other musicians. Of course, a playback will never be responsive the way playing with other people live would be, but it includes instruments and sounds that you wouldn't normally get to play with otherwise (unless you can afford a backing orchestra). It also makes for a great recital piece. Can you imagine how much this piece would stand out at a student recital?

What's included?

Every Piano Plus Playback piece includes the following files:

  • Sheet Music: A score of the piano part.

  • Fullspeed Playback: You would use this for your performances.

  • 90% Playback: A slightly slower version, mainly for practicing purposes. Not recommended for performing with.

  • Metronome Version: Just the piano part plus a metronome, so you can hear your part and check your progress.

  • Background Images: Two different background images that match the theme and mood of the piece. You can use these if you want to use a projector to add a visual element to your performance. (The official music video, as seen above, uses these background images).

  • Original Manuscript: A scan of the original handwritten score and notes of the composer. (not all Piano Plus Playback pieces contain this)

Again, you can use the code 50FOR88 to get 50% off any purchase, and that’s besides the pieces that are totally free!

Check out Benny's store here.


8. Feature student original compositions

For a number of years, I've asked students to create original compositions


and cover art. They notate their work in an online program called Noteflight. When the final scores are completed, we make a video and then link the video to a QR code. The code is printed on stickers which are then added to their composition cover. It makes for quite a wonderful recital and a life-long gift to the students and parents to treasure for years and years.

Read all about it here.


9. Give student-specific awards

Every spring recital, my students get a trophy. They don't earn it for practicing more than any one else. They get one for making it through another year of piano. I like to highlight something special about the student when I present the trophy so that the audience gets to know a little more about the pianists.

10. Include an original pop medley

Four seniors created a pop music medley for their Senior Showcase (see below.) They each drafted their own lead sheet and gave instructions to the others on what to play and how to play it. You'll notice the projected slides feature pictures of the pop artists as they play their melody.

Read more about it here.


11. Arrange an original Christmas medley

These three sisters wanted to play a duet together but their skills did not match up with the repertoire I had on hand. Therefore, we created a trio out of a simple piano arrangement of the "Sugar Plum Fairy". Once you hear it, you'll know why the trio had to be renamed to "Sugar Plump Fairy."


Choose a Theme

12. Beach party


One year, I had students vote on a theme for the spring recital. It was pretty unanimous--everyone wanted to go to the beach. They were allowed to wear beach clothing (modest of course) and I rounded up some ferns and other tropical items to create a beach mood.

This was the first year I tried something BRAND new at my recitals. All students were slated to play two pieces in the recital--both titles were included in the program. However, since many wanted to play more pieces, I asked them to sign their name on a white board off to the side of the stage. Anyone who signed up could play another piece after the recital was finished and before the next one started (I usually hold two with a break in between.)

SO many students signed up TWICE to play again--isn't that what you want?

13. Celebrate seniors

Not every year do we piano teachers get to celebrate the graduation of seniors in our studio. You know it takes a good deal of nurturing and patience to grow our students into advancing pianists. Students who stick around and drive themselves to lessons, take the ACT test, apply for college, etc., deserve some special recognition on their last year of piano lessons. I did that a couple of years ago when I had four graduating. It was definitely a bittersweet evening!

Read all about it here.


If you aren't sure how to plan a recital to celebrate your seniors, Heather Nanney has created just what you are looking for.

Get your Senior Recital Planning kit here.


14. Cheer on superheroes

Good friend and fellow piano teacher Marie Lee always has a million ideas for keeping her students excited about lessons and performances. Her superhero recital looked out-of-this world fantastic. Check out her studio Facebook page to see all her innovative ideas.

15. Go to the movies

Check out the movie-themed post featured at Heather Nanney's site. It's a brilliant!

Read about it here.


16. Hold a fundraiser

Friend and fellow teacher Renee Holliman empowered her students to organize their own fundraiser recital at a local piano store.

Read all about it here.

17. Plan a practice-a-thon

Another teacher, Laura Roberts, held a practice-a-thon in her studio and showcased their practicing efforts in a benefit concert.

Read more about it here.

18. Explore what music means with students

Marie Lee used this theme and asked all her students to complete this sentence: "Music makes me..."

She used their words in a word cloud generator and created t-shirts for a recital. The students also drew a picture depicted their words. The student pictures were projected behind the student as they played in the recital.


Another idea with the same theme: one year I asked my students to create Christmas cards for their parents. They wrote what music means to them in the card. The card also featured a QR code that when scanned, shows the young pianist playing her Christmas recital solo.

Read more about it here.


19. Step back to the Baroque

Either hold your own Baroque recital or do like a number of local associations have done and hold a Baroque Achievement Day/Festival and immerse your students in the legendary style period. Don't like Baroque? Choose another music style!

Read more about how to Go Baroque here.


20. Play it forward

It's easy to get lost in the daily grind of lessons, scheduling, invoicing, practicing or lack thereof! In the hubbub of doing what we do we can lose perspective on what we should dospreading the joy of making music through our teaching and playing.


Perhaps it's time for you to encourage your students to "play it forward" and share their music to benefit others in some way. Perhaps this is how they can express themselves best? It takes the attention off of themselves and instead let's them focus on who is hearing their beautiful music.

This idea came to me when a student arrived at a lesson claiming he had "made a song for Paris!" It was soon after the horrible shootings that had taken place in 2016 and he improvised a beautiful piece channeling his feelings and shared it on his YouTube channel.

That year, everyone received a "play it forward" slap band for Christmas.

Read more about it here.

Add Something special

21. Set up a photo booth

Since I always forget to take group shots after the recital, last year I set up a photo booth, asked parents to take pics of their kiddos and text their pics to me.


22. Invite audience participation

On a number of recital programs, I've included questions to guide listeners in the audience. I've required fellow students to choose and star their favorite piece--the one they want to play next year--and bring it to the next lesson. I've also included a coloring page on the back of the program. FYI: Studies show that doodling increases listening skills.

Get your color pages here.


23. Play a favorite studio game

A friend and fellow piano teacher just down the road from me holds small intimate Christmas recitals in her living room. At the end, parents and students play a favorite studio game. She claims (unsolicited by me!) that Rhythm on a Rollwas a huge hit with all!

Get Rhythm on a Roll here.

24. Hold a drum circle


I kicked off my fall session with a piano party for student families in my garage. Many of my students enjoy bucket drumming in group lessons so I decided it would be fun to have parents join in the fun and experience it for themselves. They learned and saw first hand why I use bucket drumming in my curriculum. Nothing helps to build rhythm skills better than drumming!

Learn more about bucket drumming here.

25. Perform a piece yourself

Mannheim Steamroller revolutionized the way we enjoy the music of the holidays. I was so inspired by them and an organ with 242 MIDI voices that I created an arrangement of their "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" for the and played it at a recital. Since most of my students do not hear (or see) an organ on a regular basis, they were fascinated by it. (Sorry, kind of an old video--it still is one of my favorites to play on the organ!)



26. Give studio t-shirts

A fellow teacher and friend, Debbie Moore, purchased a graphic from the Piano Teacher Planning Center and had the design ironed to t-shirts in all kinds of bright colors. She gave them to students prior to the recital and they wore them as they performed in the recital.

Read more about it here.

Add style and class

27. Choose cool graphic designs

First appearances make all the difference in the world so make sure all your recital materials: from the program to Facebook announcements look spiffy. Andrea West takes care of that for you with her original and colorful graphic designs for any occasion.

Get your graphic designs here.

Please leave YOUR ideas below and best wishes on your upcoming recital!