Five P's and Ten Tips for Sparkling Performances


It's that time of year again. You are probably preparing students for a special holiday recital or gearing them up for festivals and competitions coming up in early spring.


Along with preparing the piece, it's important to train students in the art of performing. This is something to be taught right along with memorization skills and refining details so that the entire performance sparkles from head to toe.

In my studio, I've narrowed the performance process down to five steps which I call "The Five P's of Performing." Limiting it to five helps students remember the routine with little trouble.

Below I'm sharing how I explain these five P's to my students. Next, I discuss how playing a scale and chord progression can be used for more than warming up hands and fingers prior to a performance. It's important for students to treat this time as if they are investigative reporters. The information gathered about the piano during the warm up is crucial to a positive performance.

Last, I explain how I address wardrobe concerns with my students.

One more thing, included at the end of the post is a free infographic printable listing  The Five P's of Performing that you can give to your students.

BONUS! Stay tuned for a follow-up post where I will discuss in detail the printable called Ten Tips for Top Performances included WITH the Five P's download. It's perfect for printing on the other side. I think you and your students will find both of these useful now, and in the years to come.

If you are a member of MTNA, consider printing these on card stock at Office Depot with your MTNA member benefits card! Learn more about it here.

Students can store their printable in their practice pouches. Learn more about those here.

The Five P’s of Performing

Group lessons are the perfect opportunity for peers to test the readiness of an upcoming performance. Besides each pianist playing a well-rehearsed piece, I talk each performer through the five P's so they feel equipped for the stage. As the process is repeated over and over, the group of students chime in and coach the performer and I say less and less.

Here's my script:

#1 Posture: Check the bench


If the bench is too close or too far, stand up and move it to the position that allows for feet to remain flat on the floor.

Stretching fists to the fall board with straightened arms is typically the correct distance and promotes a straight spine.

Look for the pedal. It's SO frustrating when half way through a performance you realize you are lowering the wrong pedal. Feel free to tip your head to locate the correct pedal with your eyes. Never assume your foot found the correct one!

#2 Prepare: Find the correct keys

Use middle C as a marker to help locate the correct placement of your hands.

Check in with the minds ear: audiating or internally hearing the first measures of the piece to be played will help you set the correct tempo.

#3 Perform: Get in the zone

Beginning a performance with these first two "P's" should help you to feel at ease and remain confident on the bench despite the pressure of the upcoming performance.

This is a good time to remember to align yourself with the "zone" required to perform. Perhaps the best way for you to experience this zone is by recording several run-throughs of a piece with a video camera.

Taking a video closely simulates the pressure of a live audience and can equip you with the focus needed to move through a performance successfully--mistakes and all!

Time out...

What defines a successful performance?


We'd all like to play the piece exactly how it's gone in practice with all the dynamics and notes in place with musicality and confidence.

Do you find that what you hope for in a performance and what actually occurs is not what you intended? If so, you are not alone!

Sometimes--to our surprise--the performance can be better than expected!  If that's frequently the case for you, you are meant to perform and congratulations!

For most, an actual performance may not go as planned. Your hands may be sticky from nerves or the piano may sound completely different from yours at home, or a sour note may poke its ugly head in a surprising place where it's never been heard before or...

You know all the distractions there can be. Performing is truly a test of will. You MUST continue and play forward and appear that everything is fine even when it's not. It requires a game face and tenacity and the will power to recover

Expect bumps in a performance. Video a run-though and play through any mistakes. Forcing yourself to forgive and forget is essential to an overall positive performance experience. Carry on...

#4 Pride: Smile

Playing a musical instrument is an achievement.

Performing on a musical instrument in front of others is a major feat that should make you beam with pride.

This is not the time for a stern face or even a show of disappointment despite a possible less than perfect performance. 

Making mistakes is human but recovering from them with style qualifies as a stellar performance.

In addition, no one in the room could have played it better than you!  A warm smile exuding your pride in what you shared at the keys is your gift to yourself.

#5 Polite: Take a bow

It's a natural response for an audience to show appreciation for a performance with applause.


The dazzle of bright lights and deafening cheers may rattle you.

Be ready to receive your glowing support by being polite and acknowledging the applause with a bow.

A bow may be an unfamiliar act.

Cut yourself in half with an arm, or place your hand on the nearby piano, bend over and slowly say "hippopotamus" while looking down at your toes.

To avoid looking like a turtle, keep looking down and not up at the audience. Stand up tall and retrieve any books from the piano rack.

Prepare to Make Friends with a Foreign Piano

As pianists, we rarely carry our instrument along with us which means we will encounter oodles of strange pianos. If there is any chance before a performance, I highly encourage you to make friends with the foreign piano. Here are steps to get to know the piano.

Gather info


Prepare a scale and chord routine. Think of this as a warm up and more importantly as a routine to gather important information about the piano. In other words, you are shaking hands with the piano!

Test the weight of the keys

Play the scale with a musical crescendo and diminuendo to test the key weight. This helps to recognize how much arm weight is needed behind firm fingers to create a solid tone. In addition, it will tell you if the piano is lively and bright or mellow. This will give your ear and hands information on how to successfully create dynamic contrasts

Check the pedal

Play the chord progression using the pedal to locate the damper pedal and determine what is required to lower and lift it to create clean pedaling.


Test the Wardrobe

One last know today's hip and dangerously high-heeled shoe styles? They can pose a potential hazard. If the heel is too high, your leg may not fit beneath the piano, or the ball of the foot may slide off the pedal. Worse yet, the heels may turn an elegant strut across the stage into an embarrassing trip.

We grabbed this pic with the few students left after a recital. I always forget to shoot a group shot! We're posing a little less than professional, oops.

Yes, you could avoid heels at performance opportunities. If you are a fashion diva and can't say "NO" to 4-inch heels, make sure to practice pedaling with the shoes! In addition, hold numerous runway tests to avoid any tipping, twisting and tripping.

Short skirts and small straps or strapless gowns can be a distraction if things slip and slide. Be safe and wear professional attire that reflects your playing.

Avoid flip-flops, jeans, leggings and sloppy clothes that are more appropriate for hanging out at home.

In other word, dress to match your success at the keys.

Ten Tips for a Top Performance

On the flip side, print ten tips for a top performance. These 10 tips coupled with the Five P's of Performing are perfect for storing in your students' binders or practice pouches.

Best Wishes to you and your students

It's my goal to leave few surprises especially for rookie performers and their parents. Moving through the steps listed above helps to build a positive performing experience. Communicating details on what to expect is one more way to curb anxiety and boost confidence of young performers. Best wishes to all your upcoming studio performance events!


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