How to Plan and Run a Pop Piano Recital [Part Two] - Creative Music Education
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How to Plan and Run a Pop Piano Recital [Part Two]

By Tim Topham | Concerts and Events

May 10

pop piano recital

Welcome to Part Two of this series. In Part One, we explored how to name your event and the importance of finding the right musicians for your rhythm section. We also discussed getting students singing and what music to play and provide to your band.

If you haven’t read it yet, click here: How to Plan and Run a Pop Piano Recital Part One.

In this post, we’re going to look at:

  • How your Pop Piano Recital can boost your studio marketing
  • How to help students prepare for the concert
  • How to find your venue

Also, at the end of this post you’ll find a checklist for preparing and running your first Pop Piano Recital. You can download this as a PDF so you can refer back to it in the future. 

Studio Marketing with the Pop Piano Recital

Doing things differently in your studio sets you apart from others in your area. Differentiation can be the best source of marketing.

Unless all the other studios are running this kind of event, then you have a distinct point of difference in your studio which you can leverage in your studio marketing.

Here are some ideas of how to capitalise on this:

  • Make sure that the local community knows about your event
  • Publicise around town
  • Get students to promote
  • If you link in with a church or school for a venue, then make sure that the flyers are displayed prominently so that other visitors know about it
  • You could try and get some free PR in the local press about your event
  • Promote it on your website and FB Page
  • Make sure you hire a professional photographer (and videographer if budget allows) to record the concert in high-definition so that you can use excellent images in future marketing
  • Make a point of advertising that you offer this experience for students in your brochures and online
  • Talk it up and get the buzz going!

Finding a Venue

There are lots of options for venues. The most obvious one is your own studio or home. If you have space, this is a great way to start.

Other options include:

  • Schools
  • Churches
  • Community centres
  • Halls

You need to consider whether the venue has a piano or if you’ll bring a digital piano. You might like to keep your first one fairly intimate to get started.

Rehearsal Technology

Whichever way you go, the best way of preparing a student to play with a rhythm section is to play with a rhythm section! But, as we’ve learnt above, this can be expensive and difficult to organise.

Luckily, technology has the solution in the form of backing track apps.

The ones I recommend you use are iReal Pro or Notestar and even YouTube if you’ve not got an iPad. The apps allow the student to hear what it’s like to play along with a rhythm section (and a singer in the case of Notestar). This is important for keeping them in time and understanding balance.

NoteStar

Looking for backing tracks that students can play along to? NoteStar by Yamaha has lots of recent pop music and has been a hit with my teen students in particular. While the app is free, you pay to download the songs you want (you get a free 30 second preview of any song you choose from the catalog so you can instantly see how hard the music is). You then get access to on-screen auto-scrolling music, plus backing from a band and, the best part: vocals. You can change the key instantly, and slow the music down to suit your level. Brilliant app! Click here to download.

iRealPro

If you’re looking for simple drum/bass/rhythm section backing tracks that you can create yourself, look no further than iReal Pro. Works on iPad, iPhone and Android/Tablets, this app converts a chord chart into a rhythm section. Great for pop, jazz and rock playing. There are thousands of downloadable charts for most of the famous tunes from the 1930s onwards and they are all free. Great for exercises: scales, chord drills, pentascales, etc. Your only limitation in how you use this app is your own imagination. Click here to download.

If you’d like help choosing an iPad and finding out more about the apps I use, click here.

Start the process of playing with backing instruments on these apps as early as possible. Help the students work out their arrangement – how many sections are they playing, what’s the intro/ending etc. These are all important aspects your student will need when they work with the band for the first time.

Rehearsals

Aim for two rehearsals with the rhythm section of around 10-15 minutes per student. The first one is likely to be a bit of a mess as the students get used to it. You might have to work out intros and outros and your band may need to adjust things. If you’re short of time or cash to pay your musicians, then the absolute minimum is one rehearsal, but I’d schedule around 20 minutes per student.

Students need to annotate the Chord Charts, work out the sections, intro, ending, etc. They need to communicate this to the band (with your help). One of the hardest things for piano students to realise is that musicians performing in a band take a lot of non-verbal cues from each other. Head nods, arm gestures and just eye-balling other members are how musicians keep in time in a band, so let your student know about this.

They’ll need to get used to counting in (if required). They may need to be taught how to indicate when a solo is over or how to return to the beginning. This is all great learning for students and a vital part of the pop piano recital rehearsal process.

Here’s John rehearsing his track by Avicii:

Here’s Lucas rehearsing a dance track by Kygo:

As long as the preparation has been done by the student prior to meeting the rhythm section, the rehearsal process should be an exciting and fun experience for your students.

Luckily, as a member of a school music faculty, when I did my pop concert I already had a venue, sound system and rhythm section (other teachers). If you’re in an independent studio, you might not have these resources readily available, so I hope the above suggestions (and those in Part One) have been helpful.

Step-By-Step Guide for Your First Pop Piano Recital

Now I thought I’d summarise some of the main milestones in creating your first Pop Piano Recital.

You can download a PDF of this document below.

  1. Start communicating your intentions with students and parents early. You want to get the pop students and their parents on-side, so start talking this up early. Tell them you’re working on a date and will let them know soon. Explain your idea with parents and sell them on this being such an amazing experience for students. You might like to mention that because you’re hiring a venue and professional musicians to play with their child, there will be a small cost involved.
  2. Start choosing the students who will perform and the music they’ll play.
  3. Decide on a date and time. I did mine straight after school as it was the best time for the rhythm section staff to be involved. However, if I was outsourcing this, I’d probably just do it in the evening to make more of an event of it and allow families to attend.
  4. Find and lock in your rhythm section players. Make sure you confirm the rehearsal time(s) with them and lock them in too. See notes in Part One. While it may be hard enough finding your main rhythm section, consider whether it’s also worth having some backup players ‘on-call’ in case things don’t work out or people get sick.
  5. Adjust date if necessary, to suit the musicians. There may be a little back and forth as you set this. Keep in mind the venue availability too (see next point).
  6. Choose your venue. Options including schools, churches, community centres. Perhaps your own studio is big enough to start with. You need to consider whether they have a piano or if you’ll bring a digital piano and whether the size will suit. You might like to keep your first one fairly intimate to get started. Lock-in the date when confirmed with your rhythm section. Remember that you might need this venue for the rehearsals as well.
  7. Hire sound system and lighting as required. This will depend on what your venue supplies and how big your space is. If pianists are singing, they’ll need to be mic’d with a small PA. If you have the budget and want to hire some simple mood lighting, go for it. Especially if your space isn’t very welcoming or warm. Simply up-lighting from some coloured lights can provide a huge amount of atmosphere. If you hire in any lights, also hire a hazer or smoke machine to get the most out of your lighting investment.
  8. Hire video recording gear/team if budget allows. This will enable you to use this for marketing – really valuable (see above). At the very least, hire a decent video camera and microphone and record it yourself.
  9. Decide on a budget. What are your costs and how much will your charge students to enter and families to pay for tickets?
  10. Confirm charges for parents. Once you’ve decided on cost, start selling tickets and promoting. I’d recommend using an online ticketing system if you are charging – something like TryBooking or Eventbrite are great options that take the hassle out of collecting money and issuing tickets. Will you charge parents only, students only, audience only or a combination? Your decision.
  11. Design flyers and start promoting. Stick them around the community, in your studio, at the venue, on your FB page, on your website, etc. Ask other students to design or find a designer on Fiverr. Invite other teachers to come along free of charge to see what you’re all about. You might also like to “comp” other important people in town if you’re in a small town.
  12. Practice with the students. See above for my tips on how to prepare students effectively for their rehearsals.
  13. Get parent helpers organised. Parents are often happy to help set up and decorate. As you get nearer the date, lock-in some help as you’ll need it if you’re doing anything flashy! Make sure all the students who are performing are also involved in the set-up and pack-up as part of their job. Good experience if they ever play in bands in the future!!
  14. Run your rehearsals. See above. Leave time between your rehearsals to go over and improve things one-on-one in lessons. If you teach a group, you might consider having one-on-one or pairs lessons scheduled for this purpose.
  15. Final checks pre-event. Double-check everything: lighting team, parent helpers, ticket sales, photographer, venue, rhythm section. Double-check the players and venue in particular – you don’t want them to let you down. Double-check the performer and student call times and what they’ll need to bring (amps, leads, etc.).
  16. Set up your venue, go for it and enjoy! The day is finally here so just enjoy and have fun. With all the preparation you’ve done, I hope things run like clockwork. Get students to introduce themselves and their song and enjoy the outcome. Make sure you video record it and maybe even share the results on YouTube and link to it in the comments.

I hope this has been helpful. Let me know if you have any questions!

The Teacher Sings!

I thought I’d give it a go as well.

So at the end of our pop piano recital, I thought I should have a sing as well. This Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way it is”.

A little under-rehearsed and I’d never call myself a ‘singer’, but it sure was fun to play some great music with professionals. It reminded me of how much fun this kind of concert is for students and teachers – no matter how it sounds! I encourage you to also play along, even if you’re not 100% sure!

Conclusion

Running a Pop Piano Recital can be a huge motivator for students.

Yes, it will take some work, but the benefits, in student happiness and success, student retention, marketing buzz and learning, will pay off big-time.

I’ll also be running a webinar on running your first Pop Piano Recital in the lead-up to December concerts.

Have any question? Let me know in the comments section below.

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About the Author

Tim Topham has one mission in life: to stem the tide of children quitting music lessons by helping teachers maximise student engagement through creativity, technology and innovation. Tim hosts the popular Creative Piano Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at timtopham.com and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as pedagogy, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, Californian Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.