Today, I am offering 10 tips for teachers, students, and parents from a judge's perspective. If you are preparing your students to participate in an adjudicated event this year, these tips will hopefully help to make the experience even smoother for everyone involved!
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Tip #1: Choose your music early!
It is easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to prepare for a competition. Students need time to not only learn and polish their pieces, but also to memorize them securely and to practice performing them several times before playing for a judge.
Help your students choose their music well in advance, and provide them with goals to help them prepare for their competition. See this blog post HERE for a week-by-week breakdown of goals you can use to help your students prepare for competitions and recitals!
Tip #2: Consider choosing lesser-known pieces that the judge won't be hearing over and over (and over!) on competition day.
As a judge, I always appreciate hearing lesser-known works, or even new-to-me pieces, on competition day. Hearing a unique piece automatically helps to make the student's performance fresh and interesting.
As a bonus, if your student is performing a lesser-known piece, there is less likelihood that their performance will be compared to that of another student performing the same piece. There is also less likelihood that your judge has taught the piece numerous times and knows which sections typically give students the most trouble.
Tip #3: Encourage students to practice in their competition outfit, including shoes, before the event.
I have unfortunately seen students struggle with stiff jackets, tight sleeves, and uncomfortable or slippery shoes on competition day. Clothing has the potential to negatively impact a student's performance--so be sure to encourage your students to practice performing in their competition attire before their event, just in case.
Tip #4: Accuracy is good--but artistry is often even better.
I find that students are often visibly discouraged when they make a mistake while performing. However, a beautiful, artistic performance will always make a positive impression on judges--even if there is a mistake or two.
Remind students that their focus should always be on communicating the story behind the music and creating a beautiful sound at the instrument. A minor mistake won't derail a beautiful performance--unless the student lets it.
Tips for the Day of the Event
Tip #5: Remind students and parents to arrive early, to bring all of their music, and to make sure their music complies with competition rules.
Piano competitions often run like well-oiled machines. Each student is assigned a specific time slot, and judges often listen to dozens of students over the course of the day, with minimal breaks. If your student misses their assigned time slot, it is unlikely that another slot will be available for them to compete. Make sure students and parents arrive well in advance of their assigned performance time to account for finding parking, checking in with the competition organizers, and finding the correct audition room.
Likewise, many competitions have strict rules regarding the requirement to provide music for the judges in order to participate. I have witnessed first-hand the heartbreak of a student being told they were not eligible to compete due to not having their music, or due to having photocopied music that didn't comply with the rules of the competition. Double check the competition rules to make sure your students know exactly what they need to bring the day of their event.
Tip #6: Make a good first impression! Remind students to dress nicely, to greet the judge when they enter the room, and to say "thank you" to the judge after they perform.
Like it or not, first impressions do count. I am always impressed when a student is poised and polite, greets me upon entering the room, and says "thank you" before they leave. When a student carries themselves with confidence, it usually carries over into their performance, as well!
Practice with your students by doing mock auditions, with you as the "judge," until your students feel comfortable entering their audition and performing with confidence!
Tip #7: Remind students to take time to warm up on the piano, if allowed by the judge.
In many cases, judges are encouraged to give students a minute or two to warm up on the piano before beginning their audition. I have found that students who take advantage of this time to get a feel for the piano, try out the damper pedal, and warm up their fingers a bit almost always perform more confidently than those who don't.
During your mock auditions, guide students through the process of trying out the piano, and remind them to be sure to take advantage of this warm up time if the judge offers it!
Tip #8: Remind students to wait for the judge's signal to begin playing.
Judges usually need a little prep time themselves in order to get their rating sheets ready, open the sheet music to the correct page, and get their pencils handy. Remind your students to wait for the judge to give them the signal to begin and to pause between pieces if playing more than one selection. This ensures that the judge is ready to listen and to write insightful comments without feeling rushed.
Tips for After the Event
Tip #9: Provide your local association with feedback on your competition experience, and consider asking your students to write a "thank you" note to the association that hosted your event.
An incredible amount of planning goes into organizing piano competitions. Your local association has probably been preparing for this event for months to ensure that each student has a positive experience and that everything runs smoothly the day of the event. Your feedback can be helpful for making next year's event even better.
You might also consider asking your students to write a thank you note to the association that hosted your event that can be shared with both the event organizers and judges. Competition organizers are always thrilled to hear from students, and this small gesture can be a big deal to the many volunteers who spent countless hours making the event possible. As a judge, I always enjoy hearing from students and teachers who find my comments helpful.
Tip #10: When all is said and done, take the judge’s comments with a grain of salt.
I always do my best to be kind, encouraging, and to give students positive feedback and constructive criticism on their performance. However, my comments are based on just the brief glimpse I get of each student on their audition day through one short performance.
As a judge, I don't get to see the struggles that each student has faced when learning a particular piece. I can't measure the improvements they have made in their playing over the past few years of study. I can only comment on the few brief minutes I have with each student on one particular day--good or bad.
So, while I hope my comments as a judge are helpful to each student, I also encourage students and teachers to take them with a grain of salt and to use my feedback as just one small measurement of progress in each student's overall piano journey. Apply what is helpful to your next performance--and leave the rest!
What do you think? How do you help your students prepare for a competition? I would love to hear your tips in the comments!