Jennifer Cluff

Canadian Flutist and Teacher

Preparation tips for a highschool senior flute recital

Planning a Flute Recital

Here are some pointers when planning a senior highschool level flute recital.

1. The most common mistake is to plan to perform repertoire works that are really difficult, or too many of high-level difficulty in the same recital program. The trickiest pieces in the flute repertoire are better choices for University level flute recitals. All of us want to show off the most tricky and challenging pieces in the flute repertoire, but we should space out the really exhausting ones. .I once had a student who was planning her first third-year recital for her Bachelor of Music Program, and asked: "What do you think of this? Carmen Fantasy, Dutillieux, J.S. Bach unaccompanied Aminor, Prokofiev and the Taktakishivili?

I answered: "What do you think of having several nervous breakdowns followed by lying on the recital floor all grey-faced, ambulence sirens blaring way, and wondering: To whom was I trying to prove that I was super-human??" :>)

Over ambitious planning is fine for fun, but as the time for the recital approaches, if the pieces are not appropriate and if they are difficult to play up to tempo, the result can be mental stress and pure exhaustion just prior to the recital (too much high-level practicing required with almost no time left to get the pieces right.) Also remember that if you have too many exhausting pieces in a row, they'll be even MORE exhausting when you're playing them "at your very best" and giving all your energy to the audience. It's not the same level of energy drain as in your practice room, it's about three TIMES the energy drain. So....

Instead: Consult with your private teacher and choose repertoire that is appropriate. It should be:

a) well within your grasp given the preparation and practice time-frame you are dealing with (ie: if the recital is a year away vs. if the recital is four months away.)

b) appropriate for your own individual technical level on the flute (ie: don't play Carmen Fantasy by Borne which is very tiring and very difficult, if you already have chosen another piece that is very tiring and very difficult. There is no harm in having two or more non-virtuoso level pieces to space out more challenging and tiring works.)

c) is a mixture of audience pleasers and educationally-interesting works (ie: it's best to avoid all-Baroque, or all-obscure, or all-extended -technique, unless you know your audience will all be flutists and teachers. Try and have a "something for everyone" programme if it's a public recital.)

Note: If you are short on cash, include a few choices that do not require to pay an accompanist. ie: unaccompanied works for solo flutes.

d) A good idea is always to begin with a fairly easy and well-known piece (not necessarily your Bach ball-buster! :>) so that you'll get past any adrenaline shakes and nerves while playing a piece that you know as well as the back of your hand. :>) Always include at least two pieces that are restful to you like this.

Repertoire lists for flute can be found here.

2. Do your research well in advance (up to a year ahead of time.)

Things you can do:

a) Book a professional accompanist for the date of the recital; For best results use the best accompanist you can afford as they will HELP you during the recital rather than hold you back like a fellow student can, and also require less rehearsals to set correct tempi and style. Ask your private teacher who they best recommend. Also, remember you may need a page turner, and make sure you have booked them also.

b) Order your sheetmusic in advance. Once you and your teacher have chosen the music, order your own copies so that you can study the piano parts while listening to CDs of your pieces, and/or can know in advance that you have all the sheetmusic you'll need for the recital. Some pieces *do* go out of print or can be hard to locate at the last minute.

c) Research your composers in advance so that you can use the information you learn to expand your understanding of the flute pieces BEFORE you learn them, or AS you're learning them. Knowing about the composer's other works, and listening to the composer's other works really helps you create an informed performance with lots of artistic depth.

d) Attend other recitals in the same venue (or hall) and witness the acoustics, the sight lines etc. The best research you can do is to attend the recitals of other music students in order to find out what works and what doesn't. Make a point of attending as many recitals as you can in other venues too, given by professional musicians coming to town, in the year prior to your senior recital. You will learn just from witnessing these events, how to make your own recitals a success.

3. Investigate flute techniques and other related exercises and studies that will help with the repertoire you've chosen. Examples:

a) If one or more of your pieces has double-tonguing, flutter-tonguing, or other technique that you don't already perform well, ask your teacher for specific exercises and studies that you can use to perfect this technique alongside of working on it in the piece itself.

b) If you practice a solo piece too long, you can begin to find it dull, uninspiring, and get tired of it too quickly. Check with your private teacher for studies and exercises that will develop your playing alongside of the recital repertoire you've chosen. Examples: Studies that require long sustained phrases, or exercises in intonation and matching pitches with a piano will train you perform these skills without burning out on your repertoire pieces.

c) Take the year to develop your dynamics, your tone colours, your articulations, note endings, fast fingers, extended techniques, and your phrasing. To read more about these skills, see my "method books for advanced flutists" list. Take time too to read about artists and their methods, to read books written by flutists that describe their most successful ideas, and to visit dance productions, theatrical productions, competitions and recitals of other instrumentalists, and to go to lots of concerts. All this will enrich your own ability to perform meaningfully.

4. If you've never performed a recital before, here are some ideas:

a) Double up with a fellow musician and SHARE the recital. You will only have to prepare half the pieces, and can add a duet or two to the programme.

b) Plan on pre-performing one or more pieces from your recital at home for friends and family, or at an alternate location (churches, community halls etc.)

c) If you are worried about stage fright, there are lots of helpful articles on the net and here on this site.

See: Stagefright; Cures that work

Also see:

d) Use your private lessons to your best advantage by planning your recital as well as you can, and then getting your private teacher's input on how much to practice, HOW to practice, WHAT to practice, and how to get some more experience performing in public prior to the recital. Your teacher might suggest other performance opportunities throughout the year, prior to your senior recital. The more performing you do, the easier your recital will seem, and the more preparation-know-how you'll have for planning and playing public performances.

e) Remember to plan a written program for the audience, and to find an eye-catching piece of artwork for your recital poster (if you're using posters). If you doodle around with program ideas and poster ideas from time to time, and keep your best results stored on the computer, you can print posters and programs out more quickly from templates you've already created in advance. Study the effective posters and programs you see for other musical/theatrical events.

For more "How to plan a recital info." by various music departments at Universities etc., check out these links:

Shelley Collins on books and practicing for college flute students (look ahead to the well-rounded types of work that flutists do at the next level above highschool. Start working like a college student EARLY. :>) see:


Student recital checklists from Music Universities:

Publications on planning recitals:

Flutist Christine E. Beard's articles on recital planning:

"Tricks of the Trade: Selecting Music for Recitals." Published by The Instrumentalist magazine. February 2005.

"Tricks of the Trade: Selecting Music for Recitals." Published by Flute Talk magazine. December 2004.

"How to Prepare for All-Region & All-State Auditions." Published by Flutewise Magazine. Autumn 2001. (UK publication).

The above magazines may be obtained from the publishers, from your private flute teacher, if they subscribe, from a nearby University with a music library, and/or by asking for friends on the net to email you a scanned copy

Final Preparation & Performance Tips

Here is a checklist for the last few weeks before, and for the flute recital itself:

1. Go through your final selections carefully, one per practice
session, circling any areas that still need work to sound clean and

Anything technically challenging (and by this point you'll have
discarded pieces that simply can't be ready in time, with the help of
your teacher) can be broken down into tiny sections, and slowly worked
If the tonguing is unclear, for example, work a circled passage
all-slurred, and increase the air-supply and the speed of the air.
If the fingerings are unclear, take down the flute and visually
analyze the fingerings to discern which fingers are rising and which
are falling, and simplify the finger motions so the fingers stay low
and rounded over the keys.
If the tone is not great, stop and do longtones on the notes that
sound unclear, and re-set the embouchure.

Gradually fix just two notes at a time, and then three, and then
four---adding notes back into the passage as they get cleaned up.

2. If a section of music is fast and technical and still doesn't sound
clearly executed,
you can also play tiny sections of it, at speed, but
only playing three fast notes, and then resting on the fourth one. Or
play TWO fast notes, and rest on the third one. This can train your
fingers to move cleanly at the correct speed, but only in "chunks" of
notes; not attempting to play the whole of the fast passage, but just
linking bits of it together.

3. Once all the technical areas are marked and being worked on, take a
new look at your phrases and your sense of direction in each line of
music. Be sure and use ALL DYNAMICS that are given, and make sense of
the musical sentences. Add ideas from literature, drama, art and
character types; add nuance, shading and picture the qualities you
want each phrase to have.

4. Pay special attention to note endings. Many times we focus on note
beginnings, and then just drop the note endings as if they're
unimportant. Play a game with your ears, and tell them to listen to
how each note of a piece ends: Does it fade out gradually, does it get
feathered off quickly? Does it end abruptly or violently? Does it end
with the promise of more to come? Sculpt your phrase ENDINGS during
the last four-five weeks of practice.

5. Pay special attention to pitch while working with your pianist.
Record your flute and piano rehearsals and listen closely to pitch
especially when playing very high, very low, and when playing either
forte or piannissimo. Be sure that you mark (arrows up and down for
sharp and flat) the areas of the music where you hear out-of-tune
playing, and endeavour to correct the pitch before your next piano
You can also listen to professional recordings (if you are A440 and
they are A440) and play along with the CD versions, carefully matching
the pitch to the recording. (This may not help if your only recording
is at A444 though. :>)

6. Find a friend who can video-tape a dress rehearsal for you, about a
month or so prior to the recital. You'll need at least two weeks to take what you see on your video tape, and change it to what you would like to see.
Often we make unconscious, distracting motions when we play, and
seeing them on video is the fastest way to learn NOT to make gestures
or swooping motions that aren't appealing to the eye.

7. Go through your recital in your mind in all details, as many times
as you can prior to the performance.
You can completely become at ease with the order of your program, your
entrances, exits, verbal speeches (if you're giving the audience info.
on each piece etc.) and bows, acknowledgment of accompanist etc. and
all other stage business IF you have gone over them so many times,
mentally, that the whole show has become well-known, well-rehearsed,
well-planned, and well-familiarized.

This is one of the most important tricks of preparing a recital:
create so many repeats of detailed mental images that by the time you
give the show, you will be at ease with all its many facets.

8. Practice your recital pieces for endurance.
Some people suggest running around the block first, and then rushing
in and playing through the entire recital (in order to make the body
feel breathless and imitate how it feels with adrenaline.)
However, I find that just breathing deeply several times quickly gives
me the same "spinny backstage feeling" that I get from adrenaline, so
that's sufficient for me.
But then the trick is to play the show from beginning to end, to feel
how tiring certain parts can be, and to gradually train the body to
stay fresh and to pace itself throughout the duration of the 50
minutes of playing.
You'll want to REALLY RELAX when you put your arms down during rests,
or between pieces.
You want to go into a state of TOTAL REST whenever you can, so
practice this in during your endurance practice.
Some people even suggest playing your whole show through TWICE in
order to imitate what a live performance takes in terms of

9. Double check that your pianist, page-turner, ushers, ticket takers, reception-helpers, and especially program-printers are all aware of the date, time, location, and when the concert is to start. Do not leave this until a day or two ahead of time, book these helpers sequentially over the months in advance of the recital.

10. Prior to the recital date itself you may want to get more sleep,
take more naps, drink more water, eat lighter foods, and take more B
You want to be in top physical condition when you are about 2 days
away from the recital, so that any last-minute stress will occur to a
healthy, resilient body and mind.
Center yourself, and keep your aims and goals clear. The best goal to
have in mind is that you will be reaching a peak of communication with
the audience, like a mountain climber reaches the peak of Everest.
Be giving, be kind, but also don't overcommit yourself on the day of,
or the two or so days prior to the recital.
Conserve your energy and keep healthy so you can give your MOST on the
day of the recital.

11. Be prepared backstage with a glass of water, a kleenex or two, and
some people even have a back-up flute and/or emergency repair items.
If anything goes wrong between pieces (like your throat gets too dry
or your nose starts to run, or a pad starts to stick) you can be ready
to leave the stage briefly and fix the problem. Plan for this---so
that you feel you can be yourself onstage and not have to worry about
any little details.

Most of all, simply prepare as thoroughly as you can, and then have
fun communicating with the audience. Good luck! :>) Have fun!!!!
Jen Cluff :>) 2003

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Copyright 2005 Jennifer Cluff