girl playing sax

It’s finally here! After months of preparation and training, it’s time for your student (or child) to perform their solo for the Festival. There will be a lot of excitement and nervous energy – that’s good! One of the things I’ll talk about is how to tell your students (or children) to use that energy in a positive way.

How do you prepare students and parents for the actual day of the Festival?

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • Have you prepared the student’s parents for the logistics of the event (parking, room locations, warm-up rooms)?
  • How do you mentally prepare your student or your child for that actual moment?
  • What do you tell your students to expect both before the performance and during it?


Parents need to know the location of the Festival well before the actual date. Many of today’s students are involved in extra-curricular activities both after-school, and all throughout the weekend, so parents will need time to plan for that day. Compose a letter to the parents in December or early January with the Festival dates, location and address, and recommendations for places to purchase the piece and recordings (if available).

Get familiar with the event location (Google is great for this, or contact music teachers in that building.) Inform the parents of any possible parking difficulties, construction, etc. This can be done in a follow-up letter that will also include the actual performance date and time.

Get a general idea of the layout of the building. For example, you can tell your students that the warm-up area is in an open-air cafeteria on the first floor as soon as you walk in, and the rooms are down 4 hallways afterwards (with each hallway for a particular instrument family).

Find out if the Festival site has Percussion equipment for the students, or if the student has to bring their own. Often, the site has Timpani, Marimba, Bass Drum but not snare drums. Many snare soloists need to bring their own in addition to the snare stand. Inform the parent well ahead of time to prepare them for making a purchase if needed. Also, Jazz Drumset soloists usually have to bring their own drumset. The student needs to allow for set-up and break-down time in addition to the performance.

For All-State Soloists, it is important to find out if there are pianos on site if your students have accompanists, or CD/mp3 players for accompaniment recordings. I would recommend that the teacher informs the parent to bring their own portable boombox and not rely on whether the site has one. Jazz Soloists also need to be assured of the situation beforehand. Having one’s own equipment also brings a level of comfort to the performer. There have been numerous times when the Festival site either did not have a boombox, or it did not work properly.

What are some ways to mentally prepare students for the performance?

First, always remind the student that the performance is all about having fun and expressing their enjoyment of the music in their performance. The overall picture is what’s important, not whether one nails the high note or executes the insanely difficult 16th note passage at Prestissimo tempo. Everyone makes mistakes, even professionals, but they know how to present a performance and cover up the mistakes so that the audience has an enjoyable time.

For those students suffering from performance anxiety, praise various aspects of their performance to boost their confidence. Remind students that the way they carry themselves, through their posture and entrance and exit from the room, plays an important part. Demonstrate how poor posture makes the performance not only sound bad, but also gives the listener the impression that the performer is not confident.

Everyone gets nervous before a performance. I tell my students, if I don’t get nervous before a performance, then I am worried! Why? The adrenaline can give your performance the necessary boost to sound even better than ever, as long as you allow it. If that nervous energy is combined with doubts and negative thoughts, then it can work to your detriment. If it is combined with diligent and focused practice and support from the student’s family and teacher, it can raise the level of the performance. In a future blog, I will address other techniques and suggestions for dealing with performance anxiety.

What should a student expect on that day?

Keeping in mind that the student will be nervous, it is important to keep them informed as to the whole process weeks before their actual performance.

Speaking from my own experiences in NY, here’s how I prepare my students:

  • For levels 1-4, the entire performance lasts about 6 minutes. These students need to have 3 (levels 1 & 2) or 7 (levels 3 &4) scales prepared, of which the judge will only ask for three scales.
  • For levels 5-6, the entire performance lasts about 11-12 minutes. All major scales are prepared, with only three being tested.
  • Dress appropriately. This is a performance, not a basketball game.
  • DO NOT OVER-DO THE WARMING-UP, ESPECIALLY FOR BRASS PLAYERS! Warm-up at home (an hour before the performance) for 5-10 minutes with mouthpiece buzzing, 1 or 2 scale, 1 long tone, and lip slurs. After signing in, go to the warm-up area and again do the same things, along with the opening of the solo.
  • Walk in confidently, and be polite to the judge.
  • Most students start off with scales, as a means to warm-up the embouchre and fingers. However, students can play the required material in any order, which means they can start with the most confident and secure area first. (I think that is a better choice than starting with the area that causes the most stress because that could set off a negative chain of thinking for the entire audition.)
  • Students can set up their playing situation so that they are comfortable, meaning they can sit or stand, and place the music stand at the height they are comfortable. (Ideally, the student will have practiced in a sitting or standing position for months beforehand.)
  • It is up to the judge, not the student’s teacher or the student as to following the repeats and multiple measure rests. Remind your students to ask how the judge wants the piece performed. (I write down questions on the top of the piece for my students to ask.)

Some more tips:

I tell my students that scales and the piece are like a take-home test. Your work and effort will determine your results here. The only “unknown” is the sight-reading, but students can practice sight-reading every day in various meters, tempos and key signatures. If your state has a Festival Manual, it should also list the sight-reading criteria. Find examples for your student to practice during the preparation months.

Parents can be in the audition room for everything except the sight-reading in NY. This may be different in other states.

Judging Festivals gives teachers an edge in terms of learning the layout of many of the schools, understanding the process of the audition, and making connections with teachers who may be or become Festival Chairpersons, providing assistance in the future.

It is a really good idea to get certified as an adjudicator and judge some festivals to help you and your students. The more informed the music teacher is, the more informed and calm the student and parents. This will lead to a more relaxed performance and an enjoyable learning experience.

Action Steps:

  1. Know the logistics of the Festival site well before-hand, and relay pertinent information to the students’ parents via a letter.
  2. Contact the Festival Chairperson regarding equipment needs, such as Percussion instruments and boomboxes.
  3. Mentally prepare your students by reminding them that everyone makes mistakes; the overall performance is what counts.
  4. Work with your students on posture and walking (and talking) with confidence. Impressions do play a role.
  5. Get certified and judge some Festivals! This will give you insight and can help prepare your students to know what to expect.
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  7. If you want more information and tips to help your program, check out my website at: http://DonnaSchwartzMusic.com
  8. For more tips, and special guest interviews, check out my new radio show at: http://pulse.bamradionetwork.com/donna-schwartz/radio