How to Plan a College Recital Program

by Mitchell Estrin

My experience as a college clarinet professor for the past two decades has given me a great deal of experience assisting students in selecting an appropriate and well-balanced solo recital program. Generally, these programs will be divided into two categories: undergraduate and graduate.

Undergraduate recitals fall into two main categories: junior and senior. Junior recitals are generally 45-60 minutes long and senior recitals 60-75 minutes long. I encourage my students to play a variety of music from different stylistic periods.

With graduate recitals, there are masters and doctoral recitals. These performances are usually 60-90 minutes long and will sometimes have a theme related to a thesis or dissertation topic. As a student progresses through the different study levels, the difficulty of the repertoire increases accordingly. 

When planning a recital with a student, I first have them choose the "centerpiece" work. This should be a major repertoire piece, usually a full-length concerto or sonata. Then we will select an unaccompanied work. It is important for students to perform unaccompanied pieces, as the repertoire is different and will often require the student to expand their musical horizons. I also suggest they perform a short chamber music composition - duo, trio, etc. on the recital. We will fill out the program with incidental works with piano. I endeavor to suggest works that are appropriate for their performance level, will balance the program well, and are both interesting and exciting for them to learn and perform.

Once we have finalized the repertoire, we decide the program order. I make sure that the first piece will be a good "warm up." The program order should be musically balanced, and be arranged strategically, taking into account the mental and physical demands of each piece. There should be a short intermission so the student can rest and regroup during this intense experience.

Sample program structure: 

Short accompanied work 

  • A good warm-up piece

Unaccompanied work

Chamber piece


Major work  

  • Full-length concerto or sonata

I require all of my students to write program notes. This not only helps them in learning the history and structure of each piece, but requires them to utilize their creative writing skills.

I hope these tips will help both students and teachers to plan a great collegiate recital!

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