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An Exciting, Affirming and Empowering Idea: The Recital Compliment Exchange

Swan Kiezebrink by Wallace Studios on the Recital Compliment ExchangeI am so excited to share a brilliant idea for making your recitals more interesting and meaningful. This idea comes from a dear long time ComposeCreate supporter, Swan Kiezebrink.

Let’s face it. It’s too easy for parents and students to come to your recital and just care about their own piece or their child’s piece. It’s too easy for them to just sit back and think about the upcoming soccer game when their child is not playing. For that matter, some even try to leave early, not giving any thought to the negative message this can send to other performers!

The Recital Compliment Exchange - a great way to encourage piano students at a recital from ComposeCreate.com

Swan’s Recital Compliment Exchange idea can help!

Swan has a wonderful solution to this that solves more than just these issues! Imagine this scenario:

Judy and Randy walk into Swan’s recital with their 10 year old son, Bryce. Swan hands them not only a program, but a pencil and paper with the names of all of the performers in order. Judy and Randy sit down with all the other parents and Swan goes to the front to explain that during each piece, audience members should write down one thing on which they would like to compliment the performer. She gives examples like:

  • Posture and artistry at the piano
  • Dynamics
  • Energy or feeling
  • Technique like hand shape
  • How the piece affects positively them
  • Anything positive!

She also tells the audience to place the papers on a chair at the front of the venue after the recital where she will collect them later.

When the recital is over, Swan then does one of two things. She explains it this way:

If it is a large recital, I take each paper and cut it into strips and assign a pile to each student. I then clip those together and give to the student at their next lesson and we read through them together

If it is a smaller recital, I take the time to type up each remark from each person on some pretty paper and give that at the next lesson as above.

What can the Recital Compliment Exchange do for your students and recitals?

Imagine how much more involved Judy, Randy, Bryce and the entire audience are at Swan’s recital! Imagine all the benefits to a Recital Compliment Exchange:

  1. It validates and encourages students.
  2. It develops listening and observing skills in the students and parents.
  3. It teaches the audience what to listen for.
  4. It gets the audience more involved.
  5. It builds music community (which is one of Swan’s personal goals for her studio).
  6. It reinforces what you as a teacher have been teaching.
  7. It gives a reason to listen to each performance.
  8. It builds up the character and musicality of each student.
  9. It allows another opportunity for the teacher to wholeheartedly agree with what was written and give compliments as well!

Swan’s comment here is enough to make any piano teacher want to do this:

The younger ones really pay special attention to what the teens tell them, and I always encourage the teens to think carefully and be thoughtful with their comments. And as a by-product, the reluctant families start to see value in piano lessons! 🙂

Plus, can you imagine how beautiful this is for each student? I love what Swan told me here:

I have seen absolutely beautiful remarks given to students from their peers and a few from parents to their own child that make me tear up!

Variations on the Recital Compliment Exchange

Swan describes another fun variation to the Recital Compliment Exchange:

Swan's Recital Compliment Exchange - A great idea for keeping the audience involved in a piano recital!Another variation (takes time!) that I have done is to cut hearts out with a scrap book template in various colours, gather valentine stickers and coloured marking pens and fancy scissors, and hand each child x amount of hearts (as many as are performing). They are instructed to give compliments in my opening remarks again with ideas (like on the sheet) during performances.

After that, I have the stickers, scissors and pens on a table and they can decorate them before giving to the performers. I also have a bowl of candy heart chocolates they give with it if they want to.

Examples of the Recital Compliment Exchange

Here is the Recital Compliment Exchange document that Swan uses. And here is a picture of what she gives her student (if she types them up vs. just cutting up the compliments and giving them a stack):

Swans recital compliment exchange example

Click to enlarge

Complete Spring Recital Package Available

Recital Compliment Exchange - Spring recital template from ComposeCreate.com | Includes recital compliment cards, editable program, editable invitationStudents will be impressed with all the lovely compliments that they receive. But don’t be surprised if you also get some compliments from parents! One of the ways we retain our students is by demonstrating to parents that we are committed to excellence in our teaching. But our printed materials should reflect this excellence as well.

Yes, we can paste a nice picture in our program, but that’s not the same thing as an artistically designed theme that is consistent in all your recital materials.

We now have a complete recital template package for your spring recital that’s designed by an artist that includes:

  • An editable program (comes as a Word doc, Pages doc, or editable PDF)
  • An editable invitation
  • Recital compliment cards

Learn more or get the 2017 Spring Recital Package here.

Need more recital ideas?

If you’d like even more recital ideas, you may want to download the FREE 44 Recital Themes!

I’d love to hear what you think of Swan’s idea! I’m sure she could answer questions too if you have any. Just leave a comment below!

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By |2017-04-10T15:17:50+00:00April 26th, 2016|General Music, Piano Teaching, String Teaching|57 Comments

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  1. Heidi Neal April 26, 2016 at 10:54 am

    I love this idea! I’ve had students listen for and give verbal comments at group lesson performances in the past but I think that having written praise is even more memorable for the students.

  2. D. R. April 27, 2016 at 6:25 am

    Terrific idea!

  3. Kathy Beemer April 27, 2016 at 6:34 am

    This is a great idea. I have been doing something for the last two years with my students and it has been very positive. Two weeks before the recital each student draws another student’s name from a hat. I give the students a note card and have them write an encouraging note to the student they drew. Then they return with the note card the following week and I have them slip it into an envelope which I have already addressed, seal it up, and mail it. The students love getting mail and encouraging mail is even better. Then at the recital I ask them to find the person they wrote their note to and say something to them personally about their performance. I’m even hearing them talking to other students before the recital saying things like “You’re going to do great!” or “I can’t wait to hear you play!” Uplifting one another……what could be better?!?

  4. Kimberly Wright April 27, 2016 at 6:36 am

    I love this. I am having a rehearsal next week 2 days before the recital. I think I will do this with my students for rehearsal. Then they will pay closer attention and have some encouragement for the recital.

  5. Heather Bieman April 27, 2016 at 6:40 am

    Your idea of compliments only is great! The last “recital” in my studio was called “AGAPE’S GOT TALENT” and it was based on shows like “Britains GOt TALENT”. We didn’t have any winners though – no-one was picked out as being better than another. Parents and students could either write a compliment on paper, or send to my mobile by SMS. I had three judges ( teachers ) up the front , with one or two of them able to speak out compliments at the end of each performance. During the evening I read out a few of the text messages. Very similar ideas to your recital with a slightly different twist. Following the evening I prepared certificates for each student – the compliments were typed on to the certificate.

  6. Miriam O'Mahony April 27, 2016 at 7:17 am

    What fantastic ideas here! Will definitely put them to good use.

  7. Robin Steinweg April 27, 2016 at 7:54 am

    What a beautiful idea!!! I’ve had peer “recitals” in which I have the students write (or occasionally speak) positive comments, with ideas given of what to listen for (and hand them to the students at their next lesson). But this is over-the-top wonderful! Way to engage the audience! All those good feelings multiplied by the number of performers–wow. Thank you, Swan. And thank you for sharing it, Wendy. My spring recital is over, but just wait till the next one!

  8. Barbara April 27, 2016 at 8:36 am

    So, let’s give the biggest compliment to Swan for such an amazing idea and for generously sharing it!

    I guess my only question is about the audience having something to support the paper they are writing on. If it’s a big recital (my upcoming one has 24!!! performers, which could potentially mean 100 audience members) I certainly can’t give out that many clipboards. Anyone have ideas?

    And to Kathy Beemer above, also a fabulous idea. I like that it gets the students connected and talking to each other. That is one of my missions — to make piano more social. Thank you for sharing your idea also.

    Thanks, Wendy, for bringing this to us:)

  9. Helen April 27, 2016 at 8:47 am

    I love this idea! My recitals are this Sunday. Definitely using this! Now to find that many sharpened pencils!

  10. Kathleen Panek April 27, 2016 at 8:58 am

    This is a wonderful idea and I look forward to using it at my next recital! Thank you.

  11. Debbie April 27, 2016 at 9:25 am

    Great idea!!!!! I am sorry I read this after giving my recital. I will definitely plan to do this for the next recital. Thank you so much for sharing this idea!!!!

  12. Drema April 27, 2016 at 10:31 am

    This is such a wonderful idea. Thank you Swan!

    I have some student concerts coming up in May and June — totally going to implement this!

    And I totally agree with all these benefits you listed that comes from having the Recital Compliment Exchange. It would be so meaningful for everyone attending the concert.

    Thanks for sharing this too Wendy!

  13. Jennifer Foxx April 27, 2016 at 10:37 am

    Love, Love, Love this idea Swan! Thanks for sharing it with all of us Wendy! Will definitely need to try this. I really like the idea of getting the whole audience involved. Now I need to order a bunch of pencils! 😉

  14. David Poli April 27, 2016 at 10:48 am

    I am going to recommend to my music director that we do this. Thank you for the idea.

  15. Susan April 27, 2016 at 11:04 am

    What a great idea! I love it.

  16. Marie Lee April 27, 2016 at 11:34 am

    Swan, this is such a sweet idea! We do a variation of this as performance prep classes before the recital, but it’s more of the students writing feedback to each other giving compliments and things that need work. I love that this involves the entire audience. Totally going to do this at my May recitals. Thank you!!

  17. Christina April 27, 2016 at 11:50 am

    I wonder how it would turn out if you made a Wordle from the comments.

  18. Dorothy Kirkpatrick April 27, 2016 at 12:05 pm

    Recital in 2 weeks. This will definitely be part of it. Thank you so much for sharing with everyone.

  19. Marie Harris April 27, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I love this! I have a huge Ensemble Concert next Saturday. I can’t do individual students, but they can make comments on each piece performed. If that isn’t pressure for them to work together, I don’t know what is. 🙂

  20. Ruth L Michaelis April 27, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Nice! Thanks for sharing

  21. Swan April 27, 2016 at 1:58 pm

    Thank you SO MUCH for the positive feedback! And thank you to Wendy for contacting me about it! I think in this world of disconnect it is so important for children/teens to feel valued and appreciated for whatever work they have done however well, and the Suzuki philosophy of “there is always one thing you can commend” is taken to a higher level in my idea and makes the audience think- what are the good things that I saw or heard? BTW I honestly don’t sweat what they will write on- moms have this way of being creative and “figuring it out”! 🙂

  22. Becky April 27, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    I love this so much! Thank you for sharing. Totally going to do this in our recitals! 🙂

  23. carla April 27, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Great idea!

  24. Debra Sostrin April 27, 2016 at 4:13 pm

    Wonderful idea. Another benefit to doing this is that as the student performers are themselves involved in listening to the others and writing comments, it gives them something to focus on besides their own nervousness as they await their turn to play. Great management technique for performance anxiety!

  25. Jenny April 27, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    I love this! I am definitely going to implement this in my upcoming recital. THANK YOU!!

  26. Debbie Mitchell April 27, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    I really like this idea and plan to use it at my next recital. What a great way to bolster up each student individually as well as put a more positive spin on the whole recital. I love it!

  27. Ellen Pickell April 27, 2016 at 11:44 pm

    Fablulous. Cannot wait to implement it … Recital in 4 weeks:)

  28. Jennie April 28, 2016 at 6:01 am

    Great idea. I did something similar – created sets of cards with emotive responses on it to fit the range of pieces e.g. sad, happy, funny and ask audience members to hold up cards immediately after performance. I discuss with the performer (before playing) what cards they want to see, and then they can immediately get the feedback. works really well – Finchley PIano december posting on Facebook

  29. Loni April 28, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Thank you for sharing such a positive and delightful idea! I will be using it at my next recital.

  30. Kathleen Gault April 28, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    Omigosh what a wonderful idea. It completes the circle, doesn’t it, around student, teacher and parents/families? Thank you a million times for sharing this, Swan, and Wendy. I have a recital coming up in 3 weeks and I always like to prepare a short little presentation about some aspect of music for the audience members to think about and listen for. But this is a whole ‘nother level, and I think is especially appropriate for ‘end of year’ concerts. I am totally doing this next month!

  31. Becky April 28, 2016 at 10:24 pm

    Just had my recital and did something similar. I called them “Compliment Cards” and they were copied on cardstock. The paper was firm enough everyone could write on it fine.. The cards were copied 6 to a page, then cut and just had “Name of Performer” at the top, 3 lines for comments and then “signed” spot at the bottom. The cards were in a basket as people walked in to get a program, then they deposited them in a decorated shoe box that had a hole cut in it after the recital was over. I shared them with the students at their lesson this week and you should have seen the smiles!!

  32. Friday Finds - Piano Pantry April 29, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    […] incorporate into your recital. Teacher Swan Kiezebrink has her students and audience participate in The Recital Compliment Exchange. I can think of no better way to have your students feel pride and affirmation. This would even be […]

  33. Jan Hess April 29, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    This is the kind of idea I’ve always wanted, but never came up with myself! Thanks SO much! Can’t wait to try it in a month!
    Question: Is the name beside the number that of the student or of the listener? If it is the student’s, does the listener sign his/her name?

  34. Angela Jacob April 29, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Love this idea11 Does she have the performers do this to? I am going to do this at my recital in May. Thanks so much for the idea.

  35. Amy Boze May 3, 2016 at 9:49 am

    I tried this, and it went really well. Going over the comments in lessons this week, and the kids certainly seem to be enjoying it. I was not prepared to spend 4 hours after my recital cutting up little slips of paper, though. Be forewarned!

  36. Marcie Mallette May 3, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    I read this just in time to implement it at my student recital this last Sunday. It was a huge success! It kept people engaged and so far the kids have LOVED reading all their compliments. It was time consuming to cut them all apart and clip them together, but I had so much fun reading them as I went along! I felt affirmed as much as they did.

  37. Lou Anna Bunker May 4, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    Great idea, have a recital next weekend and I already bought my compliment pads and pencils at dollar tree. What a positive for all!

  38. […] If you want to build and strengthen your studio community, then this tip from composecreate.com is just for you!  Having the students write down a compliment for all the students in the recital […]

  39. Karin Amann May 10, 2016 at 11:37 pm

    Thank you for this fantastic idea! I wasn’t sure what to expect, and saw the blog last minute. I kept it super simple… picked up a pack of index cards and several packs of colorful pre-sharpened pencils on the way to the recital and put them on each chair. I received over 100 cards from guests and students, and everyone was thrilled with their lists the next week!

  40. Rebecca May 12, 2016 at 9:08 pm

    My sisters and I do this at our recitals. We print the performers names on a sheet of address labels for each student. Then we just have to “peel and stick” to make the lists for each performer.

  41. Heather Baldwin May 16, 2016 at 9:57 am

    I loved this idea and decided to try it as soon as I read about it. I used it at two different recitals over the weekend and I can’t stop smiling at all the wonderful, encouraging comments I’m reading this morning. I’m typing them up for each student and my only challenge is trying to figure out how to capture all the hearts and smiley faces and vigorous underlining that audience members added to the paper to convey their enthusiasm! Fabulous idea. Thank you so much for sharing it!

  42. Kathleen Gault May 23, 2016 at 8:14 am

    It’s Monday morning and I woke up smiling after reading all the compliment pages from yesterday afternoon’s recital. Like Heather Baldwin, I’m not sure how I’m going to include all the doodles, smiley faces, piano keyboards and notes drawn in the margins. Most people didn’t sign their pages, but I can pretty well figure out who said what. Most interesting to read comments from ‘new’ parents, whose comments are appreciative but rather general, compared to the comments of students and more experienced piano parents. It’s clear they really HAVE been listening in lessons and at home, when I read things like ‘great dynamics and use of sustain pedal’ …. ‘Nice phrasing and ritardando’ …’way to keep the dynamics balanced when the melody is in the left hand!’ ‘I liked the way you changed mood in the B section’.

    I have never had such an attentive audience — even the youngest kids were quiet and intent on their pages. The changeover between players was relaxed, as students finished writing the comments for the previous player before going up. It really steadied everything in what is often an overexcited, awkward atmosphere. Several parents thanked me for doing this, and I can hardly wait to give the kids their compliment pages this week.

    What a wonderful idea — thanks so much for sharing Swan’s idea with us, Wendy. I think I will try her variation with the hearts next time — maybe at our winter recital near Valentine’s Day.

  43. Brooke Baker May 24, 2016 at 9:38 pm

    I love this idea!! Our recital is coming up this weekend and I debated between a few ideas. Cutting up paper for that long didn’t seem practical to me and I wanted immediate results for the kids and families. I opted to purchase this perforated paper instead of using post it notes or anything else. You can print the name of the performer as well I would guess. (This was cheapest I could find.)


    Each student will have their own galvanized bucket with a Polaroid taken the day of the recital to make it ultra authentic (hipster I know, but it’ll be special). =)

    I’m also purchasing a ton of clipboards, but figure I’ll keep using them in years to come so it’s totally worth it. If you were having your recital in a church, technically a hymnal would work just as well. =)

  44. Wendy Stevens May 25, 2016 at 7:27 am

    What a great idea, Brooke! I’m going to elevate this idea and put it in this post https://composecreate.com/more-resources-recital-compliment-exchange because it’s so great! Thanks for sharing!


  45. Wendy Stevens May 25, 2016 at 7:34 am

    Kathy, thank you so much for sharing this! I’m so glad to hear the tremendous response that you had and the great feeling you have on the Monday morning after the recital! I love that you had an amazingly attentive audience and that the youngest students were even engaged. Wow. Just wow. That makes my day. I’m blessed to have the privilege of sharing Swan’s idea.

    Thank you for sharing!

  46. Kathleen Gault May 25, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Cleverly and presciently (since, naturally, I didn’t know I would be doing the Compliment Exchange at my recital when I scheduled it many months ago), our recital is followed this year by Parent/Student/Conference week. So as the students have been walking in the door to my studio, the first thing they see is their Compliments, Plus! page, printed out on colored paper, sitting on the piano music rack. I have been having them read them aloud to their parents before we begin the conference. To say the least, it sets an amazingly positive tone for the whole session. The students giggle and beam, and the parents totally get into the spirit, agreeing with the comments, and adding their own additional compliments. Then the kids grab their lesson notebooks to tuck the compliments page in on the first page. They are so proud, it is heartwarming!

    In the past, there have always been a few students who clam up during conferences, or at least don’t have much to say — especially new/younger students and argh — teenage boys! But this year everyone is in full flow from the beginning, and I am having the best conference sessions ever.

    Thank you Wendy, thank you Swan, and thank you all the other teachers who are adding variations. I have my recital plans for years to come. Best. Idea. Ever.

  47. Patti May 26, 2016 at 11:17 am

    I implemented this idea at my recital, and overall, it went well. I thought index cards were a little too small for which grandparents to write, so I purchased the yellow-lined tablets for 3 for $1 at the Dollar Store. I gave the audience three choices, write a compliment for each performer, write one for only the family or friend who was performing, or write nothing and just sit back and enjoy the show. I was tickled that about 2/3 of the audience wrote a compliment. I called it ” E and E” Game. “We will entertain you and we would like for you to encourage us. “

  48. elizabeth haymaker June 20, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    I loved this idea. It went very well at the studio recital.
    I made 3 different versions of the program with space for every third performer. That way the audience only had to write about 8 students in a concert with 24.
    Next time I’ll so the same, but I’ll print do the program single sided so I can just cut up the program and not have to type up the compliments.

    I let the audience members get a “fresh” program at the reception if they wanted a keepsake.


  49. Deb Cunniff April 7, 2017 at 8:56 am

    I’m going to try this tonight!!! I’ll let you know how it works for us. I’m typing it on half-sheet card stock so they can write on it easily. I put the students’ names on one side and some “compliment suggestions” on the back.

  50. Wendy Stevens April 9, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Please do let me know how it works for you Deb!

  51. Deb Cunniff April 11, 2017 at 10:58 am

    OK – so this was absolutely amazing!! As I handed out the card stock with the students’ names listed I was wondering how many would actually participate. But they DID!! Parents, guests AND other students. Everything from their posture, hand position, tempo, “saving the best for last” for a 23 year old student with cerebral palsy, energetic, refreshing and even “cute shoes”. Needless to say I believe the audience loved this and now I am going to type up a decorative sheet for each student just simply listing the comments they received. I encouraged “anything positive” and that’s exactly what they did. Thank you so VERY, VERY much for the encouragement you give to us as teachers to spice up everything we do. Wendy – I’ll be sending you a video where you can watch my student Zach playing Football Fever. He had a few “fumbles” (sorry, I couldn’t help that) but overall he did quite well and worked very hard on something somewhat above his level.

  52. Wendy Stevens April 12, 2017 at 6:59 am

    Hi Deb,

    I’m so glad this worked so well for you this year! Thank you so much for taking the time to comment to tell me how it works. And yes I’d love to see Zach playing Football Fever! Fumbles are just a part of our playing, so I’ll love it no matter what! Thanks so much for using my music. 🙂

  53. […] year we started something new called the Recital Compliment Exchange. I found this idea on the ComposeCreate website (where I also purchased the beautiful recital […]

  54. Beth Syverson June 30, 2017 at 9:59 pm

    Here’s a beautiful video of my students reading the Compliment Cards that were given to them. Thanks for the great idea, WEendy!

  55. Wendy Stevens July 1, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Beth, this is beautiful indeed! Thank you soooo much for sharing this! How did you turn the compliment cards into braille for some of your students? Were they written with pen first and then you redid them?

    So beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing.

  56. D April 23, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    I used the compliment exchange a couple of years ago, and it was a hit!
    I am bringing it back this year. I will type and print each child’s compliments in a fancy font on pretty paper and frame them for an end-of-year gift.

    Thanks for the idea!

  57. Bonnie Haskell April 24, 2018 at 12:59 am

    I have done a form of this the last two years at our spring recitasl. It has been such a great experience for my studio. Our recital is in three weeks, and the students have already been anticipating getting to GIVE compliments as well as receive them. There have been several comments about what they might hear as they wrote down their performance goals for this recital. I know it helps them listen to others more attentively and has also helped them understand setting goals.

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