About a week ago, (on February 16, 2019) our studio had a piano recital! It was a major success, and a lot of nerve-wracking fun for all of us. I'm pretty sure one of my students even caught me trying to dry off my sweaty palms before I went up to play. The kids did an incredible job, and I couldn't be more proud.
This year, the recital's theme was Growth at the Piano. I chose this title because with so many recital first-timers, I really wanted to instill this idea that a recital is for sharing the music and the progress we've made throughout the year. It's not a competition, it's not a judged event, it's just for sharing the music. For this recital, most of us chose a song from our lesson books which we felt would best represent the musical concepts we've been working on. And the kids weren't alone - I prepared and played my piece to finish off the recital!
I learned a few things throughout the process, (such as where to position the camera for the video, to make sure to get pictures with every student and a group shot of all of us, etc.) But hey, we're all learners here. Below I've posted a few of the pictures that me and some of the parents were able to get at the event. Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of all fifteen of the performers, (lesson learned) but at least we have a few! Also keep an eye on my Media page for next Wednesday when I post our recital video.
Lesson #1 for Mindee: make sure your post actually appeared when you thought you published it to the site. Oh well, you guys will get a double-dose of piano posts this week!
Last week we covered a lot of the concerns for parents with kids who don’t practice piano at home during the week. In that post, we discussed the benefits of piano lessons all on their own, (be sure to check it out if you didn’t get the chance!). This week, I’m going to outline three main suggestions for motivating students to practice at home. All three can be introduced by the teacher, but ultimately the parents are the ones who can help incorporate these habits throughout the week. Let’s get started!
1. Repetition doesn’t have to be dull.
It’s inevitable. Throughout the week, your student will be working on the same song(s) every day. If we know that we have to do the same thing over and over, why not change it up a little every time?
I first saw this idea through Teach Piano Today, (one of favorite piano blogs). In fact, that blog is chalked full of great ideas for parents and teachers alike, so I will post a link below. In the post, Andrea and Trevor Dow outlined a fun activity for teachers to use for song repetition during lessons. Basically, you put a bunch of variations on slips of paper to draw out of a hat. So instead of playing the song the same way over and over again, the student gets the chance to, (for example) play with only one eye open, as properly as the queen of England, with a clap after every eight beats, etc. This is such a fun way to shake things up a bit during lessons and during practice-time at home.
Check out their blog post with a list of practice variations below:
2. Piano Games Aren’t Just for Teachers.
Personally, I believe that the best kind of education does not just take place at school or during lessons. The most effective way to teach a concept is to reinforce that concept at home! Feel free to look over any of the online resources I have listed below for great piano games to keep in your home. If you have any questions regarding a game you found and how it works, (not all piano parents are musicians and that’s ok!) please feel free to send me a message and I’ll be happy to help! In the list below, you’ll find a wide variety of activities intended for all ages with a wide span of difficulty levels.
I believe that with enough reinforcement of musical concepts at home, students become more familiar with the material and are often less intimidated to practice. For more specific suggestions, feel free to message me about the lesson book and level your child is currently in, and I will respond with some ideas that are personalized for your child.
3. Kids who are exposed to piano repertoire early will have a stronger affinity for it.
We’ve all heard about the little “baby Mozart” albums, with theories about babies listening to classical music from infancy and therefore becoming geniuses! Maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. I’m not an expert on child psychology and development. What I do know is that kids who are familiar with certain styles of music will not find it to be nearly as much of a foreign language when they try to create it themselves. Much like bilingual children and families, kids who hear the “language” of the music they’re learning from an early age are much more ready for it when it appears in front of them at the piano.
The best way to start this early exposure is to find ways to incorporate music into your home, and not with your typical Spotify playlist (although those are probably wonderful!) Try to find some time to play classical, ragtime, jazz, new age, and other piano repertoire in your home. The more styles you’re able to expose your child to, the more they have the chance to get a little excited about it when they get to it during music lessons. In my experience, students who recognize the songs they have to play feel more excited about learning them, and feel more accomplished when they pass them off.
I hope you found this post helpful. Join me in about five minutes when I post about our studio recital held at Summerhays Music in Murray Utah. It was an absolute blast!
“No matter how hard I try, my child hates practice. I have to fight so many other battles throughout the week and I don’t have the energy to make piano one of them.”
I’m calling this chapter one, because there is honestly so much to talk about on this topic. I have other blog posts planned to cover more angles of this problem. The issue of why some kids won’t practice and what we can do as teachers and parents is probably the first and foremost issue discussed in the music teaching community, and there are many points of merit that I could dive into.
In future posts, I’m going to write more specifically about ways to keep your child motivated to practice, but today I’m actually going to talk about the kids who refuse to practice. This does not apply to the parents who have a practice requirement in their home, or the teachers who have practice expectations specified in their policies. In a way, this post is for the more casual teachers, parents and students. Believe it or not – I’m not actually going to tell you to change anything. I have my own personal beliefs about what should be required in the home, but I’m not going to go there. In the end, you know the appropriate expectations and limits to put on your child in order to best serve the dynamic in your home.
What I do believe will be helpful is a post specifically for the casual-learners, and how they will still glean excellent benefits from weekly music lessons. There are a lot of teachers who will butt heads with this, and I completely understand. Obviously, practicing frequently and consistently is optimal. However, in this blog I submit that there is still a lot of good to be had from weekly music lessons all on their own. Radical, I know.
For the worried parents:
Every teacher has a different outlook on this issue, so it’s important to ask the right questions and communicate openly with your teacher, (check out a previous blog post: 5 Essential Things to Tell your Piano Teacher). What I’m going to share is a unique position and definitely up for debate in the music teacher community. These opinions might not work for every teaching-style out there, so don’t take it as a given with your own teacher.
Finally, let’s get to it. Let’s say you have that kid who just doesn’t practice. You only want to pay for lessons if your child is self-motivated, you are not interested in fighting with your kid every day about it or forcing them to practice. After all, they already have to go to school every day, probably do household chores, not to mention their other extracurricular activities. In this case, I believe that your child can still have an exceptional music-learning experience on a weekly basis.
Studies have shown that students who learn to play the piano are actually learning to activate both sides of the brain simultaneously. For more information, check out one of my favorite articles at https://pianu.com/blog/learning-piano-benefits-your-brain. In this blog, the author explains how musicians increase their ability to multi-task, “strength[en] the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain,” decrease effects of depression and anxiety, exhibit divergent thinking skills, and much more. Seriously, this post is gold and definitely worth taking a look at.
A Note for Teachers:
By no means do I think we shouldn’t encourage consistent practice. I am constantly telling my students that with more practice time the piano will be a lot more enjoyable and they will feel proud of their accomplishments. I even encourage parents to instill a practice schedule and routine in the home, and with the help of the parents, I set practice expectations and commitments with each student individually. But no matter what the teacher does, sometimes practice just doesn’t happen. When you have parents who will not enforce practice-time and students who are not self-motivated, I believe it’s important to let that parent know that their child’s progress will not be as obvious when it comes to their ability to play, but the benefits of weekly music-learning are still worth their valuable time.
In my teaching, I have learned that I actually do a much better job and the student makes more progress if I don’t adhere too strictly to the standard “formula” for lesson-time, and instead adjust my approach according to that student’s patterns and behaviors. If I have a student who is extremely on-task, practices a ton and enjoys the process, then we knock out those lesson, theory, performance and scales books as efficiently as we can. We delve into the “why” behind everything and even take it a little further if I can tell that they’re ready for more complicated musical concepts.
On the flip-side, there are students who do not fall in love with this process right away. One example from my own experience was a student who wanted to learn, but within the first few lessons I could tell she was bored out of her mind. I was surprised that someone who seemed to excited to start was struggling with her enjoyment in the lessons and practicing at home. In this case, it wasn’t due to lack of challenging material. Much of it was easy for her, but we were still covering concepts she hadn’t encountered before. Little by little, I was able to find out that she had a real passion for writing her own melodies. In her case, the songs she wrote actually made musical “sense.” They weren’t just notes mashed together on the piano with no sense of timing or hitting random keys. She was actually writing beautiful little melodies which fit perfectly into C Major and ¾ or 4/4 time. It was awesome! The songs weren’t extremely complicated, but they were beautiful little things! Finally, I came to and realized that I could get her some manuscript paper and teach her the music theory she needed to cover for her level by writing the melodies down with all of the correct music theory elements. We still work on her theory book, but we can often take the concepts from her theory book and include them in an assignment to write her own piece. Since we started this kind of learning, this student’s practice time and motivation has increased quite a bit. There are countless other examples of ways to allow the student’s natural interests to guide the lesson format.
Even when a child is not interested in pretty much any musical topic, I believe that productive lesson time can still be spent on dissecting their songs together, learning music theory and history, and using other musical topics and resources to guide their learning. I believe that it is better to let go of our expectations about what the student “should” be able to play at their age or level of learning than it is to lose the student completely. I know many teachers who honestly believe that they’re wasting their time every week if the student doesn’t practice outside of their lesson time. Let the hate-mail begin, but I believe that we as teachers are there for more than just increasing the student’s playing-ability. In many cases, we are that child’s only exposure to any kind of music learning. We ought to take the opportunity to teach instead of act like that student’s lack of dedication is somehow going to hinder their ability to learn anything. We all know that they will not be able to play the piano as well as the kid who practices every day, but they’ll certainly be able to do more than the child who has never taken a lesson.
Thanks for reading! Please feel free to comment below, and join me next week for my thoughts on spicing up piano practice time throughout the week!
Ok, so that title is a little rude and honestly sounds pretty ageist. There are dozens and dozens of amazing, grandmother-aged piano teachers out there. My point is, the culture around piano teaching is changing fast!
It’s a tale that’s almost as old as time. In almost every one of my piano families, (and many others through the years) at least one of the parents says some variation of the following:
“I was taught piano for a couple of years as a kid, but I quit. Now I really regret it.”
Believe it or not, this is a topic that is constantly abuzz in the piano teacher community. There are actually piano teacher podcasts, websites, and workshops where experts in the field of teaching music discuss this issue in-depth and try to come up with solutions. They discuss what went wrong with the old piano teaching formulas, what is different and the same about the children we taught fifty years ago and today, and what we can do as teachers to help keep kids motivated to practice at home. In this post, I am going to convey some of the common threads that seem to link each source I have learned from, including some great ideas on how to keep your child motivated at the piano.
#1: Modern teachers are no longer afraid of piano games
You might find it funny to think that an educational game is something someone could ever be afraid of, (especially a teacher!) but this really is a culture that has changed exponentially over the last 30-50 years. Even just sixteen years ago, (around 2002 when I started my own lessons) games were not a predominant part of the typical piano experience. In my case, that was fine. I was the weirdo kid who loved to play anyway. But in the case of most young learners, a piano game is a great way to break down difficult concepts, offer variety within their lesson routine, review information, offer additional music knowledge that they don’t get from just playing the piano, (such as music history and culture) and keep your kids coming back to piano lessons. We are fortunate enough to live in a time where there are hundreds of piano games and teacher resources online, so the games chosen should be ones specifically tailored to your child and what concepts they need to learn.
I would encourage anyone to incorporate music games into their game collection at home. At the end of this post, I will include links to some of my favorite resources for printable games, online fun for kids, and links to descriptions of ways you can use other games, (such as Candyland) in a musical context. The more the kids are able to reinforce the information they learn in a fun way, the better they’ll become at playing the piano. Not to mention, a game could be a great way for your child to teach you about what they have learned!
#2 Hallelujah! We have updated the method books!
For quite some time, piano teaching followed a fairly stringent lesson formula, and few teachers strayed from the older method books and routines. I used to work at a music store in Murray, Utah, and I can tell you that one method book series still sold has been around since the 1950s! Honestly, while some of the fundamentals might be the same, kids today just need different things in order to learn. I don’t have to tell you that your kid is unique in their learning-style. Fortunately, there are a myriad of lesson book methods for your teacher to choose from. Believe it or not, not every piano method book just teaches the student to memorize the notes on the staff and then play them. Some teach note-reading through intervals first, (which is great for those visual-learners) some teach with pneumonic devices, (generally good for kids who are good at reading and language) and there is even a way to teach the piano through chords and lead-sheets, (a perfect fit for teenagers who want to play that one song they heard on the radio). Usually, I choose the appropriate book for the student, and along the way use some combination of all three of these methods in order to give them a well-rounded experience. If you’re just starting out or your child is struggling in piano, it might help to know that there are many methods out there and it may just take a little time to find the right fit. It’s more than likely that your teacher now will be aware of different methods they can use to keep your child coming back to the bench!
#3 Not every student wants to be a concert pianist, and that’s ok.
There are so many incredible ways to excel at the piano. Some become wonderful improvisational pianists, (jazz, ragtime, and even pop music) some are concert pianists, some just use piano as a fun thing on the side throughout their lives. Some might experience a little bit of all of that depending on their phase in life. It is our job as the piano teachers to give you or your student the skills they’ll need to accomplish any one of these or other wonderful positions at the piano. While I personally enjoy learning through classical music, I will absolutely teach a child pop music and lead-sheet if that’s what is keeping them coming back to the bench for the time-being. As kids grow and learn, their preferences often change and mature. Instead of discouraging whatever your student likes the most, I believe in using the things they’re interested in to keep them learning as much as possible. This, to me, is better than losing the student completely.
#4 A good teacher is always a student of their trade.
If you have a teacher who is stuck in their ways, refuses to try something different, and your child is hating piano – let me take this opportunity to tell you that there are other, more flexible teachers out there. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are some things to be inflexible about as a professional in your trade, but the way you approach a child in a lesson shouldn’t be one of them. Obviously, the end goal is essentially the same. Piano teachers are teaching a very specific skill-set. But if your teacher is not willing to explore other methods and approaches for your child, you might not be in the right situation. Teachers like this do still run rampant in the piano teaching community. In the end, it’s just something to be aware of as you go along so that you can make an informed decision for your child.
#5 How can I keep my child interested in the piano?
This will honestly get a blog post all on its own, but I believe that it is a relevant subject when it comes to the changing culture of piano lessons. While it’s important to know that the piano teacher your hire today is probably not like the one you used to have, it’s also important to know that practice-time will also look a little different than what you may have grown up with.
In an episode of the podcast Teach Piano Today, creator and hostess Andrea Dow interviewed and discussed the research of a graduate student named Karen King, who conducted her Master’s thesis by doing an in-depth study regarding the issue of why piano students quit. In the study, they looked at the specific reasons why piano students discontinued their lessons, and compared them with students of other instruments and extracurricular activities. There was a lot of gold in there and I would absolutely recommend listening, (I’ll post details about where to find it below) but for now I will just sum up their conclusion.
Ultimately, the students who stay motivated have to be provided with a good learning environment from their parents. The teacher is incredibly important, but the support from home is even more so. Of course, you can do everything within your power to encourage your child, give them a good piano, make lesson goals and requirements with them, and they might still not like it. If they don’t have the intrinsic desire, you might be a bit out of luck. But the best way to set them up for success really is by creating that learning space in the home, setting clear goals and expectations with the child and teacher, and allowing them to play songs they enjoy in addition to their required material.
If you have provided everything listed above and your child is still not loving the piano, please remember that you’re not alone. I believe that there is still a lot of value in creating a time-bound commitment with the student. If they make a commitment to stick with their lessons, they may just develop that intrinsic motivation as they grow and mature.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope this gave you a more in-depth look on the modern piano-lesson environment. Please feel free to contact me with any questions, comments or insults.
See you next Monday when I dive a little deeper into an issue almost every piano parent struggles with in their home: Here’s to the Kids Who Don’t Practice!
As promised, here are some of the links to my favorite piano games and podcasts:
Teach Piano Today website with games and free printables: www.teachpianotoday.com/
Musical Candyland: laytonmusic.wordpress.com/2007/12/03/candyland-music-sytle/
Teach Piano Today podcast: itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-teach-piano-today-podcast/id705700730?mt=2
The Creative Piano Teaching Podcast: timtopham.com/piano-teaching-podcast/