improving as a teacher, Practice

On Establishing A Daily Habit (Practicing the Piano or Otherwise)

Establishing A Daily HabitFor a long time, I have identified myself as someone who is terrible at remembering to take my daily multivitamin pill.

I wanted to do better. I believe in the benefits of taking multivitamins, and I wanted to take them daily.

I was motivated, but I just couldn’t seem to do it each morning.

So, I started experimenting with putting my multivitamin bottle in a certain place in the house that might help me create a daily habit of taking my multivitamin each morning.

First, I put the bottle in the kitchen on the countertop, in plain sight. I hoped that seeing the multivitamins when I came into the kitchen for breakfast would serve as a good reminder every day. This worked for a little while, but I didn’t like having the bottle sitting out. I like having clear countertops. And I didn’t want my multivitamins sitting out when having visitors, so I tended to tuck the bottle out-of-sight on those occasions…which caused me to forget the next day.

Next, I tried putting the multivitamin bottle in the bathroom, near my toothbrush and other getting-ready-for-the-day items. This didn’t work, either. The problem was that it wasn’t convenient to get a drink of water for swallowing the multivitamin. I had to find my water bottle (which tends to travel all over the house with me) or go to the kitchen for a glass. Because it wasn’t convenient enough, I ended up skipping my multivitamin most days.

Then, I tried putting the multivitamin bottle in the kitchen pantry, on the shelf just below the cereal boxes. I tend to eat a bowl of cereal every morning, so I thought this would be a good place. And I liked that the bottle was out-of-sight instead of out on the countertop. As it turned out, however, my eyes did not always see the multivitamin bottle there in the pantry. There were too many other cans and bottles in the pantry.

So, what finally worked? How did I successfully create a habit of taking my multivitamin pill every morning?

I put the bottle in the cupboard, next to the cereal bowls. Why did this work? This works because I always take out a cereal bowl every morning, so I can’t miss seeing the bottle. Being in the cupboard means that the bottle is never in plain sight or in-the-way on the countertop. Getting a glass of water is easy, because the glasses are within arm reach and so is the sink. I am reminded to do it each day, and it is convenient. 


This experience made me wonder: What other behavior changes can I make in my piano teaching or in other areas of my life? How can I apply what I learned about my new multivitamin habit to other habits?

How about this one: How can I help my students become consistent practicers?

We piano teachers tend to cite a lack of motivation when it comes to students failing to practice regularly. But what about when the problem isn’t a lack of motivation? Many of our students want to practice, but there are barriers preventing it from occurring daily.

Remember, in my case with the multivitamins, I wanted to take them but it wasn’t convenient enough and I didn’t have a sure way to remind myself to do it in the first place.

Instead of focusing on motivating our students to practice, what if we helped our students brainstorm and implement practical ways to eliminate the barriers that make practice difficult or inconvenient? What if we helped them come up with effective reminder systems for daily practice? How can we help students create their own opportunities to achieve “small wins” on their way to establishing new habits?

Please share your input in the comment section below.

Reviews

Book Review: “The Practicing Mind” by Thomas M. Sterner

41sDvxx1mHLThe Practicing Mind: Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning To Love the Process” is a bestselling book by Thomas M. Sterner that is applicable to non-musicians and musicians alike. The author happens to be a piano technician by trade and in the past held a high-pressure job preparing pianos at a performance venue for visiting concert pianists. The book provides helpful tips and strategies for anyone who is practicing in order to learn a skill, whether it be music, golfing, speaking a foreign language, or any pursuit.

I gained some very helpful tips and mindsets from the book. Here are two examples:

  • The author reminds us that we should remember to find joy in the process of the pursuit, rather than thinking that happiness will only come when we reach an identified goal.
  • He points out that a great deal of our stress is caused by failing to live in-the-moment. Meaning, when we find ourselves feeling stressed, it is often because we are thinking and worrying about other tasks, goals, or commitments at a time when we cannot do anything about them. When we become aware that this is happening to us, we can shift our focus to think only about where we are and what we are doing now. This releases the stress and can actually increase our productivity when we DO return to the task we were stressed about.

The book is under 150 pages and is fun and easy reading — yet thought provoking. I highly recommend this book to anyone who practices, whether it is music or other pursuits. I have recommended it to a couple of my adult students who likewise found it helpful and enjoyable.

Find the book on Amazon here.

Giveaways, Motivation, Practice

July 2012 Giveaway: Shhh…Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice

Andrea & Trevor Dow of Teach Piano Today have recently created a resource called, “Shhh…Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice.”  She kindly sent me a copy to review, so I’m going to tell you about it — and give you a chance to win your own copy!

First, here is Andrea’s description of the pdf book:

The book contains 88 activities that are absolutely, positively, most definitely NOT BORING! and are designed to get students excited about spending time on the piano at home. They act as a companion to a piano students’ regular practice, and have been created to to be used with any level and any age for 88 days! Also, when teachers receive Shhhh… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice they also receive a license to reproduce unlimited copies, as long as it is for use within their personal studio.

Each page of the book has a practice activity designed to encourage repetition during practice (without the student realizing it) and help them think about their piece in a different way (like asking them to find all the C’s in their piece, or practice the rhythm of the LH).  Some of the activities also encourage students to share their music, by asking students to play a piece for a family member.   Continue reading “July 2012 Giveaway: Shhh…Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice”

improving as a teacher, Performances, Practice, Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Teaching Tip: Achieving Fluency

Have you ever have a student play a piece with frequent hesitations throughout, even though you know they can play much better than that?  This phenomenon can occur with all ages/levels of students.  Why does this happen?  What is going on when this happens?  This article will examine possible causes of and solutions for a lack of fluency.

A lack of fluency could be caused by a number of things:

  1. A lack of the proper technique required for the executing the piece;
  2. A lack of familiarity of the notes of the piece;
  3. A tempo that is too fast for the student’s ability at that moment; or,
  4. A lack of mentally “chunking” the information on the page properly.  The analogy I use to refer to Number 4 is that the students feels like they are wearing horse blinders, or are mentally experiencing tunnel vision.

Continue reading “Teaching Tip: Achieving Fluency”

Memorization, Practice

Practicing, Learning, and Memorizing for Piano Teachers

I’ve blogged before about my thoughts on and struggles with memorizing music.  I can definitely see improvement over my college years as far as successful memorization goes, but I admittedly still find it discouraging.  I think what makes it frustrating for me is the fact that sight-reading is so easy for me, and memorizing is so not easy.  :)

Some days, I feel like I’ve finally find a method for this memorizing madness, and other days, I feel so far away from reaching a dependable process!  A few weeks ago, I made the decision to when practicing, only “learn” as much music as I can also memorize during the same sitting.  During some practice sessions, I only learn 4 or 8 bars.   On a good day, I can learn a whole page of music.  It’s slow, tedious work, but I looking forward to seeing the results of this experiment once I finish a few pieces using this method.  (It will be awhile.)

So, I’m curious — what do other teachers do?  First, do you find it difficult to find time to practice regularly?  Do you make it a priority to continue learning new classical repertoire?  Do you find opportunities to perform solo classical repertoire, or do you learn it only for your own enjoyment and personal development?  Do you memorize?  HOW do you memorize?!  :)

Photo Credit: MaltaGirl | CC 2.0

 

Performances, Practice, Teaching Piano

Practice Performing

Perhaps you are wondering why there is a picture of a bunch of stuffed animals for this post.  Haha, I’ll get to that in a moment!

My private students are preparing to play for the university’s Community Music School recital tomorrow!  There will be about 12 students performing, 4 of which are my students.  For last few weeks, we’ve been taking time during lessons to “practice performing.”  After all, what better way to prepare for a performance than to practice performing?  =)

For my students, this means we imagine being at the recital during the lesson.  The student “walks onstage” while the audience (me) is applauding wildly.  The student gives a deep bow and sits down.  Once the bench is checked, they take a deep breath and play.  Wild applause ensues once again at the end of the piece, and the student beams, bows, and trots “off stage.”

I also encourage my students to put on recitals at home for their parents or friends, or even to create an audience of stuffed animals.  The point is for the student to be mentally putting him-/her-self through the performance, imagining what it’s going to be like and imagining him-/her-self succeeding.  Students really enjoy using their imagination and pretending they are onstage, and I think it is really beneficial for them to have gone through the process mentally before the real thing!  (Especially when there is no dress rehearsal, as in this case.)

What kind of activities do you do with your students to help them “practice performing?”

Photo Credit: Jess1820 | CC 2.0

Forum Q&A's, improving as a teacher, Memorization, Performances

Forum Q&A | Memorization for Performances: Required or Optional?

Last week we discussed how to teach legato pedaling to students, and we got a few great responses – click here to check them out!  As always, feel free to add your thoughts to the discussion!

This week, we are considering the topic of memorization.  I’ve seen great discussions about this topic on many websites and forums, and thought we’d explore it here too (hopefully with a different twist)!  Here goes:

First, do you consider memorization to be an integral part of piano playing?  Meaning, would you say that a concert pianist should or must perform by memory?  And do you therefore also require your students to perform by memory, or are you more flexible with your students depending on their goals?  What kind of memorization policy have you found works best for your studio?

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

Photo Credit: hsingy | CC 2.0

Practice, Technique

Practice Tips: Bringing out the Melody

About a week ago, I received an email from a reader who states that he is learning the Bach-Petri transcription of “Sheep May Safely Graze.”  (You may recall me posting a YouTube video of it here.)  He writes:

I am by no means a concert pianist, but I did take piano lessons for 14 years (1 year into college), but I have never encountered such a challenging melody as is presented by this piece.

Obviously, this piece will take a lot of time to master, but I am determined to learn it.  However, I was wondering if you could please  offer some practice tips such as how to bring out the melody, for instance, in measures 10 & 11?  I just don’t know the best method to train my 2nd and possibly 3rd fingers to bring out the melody while the other fingers play the counter melody.

Learning to bring out the melody properly is not easy!  However, the good news is that once you’ve developed this skill, you will likely be using it again for situations in other pieces.

Here are a few general practice tips for bringing out the melody:   Continue reading “Practice Tips: Bringing out the Melody”

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Studio Business

9 Ideas for Motivating Piano Students

I’m sure we have all had students who are low on motivation at one point or another.  It’s not always easy to keep students practicing week after week.  To make matters complicated, every student is different: something that motivates one student might not work for the next.

Here are some ideas for increasing motivation among your piano students:

  1. Take lessons yourself. Put yourself in their shoes – literally.  Remember what it’s like to have a busy week and have a hard time finding time for practice?  Remember what it’s like to when your pieces don’t play as well in the lesson as they did at home?  You can be more genuinely understanding and make better suggestions for solutions if you are taking lessons yourself and going through the same situations that they are.  Think you don’t have time for lessons?  Try to find someone who’s willing to take you on every other week or even once a month.  Continuing your own piano lessons will probably benefit you in more ways that you think!
  2. Be sure to give them a good variety of repertoire. Make sure there is plenty of variety in the music they are working on.  Find out what types of music they like.  Supplement their method book(s) with new age piano (think Jim Brickman), hymn arrangements, jazz/blues, pop music, soundtrack/music theater music (think Disney, High School Musical, or Twilight – whatever is currently popular!).  No matter the student, however, I always make sure they are working on something classical too.  There are so many different types of great music within classical music – I truly believe there is something for everyone! Continue reading “9 Ideas for Motivating Piano Students”
Practice, Technique

Teaching Phrase: “Pretend It’s Easy”

Lately, I’ve trying out this phrase with my students, in situations when a student is struggling with the technique of playing a particular passage:

“Pretend this is really easy for you to play.”

This phrase works best in a situation where the teacher observes that the student is holding far too much tension in his/her arms, wrists, and/or fingers to be able to properly execute a passage.  Rather then hearing a command to release some of the excess tension, however, sometimes hearing a phrase such as “Pretend it’s really easy for you,” has a better effect on the student.

What’s supposed to happen when you pretend it’s easy?

  1. A mental release occurs. Suddenly, the student gives him/her-self the permission to play the passage correctly. When we know (or think) it is a difficult passage, sometimes we don’t allow ourselves even the chance to play it correctly because we don’t think we can.
  2. A physical release occurs.  As the student imagines what it would feel like to play the daunting passage if it were easy for him/her, unnecessary tension in the student’s arms, wrists, and fingers melts away.  This release of tension often makes the passage suddenly much easier to play.

Try it, and let me know what you think!

Photo Credit: alexanderward12 | CC 2.0

Memorization, Music Theory, Practice, Technique

Top 5 Reasons to Learn Scales

an excerpt from Kuhlau Sonatina Op.20 No.1

Why do we learn and practice scales?  Have you (or your students) ever asked this question?  Is it just for tradition’s sake that piano teachers assign scales to work on?  I think it’s important not only for we teachers to know the WHY behind scales, but also for our students to know!   Continue reading “Top 5 Reasons to Learn Scales”

Announcements, Practice

Dealing with Frustration: Be Okay with Mistakes & Keep it Fun!

At a piano lesson this week, I observed my student grow increasingly frustrated with herself whenever she made a mistake.  She would “growl” at herself and start back at the beginning of the phrase.

After observing this continue for a few moments, I decided to stop her and address the issue.

There were three reasons why I decided to address this issue:

  1. She was growing increasingly frustrated with herself.  And frustration doesn’t usually yield positive results.
  2. I could tell this was becoming a habitual response.  When she is practicing at home, she is obviously doing the same thing there.
  3. We were sight-reading.  She had never seen this piece before, and there was no reason that she should expect to play it perfectly upon first try.  She is only 7, and hasn’t had much experience with sight-reading yet anyway.

Continue reading “Dealing with Frustration: Be Okay with Mistakes & Keep it Fun!”