Announcements, Motivation, Resources, Teaching Piano

Using Adjectives to Capture the Imagination

One of the ideas I’ve been exploring extensively throughout the research I’m doing for my paper for college (the one about improvisation) is making music musical.  This seems so obvious, but really, what would music be without musicality?  Check out this video, of a robot playing the violin.

Speaking of which, have you ever had students who played like robots?  ***raises hand timidly***  Yep, I have too.  This is what music would be like without musicality.

What started me thinking of robots, and music, and robotic students, you may ask?  Well, I came across a lovely resource over at The Piano Pedagogy Page — a handy list of adjectives.

It may seem that a list of adjectives may be more fitting for use in an English class.  Maybe.  But it may also be helpful in the piano lesson, in helping those certain robotic-like students get “beyond the notes.”  Shoot, it might even be good reminder for me from time to time!  It’s easy to fall into the trap of being overly concerning with the technique, and fail to think about what I consider to be the ultimate goal of music: to communicate expression.  Music is meant to  reach out and speak to people, at one level or another.

It’s so important to be teaching students musicality at an early age.  It makes lessons so much more exciting, anyway.  We are not trying to create little robots who can push the right buttons (i.e., the keys on the piano) at the right time, but creating little music makers.

Motivation, Practice

3 Ways to Motivate Busy Students

I believe students today are busier than ever before.  They are involved in everything you can imagine — art, karate, gymnastics, swimming, sports teams, church activities, 4-H, and more.  And this is all on top of their regular homework assignments from school.  Sometimes the student gets stretched too thin, and something needs to go.  Other times, the student may just need a little extra incentive to motivate them to consider piano lessons to be just as important as everything else.

  1. Make a practice contract. A practice contract is basically an agreement between the teacher and the parent/student that they will complete a set amount of practice each week.  Most (young) students cannot remember to practice piano each day on their own.  They need a parent to remind them and keep track of their time spent practicing.  In most cases, both the parent and student (and the teacher) are much happier when consistent practice takes place, because the student can feel that they are progressing, and the parent feels they are getting their money’s worth.
  2. Teach the student how to practice. It’s not enough that the student is playing piano for 15 to 30 minutes each day.  They need to be using that practice time effectively.  To ensure this takes place, the teacher should essentially be teaching the student how to practice during the lesson.  Help the student troubleshoot problem spots and give them specific ways to fix the problems.  Guidelines for practice ought to be written down in an assignment notebook, so that the student can refer to it each time they sit down to practice.  It may be helpful to give young students a set of specific steps to follow.  For example, you might write in their notebook: 1) Point to the all the dynamics in this piece. Find the hand position change and draw a star by that measure.  2) Tap the rhythm of the whole piece on the wood of the piano, counting out loud. 3) Play the piece through as written.
  3. Create an incentive program. Some positive reinforcement (paired with the parents’ help in the consistent practice department) goes a long ways for some students.  Create ways for students to earn points for completing certain tasks, like passing their pieces, memorizing their assignments, completing theory assignments or extra credit worksheets, learning their scales/five-finger patterns, etc.  Get together some prizes to award once the student has earned a certain amount of points.  Click here for a description of the incentive program I have used for the last couple years.

These are just three ways to further motivate students and encourage increased progress.  There are many more.  Please share your ideas below!

Motivation, Performances, Practice

Music + Imagination

I often have students’ parents and grandparents tell me that they wish they had kept taking piano lessons.  I use this to encourage my current students, and tell them that it’s a gift to be able to sit down at an instrument and create music — a gift that can provide great pleasure to oneself and others.

Why do so many students quit?  I mean, I realize that it might not be feasible for everyone to take lessons for their whole life (although wouldn’t that be amazing?!), but still, why do so many people regret that they didn’t continue their lessons longer while they were young?   Continue reading “Music + Imagination”
Motivation, Resources

An Inspiring Reminder…

The following is a something that has been recently circulating via email forwarding (thanks Dr. Le!).  I thought it make some excellent points, reminding us of our ultimate goal as musicians.  Hope you find it as inspiring as I did!  (Sorry for its length — but let me tell you, it’s definitely worth taking the time to read it!)

(Welcome address to freshman at Boston Conservatory, given by Karl Paulnack, pianist and director of music division at Boston Conservatory.)

“One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school—she said, “you’re WASTING your SAT scores.” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they LOVED music, they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works. Continue reading “An Inspiring Reminder…”


Making Time for Improvisation

In piano lessions today, improvisation is often a subject that often “goes out the window” because it is deemed to be less important or secondary to other skills. It had not always been this way; improvisation used to be a expected skill for any accomplished keyboardist during the Baroque through Romantic eras. Interestingly enough, it seems that today, the role of the pianist has evolved into the role of reproducing the works of other composers, rather than being a pianist-composer. Teaching improvisation in the lesson can be an incredibly useful tool, as well as serve as a creative outlet for the student. How do we, as piano teachers, find or make time to teach students how to improvise at the piano? Continue reading “Making Time for Improvisation”

Memorization, Motivation, Performances

Benefits of Holding a Piano Studio Recital

Recitals are an important part of having a piano studio.  Performing is a important skill for any pianist.  Despite the hard work involved, in the long run, the students find it a rewarding activity.

Benefits of having a recital include:

  1. Parents enjoy hearing the progress their student(s) are making under your instruction.  Grandparents and parents love attending these performances and getting pictures/video recordings of their child’s performance (esp. when it’s their first).  There’s something special about watching your child all dressed up and playing a special piece for an audience onstage.   Continue reading “Benefits of Holding a Piano Studio Recital”
Motivation, Practice

Incentive Programs for Piano Students

Do you use an incentive program in your piano studio?  Incentive programs can be a useful way to motivate and encourage students to be diligent and productive with their practicing. More importantly, an incentive program can help emphasize the behaviors or goals the teacher expects from the student. Below is information about how I designed an ongoing incentive program for my students.

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Growing up, I recall my piano teacher implementing a number of different programs while I was taking lessons — unfortunately, she never stuck with one long enough for me to earn a prize very often.  A good incentive program must be simple enough for the students to understand, and cannot be too time consuming as to take up a lot of the lesson time.  It needs to be easily attainable, otherwise students will give up on ever earning a prize.   Continue reading “Incentive Programs for Piano Students”