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.

Motivation, Practice, Teaching Piano

Forum Q&A | Keeping Teenagers Engaged

Our last Q&A Forum topic was about organization.  I loved reading your ideas — thank you all for your responses!

I had a great topic idea from a reader (thanks, Amy!) who asked:

How do you keep teenagers engaged?  As we know, sometimes they are taking lessons only because their parents want them to.  Or, sometimes they are over-scheduled.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below — we would love to hear your ideas!

Photo Credit: easylocum

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

 

Music Theory, Practice, Printables, Teaching Piano, Technique

Just Updated: Scale & Arpeggio Fingering (2 Octaves) Reference Sheet

Some of you may remember the Scale & Arpeggio Fingering reference sheet I posted in December of 2010. About a month ago, a friendly reader made some very helpful suggestions for improvement, and so I spent quite a bit of time revising the printable. It’s called “Scale and Arpeggio Fingering for Piano (2 Octaves)” and you can find it on the Printables > Other Resources page.

I originally created this printable with my intermediate/advanced students in mind who are working on 2- and 4- octave scales/arpeggios and have trouble keeping all their fingerings straight in their head once they start getting them under their fingers. It’s nice to have a guide tucked inside the front cover of a book to refer to now and then!

The document contains three pages:

Page 1: Rules and tricks for remembering scale and arpeggio fingerings (as shown on the right).

Page 2: A listing of the fingerings for each Major and Harmonic Minor scale/arpeggio (2-octave) for piano.

Page 3: A continuation of page 2.

Of course, there are a few different ways to finger scales and arpeggios, so I’m sorry if the fingerings listed in this printable do not correspond with the ones you prefer to teach your students. These are the ones I like to use, and I thought I’d share it with anyone who might happen to find it useful.

If anyone else finds typos or inconsistencies, please let me know! I did my best to proof-read the fingerings, but it is certainly possible that I still may have missed something!

  Scale and Arpeggio Fingerings (2 Octaves) Reference Sheet (86.0 KiB, 101,527 hits)

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

Memorization, Practice, Teaching Piano

Thoughts on Memorization: A Skill Integral to Piano Playing?

Last week was Spring Break from college for me!  My husband and I had a wonderful time visiting our families and spending time with them.  Our days were full doing all kinds of family activities — however, I did manage to keep an eye on my blog, especially the Forum Q&A about memorization that was posted last Tuesday.  Many of you left comments regarding whether or not you require memorized performances within your studio — but not many of you addressed my initial question about whether you consider the skill of memorization is essential to piano playing.  At first look, it appears to be essentially the same question…perhaps I could have phrased this a bit better?  In any case, today I’d like to delve in a little bit deeper into this question about the necessary or not so necessary skill of memorization.

To further clarify exactly what I’ve getting after here, a distinction must be made: There is a difference between memorizing and playing/performing by memory.  I will use these two terms distinctly in this blog post: memorizing refers to the process of memorizing a piece of music during practice with the intent of later playing by memory, while playing/performing by memory refers to actually playing the piece of music from beginning to end without consultation of the score.  This distinction is important because a teacher might, for example, consider memorization to be a necessary skill to develop in his/her students, but might be flexible in actually requiring students to play by memory during performances.

Let’s begin by listing some reasons why pianist might choose to perform by memory or choose not to perform by memory. Continue reading “Thoughts on Memorization: A Skill Integral to Piano Playing?”

Forum Q&A's, improving as a teacher, Practice

Forum Q&A | How do you teach legato pedaling?

Last week, we discussed standardized testing – the advantages and disadvantages, do you require it, and why, etc..  Click here to read the comments that were left!  As always, it’s never too late to add your thoughts so feel free to jump into the conversation.

This week, we are going to talk about pedaling.  Pedaling is such an important part of learning the piano, but arguably one of the most challenging things to learn for some students. The timing for pedaling must be just right: it can’t be too early, else you’ll have a break in the sound; but it can’t be too late otherwise the previous harmonies with intermingle with the current ones.

So, here’s the question:

How do YOU teach pedaling?  Do you have any tips, analogies, or exercises you use with your students in order to teach proper legato pedaling (also sometimes called syncopated pedaling)?  How did your piano teacher you how to pedal when you were a first learning?

Share your thoughts below!  I am anxious to learn some new tips for better ways to teach pedaling!

Photo Credit: House of Sims | CC 2.0

Practice, Printables, Technique

Just Added: Scale and Arpeggio Fingering (2 Octaves) Reference Sheet

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve added a new printable to the Printables page….so here’s one I created a couple of months ago.  You can find it on the Printables > Other Resources page.

Scale and Arpeggio Fingering (2 Octaves) Reference Sheet (3 pages long)

I created this printable with my intermediate/advanced students in mind who are working on 2- and 4- octave scales/arpeggios and have trouble keeping all their fingerings straight in their head once they start getting them under their fingers.  It’s nice to have a guide tucked inside the front cover of a book to refer to now and then!

The document contains three pages:

Page 1: Rules and tricks for remembering scale and arpeggio fingerings (as shown on the right).

Page 2: A listing of the fingerings for each Major and Harmonic Minor scale/arpeggio (2-octave) for piano.

Page 3: A continuation of page 2.

Of course, there are a few different ways to finger scales and arpeggios, so I’m sorry if the fingerings listed in this printable do not correspond with the ones you prefer to teach your students.  These are the ones I like to use, and I thought I’d share it with anyone who might happen to find it useful.

I did my best to proof-read the fingerings, but it is certainly possible that I may have missed something….so if you encounter something that seems sketchy, please let me know!

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, Practice, Rhythm

Teaching Tip: Count Like a Musician!

At the 2010 Michigan Music Teachers Assocation conference this weekend, our conference clinician Martha Hilley had some wise words for us that I thought I’d share here:

Always be a musician, even when you are counting aloud!

As she led us through some various exercises during one of the sessions, Martha Hilley encouraged us to use vocal inflection to show musical direction — even when it’s just simple rhythms or melodic lines.  And, of course, this tip applies to our students: encourage them to be musical counters too!

Here’s to trying to use more vocal inflection when I count aloud with my students this week, and hoping that my musical counting will rub off on their playing!  =)

Stay tuned – more summaries of the conference are on the way!

Photo Credit: Pink Sherbet Photography | CC 2.0