Teaching Piano

Wanting To Play The Part: Motivation and Turning Points for Students

When I was a kid, I participated in a play called “Tea For Felicity.”

I was a shy, introverted kid. I wasn’t exactly “actress material”.

However, I did want to be part of this play.

I auditioned, and somehow won the part of Felicity’s best friend.

My mother sewed me a Colonial era gown, complete with gathered sleeves and a white bonnet. I practiced and memorized my lines. I attended rehearsals, and helped paint the sets. 

There was one problem. 

I didn’t speak loudly enough onstage for my lines to be easily heard easily from the audience’s perspective. The play director asked me to speak out more. My mother coached me at home, letting me know I still wasn’t speaking loud enough. When I tried, I could deliver a louder rendition upon being asked. But the next time I read a line, I reverted to my normal volume. 

Continue reading “Wanting To Play The Part: Motivation and Turning Points for Students”
Teaching Piano

We’re Not Robots: Helping Young Piano Students Get “Beyond The Notes”

[Following up on the post from last week about helping students play with expression…here’s another analogy I use with young piano students who need to think “beyond the notes”.]

If playing the piano was about merely pressing the right buttons at the right time, we might as well hire robots to do it for us.

It’s funny to imagine, isn’t it? But really: Why would you bother taking piano lessons if you could have a robot play your pieces?

What’s the difference between a robot playing the piano and YOU playing the piano?

The answer has to do with the fact that music isn’t just about “the right notes at the right time.” Music is about expression. Instead of just learning how to get the notes and rhythm correct, we can learn how to make your piece sound like popcorn, or birds, or a storm, or thousands of other things. To me, this is the fun part! This is the best part of about making music.

So, let’s talk about expressive music making. How would a robot play this piece? How would YOU play this piece?

What can you do to make this piece sound more like the subject suggested by the title? Why do you suppose the composer chose these dynamics and articulations for this piece? What else can you do to make the piece sound more like the title?

Only YOU can play the piano like you do. Don’t be a robot at the piano!

Teaching Piano

Decorating the Cake: Helping Piano Students Play With Expression and Heart

For piano teachers, it’s that time of year: recital season! We are in the process of coaching our students to polish and perfect their recital selections.

Does it ever feel to you like sometimes students have set the bar at only playing the right notes? Haven’t our students realized there more to music than this? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sign up to be a piano teacher to become the “rhythm police”. ;)

We want our students to realize there is more to sharing music through performance than “getting it right”. They’ve set the bar too low. And perhaps at times we inadvertently reinforce the idea that this is all there is to piano playing.

There’s no doubt it’s important to perform a piece with accuracy. But we don’t want students to think their job is complete upon merely being able to play “the right notes at the right time”, when the reality is that even our youngest students are completely capable of getting “beyond the notes”.

Instead, we want our students to play with heart, to play with expression and individuality. We want our students to be confidently play their hearts out, and deliver a performance that moves their listeners.

Today, I’ll share a simple analogy I use to help students (1) understand what it means to get “beyond the notes” and (2) become motivated to attend to the details of and add expression to their performance.  Continue reading “Decorating the Cake: Helping Piano Students Play With Expression and Heart”

Teaching Piano

Printable: Recital Program List

Do you have “student recital” on your mind? Tis the season! I have a simple printable to share today that I use to help gather program information in the weeks prior to student recitals.

Here’s how I use it:

  1. After printing out the sheet, I write all of my students’ names — in order of my teaching schedule (Monday students, Tuesday students, etc.).
  2. Throughout the week(s), I write down the title of each student’s selected piece along with the composer and level. The sheet makes it easy for me to see which students have finalized their selections and which have not yet. The column for “level” makes it easier for me to create the performing order when I type the program information into the computer. Personally, I prefer to mix the levels instead of ordering students by beginning through advanced levels.
  3. The checkmark column can be used for various purposes. For example, it could indicate whether students have memorized their selections yet. Or, it could be used while typing each student’s information into your computer (see my recital program templates here). I like to use that column to track which students have and have not yet turned in their recital artwork (to be shown on the projector screen as they play their pieces).

To download the printable, click below or visit the Printables > Other Resources page.

  Recital Program List (38.1 KiB, 903 hits)

Music Learning Theory, Teaching Piano

Piano Teachers as Music Educators

We’ve accomplished so much in the realm piano pedagogy over the decades. So many fine teachers, fine books, and fine pedagogical piano literature.

The music education community can tout similar advancements, and yet we piano teachers tend to know so little of them. We know little of the theories and recent research regarding music learning, and of the approaches music educators use in the school systems. Does anyone else find it odd?

There seems to be a certain degree of separation between the worlds of piano pedagogy and music education. We don’t interact much. We took separate courses while in college. We have separate professional organizations.

Do we piano pedagogues consider ourselves under the same umbrella as music educators?

Continue reading “Piano Teachers as Music Educators”

Teaching Piano

Teachers As Learners

I remember my band instructor from high school as the type of teacher who is always working to improve their craft. It wasn’t unusual during any given rehearsal for him to introduce and implement a new teaching idea or learning activity he had picked up, whether from a book or colleague at a music educator’s conference.

He was a wonderful role model for us students. Even as a high schooler, I admired his choice to consider himself ever on a journey towards self-improvement as a teacher.

As a music educator myself today, I am on that same journey. I want to be — and am — the kind of teacher who is always learning, always trying something new, and always improving.

No matter how new or already-experienced I am at something, I prefer to take this approach of striving for self-improvement. As my pastor sometimes says: “It’s fine to be where you are. It’s not fine to stay there.”

Learning involves experimentation and “it might not work.” There might be failures or less-than-successes. Mistakes.

Learning also involves possibility. The possibility of being able to do something you couldn’t do before. The possibility of insight, new skill, more ease.

Even though it’s a messy process and doesn’t (normally) go in a straight line, I personally choose to find learning enjoyable. No matter the topic area, I’m interested in opportunities to learn new things — although at times I must make choices about what I have or don’t have time to devote energy toward.

I know I’m not unique in this regard. When I talk to other teachers, I often observe a similar mental posture. A positive energy towards new ideas. An openness to change and the possibility of being wrong.

We teachers tend to be learners.

This, most likely, is why we are teachers: we love the learning process.

My thought for the day is this:

Do we consciously model for our students what it means to be an eager learner? How openly can we demonstrate being the sort of learner we want each of our students to be? How can we display our open attitude towards change and improvement, as my high school band instructor did?

After all, such is the purpose of a teacher:

The ultimate goal of the teacher is not to create those who have learned, but to create learners.

• • •

Call to Action:

Leave a comment: How can YOU openly model for your students how to be a learner? And what new things are you currently learning in your endeavors?

 

Announcements, Teaching Piano

Piano Lesson Fun with “The Office” Theme Song

I just have to share this fun, spontaneous moment from a piano lesson yesterday. Check out this video:

My student surprised me by showing me that he had learned to play The Office theme song. I, in turn, surprised him by pulling out my melodica. :) I’ve been waiting a long time to be able to play that with someone!!

What is a melodica? It’s a cute little reed instrument that looks like a keyboard. I bought mine on Amazon (you can browse here) a few years ago. It is the instrument actually used for The Office theme song.

Group Classes, Teaching Piano, Worksheets

Worksheet: About the Piano Scavenger Hunt

Last Saturday, I held the last Piano Party (monthly group class) for the school year.  Our theme was to talk about the piano as an instrument: how it makes sound, types of piano, why the piano must be tuned, etc.

Here is a simple worksheet I used at the beginning of class to kick things off:

Piano Scavenger Hunt worksheet

I allowed students to work alone or in groups to complete this worksheet.  I told them they could get up and go to the piano to answer the questions if needed.

I think this worksheet would be a fun activity for a private student’s first lesson as well!

Download the free PDF by visiting the Printables > Worksheets page and scrolling down to “Piano Scavenger Hunt.”

Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Duet Recommendations for Sight-Reading

Yesterday’s blog post described the benefits of using duets in the lesson for improving sight-reading.  Today, I have a few recommendations for books that work well for this purpose.

“Improve Your Sight-Reading! Duets” by Paul Harris

19832058These books are gold, I tell you!  I found these books when they were featured on the “New Items” rack at my local music store a few months ago.  I purchased the Grades 0-1 book (Beginner to Early Elementary) and the Grades 2-3 book (Elementary to Late Elementary). I hope additional levels will be released soon!  This series is published by Faber Music (not to be confused with Nancy & Randy Faber’s materials).

Take a look at some sample pages below.  One page is marked as the teacher’s page and the other page is marked as the pupil’s page.  The sight-reading examples are short and sweet.   Continue reading “Duet Recommendations for Sight-Reading”

Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Using Duets to Improve Sight-Reading

Most of the time, my students get plenty of practice sight-reading just from trying out their new pieces each week during their lessons.  If necessary, I will have students purchase a dedicated sight-reading book.  However, my favorite way to improve sight-reading with students is through frequent duet sight-reading together.  

At each lesson with students who need improvement with sight-reading, we save the last 1-3 minutes of the lesson for playing a duet or two together.  It is a wonderful way to end a lesson!  

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Why do duets work so well for improving sight-reading?  There are many reasons:  Continue reading “Using Duets to Improve Sight-Reading”

Composition, Teaching Piano

Now Available: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano eBook

Last week, I wrote a blog post here describing how I help my students compose their own pieces.  Today, I am officially announcing the release of a new e-book resource called: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano!

Prompts for Piano - ebook cover 950x629

Continue reading “Now Available: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano eBook”

Performances, Teaching Piano

Audience In A Bottle

A couple of weekends ago, I attended a fantastic Piano Pedagogy Seminar at Ohio University.  The featured clinician was Dr. Peter Mack — an Irishman from Seattle who is a fantastic teacher with a wonderful sense of humor.

During one of the sessions, Dr. Mack told us that in his studio there are lots of teddy bears and dolls, as well as masks on the walls.  He told us that it was so that his students would always feel that they had an audience to play for.  Can you imagine having all those eyes watching you during a piano lesson?  haha!

While I’m not particularly interested in using masks or teddy bears to decorate my studio, I am interested in getting my students to listen to themselves more and play as if an audience is listening.  :)   Thus, I created this silly little prop.  What do you think?!

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I call it my “Jar of Eyes” or my “Audience in a Bottle.”  :)  I haven’t used it on any unsuspecting students yet, but I anticipate it will be highly effective to bring out the next time I think a student could use a reminder to play as if an audience is listening/watching.  ;)

I bought the little glass jar (it is only about 2.5 inches in diameter) at Hobby Lobby some time back for about $2.  I already had all those different craft eyes in my bin of craft supplies.  If you’d like to create your own jar of eyes, I’m sure you can find various sizes of googly eyes at any craft store.