Teaching Piano

Simple Upgrades for Your Teaching Setup During Covid-19

How are you doing, fellow teachers? How are you finding your physical and emotional well-being during this Covid-19 pandemic? And how is your teaching going? Remote teaching certainly carries its joys and challenges, does it not?

This is intended as a followup to my previous article, Teaching Piano During the Covid-19 Pandemic. Many of us now have a few weeks’ worth of remote lessons under our belts. Hopefully, you are feeling fairly comfortable with your teaching setup (Are you keeping it simple, as I suggested in my article?), and perhaps you might even be feeling ready to make a few incremental improvements to your arrangement! It’s not looking like we will be back to in-person teaching very soon, so why not experiment a little, right? 🙂

And, of course, let’s make sure we are taking care of ourselves. There are small tweaks we can make to ensure our comfort and well-being during long stretches of teaching.

As before in my previous article, I am again not necessarily recommending purchasing expensive new equipment at this time. Instead, I’d like to share some ideas for simple, easy ways to upgrade your setup using mostly items you probably already have around the house.

The suggestions in this article range from the simple to the more involved, and they are addressed in that order. Don’t try them all, and certainly not all at once. Instead, select an idea here and there, and see where that takes you.

Please join me in taking care of ourselves first, so that we can then take care of our families and students well!

1. Sit Comfortably

Are you sitting on a backless piano bench while you teach over the internet? Why not swap it out for a more comfortable chair?

[My cat, Kira, demonstrates how comfortable a computer chair can be at the piano when you’re teaching.]

Using a chair with back support will help prevent soreness. If you use a computer chair, you’ll have the benefit of being able to swivel between the piano keyboard and your nearby resources — saving your neck!

2. Prevent Vocal Fatigue

Are you finding yourself talking louder than usual when teaching via the internet, and suffering from a sore throat by the end of the day? Here’s a few suggestions to help alleviate this issue.

Continue reading “Simple Upgrades for Your Teaching Setup During Covid-19”
Teaching Piano

Just Added: BINGO Sheet for Piano Students

As I was perusing Instagram recently, I saw a BINGO sheet a piano teacher had created for her students. I thought it was particularly well done; the activities she came up with were so great! I was inspired to create my own version for my students, so I reached out to her to ask if she minded if I used many of the same activities. She generously responded “yes”! (Thank you, Lynnette!)

So, today I’m sharing with you my own take on a BINGO sheet for piano students. I think this printable is perfect for use with piano students anytime, but especially during the current Covid-19 pandemic.

The activities on the sheet encourage students to complete activities on their own that are creative, fun, and often involve a family member/friend. Here are a few examples:

Continue reading “Just Added: BINGO Sheet for Piano Students”
Teaching Piano

Teaching Piano During the COVID-19 Pandemic

At the time of this publishing, the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in the U.S., the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is recommending no gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks, so most events are being canceled. Many of us (depending on which state you live) are experiencing canceled school classes, university classes, and work. The local grocery stores keep running out of basic staples, because everyone is stocking up. The pandemic’s effect is deep and wide, and our response is important. The recommendations call for us to regularly wash our hands and practice “social distancing” to avoid possible spread or exposure to the virus. The goal is to slow the spread of the outbreak (i.e., “flatten the curve“) to avoid overwhelming the medical facilities in this country for the sake of those of us who will require medical care when the virus is contracted. This is a time for us to pull together and be community-minded.

What does this mean for our piano teaching? For me, as it so happens, I’ve been on maternity leave from teaching for the past six weeks. My student base is currently comprised of a handful (due to having recently relocated here) of students in Ann Arbor, Michigan and a day’s worth of students back in Northwest Ohio — an hour’s drive commute to the studio where I rent a room. I had planned to resume lessons soon, but due to the pandemic situation I’ve put all in-person lessons on hold.

Instead, I’ve reached out to my students and suggested that we continue lessons via FaceTime/Skype/Zoom. School may be canceled, but there’s no reason piano can’t continue! Perhaps for us and our students, continuing piano practice and lessons with us all feel a small bit of stability and normalcy during these intense times. And certainly, for many piano teachers there is a natural concern about finding a way to maintain a level of income during these difficult times.

And so, many of us are moving our piano lessons online. In this blog post, I’d like to share some tips and advice for doing so — things I’ve learned from experience teaching online lessons occasionally over the past few years.

Continue reading “Teaching Piano During the COVID-19 Pandemic”
Teaching Piano

9 Ideas for Your Piano Studio Chalkboard/Whiteboard

Do you have a chalkboard or whiteboard in your piano studio space?

I found this chalkboard at a thrift store a couple of years ago for something like $12. I’ve been experimenting with different things to put on it for my students, and thought I’d share a few ideas today!

1. Studio Name

I always put the studio name somewhere near the top. I’m no professional artist, but I like to experiment with different styles of lettering.

2. Upcoming Dates

Remind your students of upcoming dates and deadlines. This can help parents and students stay in touch with what’s going on!

Continue reading “9 Ideas for Your Piano Studio Chalkboard/Whiteboard”
Teaching Piano, Technique

Butterfly Bands for Beginner Piano Technique (GIVEAWAY)

I enjoy using a butterfly band prop — credit to Irina Gorin — to help my beginner students develop a physical approach to the instrument that is comfortable and effective for ideal sound production. In Irina’s words, the butterfly exercise helps students experience “relaxation of the hand/wrist, a floating arm, and a gentle touch”.

Today, I thought I’d share how I make these bands for my students — including an improvement I came up with during the most recent round of butterfly-band-making. 🙂

Continue reading “Butterfly Bands for Beginner Piano Technique (GIVEAWAY)”
Teaching Piano, Technique

Lesson Videos: Tone Production, Rhythm Dictation, and Staccato

This post is a followup to yesterday’s post, Meet Lucia, Piano Teacher in Puerto Rico! where we got a glimpse into Lucia Fernandez’s lovely piano studio space.

Quick backstory: Lucia attended Irina Gorin’s workshop back in May and is familiarizing herself with Irina’s method, Tales of a Musical Journey. I took Irina’s workshop back in 2015, and have been an enthusiast ever since. Lucia and I connected via Irina’s Facebook group, and decided to get together in person while I was vacationing in Puerto Rico. Using Lucia’s daughter as a guinea pig, we explored certain aspects of Irina’s techniques together. Today, I’m sharing a few of the video clips Lucia took during our time together!

A few things I want you to know before we dive into the videos:

  • Irina’s method is designed around developing a beautiful sound and a healthy technique from the beginning. That is the focus of these activities, as you will see.
  • Ana isn’t a total beginner — she has been taking lessons with her mom for over a year. They’ve been using other books in addition to recent explorations into Irina’s book. Ana is seven years old.
  • Although I did take Irina’s workshop and have been using her materials for a few years now, my teaching isn’t as amazing as Irina’s. 🙂 I encourage you to learn from the master! Check out Irina’s extensive YouTube channel here.

Video #1: Tone Production

Continue reading “Lesson Videos: Tone Production, Rhythm Dictation, and Staccato”
Teaching Piano

Meet Lucia, Piano Teacher in Puerto Rico!

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were in Puerto Rico. I highly recommend it as a fun place to vacation! The culture is different enough from the mainland U.S. that it feels a bit exotic, and yet, it’s familiar enough to the point where you can get around easily. Many of the locals speak English in addition to Spanish. There’s so much history to experience, great food, beaches, gorgeous weather, and fun excursions such as snorkeling and the rainforest. You can’t go wrong!

Before our trip, I connected with Puerto Rican piano teacher Lucia Fernandez, thanks to Irina Gorin’s Tales of a Musical Journey method Facebook group (check out my review of Irina’s method book here). Lucia and her husband arranged a lovely dinner meetup for us and the couple we were vacationing with.

A couple of days later, Lucia picked me up to visit her home studio. It’s always fun to get a peek into a fellow piano teacher’s studio, right? Lucia agreed to allow me to feature her home studio here on my blog for you to see. 🙂

Continue reading “Meet Lucia, Piano Teacher in Puerto Rico!”
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. 

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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, 1,519 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”