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!”

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Practice, Teaching Piano

My Thoughts on Practice Requirements

Many of you may remember being required by your piano teachers growing up to practice a certain amount of minutes each day/week.  Perhaps your requirement looked something like this:

  • 15 minutes a day,
  • 140 minutes each week, or
  • 45 minutes, 5 days a week.

One of my previous teachers built her incentive program around how much practice time each student completed each week.  She would set an amount for each student (15 minutes/day for the young ones, and then gradually increasing up to 60 minutes/day for the advanced ones).  If you completed all your practice time each week, you’d receive a sticker on your chart for that week.  When you received 7 consecutive weeks of completed practice, you were allowed to chose a prize from the prize box.  She used a system similar to the following:

  • Beginners: 10-20 minutes, 5 days a week (depending on their age).
  • Intermediate students: 20-45 minutes, 5 days a week.
  • Advanced students: 60 minutes or more a day, 5 days a week.

Personally, I use a simpler, more flexible practice requirement for my students.  I simply tell my students and parents that they are expected to practice daily.  And that’s it.  Here are my reasons why I like to leave it at that: Continue reading “My Thoughts on Practice Requirements”

improving as a teacher, Teaching Piano

Play forte – but NOT accented…

You know, learning to play an instrument is all about making breakthroughs.  There are so many things to consider and train yourself to do.  It’s a complicated process!  You are never done learning.  There’s always room for improvement.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been realizing that when I play forte on the piano — whether I’m playing my solo pieces or when I am accompanying a vocalist/instrumentalist — it sounds rather “poundy.”  Forte should not necessarily mean accented, however.  Forte can be a big, full sound without the accented front edge of the note.  But how on earth do I achieve this elusive sound?

This week I made a little breakthrough.  Rather than lifting and reattacking quite so much between chords, I need to keep my arm weight the same as I make the chord changes, more with my fingers than my hands (making sure the wrists remain loose and tension-free!).  It’s difficult to explain, but after a few weeks of pondering this issue in my daily practicing, I think I’m beginning to understand how to create this elusive sound.

You know, piano really is all about creating different sounds, colors, tone qualities – whatever you want to call them.  As my teacher used to say, “Music is not a democracy; not all notes are created equal.”  Now I know that this statement does not just apply to balance between melody and accompaniment, but also to various sections of a piece.  Not all forte notes are equal.  :)

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jraffreynolds/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

Memorization, Resources

Practice Tips @ “The Practice Notebook” blog

I was recently introduced to “The Practice Notebook” blog, created by flautist Zara Lawler.  She has tons of excellent tips for practicing efficiently, no matter what instrument you play.  Most notably, I found some excellent blog posts about her method of memorizing music.  In my experience, many teachers have their students memorize their pieces, but very few teachers actually teach how to memorize.  I am thrilled to find this blog that lays out a specific step-by-step method.  I am taking her suggestions to heart as I prepare my piano pieces for my midterm next week!

I hope write my own post with my own tips for memorizing music as well, but specific to piano music.  Watch for it coming soon!

Announcements, improving as a teacher, Practice

Practicing Efficiently

Hello all!  After a enjoyable and much-needed Christmas break, I’m officially back to blogging.  I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are enjoying the new year.

Over break, I had limited access to a piano (I don’t currently own one – I both teach and practice using the pianos on campus).  It felt good to be back at it over the last few days.  Today while I was practicing (Liszt’s Waldesrauschen, among other things), I was thinking about concentration and its role in learning new music.  Why is it that on some days, I accomplish a great deal during practice sessions, and on other days, I feel as if I just wasted the last hour as I practiced?   Continue reading “Practicing Efficiently”

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!