Teaching my first Skype piano class

I have just 2 piano students in Bandra, 2 hours away from where I live and I needed a break from the long commute for a little while. I was on leave in April and taught just 2 in-studio classes (alternate weeks) there in the month of May.

It was holiday time, and one of my students, a 9 year old boy,  was home with lots of time to practise. So we did a ‘Video class’ in April, and we tried a couple of ‘Skype Lessons’ in May.

Why I’m offering students (optional) Skype classes

I’ve always been very hesitant about anything other than ‘in-studio’ classes, because the medium restricts the teacher’s ability to demonstrate playing technique and correct the student when there’s wrong technique, posture, etc. Playing duets, which students really enjoy, can be a problem if there’s a time lag. Introducing off the bench activities require a little bit of effort and innovation – it’s something I really need to work on. We had connectivity issues at one class that took a few minutes of class time at the first class, but the second class went fine.

After teaching two skype classes, I still see that it’s not the same as teaching in-studio. However, there are some benefits to online teaching that I overlooked. They’re  benefits that in-studio teaching does not have, and they’re huge!

How Skype lesson can help, and why parents should consider taking them once in a way

  • Keeping attendance regular : My students reschedule class quite often, because they’re running late due to work commitments (adult students or parents) . The student is available and at home at class time, but will not reach class in good time.  I reschedule every class, to another day, but there’s a problem. If the break between classes is too long, practise quality goes down, and if the break is too short and the student does not get enough time to practise.  Having a Skype class can take care of this. My student’s practise was not just regular, it was excellent! Possibly because this is a student who loves technology.
  • Super Attentiveness : He (my student) listened very carefully to what I was saying, or demonstrating. I think the online medium made him pay more attention to visual and auditory clues. He’s usually a very interested and cooperative student, and yet I was amazed at just how much more focused he was during the class. He was like this at both classes, but the second class went better, because his Mum helped him with the set-up, so it was quick, and without delays.
  • Posture : I was able to see what actually happens at home, and correct my student when he sat too low. Often students have technical issues, because they don’t follow the teachers instructions at home (though they do in class) and there’s nothing like seeing what actually happens when they play at home.

Skype teaching needs a slightly different skill set to in-studio teaching. It’s a new medium for me, so I really need to work on how to improve my ability to demonstrate and teach playing technique through this medium. I also need to work more on introducing the fun element to online teaching, as it needs different kinds of games and challenges, to what I do in-studio.

I still like teaching in-studio, and will continue to teach that way. However, I’m excited about online teaching, as a supplement to regular in-studio classes. The benefits made me interested enough that I’m working on trying to learn new skills to improve my online teaching skills.

Parent education during piano class

It’s sometime now, since I’ve been spending 15 minutes of piano class to talk to new piano parents. Explaining piano practise and any difficulties that the student has, and how I’m teaching to get beyond them. Explaining piano teaching methods in general and  my teaching approach specifically.

I talk a little about it when prospective students and their parents come to meet me, so parents know what to expect. I call up working parents who don’t make it to class, either during class time, or the next day, when just writing in the homework book won’t do.

I’m writing about it, because it has made a huge difference to the quality of support that my students and I receive from their parents. The simple truth is this – Students who last out in piano are invariably the ones whose parents get involved.

 

What parent involvement means

Children and teenagers usually don’t practise on their own, because they have difficulty scheduling studies, piano practise and play. So, at the start, parents involvement means scheduling practise and reminding children to practise.

It means being around at practise time, because piano practise is a very solitary hobby and children usually need company. Just knowing that someone’s around and will pop in now and then to sit and listen to something, or remind the student to read the homework book and follow practise instructions for a difficult section make the difference.

Later, as the child gets older, and used to learning the piano, parent involvement changes. This is when parents need to get their child to study and practise independently, using study and practise charts to help their child keep track of progress.

Parents who provide the structure and encouragement, and downplay their role and let their kids enjoy their achievement, often end up have kids who learn to love piano practise, and who go to the piano to have fun and to de-stress when they’re tired or need a break from studies.

Years of talking to parents made me realise that parents often just don’t know what good practise is, and sometimes correct their child for doing something that I, the teacher, have instructed their child to do when practising, in order to make practise fun. So, here are some of the things we (the parents & I) discuss in those 15 minutes.

 

Making the child’s distraction a teaching tool

“Sit still! Be serious! And play!”

This is what many piano parents are saying to their young kids at home, in an effort to get practise done. And it’s just quite crazy, because, it’s normal for young kids to have shorter attention spans, and to fidget. It also goes against what they’re learning in piano class, which is

“Play is an integral part of learning”

Many of us piano teachers are letting the child’s idea of fun determine what goes on in class.

  • We’re creating off-the-stool piano activities that include movement to teach musical concepts, and we’re allowing students a ‘walk around’ or ‘dance’ or ‘chat’  break, when they need to move or tell stories.
  • We’re assigning homework with breaks and/or activity and need parents to understand that this is what good practise looks like, for young and energetic kids, who often don’t get enough exercise in their daily routine.

Piano parents sitting in on class, see that their child is allowed movement, and see that the teacher is using this to teach a musical concept and often have questions. Some parents understand the advantage of this teaching approach immediately and others take time to understand, but irrespective, all have questions. Because sadly, learning through fun is a very new concept. So teachers need to take time to explain.

We’re talking in piano class, about the value of play, and about fact that the average Navi Mumbai child today gets much much less than the recommended physical activity he/she needs to grow and develop. Talking about the fact that children need to play and move to develop good motor coordination seems to make parents realise it’s importance.

 

Managing breaks during home piano practise

Young children practise better when practise time is shorter, with breaks in between. Parents often have difficulties just getting their child to go to the piano, and just writing out instructions in the homework book is not enough. Plus with some kids, there’s a risk of breaks getting extended and sabotaging practise.

Teacher’s need to understand what happens at practise time at home. Some kids practise better early in the day or just after school, while others are more attentive at the end of the day. With some kids, repeated reminders to practise are quite normal – and do not indicate a lack of interest – this is something parents need to understand.

Parent’s often don’t realise the importance of blocking extra time for practise, so there’s leeway for students to delay, run around, or just try out their own stuff at the piano. Teachers have loads of ideas of their own, and all that they’ve learned from other parents, so talking about practise helps.

 

Noticing those small (but BIG) achievements

This is the most important issue that I’ve faced with new piano parents. Every child has different difficulties, and what seems easy to an adult, may be really really hard for a young child. A lot of times, piano class is repetition. Piano teacher’s work for years, correcting the same weak spot at every class. It may be sitting still long enough to practise a piece well, bad hand position, banging the keys, an inability to play slow, or to play on time. Parents getting the same feedback class after class, need to know that this is how it goes in piano class. It’s quite normal.

It’s not that their child is lazy or inattentive, but that it’s difficult for a child to remember and to work on his/her weak spot at home, when there’s no teacher around. It’s good when parents remind their child, but only if it’s once in a way. Too much, and children feel they’re being chased or nagged and it takes the joy out of practise. What really works is positive reinforcement. Record the student when there’s a successful attempt at home, show it to the rest of the family later, and bring it to piano class.

Sometimes, the improvements are so small, that parents simply can’t see them. And yet these tiny steps forward are so BIG, because the young piano student has had to really try hard, and they deserve praise. It’s why piano teachers take the trouble to point out small improvements. And take the time, to explain to parents, why they’re such huge steps forward.

Here’s a related post  ‘Teaching parents the value of struggle and how it’s helping’

 

My Piano Mom’s (and some Piano Dad’s) help make their kids see that learning something new and challenging is fun. They also make teaching their kids a joyful and rewarding time for me, and I see them as an immense support to the learning process.

 

 

 

Mixed feelings

…as I stop teaching in Bandra. I miss my lovely lot of students there and yet, I’m feeling the relief… now that I don’t have to do that crazy commute that took a good 5 hours out of each day.

 

I’m looking forward to taking on more students in Khargar, to getting time to get to know my  neighbours and to time at home.

 

So, for now, it’s goodbye to all my Bandra students and their very very supportive families. I wish you well.