Is poor piano posture holding you back?

Are you a piano or keyboard student who struggles with stiff fingers, that won’t move fast? Do you have difficulty joining notes? Do you experience either hand, arm, shoulders or back pain when playing? If you do, then this post will help you.

Good piano posture from the beginning helps students progress quicker, as their fingers move better. So they later play challenging pieces with ease.

Pencil Drawing of poor piano posture

Continue reading

Advertisements

What do piano teachers ‘DO’?

“You teach the piano?  That’s wonderful!  What do you do with the rest of your time?”

Many piano teachers hear variations of this. From friends, relatives and even parents of new students, who think piano teaching happens just at class time. They see the joy that a teacher feels when students do well, and don’t seem to see what goes into helping a student get there.

So, for families who are totally new to music education and piano playing, here’s what piano teacher’s do outside of that once-a-week piano class.

Continue reading

When piano class is a battle of wills with teenage students

Teenage boys in piano class

Consider the musically-talented teenage boy who is learning the piano because he loves to play. He’s enthusiastic, but there’s just one problem. He does not want to practise daily, and has little or no interest in anything that leads up to good playing: note reading, theory, practice techniques, piano technique or interpretation. All he has going for him is raw talent.

He has a lot to learn, and it’s all new to him, so he often has difficulty remembering all of the finer details that are taught in piano class. He’s at an age where he’s slowly growing into his own personality and has not yet learned how to be responsible for himself.

At times, piano class risks becoming a battle of wills. He attends class regularly without practising, knowing that practise is compulsory, and routinely gets scolded for this. This makes him feel disheartened and he slowly loses interest…

Read the rest of my post on timtopham.com,  “When piano class is a battle of wills with that teenage boy.”

Recording and Guided Self-Assessment in piano in class

Getting piano students to practise

Get a group of piano teachers talking about what they struggle with, and students NOT practising is very likely to be a hot topic.

    • Erratic practise
    • Students ‘playing’ through pieces rather than ‘practising’ them, ignoring instructions in the homework book.
    • Practising making mistakes. Instead of using practise techniques to avoid them, to practise NOT making them.

Like every teacher, I’m constantly looking for remedies to lack of practise, and to poor practise, because what works with one batch of students might not work with another.

My first experiments with recording in piano class

I turned to the recorder on my cellphone in a desperate attempt to motivate a batch of students to practise – when all other methods failed. Audio or video recordings of any student who’d made great progress, emailed to my students & parents. And was surprised and quite thrilled with the results and the way it motivated my students!  

A remedy for the hearing gap

Piano students want progress, and are often unable to understand the quality of work that is required to achieve this. A review of my lessons this year made me realise that students just don’t hear what their teacher hears. This hearing gap is one of the reasons why students get upset with the critical evaluation that’s a part of every piano class.

This November 2017, I decided to put my cellphone recorder and a pile of unused file dividers (assessment cards) to use, to remedy this problem :

      • I recorded my student playing at piano class, and both of us (student and I) listened to the recording immediately.
      • We then discussed how the student would assess his/her playing and what the assessment criteria I’d set meant. 
      • We listened again, and my student and I both did separate assessments.
      • If my grading/comments differed with my student’s, I’d explain my reasons and the student was free to agree, or disagree if unconvinced, marking as he/she felt fit.

It was an eye opener : I was expecting to have to talk about work that my students marked higher than I did. What surprised me was that they did not register some really excellent progress. I had to explain and get them to listen again, to help them understand  how well they’d done!


I started experimenting with recording my piano students after reading a post from the blog of Frances Wilson’s Piano Studio –  The benefits of recording your piano lessons class.

Recording plus a Guided Student Self-Assessment in piano class is improving the quality of my students practise and making a very positive difference to the way they respond to feedback. It’s also changing the way I interact with my students and taking away a potential source of student-teacher conflict. So much, that now it’s a regular part of my piano lessons. 

Coping with the overscheduled child in piano class

This is the child who never has a week-day at home after school… who does not get enough unstructured play time, that is necessary, for a child of his/her age.

This child has lots of hobby classes, and yet, never spends time on any hobby just for fun, only when there’s homework. This child is learning to just do what is required for each hobby class, and does not explore ideas of his/her own.

This is a child does not read at home – who goes for a reading class….who does not just put music on and dance madly, like we did – he goes for dance class…who cannot just stay home and draw for the pleasure of it – she goes to art class.This child, cannot just explore one hobby class at a time, until one of them fits…..he has to do them all – from age 5 onwards.

This child may grow to be an 8 year old, who has difficulty answering a question, if it differs from what he/she is thinking about….. often does not listen to what is being asked….. memorises very quickly and does everything by rote.

I can see what’s happening, because I’m sometimes struggling to help children learn. I talk to parents, and find, that they’re quite comfortable with their child’s hectic schedule, until things start to go wrong….until both the piano teacher and the child’s school teacher have the same problem – because the child – who has absolutely no learning disabilities, is still having difficulty learning!

Talking – about choosing 1 hobby (even if it means stopping piano class) and 1 sport activity to focus on, often falls on deaf ears, and I now know how it goes.

So, I’m doing what I can to change how I teach, writing progress reports in the homework book, with the occasional email, and finally, when I reach a point where all efforts have failed, I’m talking to parents because their child’s reaching a point where I can’t actually go on teaching…where, if I don’t let the student go, I’m at the risk of losing both my patience and my temper.

And evidently, this is what was needed…..a wake up call!!

We have a keyboard at home – why should we buy a piano?

Digital Piano with X Stand

Non-weighted keyboard

Many students in Mumbai & Navi Mumbai start off in piano class, with a basic 5 or 7 octave keyboard to practise on at home, realise they need a piano & then invest in a digital or an acoustic piano as soon as their budget permits.

There are 2 important reasons why piano teachers always recommend students buy an acoustic piano :

  1.  Weighted keys
  2. Responsiveness to touch, with a a capacity to produce variations in tone. 

How key weight affects playing technique

Students who practise on an instrument with weighted keys learn to keep their shoulders, arms & hands in a relaxed position while playing.

The weight of the keys allows them to do this, as the keys are heavy enough, that they can transfer the weight of their arm (this is done in varying degrees, depending on the tonal effect required) to the piano keyboard.

Students who go for piano class and practise on non-weighted keyboards often struggle to adjust. They realise very quickly that their playing technique is being affected by practising on an instrument that is so very different from the piano, that it hinders their learning. And they start budgeting to buy a piano.

Acoustic vs Digital upright pianos

Digital pianos have weighted keys. The degree and quality of the key weight as compared to an acoustic piano vary with different models & budgets. Digital pianos have the following advantages over acoustic pianos :

Yamaha Clavinova Piano

Digital Piano

  1. Digital pianos are budget friendly – you can get a reasonably good digital piano at Rs70,000/- to Rs 1,50,000/- approximately (Refer * below), depending on the quality, brand & functionality you choose.
  2. Headphones for practise. This is really great in small homes.
  3. Recording to MIDI or recording audio directly to a USB or computer, without background noise.
  4. They don’t need regular tuning the way an acoustic piano does, and don’t get affected by temperature fluctuations. It is advisable however, to keep them away from moisture and the direct heat of the sun.
  5. Easy & reasonably priced dismantling, moving and re-assembling. This is an advantage for families who live on rent & have to move every couple of years.

There’s one major disadvantage to having a digital piano, and that is that the responsiveness of the instrument to touch & the capacity to produce variations in tone is limited. So, piano students who wish to move beyond Grade 4/5, & eventually to advanced level pieces, need acoustic pianos to practise on. 

The cost of buying an acoustic piano

  1. You can get a very basic level acoustic piano  Rs 2,50,000/- budget (Refer * below). An instrument with reasonably good tonal quality suited for an advanced level student costs between Rs 4 to 5 lakhs.

    Acoustic Piano

    Acoustic Piano

  2. Acoustic pianos need to be tuned 3 times a year. If you live in a smaller town, check whether there are piano tuners available in your locality & what they charge. And whether they will be regular with appointments, because that can be an issue. Check out whether your piano dealer offers a service contract for piano tuning.
  3. You will need to install a de-humidifier to keep the inside of your piano free of moisture during the monsoon. Price & buy this when you buy your piano.

I hope this post is clear and helps you make a decision on which instrument to buy. Good luck!

*  Images (excluding the header image) are provided by Furtados Music, Jer Mahal, Dhobitalao. Approximate budgets are based on their showroom prices as on May 2017.