The roads there for walking, the streets are for parking,
The footpaths where we sell our wares.
The junction is where we stop to chat,
Though the signal is green and we’re causing a jam. Continue reading
The footpaths where we sell our wares.
The junction is where we stop to chat,
Though the signal is green and we’re causing a jam. Continue reading
The Art of Piano Fingering by Rami Bar-Niv is a wonderfully detailed exploration of piano fingering. It’s become my textbook for when I get stuck with fingering and need to study it in relation to playing technique, hand size and the kind of effect that a passage of piano music requires the pianist to produce.
Rami Bar-Niv is one of Israel’s most acclaimed pianists. He’s a composer and has performed and taught all over the world, giving masterclasses, lectures, workshops and private lessons.
His book starts with the basics of fingering and covers scales, chords and the basics of hand position, so that piano students can follow it easily. Much of the book deals with advanced fingering. It’s written clearly and concise, so that a student can learn and understand advanced fingering and related playing technique.
And yet detailed enough that it will help the professional, both pianist and teacher.
‘The Art of Piano Fingering’ is on my reading list right now, and it’s going to be there for a long time. Because it’s a book I want to take my time with, so I can explore the ideas I find and understand them well. It’s available in hardcopy and you can get it here.
If you’re looking to really understand and study piano fingering, this is the book for you.
Parent support for piano practise with young piano students is a huge issue. With teachers, because they know the likelihood of any student actually progressing beyond the beginner level depends on this. Even the musically talented student.
For piano parents it’s time and commitment and something more for them to add to their already busy schedules.
As I write this post, I’ve been teaching the piano for roughly 15 years. During all of these years, I’ve had less than a handful of students who practised without parent support.
These children come to piano class and learn the theory and technique that’s necessary to play a piece. Then the piece starts to sound good to them as it’s kind of put together from beginning to end. So, they then start to practise by repetition, mind shut to such an extent, that they have totally forgotten the theory and technique (though they play correctly). They’re totally blank and can’t answer basic theory questions. They can’t even recall what was taught earlier – even simple basic stuff.
When I first started teaching in Andheri (Mumbai), my first batch of students did not practise. They had such excellent memories that they could and did in the beginning, fool me into thinking they’d done their work. Until I learned to understand their abilities and assess their work accordingly.
I mainly taught in Bandra (Mumbai) from 2011 to 2015, but took on a few students in Khargar off and on. I had a few students in Bandra who could not think and I wrote a post about it ‘Coping with the over-scheduled child in piano class’
I still have a couple of students in Bandra, but I teach full-time in Khargar. Teachers in different parts of the world are seeing an increasing number of students who can’t think and reason.
If it were just piano class, it would be fine, because piano teachers don't expect all kids to have developed musical skills. But I knew my students well and talking to parents makes me realise that it was not just piano class where this happened.
This year in July, all my 9 year olds and one 12 year old had a mental shutdown. I was teaching to blank faces from students who, until now, had been progressing well. They’re beginners who have been with me for about a year.
My students who could sit perfectly still earlier, were fidgeting and needed lots of off the bench activities. They were fidgety at home too, and talking to their Mum’s made me realise that the unusually heavy monsoon took away their play time, so they had no activity.
I asked one student’s parents to enrol their child in a hobby class with sports activity and there was a noticeable change within a few weeks. It got better with all of my students as the monsoon eased and they were able to get back to physical activity – regular play or sports classes.
Just get children moving. If your child’s play time does not have enough physical activity, then a sports related hobby class or a 1 hour walk 3 days a week works fine.
I’m really amazed that something so simple worked!
That even during the weeks of poor practise, these students could remember what was done earlier and could demonstrate it and explain it to me.
Sometimes piano teachers have those days. And we need to decide whether to have a good laugh or scream at the walls after our students leave. I’ve decided to laugh at all the crazy things my piano students do.
A guide for intermediate to advanced piano students who have learned their piece and want to be able to assess the quality of their playing on their own, with guidance from their teacher.
You should have learned your piece correct from the very first. However, it is likely that you still have some weak spots where you falter, when under pressure.
Listen to a recording of your performance and then listen to recordings by different pianists until your ear can hear any differences in time, pitch and the harmony. This will help you hear and correct any errors in your playing such as wrong pitch and note values.
Also, listen to variations in articulation and tone production and figure out what suits your piece.
Students can make the mistake of playing erratic rhythms, and think this is interpretation. They need to understand how pianists interpret a piece while keeping the sense of style, tempo and mood that is required of the piece and the period it comes from. A metronome can be a help when listening to variations in tempo.
Listen to reputed pianists play. Listen to small sections, listen separately to individual parts in a section, until your ear can hear them.
Isolate a part or a layer of the music that you wish to work on, and listen to hear that layer well.
Rests, pauses and spaces in the music are a very important part of it, and one many students ignore. Listen for silences and feel the mood that they generate. They need to become important to you.
It might be a good idea to make small notes on the score, or mark areas where you need to check your playing, so that you don’t forget them during practise time.
Practise is different from playing. Yes, you need to play your piece and you also need to play it often enough. The mistake many students make however, is playing the piece through again and again, thinking it will improve their weak areas, and it doesn’t. That’s what practise is for.
If you are ‘practising’ and still not getting results, you may need a smaller section. Working small will help you listen better. It helps to focus on one single weak area at a time.
Write down the questions you have about any aspect of playing and performing your piece so that you remember them. Talk to your teacher about your ideas when you go to piano class.
Listen Listen and LISTEN. That’s the key to being able to teach yourself to play better.
“Aim higher than you want to reach. You may miss your target, but you will still reach your original goal”
This way of thinking has worked very well for me and many of my piano students who wanted sucess easy. Who wanted to do just barely enough that was required to play their pieces well, who fell short when they played for an audience and then realised they needed to aim higher.
But it’s not working with my batch of new students, whether they’re young children, teens or adults.
The hard work required just does not happen in the first year of piano class and students often get disheartened. Because everything is so far out of reach.
I started out last year, in April 2015 with My Personal Sight-reading Challenge. I’m a piano teacher by profession and I face a difficulty that all piano teachers face, which is getting time to practise.
Practising the piano is very necessary, if teachers want to improve the quality of their teaching. And yet we spend so much time teaching, planning lessons and reading up on how to communicate effectively. We study teaching techniques and are involved in a host of other activities that are necessary to manage our teaching studios.
I started out my sight-reading challenge last year, with the goal of making a small commitment to myself to play everyday, and it worked. You can read about it in The impact of 100 minutes of practise
I realized that having a very small goal that was achievable in a short period of time, got me going to the piano many times a day, and got me learning a lot more pieces than I usually do. And this made me think about what goals I set for myself, when I’m teaching my students.
A few of my students took The 10 easy piece challenge. They learned 10 easy pieces upto set achievement levels, we recorded them and uploaded them online. Achievement levels set depended on the student’s weak area, and many of these were way below ‘performance’ level (the level of playing at which a student has mastered the piece).
The students were thrilled because they got good feedback at piano class. It was fairly easy for them and therefore getting piano practise done was not too hard a task for their parents.
These students suddenly moved from being the ones who did not get anything done, to the ones who were doing exceedingly well, and their parents were very proud of them. Their parents would motivate them by reminding them of how capable they were and they’re excited about piano class.
Progress was not always a straight line, and there were regular slips. Mostly though, it’s moving forward, and some students are now trying to do 10 more pieces.
There’s value to quantity, that is, to learning more repertoire. It’s the only way for piano students to really master their instrument. Here are a couple of very interesting posts that every teacher, piano parent and student should read.
I first tried online piano teaching with my Bandra students. It’s 2 hours away from where I live and during the monsoon this can extend to upto 3 hours at peak time, due to water logging, traffic jams & rail break-downs. I visit there once a week and teach a couple of students while I’m there.
I needed a break from the long commute for a little while and one of my students, a 9 year old boy, tried online lessons via Skype. The first class took longer than planned due to set-up & connectivity issues, but the next was great! I was surprised to see benefits to online teaching that had not occurred to me until I tried it.
The difference in the impact of the medium (online vs in-studio class) made me feel quite out of my comfort zone for the first few classes and I had to put in quite some effort to change my teaching style to suit online teaching. I could see the benefits to online teaching that did not occur to me until I tried it. They’re benefits that in-studio teaching does not have, and they’re huge!
Online teaching needs a slightly different skill set to in-studio teaching. I had to plan my lesson very differently, and work on the following :
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 at my first few online classes made me interested enough to learn new skills to improve my online teaching skills.
I felt that 30 or 40 pieces a year would to just too much for the average Indian piano student, given the school plus coaching class schedule that young children here have. So, I gave my students another challenge.
Most Mumbai students beyond late elementary level learn between 5 to 10 pieces a year and this reduces to 4 or 5 pieces a year as they move on to intermediate and advanced levels. They learn a new piece for an exam, concert or competition and that’s about it.
The average student stops learning new music when piano class stops, because he/she simply doesn’t know how. Learning so little music means that students only learn pieces which are at the top of their ability and very rarely get work done on their own without their teacher – even easy pieces. So, the pieces selected should be :
The goal is to help each student get a little better than they were before, and to set standards that take the student forward in steps small enough, that it’s easy. So that learning new pieces is relaxing and enjoyable.
For example :
There’s a quick and easy way to judge whether a student is doing well in piano class. And that is whether the student can learn new easy pieces independently from the very first. Continue reading
The piano teacher points to a note and asks the student to name it. The student answers wrong repeatedly. When this child is asked to point out the note he/she is talking about, it becomes clear that the student know his/her stuff, but is just not able to focus on where the teacher is pointing. It’s the same with verbal & written instructions.
Piano teachers are seeing a lot more children like this in recent years, more than ever before.
This student has difficulty paying attention from the very first class and it often takes the teacher a few classes to figure out the problem. What is required, is a lot of patience on the part of the piano teacher, as well as knowledge on how to approach a topic in different ways, to get this child’s attention.
Practise at home needs parent support and a daily home routine is very essential for this student to do well, both at school and at piano class.
One might say that this student has some symptoms of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), only that there’s nothing wrong with this child.
All this child needs is a reasonable amount of time spend with his/her parents, play time, plus a routine and structure to the day – what his/her parents generation got because it’s the way things were then.
ADD and ADHD are real, and both teachers and parents need to be aware, to catch it. But when all it takes to get these kids to be super attentive, is a regular dose of old style parenting, my feeling is that not ADD, but a lifestyle issue.
Many teachers and parents can make the mistake of thinking it’s a discipline problem, and may try to change the child’s behaviour by scolding, lecturing, shouting and punishing. A piano teacher often gets parents, who have already reached that point at which this is starting to happen at home.
And this does not work. It beats the child up inside, because this child is usually very sweet, cooperative and willing to try, if someone takes the time to look deep enough. It’s important that the piano teacher is patient, and gives the student time to open up, and then figure out how to get the student to move forward.
Starting piano class with quiet activities like listening to music, writing out notes or playing a favourite piece can help these students quiet down their thoughts so they can focus on one thing at a time.
Many of my young students are the first in their families to learn to play the piano and don’t have exposure to music at home. And that is a part of the problem with focus in piano class, and I think, a way forward. Because listening to music is a wonderful way to deal with moods and emotion and is very therapeutic.
It’s pretty simple to make listening to music a part of a child’s daily routine, and help parents with 2 important tasks that most parents struggle with –
Children need to be able to play music on their own, and it’s worth investing in a reasonably priced music system that they can use.
Many busy parents seem to be able to balance work & family time, and give their children the time they need. But sadly, there are a lot who don’t. A lot more children as compared to earlier are being brought up by maids while their parents are away at work. It’s putting pressure on children and it’s something we need to think about.
Related Articles :
“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.
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.”
Young beginner level piano students need their parents to be involved,
Unfortunately, parents often use this time to show their child what is correct, instead of reminding them or helping them – to read, understand their homework & do their own thinking.
I think it’s because the parent focuses on the short term goal of playing a particular piece well, not thinking about the more important goal – the young student learning how to learn a piece on his/her own.
Children here in Navi Mumbai often learn by memorising pre-written answers in schools, but it’s always been that way in India. Yet, the earlier generation – the parents – did not have the same difficulties thinking reasoning that a lot of the current generation of children have.
Is the fast pace of todays life eating into time parents spend talking & playing with their young children? Is it just the pace of life or a change in values or a lack of understanding that the most important thing that a child needs is time with his/her parents?
I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is that it’s very common for todays child who has no learning disabilities, to be slow at reasoning.
Piano class has to address these issues, because playing the piano requires a combination of different skills, all from the very first class. Hand coordination, reading, finding the correct note on the piano keyboard & playing to a steady beat – all simultaneously.
I encourage piano parents of my young students to sit in on class and we talk about how I teach, so that my young students learn to teach themselves. We talk about why it’s important to be patient in piano class as well as during piano practise time, and let a child take time figuring things out.
Parents sitting in on piano class are able to see how asking leading questions, rather than providing answers helps their child work things out. In the long run, they see the confidence this gives their child.
They see the effort their child puts in & realise the importance of their role in fostering thinking during home practise. And they also realise that the patience it takes to guide a child this way comes only from understanding that independent thinking is necessary to gain knowledge.
Over time, their childs initial struggle to learn & understand becomes a challenge. A challenge that is exciting & that is fun.
The first few months with my young beginners go very very slow and then suddenly, they’re learning so quick that I have to struggle to fit things in. That lesson planning becomes a challenge. And that’s when I know it was worth it.
Here’s an interesting article ‘The upside of failure – the downside of success – and how to keep improving, no matter what’
Parents often think that piano teaching is just a 1 hour class once a week for the teacher.
Here’s a print from a brochure I keep handy, for parents of all new students to read….It helps parents see that the piano teaching is a ‘profession’ as well as a vocation for the teacher – as opposed to being a ‘hobby’ for the teacher…..and therefore, contributes to better teacher-parent relationships.
“But my child achieved this level of playing and learning last year, and you said it was excellent….this year you say it’s not good enough.”
This is something many piano teachers will hear from parents, and it can be the cause of a lot of discord when parents want progress in piano class, but don’t realise how this impacts their child’s learning goals.
Goals escalate slowly over time .. from very small easily achievable goals, to goals which need more work, focus and independent learning.
A child who is just starting to grasp something, needs to be able to spot even small signs of improvement. These small achievements are what motivate the child to go on working at the same piece day after day. This is what helps the child develop a sense of confidence, and enjoy learning.
A goal achieved means that your child has moved forward, along a long long road to being a pianist.
The students has achieved a level of competence in the goal set and now needs to look and doing something more. The teacher now expects a certain level of competence in some basic concepts and needs to communicate to parents, that their child has grown and is now ready to move on and therefore the goals are higher, and a little harder to achieve.
Children often need parent support, at this stage, to understand that everything takes more time, and needs more work than earlier, but it's not because they're doing poorly, but because they're capable of moving on to a higher level of learning.
I realise it’s important to talk to parents about the relationship between escalating goals and escalating achievement. Because not all parents think about it, and sometimes parents can get upset, when they the mistake of thinking that their child’s doing poorly.
My answer to that is Yes and No.
Because young children learn rhythm and scales while doing a lot of fun activities. Every young child has heard do, re, mi, etc, in ‘The Sound of Music,’ so learning to play scales is exciting for the young piano student (see What practising scales is good for). Students get a huge boost, when their teacher tells them that their practise has been well done.
Children who get the support they need at home, and whose parents work with the piano teacher (see Why parents should talk to the piano teacher about practise issues before the class starts) enjoy the challenge of trying something that’s new and a bit of a challenge.
Because the young piano student often wants to progress quick or learn repertoire that older or more advanced students children play, and this means diligent practise. Children tend to associate fun with quick fixes and things that are easy to do & the average child just won’t practise regularly without parent support at home.
The last is something many children struggle with during the first year of piano class. Because many children have learned to answer questions by memorising pre-written answers in school, and don't have enough activities like reading & playing language games with friends or family, that make up for the lack in school.
Parents play a very important role in providing the kind of support a child needs to practise well at home. Each child is different in their levels of independence and the kind of goals they have, so the level of parent support required varies from child to child.
7 reasons why scales are an essential part of learning to play the piano….
Young students usually love scales, as they’ve heard them sung in the musical “The Sound of Music” and are therefore keen on learning to play them. Older students often find them challenging, therefore enjoy practising them.
Playing scales daily require a lot of discipline and committment – something most young children don’t have, and parents who see the value of scale playing, usually step in and see that it’s done. When children see that they’re playing their scales well, and that they’re easy (because of daily practise) they start enjoying them.
Some of my women friends are stuck. They’re amazing cooks & they were just so good at it, that other family members stopped taking turns with cooking. They loved cooking & took pains to cater to differing tastes, by cooking a wide variety of dishes at every meal.
It’s hitting them hard as they get older & their priorities change. They want time to spend with their extended family & often struggle to get time to meet up with their friends. Because running their home, looking after older family members & producing fabulous meals daily takes all the time they have.
They’re talking about it when we meet & realising that their being so good at cooking has made their family fussy. They now want to unlearn their amazing cooking skills & learn from women with cooking skills like mine!
I’m saying no to the requests I’ve had for cooking classes. The truth is, all I have to do is ‘try’ to cook well and that’s enough for things to go terrible wrong….so I don’t think I can teach it. It’s just a natural talent!
Here’s a list of 8 questions that come up over the course of piano teaching. I’m addressing these answer’s specifically to the parents of my new beginner students.
Parents and students goals change over time, so these are questions I constantly asks myself. Because the teaching styles of different teachers are different, and there may come a time when the student needs a change.
I keep parents involved with what’s happening in piano class through comments in the homework book, emails and phone calls where necessary. When children give trouble or go through difficult phases relating to learning, I rely a lot on parent support, and this helps both me and the student, as it has a very very positive impact on learning.
Parents of young children who don’t wish to be involved in piano class and want their child’s learning to happen without any involvement at home, definitely need a teacher with a different approach.
This depends entirely on whether your child practises regularly or not. Children who practise get taught something new, and children who don’t practise, mostly revise work they’ve forgotten.
The answer to this is a big big NO. Your child needs, from the first, to listen and correct his/her own mistakes. You may however help, by asking questions to make your child listen and think. For example :
“Did you play correct? Can you play it again, it sounds so good!” Your 5 year old child might say it was correct, even when it was wrong, but will play a second time and will automatically be paying more attention – is more likely to hear a mistake, and stop and correct it. Teacher’s correct mistakes and explain in class, so your child will learn to hear mistakes fairly quickly.
This approach eventually leads to really good – and independent learning.
Here’s when you need to talk to me – preferable on the phone, so your child can’t hear, and we can talk about what needs to be done to remedy this. I write instructions in the homework book, which you can help your young child read and follow, and will take up any special learning issues your child has.
Parents pay a fee in expectation that their child will learn, and the teacher spends valuable time on a student with the same hope. Setting targets helps the parent, student and teacher work towards a common end. The purpose of the target is not to put pressure on the student, and I say this very very emphatically!
Rather, it is to ensure that progress in piano class happens with absolutely no pressure, so the young student thinks of piano playing as a fun and relaxing thing to do.
The piano is a very lonely instrument, unlike the violin or guitar, where students have more opportunities to play in groups. Young children whose parents implement practise by saying ‘play for me’ because -’ I love to hear you’ or ‘I find listening to you fun or relaxing’ usually have children who grow to love the routine of piano practise.
They develop a routine, because their parents taught them this, by being around every day. It surprises me, that even working mother’s are able to make time to do this..until I realise, it’s not just because they enjoy their child playing, though that’s a part of it.
More, it’s because they realise there’s long term value to their child’s musical development, and are willing to put in the regular effort that is necessary to help their child learn.
Piano playing is a lot of learning. It takes time to work on a piece and get it right. Sometimes, children work very hard and it still takes time. If the homework book shows that 50% of your child’s work is good – your child is doing well.
As the level of difficulty increases, the pieces get harder, and your child grows up, results take more time. This is when your child and I the teacher, need your help – to reinforce the idea that even good students struggle.
In fact, the life of a pianist is a constant effort to be better – because learning never ends. What your child is now learning, is enjoy learning. To be confident in the face of a struggle – the struggle to learn. To be mature in the face of adversity, and to keep trying, even when things get tough. It is very true, that piano students learn skills in piano class that help them get through life.
It’s your child’s practise routine – or really, lack of it…..It often takes parents anything from 3 months to a year to realise that their young child needs help with practise – to schedule practise, and a daily routine, so that it’s not overly crowded with too many activities.
Children with very tight daily schedules get stressed and tend to learn very slow as a result. I’ve written about my overly scheduled students in ‘Coping with the over-scheduled child in piano class’
A warm welcome to all my new students and their parents – to the joy and the challenge of learning to play the piano.