Taking responsibility for quality piano practise . . . in 8 easy steps

Quite a few of my most supportive piano parents  went through phases when they got upset with feedback. They had children who played the piano daily and yet, achieved very little. Parents new to piano music often can’t hear the difference between good and poor playing.  It’s important then, to have parents attend piano class and to listen to what effective piano practise sounds like.

‘Correct playing happens. . . Some of the time’

That’s what many piano students say, when they get something right. When students are asked how they got it right ‘some of the time’ they often say it’s luck.

If it’s luck, then the power to play well does not belong to the student, but to chance. Students often don’t realise that they play daily, disregarding their teachers instructions. They end up spending more time at the piano than than they need to, often working very very hard for small gains. These students work hard, but not smart. They don’t  understand that there’s value in learning piano practise techniques.

Students need to play the piano, as well as practise.  It takes them time to understand that there's a difference & to learn to practise  right.

Practise lessons from the diary of a housekeeper

My maid is on leave this month. She does a few small chores for me once a week, that make my life easier and give me some free time. I wasn’t successful at getting a replacement. I could say that I’ve had bad luck. But that’s not the case. Many of the other families she works for have got substitutes.

I haven’t because I chose not to do this.

Because there’s payback to getting a substitute, that is not acceptable to me right now. I will need to be flexible with work time slots and adjust if the maid is late. I know from past experience, that anything from 30 minutes, to a couple of hours late, to not arriving at work at all, is the norm here.  While I might be lucky and get a maid who arrives on time, I’m not willing to take the chance of my daily routine disrupted.

Taking responsibility, means that the power to change things rests within me.

I can change my situation by making different choices

 

Taking responsibility for luck

If we say that piano practise was effective because of luck, we need to ask ourselves whether that luck just happened by chance or whether the way practise was done created conditions that brought about that luck? Can the piano student change the way he or she practises, so that practise brings clarity, and the student is able to see what made it effective? And so, take responsibility for that luck and for making it happen again and again?

Here are some ideas on how to do that.

8 Steps to help students ‘practise’ during practise time

  1. Read what’s written in the homework book and follow instructions. Young children often need their parents around at first, until reading the homwork book becomes a habit.
  2. Record small sections of practise done in class and take a look at it at home, before you practise.
  3. Divide your piano homework into 3 practise sections, practising each section during a different time slot, with breaks between slots.
  4. Schedule an extra slot, so that you have a little flex in your schedule.
  5. Practise 5  days a week and schedule  2 non-consecutive days away from the piano. Students who take a weekly practise holiday are relaxed and therefore more creative at practise time.
  6. Play slow and correct rather than quick with errors. Play right from the very first.
  7. Record your practise, listen to it and evaluate what you did. This will help you improve.
  8. Do what your teacher has asked you to do, then put aside your homework book and play what U want to.

What are the strategies that help you practise effectively? I’d love to hear them in the comments section below.

 

Parent support in piano class

The need for parent support

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.

Learning the piano is very challenging for children of any age and my experience has been that the child who sticks almost always is the child who has parent support.

Taking the ‘lonely’ out of piano practise

For most children the biggest issue during the first couple of years is getting into a routine and making practise a part of their daily lives. The piano can be a lonely instrument and children who don’t have company often don’t practise. Children need a parent around – initially to remind them to read the homework book and practise accordingly, to listen and  mostly so they have company. 

Children who have opportunities to perform and belong to schools or communities where music is encouraged tend to be more motivated. As are children who have friends who play an instrument. Participation in group classes or concerts arranged by the piano teacher is important as this provides performance opportunities and helps students make ‘piano friends.’

That hardworking child who practises WRONG

If you’re a parent with a child who loves practising the piano, who practises daily and keeps getting poor feedback, then this paragraph is for you. It’s quite possible, that you can’t understand why – because you hear playing that sounds good to you, you can see how sincere your child is and how much effort your child puts in.

Taking a look at the homework book, will tell you a lot. You will find :

  1. Homework assignments not done
  2. Section practise requested by the teacher is not done
  3. Your child ‘plays’ taking very long to work on something, when all was needed is to use the practise techniques outlined by the teacher and spend less effort achieving the same result.

Children who enjoy practise often get so lost doing practise homework they enjoy, they forget to read the homework book. They practise what they like and what they remember and simply forget the rest.

Learning 'how to practise' is important for progress. This is the 
area in which beginner & intermediate level piano students of any age
pay poor attention.

For parents who need a class where children work without support..

If you are a piano parent  with a student who does not practise regularly (and by practise, I mean doing the homework that the piano teacher has assigned) and this goes on for sometime, it’s worth looking at the kind of class you’ve enrolled your child in.

Piano teachers generally ask these students to take a break from piano class and enrol again when they’re ready to practise, because a ‘regular piano class’  simply does not work with erratic practise.

What your child needs is a different kind of class, with more frequency – maybe 2/3 classes a week. A class which is mostly a  ‘practise’ class, where there’s a lot of repetition. New topics need to be introduced very slowly, so that erratic practise works. It helps if one of these is a group class which includes music activities and work on rhythm. Piano playing will progress at a slow comfortable pace and your child will find it easy to cope.

Parent support for ‘regular piano class’

The term ‘regular piano class’ is how I describe class that teaches piano playing techniques, reading written music, how music theory goes into playing, the chord approach to piano playing & how to practise.

This is a lot to do in a 1 or 1&1/2 hour weekly class, and daily practise and completing homework assignments is essential. This almost always needs some level of parent support and involvement.

It’s not forever, as children grow up habituated to regular practise – with the resources to organise their practise, and use practise techniques to make their practise more effective. This usually happens between the ages of 14 to 16, depending on the personality of the student and the kind of goals the student has chosen to work towards.

To all you piano parents who are making the time to support your child, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Children gradually learn independence until they finally take responsibility for their own goals.

15 easy steps to a really effective piano class

 

  1. Arrive at class on time. Leave home budgeting time for traffic jams and other delays, so you walk in relaxed. You will learn better.
  2. Take all your books to class – that includes your homework book & theory book. Check you’ve not left your books on the piano keyboard at home before you leave for class.
  3. Practise.
  4. Carry your reading glasses/spectacles with you.
  5. Attend class or remember to reschedule if you need to miss. Else you will not get a make-up class.
  6. Leave a little extra time in your daily schedule so there’s time when you need flex or  just want to relax a little in between. Practise needs to be done with a relaxed frame of mind to be really effective.
  7. Practise – don’t just play. Practise daily.
  8. Play games or enroll in a sports class for exercise. Getting enough physical activity improves focus.
  9. Pack all your books up after class and make sure you take them home.
  10. Read your homework  book when you practise and follow your teacher’s instructions.
  11. Set a practise schedule with a choice of 2 or 3 practise slots, so you can change your practise time to suit your moods
  12. PRACTISE
  13. Play for your family, and participate in student concerts whenever you get an opportunity.
  14. Play a little to relax even on busy days.
  15. Did I say practise daily? Yes, that’s the most important thing to do.
Prraaacctise!

😀

 

When focus is a problem in piano class

A brief glimpse of the teacher’s struggle

The piano teacher points to a note and asks the student to name it. The student answers  correct, if you consider that he/she is looking at a note somewhere else, and answering. And it’s the same with written instructions like ‘Name the first note at the top left of the page.’

The teacher needs to ask this child to point out the note he/she is talking about, and will then see that her student knows everything but is just not paying attention, so is looking in the wrong place and answering. There’s a lot more kids like this in recent years.

 

The first year of piano class

This student had difficulty paying attention from the very first class and it took the teacher a few classes to figure out the problem. He/she needed very patient teaching, lots of questions, asked in different ways, so it got his/her attention.

Practise at home needed parent support and a daily home routine was very essential, and things improved. The student was doing very well, both at school and at piano class, until  a month of busy, when the daily home routine fell into disarray.

 

Is it ADD

One might say that this student has some symptoms of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), only that there’s nothing wrong with this child. Apart from the fact that he/she needs the amount of parent time, play time, plus a routine and structure to the day, that most children of my generation had on a regular basis, because it was the way things were done 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.

 

Looking at the child in piano class

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.

These students are talented, bright and interested, and often so enthusiastic about playing that they come to class with a brain working on overtime with lots of different ideas. Starting piano class listening to music made a big big difference, and helped these kids focus better.

 

The role of music in creating a mood.

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 –

  1. Wake up time – play upbeat music 15 minutes before scheduled wake up time
  2. Bed time – play quiet music before bed time

Children also need to be able to play music on their own, and it’s worth investing in a reasonably priced music system.

Today’s busy lifestyle and lack of family time puts kids under pressure. There are many working parents, who manage to find a balance, but 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 :

This is your brain on music

What is ADD

ADDitude magazine for help with ADHD

How routine helps children

 

Teaching parents the value of struggle – and how it’s helping

Parent support is very necessary for young beginner level piano students – to see that kids practise daily and to see that they use the homework book and follow instructions.

Unfortunately, parents often use this time to show their child what is correct (instead of showing them what they have forgotten to read, to find the answer themselves.) And that’s a problem, because that stops the student from thinking.

I think it’s because parents sometimes think the goal is to ‘achieve’ or ‘do something right’ and don’t realise that quality learning is not just about whether a child ‘get’s it’ but also about ‘how the child reaches there

Children are often learning by rote in schools, and it’s very common for children with no learning disabilities to be slow at reasoning at first, simply because it’s new.

So, when parents attend class with their young beginner kids, I’m demonstrating teaching techniques to them, and at the end, I’m explaining why I take so much time with a small little thing – why I’m asking the student to find the answers – why I’m making the student read the lesson book or theory book and think – why I’m teaching young kids to run around between playing pieces………And how this helps the child focus and foster’s independence in learning, and studying. It starts with piano class, and flows into other areas of the child’s life.

I’m also explaining that having fun, jumping around and running around is a part of piano practise, and showing them how to deal with this at home.

When children struggle with a concept, parents sometimes get impatient and some even interrupt and scold the child, because they think the child’s not paying attention. This is an opportunity for the teacher – to explain to the parent that the child is trying very hard – and that it’s genuinely difficult…..

Parents often don’t see how difficult something is, possibly because they don’t play the piano and don’t understand.. or very often, because they may find something easy that their child finds hard (sitting still, or paying attention, is a classic example.)

When the piano teacher praises tiny achievements, and talks about how hard the student is trying, it helps parents see their child in a different light…and feel proud of their child – and this motivates the young piano student to try even harder.

The learning process is about a struggle to learn, and kids whose parents are patient enough to support them in this struggle develop maturity and confidence in themselves.

Here’s an interesting article ‘The upside of failure – the downside of success – and how to keep improving, no matter what’

 

What your piano fees pay for

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.

Your fees pay for :

  • My  academic degrees, diplomas, and work experience
  • The cost of my ongoing education –  attending master-classes  & workshops on piano playing and teaching. I study piano playing, music theory, teaching techniques and psychology. It’s a continuous and life-long effort, as there’s so much to learn.
  • The cost of time spent on planning your child’s lesson.
  • The cost of teaching materials and reference books that are necessary for piano class.
  • The wear and tear on my piano – a teacher’s piano’s gets used a lot more, and therefore, gets worn out and needs replacement sooner than a student’s piano. Plus there’s the regular cost of tuning and repairs.
  • The class itself – my time as well as the cost of the infrastructure needed to maintain a class
  • The cost and time involved in my trips to buy books
  • The costs I incur, to attend workshops relating to Trinity, ABRSM and any other piano examination boards.

Teacher’s please feel free to use this – either as is, or with modifications that you think necessary.. here’s the link that made me realise the importance of educating parents about fees Where does my tuition go

Learning goals change over time and piano parents need to expect it

“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.

Why the teacher praises small achievements

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.

When the teacher starts to want more : and achievement is not so easy

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 make the mistake of thinking that their child’s doing poorly.

Is piano class fun?

My answer to that is Yes and No.

Yes, because parents who sit it on piano class will find their child has fun in class. Because children love working on rhythm, on scales (see What practising scales is good for) and feel really really good when they’ve practised and their work is excellent.

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.

No, because, children associate fun with quick fixes and things that are easy to do.

A young child who learns the piano does a lot of things that need effort :

  • Hand coordination
  • Learning to relax – for children with shoulder tension or tight hands – this even affects the way they write in their school books – pressing the pencil very very hard
  • Because playing the piano well takes time, focus and daily practise – and there simply are no quick fixes – something children don’t understand.
  • Because, children have to listen, think and answer – and questions are asked in different ways at each class

The last is sometimes very very difficult – because a lot of children go to schools where they are asked questions, and given the answers, which they have to learn from memory….because quite a few schools don’t encourage children to think up their own answers.

When this is the case, parents play a very important role – to help their children remember what they did well….that there’s excellent progress, despite the fact that they have to struggle to think and answer.

To remind them that it will get easier with time and that the reason a teacher takes the trouble, is because she can see intelligence in the student and she can see possibilities.

Why young students give up the piano

‘Parents thinking a child can practise alone, is a major reason why children stop piano study’ .. i quote here, from a blog by the Vahl Piano Studio.

The blog makes an interesting point, that students give up, because they can’t progress.. because they don’t practise enough to learn something new every time..

That when parents assume their children will practise on their own, it mostly just leads to a child quitting.

That children need help in scheduling practise and in keeping to the schedule. They also need to be reminded to practise all the homework given, because left to themselves, they often forget to do quite a bit. That it is the parents who help their child, who, i quote ‘cultivate a student who is committed for the long term.’

The blog is worth a read and explains how parents can help their child. I won’t repeat what’s written, simply because its written so well – here it is for you to read ‘Why students stop piano study

 

 

 

 

 

7 things you need to commit to before you start piano class

There are so many different kinds of classes – all called ‘Piano Class’ and parents have no real way of knowing exactly what they are getting into, until their child is enrolled.

Teachers always talk to the parent before they take on a new student – i know i do, because the ‘Piano Class’ that I and many other teacher’s like me teach, is the road to developing a long term love and passion for music and piano playing. It involves a committment – from the student, parent and teacher, towards working together, to help the child learn.

So, parents here’s a brief guide to what the teacher expects :

  • That you have a piano at home, with a height-adjustable bench
  • Regular attendance, and arriving on time, for piano class (with the required books and with the students reading glasses!)
  • Daily practise – a young student starts with a few minutes a day, and builds this up
  • That you organise your child’s schedule so they get time at home – to relax, listen to music and spend time with their parents – I’ve recently seen very many stressed children – stressed, because they’re too busy with too many hobby classes and their parents too busy with their work, to get time to spend together as a family.
  • Supportive parents – who make sure that daily practise is done, in a positive way – by being around, listening to their child, praising small improvements
  • Making the time for student concerts
  • Making time to communicate with the teacher regularly (on the phone, at class or via email – whatever’s possible) and sit in on class when required
  • Committing to progress – it is essential that your child learns something new at each class, and that you work with the teacher to ensure that this happens

A Piano Class like this, is for parents who are willing to spend time helping their kids learn and helping the teacher get to know their child, so she can teach better.

Here are a couple of very interesting blogs by Elissa Milne that will help you understand better, what ‘Piano Class’ is about

10 things you should do before your child begins piano class

15 things you need to know about supporting your child learning to play the piano