The best way to schedule your piano practise

Tight practise schedules create stress

Relaxed piano students do better, learn faster & often just ‘get’ things that other students struggle to achieve. The way practise slots are scheduled at home have a huge impact on how relaxed a student is at the piano and a very tight schedule can create stress, where none exists.

My years of working with parents has taught me that parents & students of all ages often just don’t realise this, and talking about it helps them understand, and make changes.

A few thoughts about scheduling practise

  1. 2 or 3 small practise slots are better than a single slot  because students are more attentive after a break.
  2. Schedule longer slots than required. Students need time to relax between activities and may come to the piano late, then get so involved that they want to stay and play longer.
  3. Schedule an extra slot, so piano student have a choice when they’re not in the mood at the same time each day
  4. Creativity grows from having time and mental space, and piano students sometimes need to sit around, idle before and after practise time.
  5. Piano students need to explore their instrument on their own, outside of what is taught in class. It’s not wasting time, but rather, it’s a student using knowledge gained in piano class & piano practise, to explore his/her innate ability. It’s wonderful when this happens!
  6. On busy days, a little is better than nothing. Play, rather than practise, if there’s no time. Even a 2 minutes of a piece you enjoy.
  7. Don’t just schedule practise, make time to PLAY. Play your favourite pieces at the end of the day. Or play a line of music you like – just a minute in between some other activity. Play to relax, because that’s what learning the piano is about.

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 for students, to a really effective piano class

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.

So, here’s a to do list for my piano students :

  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!

😀

 

This class called ‘Piano class’

Piano class here in Khargar, Navi Mumbai, encompasses a wide variety of different kinds of classes and parents new to music and piano class get confused.

Read here, about the 4 common misconceptions that piano teachers here struggle with and about why keyboard teachers who don’t play the piano should consider joining piano class.

1) The confusion about what piano is

Many parents think that the toy keyboard is a piano and ‘Casio’ is used to refer to keyboards of any brand, digital pianos and acoustic pianos (the big Casio).

Here’s a post that explains the difference between the acoustic piano, digital piano and the electronic keyboard without getting too technical : We have a keyboard at home, why should we buy a piano

2) The exam book is the lesson book & repertoire is not required

Parents and students know Trinity College London  and want exams. They’re content with just 4 pieces a year and are often unable to connect music theory to the pieces they play.

Getting parents and students to understand the need for repertoire used to be a struggle. I found that I needed to talk to my beginner level piano students, explaining the need for learning repertoire and why I don’t use the exam book as my lesson book. My piano teaching fees now include the cost of books, so that there’s no unplanned expenditure on books. 

3) Beginner level piano teaching is easy and should cost less

Piano parents generally undervalue the job of the piano teacher who teaches young beginners, until they actually sit in on piano class.

Here’s a few common perceptions about beginner level piano teaching :

–  Teaching younger students requires less knowledge.

–  Children can go to a qualified teacher later, when we’re sure they’re practising.

There is a lack of understanding that high quality beginner level teaching will stimulate student interest, creativity and musical understanding in young students. So, parents willing to pay reasonable fees for intermediate level teaching, often want beginner level class to be very very low budget.

A teacher needs to be qualified & experienced enough to produce results, in order to  break this mindset and attract the kind of student families that value music education.

Here’s a related post : What young beginners learn in piano class

4) Attending class without practise regularly is fine

Solo piano class (one student at a time) lends itself to flexible teaching. Each student gets taught differently, depending on the students learning style and goals, however some level of regular practise is essential, so that the teacher can continue to teach.

Asking a non-practising students to take a break, and return when they’re ready to commit to practise makes sense. Students can use this break to attend a group class – either choir, rhythm or group piano class, and return to solo piano class later. 

The demand for piano class, and lack of supply

When I first started teaching here in Khargar, there was very little interest in any kind of  piano class, and huge demand for light holiday classes to teach children to play on tiny toy keyboards.

That’s changing, and I’m seeing a lot of interest in piano class, and a growing number of student families who are looking for quality teaching. Many of the teachers here only play keyboards (with the left hand playing chord inversions, using different rhythms) and don’t play the piano at all. There’s a gap in supply with just a few piano teachers in Navi Mumbai. So there’s scope for growth, for those teachers who are willing to invest in furthering their music education.

Links to related articles :

‘The way forward’ and interesting article by Karl Lutchmayer, concert pianist & lecturer, where he talks about making music concerts more accessible to the general public, and a  lack of trained music teachers in India.

What do piano teachers ‘DO’?  is a look into the work schedule of a piano teacher, outside of piano class time.

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 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.

The first year of piano class

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.

 

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.

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.

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.
  • They’re often so enthusiastic about playing the piano, that they come to class with a brain working on overtime with lots of different ideas.

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.

 

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 children up by playing upbeat music 15 minutes before their scheduled wake up time.
  2. Get rid of bed time blues by making it a time when parents & children listen to quiet music, while they go to sleep.

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.

 

Finding work life balance

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 :

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

When parent support turns into spoon-feeding

Young beginner level piano students need their parents to be involved,

  1. So they practise daily
  2. Read their homework book, understand, and following instructions.
  3. Develop independence as they grow older and learn to practise on their own.

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.

 

The changing face of family time?

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.

  • I look around here and see that a surprising number of families don’t  have routines that involve reading to & with their kids from a very young age. Reading story books to develop & support a child’s language skills, curiosity & imagination.
  • It’s common to see parents keeping babies busy by sitting them in front of the television. Older kids glued to  games on cellphones & tablets, don’t go down to play. Or play less. So they miss out on physical activity that helps them develop their motor & spatial abilities, plus they miss out on interaction with other kids.

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.

Talking about the value of struggle in piano class

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’

 

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 get upset, when they the mistake of thinking that their child’s doing poorly.

Is piano class fun?

My answer to that is Yes and No.

Yes

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.

No

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.

A young piano student does a lot of things that need effort :

  • Hand coordination often needs focus and effort.
  • Learning to relax the hand while playing may need regular practise & attention to hand position & playing gently. This is difficult for students of all ages, but especially so for young children who may have tension when using their hands for other activities too. For example, pressing the pencil very very hard while writing in their school books.
  • Daily practise needs a regular after-school routine and all children need help with this
  • Piano students have to listen, think & pay attention while practising. They need to be able to answer questions asked in different ways at each class.
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.

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