This class called ‘Piano class’

‘Piano class here in Navi Mumbai encompasses a wide variety of different kinds of classes, and teachers who actually teach the piano have to deal with a lot of misconceptions.

What a piano is

Many parents think that the toy keyboard is a piano. They think a Casio is an instrument – kind of like the way people refer to a  Xerox machine instead of a photocopying machine. ‘Casio’ is used to refer to keyboards of any brand, digital pianos and acoustic pianos (the big Casio). So, piano class is a very wide term, that encompasses all of these classes, which have different levels of difficulty and commitment.

The exam focus

Parents who don’t know much about piano playing can be very keen on piano examinations, as it helps them assess their child’s progress. Trinity College London is a huge name here, so piano exams get focus. Unfortunately, this means that parents and students often only pay attention to piano practise when an exam is looming, or when an exam piece is being done. There are many parents who are thrilled with their child learning just 4 pieces a year, as long as the exam results are good.

Piano students often have little or no opportunities to perform & they need to be flexible and able to adjust to playing on a keyboard to participate in local events. I was really thrilled to discover the ‘Music Liberation Union (MLU)’.  MLU consists of a group of individuals who are passionate about music & have been promoting music in Navi Mumbai. They provide musicians and students a platform to perform as well as discuss music, & they welcome music from different genres. You can find them on Facebook.

Talent does not need hard work

Parents who have seen pianists playing think it’s easy, because the pianist makes it seem so. They also seem to associate the term ‘easy’ with talent, and think that piano teaching is easy because the teacher has talent. My experience has been, that parents undervalue the job of a piano teacher until they actually witness piano class in action. This prompted me to write a post ‘What do piano teachers DO?

My piano parents, who understand and are committed to supporting piano practise at home,  are sometimes taken aback by the level of thinking & maturity required of their child, and the challenges of learning the piano. Having parents sit-in on piano class when they can, makes them want to provide more support to home practise.

Work hard and you’ll succeed

A parent whose child plays the piano a lot daily, feels justified in expecting excellent feedback from piano teachers, and can get very angry when this does not happen, because the child is ‘playing’ but is not ‘practising’. It’s a very common cause of parent-teacher discord, and I’ve learned to explain my assessments, and what practise is. So parents & children have some say in the standards by which they want to be assessed.

Sometimes, an appreciation of hard work for it’s own sake, can make parents expect long practise hours and feel their child is not doing enough. When in actuality, the student, with shorter practise sessions & breaks in between, is taking care to follow homework instructions, and is actually doing very very well.

A lack of understanding about what piano class is, and the level of difficulty of the subject, often is a barrier to learning, so parents and students need to have expectations of piano class that match their commitment.

Teaching the piano to beginners is much more challenging today, because a lot of children don’t get enough exercise and play needed for their development. And this is resulting in a lot more kids who can’t sit still ( as compared to other kids of their age), as well as issues with hand coordination.

Building a rapport with parents and students, and helping them understand what goes on leads to really fast progress in the long run. Here’s a related post ‘Parent education during piano class’

 

 

 

Parent education during piano class

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

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

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

 

What parent involvement means

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

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

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

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

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

 

Making the child’s distraction a teaching tool

“Sit still! Be serious! And play!”

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

“Play is an integral part of learning”

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

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

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

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

 

Managing breaks during home piano practise

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

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

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

 

Noticing those small (but BIG) achievements

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

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.

  • Piano practise
  • Studying & reading up on music, piano playing & teaching
  • Listening to music and attending concerts
  • Attending piano workshops teachers meetings conducted by examining boards
  • The actual business of running a piano studio – planning lessons, class scheduling, buying books for students, communicating with parents and students and a host of other stuff
  • Organising opportunities for students to perform and attending rehearsals and student performances at concerts or piano workshops
  • Processing examination forms, pre-exam piano trials and accompanying students to piano exams.

 

New piano parents often understand what the profession is about only after their child joins piano class and they see the piano teacher helping their child with  practise, learning, & discipline issues that crop up from time to time. When they to see how piano class and the teaching method has  had a positive effect on their child’s personality.

After some time,  the same parents have gotten to know their child’s piano teacher and can see what goes into piano teaching and have another question.

Just how do you get the time to fit all the things you do into your busy teaching day ?

My Personal Sightreading Challenge – 5 minutes and 20 days a month

Making the time in my daily schedule and committing to learn new pieces had always been a struggle. So, in April 2015, I decided to make a change. I started small, with just 5 minutes a day, 20 days a month spent on sight reading a new piece.

My first piece was a Bach 2 part invention – just a few bars on day 1,  and I kept adding 1 or 2 more bars each day. I started out recording the results each day, so I could see progress, however small, and feel a little motivated to continue.

I also decided that I would record that first rough run-through of each piece, the first time I could play it completely, upload it, and post a link online.

My goals were small – to learn one piece a month and keep in touch with the pieces I had learned earlier.

Related articles :

Month 6 of “My Personal Sightreading Challenge”

The impact of 100 minutes of practise

 

What do piano parents really want their child to learn?

“Does the goal of the parent and the piano student match with the skill set of the piano teacher?”

Obviously, every piano student wants to learn to play the piano. That aside, piano class involves teaching a lot of non-piano related stuff, that help a student grow into a pianist.

  • Learning to think, reason and learn : Learning with understanding, as against learning by rote.
  • Learning to ask questions and when in doubt : Children who are timid need to be taught this.
  • Learning to ask questions in a polite way : Children who disagree with the teacher, need to learn to express their view, while still treating the teacher with regard and politeness.
  • Learning to have fun and let out their inner crazy just a little, while still being good students.
  • Learning to be their own teacher at home : Piano students are with their teacher just once a week, and therefore need to learn independent study at beginner level.
  • Learning to be open to new ideas : There are so many, many different ways of doing the same thing, and when a student get’s stuck with a piano piece or a concept, the teacher will experiment with new methods. Not every piano student is open to different methods of learning at first – so piano teachers often work at teaching them this.
  • Learning discipline and good behaviour
  • Learning to make time for music in their lives : Because busy schedules, too many hobby classes, too many out-of-home holiday’s and no free time a home during a normal school week, are often factors which make a child ‘not want to think’. It worries me, that the number of student’s with this problem is increasing,

Piano pieces are taught in a way that teach a child all of above, and a little time is spent, on any learning or discipline needs (that disrupt piano class) specific to the student. This helps the young student enjoy the challenge of learning to play the piano.

So, Piano Parent’s I’m asking you to think of your goal and what you want out of piano class. Because we need to all work together.

Because for me and other teacher’s like me, ‘Teaching students to learn music on their own’ as against ‘Teaching them to play music’ is a very real goal of piano class.