Practise is, a reminder for piano students

Here’s a reminder for beginner piano students. A list of all the things they need to keep in mind, so they get the most out of their practise time.

Piano practise is :

  1. correctly shaped hands
  2. different from playing a piece
  3. repetition
  4. good posture
  5. short slots with breaks in between
  6. playing gently without banging on the keys
  7. playing correctly from the very first
  8. paying attention to what you do
  9. thinking and problem solving
  10. making something better than it used to be

Practise is fun, challenging & hard work, all the same time.

Teaching my first Skype piano class

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.

Online teaching is usually the less preferred option because :

  1. It restricts the teacher’s ability to demonstrate playing technique and correct the student when there’s wrong technique, posture, etc.
  2. Playing duets, which students really enjoy, can be a problem if there’s a time lag.
  3. Introducing off the bench activities with children require a little bit of effort and innovation.
  4. Connectivity  or set-up issues can result in a longer than planned class.
  5. Young students need parents around to manage the set-up & be around so that there are no distractions.
  6. Both the teacher & the student need to be very organised. With stationery, books & all material required for the class on hand.
  7. Teachers may need to email homework assignments to avoid confusion.
  8. It suits self-motivated older students or adults who are regular with practise.

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!

Here’s a list of the benefits to online piano lessons :

  • Keeping attendance regular : My students reschedule class quite often, because there’s no adult to bring them to class. I have a 100% make-up policy, but there’s a problem. If the break between classes is too long, practise quality goes down, and if the break is too short and the student does not get enough time to practise.  Having an online class can take care of this.
  • Kids find the online medium exciting : My student was very interested in anything with technology. So practise (with parent support) was not just regular, it was excellent!
  • Super Attentiveness : He listened very carefully to what I was saying, or demonstrating. I think the online medium made him pay more attention to visual and auditory clues. He’s usually a very interested and cooperative student, and yet I was amazed at just how much more focused he was during the class. He was like this at both classes, but the second class went better, because his Mum helped him with the set-up, so it was quick, and without delays.
  • I was able to see the way my student sits at home. I saw bad posture, an inappropriate piano stool, height & distance from the keyboard.

Learning new ways

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 :

  1. Explaining & demonstrating in this medium needed new skills & a flexible set-up, so that I could take my camera closer to the piano or away, as needed.
  2. Introducing the fun element was a challenge at first. Off-the bench activities needed to be replaced by fun, at-the-bench activities.
  3. I needed parent help for a ‘run around’ break so my student could get rid of excess energy. To ensure that the run ended with my student back at the piano stool, and not running to another activity!

 

Combination (in-studio plus online) lessons

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.

Can you Learn On Your Own?

Is piano class effective (for young children age 5/6)

  • Does the student understand concepts, patterns and ideas, and recognize them when they occur in a new piece?
  • Does the student know what good practise is, and how to do this at home?

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.

Young beginner students who understand and learn, generally start coming to class within a month or two, having learned an new easy piece on their own. Students with learning difficulties, poor exposure to education or discipline issues take longer. However, even with these students, there will be visible signs of comprehension and a slow growth in learning independence over time.

 

Is it a lack of musical ability or talent?

An inability to learn independently is nothing to do with lack of musical talent, as many parents think. The vast majority of students (even those that parents think have no talent,) develop musicality, when they get the following :

  1. A teaching approach that meets the students level of musical growth and works gradually, from their level upwards
  2. Exposure to listening to music daily
  3. Parents support with piano practise (the level of support needed by each child is different, but all need help with creating a routine and time for practise.)

Rather than lack of talent, an inability to learn independently would suggest either that the teaching approach is not working, or that the student does not get the kind of support he/she needs at home, that is necessary for daily piano practise and theory homework.

What independent playing means at beginner level

  1. Reading the notes (the pitch or alphabet names and depressing the correct key)
  2. Using the correct finger to depress the key
  3. Being able to clap and play with the correct time values
  4. Correct posture and hand shape (sit straight, at the correct height, with rounded fingers – as taught at class)
  5. Producing a nice tone (at beginner level this often means playing gently, without banging)

At this age, learning  1,2,3 of the above mostly correct with a new piece and trying to do the balance would indicate comprehension, interest and growing independence. My homework assignments often include instructions to my young beginner students to LOYO (learn on your own), in just a few months of piano class.

Piano class does not just teach a students to play. It strives to go beyond that and teach students how to teach themselves – to understand, learn how to practise, and then learn pieces independently, trying to get as much done, without the teacher’s help.

This frees class time, so that the piano teacher can move on, from just teaching the basics, to the teaching the student to understand the finer aspects of excellence in playing, and to gradually learning higher level music.

So, I’m asking all my students this very important question…

Can you LOYO? 

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

 

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, psychology & teaching techniques
  • Preparing exercises and teaching material to suit different learning needs
  • 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, planning repertoire, 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.

Another reason why I ask my piano parents to sit in on class now & then . .

New piano parents often understand what the profession is about only after their child joins piano class. When parents sit in on class now & then see the effort, knowledge and patience that is required, for the piano teacher to teach effectively, and help their child with  practise, learning, & discipline issues that crop up from time to time.

Over time, they realise that piano class in general and the teaching method in particular, has had a positive effect on their child’s personality. These same parents have got to know their child’s piano teacher well and then, they have another question.

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

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

Questions parents of young beginner piano students need to ask

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.

1) Does my teaching approach suit the parent and child? Do the parent, student and teacher have the same goals?

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.

2) How quick does the class progress?

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.

3) Should I correct my child’s practise mistakes?

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.

4) What do I do when my child practises regularly, with great enthusiasm and committment, but practises WRONG?

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.

5) Why do we need targets or goals?

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.

6) Why does the parent need to be ‘around’ to implement practise. Can’t they just tell their child to ‘go practise’ or ‘get practise done’?

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.

7) My child gets some things well and struggle with some others

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.

8) Why is my child’s progress so slow?

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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

2 minutes and 2 steps to Creative Piano Practise

….for piano students to make their practise spontaneous, yet regular and fun.

So, students, this is how it works :

  • Select a small section from a piece you like (a line or a phrase of music) – change the section every week
  • Play it for 2 minutes, when you take a break from some other activity (for example after studying, dinner, or tidying up your stuff at home) both with and without the book

After some time of doing this daily, students find that they really really want to play the piano as soon as they finish their studies or their chores. They start using piano playing to relax and to express their moods and emotions and therefore, piano playing becomes a need – not just something they have to do as homework.

 

Piano practise becomes more spontaneous and students tend to remember practise ideas they’ve been taught, and also use ideas of their own – simply because they’re so focused on playing something they enjoy well. They also often, WANT to play, when they’re tired or when studies get heavy, because it helps them relax and de-stress and therefore study better and quicker.

 

The 2 minutes are done separately from the regular practise homework, so to the student, it’s just having fun. It often it makes students want to  restructure their daily practise schedule – to allow flexibility, so they can play because they feel like it, rather than because it’s time for piano practise to be done.