February 21, 2017
Today’s kids take ballet, soccer, and gymnastics, always do the work there. They are conditioned to complete their goal while they’re with the teacher. Music lessons require a completely different conditioning for the student – and the parent. A conditioning that requires daily work at home.
So what can be done to point our kids in the right direction?
1) Get to Know Students. Start by getting to know the interests of your students. Ask them about what’s going on at school, what they are interested in, and what movies they’ve seen recently. The last question can often give teachers ideas as to what they might be interested in playing. The music from those movies can be found on MusicNotes.com.
2) Mark Mistakes. Make mistakes with a colored pencil to show students what to practice – and what mistakes shouldn’t be mistakes by next week. Use a new colored pencil next week.
3) Ask Students What They Want. Ask students what they want to play. Some students will practice every song in the book and be faithful to practice every week. Others won’t. That’s when you ned to find out what motivates them. What song is so great that they wouldn’t want to miss practicing it. Then find it.
4) Use a Point System. Award a point every time something is played well. At the end of the lesson, they get a treat from mom or dad. I find that 25 point goal works well.
5) Educate the Parents. Keep parents informed about how things are going. They can often help keep your students remembering to practice and remembering what they’re supposed to practice.
December 14, 2016
Finding the perfect words to express what you mean and make the concept understandable to young students can be a challenge. When we finally figure out how to express our ideas, we tend to repeat these phrases over and over again.
I have been enhancing my students perfomances with dynamics (p, mp, mf, f) for many years. I have accomplished this with two strategies:
1) Define Terms – I teach students to pronounce the terms and defined them.
1) Demonstrate – I play examples and explain the terms. Mezzo Forte (mf) is easy. You don’t need to work hard to play soft or to play loud. Mezzo Piano (mp) and Forte (f) are more challenging because they require extra effort. Piano (p) requires the most effort.
Nothing special here. It has worked well enough, but it was difficult to achieve artistry-level performances with grade school students… until now.
For the past 5-6 years I’ve been taking art lessons, and decided to see if a connection between art and music might help my music students play their music in a much more expressive way.
I introduced value.
Value refers to the visible lightness or darkness of a color, and is one of the most important design elements in a work of art.
So, how does this relate to music?
The following chart shows the four most common dynamic levels and assigns a value to each of them.
I found that drawing a box above a section of the music, and shading it with the appropriate value, gave students a visual indication of how loud or soft the phrase should be played. A light turned on for my students and it transformed their performances.
In some instances, you might draw a box above a four measure phrase and that will be enough. Other pieces are so well written, and your students so capable, that you might want to dig a little deeper -adding value boxes above individual notes.
April 20, 2016
You’d like to think that you can hand a piano book to your child and their life would be forever enriched from the experience you’ve just provided them.
The truth is the day you sign up for piano lessons is that day the student, mom, and dad get committed to practicing. It’s the only way it really works. If you’re ready to take on the challenge, here are a few ideas to get you pointed in the right direction.
1) Ask Questions – Ask your teacher what your child should be doing that week at the end of every lesson. Ask for a demonstration if you don’t understand. Maybe even sit at the piano yourself and try things out.
2) Set a Practice Goal – I like to ask students to practice 20 minutes a day for 5 day each week. Some days get busy, so every day might not be realistic. Five days a week should be.
3) Flash Cards – Help drill note names and rhythms with flash cards. Not knowing the note names and rhythms can be the most challanging part of playing the piano in the beginning.
4) Suppliment – Look for great pieces to suppliment your child’s music book. This can often stimulate an interest in practicing.
5) Praise – Let your kids know how much you enjoy it when they play the piano. A little praise goes a long way!
March 7, 2016
Getting what we teach to stick is what we hope for. Unfortunately, we aren’t always able to make it stick. The following ideas may help you focus on what you really want your students to remember, and how you can help them the most.
1) The Main Thing
Students want to know what the main thing you want them to remember is. Their brains are even wired this way, storing the “main thing” and deleting the rest. (If you’ve seen the Disney movie, “Inside Out,” they illustrate this beautifully with memories that look like marbles and employees who are responsible for deleting the memories no longer needed.) The best thing you can do for your students is to decide what you really want them to know and repeat it often.
My main thing is “practice slowly.” I often ask students, Do you ever get better by playing it wrong?” Sometimes, after they’ve played it wrong 10 times in a row I’ll ask them, “ Now that you’ve played it wrong 10 times in a row, what are you good at?” With a smile on their face, they’ll say, “Playing it wrong.” Getting kids to play slowly is a hard sell, but if you say it enough times, some of them will begin to practice that way – or at least believe that you believe it’s the best way. :o)
2) Be Predictable, But Not Boring
Kids love routines. When things are predictable, stress on the brain is reduced and combined with a routine of repeating your “main thing,” your students encode information faster. Just don’t forget to mix it up a little bit to make things interesting.
My students typically begin their lesson at the piano. In the last few minutes, we often experience something new. Sometimes it’s a theory game. Sometimes it’s a lesson about a composer. Recently I ended a lesson by making a video for dad, because he wasn’t there to see his daughter’s wonderful performance of Part of Your World from the Little Mermaid.
What’s your main thing? I’d love to hear about it.
January 25, 2016
There are so many ways to teach kids to read music. Some teachers believe mnemonics is the way to go, while others support the tried-and-true flash card method.
I think Trevor from TeachPianoToday.com said it best when he wrote:
The truth is… everyone is right and everyone is wrong.
Kids learn differently. What works for one child, doesn’t work best for another.
Check out their awesome full post – 5 Ways To Recognize One Note – How To Read Notes On The Staff – at TeachPianoToday.com
Browse other “The Piano Student” music theory posts:
Flash Frog™ | Free Printable Music Flashcards for Beginners
Free Music Memory Game | Treble Clef Note Names
Pirate Quest | Basic Music Terms Game (Free, Printable)
Music for Little Mozarts | iPad App Review
Carnegie Hall Park (Matchbox Parking) | Music Theory Board Game
January 22, 2016
I’m often confronted with pieces that require students to perform pieces with staccato in one hand and a sustained note in the other hand.
The following arrangement of Bach’s Mussette is one of the early instances of this challenge. At first glace the piece is simple and easy to play. On second look the staccato/sustained value texture that can really hang students up, and perhaps cause some teachers concern as to how to proceed.
Here’s my trick…
Ask students to start with a simple challenge. Strike the “G” (sustained note) at the same time as the first stacatto “C” in the left hand. Hold the “G”, while quickly releasing the stacatto “C”. Don’t go any further. It might take a few tries, but they’ll get it.
Play the first two beats of the measure. Hold the half note “G” while playing the first two staccato notes – “C” and “G” – in the left hand. Ask your students to master this before adding more notes. This step will likely be learned faster than the first step.
Try playing the first two measures of the piece. It might be messy at first, but if your student was diligent about mastering the first two steps before moving on they will be well on their way to mastering this piece – textural challenge included.
Browse other “The Piano Student” posts:
by Jennifer Foxx
Students need creative opportunities to flourish in their music studies. Here are just 3 simple ways you can get started in sparking creativity with your students.
Improvise and/or Compose – I will confess that occasionally there will be some students who will groan when told we are going to be composing that day. Why do you think that is? It’s usually because
they are not confident in those skills. To help with creative confidence, start with improvising. Give them an easy “no fail” base line to work with so no matter what they do it will sound awesome. Black key improv patterns works very well for this! Then gradually work over to composition.
This year in my piano studio, I have created “Creative Story Compositions”** where students are combining two skills: Story writing and music composition. Even some of my more stubborn creators are enjoying this process. I have them do a page each month to gradually build their complete story composition. Giving them smaller guidelines to work with has really helped and I have enjoyed seeing their creative process in work.
Play Games – Games are a fun way to encourage creativity. Whether it is an app, a puzzle or something a student makes up; games have a way of igniting their brains, shaping them towards the creative thinking process. The best games that encourage creativity are games without “rules” where there isn’t necessarily a winner/loser but a tool that simply encourages creativity.
Make it Part of the Learning Process – One of my favorite things I like my
Creativity + Engagement = Positive results! So make time for creativity with your students. Light that SPARK! It’s in them ready to come out!