One Reason Why Kids Quit

I once had a student who took lessons for a few years, and had an incredible ear. Unfortunately, the starter piano she had deteriorated in quality over the years and developed a buzzing sound right in the middle of the piano where she played. Soon she was barely practicing, if at all.

Her parents did not want to spend the money to upgrade to a better piano unless she practiced and showed more commitment. It was a catch 22. She could not stand to play the piano because of the buzzing, but if she didn’t, piano would come to an end.

A good piano is an investment in your child’s future. What does that future look like? No one knows for sure. It’s understandable that as the parent, you want to first make sure it will be worth it. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee.

However, I can say that the best chance you have of your child’s success is providing a quality piano and keeping it in tune. The best way to ensure that your child quits is to expect them to practice on a poor quality piano or electronic keyboard.

Unfortunately, the student in the story above did not start practicing more and eventually quit after four years of lessons. It is remarkable that she hung on that long. Ironically, she never said she did not like to play the piano. Her sensitive ears just could not stand the buzzing sounds coming from the piano.

Do yourself and your child a favor. Invest in your child’s future. Find a quality piano they can practice on so they can feel successful from the beginning.

For tips on buying a piano, click here.



“Who’s Your Teacher?!”

I once had a student come to his lesson and tell me he went to a concert over the weekend where a pianist was accompanying a choir. This student was appalled by the poor hand position of the pianist. The pianist’s wrists were collapsed, hugging the keyboard.

My student’s response to witnessing this was to exclaim, “Who is your teacher?”

I smiled to myself. The two years of reminding him to bring his own wrists up to be level with the first row of knuckles on his hand had paid off. Not only had his own hand position improved over the years, but he now was able to recognized a poor hand position.

If you would like your child to get started in piano and develop a great hand position, give us a call at 360-527-9626. We would love to help your child build a solid foundation from the start.

Here's a great hand position: Level wrist and thumb on the corner.

Here’s a great hand position: Level wrist and thumb on the corner.



Efficient Practice

When I was young, I loved piano. I played a lot, and sometimes I actually practiced. (I’m defining practice as working out a hard part of the music until I can do it easily). Not until I was an adult and being paid to play the piano at weddings and funerals did I start to really practice efficiently. I was hired to play music that wasn’t necessarily my favorite, but I had a job to do, and I needed to do it well. If I didn’t, no one would hire me again. As a result, I learned to practice very efficiently. No more aimless playing through the piece several times for days on end. I had to have a specific practice plan and clear goal in mind, which was learn the piece quickly and well.

One day, at my accompanying job I was handed a piece of music at the last minute. Usually I would inform the person that I don’t do things last minute. If they wanted the job done, then the music must be given in advance. This day, however, I glanced at the music, and knew that I had the skills to learn it in about 10 minutes. So I said, “Ok.” I gave myself the challenge of how quickly could I learn this piece and perform it and have it be a pleasant experience.

I excused myself, found a piano and sight read once through the piece. As I played I made a mental note of every place where I hesitated, got worried or held my breath hoping to make it through. Then I went back to each of those spots and broke it down to small concepts. Not until I mastered one concept at a time did I go on to the next concept. Here’s how it went:

1. What are the notes of the right hand alone?
2. What’s the fingering of the right hand alone?
3. What’s the rhythm of the right hand alone?
4. What’s the articulation/touch of the right hand alone?
5. What’s the tone quality of the right hand alone?
6. What are the dynamics of the right hand alone?

Once I mastered the right hand alone on each of the concepts above, I went and did the same process with the left hand alone. Once I mastered that, then I did the same thing again hands together. It ended up taking about 10 minutes to work all these things out. Once I did, I then played straight through the piece again to check and see if there were any remaining spots where I hesitated, got worried or held my breath. If I did, then I went back to those spots and repeated the process. Eventually I had no more spots that were difficult. They all were easy. That is when I knew I had mastered the piece, and I was ready to play it.

Efficient practice is a process, not a function of time. Every parent wants to know how much time their child should practice. While setting aside of certain amount of time every day for practice is helpful in providing consistency and a starting point, really effective practice comes from focusing on the process of learning. Fall in love with the process and the results will come.



Learning from Your Peers

At a recent group lesson, students were preparing for the Guild Auditions so they all had ten pieces they needed to practice performing in front of people. They played all their pieces for each other. Some pieces were stronger than others. This was wonderful feedback for students to then know what they needed to practice at home.

One student had difficulty finishing playing a piece from memory. He suddenly just gave up and took his hands off the keyboard with a dejected look on his face. Knowing this student would respond well to direct and blunt instructions, I said, “I don’t care what you play, just play something and make a nice ending.”

I continued, “When you are performing you don’t need my permission, nor anyone else’s. You do whatever you need to do to keep the beat going and bring the piece to a nice close.”

He put his hands back on the piano and played something and found a way to end the piece with more confidence and took a bow.

Afterwards, another student chimed in, “When I get lost, I just play the part I know over and over until I figure out what to do next.”

What a wonderful idea, and another tool students can have in their tool box. Students learning from each other. It is music to my ears.



When Can I Learn The Entertainer?

When a student begins piano lessons, The Entertainer by Scott Joplin is a popular piece many students want to learn how to play. Rhythmically, it’s an intermediate piece. Even when you can find it arranged for a lower level, it’s still rhythmically challenging. Beginners struggle with it. Oftentimes they rely on their ear, rather than count it aloud. This is the pitfall, especially when trying to coordinate the left hand with the right hand. Without a conscious decision about how to count the rhythm, the piece will not work. Counting aloud is a requirement, and beginners are just starting to get that skill.

Recently, I had an upper intermediate level student, sight read The Entertainer while counting aloud with impeccable timing and rhythm. It was slow, and it was accurate. I had nothing to say, nothing to correct, other than, “Let’s sight read another Scott Joplin piece.”

Over the course of this student’s seven years of lessons, he had learned the skills necessary to sight read the Entertainer. I had never had a student play that piece with ease until then. I always knew it was not a beginner piece, but I now had a better appreciation of the skills a student must learn to be able to play it well.

This student demonstrated his independence. He didn’t need me to help him with The Entertainer. He just did it, and I sat back and listened, quite happy that he didn’t need me.

If you want to one day be able to play The Entertainer, start counting aloud from the very beginning of lessons and keep going. It’s one foot in front of the other of gaining skills, and the day will come when you will play The Entertainer.

If you would like to start on the path to learning how to play The Entertainer, or any other favorite piece, give us a call at 360-527-9626 to begin your music journey. We look forward to hearing from you.



Make Music As A Family This Christmas

While we are in the middle of August right now, no one is thinking about Christmas. However, would you like to make music as a family this Christmas?

It’s amazing how beginning students light up when they realize they have the skills to play their favorite Christmas song for the first time. It is even more amazing when siblings and parents dust off their music skills and figure out how they can all play the same Christmas song together. With a little instruction in basic harmony and counting aloud, soon the family music group is born.

If you would like to make music as a family this Christmas, now is the time to start lessons, either for your children or for yourself. Let the teacher know your goals. Before you know it, you and your family will be making music together at Christmas. You only have something to gain.

If you would like help getting started learning how to play the piano, give us a call at 360-527-9626. Your music dreams are about to unfold. We can’t wait to help you.



How Do You Know You Are Ready to Perform?

Question: How do you know you’re ready to perform in front of an audience? Choose the best answer:
a) You know the notes
b) You can play the piece perfectly from memory
c) You know how to keep going if you make a mistake
d) You know how to fake if you have a memory slip

The answer:

c) You know how to keep going if you make a mistake
d) You know how to fake if you have a memory slip

If a student can keep their composure when they make mistakes or have a memory slip, then I know they can handle a performance situation.

Choices a) you know the notes, and b) you can play the piece perfectly from memory, are important in learning a piece and should not be overlooked. Once those are in place, then start practicing performing in front of people.

Things will happen. You may make a mistake where you’ve never made a mistake before. You may have a memory slip. Knowing how to keep the beat going and improvise if needed until you get back on track is a skill. Those two skills are your backup system when performing. I do not recommend performing unless you have a backup system in place. Otherwise you run the risk of a negative experience.

Prepare well. Know your piece well. Then, in the moment of performing it’s a dynamic environment. Having a back up system at your disposal will enable you to have a good experience performing even when you are not at your personal best.

Need help learning how to have a good experience performing? Give us a call at 360-527-9626. We are happy to help.



Singing and Playing the Piano?

If you would like to take your piano playing to the next level, consider writing words to your pieces and singing while you play. The 2013 Van Cliburn Piano Competition Italian silver medalist, Beatrice Rana, had a teacher who had her write lyrics to her pieces. It was an exercise in tapping into the emotional content of the piece and truly making it her own.

The human voice has so much richness and variation in expression. Singing your piano pieces can help with phrasing. There are an infinite number of phrasing options. Just singing the phrase will immediately give you information about where and how to phrase.

Try it. You never know what you might learn.



How Slow? Excruciatingly Slow

Last year I saw world famous classical double bassist, Alex Hanna, give a masterclass, and he described how he practiced.

His exact words were, “Excruciatingly slow.“

In going excruciatingly slow he is aware of every minute nuance, and can easily make adjustments where needed. Only in excruciatingly slow can he uncover problems and correct them before they become bigger issues.

The next time you practice slowly, consider practicing excruciatingly slow. It is what sets the world-class performers of any instrument apart. If you have the patience for it, you’ll be amazed at what you can learn without the help of a teacher.

I would love to hear about what you learn.



The Effect of Piano Playing on Your Brain

Here’s a great article on the benefits to your brain when you play the piano. Enjoy.

http://mic.com/articles/91329/science-shows-how-piano-players-brains-are-actually-different-from-everybody-elses