Parents and Listening

As a parent you want the best for your child. You want them to learn and grow and become capable musicians, as well as adults. While it’s the child taking lessons that actually sits down at the piano to play, the parents and the home environment play a significant role in the success of the child.

What can you do to help support the success of your child in music lessons?

Listen to classical music in the car or at home.

Just have it going in the background. You can also attend classical music concerts. What better way to be inspired than to see an accomplished musician live.

When I was in my twenties I used to coach ice hockey. The biggest problem we coaches ran into coaching American players was that they did not have much exposure to watching high level hockey games. The skills and concepts we were teaching them they had never seen before or had limited exposure to. Meanwhile, in Canada, where every Saturday night nearly every Canadian watches Hockey Night in Canada, Canadian children are exposed to a high level game and see the skills and maneuvers they will one day attempt when they learn to play hockey. It is no wonder that Canada is known for its hockey players.

The same applies to children and music lessons. As a parent you can enhance your child’s learning simply by having classical music playing in the background. You don’t even need to tell your child what you’re doing. It’s just part of the home environment. Try it; you just might like it.



Cultivating Effortlessness

Have you ever dreamed that you could be one of those people who play the piano beautifully and effortlessly? Right now you can begin cultivating that skill with one simple idea.

Slow down.

Explore the pace where you can play with ease and comfort, without a care in the world. This is oftentimes much slower than you would want to publicly show your friends how good you are at piano. But this is where the real learning is.

When you go so slow you can’t make a mistake, you will play with ease and comfort. Now you can relax and savor each movement. It’s so slow you become aware of every little thing you are doing. It is at this pace you can easily change something that isn’t working for you. As you become comfortable, the pace will naturally pick itself up.

In our world of instant gratification, going slow may seem like it’s only for someone who’s not very good at piano. Not true. There is a story about the famous 20th century concert pianist, Arthur Rubinstein. Following a concert he just gave, you could find him in a music store practice room playing his entire program slowly. It is how he maintained his pieces so he could perform them again and again.

Going slow is the mark of a true musician. Welcome to the world of learning how to make music effortlessly.



Listening

“The most important thing I look for in a musician is if he knows how to listen.” — Duke Ellington

As a student learning to play a musical instrument you can spend a lot of time learning notes and rhythm. While these skills are important, the skill of listening to your own playing is crucial to creating a beautiful sound and becoming independent of your teacher.

Teachers can be wonderful assets to your growth as a musician. However, if you don’t learn to listen to your own playing you will always be waiting to hear from someone else if what you played was ok.

As you take lessons, take advantage of the listening skills of your teacher at your lesson. They may hear things you don’t and give you valuable insight. When you practice at home, you are your own teacher. Listen closely to the sound you make and adjust your playing to what your ears tell you.

This conscious act of listening may slow you down in how many pieces you can master with the notes and rhythm, but it will greatly increase your ability to create and enjoy your own beautiful music.



Young Beginners Practice Guide

The detail of my last post, How to Practice, can be overwhelming to young beginners. Here’s a simplified version to help young students develop effective practice habits.

YOUNG BEGINNERS PRACTICE GUIDE

1. Name the notes without using the piano
2. Find the notes on the piano
3. Choose a fingering for the notes
4. Clap and count the rhythm (hands alone first)
5. Play and count (hands alone first)
6. Bonus: Add the dynamics (loud and soft)



How to Practice the Piano

Learning to play an instrument comes through practice. But what does practicing actually look like? Here’s a peek.

HOW TO PRACTICE
> Choose a part of the music you do not know and follow these steps order.
> When a step becomes easy go to the next step.
> If a step does not become easier after 6 tries then try going slower and/or break the music down into a smaller chunk.
> If this still doesn’t help then go back to the previous step and master that one before moving on.

PRACTICE STEPS
Steps 1-3 are done each hand alone.

1. Name the notes without using the piano. Write in pencil any notes you do not know.
2. Find the notes on the piano.
3. Choose a fingering for the notes. Write it in pencil in the music. Always use this fingering.

4. Tap and count aloud the right hand part.
5. Play and count aloud right hand alone. After a few repetitions of playing and counting aloud listen for the articulation and phrasing (dynamics). If the music does not sound stunningly beautiful stay where you are and experiment with creating a beautiful tone.

6. Tap and count aloud the left hand part.
7. Play and count aloud left hand alone. After a few repetitions of playing and counting aloud, listen for the articulation and phrasing (dynamics). If the music does not sound stunningly beautiful stay where you are and experiment with creating a beautiful tone.

8. Tap and count aloud hands together.
9. Play and count aloud hands together. After a few repetitions of playing and counting aloud, listen for the articulation and phrasing (dynamics). If the music does not sound stunningly beautiful stay where you are and experiment with creating a beautiful tone.

*If you run into any problems, bring your questions to your next lesson.



Can I learn on a keyboard?

When I used to teach students with electronic keyboards not one of them continued beyond a few years. They were technically proficient, however, the one thing lacking in their playing was sensitivity.

If you have no sensitivity it sounds like banging on the piano. Contrast that with the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard come out of the piano. That is sensitivity.

As a student you will only become as sensitive as the instrument you practice on. Students on keyboards tend to become frustrated when they can’t do on their keyboard what they can do on the piano at their lesson. The students who began on a keyboard, but actively sought a piano and found one, they found piano much more rewarding and stuck with it.

If you really want to learn to play the piano, find a piano. You will be so glad you did.



Do I Need a Piano?

Yes. When you learn to play the piano you are training your nervous system to respond to the sensitivity of the piano.

Real pianos respond to the way you touch it. If you press a key with more weight in your arm you will get a bigger sound. If you press a key with less weight you will get a smaller sound.

There is a direct connection between what you feel in your body when you play and the sound that comes out of the piano. Not only does this make the piano so rewarding, but it also engages students over the long-term. Read More→



I don’t have a piano. Can I still learn?

Yes. There are community resources available to help students get started in piano. To find a piano to practice on, you have several options:

1. Churches, schools, and even some music stores have pianos waiting to be played. For a small fee or even free you can make arrangements to practice on their pianos. When people hear what you’re trying to do they want to help.

2. You can rent a piano for as little as $19 per month from a piano store. Pedigo Piano in Burlington rents pianos.

3. You can purchase your own piano that will get you started for under $1000. I once played an upright that was in excellent condition and only $750. If you do go this route be sure to have a piano technician check the piano over before you buy it. Some pianos are not worth the cost of just moving them. On your own touch every key and make sure it actually works, and then put down the right hand pedal and do the same thing again. The sound will blend and get very muddy. This means that the pedal works. Also, open the lid and look inside. Does it look moldy or clean?

4. Finally, I tell all of my students to start telling everyone that they are looking for a piano. I had one parent mention it at her work, and the second person she told said, “My daughter’s away at school and no longer plays our piano. Would you like to use it indefinitely?” My student has had that piano for several years and has really progressed.



My child wants to play the guitar. I want him to play the piano. What do I do?

The first time I heard this question I asked the parents, “Where did he get the idea of guitar?”

They sheepishly responded, “From video games.”

I shared the good news with them. His brain was working just fine. All they needed to do was broaden his exposure to more music.

All of the performing arts, music, theatre and dance seen live for the first time are a new experience for your child. It is through exposure of what’s possible that your child will find something that intrigues him or her. All of our brains are different, and as a result, different musical instruments and forms of art speak differently to each of us.

Expose your child to all kinds of live music and performing arts. Then let their brain respond. They may end up being drawn to the piano, or it may be something else. Either way, you can’t go wrong. They are discovering themselves and how they relate to the world.

A successful child in life learns to not only recognize the seed of inspiration within them, but also learns how to find the courage to let it grow. You as their parent have the privilege of helping them nurture that seed.