Help for Parents Archive

How do you know when a piece is too hard?

Learning to play the piano can be rewarding and challenging. Finding just the right pace for a student, not too easy, and not too hard, is the key to their continued success. Overcoming challenges incrementally will build their confidence. When your child is confident, they are more open to learning and trying new things. And when they are open to learning, learning accelerates.

I recently had a student discover on her own how to know when a piece is too hard or just right for her.

When she’s learning something new, if it’s just the right level of difficulty, she can master it in about 2-4 tries. When it takes more than five tries, and even then she’s not really getting it, then she knows it’s too hard for her.

It made my day when she came to her lesson one day and announced that a piece I had given her the week before was too hard. The feedback from her helped me determine a more appropriate course of action for her lessons.

Several months from now when she has more skills, we can revisit that piece, and perhaps it will be just the right amount of challenge where she can get it in 2-4 tries.

Each student’s pace of learning is unique to them. Teaching them self-awareness so they can be actively involved in their own learning process will enhance their learning and develop independence. When a student is invested in their own learning, the sky really is the limit on what they can accomplish.

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Embracing the Learning Process

Several years ago I used to coach youth hockey. Us coaches regularly had our own training sessions on how to coach. In one particular class on the ice, the instructor had all of us trade sticks. If you were right handed then trade sticks with someone who was left handed.

After years of honing my skills as a right handed hockey player, it was very awkward to suddenly do everything left handed. I was a complete beginner again, and all the insecurities of not being very good came up. Despite that, I knew this was a great opportunity to learn a new skill and have empathy for the beginners I coached, so I focused on mastering my left-handed skills for the duration of the class.

Other coaches didn’t fare so well. The coach who traded sticks with me very soon wanted his stick back. Yes, it was tempting to just trade back sticks and feel secure again, but what would I learn? It’s hard, give up?

Learning to play the piano is no different. Remaining open to learning and setting aside the judgment of whether or not we are good enough is key to being successful at the piano.

If you see resistance in your child at the piano, sometimes their own personal judgment about themselves lurks under the surface. Let the teacher know, and together find a way to help your child embrace the learning process. It’s a skill that will serve them well for the rest of their life.

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Temper Tantrums

I recently met a mother of a four-year old, and she was describing her experience of her child’s first temper tantrum in a grocery store.  There her child was, kicking and screaming right in the middle of the aisle.

What this mother did next took me by surprise.  She sat down, in the middle of the aisle, put her hand on her child’s back and consoled her.

Within a few minutes the child regained her composure and looked around in surprise.  Mom was as calm as could be.  The child realized there was no point in continuing the tantrum because she wasn’t getting anything that she had wanted.  What’s even better is her child never threw a temper tantrum again.

What I love about this story is that the mother didn’t try to stop her child’s reaction, but rather, let her have it without fixing it or making it go away.  This allowed the child to come to her own conclusions which were the very ones the mother wanted to teach her child.

When your child learns to play the piano, and learns how to practice, it can be challenging at times to navigate how best to support your child in learning.  Knowing when to step in and assist and when to let something play out, is an art.

What have you found works for you at home?  I’d love to hear what you’ve learned!

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3 Ways to Create Comfort at the Piano

Having taught many beginners over the years, most of them children between the ages of 7 and 9, one thing is very clear to me: Pianos are adult size. While there are ½ size violins, there are no ½ size pianos.

As a parent, what can you do to ensure your child’s success so they can comfortably grow into the adult size piano over time?

1. Provide a footstool.   A pianist’s feet need to be in contact with the ground to feel secure when they play.  If your child’s feet don’t reach the ground, place a several inch book or a small footstool from a store under their feet.

2. Make sure the piano bench is high enough. When your child is seated with their feet on the floor (or on the footstool mentioned above), and their shoulders are relaxed and hanging down from their body, have them bend their elbows and place their hands on the keys. Their forearms should be parallel to the floor.

Adjust the bench height (for small children that usually means increase the height) until their forearms are parallel to the floor. You can find a 1-2 inch book to sit on, or take a blanket and fold it up to sit on. You can use a pillow, but sometimes they are too soft for the student to feel secure on the bench.

3. Invest in a piano lamp. Having good lighting that lights up the keyboard and the music will make it easier for your child to focus on learning how to play. As an adult, I can feel the strain on my eyes when I don’t have great lighting. I highly recommend good lighting for your child.

Learning to play the piano is one of the most challenging and rewarding activities your child will undertake. Helping your child feel physically supported when seated at the piano will free them up to place all of their focus on learning how to play. Before you know it, your home will be filled with beautiful music.

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Do Pianos Get Better With Age? Unfortunately, No.

I once had a beginning adult student who found a decent starter piano for her home. Over several months she began to realize that she could play the piano at her lesson more easily than the piano in her home. Frustration and the thought of quitting entered her mind. Fortunately, she was an adult and could express this to me, and to a piano technician.

It turned out that the piano in her home needed some maintenance work to make it more playable. While a skilled pianist could have played that piano, it would have taken a lot of effort on the part of the pianist. It was not suitable for a brand new beginner who was just beginning to learn the skills to play the piano.

In learning to play the piano, you really need a good piano to be successful from the beginning. Success brings enjoyment, and if you are enjoying your time at the piano, you will keep coming back.

If you have a child who wants to learn to play the piano, and you worry if they will stick with it, find a good piano. Sometimes a child wishing to quit is really them saying they don’t feel successful. Just changing to a better quality instrument can make all the difference in the world.

If you are thinking about lessons and would like help finding a piano, give us a call at 360-527-9626.

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Piano Lamp

As a child, I loved to read.  I always had a book in my hands.  I would read a book anywhere.  I recall my dad always telling me to get better light.  Only if I sat under a good lamp and read was he completely satisfied.

I didn’t think much of this idea of good lighting until I got older and became a professional accompanist playing in churches, many of which had very poor lighting.

There was one venue, however, that had superb lighting.  It had a fluorescent desk lamp that lit the keyboard and the music so well that the piano was easy to play.  It was my favorite place to play.

When I did not have that kind of lighting, I really noticed it.  It was more difficult to read the music and to play the piano.  To save my eyesight, and to make my job easier, I started bringing my own piano lamp to the poorly lit venues.

I share this with you because when you’re just starting out sometimes it is easy to overlook lighting, but it can have an impact on the success of your child.

When you get your first piano and are deciding where you will put it in your home, consider the lighting. Having good lighting will make it easier for your child to focus on learning how to play. If needed, invest in a piano lamp. It will only support your child in their success at the piano.

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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.

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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.

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Keyboard vs. Piano from a Child’s Point of View

I recently talked to the 12 year-old daughter of a friend of mine in another city that began piano lessons with an electronic keyboard at home to practice on. She stopped after a few months, but a year later resumed when her mom found a piano for their home. Here’s what she had to say about her experience practicing on a keyboard, and then later on a piano, and the challenges of learning to play the piano.

1. How did you find practicing on the keyboard?

It was frustrating because the keyboard couldn’t respond with the variety of sound a piano does. I worked hard, but the keyboard just didn’t measure up to what a piano could do. I also had trouble playing a real piano because my keyboard was not full-size, so I never knew where middle C was.

2. How long did you do lessons on a keyboard before you quit?

A few months.

3. Now that you have a piano, how do you compare the two?

I really like the piano. I want to play it, and I like practicing.

A few years later, my friend’s child is still enjoying piano lessons and practicing on her piano. She has even started to explore duets on her own with her sibling who plays the violin. This all began when the piano became a part of their home.

If you are looking to get started with piano lessons and want music in your home, invest in a piano. Your child will progress more quickly and is more likely to continue long-term with lessons than if they only had an electronic keyboard.

For tips on buying a piano, click here. For ideas on where you can find pianos in the community to practice on, click here. If you would like further assistance, please give us a call at 360-527-9626. We are happy to help you find a piano.

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Inspiration

Inspiration. You never know when it’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. But when inspiration hits, internal motivation comes forth.

As a child, I remember hearing two different concerts that so inspired me, I immediately went to the piano when I got home. Here they are:

1. Age 12, I hear concert pianist, Byron Janis perform Piano Concerto #2 by Rachmaninoff . It was the first time I had ever heard the piano like that. From that moment forward it has became one of my all-time favorite pieces. When I was in my twenties I bought the music to save for some future time. Since then, I have practiced various parts of it.

2. Age 13, I hear concert pianist, Andre Watts perform Schubert and Beethoven solo piano pieces. I still remember the crescendo at the end of the Beethoven piece. It was so subtle, and it went on for quite some time. It was so gradual I couldn’t figure out how he had gotten to forte at the end. I couldn’t wait to get home and play the music myself.

I’ve heard many concerts over the years. Some have been fine. Some have been good. Some have been great, and some have been spectacular. You never know when a performer will reach out and touch you with the music. You just have to go to concerts and be open to the possibility. But I can tell you this, when you experience the magic, it will be well worth it.

Do you ever find yourself nagging your child to practice? Before you get too worn out doing that, take them to concerts. They just might get inspired, and you won’t be able to keep them away from the piano.

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