Practice Archive – Page 2

I Love That Piece!

Five minutes before the end of one of my piano student’s lessons, his mom knocks on the door to come in. She finds us throwing a ball and trying to bare hand the catch. Her 8 year-old son is energized and really into this ball throwing. Sometimes we miss, and the ball bounces off the wall, but we’re both really trying. Even I get better at my throws and catches.

I explained to his mom that he just spent the last 10 minutes memorizing an entire piece that he thought he‘d never be able to memorize. I had him memorize one line, repeat it a few times, and then get up and play catch for about 10 throws. Then he would return to the piano, and see if he could remember the line of music he just memorized. He just now finished memorizing the entire piece so we were doing the final throws.

Then I suggested to the student, “Hey, why don’t you do a test, and see if you can play the piece from memory for your mom?”

Excited to show his mom, he sat down and played from memory. Sure enough, he could do it. He was thrilled; his mom was thrilled. I told him that when he went home to do the same process again, and maybe get his dad to throw a ball with him to solidify what he learned today.

The next week he came back to his lesson and announced, “I love that piece!”

Having fun learning, and being able to do things you didn’t think you could. It doesn’t get any better than that. If you or your child would like to experience the fun of learning to play the piano, give us a call at 360-527-9626 or email us.

Owning Practice

Every year I encourage students to participate in the WA State Music Teachers Adjudications and the National Guild of Piano Teachers Auditions. Both are events where students prepare pieces to perform and receive feedback from a guest teacher. It’s a wonderful way to help students set and reach goals and learn from another musician.

One student participated every year, but always dreaded it. She realized she dreaded it because she didn’t prepare well. In the few weeks before the event, when I would see that she wasn’t prepared, I would find new pieces that were simple enough for her to learn quickly and perform so that she could still participate.

One such time, I told her, “When you come back next week you’ll be giving a mini-concert for the student who has a lesson just before you. So start preparing today when you get home. Do not wait.”

The next week came, and I knew her pattern of not adequately preparing and then having a miserable time. However, when she walked in the door, I was happy to see her, and said, motioning toward the piano, “Here you go. Go ahead and give us a concert.”

I didn’t give her an opportunity to say anything, or do anything except sit down at the piano and start playing. To my surprise, she did. Instead of playing the easy piece I gave her the week before, she played her difficult piece from start to finish, by memory. I had never heard her play the whole piece, let alone from memory, until that day. I was shocked.

What was her secret? After a short time practicing by playing straight through the piece at home, she realized she wasn’t getting anywhere. Adjudications were just around the corner, and the hard parts were still hard. She decided that she needed to practice a different way, the way I had been telling her for the past four years. She went back to her assignment notebook and looked at all the ways I had been telling her to practice. She made herself a plan on what she was going to master each day so that at the end of the week she would know the entire piece.

She practiced every day, about an hour each time, seven days in a row. She went slow. She practiced hands alone. She practiced transitions from one beat to the next beat over and over. She worked out hard parts, rather than just play through the piece. Her parents weren’t even sure she was practicing because it sounded different from anything she had ever done over the past four years.

At the end of the week she could play the entire piece. She got the results she wanted. She realized she could do it. She was happy. For the first time in her life, she now was looking forward to playing at the adjudications. She couldn’t wait to see what new ideas she would learn.

To see the transformation in her from dread to joy is one of the reasons I keep teaching. I am an eternal optimist, and believe that our abilities sometimes lie dormant. We may not even be aware of what we are capable of. A good teacher of any discipline sees the potential in the student and is willing to stick it out through thick and thin until one day it come to the surface. Once a student experiences it for themselves, they will carry it with them for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Do you need a teacher to believe in you or your child? Give us a call today to get started with lessons and discover your own natural abilities.

Falling in Love with Learning

“Fall in love with the process and the results will come.”

I recently saw this quote advertising a gym, and it reminded me of how true it is when learning to play the piano. In our culture of technology where information is instant, the experience of a process to achieve something can be unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

Children learning to play the piano are also used to learning all sorts of things at school, in sports and in other activities. Kids can have stumbling blocks, but they typically haven’t refined their competence to the level an adult has, and therefore, it’s not uncommon for adults to have difficulty “falling in love” with the process of learning.

This can be especially difficult for adults learning to play the piano for the first time. After spending years as an adult, becoming competent in work and life, who wants to feel incompetent trying to learn a new skill? Setting aside the judgment of incompetence and instead falling in love with the process of learning, is the key to success.

How do you do that? First, give yourself a break. You’re not suppose to already know how to play the piano well. That’s the purpose of lessons. Second, find a teacher you trust, where you feel empowered to take chances.

If you would like to explore the idea of lessons, give us a call at (360) 527-9626. You can even call and schedule your own introductory 40-minute lesson for only $50. It’s a great way to experience the piano first-hand.

A whole new world awaits you. You just have to take the first step.

Playing By Ear and Counting Aloud

When students first begin piano lessons, one of the skills they learn is how to count basic rhythm. Meanwhile, they also learn how to read music. On occasion there will be a piece in their beginning book that is a familiar tune to them. It’s not uncommon for students to toss their rhythm skills out the window, and even their note reading skills, and instead play the whole piece by ear, (which happens to be another important skill). When playing by yourself, this seems to work o.k. However, if you try to play a duet, it falls apart.

One such student came to his lesson one day playing Alouette, the familiar nursery rhyme out of his book. He knew the notes and sort of the correct rhythm. We started to count off together to play the duet when he had a rude awakening. We were not together, at all. He was shocked. This had never happened to him before.

I told him he has such a wonderful ear that it wants to direct the whole piece, since it knows how it is suppose to sound. However, the ear doesn’t know how the duet is suppose to go, so I suggested that at home he count very meticulously and don’t let his ear direct his fingers. Instead, let his counts direct the notes.

The next week when he came back he played the duet perfectly. His counts directed his fingers rather than his ear. I was pleasantly surprised because it was unusual that such a young child could over-ride his ear with methodical counting.

A few weeks later this same student announced at his lesson, “Counting is VERY important.”

I asked him, “How did you learn that?”

“Well,” he replied, “It was Alouette. If I didn’t count aloud the duet wouldn’t work at all!”

Having Fun Learning

There’s a lot of skill that goes into playing the piano. So many details that are learned one by one. It’s easy to get bogged down. However, finding a way to make those details a fun game can make all the difference in the world.

One student I had was completely fascinated by the natural world, and little creatures in particular, like bugs and butterflies. I started looking for pieces that spoke to his interest. Soon any issue that came up in a piece was addressed through the metaphor of an animal. It was no longer just a note that needed to be held two beats, but a kangaroo that needed an additional moment of rest before hopping off. If he missed the second beat, we laughed because the kangaroo didn’t get his two beats. It became fun to see how many beats his kangaroos were getting. His accuracy improved, and he was having fun learning. He smiled a lot and was full of energy.

This is learning at its best: freedom to explore, try, evaluate, and try again in an atmosphere of fun. It is life-giving for the student and for the teacher.

The key to each student may be a little different, however, the result will be the same: a student who has fun learning and wants more. It doesn’t get any better than that.


An acquaintance of mine recently found a piano for her home and is so excited to be playing the piano. She took lessons as a child, and now as an adult enjoys learning how to play again.

She commented on her struggles and joys of learning piano as an adult. She said when she’s trying to work something out, she just keeps trying, and approaches learning with a sense of humor and allowing herself to make mistakes. Her advice to others is to just keep trying because you will come out on the other side, and it will be worth it.

When learning anything new, how often do you give up after the first try, or after the second or third? I remind my students that the American author, Ernest Hemingway was turned down either 50 or 100 times by publishers before he finally found someone to publish his now famous book, The Old Man and the Sea.

Where do you have that kind of determination? Whatever you are learning, approach it with the mindset that it will happen. When and how you may not know, but it will happen. Ask for help, and keep trying. You will see the way unfold before you.

If you or your child would like help getting started in piano, call us today about lessons.

Even Ballet Dancers Count Aloud

2015 has been the year of counting aloud. As I see my students develop musical independence from counting aloud, I increase my insistence with new students. Sure enough, they too begin developing their independence sooner than I ever thought possible.

In the midst of my ongoing mission to teach my students to be excellent counters, my enthusiasm rubbed off on my sister who happens to be a classical ballet teacher. She saw that in her class of 10 year-olds there were some dancers ahead of the music, others were behind and a few were right on it. In a moment of inspiration she had them all count aloud as they danced to the music.

What she noticed was that when they counted aloud, every single dancer was with the music. The dancers also became aware of when they were not with the music. When the counting aloud subsided, so did their ability to stay with the music. Because they were aware, they could correct themselves.

Counting aloud has a wonderful way of sharpening the focus and bringing awareness to dancers, as well as musicians. It is then that they can fully participate and become one with the music. Try it, whether you are learning to dance or learning to play a musical instrument. You might just be surprised at what you can do.

Counting Aloud Messes Me Up!

“Counting Aloud Messes Me Up!”

Have you ever said this, or heard your children say this when learning a new piece? Or, maybe they don’t say anything. They just don’t count aloud. Instead they play through their piece over and over hoping it will eventually get better. However, for those students who are willing to bite the bullet and work through the awkwardness of counting aloud, the reward is great.

Over the several years I’ve been teaching piano I’ve become more and more convinced that rhythm, or lack thereof, is the root of many problems. In my early days of teaching I did encourage counting aloud. However, if the student wined enough, I would let it go and try again on another day. Today, I’m relentless when it comes to counting aloud because I see the wonderful results students can have relatively quickly if they put forth the effort to count aloud. I love to see students grow in independence because they can count aloud.

I’ll spend an entire day teaching with the same resounding refrain: “Count aloud.” If the student complains, I know I’ve found their learning spot, and I don’t let it go. I tell them, “Join the club. Everyone today has begged me not to count aloud. So you are in good company. However, everyone today is counting aloud for better or for worse. It’s ok to stumble. It’s ok to make mistakes, and it’s time to keep trying until you get it.”

Inevitably, when the student follows my precise directions, they are usually surprised to master a passage in about 3-4 tries. Then I ask, “What was the key to your success just now?” Of course, the reluctant counters seem to have already forgotten that it was the counting aloud that helped organize their playing. I remind them that counting aloud was the key to their success.

“Counting aloud messes me up,” or how about, “counting aloud gives me results that I deserve.” Give both options a try, and see which one propels you or your children forward in your music study.

Giving Up

Has your child ever given up on the first try and then refused to try again?

This is a common issue that comes up in learning to play the piano. It’s also an opportunity for students to learn what the process of learning looks like. Students who refuse to try again oftentimes believe that they should be able to get it on the first try, and if they are not successful then they believe they are not good enough. Rather than experience those uncomfortable feelings of not being good enough, they stop. This is the best coping mechanism they have to date.

Where did they come up with this idea that they need to be able to do something new on the first try? It can come from anywhere. One student, after hearing his father make an off-hand comment about a band not being very good, interpreted that comment in his mind to mean he needed to be perfect on the first try so he wouldn’t be in the category of not being very good, and therefore not have his dad’s approval.

Here’s a different tape that I repeat over and over to my students until they get it and experience it for themselves: Learning is a process. It does not happen on the first try. It’s often the 4th or 5th try where you start to get it. You are suppose to stumble around and make mistakes, and keep going until you get it. That is the process of learning.

Some students understand this immediately, for others it can take a few years to actually believe it. (If your child is in the “few years” category, don’t give up on them. They need a parent who believes in them, especially when they don’t believe in themselves).

Students who are perfect on the 1st try are not learning. They are showing what they already know. The process of learning is allowing yourself as many mistakes as you need to work it out. Making peace with this process accelerates learning.

Parasympathetic Nervous System and Piano

Do you ever feel like you’re running around, trying to get everything done, and then you’re exhausted at the end of the day?  I’m sure we’ve all felt that at times.  That experience is the sympathetic nervous system at work.  It’s fight or flight mode.  Even in learning to play the piano it’s easy for students to fall into trying to get it right and putting pressure on themselves.  Again it’s the sympathetic nervous system at work.  It’s great for when you need that extra adrenaline to run for your life, literally.  Thankfully, we rarely need to run for our lives, and in piano lessons it’s not necessary at all.

What’s the alternative?  Engage the parasympathetic nervous system.  “What’s that?” you ask.

The parasympathetic nervous system is everything you’re body does automatically without you thinking about it, like digesting food and breathing.  It just happens.  When you’re resting the parasympathetic nervous system is at work.  What if you could be in a rest state and learn to play the piano?  Wouldn’t that be relaxing and invigorating?  Yes, it would.

I have great news for you.  It is possible to learn and play the piano from a rest state.  No stress.  No worry.  No to-do list trying to get your attention.  Just pure relaxation that feels great, and sounds great too.

I recently had a 13-old student truly experience this for the first time.  She had been struggling to learn a particular piece.  She could do it, but she had all this stress and worry about it before she even played the first note at her lesson, even though she had practiced it at home.  (Ever had that feeling before?  You are not alone).

I encouraged her to go really, really, really slow.  So slow the average person would think she didn’t know how to play the piano.  Not the pace you would play to show off, but the pace your body needs so it has time to relax, think, and process everything it is doing as it is doing it.  So slow you can feel yourself breathe with every note without a care in the world.

She found that pace and nearly put herself to sleep.  I stopped talking.  There was nothing to say.  She played incredibly slow.  Where she struggled before, she now played flawlessly.  Her tone was stunning.  She had never experienced what I meant by slow until now.  She had a huge smile on her face and was so excited that yes, she really could play this piece.  In fact, she could probably learn the whole thing by next week simply by going this slow.

I told her, “This is how I practice.  You now know the secret.”

Truly going so slow you can feel yourself breathe takes letting go of trying to look good, and instead finding that pace where your body feels comfortable.  It takes self-awareness, practice, and a willingness to look like you don’t know how to play the piano.   Yet, the truth is, this is how you learn to play the piano well.  It is what keeps students coming back for more because it feels so relaxing.  That’s the parasympathetic nervous system for you.  Try it.  It will open a whole new world of possibilities for you.