Play Wrong Notes On Purpose

Having a bad day? Play some wrong and ugly notes at the piano.

Piano students spend a lot of time focusing on playing the correct notes. The thought of playing wrong notes can be horrifying to some students. Yes, you want to learn your notes well and have accuracy, but wrong notes do have a place in musical training.

Have you ever tried to play wrong notes on purpose? Try making up your own piece, but make sure all the notes sound bad. Yes, you heard me correctly: all the notes need to sound very bad. If you’ve been programmed to only sound good, finding ugly notes can be a challenge.

One of the easiest times to find bad notes is when you are having a bad day. Since you feel bad, it’s much easier to make ugly sounds. Try it. It might help to do it when no one else is around so that there will be no judgment. Just experiment with finding harsh and dissonant sounds on the piano.

How we feel in our body has a direct impact on the sound we create at the piano. When a piece is joyous, it helps to have a joyful feeling in our body. When a piece is tumultuous, it helps to have experience with that feeling and play with that feeling in our body.

The next time you have a bad day, experiment with creating ugly sounds at the piano. You will get to know the piano in a way you’ve never know it before. It’s an entire new world to explore. I’d love to hear what you learn.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.