Help for Parents Archive – Page 2

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.

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.

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.

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.

How to Motivate Children to Practice

When you sign your child up for piano lessons, you have hopes and dreams for their success.  It’s great when they are motivated on their own to practice, but it’s typical for students to have periods when they seem to lack motivation.  What can you do as a parent to help re-ignite their fire?  Here’s a couple of ideas my own mother used with me.

1.  “Mary, will you play for me while I cook dinner?”  The piano was in our living room and open to the kitchen.  To this day I can still see my mom cooking while I played.  It was something the two of us shared, and I thank her for that gift.

2.  “Mary, I’ll clean the kitchen for you if you’ll play for me.”  If all I had to do to get out of my job of cleaning the kitchen was to play the piano, then I was going to do it.  Of course, my mom took full advantage and scrubbed every nook and cranny until that kitchen was spotless.  I couldn’t leave the piano until she was done with the kitchen.  Again, to this day, that picture of me playing and her cleaning the kitchen is indelibly etched in my mind.

3.  “Mary, let’s take an R&R day, just the two of us.”  This only happened once a year around my birthday when I was in elementary and middle school.  She cleared the entire schedule for the day, including school, and we went out to lunch and shopping.  It is some of my best memories with my mom.

As a student, did I have periods of time where I did not practice?  Yes.
Did I always follow my piano teacher’s assignment?  No.
Did my mom ever nag me to practice?  No.

Through her creative ideas she found ways to encourage me to keep playing, and the piano has become a constant in my life that today I get to share with others.  I can’t imagine my life without it.

With your own children, before you’re about to tear your hair out, try some of these creative ideas, or think of your own.  They can become long-lasting fond memories for your child well into their adulthood, and someday, your child just might thank you.

The Ebb and FLow of Piano Lessons

One moment your child craves the piano. They spend time playing Christmas songs, feeling happy that they can create music that they recognize. Then a few months later they’re unmotivated and want to quit. What’s going on?

In undertaking any endeavor like learning to play the piano, there will be highs and lows. The question is not if, but when will the lows happen. It’s important to recognize that this is normal and part of the learning process. A “low” does not necessarily mean quit. It means something has changed, and it’s time to investigate and figure out what that is. Once you understand what has changed then you can evaluate what step to take next.

In preparation for a low, establish a good relationship with your child where they feel safe talking to you about what’s going on in their life. When a “low” comes take this as an opportunity to learn more about your child. The issue is not about quitting, but what has changed in their world. This may take a little more time and effort as a parent, but it will be well worth it. One day they will be a parent helping their own children navigate the process of growing up.

Aural Development

As your child grows as a musician, so will their ear. It’s not uncommon for children to have sensitive ears. Becoming a musician will develop that sensitivity even more. To make beautiful music at the piano, sensitive ears are a requirement, and they develop over time and practice.

If there’s a downside to developing a good ear, it’s this: the piano that used to work just fine a few years ago isn’t so great anymore according to your child. Their ears begin to pick up changes in the tone quality of different keys on the piano. They can hear when a key begins to go out of tune.

Fine musicians need this level of sensitivity to communicate the emotional content of a piece of music. That is how they can knock your socks off when you listen to them play. As these aural skills increase, having a quality piano that can meet or exceed the skills of the pianist will catapult their listening skills even further.

Does this mean that you need to go out and buy a 50K piano? No. However, it does mean providing a quality piano and having it tuned at least once a year. In addition, listen to your child when they tell you the piano doesn’t sound right. If your child hasn’t been practicing lately, ask yourself if the piano needs to be tuned.

One word of caution: If you child practices on an out-of-tune piano, after a while they will begin to think the “out-of tune” piano is normal and the “in-tune” piano at their lesson is out of tune.

Your child’s ears will develop one way or the other. Provide a quality piano. Keep it in tune, and soon your child will be knocking your socks off with beautiful music in your home.

Piano Dream

I recently attended a social gathering where I met a woman in her forties who shared with me her childhood piano story. In grade school she took piano lessons from the school music teacher during recess. Her parents bought her a little keyboard to practice on at home. She liked her piano lesson because it was the one time she got to play a real piano. She rarely practiced on her keyboard at home. It just wasn’t the same as the piano at her lesson. Because she didn’t practice much, she didn’t progress much. Eventually she stopped lessons.

As she reflected on this experience as an adult, she commented, “If I had a real piano to practice on as a child I may have kept with it and actually progressed.” Today she dreams about buying her own piano and taking lessons again.

How about you? Are you an adult dreaming about learning to play the piano, or are you a parent of a child interested in piano lessons? Either way, find a piano to make part of your home, or find a piano in your community to practice on. It will make a huge difference in your success and your child’s success.

Perseverance

Perseverance can make all the difference in the life of a piano student. It can also make all the difference as a teacher to keep going in the trenches with a student who continues to struggle. There’s no guarantee they will succeed. It seems as if everything is stacked against them. Practice may be sporadic, if at all. Other activities buy for their time. Practicing the piano can be a lonely endeavor, and it’s not that glamorous. Parents may lose hope if it’s a constant battle to remind them to practice. The student and parents may give up before they see success.

However, for the child whose parents back them up, even when struggling over the long-term, even when the child balks at practicing, it’s just a matter of time before perseverance brings the reward.

As a teacher I spent three years continually reminding a student that instead of having the entire side of the thumb play a key, to stand on the thumb and have the corner of the thumb play. At least several times a month I said the same thing, “Stand on the thumb.” It was constant correction. She could do it, but she had to focus to do it, and that took a lot of effort. Since she wasn’t ready to put forth that effort, I put forth the effort to keep reminding her.

And then one day, hell froze over. I said, “stand on the thumb,” and she responded with the hand position of a concert pianist. I don’t have a single other student who can stand on their thumb better than she can. I was so shocked at the beauty of it, that I asked her to do it again. For the first time in three years, she maintained the superb hand position while she played.

Then she commented to me how comfortable and easy it was to play the piano in that position. She said, “Why would I go back to my old way? This way feels so much better.”

She complimented me for saying the same thing over and over to her until she had finally experienced what I had been trying to convey to her all these years. And she was excited to practice. She couldn’t wait to go home to her piano.

Now she understands not from me telling her, but from her experiencing it for herself. No one can take that away from her, and she can pass her learning onto others.

Perseverance is key. Something magical can happen when the student, parents and teacher all persevere together with unwavering faith that something new can happen, and they don’t give up until it does.