Great Book: Lang Lang – Journey of A Thousand Miles

I just finished reading Journey of a Thousand Miles: My Story by Lang Lang with David Ritz. This book literally drew me in from the first to the very last page. I did not want to put it down. When I had to put it down, because life was calling, I wondered what would happen next in this great classical pianist’s story. There was not a moment of disappointment.

As I read of his struggles and the extreme sacrifices his parents made to help him master the piano and the passion he himself has for music I was inspired. Honestly, it made me want to rush to the piano and practice – sincerely practice. And that’s exactly what I did several times in between chapters.

“Hearing” Lang Lang tell his story of being a piano student in China was mind-boggling at times because it is so different from the way we do it in America. There is a different depth to the process of musical learning and commitment to the craft than what I have experienced. It makes me wonder what kind of musician I would be if I had grown up in China. Would I be happy? I’m not sure. Would I be exceptionally skillful? Maybe. Lang Lang points out some wonderful differences that Americans have culturally as well. The freedom to be yourself, to express yourself in unique ways is one thing that Lang Lang speaks of discovering once he came to America. I enjoyed reading between these two worlds through Lang Lang’s eyes.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Remember, it is easy to be a pianist, all you have to do is move your fingers. But to be a great pianist you have to use your mind.”

I think this is a great read for every piano student, piano teacher, and piano parent.


A Piano Student’s Thoughts on Playing

One of the misconceptions about piano lessons is that they are only for girls. This amazes me since most of the very famous composers were men – hello Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, etc. Also, most of your top concert pianists and jazz pianists are what? Men. Don’t get me wrong – I know that women can hold their own at the piano. I’m a living breathing example of that! However, this myth that piano lessons are a girl thing to do is far from the truth and it has to be stopped. Listen to what one of my rising 6th grade male students has to say about piano lessons. When I heard this, it made me so proud to be a piano teacher.

Father’s Day Music Memories

This is a picture of my Dad and me on my wedding day 17 years ago today! As I think about him on this Father’s Day a very happy memory of how he supported my music learning when I was a child comes to my mind. Although I did not live with him as a child, my Dad made sure that I had a piano at his house so I could practice when I came to visit. I was so happy when he bought that piano and I played it all the time when I was there. Today, it occurs to me just how special that was for him to buy a brand new piano just for me to use one weekend out of a month. When I consider that many of today’s parents hesitate to even buy their child a $100 keyboard when taking lessons –  let alone a piano, I am deeply humbled. My Dad must have seen something musical in me even then. I am so thankful for this gift he gave me and I hope he feels good knowing that because he supported my music learning each and every one of the families that I work with is benefitting from it.

If you have parents in your studio or prospective parents who question whether or not to make the investment in a good quality piano because they are not sure if they will stick with it, share my story with them or a similar story of your own and hopefully they will want to be a hero just like my Dad is.

App of the Week: Beat Sneak Bandit

Thanks to one of the teachers in the Music Teacher’s Group on Facebook, I learned about this great music game! Wonderful for working on rhythm without even realizing it! Available on iTunes. I used it with my rising 6th graders in Music Camp this week (all boys) and they loved it!!!

Summer Piano Shorts: Arpeggios Make Great Intros

This is the first in a series of what I call Summer Piano Shorts. These are  just quick piano experiments for my piano students who are taking the summer off from lessons. You can download a copy of this worksheet to use at home or with a student. They will be able to play a nice intro for songs using arpeggios. Look for a Summer Piano Short every Monday!

The Music Store Field Trip

A Music Store Field Trip can be very exciting for a child who is learning to play the piano. The Music Store Field Trip is a lot different from a visit to the Piano Store because at the Music Store Field Trip you will get to experience other instruments in addition to the piano. If you live nearby a large music store then this is the field trip for you! It’s FREE, FUN, and Entertaining.

First you and your child/student will enjoy being around so many pianos. It’s a whole new world where playing in public can be a much different experience than the that of a piano recital. Also, the music store employees often gladly give FREE performances! It’s so awesome to see kids’ faces light up when they watch a good piano player play.

Next you can play the synthesizers and turntables and feel like you’re a recording artist! Kids love the fun digital sounds they can make!

At the music store we went to, they had these cool hand chairs –

A wall full of guitars makes you just want to try playing one – or two – or ten!

Getting Dad involved makes this field trip even more fun and cool! If Dad is doing it, it must be cool, right?

Sometimes kids don’t realize that there are more piano books out there besides the ones they use for their lessons. This information often motivates them to learn more songs!

The best part of the Music Store Field Trip? A happy, motivated music student!

So, take your kids or music students on a Music Store Field Trip  – you will be so glad you did and they will too!

Have you ever taken kids on a Music Store Field Trip? If so, what one thing made it so awesome?

Undercover Piano Practice

Summer is… A  Great time to change up the piano practice routine for kids

School is out and so are daily routines, but you know that piano practice must continue! So what’s a parent to do? Before you decide that piano just isn’t going to work out for your child because they don’t want to practice. do a google search for the nearest piano store – not music store, but piano store – and drive your kids over there! No piano books, just you and the kids. We wouldn’t want to make the kids think we are about to practice piano, now would we?

Can’t get your child to touch the piano at home? This will have him touching 5 or 6 pianos GLADLY!

Once you get to the store, it will seem like you’re in a candy store – no kidding! There’s something about a room full of pianos that can get a kid excited in a way that practicing piano just can’t. Check out these pics of our latest trip to the piano store (We actually went to price a new piano, but of course they played the pianos while we were there) –

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By the way, I had a hard time getting my son to leave the piano store! Gotta love it!

Coming Up…

You might have noticed my daughter in one of the pictures with a model of the inner workings of a piano key. I’ll be writing about The Music Store Field Trip in an upcoming post. To guarantee you don’t miss it, subscribe to the blog and you will be notified as soon as it is posted!

How Can I Know If Piano Is Right For My Child?

Sometimes I get calls from parents who are somewhat interested in enrolling their child in piano lessons but are a little reluctant because they are not quite sure if  their child will be interested enough to stick with it. I always tell parents that when dealing with children and piano lessons the parent needs to be able to commit to at least a school year of lessons before making a final assessment of whether or not this is right for their child. The reason for this is that learning to play an instrument is a slow process for most people since there are a variety of skills that must be learned. This takes time and dedication. Truthfully, there will be lots of days when the child will need the parent to encourage him or her to stick with it. The following is a list of clues that can help parents know if piano might be right for their child:

1. Your child gets excited whenever they hear music.

2. Your child often sings along with music or makes up her own songs to sing.

3. Your child sings in the tub/shower.

4. Your child loves to dance.

5. Your child watches other people play instruments with great interest.

6. Your child asks you to get him lessons.

These are just a few clues that learning a musical instrument might be right for your child. If your child exhibits any of these behaviors, give lessons a good try – at least a year and see what happens. They will love it and stick with it as long as you show a genuine interest in it (at home and at lessons) and you have the right teacher!

FREE Concerts!

 With Memorial Day just around the corner here in the United States, it’s a great excuse to have your piano player give some FREE Concerts. If you have guests coming in town or if you will be gathering with friends, why not take advantage of what you’ve invested in music lessons and let your piano player provide some of the entertainment? Music streamed through ipods and speakers is fine, but NOTHING beats a live performance from your kid!

To make it happen, get them involved right now! Suggest it casually and throw out some ideas about costumes. Kids love to dress up and they get caught up into what they are going to wear forgetting to protest about performing. And be sure to get some Funky Cool sunglasses!

Of course you will want to put out a tip jar so that guests can show their appreciation. You will need to put $2-$3 in the tip jar before setting it out so guests know that’s what it is for. Getting paid to play the piano? Now that sounds like something a kid could go for! Let them know that they can buy a new video game or some other thing they’ve been wanting with the tips.

If you really want to go over the top, get some prints of them at the piano and have them autograph the pics for your guests. Be sure to give guests the heads up that they need to ask for an autograph after the performance! For something to add that “extra touch” get invitations here.

What other ideas do you have for getting kids to play at family gatherings?

Summer Practice Challenge

Summer is here! The school year is almost over for many kids right now and that means that parents and piano teachers have to have a plan for helping kids continue to play (piano that is) over the summer. So, here is a Summer Practice Chart you can use. The Summer Practice Challenge is to practice playing piano for 100 minutes each week. That’s only 20 minutes a day! Each day they reach their goal they get to color in, check off, or put a sticker on one piano key. If they practice this way for only 5 days they will reach their goal.

On the right side of the chart is a To Do List that takes the guessing out of what to practice. Summer is a great time to focus on scales so that is the first thing in the to do list. A summer of scales will make learning new songs in the fall so much easier and faster!

The second practice step is a new song for the week. If the child is taking lessons over the summer this is the one song that is covered in the lesson. I set a goal of learning one song a week because most people are doing more leisure activities this time of year and so there won’t be as much discipline when it comes to new repertoire. I suggest using a practice prop such as an abacus or dice to help the child do repetitions. For example, they can stop practicing a particular thing once they have played the song the number of times that the dice show.

Finally, a worksheet page reviewing theory concepts tied to the song for the week can finish off the practice session.

And the only thing left to do is color in, check off, or put a sticker on one piano key for the day!

At the end of the summer I have a gift card for ice cream for the student who practiced the most minutes over the summer.

What do you do to keep your students playing piano over the summer?