A Child’s Ideas On How To Prepare For A Piano Performance

A Child's IdeasThis is a guest post from a 4th grader  who wishes to remain anonymous. Parents, students, and teachers will enjoy getting involved with performance prep using this piano student’s ideas! Some of my most successful teaching strategies have come from the students themselves. I love their creativity!

Play American Idol:

Have the people in the room give critiques to help the student play better.

Play Elmo Says:

Tickle Me Elmo loves to say, “Again, Again!” You should too!

Have the student play again and again and when you think they have it ask for them to play the song with their eyes closed. Any other songs the person will play that special night go through the same process. Tell them how much time is left until the night of the concert. Motivate them to try harder if they say they can’t do it. It is all in the purpose of learning that they  can do this. Play games with them to remember the song. Show the kid how they can make their playing more interesting.

 

Play Open & Close ‘Em:

Try to go through the whole song with your eyes closed and if you hear the wrong note open your eyes.Then put your hand in the right place to continue the song and try not to mess up on the same part.

Play Tic Tac Toe:

Instructions for tic-tac-toe – You try to play the song one time and if everything is right you make an X or O. Keep playing the song until the student wins.

What If I Make A Mistake?

Mistakes Are GuaranteedWith concerts, recitals, and holiday performances just around the corner both students and teachers are starting to feel a case of the butterflies. I know I am! Teachers wonder if they will have all the students prepared in time. We wonder if the programs will get printed in time, if the sound system at the venue will be working properly, if there will be enough food for the reception. Students wonder if they will mess up on stage. They worry that they might trip on the way to or from the piano bench. They are tortured by a multitude of what ifs – one of the worst ones being what if I forget my song?

It’s been said that there are no guarantees in life, but actually there is one! As I was re-reading the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of Making Music magazine, the words of Glenn DaGrossa- a music teacher in New York – jumped off the page at me:

“As human beings, mistakes are guaranteed”

Well doesn’t that just go against everything we are working towards in rehearsals and practice?

Actually, this fact – and it is a fact – must be at the center of our rehearsals and practice. We must prepare not only to play to the best of our ability, but also prepare to handle the inevitable mistakes we will make. Our goal must  not  be a flawless performance, but a fantastic performance! Flawless performances can be flat and sterile, whereas fantastic performances are those that may or may not have noticeable mistakes but definitely connect the audience and performer to each other.

So, let’s all do ourselves a favor and recognize that mistakes are guaranteed. With this thought in mind, let’s proceed to practice with a greater purpose than perfection in mind.

Let’s practice with the goal of communicating and connecting through the music. That’s the kind of music that brings people together!

Mystery Practice Assignments Pt 2

Since last week’s post about Mystery Practice Assignments got so much attention on Pinterest and since my students seem to be enjoying the suspense involved in having to wait to find out what their practice assignment for each day is, I’ve decided to do a follow-up. Here are some of the mystery assignments I will be using this week. These are some of the tried and true favorites that I have used over the years in students’ notebooks as well as one idea that came from a comment on a post about How To Get Kids To Sing. Also, this week there will only be 4 mystery assignments – one for every other day. (Hmmm…could this be another way to reinforce the concept of skips?)

1.Place a small ball in the palm of your right hand. Wrap tape around the ball and your hand. Play the Treble clef notes of your practice piece without letting the ball slip out!

2. Using a kazoo, sing the first line of your practice piece whenever your brother or sister says your name tonight. (Thanks to Leila of 88pianokeys for this one!) Teachers/parents – for this one you may have to supply your student with a kazoo. This will actually add to the mystery since you will not tell him/her what the kazoo is for! You will only tell them that it is explained  in one of their envelopes!

3. Put on some dark sunglasses and play your piece with your eyes closed like Stevie Wonder. Were you able to play it without a mistake? If not, keep trying until you can!

4. Watch one of your favorite 30 minute TV shows and play your piece during the commercials. How many times were you able to play your piece?

For a printable copy of the assignments click here. There are enough for up to 4 students each. Simply cut strips and place in a sealed envelope for each day.

What To Do After The Lesson: A Checklist For Parents

Parents want to HELP their kids do well in piano but often don’t know how and are pressed for time. As a piano parent myself, I totally get it. So in the spirit of multitasking, here are 4 simple things parents can do in the car on the way home (or headed to the next destination) after lessons.

Just remember the word

H.E.L.P.

Highlights – Ask your child questions about the lesson

Encouragement – Make a positive statement about their piano learning

Let it go – Laugh about something. Anything.

Play – for the first 5 minutes at home have your child play something they started learning at the lesson.

You can print a copy of the checklist here to keep in your car!

 

Mystery Practice Assignments

This post is about the never ending practice war. You carefully write out assignments in your student’s notebook, slowly explain what you wrote, and you wait 7 days. Then you find out your student didn’t even look at the assignment sheet. You give your student a look of shock or disappointment and explain again why practice is so important. Repeat the steps from the previous week. The cycle continues.

I’m sure most piano teachers are familiar with the practice war and some may even have come to accept it as just a normal part of lessons. Well, the rebel in me is standing up today and saying NO! This has got to stop!

So, I have a proposal for any teacher who is ready to accept the challenge to end the war.

This will take a little advanced planning, but I’m betting it will be worth it. This week I’m giving students a different practice task for each of the 7 days in between lessons. My goal is for them to complete at least 5 of these tasks. If they complete all 7, they get to choose something from my treasure box at the end of the lesson. Here is where it gets interesting  – I will assign and explain a really cool practice activity for the first day like one of the ones in Shhh… Your Piano Teacher Thinks This Is Practice by Andrea and Trevor Dow. The other 6 assignments will be given to the student in sealed envelopes with the message – “Do NOT Open Until _________ “! The day of the week will be written on the line. Before giving the student the assignments, I will be making a list of them in my teacher notes so that I can use that in the following lesson.

I can’t wait to see how many of my students will take the mystery challenge!

Will you join me in this quest to end the practice war? Like and / or leave a comment if you’re on board!

The Piano Lesson…Unplugged

Just as I was about 5 minutes from completing the 45 minute trip to my first Saturday piano lesson this past weekend I made a terrifying discovery – I had left the cord to my keyboard at home! Of course my mind began to race as I only had about 30 minutes before my lesson was to begin. I knew there was a Radio Shack nearby so I went there in hopes that I could buy a plug. I was relieved to learn that they had several different sizes of plugs. While the salesperson and I searched for a plug that would fit, someone came into the store and asked me about taking piano lessons. Needless to say I did give them information about my lessons but was cringing on the inside that their first encounter with me involved me not being prepared for my next lesson! Before I could get too frustrated about this fact, the salesperson informed me that she had tried every plug they had in the store and  none of them fit my keyboard! Oh no! Where was my panic button when I needed it?

I thanked her and quickly made a plan to utilize my iPad during the lesson to teach/review theory concepts. When I arrived at the lesson, I got my music bag out of the car and noticed my full-sized keyboard there in the passenger seat staring at me as if to say, “You are going to take me in, right?”

That’s when it hit me! When students tell me they could not practice because they were away from their piano I tell them they don’t ALWAYS need a piano or keyboard to practice. I tell them to envision the keyboard, hear the song in their head, and practice the movements their fingers must make to play the song. Aha! Now was the time for me to “practice…” – pun intended – “what I’d preached”!

A completely silent piano lesson? I had never done that before. How would my student respond to 30 minutes of silence at the keyboard?

Well, I unloaded the keyboard and put on my jazz face – it was time to improvise! I greeted my student and informed her that we would be having a “Play Like Beethoven Day”.

To refresh her memory of who Beethoven was I hummed a couple of his familiar tunes – “Fur Elise”, and the opening of his 5th Symphony. When I told her that Beethoven was deaf when he composed some of his greatest pieces she was of course surprised. So, if Beethoven could do it surely she could do it for 30 minutes.

That day my student learned that “hearing” the music inside your head is extremely helpful and important for good music playing. She also learned that she could do it. One of the biggest advantages to playing silently was the isolation of the skills necessary to play the piano. Without the “distraction” of sound, she was able to concentrate on what she was doing with her fingers and hands more intently than she had ever done before.

To help determine if she was truly hearing the music, at times I hummed the tune she was playing as I carefully watched her fingers. My student was both surprised and impressed at her own accuracy. It was quite fulfilling to see her correcting her mistakes as she played. Most of the time students neglect proper fingering in order to get to the correct note by any means necessary even at the expense of musicality. This silent situation, however, left my student with nothing to fix except her fingering!

I have to say that this Unplugged Piano Lesson was one of the best musical experiences this student and I have had together so far in our music learning journey, and it was all because of a little IMPROVISATION. Just another life skill learned from piano lessons!

Piano Photo Contest Entries: You Decide!

To celebrate completing the first month of piano lessons for this school year, I held a piano photo contest for students and families in the studio. Below you can see all the entries. Please vote for your favorite picture. The owner of the winning picture will receive a $10 Amazon gift card!

Supply and Demand 101: Music Teacher’s Edition

 

This morning I received a very thoughtful email from a parent thanking me for the music books I had chosen for her daughter. As music teachers we spend a lot of time searching for just the right method books to use. I like to use Faber Piano Adventures, and I know that there are many teachers who would either agree or disagree with me about my choice for various pedagogical reasons. But this post is NOT about what method books are the best! This post is about why music teachers should be more concerned about the type of music their students want to play and the type of music the families of their students want to hear.

Now, the parent who sent me the email wasn’t concerned about the brand of method book. She was appreciative of the STYLE of music that was in the books. One of the first questions I ask parents and students when beginning lessons is, “What music do you like to listen to?” Another question I often ask is “What TV shows do you watch and what is your favorite movie?” These are research questions that help me determine what songs I will use to teach them how to play the piano. This approach to teaching piano is definitely more time-consuming than the traditional way of teaching, but it is absolutely essential for success with students and families. People want to learn how to play the piano in order to play their favorite music, not ours!

This is where the Law of Supply and Demand comes in. What do you think would happen if you got a student who always dreamed of playing Beethoven’s music but his piano lesson only consisted of learning blues songs? Or what if you had a student who loved pop music (and most students do), but the piano lesson only consisted of learning classical music? Well, the answer is simple – the student would most likely quit as soon as he is allowed to do so.

Now, as music teachers we have several clients for each student we teach. Yes, the student is a client, but the student’s family members are too! Remember that the family members have to listen to – or endure in some cases –  the practice sessions! Consider two scenarios – Student 1 is learning music that the family members enjoy   and  Student 2 is learning music that the family members either can’t relate to or don’t enjoy. Which situation would most likely result in more diligent support of practice at home? Of course it is the scenario where the student is learning music that the family enjoys!

So, the Law of Supply and Demand for music teachers –

Supply students and family members with music they love to hear and the Demand for your lessons will go through the roof!

 

 

Summer Piano Short: Cool Chords

As promised, here is this week’s Summer Piano Short. This quick piano lesson online will show you how to get a bigger, cooler sound out of a major chord by making one simple addition. Click here to print a copy, and in case you missed the Arpeggio Summer Piano Short check that out as well. It will help you with this one.

This is the 4th and final post in the Summer Piano Short series, but  if you would like to see more Summer Piano Shorts, leave a comment below and I will look into my

BIG BOX of PIANO SECRETS and pull out a few more!