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.


Summer Piano Shorts: Scary Music For Movies and TV

Here’s a quick and fun piano exercise piano students can learn on their own! This activity shows how the diminished chord can be used to make scary background music for a movie or TV scene. Try it out! Print a copy of it here. Come back next Monday for another Summer Piano Short!

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!!!

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!

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?

From Piano Parent to Piano Student – What My Mother Now Knows Pt. 3

Hello Readers! This is the final post of the series about my mother’s adventures as a piano student. In yesterday’s post she shared what it feels like to actually be on the bench during a lesson. Today you will get to find out about her biggest challenge so far in lessons. She writes:

I Can’t Play This!

After my first Hanon song, I procrastinated a month.  Then I started translating the next song.  I discovered that notes began to change within certain measures.  But that translation helped me get those notes correct.  Afterwards, I sat at the piano and pecked out the song.  As time progressed, I developed courage, moved beyond pecking, and played rhythmically.  On several occasions I told the teacher that I would be ready to play Hanon by the next week.  But I didn’t feel comfortable when that day came.  Within a two-month period I went and demonstrated to my teacher that I could play  my second Hanon song.  Her face lit up and she was very proud.  Indeed that let me know that I had WHIPPED Hanon just as I told her I would.  “Whew!  The work paid off.

Five months of piano lessons is an honor and a privilege.  I’m venturing more and am determined to let each song tell its own story.  I have a sway, a rock, and a love all my own!

Coming Full Circle – Twice!

You already know that I have moved from being a piano parent to a piano student and that my teacher also taught my younger daughter. But there is more! I taught my teacher, Gisele Gentry, when she was a college student. You never know where life will take you! Enjoy the journey!

From Piano Parent To Piano Student – What My Mother Now Knows Pt. 2

Yesterday I wrote about my mother becoming a piano student after years of raising 2 daughters who both play piano. Today I will share what she has written about her experiences as a piano student so far. She writes:

When I Grow Up I Want To Be…  A Piano Parent?

I always wanted to play the piano but never took lessons.  In grade school I played the plastic flute and did that well.  In Junior High I took music appreciation and could clap to the beat very good.  But I never took piano lessons.

When my daughter Dana was 5, I enrolled her in piano class.  She would cry the first few times I would take her to her teacher’s house.  Each of those times I used my self-fulfilling prophecy and told Dana to try the lessons for 3 months.  Then if she still didn’t like them, I would discontinue them.  One day I dropped Dana off and returned to pick her up.  To my surprise Dana was laughing with the teacher and venturing as she played the piano.  From that day forward I never saw Dana cry about not wanting to take the lessons.

I started Jessica, Dana’s sister, to take piano lessons when she was 7.  At home Jessica had Dana as a mentor.  She would often watch her play.  So that was much encouragement for her.

Yikes! I’m A Piano Student!

Last October I started taking piano lessons from the same teacher who taught my younger daughter many years ago. Once I started lessons I soon realized that I had to discipline myself, to learn theory, and to practice daily.  If I make one mistake, the average time I have to start over again.  Though this is part of the challenge that comes with a person striving to achieve, much time is invested.  Had I realized this when Dana and Jessica were taking piano lessons, I would have signed up for piano lessons myself.  We would have been able to encourage each  other.  I would have enjoyed listening to them and making comments along the way.  Equally, I believe that they would have loved listening to me.

I remember when I first started taking lessons and how there was such a difference from my preparation at home to my lessons in front of my teacher.  My fingers would shake a lot as I struggled to remember the notes, the melody, and the keys.  Long hours of rehearsal enabled me to improve from this madness over time.  I found that as the songs increased, the demands to practice increased.  I even discovered that if I stopped practicing the songs I learned to play, I would forget how to play them and would have to start over again.  I also learned that there are favorite songs and others that I simply put up with.

If I’m dissatisfied with the outcome of my playing during my lessons with my teacher, as soon as I can get back home to the piano, I get back on it.  I keep playing the song to my satisfaction and feel much better.  I’ve learned since I started lessons last October (I’ve progressed to page 112 in my book which goes to page 159) to translate each song.  When I write the alphabet per note, that helps me a lot.  As I continue to play the tune, I improve significantly.  The more I play with concentration, the better for me.  I begin to relax when the melody sounds right and I can hit the key at the right time.

Come Back Tomorrow

In tomorrow’s post you will get to read about my biggest piano obstacle so far – HANON – and how I showed him whose the Mama around here! LOL

From Piano Parent to Piano Student – What My Mother Now Knows Part 1

 I was very surprised to learn a few months ago that my mother had decided to start taking piano lessons. After years of transporting my sister and I to and from piano lessons with various teachers (sometimes against our own immature wills), the music bug had finally bit her! Since she and I live in different states I am not fortunate enough to be her piano teacher, but this is probably for the better, right? I mean, can you imagine?!

When she told me the news, I had so many questions. Why? What is it like taking piano after having raised two piano players? Do you enjoy practicing? Is it easy to learn to play the piano? How does it feel to sit on the bench under the pressure of playing for someone? Underneath all these questions was the deep desire that maybe, just maybe this piano learning journey would help her to understand a part of me that maybe was inaccessible to her before because she had not sat on that bench as I had, didn’t know how wonderful being able to play music makes you feel after you finally get your hands to do it, and she hadn’t had to turn down social opportunities because she had to practice piano while others played outside. How would she be different as a result of this experience? How would I be different?

At any rate I have relished hearing about her experiences with piano learning and thought that you might enjoy reading about them as well. So, this week there will be a short 3 part series of posts about her piano adventures! If you are a piano parent, perhaps you will gain some ideas about how to support your child’s musical learning. And if you are a long time piano player like me, maybe you will get some satisfaction of knowing that there is a parent out there who can truly appreciate all the things you had to go through to become the player you are today. If you are a teacher, you will gain some insights on how to teach parents to best participate in the child’s music learning. Or if you are a student just learning to play, you will be encouraged to know that someone else is facing similar challenges as you concerning piano learning and yet they think it is worth it.

Defeating The Performance Time Boogie Man

So, you’re sitting at the BIG black monster – uh, piano – in front of a crowd of people. You’re playing your piece, and suddenly your brain goes on strike and you don’t know what notes to play. YIKES!!!

Most musicians have had this happen before, but what to do? These episodes seem to linger in  our performance memories for years and can be quite traumatic. I can still remember forgetting my piano piece in my second piano recital at age 6. It was so awful that my teacher had to finish the song for me! Well, piano students around the world need not fear this happening to them any longer. If during practice a certain phrase constantly escapes your student’s memory, this is a clue that some precautions must be put in place at performance time to combat any possible brain strike.

That’s where the blocks come in! One of my very young students was having trouble remembering the “fa la la la la” phrase in Deck the Halls. So, in a last-minute moment of inspiration, I grabbed some letter blocks and used them to spell out the notes of the phrase. We used them each time during the lessons leading to the performance so my student could get used to them being there. At the performance, the blocks were great because you couldn’t see them over the book stand like you would a book. My student was able to relax knowing that if he couldn’t remember his notes they were right there in front of him and the audience didn’t even know!

What precautions do you take to combat the inevitable performance time boogie man’s sabotage efforts?