Why We Play Scales – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Today I am revisiting an old post (with some additions), because it has become even more relevant lately.

Scales. Love them or hate them, scales are a big part of practise life for any musician (instrumentalist or vocalist). Arpeggios, broken chords and other technical exercises are also vital, but they build on scales, so scales are where we start this conversation.

It’s difficult to convince kids to play scales. I understand this (although I have always loved their structure and consistency) but refusing to practise technical work only hinders progress. The benefits for technique, style, rhythm, tone and aural awareness are all listed below, but there is also a big reason that relates to more recreational music…

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWChords! All the popular music that kids like to play revolves around chords. Chords are based on scales. If the scales flow freely from your fingers and the construction is understood, chords can come easily. Improvise with chords – with or without a melody line – and you can follow a lead sheet and play a vast range of songs.

Scales are the backbone of all types of music we play and each one of the variety of styles is defined by its characteristic interval pattern. It is the constant repetition of these patterns that causes scales to be such a large part of learning to play an instrument – including the voice – because they help build muscle memory. By playing scales, your fingers will learn to easily go to the correct notes in the scale you are playing, so when you play a piece of music, your fingers will move more automatically to the correct notes.

Piano teacher Wallsend NSWWhy practice scales?

  1. Scale practice plays an essential part in developing a pianist’s skills.
  2. They improve keyboard fluency.
  3. Scales develop posture, hand position and coordination, as well as balance between the hands and movement of the arm.
  4. Practising scales speeds up the learning of new pieces (muscle memory).
  5. They develop evenness of line and quality of tone.
  6. Scale playing builds aural awareness.

 

 

 

For students preparing for an exam, the examiner will be looking for:

  • A positive sense of rhythm without under-accentuation;
  • Even, firm tone and a musical curve;
  • Good legato;
  • Accurate and fluent realisation of the different types of scales, arpeggios and broken chords; and
  • Convincing negotiation of technical challenges such as smooth passage of thumb and hand coordination.

So the lesson here is, whether for technique or pleasure, we need to learn to love scales. They are incredibly beneficial physically and the basis of all we do as musicians. All practise sessions should start with a variety of scales, even if their only purpose is to warm up the fingers and hands (although we know they do much more than that). To break up the repetitive nature of practising scales every day, apps such as Blitz Book’s ‘Scale Blitzer’ can add a bit of fun and variety.

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

Why I Love My Adult Students – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Around a third of the students in my Wallsend studio are adults, but they didn’t come here as beginners. They are students who have done it the hard way, being mainly self-taught or grasping on to knowledge remembered from brief childhood lessons. They come to me because they know something is holding them back from improving, but they either don’t know what that is, or they know what they need, but not how to achieve the improvement.

Because of this, they have a different journey to somebody fresh to the instrument, but it is usually more convoluted. Often, years of incorrect or insufficient technique needs to be addressed and we all know how difficult it can be to change habits we have employed for years.

Added to this, adult students have a myriad of other commitments and stresses in their lives with work, family and community, yet despite this, they are the students that practise most often, most consistently and most effectively.

Piano teacher in Wallsend NSW

Lessons with adults are often much more Intense than kids’  lessons, as they are aware of the commitment (both financial and time) and want to draw the most value from every minute. I find they challenge me more, because I need to think on my feet and find alternate ways to explain things. Kids accept explanations, but adults look for deeper understanding, so it benefits me as well.

Adults learners can be fluid, flexible and adventurous and bring with them a strong motivation to learn. But they are also cautious, perfectionists and extremely hard on themselves. They are often very anxious to achieve their goals and it can be difficult to convince them they are doing well. Adult students are also better able to articulate their problems and understand practise suggestions, both benefits helping them to make consistent progress.

Being more mature and better equipped to understand the inherent emotion in the music they are playing, adult students can adeptly communicate a wide range of styles and emotions. Even for older adults who may experience some physical limitations, there will always be pieces suited to their physical level that can satisfy them emotionally and still challenge them technically. Expanding the repertoire of a self-taught adult to genres and styles outside their normal playing habits is fun for both of us and hopefully also their audience at home.

Sungwon is currently preparing for her Grade 4 Piano for Leisure exam in a few weeks and agreed to share this video. You can tell from her reaction at the end that she wasn’t happy with her performance; as I mentioned, adult students are their own worst critics!

The best thing about adults learning to play the piano is they are free to do as they please. Adults aren’t trying to please a parent, a teacher or an examiner. No one is forcing them to take lessons. It’s about them and the music. And that is a blessing:-)

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

Can’t I Catch Up Later? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Would you run a marathon if you had been training for only three weeks? Would you decide to do it twelve or nine months earlier but not begin to work for it until the last month?

I’m pretty sure the answer to those questions would be a resounding, “No!”. But if you did do those things, would you still expect to be prepared for the race and anticipate a good result?

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWYou understand the mechanics of running, but does the information in your brain translate to your muscles so they know how to behave? No. The muscles need to learn those new skills.

 

 

Playing the piano is no different. Learning an instrument is a cumulative skill. You cannot leave preparation until the last minute and still expect to do well in an exam or perform beautifully at a recital. Throwing extra resources in at the end doesn’t yield the same result as snowballing your skill set.

Creating music is about so much more than just the notes on the page; it is about how they are to be played and the different sounds that may be created, and this requires practised technique. Muscle memory plays a part, but other skills include the balance of the hand and body, rhythm, pitch, technique, body positioning, fine motor skills, dynamics, texture, tonal shading and more. Imagine how frazzled the brain would feel if it were trying to deal with all these things in a very short space of time.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWA similar problem occurs when – for a variety of reasons – students want to rush through levels of exams. This often means learning only the minimum number of pieces to get through, and the overall musicianship is sacrificed.

Playing a musical instrument is a skill for life and can be a blessing in so many ways. Cherish it and nurture it with the respect it deserves and it will repay you tenfold.

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

Preparing for Your Piano Exam – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Exam season once again upon us and whether or not it’s your first exam experience, it can still be a stressful time. Twelve months of work (or longer for Preliminary students) are culminating in this moment, giving you an opportunity to showcase everything you have learnt and practised.

The AMEB (Australian Music Examinations Board) have put together a list of ten things you should consider before an exam. You can read the full article here but in summary the points are:

  1. Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWDon’t slack off on your practise and then cram it all in during the week before. Playing piano is a (cumulative) physical skill as well as mental; you wouldn’t run a marathon if you had only been training for a week.
  2. Use your nerves to create nervous energy that can heighten your performance.
  3. No stimulants – energy drinks, caffeine etc can have the opposite of the desired effect and can make you jittery.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to other candidates; all you can control is your own performance.
  5. Celebrate your hard work instead of downplaying its significance. You have spent all year working for this, so be proud of your effort.
  6. Be sure of your general knowledge and practise your aural tests and sight reading well in advance of your exam date.
  7. Be outfitted classily and comfortably and in clothes that don’t restrict your movement.
  8. Have your closest supporters with you.
  9. Remember to show the examiner a beautifully musical performance (not just a display of technique).
  10. Do your best and be proud of it rather than stressing over your final grade.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

For most people, exams are a stressful time. The best thing you can do is know that you are walking in there as prepared as you can possibly be. If you know you have put in the necessary work, you should be able to enjoy – or at least appreciate – the experience through the haze of nerves.

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

What is Piano Practise? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

The single most important activity for musicians. It helps us reach our goals and improve our skill, bringing great satisfaction. But if it is viewed as just another activity to squeeze into the schedule, you are doing both your child and your investment a disservice.

What are you achieving by encouraging your child to regularly participate in effective practise?

You are furthering connections.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWNot just between your child and their instrument, but also between your child and music in general. There have been lots of studies proving the benefits of music to our brains, but these benefits won’t occur by just turning up to a 30-minute lesson once a week. They will also learn more about their instrument – how it feels, how it sounds, what it can do – and will become more attuned to how they can control what sound it can produce.

You are encouraging your child to become an independent problem solver.

Any good teacher will teach their students all the tools they need to get themselves out of a tricky situation. If they strike a problem while practising through the week, taking the, “I’ll wait until the next lesson to ask my teacher” response is not an appropriate solution. I encourage my students to contact me with questions, rather than waste a whole week, but even then I don’t just give them the answer. Working out ways to discover the solution and being able to move forward is very rewarding and as well as improving their problem-solving skills, also gives them confidence.

You are providing an opportunity for them to exercise exacting mental concentration.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWTo play an instrument, your child’s brain is processing a great number of details simultaneously, combining rhythm, pitch, technique, body positioning, fine motor skills, dynamics, texture, tonal shading and more. The synapses being developed in the brain of a musician are unique.

 

You are helping them to develop the skill of listening as opposed to just hearing.

Effective practise involves your child really listening to what they are producing and finding ways to improve that sound. From obvious changes in dynamics, through to subtle variances in tone and phrasing, they will learn to really pay attention to what is beneath the surface.

You are teaching them how to persevere and work towards a long-term goal.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWPiano skills don’t instantly appear, but grow over time. Having a goal towards which they can steadily progress gives your child the opportunity to understand the concept of steady progress and delayed gratification.

 

 

You are showing them how to schedule and prioritise.

Following on from the point above, having a goal necessitates scheduling and prioritising. If practise is scheduled into their routine along with homework and jobs around the house, they will learn how scheduling allows time for everything to happen, and that all those things happening means they reach all their goals.

You are maximising your investment

You have invested financially in lessons and have also invested your (and your child’s) time. Ensuring they make the most of the opportunity makes your time and money investment more worthwhile.

What is not piano practise?

No improvement. Muddling through a piece from beginning to end without working on sections to facilitate improvement is not practise, it is just playing. When this happens, your child is probably also not playing with any joy, because they are constantly struggling. Don’t feel that just getting through a piece is a goal to tick off the list. A small section of improvement is far better than a whole piece left at the same level.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

What’s in a Name? Should We Rename Practising? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

During her lesson, Miss 12 worked hard on learning a tricky section of her new piece and was feeling proud. After lots of praise, I asked her what she needed to do next to ensure she didn’t forget it. Her face fell, her shoulders slumped and she mumbled, “Practise.”

Why is it such a dirty word? Why do students work so hard to resist practising?

To an adult, it’s a pretty simple equation… they want to play well, so they know they have to do some work to reach that goal. But the kids still only see it as a chore, even though they have the same goals. I thought about the other activities in their lives.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWWhen they play sport, they accept they will have to go to training sessions. Many of them probably practise their ball skills at home. But they don’t call it practise.

Dancers are usually working towards exams or recitals or both. They need to put in many hours of practise to get to that level. But they don’t call it practise.

Children work hard all day at school and come home with more work to do. Short-term and long-term homework assignments. But they don’t call it practise.

Training. Rehearsing. Drilling. Preparing. So many other words for what is essentially the same skill; repeated exercise of an activity or skill to acquire or maintain proficiency.

Miss 5 arrived at her lesson after a celebration day at school and announced, “We didn’t do any learning today, so I don’t think you should teach me anything now.” (Mind you, lessons for that age involve a lot of movement, games and activities, so it’s not about boring learning). She didn’t want to be taught.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWThese days there are coaches for everything – fitness coaches, vocal coaches, sport coaches, diet coaches, life coaches, drama coaches, executive coaches, dance coaches. The list goes on and on.

I wonder if the language directs the perception? Perhaps piano teachers should become piano coaches. Maybe kids should be training or rehearsing between their coaching sessions.

Either way, when kids don’t practise, piano lessons are not productive. Consistent, effective practise provides the lesson with something upon which to build and keeps the progress moving forward. With no practise, the same pieces, skills and information are having to be repeated every week and lessons begin to feel like being stuck in a rut. Nobody likes that!

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWTry it out with your kids. Change the language. See if they are happier to rehearse or to train or even to prepare for their next coaching session. Modify the vocabulary and find what works for them. Whether we like it or not, neglecting practise – or not practising enough – is not going to get them anywhere. But perhaps rehearsing or training will.

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

App Review – ‘The Most Addicting Sheep Game’ is Back! – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

In the middle of last year I reviewed a great iPad app called The Most Addicting Sheep Game. Not long after that, iOS 9 arrived and the app wasn’t compatible. The developer, Just So, is an individual developing these games in his spare time, so it has been a huge job for him to totally recode the game. I’m glad to say it is now back, better than ever, so the old blog post deserves a re-post.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWThe Most Addicting Sheep Game is a seemingly simple rhythm app for the iPad where jumps and rolls must be perfectly timed to the music by tapping or swiping on the screen. It is easy to learn, but tricky to master.

On the surface, the connection to traditional music education could be considered faint, as it does not involve written rhythm and connecting that to an aural beat, but it is still definitely all about rhythm. The rhythms are very precise – a fraction of a second off and your sheep will fall through the cracks – and the higher levels are very difficult, so I feel it definitely has its place as a music education app. It is aural, rather than theoretical.

The premise is that you control a sheep that jumps to the beat, either with a single finger tap, two-finger tap, or swipe. The aim is to work through all the increasingly difficult levels, while also scoring maximum points. Plus, it has cute sheep!

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWThe sheep can jump at either one, two or four beats and can also jump two different height levels. An obstacle on the path – such as a tower of balancing sheep – requires a swipe to knock down. This means, as with most things to do with playing music, your brain is concentrating on multiple things at the same time. The picture above shows one beat and two beat lengths, a double jump and single jumps plus swipes. All of that would take less than five seconds to execute. Plus it all has to be done strictly in time with the music!

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWThe graphics are cute and the music is catchy. At first the music can be annoying – especially when you aren’t being successful – but all of a sudden you will find it’s an integral part of the mood and the fun.

While you can get through to the end of a level by ignoring the height of the jump and always using two fingers, you will be penalised and won’t obtain the full score possible. If you’re anything like me and always want to see three stars at the end of a level, this just won’t do the trick.

The game begins with a Training mode, which has six different rounds within it. This mode teaches the basics of the single jump, double jump and swipe and then combines them all together. The levels after that are titled:

  1. Mild;
  2. Tricky;
  3. Wicked; and
  4. Grim.

Each of these levels contains six rounds. All levels, including training, also have an ‘infinity bonus’ level that doesn’t have the usual pre-determined ending, but will continue until you miss a jump and lose your sheep.

Working my way through the updated version, I have discovered that extra modes can now be unlocked, including the Supersheep mode (extra-fast) and being able to slow down the speed to practise difficult parts.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWYou can find it here in the Australian app store. It is not a free app, but costs only $1.49, a small cost for the amount of time it will keep you occupied.

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

What Motivates Us and Does it Matter? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

We all know about the importance of goals. Having a goal keeps you going. It’s common sense, really. Determine your goal and work out the steps you need to reach that goal.

But the umbrella over goals is motivation. Motivation is the reason we have goals and without it, those ambitions can have little purpose. However, the perceived value of the motivation has an immense impact on the way the target is achieved and even whether the goal is met at all.           Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

Motivation is an integral part of learning. It creates the adaptive behaviours that assist students in achieving their personal goals. Over the past 20 years an enormous amount of research has been conducted to answer the fundamental question, “When faced with difficulty or challenges, why do some children seek the challenge and persist in the face of difficulty, while others (with equal potential and ability) sidestep the challenge and stop trying when faced with difficulties?”

One of the theories that can help to answer this is the Expectancy-Value Theory, which outlines how the expectation of future reward plays an enormous role in motivation (and therefore goals). The four factors applicable to valuing an activity are:

  • Attainment value – how important they believe it is to do well on a task
  • Intrinsic motivation – the pleasure of making music (or performing)
  • Extrinsic utility value – learning an instrument according to its usefulness to future goals
  • Perceived cost – perceived negative aspects, such as amount of practise required to improve

Kids bring with them all of these factors in varying degrees and combinations when they start music lessons and these values and expectations shape their development. A very important factor is the extrinsic utility value, particularly the distance of the future goal. Students1 who see themselves still playing the piano for enjoyment when they are adults are more likely to progress faster than those who see themselves only playing for a few years, or with a short-term goal (e.g. playing just to pass an exam). The students who express a long-term commitment to playing are more likely to have intrinsic reasons for playing; they love music, enjoy playing, like creating etc.

Throughout the first week of this term, all the existing, school-aged, non-beginner students participated in motivation and goal-setting exercises. We talked about how they saw the role of music in their lives and different things they can do with it. We then drilled down a little deeper and looked at what aspects of playing and practising they thought needed work and where they felt they were already doing a good job. The final step was for them to come up with some goals, which may have been a result of aspects previously identified, or could be totally unrelated. Goals included such aims as playing a particular piece, composing, learning more theory and practising more often (this one was nearly universal). Most pleasing for me was that all but two students easily saw themselves still playing “when I’m old”.

An external motivation agreed on by all, that will help in some areas of goal achievement, is the completion of the 40 Piece Challenge. Started by an Australian teacher, this Challenge has now taken off internationally and is being completed in various forms by piano students all over the world. The simple premise is that students will play 40 new pieces in the calendar year; this roughly equates to one piece each teaching week. Pieces can be of varying difficulty and do not need to all be provided by me. Compositions also count. The idea is to play a big variety of styles and improve sight reading and overall musicianship. A studio-wide achievement sheet is keeping them all accountable and they love seeing where they sit on the progress list.

Goals matter. Finding the motivation behind the goals matters even more.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

The most basic of music goals – to move from beginner to advanced.

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

 

1Study by McPherson (2002)

Gifted and Talented: Dangerous Labels – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Over the years I have attempted a number of different instruments, with a variety of results. Some, like the guitar, came to me fairly easily. But reed instruments are my Waterloo. I can’t even get a decent sound from one. Does this mean I am hopeless and never destined to play a reed instrument because I don’t have a natural gift? Not at all.

Prowess doesn’t result solely from being naturally talented or having a gift. Success is a result of hard work. In the music field, this equates to time and effort (I’m avoiding that nasty p word…).

Piano lessons Wallsend NSW

Australian musician and educator, Samantha Coates, has written a great article – here – on how these words are often misunderstood in a practical application. “Hard work can trump ‘giftedness’ most of the time.” Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

Encouraging More Practise – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

As we start another year after a lengthy Summer break, I thought it was a good time to revisit an old post about ways you can help your kids to advance with the piano by practising effectively.

Establishing a practising routine can be hard work! Playing the piano is not easy and your kids will try all sorts of excuses to get out of practising. It is important to set practise time into their general routine so it has a place and is not just something that is done if they have leftover time.

Following are some tips to encourage more practise:

  • Never underestimate a reward system. Use whatever works for your child; it could be anything from extra iPad time to an exemption from a household chore. Their reward may even be a favourite meal.
  • Schedule practise time to happen before something they can relax with – free play time, for example. Of course, if you suspect this may lead them to rush through practise with no concentration, try another tactic.
  • Give your child something exciting to work for. Anticipation works wonders. Set a practise goal, wrap a little gift and pop it somewhere they can see it. Only when they reach the practise goal are they able to open their gift.
  • Connect their practise session with another activity that occurs every day. Perhaps your child could practise straight after breakfast or maybe before they start their homework. Whatever works for you.
  • Remember to reward yourself. This is your journey as well, so find something fun with which to reward yourself when you are successful at getting your kids to practise. Or maybe even something you could do together.

Piano Teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW

 

A great little resource for practising tips for parents is the e-book “101 Piano Practice Tips”, which is available through Amazon.

 

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.