Category Archives: In the Studio

Ladybird, Ladybird, Fly to My Hand – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Resources… resources… resources!!

Games, worksheets, iPad apps, flashcards…

The world of piano teaching has changed a great deal since the days I learned. These days kids seem to need more enticing and encouragement to learn. Perhaps this is because many of them are starting with piano at a much younger age. It may also be related to today’s kids being used to more instant results. Couple those reasons with the fact that the internet makes it much easier for teachers to share with each other their techniques and resources and the teaching world is awash with resource options.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

Sifting through them all can result in some interesting finds. One that I found early on – but didn’t then understand all the benefits of – is the ladybird (or ladybug, depending on where you are in the world) squeeze toy. Used mainly as a tool to explain and encourage correct hand position, it also has a host of other uses.

When a younger (under 10) student starts with me, they receive their very own ladybird. They name it (a favourite seems to be Lily) and use it every day in their practise routine.

As mentioned, the main selling point of the ladybird is to show correct hand position at the piano. The shape of the bug mimics the natural position of the hands if you let them fall by your sides, which is also the optimum position for playing the piano. Having this visual as well as something that allows them to physically feel the shape is of great benefit to those who struggle to hold their hand correctly.Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

The other main use of the bug in my studio is to help build strength in the fingers. This is achieved simply by using the ladybird as you would a stress ball and regularly squeezing it – slowly and steadily. This is usually why the kids are using their ladybird every day – to help build strength in their little fingers that are suddenly being asked to do a whole new set of tasks. As the strength builds, flexibility also grows.

This regular use allows them to really connect with their bug and also allows them to have something of theirs with them in their ‘practise nest’ at practise time. Using it away from the piano (for squeezing) shows the kids right from the start that playing the piano isn’t just about the physical act of connecting fingers to keys, but incorporates their mind and their muscles and can be worked on in various ways even when a piano isn’t around.

As their playing develops, the ladybird can also be used for reinforcement of other techniques (e.g. placing it on the back of their hand and seeing whether it stays there or tips off according to the style they are being asked to play) so it can continue to grow with them as they develop.

I keep my eyes open all the time for new tools and resources, because you never know when you might come across something that seems simple, but can be of great benefit.

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.

Going with the Flow – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Young Mr G was resisting participating in a composing activity. I use a system that tells a cute little story and each lesson of the system builds on that story and subtly introduces another technique the students can use in their composition. Mr G liked the story and the idea behind it but he wasn’t going to try it out. No way. He procrastinated. He changed the subject. He fiddled with other things. So I let it go for that week and we smoothly moved on to something else.

The next week Mr G turned up with two plain books that he had made in school that day. He had folded in half many sheets of plain paper, with a different coloured sheet on the outside of each one. He had experienced trouble stapling the middle and wondered if I could help. We stapled up the books and I had an idea… I asked him what his plans were for the books (he had no specific plans) and asked if perhaps he would like to use one in his lesson to compose some rhythms. He was so thrilled to have a purpose for one of his treasured books, he jumped at the opportunity. He chose his red book and composed his rhythm. I drew a staff in the book, he put his rhythm to music and his motif was born. The first composing lesson was done! He was so proud of his achievement, he even let me video it to share with my Facebook page (and normally he is not a fan of sharing).

The moral of the story? Go with the flow. 

I work hard on creating curriculums and I have a plan mapped out for each student. It’s important to know where we’re heading, plus it provides them with structure and a goal. But it’s all pointless if they aren’t engaged and sometimes that engagement can come from the most unlikely of sources. As a teacher, I need to be constantly alert for teaching opportunities. It may mean the lesson plan is derailed, but as long as they are learning something valuable and at their level, then the things in the lesson plan can always be caught up later.

Miss G (sorry, but their names really do start with the same letter) is a young teen who loves to experiment on the piano and she plays a lot of songs with a chord base. She has worked out a lot of this herself and will often show me what she has been doing. I realised though that she is solely playing by ear (a great skill in itself) but without understanding why she was playing those particular notes. So all of a sudden the lesson changed and turned into a conversation about chord construction, major vs minor triads and typical chord progressions (and even 12-bar blues). I wanted her to have the knowledge to work out where she should go next without having to try every note until one sounded right. It was important to ‘derail’ because playing this other music is what fuels Miss G’s love of piano when the slog of scales and exam prep becomes a chore.

Of course, this is harder with the students who are on an exam trajectory. If they want to reach their goals by exam time, their time is fairly tightly scheduled and because most of them don’t practise very much these days, lesson time is often spent going over things that should have been conquered during home practise. But even within those confines, it is important to be adaptable. Go with the flow.

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.