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How the Non-Piano-Playing Parent Can Help Their Piano-Playing Child (Part 1) – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Parents who have never played a musical instrument often feel lost when it comes to helping their child practise at home. They may feel their ability to help is limited to phrases such as, “It’s time to practise the piano!” or “Your lesson is in 15 minutes – quickly do some practise!” or even, “Did you remember to practise this week?” But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Believe it or not, non-musical parents outweigh musical parents most of the time. Even if you don’t know one note from another, can’t hold a tune or recognise a treble clef, you still have the skills required to help your child learn how to do these things.

Piano teacher Wallsend NSWIn this first part of a two-part post, we will look at some of the ways you can help your child that don’t involve the music itself. Part two (in two weeks) might surprise you with the ways in which you can be involved with the content of their practise.

1. Make practising like brushing teeth. Piano practise shouldn’t be something that is done only when there is spare time. Let’s face it… we have to bug our kids to do even the simplest things sometimes (like brushing their teeth or having a shower) so why should piano practise be any different? Yes, you may need to continually hound them, but they will better understand the commitment required if they see you making practise a priority. Practise = progress.

2. Use flashcards to work with them on their music theory; note names, values, symbols and terminology. I have pdf files of flash cards I can share with the parents of my students.

3. Encourage them to perform for friends and relatives. Even for yourself. They can perform for you each week, after they have spent most of the week working on their pieces.

4. Let them hear you bragging about them to other people – it may be about how well they are playing but it could also be about how disciplined they are with practicing.

5. Have them practise when they are awake and alert – practicing in a state of fatigue won’t get them very far.

Piano teacher Wallsend NSW6. Ensure they are sitting correctly at the piano. Keep an eye on them and if you see them slouching, suggest they hold their back straight. This will not only stop body fatigue but will also help them balance their arms and hands properly. Their teacher should also be able to show you how they should be holding their hands, so you can keep an eye on that as well.

7. Allow them to have some “messing around” time at the piano; it doesn’t all need to be structured. This type of activity encourages creativity and early composition skills. I love it when a student turns up and starts the lesson with, “Guess what I made up this week?”

8. Help them organise their practise; schedule it into their routine and keep track of how much they are doing (this doesn’t include the “messing around” time mentioned above).

9. Accept there will occasionally be tears and frustration… learning the piano is not easy! Take a break (and a deep breath) and assess whether or not it is worth proceeding after the break. Either way, encourage your child to note the problem area so their teacher can help them with it at the next lesson.

You can find part two of this post here.

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 or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.



Adult Learners… the pros and cons – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” – C.S. Lewis

How often do you hear friends and colleagues say, “I wish I hadn’t stopped learning …(insert a variety of past pursuits now inducing feelings of regret)? Often that wish is tied to a musical instrument. Because learning an instrument is hard work, often children give up before they have learnt enough to carry them through into adulthood and they stop playing all together.

Nearly a third of my students are adults and they are a really rewarding group. Learning an instrument as an adult has both pros and cons.

Nobody yells at them to practice, which on the one hand is very nice indeed. On the other hand, they have to be able to discipline themselves to do the job. Also, they are paying for their own lessons, so while footing the bill is not necessarily a positive feature, it’s easier to knuckle down to work when you understand the value.

One of the biggest challenges for adult learners is that their understanding is ahead of their physical reaction. Adults will often pick up theoretical concepts quickly, but they will develop technical and reading skills slowly and gradually. Unlike children who usually have nimble fingers and good technique but lack the emotional maturity to understand the musicality of the piece, adults can usually grasp intellectually how a piece of music should sound (e.g. playful, sad, lilting etc) but don’t have the skill on the piano to express it. This limitation is, of course, only temporary and will be overcome with time and practise. Physically, the body is usually more tight; as people age, they often cannot move their fingers fast enough to play at extreme tempos or their wrists may never loosen enough to provide good flexibility but there is still a lot of beautiful music to be made. There will always be pieces suited their physical level that can satisfy them emotionally and still challenge them technically.

Adult-oriented method books assume adults will learn a lot faster than children and this is not always the case. I have found it to be rarely so; adults may learn differently, but that doesn’t necessarily mean faster. Adult method books usually jump right in to using all five fingers on both hands – and reading nine notes – from the outset. For adults trying to learn something new on top of all the normal pressures of family, work, commitments etc, this can be overwhelming. I would prefer they start out with a sense of accomplishment rather than frustration. Consequently, a lot of the most helpful resources are very child-friendly and do not speak to you as an intelligent adult. But you do get some cute pictures!

Piano teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Adult student, Alan playing finger control exercises.

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.

The best thing about learning to play the piano as an adult is that 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 or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.


Scales… Pain or Gain? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Ah, scales. A word that causes many musicians to sigh with exasperation or boredom. Personally, I always welcomed them, with their structure and consistency. Love them or hate them, scales are a big part of practise life for any musician (instrumentalist or vocalist).

A scale is “…any set of musical notes ordered by fundamental frequency or pitch. A scale ordered by increasing pitch is an ascending scale, while descending scales are ordered by decreasing pitch.” (Wikipedia) They are the backbone of all types of music we play.

While a variety of scale types exist, each type 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 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.

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 or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.

What Are Piano Lessons For? (Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW)

The contemporary Australian composer, Elissa Milne, has written a lovely article on the purpose of piano lessons. When an article has been written with so much knowledge, insight and passion, there is no point in trying to express it any differently so please take the time to read through her thoughts.

Elissa writes about a range of benefits, from learning to “do cool stuff on the piano”, understanding others and yourself and changing who you are, through to the sheer joy of it.

Enjoy “What Are Piano Lessons For?” by Elissa Milne

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 or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.

Ready for Term 4, 2014 – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

We are now halfway through the school holidays and I trust all my wonderful school-aged students are enjoying their time away from school and piano lessons. Lots of fun, laughter and exploring. I hope there is still a bit of practising happening, though! Of course, my adult students and I are still plugging away through the holidays.

The dates for Term 4 are Monday 06 October – Saturday 20 December, making this a term of eleven weeks. Full term fees (including discount) are as follows:

30 minute lessons – $313.50

45 minute lessons – $470.25

It’s a bit scary to think about how close we are to Christmas, but a few kids have already been asking about Christmas music. I have ordered some new Christmas music at a variety of levels so the kids can have some fun. Of course, the adult students are welcome to play them as well 🙂

Piano teacher Wallsend NSW


There’s an App for That! – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

School holidays are upon us again and I’m being realistic. I know it’s unlikely most of my students will do any piano practise during the holidays. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be still keeping their other skills up-to-date.

Most of them have iPads and/or iPods and there are a wealth of apps they can use to help reinforce note recognition, rhythms and theory, as well as co-ordination. Best of all, they will think they are just playing but we adults know they are still learning while having fun.

Many of the good quality apps have a small cost attached, but usually have a sample/lite version for free so you can check it out first.

Following is a small selection of apps I use regularly:

Rhythm Cat
Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSWPiano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSWRhythm Cat teaches and reinforces the most commonly-used musical rhythm notation. The free ‘Lite’ version has 15 levels while the ‘Pro’ version works up to following three different colours in each rhythm, encouraging co-ordination of both hands.




Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSWThe ‘Cat’ family also includes ‘Treble Cat’ and ‘Bass Cat’. I don’t tend to use Bass Cat with my beginners because it starts in a different octave, but Treble Cat is better suited. These games involve recognising the notes from amongst a group of notes, not just on their own. The notes also move slowly, giving you plenty of time to recognise the correct notes.




Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSWA basic note recognition app, NoteWorks is customisable for difficulty, including clef/s and range of notes. The interface and sound effects are fun for younger students, but the app still moves quickly enough to be challenging for older students and adults.

Part of the customisation is being able to choose whether you simply name the note, or name it plus locate it on the keyboard.

Piano Teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW


Magic Piano
Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW

While this may seem a strange selection because it involves neither note recognition or a keyboard, I love it because it not only encourages eye-hand co-ordination and developing fine motor skills, but also exposes the students to a range of music they might not otherwise hear. Music education apps don’t always need to be obviously teaching 🙂

This addictive app also helps to develop a good sense of rhythm.

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW



My Note Games

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW

This app has a suite of different games within it and caters to a range of abilities. Also, some games use the microphone to hear what you are playing on your own piano (which the kids love), while others use just the device.


Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSWTap that Note uses the device to identify notes, while Play that Note requires you to play to specified note on the piano (or whatever instrument you tell the app you are using). Play-a-day is a great sight reading exercise for intermediate students. As the name suggests, Hear It, Note It – also available as a standalone game – involves listening to what is played and notating it and has three difficulty levels within. Activities include tasks such as adding accidentals to correct a scale or completing rhythms with notes, rests and bar lines.




Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSWWhile it does contain basic note recognition, Tenuto is really suited to more advanced students, as the majority of activities are more complex.






 Beat the Melody

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW

The concept of this is quite simple… if the notes are going up, tap the screen more to the right; if the notes are descending, tap the screen to the left. It is designed to test your aural ability.

However, these are not simple melodies. If it’s not a tune you already know, the songs can be difficult as some can have up to 50 or 60 notes (or more!). Consequently, this is not for beginners. It’s a great aural tester for experienced musicians, though.

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW

Enjoy your holidays!

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 or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.

It’s Just a Sibling Kinda Feeling – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

“Siblings are the people we practice on, the people who teach us about fairness and cooperation and kindness and caring – quite often the hard way”
– Pamela Dugdale

It’s a good feeling when the sibling of a current student starts lessons; it means I must be doing something right!

As the younger of two sisters, I never knew what it was like to not learn piano while my older sister was also learning. We had lessons on the same days, we practised one after the other and we worked towards exams at the same time. We played duets together, we challenged each other, we created, transposed and harmonised together and we laughed a great deal.

I realise that for her as the older sister, it was probably a different scenario. While I idolised my big sister and wanted to do whatever she did, she probably didn’t appreciate a little interloper in her arena.

As far as lessons went, our wonderful teacher, Sr Marie Therese realised how different we were in style, technique and temperament. Also, our mother requested I didn’t play too many of the same pieces as my sister, even though I was three years behind her. (When you are practicing twice a day, exam pieces soon become extremely repetitive for the poor listeners!). While our carefully-chosen early method book pieces were the same, once we moved into grade work Sister catered for our different styles. My sister usually played the intricate, technical pieces, while I played the more emotive works.

Piano Teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSWIn our late teens to early adulthood, these differences became our strengths. We worked together really well because we complemented each other and didn’t suffer from competition. Even when we sang, I sang the soprano to her alto. When she moved on to singing lessons, I accompanied all her practising. The picture on the right is a famous artwork that was on the cover of a card she once gave me.

These memories hold important lessons that I bring into teaching siblings – respect and encourage their individuality, make no comparisons and ensure enough variety in materials used to save the parents’ sanity!

Sibling rivalry/competition – whether blatant or subtle – can be a problem and for this reason it is usually not advisable to start siblings at the same time. However, the following positives usually outweigh the competitive aspect:

  • Both/all kids need to practise daily, so both are on similar schedules
  • The siblings can share a common interest
  • Older siblings can help the younger ones
  • Younger siblings can be inspired by older brothers and/or sisters
  • They can all have fun playing duets – even if they play different instruments
  • The younger sibling has seen the work involved by watching the older child, so goes into lessons with a clearer expectation of what is required (eg they know they need to practise)

The main thing is to remember each child is different, with different abilities. I will always work with the parents to ensure this individuality is respected.

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 or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW

The Labèque sisters, Katia (born 11 March 1950) and Marielle (born 6 March 1952), are an internationally known French piano duo.



Want to Reward Your Brain? Listen to New Music – Piano Teacher, Wallsend, NSW

Recently I attempted to have an MRI. I say ‘attempted’ because I failed. Miserably. Previously-unrealised claustrophobia swept in and took over… big time. Crying, sweating, shaking and stricken with headache and nausea, I was pretty quickly pulled out of the tunnel of terror and sent on my way.

But while I may now be overcome with unpleasant sensations at the very thought of an MRI (or any closed space) the technology is increasingly being used in research with very interesting results.

We all know it is impossible to listen to music and not be moved. What music moves us, how much and why are mysteries that have for many years intrigued both musicians and scientists. Last year a study* was undertaken at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University in Canada to find out some of these answers.

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSWWhile most previous studies had used only strongly-emotive music, this study had participants bring in music they preferred. This ranged from classical music through to techno, country, film soundtracks and heavy metal. The participants were then studied using MRI while listening to 60 different excerpts of new music, based on their musical taste. They also had the option to ‘buy’ a song in a mock online store, based on the 30-second samples.

What was discovered was that a particular part of the brain becomes active when we hear a piece of music for the first time. This part of the brain is the nucleus accumbens, a zone that is operated by the chemical dopamine, which plays a major role in reward-motivated behaviour.

One of the researchers, Dr Valorie Salimpoor, said, “What’s cool is that you’re anticipating and getting excited over something entirely abstract – and that’s the next sound that is coming up.” The more a participant liked the music they were hearing, the more stimulated the ‘reward region’ of the brain became.

Because our brains are so well-suited to using patterns to predict what will happen next, we are constantly making predictions. Even if the piece of music we are hearing is new, our brains are predicting – based on past musical experiences – how it will unfold. If we enjoy the music more than predicted, the nucleus accumbens (partnering with pattern recognition and high-order thinking centres) fires off with delight.

“What makes music so emotionally powerful is the creation of expectations. Activity in the nucleus accumbens is an indicator that expectations were met or surpassed,” Dr Sapimpoor said.

So if you want to get that dopamine pumping and reward your brain, treat yourself to some new music. Launch your Spotify app or go through some recommendations in iTunes. You never know what joys you may discover.

And I promise you won’t have to visit an MRI machine to feel the benefits 🙂

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW

Credit: Image courtesy of MGH-UCLA Human Connectome Project.

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 or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.

* The study is published in the journal, ‘Science”.
Salimpoor VN, Benovoy M, Larcher K, Dagher A, & Zatorre RJ (2011). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music. Nature neuroscience, 14 (2), 257-262 PMID: 21217764

Think Long-Term – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Remember the great info-graphic/picture from last week’s blog post that talked about all the ways learning music helps to train your brain?

There are so many benefits to learning to play an instrument, but they aren’t all going to happen overnight. As well as the cognitive training, the muscles required to play the piano need to be developed as does the control and coordination required to play.

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSWBecause of this, it is not really appropriate to take the, “we’ll try it for a few months and see how it goes” approach. The commitment needs to be made for at least a couple of years. It’s about being realistic about what it takes to gain musical skills.

Besides, you have made a substantial investment in not only time, but tuition fees, music and possibly even an instrument. You want it to be worth it!

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 or mobile lessons are available in the eastern suburbs of Lake Macquarie.


Piano Lessons Are Good For You… And Your Brain! (Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW)

Piano lessons involve so much more than just music; dedication, discipline and critical thinking are all part of learning to play the piano.

Check out the information in the following picture to find out all the great ways learning and playing the piano can help to train your brain.

Piano teacher Wallsend Newcastle NSW

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