Tag Archives: adult piano lessons

The Piano Lesson You Have When You Can’t Make Your Piano Lesson – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Sometimes, life gets in the way. With the best of intentions, we can’t always fulfil our commitments because something external stops us. It’s no different with the commitment of piano lessons.

But never fear! There is a solution… Internet lessons ūüôā

As teachers, our preference is to be able to see our students in person so we can check their technique and posture and watch for areas of tension. But there are so many other factors that also need to be covered, occasionally conducting a lesson over the internet is far better than having no lesson at all.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWLessons are missed for a variety of reasons apart from being too unwell to attend. Sometimes the student feels well enough for a lesson, but doesn’t want to spread germs (which is appreciated). Or the teacher may be in that position. Transport also makes the list of reasons for absences; if the student can’t get to the studio, they can still be available at that time, from the comfort of their own home. Weather and traffic issues are other problem areas.

Conducting lessons over Skype, FaceTime or similar systems offers advantages to the student, who doesn’t have to cope with a two-week lesson gap, to the teacher, who can keep the student moving forward and maintain consistent studio hours, and also to the parent, who doesn’t lose time for which they have paid.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWThe student needs to be responsible for their own note-taking and marking their music. A good connection is required (wired is more reliable than wifi) and it helps if other household members can refrain from using the internet during the lesson. Larger screens are better (laptop, iPad for example), positioned high enough that the keyboard and hands can be clearly seen. A little ingenuity may be required, but that’s all part of the 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.

Your Body: Your Greatest Tool – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

A big part of playing any instrument is the time you¬†can spend with it, the companionship¬†it provides and the joy it brings as you¬†play. You¬†want to be able to spend as much time as you¬†choose creating music. This can’t happen if your body is protesting.

How you sit at the piano shouldn’t feel forced – the correct posture is really very natural. If it wasn’t, you¬†would be constantly putting strain on your¬†body (and remember, pianists use their whole body to play). More than anything else, you want loose, fluid wrists; if other parts of your upper body are tense, this tension will transfer to the wrists and hands.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

Graphic courtesy of instructables.com

Being at the correct height for the keyboard is paramount, and this is one seating problem that is a big issue for children, particularly smaller kids. If they are sitting at a level that necessitates them reaching up to the keys, the only way they will keep their hands in the correct position is to be constantly raising and tensing their shoulders. A cushion can help.

If their feet don’t reach the floor, try a small stool under their feet, or¬†some large books.

In the half an hour each week I am with a student, I can reinforce (often many times) correct posture and positioning, but the time spent at their instrument throughout the week is where the habits will form. Please make sure these are good habits.

How you hold your hands when you play is of vital importance and, as mentioned above, it should be very natural. Drop your arms loosely by your sides and then lift up from the elbow; the position into which your hand naturally falls as you lift it is the perfect playing position. The same shape will form if you pretend to shake water from your hands (I use this action with young kids during lessons). Natural and unforced.

The following infographic (developed by Hoffman Academy) shows some great tips for good posture.

Piano teacher in Wallsend NSW postureIf 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 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 Рwith or without a melody line Рand 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 ‚Äď including the voice ‚Äď 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‚Äôs¬†‚ÄėScale Blitzer‚Äô¬†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.

Preparing for Your Piano Exam ‚Äď 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‚Äôt 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď or at least appreciate ‚Äď 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.

Staying in Shape (On Your Piano) Over Summer – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Here in Australia, the school holiday break over Christmas is a long one. Six weeks to enjoy the warmth of Summer with lots of outdoor and fun activities.

But six weeks is an awfully long time to go without practising. Kids usually assume if they stop practising for a while, when they restart they will be able to pick up where they left off, but this is not the case. They will quickly realise they have gone backwards.

So what can you do to keep your playing in shape during such a long period of no lessons and no routine?

¬†1.¬†Practise in the morning. If you are on break from school, choose¬†a time in the morning for practising. This way, you know it will be done and you can then spend the rest of the day being able to say, ‘Yes!’ to any plans that may come your way. If you plan to practise later in the day, there is a very high likelihood that something else will come up and practise won’t happen.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW2. Set a goal. No matter what your level, from beginner to advanced, you can benefit from setting some practise goals. You may want to learn a new song, memorise a piece or even improve your sight reading. Set interim goals for yourself along the way so you can check in and make sure you’re on track.

3.¬†Practise sight reading. Sight reading is a skill that is invaluable. If you want to be able to jam with your friends, sight reading is of huge benefit. Do you want to be able to play ‘fun’ songs you hear on the radio? Sight reading lets you do this. You can also read music you like that is¬†written for other instruments or find a friend and sight read duets. Make sight reading part of your practise sessions every day and you will soon see the benefits.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW 4.¬†Listen.¬†While this won’t¬†actually exercise your playing muscles, it is¬†a very important part of learning and studying music. Listen to lots of different pianists and listen to other instruments as well. Children tend to only know the music styles listened to by their parents, so its a good opportunity for them to be exposed to a variety of genres. One of my students has grown up with the classic rock of her parents but has recently discovered musical theatre soundtracks (thanks, YouTube). She is enthralled with how the mood of the music tells a story and often comments on “the power” she hears in songs. Expose your musical ear to all sorts of things. You won’t like them all, but you will find plenty you do like.

5. Mental practise. If you are on a trip and won’t have access to your piano (or another one), upload some of the music you are working on to your phone, iPod, laptop, etc. Many of these pieces will be available on iTunes or you can have your teacher record them for you or find a (well-played) version on youTube. Take your sheet music along with you, too. If you are spending long hours in a car or on a plane, or spending several nights in a hotel, those are great opportunities to listen while following along to the music. You can also practise your fingering without having a piano; it is also a great opportunity to visualise how you want the music to sound.

6.¬†Perform.¬†Plan a little summer recital for your family and friends.¬†Often the summer holidays are when people are more relaxed, on leave from work and have more free time. For many of the adults in your child’s life, it may be the only opportunity they get to hear your child¬†play. If you are an adult pianist, when is the last time you played for somebody? Ask your friends to listen to you before you hang out.¬†There is no such thing as too much playing in front of other people; it’s wonderful for building confidence and your listeners will also love it.Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

7.¬†Have¬†fun!¬†When you’re working hard all year for exams or recitals, it‚Äôs often hard to find time to play¬†other music. Summer is the perfect time to pull out the music you have always wanted to learn. Discover something new and learn how to play it, not for any reason other than you want to. Remember the joy.

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.

The Peak-End Rule and How it Makes Practising Less of a Chore – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

The street on which I lived as a child was on a moderate hill – not overly steep, but enough that you certainly knew you were walking up a hill. Our street fitted in with another to form a circle, so there were always two different ways to get home. The most direct way involved walking up the hill. The less direct way meant walking up more of the hill (in the other direction) and then turning and walking downhill for a while to reach the house. This was a bit of a no-brainer when walking, but riding a bike was a different story.

Which way to go?¬†The shorter hill, right? Nope! Not for me. I needed to finish on that downhill run. I would choose to have a longer uphill ride just so I had that wonderful, free feeling of flying downhill at the end. As a bonus, I didn’t reach home tired and out of breath.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

Yummy dinner and vegetables. When you’re a child, those two things rarely go together. But we have to eat our veggies. So what do we do? My mother used to tell the story of being shut in the bathroom until she ate her peas. She would pop them one by one down the floor drain. At other times she would hide them under her mashed potatoes and on a really good night, she would manage to slide the potatoes (with hidden peas) onto her brother’s plate.¬†The mashed potato story stayed with me and I quickly learnt that if I ate my veggies first – if I was lucky, covered with potato or gravy – then I could enjoy the rest of the meal without the vegetable concern hanging over my head. I still eat my veggies first.

So what does this have to do with playing the piano? More specifically, practising the piano?

The peak-end rule states that our evaluation of past experiences tend to be based on their¬†most intense point (best or worst), and how they end. In a¬†1993 study, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and colleagues asked a group of people to place¬†their hands in uncomfortably cold water, but in two slightly different conditions. In one condition they had to keep their¬†hand submerged in 14¬įC water for 60 seconds (which is not exactly comfortable). In another condition they were asked to place¬†their hand in 14¬įC water for 60 seconds, but then leave it there for¬†an¬†additional¬†30 seconds while the temperature was gradually raised to 15¬įC. While 15¬įC is still unpleasant¬†, is noticeably less painful than 14¬įC.

Given a choice, you would expect most people¬†would choose the 60 seconds of pain rather than 60 seconds of pain + 30 more seconds of slightly reduced pain, right? But no. When given a choice of which trial to repeat, 69% of the participants chose to repeat the longer one ‚Äď apparently perceiving that experience to be better overall, because of how the¬†ending¬†altered¬†their perspective. Like riding up a longer hill just to experience the downhill run at the end.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWWe can use this philosophy to make piano practise less of a chore and make it easier to get ourselves to practise again. Save the best for last. Have a piece that you enjoy playing sitting on the piano ready for you to turn to once the more challenging parts of practise are over. Or finish practise with the piece that requires the least work. Set yourself up so that you end practise on a positive note and you will feel much more inclined to practise again the next day.

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.

The Benefits of Duets – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

I was lucky when I was learning the piano Рmy sister was also learning. Plus my Mum played. That meant I always had a duet partner available. Duets certainly have their challenges, but most of my memories of playing duets involve lots of laughter. My only complaint at the time was I always had to play the bottom part, which was usually keeping the beat and not as melodically interesting. Nevertheless, duets formed a significant part of our performing, particularly in our teenage years and were always fun.

Piano teacher in Wallsend NSW

“Piano Duet” by Pamela Blaies (http://pamelablaies.com)

The method books I use to teach my beginners – and most method books on the market – have a teacher accompaniment that can be played along with the student. It not only ‘fills out’ the sound of their very basic piece for them and makes what they are playing¬†sound much more impressive for them, but it also unknowingly begins to teach them the fundamentals of playing duets.

The benefits of playing piano duets are many and include:

  1. Developing listening skills – the only way your duet will be successful is if you are constantly listening to what the other person is playing to ensure you are staying together.
  2. Early accompanying skills – following on from developing listening skills, learning how to follow or catch-up to the other person can set up the quality skills of a good accompanist.
  3. Teaches good timing – good tempo needs to be kept by both parts or the piece won’t flow and will sound very disjointed. With a partner, you are¬†more likely to¬†maintain a steady pulse and keep going. Over time, you¬†will¬†gain more¬†rhythmic constancy and learn to adapt to any tempo set by a partner.
  4. Teamwork and interaction Рpianists usually spend a lot of time playing alone. Playing duets not only encourage interaction with others (as practising together is essential) but you also need to be working together as a team to ensure the piece flows beautifully.
  5. ¬†Articulation and compromise¬†– it’s not just about the correct notes and timing.¬†Duet partners¬†need to learn how to articulate their ideas for interpretation, and then learn to compromise these with the other person‚Äôs ideas. Duets teach students to listen carefully, ensuring the parts balance evenly and that articulation ideas passed between the two parts are precisely performed.
  6. Motivation and accountability – while the two players are working as a team, for kids playing duets, they usually want to make sure they don’t sound worse than their partner, so will try their hardest. If they don’t know their part, they may feel they are letting down their partner as they know both of them are accountable for the best result. This also encourages more focussed concentration.
  7. Increased confidence – for those students who are nervous about performing, having a performing buddy is often a much-needed confidence boost.
  8. Pedalling awareness – one person will be pedalling for the other, while the second person will be surrendering their pedal control. This needs to be negotiated and controlled.
  9. Duets are impressive Р audiences (particularly parents watching their children play a duet together) love duets; they sound full, rich and harmonious and watching two pianists play together in sync is entertaining.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWI still enjoy the fullness of sound a duet provides and regularly play a duet ‘together with myself’, where I record the Secondo (bottom part) on my digital piano and then play it back while I play the Primo (top part). Duets are certainly a special experience :-)

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

How Pianists’ Brains are Different – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

“Piano is the ultimate instrument in terms of skill and demand. Two hands have to play together simultaneously¬†while navigating 88 keys. They can play up to 10 notes at a time. To manage all those options, pianists have to develop a totally unique brain capacity ‚ÄĒ one that has been revealed by science.”

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

Image courtesy of The Piano Kitchen

“Because both hands are required to be equally active for pianists to master their instrument, they have to overcome something innate to almost every person: right or left-handedness.”

Continue reading this great short article by Jordan Taylor Sloan to find out how they do this and why pianists brains are different.

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.

 

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 Рslowly and steadily. This is usually why the kids are using their ladybird every day Рto 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.