Tag Archives: children music

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.

 

Singing? But Isn’t This a Piano Lesson? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

There has been some singing happening in the studio lately.

Music is a language. It contains phrases, just the same as the spoken – or sung – word. How we deliver these phrases, how we emphasise particular musical words and sentences, delivers a certain meaning to our audience. When we are trying to learn a piece, it can be difficult to look beyond the notes on the page. Singing the music allows us to feel it moving forward, with all its twists and turns and emotion, and to develop an understanding of what we are aiming to ultimately achieve when playing a piece.

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, NSWThere are various benefits for singing during piano lessons:

  • When singing along with what we are playing, we learn to match the pitch of our voices with the piano, which is a great ear-training tool for ascertaining both pitch and intervals.
  • Being aware of where we need to breathe when singing helps to understand where our hands also need to take a little breath. Phrase lines are written into music to tell us when to take this minute break (an upward lift), but it can feel mechanical without understanding the feeling behind the phrasing.
  • Perhaps most importantly, singing is great for allowing us to feel the emotion of a piece (particularly if it has lyrics). We are able to tell the story with more musicality and expression, moving it forward with purpose.

“By exploring the voice, we teach important musical ideas and encourage piano students to achieve a higher level of musicianship”.

Jennifer Merry, Keyboard Companion, Spring 2005

Piano teacher in Wallsend NSWIt is certainly more difficult to encourage students to sing than it is to get them to play, as singing seems to involve displaying a little more of ourselves, but it is this inner emotion we are trying to release. This is what we need in our playing. Once the students open up and let go, understanding how the music feels, they can really put some energy and feeling into what they’re playing.

Sight singing is more formal and this is being introduced to the older kids. Used as a forerunner to playing the piece, it helps them to not only develop aural skills and sight reading skills, but learn to get a feel for a piece from sight. Being able to pitch the piece from sight and develop a good idea of how it will sound before starting to play is a great benefit.

So if your child arrives home from a lesson and says, “Today we sang,” then you’ll know they were learning to develop their musical expression.

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.

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.

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’s 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.

App Review “Blob Chorus” by Lumpty Learning – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Aural training – or developing ‘a good ear’ – is such an important part of becoming a musician. It helps with everything from being able to harmonise through to simply recognising if you’ve made a mistake. But not everybody is born with a naturally good ear and even those who are can still learn to better refine it.

So how do we help our students develop their aural skills without the drudgery of drills and exercises? We use fun apps!

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWBlob Chorus by Lumpty Learning is one such app, which introduces students to basic pitch recognition in a fun way. It is used in thousands of schools around the world because it also works well in a group setting, but its simplicity means it is also totally suitable for individual lessons.

The premise of the game is simple: a number of green blobs have formed a choir and they are singing for King Blob (who is purple and wears a crown). Each blob sings a note and then King Blob sings a note. The note sung by the king is the same as a note sung by one of the blobs. But which one? This is what you need to identify.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWAlthough the game always opens with the default of three blobs, you can set the game to as little as two (which is the best place to start). As you improve, you can increase the number of blobs in the choir. The maximum is eight blobs, which is very difficult.

If the incorrect blob is selected, that blob will explode, but you are able to select another blob and continue doing this until the correct blob is selected. At any time you can click the ‘hear blobs again’ button at the bottom to hear the remaining blobs sing their notes again.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWThe game is separated into groups of ten questions; after each set of ten you will receive a score and an overall rating.

Free on the Apple app store (but not for Android), the Apple version can be found here.

If you don’t own or have access to an iPad or Android tablet, never fear! The game is also available in a web version here; it just requires an internet connection.

They not only look cute, but they sound really cute as well 🙂

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.