Tag Archives: music for children

Practise Tips: Things You Can Do Right Now – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Now we’re into the swing of a new term, and approaching our studio recital, I thought it would be helpful to revisit an old post about how you can help your child progress with their playing.

Providing piano lessons for your child is providing them with a blessing – the gift of music. But like anything of value in life, it requires work and unfortunately for the parents, this usually means hounding your child to practise.

Following are some tips for practising:

  1. Piano teacher Wallsend NSWMake practise a priority! If children don’t practise, they don’t play well and they may start to believe they can’t play the piano. You have made a financial commitment to your child’s piano lessons, so they need to show the same level of commitment by practising, or your money will be wasted. Schedule it in with all their other commitments.
  2. A great time to practise is straight after the lesson and on the next day. This is when what they have been taught is fresh in their mind and will result in a much better quality practise. If they wait a few days after the lesson before the first practise, chances are they will forget what was discussed.
  3. Consistency is so important. Shorter, focussed but consistent practise of 4 or 5 days a week is much better than a longer session at the piano on only one or two days.
  4. Should you remind your kids to practise? YES! We have to remind children to do all sorts of things from brushing their teeth to loading the dishwasher (or whatever their given jobs may be) so piano practise is no different.
  5. Decide on a minimum number of years your child will commit to lessons. Often when things become harder and they start to feel challenged, they will see quitting as the easiest solution. Everybody struggles at some point… it just means we’re growing and learning.
  6. Have your child see you practising something or learning a new hobby. They will realise that learning anything involves work, but can also be rewarding.
  7. Give your child lots of encouragement when they put in the effort at the piano. Piano kids have very few opportunities for external recognition. It’s also great for them to overhear you telling somebody else how well they are doing.

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.

Three Things Every Beginning Student Needs to Know – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

We all know by now that learning a musical instrument is exceptionally good for our brains and provides great cognitive development. Persistence, delayed gratification and problem solving are among the many skills that are expanded. (In case you’ve forgotten, the infographic in this blog post explains it very succinctly). But these advantages don’t appear overnight.

The expectation that they will be fluently playing sophisticated pieces within a short time frame is one I see often… “Can I play Fur Elise soon?”… “Can she play the Christmas carols at our family get-together next month?”… and the kicker… “I’ll just have a few lessons and see if I like it.”

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWI recently wrote a post about playing an instrument being a cumulative skill, and understanding this helps us realise what is required to reach our goals. For anybody starting to learn an instrument – but particularly children – there are some expectations that should be set right from the start:

  • It’s okay to fail, and the failures will help you become a better musician.
  • Putting in the time and effort wins out over talent.
  • Learning an instrument is a long-term commitment and you will be sticking with it.

Tony Mazzocchi has written an article (here) that explains how – if approached correctly – music lessons may be one of your child’s greatest opportunities. Please take the time to peruse the article, especially the three main points.

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 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 🙂

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.