Tag Archives: music lessons

Can’t I Catch Up Later? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Would you run a marathon if you had been training for only three weeks? Would you decide to do it twelve or nine months earlier but not begin to work for it until the last month?

I’m pretty sure the answer to those questions would be a resounding, “No!”. But if you did do those things, would you still expect to be prepared for the race and anticipate a good result?

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWYou understand the mechanics of running, but does the information in your brain translate to your muscles so they know how to behave? No. The muscles need to learn those new skills.



Playing the piano is no different. Learning an instrument is a cumulative skill. You cannot leave preparation until the last minute and still expect to do well in an exam or perform beautifully at a recital. Throwing extra resources in at the end doesn’t yield the same result as snowballing your skill set.

Creating music is about so much more than just the notes on the page; it is about how they are to be played and the different sounds that may be created, and this requires practised technique. Muscle memory plays a part, but other skills include the balance of the hand and body, rhythm, pitch, technique, body positioning, fine motor skills, dynamics, texture, tonal shading and more. Imagine how frazzled the brain would feel if it were trying to deal with all these things in a very short space of time.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWA similar problem occurs when – for a variety of reasons – students want to rush through levels of exams. This often means learning only the minimum number of pieces to get through, and the overall musicianship is sacrificed.

Playing a musical instrument is a skill for life and can be a blessing in so many ways. Cherish it and nurture it with the respect it deserves and it will repay you tenfold.

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.

What Motivates Us and Does it Matter? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

We all know about the importance of goals. Having a goal keeps you going. It’s common sense, really. Determine your goal and work out the steps you need to reach that goal.

But the umbrella over goals is motivation. Motivation is the reason we have goals and without it, those ambitions can have little purpose. However, the perceived value of the motivation has an immense impact on the way the target is achieved and even whether the goal is met at all.           Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

Motivation is an integral part of learning. It creates the adaptive behaviours that assist students in achieving their personal goals. Over the past 20 years an enormous amount of research has been conducted to answer the fundamental question, “When faced with difficulty or challenges, why do some children seek the challenge and persist in the face of difficulty, while others (with equal potential and ability) sidestep the challenge and stop trying when faced with difficulties?”

One of the theories that can help to answer this is the Expectancy-Value Theory, which outlines how the expectation of future reward plays an enormous role in motivation (and therefore goals). The four factors applicable to valuing an activity are:

  • Attainment value – how important they believe it is to do well on a task
  • Intrinsic motivation – the pleasure of making music (or performing)
  • Extrinsic utility value – learning an instrument according to its usefulness to future goals
  • Perceived cost – perceived negative aspects, such as amount of practise required to improve

Kids bring with them all of these factors in varying degrees and combinations when they start music lessons and these values and expectations shape their development. A very important factor is the extrinsic utility value, particularly the distance of the future goal. Students1 who see themselves still playing the piano for enjoyment when they are adults are more likely to progress faster than those who see themselves only playing for a few years, or with a short-term goal (e.g. playing just to pass an exam). The students who express a long-term commitment to playing are more likely to have intrinsic reasons for playing; they love music, enjoy playing, like creating etc.

Throughout the first week of this term, all the existing, school-aged, non-beginner students participated in motivation and goal-setting exercises. We talked about how they saw the role of music in their lives and different things they can do with it. We then drilled down a little deeper and looked at what aspects of playing and practising they thought needed work and where they felt they were already doing a good job. The final step was for them to come up with some goals, which may have been a result of aspects previously identified, or could be totally unrelated. Goals included such aims as playing a particular piece, composing, learning more theory and practising more often (this one was nearly universal). Most pleasing for me was that all but two students easily saw themselves still playing “when I’m old”.

An external motivation agreed on by all, that will help in some areas of goal achievement, is the completion of the 40 Piece Challenge. Started by an Australian teacher, this Challenge has now taken off internationally and is being completed in various forms by piano students all over the world. The simple premise is that students will play 40 new pieces in the calendar year; this roughly equates to one piece each teaching week. Pieces can be of varying difficulty and do not need to all be provided by me. Compositions also count. The idea is to play a big variety of styles and improve sight reading and overall musicianship. A studio-wide achievement sheet is keeping them all accountable and they love seeing where they sit on the progress list.

Goals matter. Finding the motivation behind the goals matters even more.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

The most basic of music goals – to move from beginner to advanced.

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.


1Study by McPherson (2002)

Gifted and Talented: Dangerous Labels – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Over the years I have attempted a number of different instruments, with a variety of results. Some, like the guitar, came to me fairly easily. But reed instruments are my Waterloo. I can’t even get a decent sound from one. Does this mean I am hopeless and never destined to play a reed instrument because I don’t have a natural gift? Not at all.

Prowess doesn’t result solely from being naturally talented or having a gift. Success is a result of hard work. In the music field, this equates to time and effort (I’m avoiding that nasty p word…).

Piano lessons Wallsend NSW

Australian musician and educator, Samantha Coates, has written a great article – here – on how these words are often misunderstood in a practical application. “Hard work can trump ‘giftedness’ most of the time.” Let me know what you think in the comments section below.

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.

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°C water for 60 seconds (which is not exactly comfortable). In another condition they were asked to place their hand in 14°C water for 60 seconds, but then leave it there for an additional 30 seconds while the temperature was gradually raised to 15°C. While 15°C is still unpleasant , is noticeably less painful than 14°C.

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 – 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.