Tag Archives: piano lessons

How the Non-Piano-Playing Parent Can Help Their Piano-Playing Child (Part 2) – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

“I don’t understand what she’s playing, so I don’t know how to help.”

This is a phrase I hear often from parents who have no musical training themselves. Because they don’t know the details of the music, they worry they can’t help their child with their practise. This is most definitely not the case.

I wrote last month about the practical ways a non-musical parent can help their piano student child (that post is here) but believe it or not, you can also help them improve their playing.

1. The most important thing you can do is simple. Listen. That’s it. Listen to them practise. You will hear their pieces often enough that you may surprise yourself when you realise you can pick up mistakes. You don’t need to know how to fix it, but you can stop them and have them go back over that section.

2. Don’t be afraid to say, “Again!” I’m sure you are a music listener, even if you aren’t a musician yourself and your ears will know if something doesn’t sound right. Tell them to play it again. And again. This also works really well for scales and technical work (and my students are used to hearing it – I don’t let a scale go until they have played it without error).

3. Sitting with your child for the first five minutes of practise can have a huge impact on your child’s musical success. For starters, it allows them to realise you are listening and involved and know exactly what they are doing. Use this time to ask them questions, which can be done in two ways:

  • Be nosy. Ask them questions about what they are playing. Pick something the teacher has marked and ask them why or perhaps select a word of terminology or an articulation mark on the music and ask them what it means. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know the answer… they are having to think about it; or
  • Ask general questions, such as, “What is the hardest part of this piece? Can you play just that part for me?” or “Can you clap the rhythm of this bar for me?” I can provide flashcards containing samples.

Chances are they’ll get quite a kick from teaching you something as well 🙂

Piano teacher Wallsend NSW4. Encourage them to really listen to what they are doing… and listen yourself. If they play a section a few times and it changes from halting to fluent, congratulate and encourage them. Ask them what they are trying to achieve.

5. Most people can feel a basic rhythm so you should be able to tell if the rhythm is uneven or inconsistent. Ask them to show you how they count the piece/section and have them count out loud as they play it.

6. Don’t expect them to always play their pieces through. Often working on smaller sections is more beneficial. I always teach my students to “pull out” the troublesome section and work on that alone until it has improved. We can put the piece back together at the lesson if they have refined each of the sections. Sometimes a teacher may set only sections (or even just one hand) rather than the whole piece.

7. Tell them to slow down if they’re having trouble. Speed can be built back up but bad habits are harder to unlearn. There is no such thing as too slow!

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.

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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!

I initially reviewed this app nearly three years ago, but it has had a resurgence in my studio, with all current students really enjoying it, so it is worth revisiting it here.

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.

$1.49 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.

Common Piano Practise Mistakes (Part 1) – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Sometimes you may feel as though you are beating your head against a brick wall. You set a practise schedule and you try to stick to it, but you just aren’t progressing. You could be making one of the following mistakes, all of which are easy to overcome:

Not actually practising. You intend to and you pop it into your schedule but it is never given the priority it requires and deserves. It requires a true commitment. Trust me, once you practise enough to get past those early learning hurdles, you will start to enjoy it much more and even look forward to practise.

Playing what you already know. It’s so much easier to keep playing the pieces you already play well and neglect the ones that require more effort, but you’ll pretty quickly become bored with your repertoire as well as not having a challenge.

Not reviewing old pieces to maintain a repertoire. Following on from the point above, you want to revisit older pieces occasionally so you can maintain a repertoire that has both volume and variety.

Piano teacher Wallsend NSWAlways starting from the beginning. If you start a piece at the beginning every time you play it, you will find you quickly become proficient at the start of the piece but less so as the piece goes on. I often tell my students to start at the part they find the most difficult, work on that part and then incorporate it back into the song.

Playing easier parts faster than the harder passages. If – as the point above suggests – you usually start at the beginning of a piece, you will probably play this part best and consequently a little faster. Then when you hit passages that require more concentration, you will slow down. From the time quavers are introduced to my students, I tell them to look at the hardest part (which at that stage is usually where the quavers are) and see at what speed they are comfortable playing that part. The rest of the piece is then played at this tempo. An added bonus is if that means the majority of the piece is feeling too slow, there is an added incentive to work on the troublesome section first to get it to the speed you want. Effective practise!

More common mistakes and how to fix them next month 🙂

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part two will be published next month.

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.

With a Little Help From My Friends – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Sometimes when we’re learning new things, we just need a little something extra to help us along. In the studio, we use games and iPad apps, as well as good old paper and pencil, but there have been some new additions that have the younger students buzzing.

Animals!

Yes, these little animals have quickly become a firm favourite with most of the under-10s (although the older kids think they’re cute as well). As they fit nicely on a piano key, they have been a wonderful asset for keyboard recognition exercises and to help in games, but they have discovered other uses as well.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWOne little girl sometimes asks for them to watch as she plays and she arranges them either on the music stand, or on top of the piano, and then performs for them. They bring her confidence.

A little boy likes the animals, but prefers the transport vehicles that live in the same drawer, and he sometimes learns a song by giving each note a vehicle of its own.

So if your little ones arrive home from their lesson and tell you they have been playing with animals – or helicopters and motorbikes – for half an hour, never fear. It’s still all about the music, but learning with a little help from our new friends.

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.

Effective Practise: What it Really Means – Piano Teacher in Wallsend

Because music is an art form and is appreciated audibly and emotionally, it can be easy to forget that a good performance is rooted in physical skill. Playing an instrument well takes time, dedication and that scary-but-shouldn’t-be word… practise.

In the past week I have had a few conversations with different students and parents about practise techniques, so thought it might be time for a refresher post about the main things to remember.

Repetition is the key. Muddling your way through a piece and finally reaching the other end doesn’t constitute effective practise; it’s just playing.

Piano teacher in Wallsend NSWYou want to always leave a practise session with at least a part of what you are playing sounding and working better than when you started. But that doesn’t need to be the whole piece. A small section of improvement is far better than a whole piece left at the same level. But something needs to improve.

Identify and isolate the area causing the problem and work on just that section for a practise session. Then try putting it back into a larger section, or the whole piece.

More, shorter practise sessions are more effective than one large catch-up. Once you have spent the time working on something, you don’t want to leave it so long that when you return to  the piano, you have forgotten what you learnt. A small section you have been working on may only take 5-10 seconds to play, so every time you walk past the piano, play it one more time.

“Effective practise is consistent, intensely focussed, and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current capabilities.”* Clicking on this link will take you to a great little video by Annie Bosler and Don Greene that explains how practising affects our brains and the positive lasting consequences of effective practise. At less than five minutes’ duration, and full of interesting facts, please take the time to watch it. It discusses practising for any task, not specifically music, so is useful in many areas of life.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWPractise shouldn’t be a chore. It is an opportunity. This blog post I wrote twelve months ago outlines all the benefits effective practise brings to the student, beyond simply playing the piano.

There are lots of posts on my blog about practising, ranging from the how-tos through to ways you can make practising more engaging for your child. Search for ‘practise’ or ‘practising’ in the search box at the bottom right and I’m sure you’ll find some useful posts.

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.

 

* – How to practice effectively for just about anything – Annie Bosler and Don Greene

 

Stop and Listen – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Stop and smell the roses.

An old saying, but one that is as relevant when playing music as it is in everyday life. Pause for a moment and discover the beauty being offered, not only in life, but also in the music you are playing.

piano-teacher-in-wallsend-nsw-roseI have written before about the reasons why I love teaching adults. They are flexible and motivated, but they are also hard on themselves. I have learned through teaching them, that this pressure is often evidenced in rushing. Rushing through pieces to attain their accelerated goals. But rushing often means we don’t listen to what we are playing.

What do we want to hear most? Usually the melody. Where is that melody? Is it in the highest notes of the right hand? Is it in the left hand? What else are we playing that is supporting that melody? Can we hear the rhythm?

Playing an instrument is not just about reading the notes on the page. We need to think about the role of those notes and how we balance our hands to achieve the desired audible result. This is one of the reasons I like to incorporate singing into the lesson; if the students can sing the melody of their piece, they are more likely to hear what they need to make prominent when they play.

Check out this short example (please excuse my croaky voice):

So let’s take the time to smell our musical roses and see what magic can be created.

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.