Tag Archives: piano practise

Common Piano Practise Mistakes (Part 2) – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

“Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.”
– Unknown

With a school holiday period looming here in Australia, students will have three weeks in which they will be practising with no input or guidance from their teachers. That’s a long time to be getting nowhere if they aren’t practising effectively and efficiently. Last month I posted about some common mistakes make by students when practising and how to overcome these issues.

Following are some more tips that will help you practise effectively not just over the term holidays, but at any time:

Using incorrect fingering. Sometimes the fingering noted on the music may seem either unimportant or too difficult, but the truth is it is always there for a reason. It is usually moving your hand to where it needs to be for optimum movement (and minimal confusion). Being consistent with fingering also calls upon your muscle memory, allowing you to learn the piece with more stability.

Practising too fast. I know I have mentioned this many times before, but it is so important to slow down and take your time. It can be frustrating when you know how the piece sounds and you just want to play it at speed so the familiar sound and what you are playing are closer. But playing too fast doesn’t allow you to really pay attention to what you’re playing or note the areas that need additional work. It’s much easier to increase speed once the piece is correct than it is to have to slow down later and try to ‘unlearn’ mistakes.

Piano teacher Wallsend NSWHaving your piano in an out-of-the-way location. Having your piano or keyboard tucked away in a spare room or an area of the house not regularly accessed doesn’t encourage regular practise. Out of sight, out of mind! Have your piano in a prominent position in the house so it acts as a constant reminder.

Not counting out loud. Even though I have been playing for over 40 years, I still find counting out loud is the easiest way to get my mind around a complicated new passage. It is particularly crucial for beginners and works excellently in conjunction with the point above about slowing down. Counting out loud helps develop a sense of rhythm; the physical act of counting makes the rhythm more dominant and the hands tend to follow.

Watching your hands instead of the music. When you watch your hands instead of the music, you tend to learn the piece with mistakes; playing by ear and using memory take over from reading what the music is asking you to play. When you do need to look down to your hands, try to just avert your eyes rather than move your head, or it is more difficult to re-find your place on the music when you lift your (moved) head back up.

Practising “in bulk”. Shorter, regular practise sessions are far more effective than one very long one. Once you are aware you are becoming mentally fatigued, you should stop practise and come back to it when you feel more alert.

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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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.

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.

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

 

Starting a New Year Practise Routine – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

It’s a new year and with that comes new routines, new commitments and new goals. For parents of piano kids, now – while you are setting school, activity and homework routines – is the time to establish piano into those routines. For adult students, it’s a good reminder to work some time into your schedule.

Why?

Because we know that if you don’t practise, you don’t progress, and if you don’t progress, you will become disheartened and probably give up. But we can make it easier.

Would you sleep soundly if the only place you could sleep was in the middle of your laundry while the washing machine and dryer were operating?

How productive would your work be if half the items you needed to do that work were not to hand?

If you were trying to study, would your effort be effective if you were banished to a cold, musty downstairs room away from the warmth and comfort of the main house?

Of course, we are more successful in what we do if we have everything we need, are in the best environment and are nice and comfy. It’s no different for our piano practise. If going to the piano is lonely, uncomfortable and disorganised, chances are you (or your child) won’t feel inclined to practise. What can we do to help?

We can create a practise nest. A place that is welcoming, comfortable and organised.

The wonderful folk at Teach Piano Today have provided some great tips for creating such a space. While they have been written for parents of piano kids, the same tactics apply for adult students; create a nest where you feel comfortable and have everything you need before you begin.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW1. When choosing a location for your piano, select a space that is lived-in, welcoming, and well-lit. Keep it close to ‘the action’ but not in the action. Your children will gravitate to the piano more often if it is in a central place in your home. Avoid bedrooms, basements and other out of the way places. Feeling shut-off from the family while practising will inevitably lead to a reluctance to spend time on the piano.

While choosing an appropriate space, also consider the noise factor; not only from the piano, but also from your family’s day-to-day activities. Your children want to be close by, but not competing with noise from televisions, dishwashers and washing machines.

2. Make the space warm and welcoming. Your children will be encouraged to spend upwards of 30 minutes every day in this space. Is it a happy place to be for this amount of time? Small adjustments to lighting and heating can make a world of difference. Seek out places with natural light and ensure it is a cheerful and welcoming space that will encourage your child to visit the piano often for their own enjoyment.

3. Ensure your children have all required materials at hand. Help your children put together a small basket or bin of everything they may need for home practise. Pens, pencils, highlighters, and post-it notes will give your children a sense of organisation that will then spill over into their practise habits. Your children will also need adequate lighting to see their music, and a comfortable bench at the correct height to practise comfortably and correctly.

4. Make the practice nest a communal space.  Children of any age appreciate company while they practise. Having a chair, couch, beanbag chair or pillows nearby where family members will be inclined to sit, listen and enjoy the music immediately sets the tone for happy time on the piano. Encourage siblings to stop by and listen quietly, and allow yourself even just 10 minutes to sit and listen with undivided attention each time your children practise. A set-up that is conducive to including the family in home practise will encourage everyone involved to make piano practise an activity the entire family can be a part of.

5. Set the stage for organisation. Ensure your children’s practise space is uncluttered and organised. Clear out old sheet music and books from the piano bench, use a magazine organiser to hold current and favorite materials, and minimise knickknacks and other distractions from the top of the piano. If you can, avoid having the piano room do “double-duty” for laundry, toys and other clutter. Having the books your children need at their fingertips reliably ensures that no time is spent searching for lost or crumpled music. Get into the habit of placing the piano books in their appropriate space immediately after each piano lesson so they are ready and waiting.

Plus one more! Adding small surprises to your children’s practice nest (fresh flowers, a hand-written note of encouragement, a small treat, a new sticker pad, a special pen etc.) helps to show that you value the time they are spending on the piano and that you appreciate their efforts and dedication. Preserving the specialness of their practise space encourages positive feelings towards their home music time.

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.