Tag Archives: piano practise

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

 

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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.

Preparing for a Recital – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

The first studio recital for merri bell music will be held in a few weeks, so this is a great time to talk about how you can help your child prepare for performances.

Piano kids don’t have too many opportunities to shine like – for example – sport kids. Practise is a solitary pastime and occasions to play for and show their skills to others don’t come up every week.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWHere are some ideas for ways you can help your child prepare for their big moment:

  1. Be your child’s pretend audience. Regularly sit down and listen to her play her pieces, complete with announcing what song is being played, and giving a little bow afterwards.
  2. Have your child play for any family or friends who visit. Sharing his prowess with others helps him see how much you value his performance (and the work that went into it). Even playing to Grandma over the ‘phone can be helpful.
  3. The best way to ensure a successful performance is adequate preparation; encourage your child to practise regularly. And often.
  4. Offer your child lots of encouragement and show how excited you are that she is sharing her music with you. Even leaving an unexpected little note of praise on the piano can be wonderful inspiration.
  5. Find a way to mark the recital as a special occasion; invite others along, buy a new outfit to wear, a bunch of flowers, or a special meal afterwards. Simple gestures that show his performance is meaningful and valued.

I’m looking forward to a great recital and I hope the students are 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.

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.

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.

 

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.