Tag Archives: piano practise

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 ūüôā

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 Рwith or without a melody line Рand 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 ‚Äď including the voice ‚Äď 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‚Äôs¬†‚ÄėScale Blitzer‚Äô¬†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.

Why I Love My Adult Students – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Around a third of the students in my Wallsend¬†studio are adults, but they didn’t come here as¬†beginners. They are students who have done it the hard way, being mainly self-taught or grasping on to knowledge remembered from brief childhood lessons. They come to me because they know something is holding them back from improving, but they either don’t know what that is, or they know what they need, but not how to achieve the improvement.

Because of this, they have a different journey to somebody fresh to the instrument, but it is usually more convoluted. Often, years of incorrect or insufficient technique needs to be addressed and we all know how difficult it can be to change habits we have employed for years.

Added to this, adult students have a myriad of other commitments and stresses in their lives with work, family and community, yet despite this, they are the students that practise most often, most consistently and most effectively.

Piano teacher in Wallsend NSW

Lessons with adults are often much more Intense than kids’ ¬†lessons, as they are aware of the commitment (both financial and time) and want to draw the most value from every minute. I find they¬†challenge me more, because I need to think on my feet and find alternate ways to explain things. Kids accept explanations, but adults look for deeper understanding, so it benefits me as well.

Adults learners can be fluid, flexible and adventurous and bring with them a strong motivation to learn. But they are also cautious, perfectionists and extremely hard on themselves. They are often very anxious to achieve their goals and it can be difficult to convince them they are doing well. Adult students are also better able to articulate their problems and understand practise suggestions, both benefits helping them to make consistent progress.

Being more mature and better equipped to understand the inherent emotion in the music they are playing, adult students can adeptly communicate a wide range of styles and emotions. Even for older adults who may experience some physical limitations, there will always be pieces suited to their physical level that can satisfy them emotionally and still challenge them technically. Expanding the repertoire of a self-taught adult to genres and styles outside their normal playing habits is fun for both of us and hopefully also their audience at home.

Sungwon is currently preparing for her Grade 4 Piano for Leisure exam in a few weeks and agreed to share this video. You can tell from her reaction at the end that she wasn’t happy with her performance; as I mentioned, adult students are their own worst critics!

The best thing about adults learning to play the piano is they are free to do as they please. Adults aren’t trying to please a parent, a teacher or an examiner. No one is forcing them to take lessons. It’s about them and the music. And that is a blessing:-)

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‚Äôt occur by just turning up to a 30-minute lesson once a week. They will also learn more about their instrument ‚Äď how it feels, how it sounds, what it can do ‚Äď 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, ‚ÄúI‚Äôll wait until the next lesson to ask my teacher‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôt 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‚Äôs in a Name? Should We Rename Practising? ‚Äď 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‚Äôt forget it. Her face fell, her shoulders slumped and she mumbled, ‚ÄúPractise.‚ÄĚ

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 ‚Äď 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 Рor not practising enough Рis 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.

Encouraging More Practise ‚Äď 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 ‚Äď 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 ‚Äú101 Piano Practice Tips‚ÄĚ, 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‚Äôs 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.

Ladybird, Ladybird, Fly to My Hand – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Resources… resources… resources!!

Games, worksheets, iPad apps, flashcards…

The world of piano teaching has changed a great deal since the days I learned. These days kids seem to need more enticing and encouragement to learn. Perhaps this is because many of them are starting with piano at a much younger age. It may also be related to today’s kids being used to more instant results. Couple those reasons with the fact that the internet makes it much easier for teachers to share with each other their techniques and resources and the teaching world is awash with resource options.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

Sifting through them all can result in some interesting finds. One that I found early on – but didn’t then understand all the benefits of – is the ladybird (or ladybug, depending on where you are in the world) squeeze toy. Used mainly as a tool to explain and encourage correct hand position, it also has a host of other uses.

When a younger (under 10) student starts with me, they receive their very own ladybird. They name it (a favourite seems to be Lily) and use it every day in their practise routine.

As mentioned, the main selling point of the ladybird is to show correct hand position at the piano. The shape of the bug mimics the natural position of the hands if you let them fall by your sides, which is also the optimum position for playing the piano. Having this visual as well as something that allows them to physically feel the shape is of great benefit to those who struggle to hold their hand correctly.Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

The other main use of the bug in my studio is to help build strength in the fingers. This is achieved simply by using the ladybird as you would a stress ball and regularly squeezing it Рslowly and steadily. This is usually why the kids are using their ladybird every day Рto help build strength in their little fingers that are suddenly being asked to do a whole new set of tasks. As the strength builds, flexibility also grows.

This regular use allows them to really connect with their bug¬†and also allows them to have something of theirs with them in their ‘practise nest’ at practise time. Using it away from the piano (for squeezing) shows the kids right from the start that playing the piano isn’t just about the physical act of connecting fingers to keys, but incorporates their mind and their muscles and can be worked on in various ways even when a piano isn’t around.

As their playing develops, the ladybird can also be used for reinforcement of other techniques (e.g. placing it on the back of their hand and seeing whether it stays there or tips off according to the style they are being asked to play) so it can continue to grow with them as they develop.

I keep my eyes open all the time for new tools and resources, because you never know when you might come across something that seems simple, but can be of great benefit.

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.

Creating a Practise Nest – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

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 ‘put away’ 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúdouble-duty‚ÄĚ 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‚Äôs 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 ‚Äúspecialness‚ÄĚ 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.