Tag Archives: piano

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.

Three Things Every Beginning Student Needs to Know – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

We all know by now that learning a musical instrument is exceptionally good for our brains and provides great cognitive development. Persistence, delayed gratification and problem solving are among the many skills that are expanded. (In case you’ve forgotten, the infographic in this blog post explains it very succinctly). But these advantages don’t appear overnight.

The expectation that they will be fluently playing sophisticated pieces within a short time frame is one I see often… “Can I play Fur Elise soon?”… “Can she play the Christmas carols at our family get-together next month?”… and the kicker… “I’ll just have a few lessons and see if I like it.”

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWI recently wrote a post about playing an instrument being a cumulative skill, and understanding this helps us realise what is required to reach our goals. For anybody starting to learn an instrument – but particularly children – there are some expectations that should be set right from the start:

  • It’s okay to fail, and the failures will help you become a better musician.
  • Putting in the time and effort wins out over talent.
  • Learning an instrument is a long-term commitment and you will be sticking with it.

Tony Mazzocchi has written an article (here) that explains how – if approached correctly – music lessons may be one of your child’s greatest opportunities. Please take the time to peruse the article, especially the three main points.

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.

 

Singing? But Isn’t This a Piano Lesson? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

There has been some singing happening in the studio lately.

Music is a language. It contains phrases, just the same as the spoken – or sung – word. How we deliver these phrases, how we emphasise particular musical words and sentences, delivers a certain meaning to our audience. When we are trying to learn a piece, it can be difficult to look beyond the notes on the page. Singing the music allows us to feel it moving forward, with all its twists and turns and emotion, and to develop an understanding of what we are aiming to ultimately achieve when playing a piece.

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, NSWThere are various benefits for singing during piano lessons:

  • When singing along with what we are playing, we learn to match the pitch of our voices with the piano, which is a great ear-training tool for ascertaining both pitch and intervals.
  • Being aware of where we need to breathe when singing helps to understand where our hands also need to take a little breath. Phrase lines are written into music to tell us when to take this minute break (an upward lift), but it can feel mechanical without understanding the feeling behind the phrasing.
  • Perhaps most importantly, singing is great for allowing us to feel the emotion of a piece (particularly if it has lyrics). We are able to tell the story with more musicality and expression, moving it forward with purpose.

“By exploring the voice, we teach important musical ideas and encourage piano students to achieve a higher level of musicianship”.

Jennifer Merry, Keyboard Companion, Spring 2005

Piano teacher in Wallsend NSWIt is certainly more difficult to encourage students to sing than it is to get them to play, as singing seems to involve displaying a little more of ourselves, but it is this inner emotion we are trying to release. This is what we need in our playing. Once the students open up and let go, understanding how the music feels, they can really put some energy and feeling into what they’re playing.

Sight singing is more formal and this is being introduced to the older kids. Used as a forerunner to playing the piece, it helps them to not only develop aural skills and sight reading skills, but learn to get a feel for a piece from sight. Being able to pitch the piece from sight and develop a good idea of how it will sound before starting to play is a great benefit.

So if your child arrives home from a lesson and says, “Today we sang,” then you’ll know they were learning to develop their musical expression.

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 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.

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.

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

Preparing for Your Piano Exam – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

Exam season once again upon us and whether or not it’s your first exam experience, it can still be a stressful time. Twelve months of work (or longer for Preliminary students) are culminating in this moment, giving you an opportunity to showcase everything you have learnt and practised.

The AMEB (Australian Music Examinations Board) have put together a list of ten things you should consider before an exam. You can read the full article here but in summary the points are:

  1. Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWDon’t slack off on your practise and then cram it all in during the week before. Playing piano is a (cumulative) physical skill as well as mental; you wouldn’t run a marathon if you had only been training for a week.
  2. Use your nerves to create nervous energy that can heighten your performance.
  3. No stimulants – energy drinks, caffeine etc can have the opposite of the desired effect and can make you jittery.
  4. Don’t compare yourself to other candidates; all you can control is your own performance.
  5. Celebrate your hard work instead of downplaying its significance. You have spent all year working for this, so be proud of your effort.
  6. Be sure of your general knowledge and practise your aural tests and sight reading well in advance of your exam date.
  7. Be outfitted classily and comfortably and in clothes that don’t restrict your movement.
  8. Have your closest supporters with you.
  9. Remember to show the examiner a beautifully musical performance (not just a display of technique).
  10. Do your best and be proud of it rather than stressing over your final grade.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSW

For most people, exams are a stressful time. The best thing you can do is know that you are walking in there as prepared as you can possibly be. If you know you have put in the necessary work, you should be able to enjoy – or at least appreciate – the experience through the haze of nerves.

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

What is Piano Practise? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

The single most important activity for musicians. It helps us reach our goals and improve our skill, bringing great satisfaction. But if it is viewed as just another activity to squeeze into the schedule, you are doing both your child and your investment a disservice.

What are you achieving by encouraging your child to regularly participate in effective practise?

You are furthering connections.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWNot just between your child and their instrument, but also between your child and music in general. There have been lots of studies proving the benefits of music to our brains, but these benefits won’t occur by just turning up to a 30-minute lesson once a week. They will also learn more about their instrument – how it feels, how it sounds, what it can do – and will become more attuned to how they can control what sound it can produce.

You are encouraging your child to become an independent problem solver.

Any good teacher will teach their students all the tools they need to get themselves out of a tricky situation. If they strike a problem while practising through the week, taking the, “I’ll wait until the next lesson to ask my teacher” response is not an appropriate solution. I encourage my students to contact me with questions, rather than waste a whole week, but even then I don’t just give them the answer. Working out ways to discover the solution and being able to move forward is very rewarding and as well as improving their problem-solving skills, also gives them confidence.

You are providing an opportunity for them to exercise exacting mental concentration.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWTo play an instrument, your child’s brain is processing a great number of details simultaneously, combining rhythm, pitch, technique, body positioning, fine motor skills, dynamics, texture, tonal shading and more. The synapses being developed in the brain of a musician are unique.

 

You are helping them to develop the skill of listening as opposed to just hearing.

Effective practise involves your child really listening to what they are producing and finding ways to improve that sound. From obvious changes in dynamics, through to subtle variances in tone and phrasing, they will learn to really pay attention to what is beneath the surface.

You are teaching them how to persevere and work towards a long-term goal.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWPiano skills don’t instantly appear, but grow over time. Having a goal towards which they can steadily progress gives your child the opportunity to understand the concept of steady progress and delayed gratification.

 

 

You are showing them how to schedule and prioritise.

Following on from the point above, having a goal necessitates scheduling and prioritising. If practise is scheduled into their routine along with homework and jobs around the house, they will learn how scheduling allows time for everything to happen, and that all those things happening means they reach all their goals.

You are maximising your investment

You have invested financially in lessons and have also invested your (and your child’s) time. Ensuring they make the most of the opportunity makes your time and money investment more worthwhile.

What is not piano practise?

No improvement. Muddling through a piece from beginning to end without working on sections to facilitate improvement is not practise, it is just playing. When this happens, your child is probably also not playing with any joy, because they are constantly struggling. Don’t feel that just getting through a piece is a goal to tick off the list. A small section of improvement is far better than a whole piece left at the same level.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.

What’s in a Name? Should We Rename Practising? – Piano Teacher in Wallsend, NSW

During her lesson, Miss 12 worked hard on learning a tricky section of her new piece and was feeling proud. After lots of praise, I asked her what she needed to do next to ensure she didn’t forget it. Her face fell, her shoulders slumped and she mumbled, “Practise.”

Why is it such a dirty word? Why do students work so hard to resist practising?

To an adult, it’s a pretty simple equation… they want to play well, so they know they have to do some work to reach that goal. But the kids still only see it as a chore, even though they have the same goals. I thought about the other activities in their lives.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWWhen they play sport, they accept they will have to go to training sessions. Many of them probably practise their ball skills at home. But they don’t call it practise.

Dancers are usually working towards exams or recitals or both. They need to put in many hours of practise to get to that level. But they don’t call it practise.

Children work hard all day at school and come home with more work to do. Short-term and long-term homework assignments. But they don’t call it practise.

Training. Rehearsing. Drilling. Preparing. So many other words for what is essentially the same skill; repeated exercise of an activity or skill to acquire or maintain proficiency.

Miss 5 arrived at her lesson after a celebration day at school and announced, “We didn’t do any learning today, so I don’t think you should teach me anything now.” (Mind you, lessons for that age involve a lot of movement, games and activities, so it’s not about boring learning). She didn’t want to be taught.

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWThese days there are coaches for everything – fitness coaches, vocal coaches, sport coaches, diet coaches, life coaches, drama coaches, executive coaches, dance coaches. The list goes on and on.

I wonder if the language directs the perception? Perhaps piano teachers should become piano coaches. Maybe kids should be training or rehearsing between their coaching sessions.

Either way, when kids don’t practise, piano lessons are not productive. Consistent, effective practise provides the lesson with something upon which to build and keeps the progress moving forward. With no practise, the same pieces, skills and information are having to be repeated every week and lessons begin to feel like being stuck in a rut. Nobody likes that!

Piano Teacher in Wallsend NSWTry it out with your kids. Change the language. See if they are happier to rehearse or to train or even to prepare for their next coaching session. Modify the vocabulary and find what works for them. Whether we like it or not, neglecting practise – or not practising enough – is not going to get them anywhere. But perhaps rehearsing or training will.

If you are considering music lessons for your child or for yourself, please contact me to discuss the options. Piano lessons are conducted at my studio in Wallsend, NSW.