Robert and Clara Schumann

robert-clara-schumann

Robert and Clara Schumann

Romance in the Romantic Period

Robert Schumann is considered a first rate composer. In addition to piano music he wrote music for; chamber ensemble, symphony orchestra, choral music, many songs for piano and voice and even an opera. Schumann’s “Album for the Young” contains some of the most beautifully written music for young pianists! All of my early intermediate level students learn selections from this great work. Schumann’s inspiration for the for the pieces in his “Album for the Young” came from watching his own 8 children play and grow. Since this work is such a treasure for both piano students and piano teachers I thought it would be interesting to learn about Robert Schumann and his very musical wife Clara Wieck Schumann.

Robert Schumann was born June 8, 1810 in Zwickau Saxony (Now Germany). Schumann began learning the piano at the age of 6. His mother wanted him to become a lawyer and although he attended Law School he continued to develop as a musician. In 1830 he left law school to study with a well known piano teacher named Friedrich Wieck. As a student of Wieck Schumann moved into a room in his home.

clara-schumann
Young Clara Schumann

As it turns out Professor Wieck had an 11 year old daughter named Clara. She was a gifted pianist, performer and composer.

Robert Schumann also a gifted pianist wanted to devise a way to strengthen his hands and improve his pianistic virtuosity. He developed a device intended to prop up his fingers while he played. Unfortunately, instead of strengthening his hands he permanently injured two fingers of his right hand ending his chances of a career as a concert pianist. He decided to turn all of his attention to musical composition.

During this time Robert Schumann fell in love with one of Professor Wieck’s students named Ernestine Von Fricken. The two became engaged but Schumann broke it off when he realized it was Clara that he was really loved. Clara’s father was not happy about this. In fact he forbade his daughter to marry Robert Schumann and did everything he could to break them up. They went before a judge filing suits for three years before they were finally allowed to marry, one day before Clara’s 21st birthday.

Much of Robert Schumann’s music was inspired by his love for Clara and for their children. His music contained secret love messages to Clara. They kept a marriage diary, in it they shared their thoughts and feelings.

The Schumann’s marriage certainly seemed to be a loving one. Though it was not always easy. Robert Schumann’s suffered from some form of mental illness. Diagnosed at the time as “Psychotic Melancholia” today, the illness would probably be known as Bipolar Disorder or perhaps Schizophrenia.

Besides raising their eight children and caring for her husband Clara Schumann supported the family by concertizing. She played her husbands’ music and was one of the first pianists to play from memory.

Sadly, Robert Schumann died at the age of 56 after spending two years in an asylum. Clara continued to promote his music until her death at the age of 76. She was the instrumental in making Robert Schumann’s music well known.

th-8
Mrs, Schumann before her death

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a beautiful piece from ” Album for the Young” played by Dr. Corey Hall

10 Things You Might Not Think of That Will Make Your Piano Really Teacher Happy

th-2

The number one goal for piano teachers, parents and students should be to give students the lifelong gift of being able to play the piano. Assuming that you have found a piano teacher that you really like for your child, a teacher you trust and respect, there are some unusual things you can do to help make the family-teacher relationship a great and long lasting one. Here are 10 things you might not think of that will make your piano teacher really happy.

1. Understand What it Takes to Become a Piano Teacher.

We start our training as children. It takes many years to learn to play well enough to teach the piano. Musical training never stops, your teacher continues to practice and and grow as a musician and as a teacher.

2. Ask to See Your Teacher’s Studio Policy.

In an earlier blogpost “Parents, Teachers and Studio Policies” I talked about why your teacher has to have a Studio Policy. If your teacher is anything like me, chances are the she feels a bit uncomfortable dealing with the whole Studio Policy issue. If you ask to see it I’ll bet your teacher will be really happy. Even if your child has been studying with her for a while go ahead and ask to review the Studio Policy. This way you can be sure you are adhering to your teacher’s studio rules.

3. Keep an Eye on The Clock

Arrive on time and leave on time. If you are late don’t expect your teacher to make up the time at the end of the lesson, even if there is no student scheduled after your child. I appreciate it when my piano parents are prepared to leave at the end of the allotted lesson time. Believe it or not, piano teaching is a demanding job. Siting for hour after hour and focusing on what students are doing is tiring, Your teacher deserves a much needed break when he has the opportunity.

4. Ask if You Need to Pay For It

Pay for what? Books, Recital Fees, any extra time or materials your teacher is providing for your child. Your teacher can always say there is no charge but she will be happy if you give her the option. Very few teachers enjoy asking parents for money, but your teacher’s time and materials are valuable.

5. Curtail the Conversation

I love to chat with my piano parents and your teacher probably does too, but sometimes it’s hard to find a graceful end to a conversation. I’m not saying don’t chat with your teacher just be mindful of the time. Every now and again ask if he has to go, this way he has a graceful way to make an exit if he needs to.

6. The Restroom

If you take lessons at a music store or commercial studio the restroom probably isn’t much of an issue. However, if your child goes to the teacher’s home or if your teacher comes to you here are some things you can do to ease up the restroom situation. If lessons are at your teacher’s home ask where the restroom is. Whenever possible try to have your child use the restroom before arriving at his lesson so as not to waste time during the lesson. When coming straight from school try to have him take care of this at the beginning of the lesson. If your teacher comes to your home let her know from the beginning where the restroom is located and tell her it is OK to use it when needed. These things may seem obvious but they will make you teacher really happy

7. Ask to help out at recital time

Ask your child’s teacher if there is anything you can do to help out when there is a recital or performance. Recitals are stressful for teachers, it takes a lot of extra work to prepare students and organize a performance. Can you take pictures? Help with refreshments? Make a Recital Program? Even helping to carry things or clean up afterward will make your teacher really happy.

8.  Spread the word

If your really like your child’s teacher let people know. Your excellent recommendation will help him build his studio and this will make him really happy.

. 9. Show Your Appreciation

A person who is appreciated will always do more than what is expected” Author Unknown. Tell your teacher how much you appreciate her and have your child do the same. You don’t have to spend money or buy expensive gifts for your teacher your words mean so much especially in the form of a note. If you’d like to give your teacher a gift a holiday time or “just because” go ahead! After all who doesn’t like getting gifts.

. 10. Keep in Touch

I have been teaching for over 30 years. One of the greatest joys of being a piano teacher is watching my awesome students grow into awesome adults. When your child graduates, moves on to other activities or you move away keep in touch send an occasional note or email. This will make your piano teacher really happy!

These are some things that may help you to have a great relationship with your child’s piano teacher. Writing this post got me to thinking…Maybe there are some things teachers may not think of that we can do to make parents really happy. I’d love to hear all of your ideas and comments.

Thanks for reading!!

If you like this post please share it.

Please ask your child’s piano teacher to visit www.palomapiano.com where he/she will find hundreds of page of free downloadable beautiful music your child will love to play!

The Invasion of the Piano Snatchers

alienigenas_80088 key imposters are taking over piano studios and homes all over the world. They look like pianos, they sound strangely “pianoesque”. They are cheaper, lighter, never need tuning. They are brought to life by bolts of electricity. Open one up and you will see a maze of wires and circuits. These musical aliens are everywhere and the scariest fact of all is that no one seems to know the difference! Almost no one, that is.

Digital Pianos are everywhere. They are creeping into music stores, homes even churches and synagogs! Parents are being convinced to buy them and children want them. But why? And are Digital Pianos the best choice for students? Do Electronic Pianos have any place in the realm of piano study?

Digital Pianos have been outselling Acoustic Pianos since about 1997. They are less expensive to buy and piano dealers can make money with them. Studios can purchase many DP’s and have multiple teachers in cubicles teaching with them this increasing store profits. The selling points for the Digital Pianos are numerous: they never need tuning, take up less space, are easy to move, you can turn them down, plug in headphones, and you can hook up your computer or iPad to a DP. So why get an Acoustic Piano

The Digital vs. Acoustic piano debate has haunted the piano community for years. Acoustic piano advocates (of which I am one) feel very passionate about their position that their is no substitute for a real flesh and blood (I mean hammer and string) instrument. While Digital enthusiasts will cite the convenience, consistency and accessibility of the Digital Piano.

I always encourage my students to buy Real Acoustic Pianos. When you play an Acoustic Piano the strings vibrate and the overtone series can be heard. The combination of the wood, copper and steel produce a (super) natural sound that is a tiny bit unique to each instrument. When accompanying or playing in an ensemble there is an interaction between the other instruments and the strings of the piano. These factors bring the music to life. Many of my pianist colleagues describe the Acoustic Piano as a living instrument.

As for the Digital Piano, how is it described? In a word, Dead. It’s not a Piano at all, it is a computer, a sampling of sounds represented in binary code. It’s only a representation of the sound of a real piano. An android piano. It is limited in the ways it can be played. I find it frustrating to try to work with my students on tone or pedaling when using a DP – it just does not work. For these reasons I believe Acoustic Pianos are better for students.

It is true that Digital Pianos that approach the touch, sound and feel of an Acoustic Piano do exist but you’re going to pay for them. The Yamaha Corporation puts out a really cool Digital Piano called the Modus it starts a $8,000.00. My own Kawai mp8ii retailed for about $2,500.00 when I bought it in 2011. Surely for that price, one could purchase a decent used upright Acoustic Piano. I also own a Kawai Baby Grand that I use for teaching and practicing.

So should piano students have Digital Pianos at all? Let’s face it. Digital Pianos dwell among us and they are here to stay. Most of us (myself included) use them. In a perfect world, I would like all of my to students have decent Acoustic Pianos. I just think they are superior for learning.

I must admit I am kind of sad to see Digital Pianos taking over the piano world. I think of days gone by when steel and copper strings rang through parlors and halls and homes. Have the sounds of Acoustic instruments become mere memories, lingering in the past like their ghostly players. And what of the future? What comes along with electronic musical instruments? Maybe, Computerized Teachers?

Don’t look now, but I think they are already here!

100 Year Old Pianist Irving Fields

What would you like to do if you live to 99 years old? Irving Fields is almost a century young and he is still playing piano! As a seasoned New Yorker, Irving has played piano for more than 90 years. He has performed all around the world, including the Taj Mahal, Imperial Hotel in Tokyo and the Copacobana in New York City among many others. He has also performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Jackie Gleason show, and ABC’s The View! Check out this video featuring Irving as he tells us what he loves most about doing what he loves most. Published in 2014

 

10 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed at the Piano

shutterstock_17243083

shutterstock_17243083Hearing your child play music is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world! Imagine your son or daughter sitting down at the piano and playing beautifully. Classical music, Jazz, music for holidays and celebrations. Envision you child really playing, really enjoying the piano for a lifetime. What better gift could you give? Here are 10 ways to make that dream come true.

1- Take Lessons. If you want your child to learn how to play the piano she needs to study with a qualified teacher. I believe the best way is a private lesson either in the physical presence of the teacher or via Skype or something similar. For beginners, especially younger kids, I believe having a teacher in the room with the student is the better option by far.

2- Get a piano! This is a big one. I have so many parents ask me if a piano is needed. Yes, yes and YES you need to have at least a digital keyboard with weighted keys for your child to practice on. If you are really serious, purchase a decent acoustic piano. You won’t regret it, I promise.

3- Find a great teacher. There’s a blog post about that called, Finding  the Best Piano Teacher for Your Child

4- Once you find a great teacher stick with him for a while. “A while” meaning at least a few years. If you are taking lessons somewhere and teachers are constantly changing, seriously consider finding a more stable situation.

5- Attend lessons regularly. Don’t skip unless you absolutely have to. Go to the lesson even if your child has had a busy week and hasn’t practiced. Consistency is the key to success when it comes to the piano.

6- Don’t take long breaks from lessons. I’m not talking about vacations. I regularly have students come to me who have taken lessons for two years and then stopped, and then picked up for a year and stopped. Piano study just doesn’t work like that. I have never seen students who take long breaks really learn to play well.

7- Make piano practice part of the daily routine. Homework, dinner, brush your teeth, practice. Dr. Suzuki told his students “you only need to practice on the days that you eat”. I tell my students the same thing. Of course there are exceptions, those days when everything is just too much, but try to make practice a daily activity.

8- Don’t take summers off. I am all for vacations, but 10 weeks of no practicing… Not so much. Besides summer is when kids have time to practice. There’s a post about that subject too, Summer Piano Lessons a Great Idea.

9- Attend recitals, and evaluations. Having to prepare for performances not only helps students to set goals and advance in their playing, these experiences are invaluable as they build confidence and character.

10- Don’t quit. Learning the piano is a super long term project and there will probably be times when your child wants to throw in the towel but do everything you can to keep her going. It isn’t easy, but in the end the reward of learning to play the piano is well worth the effort.

Yuja Wang

Yuja Wang ( born February 10, 1987) is a Chinese classical pianist. She was born in Beijing, began studying piano there at age six, and went on to study at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. By the age of 21 she was already an internationally recognized concert pianist, giving recitals around the world.

This is Ms. Wang playing her version of Mozart’s Turkish March (Rondo all Turca). It is really super fun and inspiring hear and watch her play.

If you have never heard the Ronda as Mozart wrote it. Here is a performance by Dr. Corey Hall.

Piano Lessons? Go Ahead, You Know You Want To!

boy playing piano

boy playing pianoSchool is starting and you may be thinking of signing your child up for piano lessons. Maybe you play yourself and you know how awesome it is or maybe you don’t but you would love for your child to learn. There are many great reasons for your child to learn to play but there may be some things that are holding you back. Let’s take a look at those reservations one by one and how to overcome them, so you can feel comfortable and enroll your child in piano lessons.

How do I get started? I have no idea where to begin or even where to find a teacher.

This blogpost Finding the Best Piano teacher for Your Child  will give you some helpful info about how to find a teacher. After that pick up the phone and give her a call. It’s Ok if you don’t know anything about piano lessons it’s her job to help you.

I don’t know if my child will like playing the piano.

Whether your child is asking for lessons or playing the piano is something you would like him to be involved in I’m pretty sure he will like playing the piano. He may not always enjoy learning the piano ie. practicing, recitals etc. (then again he may, I have students that enjoy both practicing and recitals). I believe that finding the right teacher and working with her is the key to having a happy successful pianist in training in your house.

I’m not sure my child has the talent needed to become a musician.

I have frequently have parents ask me whether or not I think that their child has any musical talent. I know that some people seem to be more talented than others, but I choose not to focus on “talent”. I believe there are many factors that go into making students successful. My advice is never let anyone tell you that your child hasn’t got enough talent to play the piano (or anything else). We can all learn and we can all improve ourselves.

Piano Lessons cost a lot of money.

Piano lessons do cost money but when you compare piano lessons to other activities you really get a lot of “bang for your buck”. Most piano teachers charge a monthly fee for a private lesson with your child. This valuable time is for your child alone and that means that she is able to work at her own pace and have the lesson custom-tailored to her needs. One on one individual teaching is the absolute Gold Standard for efficient learning. If you consider simply how much knowledge you are getting for the amount you are paying, piano lessons can’t be beat. Especially when you consider that the actual lessons are pretty much all you will have to pay for. Your teacher may have a small recital fee and you may have to buy a few piano books but there are no hidden costs like there are in so many other activities.

I don’t have a piano.

You need a piano. There’s no way around that one. I suggest that if you have no idea what to get secure a good teacher first and let him help you find something that won’t break the bank. There are so many options right now you should be able to find something that fits your needs and budget.

My family is too busy, my child has too much homework.

A piano lesson takes between 30 and sixty minutes per week. Since your child will have a private lesson your teacher will work with you to find the most convenient time possible. As far as practicing goes you are looking at between 15 and 30 minutes per day for the average beginner. This amount will increase incrementally as the student advances. In reality piano lessons are much less stressful and time consuming than most activities.

I’m not trying to make it sound like learning to play the piano is a walk in the park. It certainly isn’t. It takes hard work and perseverance. But if this is something you want for your child go ahead and sign up for lessons. Don’t start with the idea you will have your child take a few lessons and see if he likes it. Make a commitment and stick with piano lessons until your goals for your child are reached. Imagine the thrill of hearing your child as an adult playing beautifully for family and friends. Imagine he will say to you what my 28 year old son said to me the other day “Thanks mom for putting me in music lessons I’m so glad I know how to play well”.

Imagine that! Find a teacher and enroll your child in piano lessons. Go ahead. You know you want to!

If you like this post please share it.

Join our mailing list

And last of all ask your teacher to visit our sister site, www,palomapiano.com printable piano music and resources.

 

Bach Dynasty

Bach_family_morning_Rosenthal
Bach_family_morning_Rosenthal
The Bach Family

If you ave ever studied the piano for any length of time, chances are you’ve played music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach. Bach was born on March 21, 1685 in Eisenach, Germany smack-dab in the middle of a supremely musical family! In fact, the Bach family boasts over 50 known musicians and several notable composers. There were so many musical Bachs that in the town of Efurt, all musicians were called “Bachs” (which I guess would make me a “Bach” too).

Johann Sebastian wasn’t the first musical Bach, or the last. But he is, by far and away, the greatest and most influential member of the Bach family. He is one of the earliest composers of western music as we know it today. He is considered the father of modern music by many music historians, which may sound strange to us. His music sounds very different than the popular music most of us listen to nowadays. But with out Johann Sebastian Bach music, as we know it, probably wouldn’t be music as we know it.

You see, music was going through some changes right around Bach’s time. The basic sound of music had changed. Johann Sebastian Bach was the first composer to masterfully write music in all 24 major/minor keys (the same keys your favorite artists use) his music paved the way for future composers.

So let’s take a look at this musical clan.

tree-4

We’ll start with Veit Bach. He was a bread baker who fled the country Hungary to escape religious persecution (The Bachs were devout Lutherans). Johannes Bach I, his son, was to be a baker too, but at some point he decided to become a piper and so began the musical lineage. Johannes was the father of Johann Ambrosius who was a skilled violinist and the father of the famous Johann Sebastian Bach. Johann Ambrosius taught Johann Sebastian to play the violin but unfortunately both he and his wife Elisabeth Lamehirt Bach died within 2 months of each other, leaving the 10 year old, Johann Sebastian, to be raised by his uncle Johann Christoph Bach who was — you guessed it — a musician. The talented organist, Johann Christoph made sure that his nephew continued his musical education and the rest is music history.

1000509261001_1707045537001_BIO-Biography-17-Composers-Johann-Sebastian-Bach-SF
Johann Sebastian Bach by Elias Gottlob Haussmann.

In addition to playing several instruments, and directing numerous choirs and instrumental groups, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote over 1,000 compositions. His musical life is divided into three periods;

Early (1708-1717)-Organ works.

Middle (1717-1723)-Instrumental works

Late (1723-1750)- Sacred Choral Music

Just as Johann Sebastian became a great musician and composer, so did many of his 20 children and their children. Yes, Bach had 20 children! He had seven children with his first wife Maria Barbara, and thirteen with his second wife Anna Magdalena, who was herself a gifted singer (although I can’t imagine she had much time for singing outside of lullabies). Johann Sebastian wrote a series of pieces for her called the “Anna Magdalena Notebook”. The pieces in this work have been the introduction to classical music for pianists the world over. Two of his sons are very notable composers Carl Phillipp Emanuel and Wilheim Friederman. Many more Bach family members went on to earn their living performers.

Johann Sebastian Bach was completely blind the last few years of his life. He died July 28, 1750 of a stroke leaving behind some of the greatest music the world has ever known along with a very musical family.

There is so much more to learn about Johann Sebastian and the other musical members of the Bach family. Music historians have literally written volumes about them. There is no doubt that the members of the Bach family were a talented bunch. There is also no doubt that being surrounded by so many musicians gave Johann Sebastian and the members of his family a huge advantage when it came to musical pursuits.

It’s a fact that many great composers and performers past and present are from musical families. I believe there are two reasons for this phenomenon: Number one – parents tend to teach children what they know and love. Number two – (and I think this is the most important) – people brought up in a musical environment develop a musical mind and a musical ear.

So what’s the take-away from the story of the Bach family for today’s piano parents and students? Most piano parents are not musicians. Is it still possible to bring your kids up in a musical environment? Luckily the answer to that question is a resounding YES. In fact it has never been easier to surround our children with music. All of the world’s great music is just a click away. So go ahead click away! Get on Youtube and explore some of Bach’s great music from the comfort of your living room.

And while you’re surfing for music here’s something to think about – Johann Sebastian Bach did have a musical family – but he never had an iPad. When he wanted to hear his idol Dieterich Buxtehude play the organ he had to walk 250 miles!

Why so many Johanns? The name “Johann” is equivalent to the english name “John”. It means “God has been gracious and shown favor to us”. The Bachs and many other people of that time were very devout christians so I am guessing that is why so many of the males have “Johann” as their first name. People at that time were referred to by their middle names.

Teachers, Parents and Studio Policies

rule_book1

rule_book1

Studio Policy- An annoying list of rules and expectations that a piano teacher would rather not bother with, usually presented as quickly as possible at the start of lessons, which students and parents may or may not be asked to sign and may or may not adhere to depending on how forcefully the teacher enforces said rules and expectations. The official Studio Policy is often printed on disappearing paper or featured on an obscure page of a Studio website. Either way, nobody likes them.

Ok, so I made up that definition, and I don’t like dealing with Studio Policies. I just feel so…for lack of a better word “weird” about it. Because it kind of makes me feel like I’m asking too much or like I don’t trust my piano parents to be fair with me. After all, I’m a teacher and a musician, not a business person. I am so excited to meet you and get to know your child. I want to talk about music and goals not billing and lesson attendance. I do, however, have a studio policy and your teacher probably does too, we need them, here’s why.

The majority of people who come into my studio are fantastic and I have absolutely no problems with them. They pay on time, cancel lessons only when necessary and respect my time and my space. Chances are that if you care enough to be reading this blog you are already a fantastic piano parent, so maybe I am “preaching to the choir” so to speak. But all people are not choir members. One of the strange paradoxes of human nature is that the people who really need to hear something almost never think they do. Go figure.

My studio policy is in place simply to keep my studio running smoothly. I usually carry between 40 and 50 students per week so it is imperative that I am clear about things like make-ups and scheduling. I care about whether or not your child succeeds at the piano, so making sure that he has the right materials and and attends lessons regularly is important. Teaching the piano is my job, my family depends on my income so I need to be paid for the time I set aside for a piano lesson.

Most people would be surprised at some of the shenanigans that go on in my studio from time to time. The main problem I have to deal with is skipped lessons (no shows), last minute cancellations and rescheduling. The problem is that I need to be paid for the time that is set aside for a particular child’s lesson. This is always difficult because I know that things come up and kids get sick, but imagine that I have 8 students scheduled for Thursday afternoon and 4 of them cancel what should I do? Refund the tuition? Make up the lessons another day? Remember I have 50 students, so you see this is a bit of a conundrum. My studio policy is set up so that make-ups are worked into the regular tuition that way my students actually get a couple of free lessons if they have perfect attendance. I will reschedule a lesson if I know a week in advance. Your teacher may set thing up differently.

Here are a few things you can do to make the whole studio policy thing a little easier for yourself and for your teacher.

Ask about the studio policy at the first lesson. If you are already taking lessons, ask to review it if you haven’t seen it in a while. Your teacher will appreciate this.

Read the policy carefully. Now is the time to ask questions. If you don’t like the policy seriously consider finding a teacher who’s policy you agree with. But I must tell you that most good teachers these days have studio policies that limit or eliminate make-up lessons. The pay as you go lesson has become a thing of the past.

And last but not least, adhere to your teacher’s studio policy! Please don’t ask him to make exceptions unless you have a serious situation on your hands, like a major illness or family emergency. (And no, a soccer game is not a family emergency).

Your teacher’s studio policy likely deals with issues other than scheduling. Pricing, payment options, pick-up and drop off routine, practice expectations and recital attendance expectations to name a few. Whatever the studio policy looks like it is there to help your child become a successful student.

How can a studio policy help your child learn to play the piano? Firstly, by making sure she has the time and tools needed to learn to play well. Secondly, to assure that your teacher can afford to continue doing what she does so well, loves so much and has trained for since she was a child, just like yours.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

If you like this post please share it.  Sign up for out mailing list.

Ask you teacher to visit out sister site www.palomapiano.com

10 Ways to Tell When Your Child is Not Really Practicing the Piano

student

Before we begin the count-down, let me set a little scene. I am a piano teacher mom so we have a studio in our home. It’s a room that has my Kawai baby grand piano and all of my other music stuff. It’s where I teach all of my students. My boys also like to “practice” in the studio. Which works out just fine. I have always encouraged my boys to practice their instruments.

student

Well anyway, one day, one of my sons, whom I’ll call Johnny (his real name) was in the studio “practicing” his violin. I had a friend over and she was really impressed with this. “Wow! Johnny is really practicing hard” she said. “No he’s not.” I told her. “What do you mean?” she asked “I hear him, he sounds great”. “OK. Yes, he sounds great”, I told her. “He’s very talented, but he’s not practicing right now, he’s playing, but he’s not practicing” My friend turned her right palm over and raised an eyebrow as if to ask, “What’s the difference?”

Alas, what is the difference? This is a question I face almost every day. Parents will tell me their child is practicing and I believe that they are seeing their sons and daughters go to the piano and hearing them play something. But honestly, if I am not seeing progress in the students abilities, they are not practicing, or at least they’re not practicing correctly.

Why is this so important? Because incorrect practice can actually be worse than no practice at all. Spend an hour practicing wrong notes, incorrect rhythm and bad technique and what do you get? Wrong notes, incorrect rhythm and bad technique. I am only with a student for one short lesson per week so I think that it’s important for parents to be able to distinguish proper, productive practicing from other things that may be going on during practice time.

I am writing under the assumption that you have a competent teacher that you trust has your child’s best interest at heart and understands his unique abilities.

To begin, I think we should define the word practice; practice is “the repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency”. With this definition in mind, here are 10 ways you can tell when your child is not really practicing while they are at the piano.

1- The teacher tells you that your child is not practicing.

This may seem like a no brainer, but if your teacher is questioning your son’s practice habits it may be time to check into what is going on in the practice room.

2-You are hearing the same piece or pieces over and over.

While it’s true that practice is about repeating parts of the music until the music is learned, you shouldn’t hear your daughter playing “Carol of the Bells” over and over especially if we’re in the month of July. If you suspect this may not be what the teacher has assigned go ahead and check.

3-Your child is spending weeks and weeks on the same page in her piano book.

Beginning through early intermediate students should progress through their method books fairly quickly. At the beginning, even the youngest students should be learning at least one new piece per week. Toward the end of most piano methods (about books 3 or 4) students should spend no more than three or four weeks on any particular piece. As for the intermediate through advanced crew, it is more difficult to say how long each piece should take to learn. But, by this point, students should be responsible enough to manage their own practicing.

5-The music doesn’t sound good

Too slow, full of mistakes, bad rhythm. All of these things are signs that something is not right and it’s time to find out what’s going on during practice time.

6- The music sounds more like just doodling around.

This can be a tricky one, because I am all for a certain amount of doodling (or I should say improvisation). I once saw an interview with Billy Joel, where he said his mother would tell him to spend more time on Beethoven. I guess the point is, Beethoven is great but you also need some doodle time.

7-He doesn’t want to go to his lesson

It’s no fun to go to a lesson unprepared. If your child is regularly trying to get out of going to his lesson it may be because he isn’t learning what has been assigned by the teacher. I’m not talking about the occasional “off week”; Most teachers make exceptions for that. When going to the lesson becomes a problem for more than two or three weeks, it may be a practicing issue.

8- The music books are always getting lost.

This falls under not wanting to go to the lesson. When my student shows up without his books odds are good that he hasn’t done much practicing.

9-He never seems to get any better.

Maybe your son plays a few thing pretty well, but he never seems to progress to a higher level. You may also notice that his piano peers seem to be leaving him “in the dust”.

10- Your child wants to opt out at recital time.

It’s probably not a big deal to miss a recital from time to time. But if your child is isn’t getting pieces together in time for performances he may not be practicing enough or correctly.

I hope this blog post will help parents to be more aware of what is going in the practice room. I know it isn’t easy. Practicing is super hard work and kids will sometimes come up with lots of ways to make it easier. I once had a student who would record himself playing and then just hit the playback button for 20 minutes so his mom would think he was practicing. His sister finally “ratted him out”. I had to give him an “A plus” for ingenuity.

Sometimes students may not know how they should be practicing. If there is an question, discuss it with the teacher. Teaching kids how to practice is a big part of the job. Your teacher wants to see your child succeed.

Learning piano is a long-term project. There are bound to be ups and downs in your child’s practice routine. Helping your child to stay on track can help him reach his goals and make playing the piano a lot more fun.

So what ever happened with Johnny? He actually became a Worship Leader and plays music all of the time. He is married and has three kids, now it’s his turn to get them to practice. 🙂