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!

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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!

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Bach Dynasty

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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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.

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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. 🙂

Mozart’s Sister

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Maria_Anna_Mozart_(Lange)
Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart

Most of us have heard of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1795) child prodigy, master performer and composer of over 600 works. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered by many to be the greatest musical genius that has ever lived! But there was at least one other musical genius in the Mozart family. Her name was Maria Anna Walburger Ignatia Mozart but she was know by her nick-name Nannerl.

Nannerl Mozart was Wolfgang’s older sister. Many music historians believe that Nannerl was every bit as talented as her younger brother. As children they toured Europe their father Leopold amazing audiences with their talent. Leopold described Nannerl as: “one of the most skillful players in Europe”. Nannerl and Wolfgang both studied music with their father and spent their childhood immersed in music. So what happened to Nannerl?

Maria Anna Walburger Ignatia Mozart (Nannerl) was born on July 30, 1751 in Salzburg Austria. She and her brother Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart were the only two surviving children of the seven children born to their parents Anna Maria and Leopold. Nannerl began harpsichord lessons with her father around the age of eight years old. We know that both Wolfgang and Nannerl were extremely gifted players people called them “wunderkinder” which means “wonder children.

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In addition to being a brilliant musical genius we can surmise that Nannerl was a hard working and very strong person. She practiced hard and maintained a demanding concert schedule traveling from Paris to Vienna. That might not seem like much today but back in the 1700’s transportation meant riding in horse and carriage, a slow and uncomfortable way to go. As a child Nannerl also survived smallpox, typhus, and almost died of bronchitis.

Nannerl continued performing until the age of 18 when she was left behind and no longer allowed to continue with her musical performances. At that time it was considered acceptable for female children to play in public, but public performance was considered a distasteful endeavor for grown women. Composing music was also a taboo for women at that time. So Nannerl’s musical career was ended before it had a chance to really begin.

We know from letters and writings that Nannerl and Wolfgang were very close. We also know that she did write at least one song. In al letter the younger Mozart wrote, “I am amazed, I had no idea you were capable of composing in such a gracious way! In a word your lied is beautiful. I beg you to try to do these things more often.”

Nannerl’s father Leopold was very controlling. Wolfgang stood up to him but Nannerl did not. She fell in love with Franz D’lppold, a captain and private tutor but her father did not allow her to marry him. She later married a magistrate named Johann Baptist Franz von Berentold zu Sonnenberg who had 5 children from his two previous marriages. Together Nannerl and Johann had 3 children. Nannerl named her eldest son after her father. She allowed her father to take him and raise him for the early years of his life. This continued until the older Leopold’s death in 1787. Some people think that the grandfather Leopold may have been trying to turn his grandson into the next great Mozart genius.

In addition to all of her other troubles Nannerl lost her beloved brother Wolfgang in 1791 when he was only 35 years old. I can only imagine that this was a devastating loss for her. She spent her later years teaching music lessons and eventually became blind. She died on October 24, 1829.

No one knows what became of the lied Wolfgang spoke of in his quote,or if Nannerl wrote any other music. Some people like to imagine that she may have written music and that her famous brother presented it as his own but there is no evidence to support this theory.

Things have certainly come along way since Nannerl’s day. In most places women today have many choices about what they would like to do. We can only imagine how much more beautiful Mozart music the world would have if Nannerl would have had the opportunity to become a composer like her brother.

98 Year Old Piano Player

How amazing is this?

Country music performer, Josh Turner, was having a good time during his performance at the Grand Ole Opry this past February.

But what he would announce as the feature act was yet to come. The pride of Hannah, South Carolina, surprised the audience by introducing his 98-year-old grandmother-in-law Lois Cunningham.

This proves that piano lessons are a gift  that lasts a lifetime.

 

Lang Lang Plays “La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin”

“La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin” is a piece written by the French composer Claude Debussy.  1862-1918 “The name means The Girl With the Flaxen Hair” It is a piece that many of my students have played. Practice hard and you will one day play it too.

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Lang Lang was born in Shenyang, Liaoning, China. At the age of two, Lang watched the Tom and Jerry episode The Cat Concerto which features the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Franz Liszt. According to Lang, this first contact with Western music is what motivated him to learn the piano.He began piano lessons with Professor Zhu Ya-Fen at age three. At the age of five, he won first place at the Shenyang Piano Competition and performed his first public recital.

It wasn’t at all easy for this piano great. He was made to practice for hours and hours each day. At the age of nine his teacher stopped teaching him stating that he lacked talent!

Lang Lang did not quit playing and today he is considered the world’s top pianist. He has played concerts all over the world. He has even played at the White House. Lang Lang is considered a piano “virtuoso” which means he can play any piece of music. He is amazing to listen to and to  watch.

Students, we can all learn so much from Lang Lang:

First of all, NEVER QUIT! Believe in yourself. Don’t listen to negative people.

Secondly, PRACTICE HARD! If you don’t practice you will never play well. Piano playing is like a perfect equation, what you put into it is exactly what you will get out of it..

PLAY MUSICALLY! It matters how you sound when you play but it also matters how you look. Are you enjoying playing? When you are well prepared and put your heart into your playing it will show. Just look at Lang Lang play, beautiful!

Finding the Best Piano Teacher for Your Child

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piano kidPiano teaching is one of the few completely unregulated jobs left in the U.S.. To be a piano teacher you need not apply for a license or have any specific credentials. Literally anyone can hang out a shingle declare themselves a piano teacher! So it’s important to do your homework when selecting a teacher for your child because finding a great teacher can be tricky.

No matter what your goals are for your child’s piano study there some things that everyone must learn to be successful at the piano. I believe that note reading, proper piano technique, basic music theory, and ear training are a must for every student. Whether you want to play classical music, popular music, or jazz you will need these things. Look for a teacher who teachers these elements of piano.

Good teachers fall into one or both of the following two camps. Teachers that have a degree or degrees in music from a conservatory or university and those who are professional working pianists. I believe that it is essential for piano teachers to be able to play well themselves. To complete a degree in music as a piano major you must pass playing exams (called juries) and be able to play well. People who major in music also study music theory, music history and many other music related subjects. Therefore a teacher with a degree in music is a pretty safe bet when it comes to competency.

It becomes a bit more difficult to determine a teachers level of expertise when it comes to working pianists who haven’t completed a degree. These people run the gamut from greatly skilled musicians to people who sound pretty good but really don’t know much about music at all. Be sure to do your homework in these situations. Don’t be afraid to ask where and with whom the teacher has studied. Ask about what styles he/she plays and if he/she teaches the elements of piano study mentioned above.

That being said, the best players don’t always make good teachers. Teaching is an art in an of itself. So how do you know which teacher to chose? You really want to chose a competent teacher that your child likes. Someone who cares about and can motivate your child to practice and learn to play the piano.

The best way to find a great teacher is to look for great students. If you know a child at church or at school who plays well find out who his teacher is. Ask his parents to refer you to his teacher. After all good teachers know how to teach students to play well. You can also contact you local MTNA*, they keep a list of teachers. MTNA members must be degreed and are serious about ongoing teacher education. Another organization that maintains a list of great teachers is the Suzuki Association of the Americas. Suzuki teachers need not be degreed however they must pass an audition and attend intensive teacher training.

Most teachers have websites and there certainly is nothing wrong with using the internet to look for a teacher. If you find a teacher online that looks good to you, by all means give her a call and set up and appointment. I recommend going with your child to the first few lessons and maybe even longer depending on your child’s age.

Another great resource is TakeLessons.com you can find all kinds of teachers on their website including piano teachers. TakeLessons.com operates as a service for both teachers and students, all payments and scheduling are handled through them. There are a few other similar services.

The bottom line is that there are a lot of ways you can find a great teacher for your child. It will take a while to know whether of not the teacher you have chosen is the right fit. It sometimes it is a matter of trial and error.

As a parent you will know better than anyone if you child is studying with the right teacher. If your child is practicing regularly, making progress and is enjoying piano lessons you are on the right track.

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*www.mtna.org

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Flight of the Bumblebee

“Flight of the Bumblebee” is an orchestral interlude written by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov for his opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan, composed in 1899–1900. The piece closes Act III, Tableau 1, during which the magic Swan-Bird changes Prince Gvidon Saltanovich (the Tsar’s son) into an insect so that he can fly away to visit his father (who does not know that he is alive). wikipedia

This is a piano transcription played by Maksim Mrvica a wonderful Croatian pianist. It happens to be one of my favorite Youtube performances of the piece. It has gotten almost  7 million views!