“Ms. Hall, I was so busy this week I didn’t have any time to practice”
I hear this from at least one student every week. I understand life can be busy. Students have school projects, exams, and other events that come up and prevent them from being able to practice. I don’t consider the occasional ‘off week’ when it comes to practicing a major problem. But what about students who are involved in so many activities that they almost never have time to practice? Can they learn to play? What about students who have the time but just refuse to practice? Can these students get anything out of piano lessons?
The short answer is no. If you don’t practice at home, you simply can’t learn to play much. Playing the piano for 30 minutes a week at the lesson just won’t cut it. Imagine going to school for just 30 minutes per week. You would not learn a lot.
This is How Piano Lessons Work.
A piano student attends a weekly lesson of 30-60 minutes in duration. During the lesson, the teacher reviews the material (music, scales, etc.) that has been presented the previous week and suggests ways to refine or improve the material. If the student has made sufficient progress new material is presented. A good teacher thoroughly explains any new concepts, answers any questions, and then assigns specific things to practice.
How much is too much?
I think having kids in after-school activities is great! I am all for extra-curricular activities, after all, as a piano teacher, I am one.
There is so much out there these days for kids to do. Dance, Sports, Music, Art, Scouts, Church Activities, Foreign Languages, Theater, and on and on. As parents we want our kids to thrive. We want them to experience what the world has to offer. We want the best for them. But, is there such a thing as too many activities for kids? If there is, how much is too much? And what does this have to do with piano lessons?
I think most of us would agree that it is possible to over-schedule our kids. Here is a quote from an article in Psychology Today:
Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., a child psychiatrist and author of The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap, believes that enrolling children in too many activities is a nationwide problem.
“Over-scheduling our children is not only a widespread phenomenon, but it’s also how we parent today,” he says. “Parents feel remiss that they’re not being good parents if their kids aren’t in all kinds of activities. Children are under pressure to achieve, to be competitive. I know sixth-graders who are already working on their resume’s so they’ll have an edge when they apply for college.”
As a piano teacher, I advise my student’s parents against putting their kids in too many activities. One reason is simple. Children need time to practice if they are going to learn to play a musical instrument. I have had students who are so busy, that they literally do not have 30 minutes per day to spend practicing. As a result, they can’t learn to play well.
But I believe there are other more important reasons not to over-schedule our kids. Children need time to think, to dream, to imagine…To just be.
Actually, we all need these things. Especially those of us in the arts.
Musicians young and old alike need time to listen to great music, time to be silent, time to improvise. Time to read classic books, stories, and poems. Time to view the masterpieces of the art world.
I am a piano teacher and a parent of kids who studied music. So I have been on both sides of the recital equation and I can tell you which is more stressful…the parent side.
As parents we really want our kids to have a great experience. We love them, we want more than anything for them to be happy and feel good about themselves. We dread the idea that they would crash and burn during a performance and come away upset, embarrassed, or worse crying. So when it’s our child’s turn to get up and show her stuff,
we sit on the edge of our seats, holding our breath, and hoping for the best.
But I am here to tell you recital time doesn’t have to be so stressful. After all, a recital is meant to be an enjoyable experience. A chance for our kids to learn and grow as musicians and as people.
Encourage Your Child to Be Prepared
Talk with your child about the upcoming performance and encourage her to practice and prepare. Make sure that her schedule will allow for practice time even if it means cutting back on some other activities for a few weeks. Assuming that you have a teacher you trust, let your child know that she should follow the teacher’s instructions, this will help ensure that she is ready for the big day.
This question comes up a lot. There is a fair amount of debate about this among piano teachers. Personally, I don’t mind parents sitting in on lessons. Let me qualify that I don’t mind parents sitting in on lessons some of the time. I think most teachers agree that it is always a parent’s right to sit in on a piano lesson. The question is, is it always a good idea?
There are really no hard and fast rules about this topic. To my knowledge, no studies have been done on the effects on children whose parents sit in on piano lessons. But I have some experience with this subject as I have been teaching for over 35 years and I raised 5 boys of my own. Not to mention the fact that I was once a piano student myself.
I am a piano teacher (obvious) which means I was pretty successful when it came to my piano lessons. My parents never attended my piano lesson. Never, not one. I started taking lessons when I was in the sixth-grade. My teacher lived across the street from the school. My mother put five bucks into my pocket and I walked to my piano lesson and I walked home after. Granted the world was a lot different back then (the 1970’s) than it is now. Or at least, it was perceived to be safer.
For the parents who dream of their children becoming concert pianists. Read this inspiring post about the life and career of pianist Rami Bar-Niv.
This post was originally presented by Grand Stand. The interviewer is Dee Nilsen.
What inspired you to play the piano?
My piano-teacher mother started my elder brother on the piano. He lasted one day proclaiming that piano was for girls. I was next in line…
At what age did you start playing?
I was 5 YO.
What memories/stories do you have of piano lessons?
My mother used to put on the piano the only clock we had at home, told me to practice half an hour and closed the glass door. Every day I moved the clock ahead 5 minutes so I’d have to practice only 25 minutes (I didn’t want to make it too obvious…). Every evening at the 9 pm news my parents could not understand why the fine clock was wrong…
Do you have a favorite piece/style of music to play?
Anything from Bach to Gershwin. My favorite piece is the one I’m playing at the moment.
As an adult, why do you still enjoy playing the piano?
It’s my profession. I give concerts all over the world, I better enjoy it. But practicing is hard work.
Do you have a favorite experience that involves the piano?
Playing for Leonard Bernstein, performing for 5000 people in Mexico, performing for the American Ambassador in Israel at his home, performing for the president of El Salvador and his family, and many other similar cases.
If you teach piano, what has been your most memorable teaching experience?
Each one of my current piano camps for adult players of all levels leaves me with memorable teaching experience. It’s just the wonderful students, their love for the piano/music, their serious attitude, and their improvement.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not playing the piano?
Composing music, helping out and mentoring students and colleagues, being with my family and grandkids, watching movies, and traveling. I also do sports, used to do karate, nowadays I do walking, swimming, and my own exercises.
What do you/or have you done for a living?
Giving concerts all over the world, composing music, teaching private students, giving master classes, running my own publishing and record company, running my own music management/agency, writing a piano-technique book, and running my piano camp for adults.
Where do you live?
I share my time between the USA and Israel.
You have found the perfect piano teacher for your child or children. You probably had to spend a lot of time searching for a reliable piano teacher but your efforts have paid off. You’ve found the perfect one. They’re talented, thoughtful, patient, and experienced. Good teachers aren’t always easy to come by, so when you find one that you can rely on, it’s something to be happy about.
Don’t forget. There will be homework!
Does your piano teacher come to your house? If so you are super lucky. Traveling teachers are very hard to find these days. As a piano parent myself, I have had a few teachers come to my home to teach my sons over the years and I can tell you it was a real convenience. I have also been a traveling teacher myself. Here are some things I think your traveling teacher would like you to know.
Happy February everyone. I wish you all a happy Valentine’s day and a wonderful Black History Month. In honor of African Americans, we will be putting up some information on some on some of the best and most influential African American musicians in the world.
Today we’ll talk about a famous pianist and composer named Scott Joplin. Mr. Joplin gave his whole life to the music profession. He was born in Texas in the 1860s to a family of railroad workers. He gave up life as a railroad worker to follow a career as a traveling musician. Even though it was hard he kept at it. He never gave up playing and writing music even when no one saw how good he was.
My good friend and colleague Susan Blanchard Shaw put together this post for her students. She was doing research in her area in order to help guide her student’s parents in their selection of a piano.
I liked the post so much I asked her if I could repost it here for all of you, and she said yes. Thank you, Susan!
A Piano for Christmas?
Around this time of year, many people consider getting a keyboard for someone as a gift or upgrading from the one they have. If you are considering buying a keyboard ( versus an acoustic piano) please consider the following:
* The better the instrument, the better the progress. A student playing on an inexpensive keyboard with less than 88 Keys will not fare as well as one who has the full range of notes to play.
* Is the keyboard touch sensitive and does it have weighted keys? Most inexpensive keyboards do not. The keys are not weighted and thus do not give a real piano feel. This can lead to improper technique and frustration on the student’s part. A weighted keyboard will feel more like a real piano and will help the student be able to play with dynamic shading.
* Is the keyboard on a steady stand at the proper height? This is vital to proper technique. Students who sit too low, too high can develop issues with muscle tension. This could lead to tendinitis or worse. The student should be able to sit with their arms perfectly parallel to the keys.
* How does it sound? An inexpensive keyboard sounds like it. There is no depth of sound, no real piano feel or sound.
* What kind of pedal does it have? After the first year of lessons, pedal technique is usually introduced. A cheap square plastic pedal will not give the desired results and usually skates across the floor.
* How many notes of polyphony are there? Without getting into too much detail, the higher the number, the better. If you are going to play fast, advanced music, notes will blip or clip out on lower than 64 note polyphony. Imagine playing a piece and half the notes are silent. Then again, if you are an advanced player I suggest an acoustic piano.
So which keyboards are preferred? There are many keyboards in all prices ranges, with 88 weighted keys, solid stand, bench, and pedal. Here are my recommendations:
Yamaha P45- not as good as I thought for the money. $499 with a base. To get the good base and pedal would be an additional $150.
Casio Privia PX160. I liked this a lot. Great feel and sound, not a lot of bells and whistles. $499 for just the keyboard. But a site called kraftmusic.com has a bundle that includes the furniture type stand, triple pedal board, bench and headphones for 599.99 with free shipping.
Casio Privia PX 350. Above the 160. More bells and whistles. Better piano sound. Same feel as the 160. Piano at only $599. With furniture stand, triple pedal board, nice bench with storage, dust cover and headphones. Kraftmusic.com. Has the best price at $879.
Now that is pricey. Once you get up there you may want to look at acoustic pianos.
Next up Yamaha DGX 660. Lots of bells and whistles including the ability to record. $799 at kraft music includes furniture stand, bench, headphones, and a single ( not triple) pedal.
There are of course more expensive digital pianos out there ( Yamaha Clavinova).
If you are in the market for an acoustic I can do some research as well. A good acoustic will last 100 years if well maintained and will not lose value. There are quite a few nice ones on Craigslist. Anywhere from $350 on up
I would avoid the Williams pianos. The touch is very stiff and the sound is not great. I had to play one for a show and by
The end my hands were hurting.
I am the last person who wants anyone to quit piano lessons…ever! But I am the first one to admit it happens. Maybe your child just isn’t into it anymore, and you’re tired of fighting with her about practicing. Perhaps your schedule is overloaded and something has got to give. A job loss or financial setback may also cause you to feel as though you have to stop lessons. It could be that you want to continue lessons but you think it’s time for a new teacher.
How Piano Teachers Think
OK, I am not a psychic. I don’t know exactly how or what every teacher thinks but I know enough teachers personally to tell you that we hate it when a student leaves. Yes, business is Business but piano teaching is more than that for most of us. Speaking for myself I try not to. take it personally but it still feels “icky” especially if I have been working with your child for a while. If you have carefully considered all of the options and have decided it’s time for a change there are some ways to make the situation a little easier.
Students need a piano because they need to be able to practice at home. Learning to play any musical instrument is a big undertaking that depends upon regular lessons and daily practice. It takes practice to understand musical concepts and to acquire the coordination and motor skills it takes to become a pianist.
What Should We Get?
There are basically two types of pianos Acoustic and Digital. First, let’s look at Acoustic Pianos.
Acoustic Pianos are made of wood and have steel strings. An acoustic piano a great choice if you have space in your home to accommodate one and if you can afford it. Concert artists always play on fine acoustic pianos and almost all pianists prefer them. Acoustic pianos need periodic tuning, however, this is a minimal expense. If carefully chosen and properly cared for an acoustic piano is an investment that will last a lifetime.
I insist that my students take lessons and practice over the summer because students who study and practice over the summer turn out to be the most successful students. Summer is a time when students can devote more time to the piano without the pressures of school and homework. In my many years of teaching, (I stopped counting after 30) I have seen that students who continue piano study throughout the year stick with piano longer and play better than those that take breaks from playing.
One of the ways I keep my students motivated to practice, is to institute a “Summer Piano Practice Challenge”. While summer is traditionally a time when advanced students tackle Sonatas and longer repertoire, I ask my beginning and intermediate student to try to learn five fun, short pieces. Continue reading
No one learns to play the piano without practicing: it simply can’t be done. A thirty or even sixty-minute lesson once per week just won’t cut it. Students need to practice at home. Musical concepts take time to grasp and the body movement required to play must be carefully repeated on a consistent basis in order to develop the strength and coordination it takes to play the piano.
I am often asked by parents how much practicing their child should be doing. For my youngest preschool students, I recommend five to ten minutes a day. As a student grows older and becomes more advanced, the length of practice time will gradually increase. Ideally, practicing would take place each and every day. While I know that sticking to a strict practice regimen is a real challenge for many of my students, I recommend that they try to come as close to this as possible.
Seven Ways to Establish Good Piano Practice Habits.
When I was a little kid growing up in New York there was a TV campaign running called RIF. A little character would interrupt our Saturday morning Cartoons to remind us that “Reading is Fundamental”. Looking back, I’m pretty sure the NEA or some other teacher related group was conspiring to get us to turn off the television and do more reading. I didn’t think much about it at the time I was busy with Bugs and Elmer Fudd. Luckily my mother made me go to school and learn how to read. And that was a good thing, because you know what? Reading really is fundamental.
Reading opens the mind in ways that that would take volumes to express. Most importantly, reading allows the reader to gather and interpret information for himself. In this way, he becomes an independent reasoning human being.
Music Reading is Fundamental
Music reading for the aspiring musician is fundamental too. Can you learn to play music without reading music? Certainly, but you are going to be severely limited. Just like you would in school without language reading.
I was lucky enough to see these awesome sisters play live at Severance Hall in Cleveland Ohio. They are from France and have been playing together for many years. Watch and listen to their elegant playing.
When to Hold Off on Piano Lessons
What! A post on when not to take piano lessons? If you been following me for a while you know that I think that music education is the best thing ever for people! Especially piano education. There are hundreds of reasons to take up the piano, it’s awesome! Ninety eight percent of students start piano and do just fine, however there are times when when I recommend that parents hold off on piano lessons. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
88 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. Continue reading