Let’s Get Going – Tips for Getting Ourselves and Our Students Out of the Doldrums

It’s only Tuesday and it’s been a real challenge this week. Even some of my best students seem to be in Lala land. Forgetting notes and rhythms, losing music, playing scales with the wrong fingering. It’s enough to make even ‘the happiest piano teacher in town’ well…not so happy.

I’ve talked to some other teachers and I know I am not alone. Times are anything but usual right now and I believe our students need us more than ever. More than they need us, they need music. So how can we take the pressure off and make piano lessons a bit more fun while at the same time making sure that our students are actually learning something?

First things first teachers. Put on your own oxygen mask first. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, and musically.

Physically – Be sure to eat well and get some exercise, even if it’s just a walk out in the fresh cool air or a ride on a stationary bicycle. Do your best to sleep well and regenerate.

Emotionally – Stay calm, focus on the present moment. Keep a nice soothing cup of tea nearby. I also like to keep a pad and some colorful gel pens handy for writing notes. I like the colors and the smooth feeling of the gel pens. I keep my teaching place decorated nicely so I have something pleasant at which to look.

Spiritually – Let the music lift your spirit. If like me, you are a person of faith realize that there is a bigger picture and somehow everything is under control.

Musically – You and I are first and foremost musicians. Love the music! Enjoy it. Play, compose, listen, and learn.

 

Ok, now that, that’s out of the way let’s talk about our students. How can we get them a little more “jazzed” about their piano lessons?

Ask them what they want to play. Some of my students are taking a detour into some popular music, blues, and jazz. This is a great time to learn to read a lead sheet, improvise, or play by ear. All valuable music skills.

Play some games. Take time mid-lesson to play a quick musical game. (We have lots of games at palomapiano.com)

Watch a video. I love to have my students watch great piano performances. It may be Lang Lang, George Shearing, or any other great pianist. I always ask them to imagine how they will feel when they can play well. I remind them to keep going, that at one time even these great artists were beginners and had to practice.

Play for your students. Show them what you are working on. I like to do a screen share and show them the score. We talk about key and time signatures, musical terms, etc. I ask them if the music looks difficult. I talk to them about seeing patterns in the music and never thinking about note names while I am sight-reading. Playing for our students inspires confidence, and helps them realize that they can learn to play well.

Assign shorter pieces. Having a sense of completion is motivating. Students and parents will appreciate being able to finish music quickly.

Assign easier pieces. If students are really struggling easier music may be in order. Several less advanced pieces may be helpful if students haven’t been keeping up with their practice and need some review.

Assign a “reach piece”. Depending upon the student a more difficult piece that your student is dying to play may be just what the doctor ordered. Maybe it’s time to tackle that Chopin Etude your student has been dreaming of playing.

Schedule an informal recital. Having goals is usually helpful for students. A recital may just be the push a student needs to get up and get going.

Have meet-ups online. We were doing Saturday meetings on zoom twice per month. I plan to continue with this my students got really excited about this it totally lifted their spirits and mine.

Implement a practice challenge. I got this idea from one of the teachers on my Facebook group. Piano Teacher Apprentice. Challenge your students to increase their practice, and set goals for them to meet.

Invite parents to attend online lessons and even do a little playing if they’d like. This can be super fun and provide lots of laughs, not to mention bonding between parent, student, and teacher.

The main thing is to keep going. I really believe we piano teachers have something very valuable to offer our students and their families.

Take heart, I believe that things will get better. Hopefully, things will return to normal before long. I sincerely hope you and your families and friends are well. If there is anything I can do to make your teaching easier please reach out.

Godspeed.

Thank you for reading.

Doreen

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24 Reasons I Love the Piano

  I admit it. I wrote a post called “19 Reasons I Hate the Piano”. I guess I was feeling a bit annoyed that day. But these days I need a dose of gratitude. With all of the bad news going around I knew I needed to take stock of the things I am thankful for. I really am so very thankful for the piano and for music. I had actually finished (but didn’t publish) this post before the COVID 19 situation I feel that this might be a good “pick me up” for teachers as we head into month 7 of this new and unfamiliar world. I hope this finds all of you safe and your families well. I started out playing the violin and played in the orchestra all the way through high school. I took private lessons for two years with an amazing teacher. Marilyn Benachowsky was a Julliard Graduate and had retired from her position as concertmistress with the Detroit Symphony! I loved her but I barely practiced my violin. Though my teacher was amazing, and I think the violin is beautiful (when someone else plays it) I was also studying the piano and when practice time came around the 88 keys always won out over the bow and strings. When I was seven years old, my pop bought an antique player piano. The kind that uses paper rolls of music with holes that you pump air through, the keys go up and down and make music. (That’s my best explanation). Anyway, as soon as I saw that piano, I wanted to play it. I took me a while to convince my mom to send me to lessons but she did and that, as they say, was IT!   So, here are 24 reasons I love, love, love the piano. Some of the reasons are serious and some are just well…silly. Have fun reading. 1- Pianists don’t need other musicians – Playing the piano means being self-sufficient. I can play with others if I wish to, but the piano is just fine all by itself. (And these days that’s a big deal.) 2- Pianists can play any style of music. – The piano is a versatile instrument. Classical, pop, jazz just about any style of music can be played on the piano. Other instruments can do this as well, but the piano easily lends itself to many genres. 3- I get to play lots of different pianos – Most musicians bring their instruments with them wherever they go. As piano players, we play whatever is at the venue. I have gotten to experience playing some amazing pianos. Pianos that I could never afford to buy myself. Of course, I have also come across some really bad pianos, but that’s a subject covered in another post. 3 -It looks good in the house – FACT! Pianos look great. Especially grand pianos. Rich people but them just to have as furniture. Having a piano in the house just makes you look like you belong on the “A-List”. 4 -Good for the brain – Playing any musical instrument is good for the brain. According the Huffington Post “Playing music keeps your brain sharp.” Science has shown that musical training can change brain structure and function for the better, improve long-term memory and lead to better brain development for those who start in childhood.” True story alert! I remember telling my mom about this. I said “Gee mom music is supposed to make you smarter I play music and I don’t feel like I am that smart.” Her response “Well imagine what you’d be like if you didn’t play music” Thanks mom. 5- I get to be in charge – HA! The music director thinks he is in charge, but we all know who really sets the tempo and tone of the music. Let’s just keep this little fact to ourselves. 6 -Chopin and Liszt – Enough said. Chopin composed only for the piano and Liszt is best known for his piano works. We are uniquely blessed by these composers and the wonderful (though finger-busting) works they have left us. 7 -Piano teachers have the most students – Yep, the number one most popular instrument is the piano. Always has been, always will be. Sorry guitars it’s rough being number 2. 8 -Pianists get more work than other musicians – Church work, accompanying, restaurants, retirement homes, parties, and the list goes on. I do a fair amount of playing, usually, there is only one person in the group who’s actually getting a paycheck…and guess who that is. 9 -Good at music theory – Bam! We rule the music theory class because our instrument lays it all out for us. Why do you think all of the other music majors have to take a keyboard class? 10 – I am never bored – Almost never. Being a musician means you always have something to do. The piano is always there just waiting to be played. 11 – I can drink Starbucks while I practice – I can set my cup right on my piano (calm down, I use a spill proof cup and a coaster) and take a sip whenever I want to. You can’t do that so easily while playing the bassoon. I don’t know why but Starbucks seems to make its way into a lot of my writing. I’ll have a Grande Pike with a little bit of cream and no sugar. I’m sweet enough…thank you very much. 12 -Pianists have the largest repertoire – More music is written for the piano than for any other instrument we will never run out of music to play. 13 – You can sound good from day one – A student can come to her first piano lesson and play something that sounds good. Other instruments, not so much. Take the violin for instance, most students don’t even get to play anything at the first lesson, after that, it takes a long time to start sounding pleasant. 14 – You can join a rock band – It’s kind of fun to let loose. I subbed in for a church band last week, the people were nice, and there was no pressure whatsoever, most of the music just featured four chords. 15 – You can annoy your neighbors – Have an annoying neighbor who likes to call on you and make sure you get a ticket if your car is parked in the wrong place? (I do). A little Rachmaninoff at midnight will fix her wagon… and make you feel better too! Of course, if I wanted to be really unkind, I would play my violin. 16 -You can use headphones – If you have a digital keyboard you can practice almost silently which is great if you are an insomniac like me and decide to practice at 4 am. 17 – Pianists are the smartest musicians – I don’t actually know if this is true, but it used to seem this way to me when I was a kid. Whenever, there was a group of musicians it always seemed like the piano player was the one who really knew what was going on. He could play everybody’s parts, transpose the music to other keys, and answer questions. When I grew up, I wanted to be THAT guy. 18 – I can take revenge on singers – Please, remember this is on the “silly” list. I love singers, I am a singer. 99.9 percent of singers are professional, considerate human beings and I love working with them. But should you come across one who isn’t treating you nicely. You can just raise the key of her song by a major third. Just kidding. I never actually did this. But I did think about it once or twice. 19 It’s Ok to be old – I find myself happy about this as I move closer and closer to becoming the stereotypical little old lady piano teacher. Music is one of the few things in life that you can just keep getting better at. You can always be learning a new piece or even a new genre. The longer you teach the more experience you gain. There just doesn’t seem to be a bias against older musicians the way there is in other professions. Being older can be just fine, but two things are important. Keep your youthful enthusiasm and know when to say when. I know there may come a point where I just can’t do my job as well as I do now. If and when this happens, I am prepared to retire and enjoy making music for myself. 20 – I can do things with my left hand that other people can’t. Just a “fun fact” I’ll bet you can write with your left hand too. 21 – I can always have a seat – Maybe the service is standing room only, but I always have a seat on the bench, plus I never have to stand up to play like some musicians. 22 – I love to practice – There is nothing like getting into the practice zone. The soothing beauty of the music, the meditative ticking of the metronome, and the intensity of mental focus it takes to learn music takes me away from all of life’s challenges for a time. 23 – It’s the endless game – Amen. The piano is an endless game, and I love this. I will never run out of music to play. I will always be able to improve. The fact is I never have anything to do because music is always there. I can always play, practice, listen, learn, and enjoy music. Forever! 24 – People admire us – Let’s face it. The piano is wonderful and everyone (well, almost everyone except a few of my students) wishes they could play it.  When I tell people what I do for a living they are impressed! Never mind that I’m not getting rich or famous they think it’s cool…and it is! So there are 24 reasons I love the piano. What about you? Do you have anything to add. Leave a comment below.   For lots of great free music and resources become a Paloma Piano Free Gold Member.
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The Arts…Who needs ‘em?

 

 

“We live in this world in order always to learn, and to enlighten each other by means of discussion and to vigorously promote the progress and the fine arts.”

 

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

 

“Art is not a thing, it’s a way”.

 

Elbert Hubbard

 

“To send light into the into the darkness of men’s hearts, such is the duty of the artist.”

 

Robert Schumann

 

 

 

Five – six – seven – and point and point hop back two-three, lift two three, lift two-three…

 

 

 

I’m sitting here on a Saturday afternoon listening to my granddaughter’s Irish dance teacher teaching her to do the reel. Why does this make me so happy? Why do we need dance, or music, or art, or literature for that matter? Why?

 

 

The world is full of art! Full! Some would even say the world itself IS art. The stars that adorn the night sky. The song of the northern cardinal. The dance of lightening bursting forth from the clouds, the story of humans themselves. You get the picture.

 

 

Since the dawn of time, people of every culture, and every corner of the earth have sung, played, danced, painted, sculpted, and told stories. The arts are with us when we celebrate, when we mourn, in times of peace and unrest. The arts make the meaningful times more poignant, they accentuate excitement, and fill lonely mundane hours.

 

 

Art is the essence of all that is good about humanity. As Schumann points out it can send light into even the darkest heart. The arts can make even the purest heart purer still.

 

So be happy teacher, you are an artist. Maybe you’re famous, maybe not. Nevertheless, you are shining light into the darkness,

 

Not only that, but you are also passing on that torch to the next generation. You are bringing order to the chaotic, replacing fear with beauty.

 

The arts strengthen the mind, bring joy to the soul, and vision to the future. The arts are about community, and conversation, and dare I say, love. As artists, we love our art and our fellow artists. As teachers, we love our students. Yes, indeed we have something the world needs, the world needs the arts. The world needs music.

 

 

Peace.

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“The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town, Empowering Teachers to Inspire Students”

 

 

 

Words Have Power

Warning

I have to warn you that the content of this post may seem like a no brainer for those who are naturally positive people. For others, it may seem a little “sappy” or overly P.C. But, bear with me, I really believe words have power. I have found that some small changes in what I say and think really makes a big difference in my attitude and in my effectiveness as a teacher. It also makes me a happier person and that makes the people around me happier too!

 

“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.”

Buddha

Read more at brainyquote.com

 

“You can change your world by changing your words… Remember, death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

Joel Osteen

Read more at brainyquote.com

 

Words are always with us.

 

Even when we aren’t speaking out loud, it’s words that fill our minds. Words that make up our thoughts.

 

Words describe the magnificence of an autumn morning, the sky drenched in amber and red, the wind soft and cool.

 

Words describe the persistent, pesky black fly that flies at lightening-speed around the kitchen. And makes me flinch as it dive-bombs into my ear.

 

Words describe the destruction and tragedy brought by hurricanes, tornados, and earthquakes and the delight of a baby’s first shaky steps.

 

 

Words can elicit feelings of joy.

 

“I love you”

“You’re beautiful.”

“You are my friend.”

 

Or confidence,

“You can do it!”

“You are doing your best.”

“Look how far you have come.”

 

 

Or feelings of hope,

It will get better.”

“You can make it.”

“Tomorrow you can try again.”

 

Words can heal or hurt.

 

Indeed, words have power.

 

As teachers, there are two sets of words we must concern ourselves with. The words we say to ourselves and the words we say to our students and their parents. The words we say to ourselves impact how we see ourselves and how we think about our students and our jobs.

 

The words we say to our students and their families influence how they think and feel about what they are doing. Teaching our students to speak and think positively is a valuable life-skill.

 

 

Here are some common things we say and think and how we can shift these words to words that are positive instead of negative.

 

For Teachers

Instead of saying,

“My job is hard.”

 

Say

“My job is challenging.”

“I work hard, but I make a difference.”

 

 

Instead of saying,

“This student is difficult, annoying or rude.”

 

Say,

“This student is unique.”

“This student is a puzzle I must figure out.”

“This good thing about this student is…”

 

Instead of saying,

“I am not a good teacher or someone else is a better teacher than I am.”

 

Say,

“I am a caring teacher who is always learning.”

“I am a better teacher today than I was last year, next year I will be even better.”

“I have many strengths; I can work on areas where I feel challenged.”

 

Instead of saying,

“I am overwhelmed and burned out.”

 

Say,

“I have been working very hard, and hard work is good.”

“I am challenging myself to find more balance in my life.”

“I have a lot to do but I can handle it.”

 

Instead of saying,

“This parent is difficult or bossy.”

 

Say,

“This parent is very involved with their child.”

“I can find ways to work with this parent.”

 

When teaching students

Instead of saying,

“This is wrong.“ or “You made a mistake.”

 

Say,

“This part was correct. Here is what we must fix.”

“What did you think of your playing? Are there areas to improve?”

 

Instead of saying,

“Good job.”

 

Say,

“You played your eighth notes evenly.” (or something else that is specific)

“How did you feel about how you’ve just played?”

 

Instead of asking,

“Did you practice?”

 

Ask,

“How was your week?”

“Tell me what you’ve worked on.”

“What challenges did you face this week?”

“How do you feel about your progress?”

 

Instead of saying

“You need to practice more.”

 

Ask

“How can you find more time for the piano?”

“When would be a good time for you to practice each day?”

“How are you budgeting your time?”

 

If a student says,

“This is hard.”

 

Encourage them to say,

“This is challenging.”

“I will be able to do this.”

 

If a student says

“Scales are boring.”

 

Encourage them to say,

“Scales are not my favorite, but I know they will help me become a better musician.”

 

If a student says,

“I can’t do it.”

 

Encourage them to say,

“This is challenging.”

“I am feeling overwhelmed at the moment.”

“I can’t do this…yet.”

 

I hope that I have given you a few useful ideas. I am sure you can come up with even more ways to use words to encourage, build up and heal.

 

Words have power.

This is true.

 

Here is something else to keep in mind.

As individuals, we have control over the words we use. We can learn to control our tongues and our minds.

 

What we can not control is what other people say and think, and at times other’s words can be negative. The good news is that we can decide how we will receive and react to what other people say. We can choose to consider whether what someone says contains truth and if it does, we can make changes. We can decide that what they are saying is unfair and we can let it go. We can teach our students to do the same.

 

I would be remiss without a special thanks to grief guide Tom Zuba. He’s the one who taught me that words have power. His book and guidance can help anyone going through grief. I am sharing this so that others will know. 

Here is a link to his book “Permission to Mourn”

 

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For more about positive mindset piano teaching, read my book.

“The Happiest Piano Teacher in Town, Empowering Teachers to Inspire Students”

Make Time Fly While Teaching Piano Lessons

If you never feel bored, tired, burned out while teaching this post is not for you. If you could use a little help to “Make time fly while teaching piano lessons” read on.

 

What are the first words that come to mind when you think about teaching piano lessons? Exciting?

Engaging?

Action Packed?

Adventurous?

Fast Paced?

Maybe, sometimes. But let’s be honest, our job, while super rewarding can be at times, well…you know…boring. There I said it. Teaching music lessons can be boring, especially with students who don’t practice. Especially beginners who don’t practice.

You all know the drill;

“Put your second finger on D” “No D, it’s right next to the C.”

“How many beats does that half note get??”

“The F is sharped, it’s in the key signature.”

Even with the best of students teaching hour after hour can be tedious and tiring. But it doesn’t have to be. What if I told you that I never get bored while teaching? Would you believe it? Well, it’s true. To be honest, I used to sometimes feel like time was dragging while I was teaching. But not anymore. Eight or ten students back to back, no problem. Bring em on, it seems like no time before I am finishing up and heading out of the studio. Even on the days when my students haven’t been practicing.

Continue reading “Make Time Fly While Teaching Piano Lessons”