My last studio recital was supposed to be in-person but several people tested positive for COVID and two, it was moved to Zoom. It was Ok but a few of my students were too nervous and became stressed out about the switch. So I’ve decided that we will have a pre-recorded holiday recital.
I am going to assign pieces for my students to learn. Once they learn their music they can send me a recording of themselves playing and I will create a recorded recital. I will set a date and we will all watch together on zoom.
How it works
Students can record themselves (or parents can record their children) playing their piece. They can show hands only, back or side-view or whatever they feel comfortable with. When the student is satisfied with the performance they will send me the video. I will review the recordings with my students and if necessary remediate their work. I want to make sure they will be proud of and feel good about. Continue reading “The Pre-recorded Holiday Recital”
Keeping in mind that the ultimate goal is to create lifelong musicians and keeping in mind that I want my students to grow to love the piano, my objective is to train students to be independently responsible for their own piano practice. Students will govern their own practice when they want to it and see the value of practice. I use the following age-related guidelines in my studio.
Preschoolers ages 4-6 — Parents supervise practice
My preschoolers work on things like ear training and keyboard exploration. What I expect is for them to spend five to ten minutes going over the music we worked on at the lesson. I ask parents to be nearby and help when necessary. The preschool program I use is very relaxed; my goal is to introduce the little ones to the piano and build some basic musicianship. I want this stage to be fun and engaging, so I use lots of games and off-the-bench activities.
Elementary students ages 5-11 — Parents remind children to practice.
As soon as students are ready (usually about the time they begin reading words), I transition them into Book 1 of the Paloma Piano series and note reading. At this point, they should be able to practice by themselves. But, I have found that my elementary school-aged kids won’t remember to practice without a reminder. I ask parents to set a consistent daily practice time and remind their child to practice. I tell my students that when their parent tells them to go practice they should do it right away.
Middle and High School Students ages 12 and older — independent practice.
Since the ultimate goal (as per my Mission Statement) is to have students become independent musicians. I expect my older students to take full responsibility for their own practice.
These age-related suggestions are just guidelines. As teachers, we know what works best for each individual student. I have some ultra-responsible, super-motivated younger kids who don’t need to be reminded to practice. (I love it when this happens!). Some older kids may still occasionally need reminders and help with organization when it comes to practice. As teachers, we must use our best judgment.
Here are two interesting tales of practice gone wrong
When I was a kid, I took piano lessons along with my friend—Stacy. I was twelve years old when I started and was very motivated. Stacy… not so much. Her mother’s solution was to set a kitchen timer for 30 minutes and make her sit at the piano and “practice.”
I’m pretty sure you can figure out how well that went.
Stacy took lessons for a long time. She turned into one of the “piano lesson casualties.” She quickly became one of those people who took lessons for years but grew up not being able to play anything. What’s the moral of this story? It’s not about how many minutes you spend sitting at the piano. It’s about what you do while you are sitting there.
I had a clever student who owned a digital piano with a record button. His solution to fulfilling his allotted practice time was to record himself playing something once and then hit the playback button until his 30 minutes were completed. When I told his mom he wasn’t making progress, she was mystified and insisted that he was indeed practicing for 30 minutes every day. He was a bright young man, so I knew something didn’t add up. His sister finally told me what was really going on. This was annoying, but I had to give the kid an A-plus for ingenuity.
Focus on Tasks Not Time
I don’t tell my students how long to practice each day. I work with each student to develop detailed specific tasks and practice goals to meet on a daily basis. I will ask older students how much time they have for practice in the coming week and what they think they can accomplish. Younger students decide how many times they can practice a particular piece or skill each day.
I record everything in a notebook that students can bring back and forth to their lessons. I find this low-tech solution works well. It makes it possible for students and parents to have a written, easily accessible record of what the child is supposed to be practicing.
I also write the date and assignment on the actual music score. I use plastic tabs to bookmark the pages in the notebook and all music books. My goal is to make it as easy as possible for my students to find their music and the page in their assignment notebooks.
I work hard to train my students and their parents to depend on the notebook to guide them as they practice. I often do a practice-practice the last five minutes of the lesson where I will say “Let me see how you are going to practice when you get home”. I am checking to see that they will first open and look in the notebook. If they don’t, this is my chance to reinforce this. If a student shows up without a notebook, I ask them and the parent where it is.
I usually purchase notebooks for my students when back-to-school specials are running. I do find myself having to “harp” on the notebook issue with some students and parents. I’ve replaced more than a few notebooks that have gone missing or have been eaten by the family dog. I recommend a piano bag so students can keep all of their music and their notebook together. I do whatever it takes to make my students understand that following a plan is the key to making progress. Is it easy? No. But it’s worth it.
Creating Practice Assignments
Involve students in creating their weekly practice assignments and be very, very specific when it comes to assigning tasks. With beginning through early-intermediate students, ask them how many times they will practice something each day. Once you agree on a mutually acceptable number, record it in the notebook and write it on the music.
Ask intermediate through advanced students how much time they will have to spend practicing in the coming week. Then devise a specific daily practice plan that involves things like, how the metronome will be used and which practice techniques will be implemented to accomplish a realistic practice goal for the week.
When you involve your students in setting their own practice routines for the week, you shift the responsibility from the teacher (or their parents) to the student. This works best because each student decides and plans for his or her own practice. This makes it the student’s responsibility. The student has control, which works because let’s face it, it’s human nature that nobody likes being dictated to. But when students set their own practice times, they take ownership of the process and are more likely to follow-through.
With existing students and families, I sometimes have to revisit the issue of practice time. If I find my students are falling off the practice wagon (which happens from time to time). I am prepared to go all the way back and revisit my Mission Statement and their original piano goals. I do this to encourage and remind my students to keep their eyes on the destination.
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This is a summer like no other. The airports are packed, national parks are over full, and everyone is out and about. It’s no wonder, we pretty much lost last summer to COVID so the fact that people are letting loose and on the go is good news!
The bad news is that our piano students may not be doing as much practice as before.
So, what can we do? If you’re like me, you don’t really want to have students quit, but teaching students who haven’t practiced all week is…well…no fun. (That’s putting it mildly) No fun for the teacher, and no fun for the student either.
Let’s make piano lessons fun and rewarding.
Paloma Piano has plenty of resources to help make lessons fun and keep things moving ahead, even if a few of your students are having a little trouble staying inside this summer.
Let’s fill up that 30 minutes and make time fly! Your students will be learning, and they won’t even know it! Best of all, everybody will be happy, you, your students, and their parents;) Here’s what we have for you!Continue reading “Help My Student Isn’t Practicing!!”
I tell my students that music reading is our burden to bear. I played the violin all through school and reading the treble clef one note at a time was a piece of cake. Of course, there was all of that annoying tone and intonation to focus on. The bow arm position and vibrato it’s all pretty complicated.
Pianists have two hands that operate the same way, no problems with intonation, embouchure, vibrato. But what we do have is two clefs and a lot of notes! The only people who have more notes than us are organists.
Teaching most students to read music well is no easy task! But when students can read well our lives as teachers is so much easier! Some of my students learn to read very easily, for most, it takes some more effort. There are a few who have a really tough time learning to read music notation.
Know your student
In my experience, most piano students fall into one of two categories. Visual learners and auditory learners. Because it is human nature to take the path of least resistance visual learners tend to look at the score and auditory learners tend to try to pick things up by ear.
Some students take to reading easily. They have an easy time connecting what’s going on in the score with what happens on the keyboard. Others have naturally great ears and can hear something and learn it without looking at the music very much for these students reading seems counterproductive.
As a teacher it is crucial that I watch and listen carefully to see how each student is learning.
How to Begin
I can honestly say I became so frustrated with many of the piano method books available that I wrote my own. I recommend you stay away from any method books that have hand positions and fingerings over every note. Use a method that introduces new concepts slowly and gives students plenty of time to absorb what they are learning. You may also want to use more than one method and always have lots of supplemental music.
Downplay Mnemonic Devices
I start my students with middle C and we go from there. I don’t even mention “every good boy does fine” I use this only as a reference, it can be helpful to help a student find the first note of a piece. That’s it though, no counting lines and spaces.
How Music is Read,
Piano music is read by seeing patterns and transferring those patterns into music on the keyboard. Think about it. As an experienced pianist, do you ever think about note names while you are playing?
The score is a picture of what happens on the keyboard.
Notes go up. Notes go down, skips, jumps, chords, repeated notes. It’s all very logical. I tell my students that, what the music looks like is what it is. It never tricks you. This may all seem obvious, but it isn’t. I have found that pointing this out to my students really helps them to make the connection between the score and the keyboard.
In the Beginning
Start with a few notes and expand slowly. I start with treble C through G and then add Bass C through G. making sure that my student is understanding and able to play these notes I begin expanding the notes until all of the treble and bass clef are covered. Then accidentals, chords, different keys, etc. All of this happens as students are learning to count and understand rhythm as well. The process is fairly straightforward, but it takes work and persistence.
I want my students to practice every day, however, I tell my students to practice on the day of their lesson after the lesson is over and as early as possible the next day. This is because in order for information to go from short-term to long-term memory it must be repeated within about 24 hours of being presented. If a student waits a few days before coming back to the piano and practicing much, if not all, will be lost.
At the Lesson
I do my best to sit back and let my students figure things out. When a student starts a new piece, I let her take a look at it and try to read through the score. I may begin by asking, what is the key and time signature? How will you count the rhythm in measure 3? If my student gets stuck, I encourage her to try and figure things out.
I will ask, do the notes go up or down? Is that a skip or a step? How do you count the rhythm in measure three? I keep coming back to the point that they can learn to read well, that music notation makes sense and that learning to read is worth the effort.
When a Student Just Isn’t Getting It,
Usually, these things work but there are times when I really need to work hard with a student to help him to learn to read.
In my experience, these are usually students who have very good auditory skills and can get by without learning to read. Years ago, I had a student who had such a good ear that he could learn pieces like “First Arabesque” by Debussy by ear!! The only way I could get him to read music was to find obscure music and change pieces every week. (Now you may ask why a student like that would have to bother learning to read music in the first place, but that another discussion entirely).
With these types of students, I give them lots of new music to look at. I also allow them to learn music by ear as a separate skill. I strike a bargain, so to speak, “learn your minuet and then listen to and learn to play “Piano Man”.
Reading Isn’t Everything
I want my students to learn to play…period! There are all sorts of reasons why students have problems learning to read music.
A student might be too young to grasp the concept.
It may be that a student needs glasses and can’t see the music well.
Maybe he just doesn’t practice.
Some students just don’t see the point. Like the ones I mentioned above who can play everything by ear.
Whatever it takes, I do my best to keep all of my students engaged. If a student quits, all is lost. I would rather focus on playing by ear for a while if necessary.
A Few More Tips,
Create a print rich environment.
Music notation is beautiful in and of itself!
Classroom teachers know that having lots of words and print in the classroom environment helps students to learn to read. We can create a musical print-rich environment in our studios by having musical posters and examples of music readily available.
At home, students should have more than one piano book. Give them lots of different music to look at. Let them see what you are playing.
If you are watching a YouTube video look for one that has the musical score scrolling by as the music plays.
Be careful to make sure any music notation your students are exposed to is accurate. We have all see music bags and sweatshirts with backward treble clefs and keys sigs that feature flats and sharps at the same time.
Give your students a pencil and some staff paper, let them write some music of their own. This is a great way for them to strengthen their note-reading skills.
Apps, Flashcards and Note Spellers
Ehh… I use them here and there. They may help a little and they can be fun but honestly, I don’t believe they do much to create excellent readers. This is because music is about seeing patterns it about learning to hear and play what you see before you on the page. This is why isolating notes doesn’t do much to improve music reading skills.
Be a Cheerleader
Encourage any progress you encounter. Celebrate success. Acknowledge, the fact that music study is hard work, but add that hard work is good.
I started doing this when we went online. I started giving certain students 10 minutes a day, 5 days per week. During this time we just work on not reading using my “Super Shorties” and “Reading Rx” workbooks. You can use any appropriate music with your students.
Usually, two weeks of practice buddy lessons get them over the “hump” and they start to feel more comfortable with reading music notation.
Words Have Power!
I never let my students say “It’s too hard” or “I can’t do it.” I substitute these phrases for phrases like “It’s challenging” or I can’t do it yet.”
My favorite word
My favorite word is “imagine.”
“Imagine how it will feel when you can pick up any piece of music and read easily.”
I believe it is important to keep the vision alive and let students know that it is attainable.
It’s worth it to help students to learn to read music fluently. Being able to easily cipher music notation makes playing music much more joyful. This ensures that the piano will be part of your student’s life for years to come!
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“Music is organized sound, Rhythm is the timing of the.music. In time is where the music exists. Time is like the canvass, rhythm the brush strokes, and notes the colors.”
What’s more challenging than teaching piano students to read notes?
Teaching them to count.
At least this has been my experience.
I think that this is because rhythm is more abstract. A note is a note. A 440 is the second space from the bottom in the treble clef. Start on middle C and count up six.
But what is a quarter note?
A quarter note gets one beat…right?
Well, most of the time.
What’s a beat?
A unit of time that can be any speed. From very slow to super-fast.
It’s no wonder that beginning piano students young and old find the concept of rhythm a bit hard to grasp.
When teaching students to understand rhythm and apply it to their music (i.e. counting) I think there are a few things working against me.
Number one – Rhythm involves math. Enough said. I am aware that there is some old wives’ tale that musicians just love math and are naturally good at it. Maybe, but I haven’t met many musical math wizards. I am certainly don’t fall into that category myself.
Number two – It’s relatively easy to imitate rhythm once it is heard. Studies show that rhythm is somewhat hardwired into the human brain beginning with the mother’s heartbeat. Language is also rhythmic. A lot of students really don’t count they listen and hear how the rhythm goes and then imitate what they have heard.
Number three – It’s hard enough to get the right fingers on the right notes, and getting the right fingers on the right notes at the right time. Yikes!! The default is that the rhythm goes out the window. From the student’s standpoint, this is an acceptable sacrifice.
Of course, we know better, don’t we?
Number four – The solution is part of the problem. The solution, of course, is to slow down and count out loud. But for some reason, most students seem to HATE doing this. I took a poll this week and asked my student why they don’t like counting out loud.
The top two answers…
Ok, annoying I get, but embarrassing?
Number five – We only see our students once per week. We can go over this stuff with them ad nauseum but if they don’t think about rhythmic concepts between lessons the information never gets from short-term to long-term memory.
Things have become more intense for us in the past few years. As music in the school system gets reduced or cut, we no longer have music educational reinforcement going on during the week.
So, it’s all up to us.
First of all, I’ll admit that I have been coming across this problem more than usual lately.
When I ask a student who has been in piano lessons for three years how many beats a half note gets and the say “a half” I feel like turning in my membership card to the planet earth.
It is soooo discouraging. Ugg! I feel like such a nag.
Can you relate?
How do I tackle this challenge?
The same way I tackle them all.
First things first, I get a nice drink. No, no! not a tall glass of Pinot Grigio more like a Grande Pike from Starbucks.
Then I take a deep breath and thank God I know how to play the piano.
After that, it’s time to get down to teaching my students to count. Once and for all.
First, I explain to them that the rhythm is more important than the notes. We can have music without notes (percussion) but we music have rhythm.
I always demonstrate this by playing Bach’s minuet in G with no rhythm i.e., every note is the same, and then I play it with all of the wrong notes but the correct rhythm.
Then I used my painting example.
I tell my students that music is “organized sound” it moves through time. Time is where the music exists, and the rhythm is the timing of the music. Rhythm is our canvass.
I ask my students to imagine a painter trying to paint with nothing to paint on.
I do this because mindset is everything. If I can get my students to see how crucial rhythm is to the music I can begin to break through and really teach them.
Start from the very beginning.
If a student is struggling, I review everything. Starting with note values, rests, and time signatures.
We work in four steps
Step one- I ask the students to explain what is going on with the rhythm. The time signature, note values etc.
Step two – Write in the beats.
Step three – Clap and count out loud. I insist that they count the number of beats in the measure. If you are playing in 4/4 count one-two-three-four.
Step four – Count out loud while playing. I usually ask students to play hands separately, and then put hands together.
If we can get this far, we are off and running.
Now the trick is to get the students to actually practice counting during the week. So I give my students some written homework, specific practice instructions, and last but not least, the final “YOU MUST COUNT!” lecture.
Since going online, I also check in mid-week with my students who I think need the extra help.
I created a program called Rhythm Rx. It has 10 progressive lessons.
Each lesson has 8 four-measure exercises. Each exercise is given twice so that the student can write in the beats, count, and clap the exercise. Then the student can turn the page and play the same example without the beats written in. The exercises build upon one another so that concepts can be repeated and fully learned. The book ends off with two pieces that the students can count and learn to play independently.
You can download it if you are a full Platinum Member.
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.
In July of 2020 my father gave me an awesome gift. An iPad pro. This was before pandemic shutdowns and online teaching became my main way of earning my living. I had no idea at the time how much I would come to love and depend on my iPad for just about everything I do musically these days.
Here are the ways I make use of my iPad. I am only including things that I can use on my iPad that don’t require my student to also have an iPad.
This app. allows me to have all of my music in one place. I can organize it by genre, I can tag and label pieces for specific students or special events. The app allows me to make setlists for concerts or gigs.
I can either upload and pdf into the app or I can scan it in with the built-in camera. I can also screen share with my student and write on the music in real-time. Highlighting things like accidentals, dynamics, etc. My student and I can go through the score together and add any markings necessary.
Since my website, palomapiano.com features hundreds of pdf files (including method books, scales, solos, classical selections, duets, theory, and much more!) I have everything ready for super easy access. Which for me is a total slam dunk! https://forscore.co/
Speaking of Pdf files the International Music Score Literacy Project has thousands of works in the public domain. These can be downloaded into Forscore in a flash. https://imslp.org/wiki/Main_Page
I use the iPad to play games like Note-Rush and Foyumin Music Reading. For Noterush My students can actually play the notes on their instrument and the app. hears it. Fuyomin I have the student call the notes out and I enter them. Cool!
I love to pull up awesome music videos to watch with my students. YouTube doesn’t allow screen sharing however I can set my iPad in in front of my computer (mac book pro) and they can see and hear the video very well.
I can use the iPad to record videos of my students playing. I also do this by setting up the camera so that my student can be recorded from my computer screen.
I have a dice app. that I use to play games with my students. We “roll’ the dice to decide how many times they will play a section or how many times per day they will practice a certain skill. Or who will play a new piece first?
I have a couple of metronome apps. Including “Impulse” and “Speak Beat” these work well online. The Forscore app. also includes a built-in metronome.
For my more advanced students as well as for my own practice I use the iReal Pro app. This includes backing tracks for hundreds of jazz tunes. I can set it and my students can hear it and play.
I also have a notepad app, which allows me to keep notes on each student. This way I always know what they are working on and if I need to send any new music, contact parents, etc.
I also have the Kindle Cloud Reader and a Kindle account. Most piano books are now available as eBooks, so I have a few books on my kindle reader. I have had students show up online with new books such as the music from Harry Potter. When this happens, I just pop over to kindle and purchase the book. It’s not as convenient as the Forscore app which allows me to write and notate on the music but in a pinch, it’s great.
I take my iPad to choir practice weddings, funerals, and anywhere else I would take sheet music or music books. You can even get a page-turner foot pedal. Although, I have not found this necessary as page-turning in Forscore is easy. One caveat is to disable SIRI because sometimes a random sound will cause her to turn a page when you don’t want it turned. (I found this out the hard way. But once SIRI was turned off I had no more such problems.)
I am sure I will find even more uses for my iPad. I have the 12.9 inch iPad pro 4th generation. I knew I would be using it a lot, so I went for the 512GB memory. But the 128 or 256GB is plenty for most needs. The iPad comes with many great features. I also have an iPencil which helps with writing while screen sharing. I also purchased a magnetic cover to protect the investment.
The iPad Pro is not cheap, and you can do all of these things with a smaller model. For performances and rehearsals, I like the bigger screen.
The iPad has been great for use during in-person lessons and a Godsend in running my studio online.
If you are interested in getting an iPad I recommend you shop around for the best price. And don’t forget to save your receipt, in the U.S. this purchase is considered a business expense and is tax-deductible.
Please check out palomapiano.com for all kinds of great piano teaching resources! While you are there check out our membership options.
My very first piano teacher Mr. Herbert Sweet taught me to play popular music from the very beginning. I remember he would write out the melody and the chords to songs in a manuscript book and teach me to play my favorite pop tunes.
I think teaching popular music is super valuable. It is great for developing the ability to play by ear. It helps with music theory by teaching students about chords. Learning to play popular music includes a level of creativity and improvisation that helps people to become comfortable at the keyboard.
“Fake it till you make it” and “Close enough for rock and roll” are expressions we’ve all heard. Basically, they mean, keep going, don’t stop playing. This can be very helpful in quelling performance anxiety and making playing the piano a lot more enjoyable.
Plus, Popular music easily builds a student’s repertoire. It can also be motivating because in the long run, popular music is much easier to learn and memorize than most classical music. Lastly, popular music also opens the door to the study of blues and jazz.
I start popular music with early-intermediate students I want them to have a firm foundation. Which means good technique and the ability to read music.
I sometimes make exceptions with the ability to read music. Some students have such “great ears” that learning this way is their strong suit. If they are struggling with reading, we focus on playing by ear alongside working from a method book.
I teach my students popular music without using books or music notation. I want them to learn to play their favorite songs by ear. Here are the steps I follow.
1 – Choose a song. This is not always as easy as it should be. A lot of children today don’t listen to much music at all. In the old days, the radio played chose the playlist and we all knew songs like “Piano Man” and “Tiny Dancer”. I find myself having to do a little digging to help my students choose a song to learn. Popular movie music usually is a good place to find music the kids like.
2 – Check it out. In the beginning I want the songs to be easy. Not too many chord changes and recorded in an easy key. C, G, D, F, or Bb (or their relative minors). I do not want my students to have to transpose the songs. We rely heavily on listening so having to change keys would be confusing. (I will have a list of some of the songs we start with below)
3 – Listen to it. I listen with my students at the lesson and have them listen multiple times throughout the week. I also like to have them listen to piano “covers”. A cover is just a musician’s personal rendition of any song. I go to YouTube and type in the name of the song followed by “piano Cover” This is great for giving me and my students an idea of how the song might be played by a pianist.
4 –Sing it. I know my students are ready to begin learning the song when they can sing the song confidently. If they are hesitant to sing, I’ll have them try to pick out the notes by ear. Some students know the song but are embarrassed to sing. If their singing is a little “pitchy” we work on this sometimes it is due to poor vocal control and sometimes they just don’t know the tune that well. If they know the song, they should be able to begin working out the melody by ear using the right hand. I usually give them the first few notes.
5 – The Left Hand. I begin by teaching major and minor triads in root position. No inversions or extensions. I want my students to understand how the chords are built. Later on, down the road, we will work with inversions, left-hand patterns, and seventh chords, and beyond. But in the beginning, I want to keep things as straightforward as possible.
6 – Put it together. When they know the right hand and the left-hand chords, we start putting the song together. I’ll play it for them and then have them use their ears to determine the chord changes. Most students do this fairly easily some need a little help.
Once they can play a few songs and know a bunch of triads we start varying the left-hand using inversions and sone different left-hand patterns. Then it’s time to add sixth and seventh chords and ultimately include some of the chord tones in the right hand to achieve a fuller sound.
It’s not an exact science. There is some room for interpretation with popular music. In the beginning, your students may find it frustrating to try to play by ear. But just like anything else the more they practice this skill the better they will become at doing it.
Keep your eyes on the prize.
My ultimate goal is to have my students become life-long piano players. I want them to be able to sit down and enjoy playing music for the joy of it. To be able to entertain their friends and family at parties and holidays if they so desire.
Because popular music is so very accessible and so well-loved by so many people. I know that learning to play it will help ensure that they will continue playing for years to come.
Here are some of the easier pop songs my students are working on;
Piano Man (Billy Joel)
True Colors (Cindy Lauper)
Memories (Maroon 5)
Yellow Submarine (Beatles)
Can’t Stop the Feeling (Justin Timberlake)
High Hopes (Panic at the Disco)
Sunday Best (Surfaces)
Rainbow Connection (Muppets)
Let it Be (Beatles)
Imagine (John Lennon)
Champaign Problems (Taylor Swift)
Your Song (Elton John)
There are many more but these songs are in easy keys and only involve a few chord changes,
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We have all been thrown into online lessons whether we wanted to be teaching online or not. I have been teaching online since 2016 when I moved from South Florida to Cleveland Ohio. I have several students who wanted to continue their lessons with me, so I started teaching using FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or Rock Out Loud Live.
I have learned quite a bit over the last few months so I am sharing some new things here. Happy Online teaching!
Get comfortable. Get a comfortable chair, set things up so you can stand if you need to. Being physically comfortable is step one in making online lessons easier.
Grab a cup of coffee or your favorite drink. Treat yourself, you deserve it!
Change your schedule. Online teaching is more demanding for us. However, just about everyone has some flexibility right now. I set my schedule up so that I don’t have more than seven or eight students in a row.
Keep a pen and paper handy to take notes.
Invest in a webcam for over the keys. I use this tool at every lesson to demonstrate how things are to be played. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words.
When Working With Your Students
1 –Assign easier repertoire. Cut your students (and yourself) some slack. Take a step back and assign some fun easy to learn pieces.
2 – If a student is struggling, work in small chunks. Learn a measure, learn the next measure then put them together, and so on. Cover what you can and assign this to your student for practice. For more advanced students who can read well and work independently, this may be a great time to take on some new challenges. But for a lot of students taking a step back and assigning something easier to learn is a good way to go.
4 – Offer to check in with students during the week. I have been telling my students that if they are confused about something or run out of things to do to contact me and I can jump on Facetime or Zoom and help them out or give them some more work. (I do this even when in-person lessons are taking place.)
3 – Games and videos. I find these essential. About midway through the lesson, my students and I play a game, or I choose a short piano or music-related video for my student to watch. The mental break does wonder for my student’s focus and attitude. It also helps me.
4 – Choose a theme of the week. Last week I had my students focus on reviewing musical terms. We played a musical terms game. This week the theme is Baroque music, next week we will explore the Classical period. This not only is educational but fun as well!
5 – Be encouraging. Our students are getting used to this new way of teaching as much as we are. Tell them how great they are doing! Pump them up, help them to feel good about giving online lessons a chance.
6 – Keep track of assignments. A simple notebook is the best way of doing this. Jot down any notes that will help you remember what students are working on.
1- Use a computer or a tablet with a large enough screen so that you can see your student easily. Be sure your student has a good view of your piano.
2 – Make sure your student also has a large enough screen and has it set up so that you can see their hands and body.
3 – Invest in a webcam and boom stand so that you can change to a view of the keys when needed.
Check your computer’s audio output. If needed invest in a separate microphone so that your students can better hear you.
Speak slowly and clearly.
Some platforms like Zoom automatically adjust the volume. In my experience, this becomes a problem when I play something for my student. Zoom turns my output down and then my student has trouble hearing me speak. If this happens go to audio settings and unselect “Automatically adjust audio”
In order to conduct online piano lessons, you and your student must have a fast enough internet connection. 2 MB per second for upload is recommended for video.
You can check the google speed test to find out if your speed is fast enough. The big issue is the upload speed. You can go to Google and search “speed test” to check your speed.
I know that I have a super-fast connection and still, there are sometimes glitches. However, it is getting better and the whole situation is getting better overall. Technology is always advancing.
If there are a few glitches I just relax and roll with it. If we are experiencing a particularly glitchy day, I reschedule the lesson.
I have all of my student’s music in pdf format making it easy to email to parents. Of course, most of the music I use is on my website palomapiano.com. Teachers pay a small membership fee and are licensed to download everything on the website and use it with their own students for as long as they are members. (There are a lot of free things available right now.)
All of the music includes either mp3 or video performances of the pieces to be learned. This can be sent along to your students.
I recommend imslp or pianostreet for standard repertoire. Imslp is free to use pianostreet requires all users to have a membership, students must have their own account.
There are many other composers offering printable music with studio licenses. Making storing and sending super easy.
Keep it simple. Choose a few pieces at a few different levels for your students. For right now it’s Ok if multiple students are playing the same piece.
I also invested in an iPad pro. (Yes it was expensive but worth every penny). I use the Forscore app to store my music. Because I have a mac computer I can screen share my music with my student. I can even write on the score, things like fingering numbers, beats, etc. can be copied easily by my student.
Rock Out Loud Live allows you to put a pdf on your student’s screen so that they can just hit the print icon and print it immediately. Zoom allows you to upload a pdf in the chat. No more sending emails to mom or dad and waiting until the next lesson. Yay!!
Zoom allows you to upload a pdf in the chat.
I love my piano parents! Every one of them is focused on what is best for their children. I really want to make sure they know that I appreciate them. If you have young children at home and out of school right now you know that this is an especially challenging time. Here are some ideas.
1 – At the beginning or the end of the lesson be sure to say hello to parents and ask how they are doing.
2 – Send emails regularly with updates and music and resources for the students.
3 – Send a text letting parents know when their child has had a great lesson.
4 – Be caring, be concerned, stay positive.
5 – Plan an online meeting and get together with families for some enjoyable and music educational activities.
I am working hard to provide the resources that my students need and I am sharing everything with other teachers. I am making more music and resources free so as to help teachers organize and plan their week. I have been sending an email out sharing my weekly theme including resources and a list of free pieces on a regular basis.
“Where love is deep, much can be accomplished.” Shinichi Suzuki
I saw a post on Facebook today where someone was asking what makes someone a good piano teacher. This is a really, really good question so, I thought I’d spend a little time musing about the matter. I am a piano teacher, I’ve studied with lots of (about 10) piano teachers, I know lots of piano teachers, and I raised 5 boys, four of whom became accomplished musicians, I guess you could say I have seen the issue from many sides.
Here are some traits I think make for a good piano teacher:
Strong musical skills. I want a teacher that knows how to play. This is a little tough to unpack because not every good teacher is a great concert artist, and not every great concert artist can teach but I believe that a solid knowledge of musicianship, technique, theory, and repertoire is essential. You have to be able to do something before you can teach someone else to do it. You have to be able to do something WELL in order to teach someone else to do it WELL. (I guess I am a little emphatic about this.)
Performance experience. This may be a bit controversial but the is fact that music is a shared art. Sharing music means playing it for other people. Being able to get up in front of an audience of any size not only takes courage but it involves careful preparation and a level of focus that must be developed and taught. I believe a good teacher is able to play for others and can teach students how to perform.
Is dedicated to continual personal advancement in both music and pedagogical skills. A good teacher is a lifelong learner. Someone who seeks to maintain and build upon the skills that they have and add new skills related to music, piano playing, and teaching.
A love of music. Learning to play a musical instrument is not the easiest thing in the world. Music, (unless you are a Rockstar) is usually not the most lucrative career either. We begin our training as children and must continue to practice daily throughout our lives. Therefore, I think it’s important that we love what we are doing.
Understands how people learn. No two students learn the same way. This makes teaching both interesting and challenging. A good teacher can connect with each student in order to help each one the grasp concepts necessary to achieve success.
Presents information and skills in a logical and beneficial sequence. Learning to become an accomplished pianist takes years. A good teacher knows what to teach and when to teach it. This is especially important once a student is beyond the method books. To be able to select material that will help a student advance while building a firm musical foundation requires a comprehensive knowledge of the repertoire and piano pedagogical materials.
Can motivate students to learn, practice, and play correctly. Day in and day out, year after year. A good teacher can keep students going even when they really want to quit. A good teacher knows how to inspire students to pursue excellence even though excellence is hard work.
Sets clear attainable goals. Both short-term weekly goals and longer-term goals. This means providing specific practice instructions weekly. Longer-term goals could include recital, exam, competition preparation, or a list of music to be learned and other skills to be completed within a determined period of time.
Keeps the student’s goals in mind. A good teacher knows what must be taught to be able to play well however, I think it is also important to take into account what students and parents want to get out of taking piano lessons.
Is able to come up with creative solutions to problems. Good teachers are able to think outside of the box in order to come up with innovative ways to help students understand concepts and tackle challenges.
Communicates clearly with both students and parents. A good teacher is able to communicate with students in age-appropriate ways that help each one to understand what is being taught, and what is expected. A good teacher also keeps parents in the loop so that they know what is happening and how they can help and encourage their children.
Knows when it is time to pass the student to someone else. It’s not a sign of failure to send a student to someone new. A teacher may have more skill in a particular area or may be a better personality fit for a student.
Is both encouraging and firm. It’s easy in today’s culture to be encouraging, to smile, and make everyone feel great all of the time. What’s not so comfortable is to hold students to a high standard. However, I believe I do my students a disservice if I do not teach them to play correctly. This means musically, accurately, with good technique.
Listens carefully. Listening is an important part of being a teacher. When we listen and really take the time to consider what are students are telling us we have the opportunity to solve problems, and help students reach their goals.
Is patient. Patience is a must for every teacher. A teacher must present the concepts same over and over again in as many ways as necessary until the student achieves success.
A desire to pass the gift of music along to others. It’s one thing to enjoy playing or composing music. Teaching music is entirely different, it requires a different set of skills. In addition, teaching can very challenging work. It is something that has the potential to enhance lives and bring joy to others.
Love, I believe that having love as the underpinning of a teaching career is the key to the kingdom. The love of music, and the love pf sharing something so wonderful with people.