Overcoming Stage Fright,

Stage Fright

Stage fright anyone? Or should I say stage fright, everyone? We’ve all been there. Those sweaty palms and sick stomachs are things all performers experience. And I do mean all of us. Not just musicians. Actors, Dancers, and Public Speakers have all experienced stage fright. It’s a human thing. We all want to do well and be accepted by people.

 

 

It is not a wonder that getting up in front of others and letting them see us doing something we really care about can feel really scary. For some, it is downright debilitating, yet others overcome the fear of performing. I’d like to share my journey to confident performance and share how I help my students to face the fear of playing for others and learn to enjoy sharing music.

 

What Causes Fear?

In order to overcome stage fright, we must understand what causes it in the first place. Why can it be so frightening to get up in front of others and play music? Is it the music itself that’s so scary? The fear of having a memory slip (forgetting everything in the middle of a piece) or making a mistake? Maybe. But I don’t think these things are the main reasons for stage fright.

 

I think the reason for stage fright goes much, much deeper. I believe how nervous we feel about performing directly correlates to how much we care about what we are doing.

For example, I am a pianist (no surprise there) I may get nervous about playing the piano, but if someone handed me a trumpet and said “now play this” I wouldn’t be worried at all. I would probably blow a few toots and laugh it off. After all, who cares! I’m not a trumpeter, I haven’t put a drop of effort into the trumpet. But the piano, that’s another story, another story indeed.

The piano is my life…

 

I have devoted a major chunk of my existence to the 88 keys, I care about my piano playing. The very idea of a bad performance makes me nervous, I know many can relate to this. The fear of performing comes from putting that which we care about most up for the scrutiny of other people. The fact that music is art, that it involves emotion and personal creativity makes the situation particularly disconcerting. In addition to the fear of rejection or the ridicule of others, most of us who are drawn to the study of music, where the demands for excellence are so incredibly high, are also very critical of ourselves. So it would seem there is a lot a stake when we sit down to play.

 

A Lesson Learned

I learned to overcome most of my performance fears by being well prepared for performances. For me, this was key because I used to try to do everything. Whatever anyone threw in front of me I thought I had to play it, even if it was too difficult or there wasn’t adequate preparation time.

I learned an important lesson from my friend and duet partner Nancy Porco. Nancy was a first-rate pianist. She held a Master’s degree in accompanying from the Manhattan School of Music and had played all over the world. I was honored to be her duet partner.

But I noticed whenever she was asked to do something she’d say “Where’s the music?” She would demand that she had the right music, and had it in plenty of time to learn it well. Much to my surprise she regularly turned down jobs. As a result, she was calm and she always came off as a winner!

Once I came to my senses and adopted this philosophy, my own stage fright decreased by 60 percent. I dropped another 20 percent or so by not taking myself too seriously.

That leaves 20 percent. That 20 percent is here to stay and I’m glad. Because it means that I care, and it keeps me on my toes.

 

 

How I Help my Students Overcome Stage Fright

Now it’s time for me to help my students deal with stage fright and feel good about performing for others. I take my student’s performances very seriously. So much so that if they don’t play well I feel that most of the time it’s my fault (most of the time, not all of the time). Here are some of the things I do to help my students have a good experience playing.

 

 

Preparation

First I make sure that I choose appropriate repertoire. I choose review pieces or pieces that I know that the student can WELL handle. My students are required to keep a list of three or four pieces current so that they are always ready to play. If the piece is new I make sure that the student has ample time to prepare the piece to be played. Which means that recitals and auditions are set months in advance.

 

Pieces are learned carefully, especially with regard to fingering (to ensure accurate muscle memory). The music once learned and memorized it is practiced in sections. I have the students jump from section to section. Sometimes I take the students hands off of the keys to simulate a memory slip. I then have them jump to the next section. I teach them NEVER TO GO BACK, always jump ahead. I have seen many a student go back in a piece after a memory slip, only to have the same problem in the same spot.

 

Performance Practice

We work on ending the piece gracefully in case of disaster. We do a lot of “dry runs” in the studio. I have the students play for each other and I encourage them to play for friends and family members often. The city where I live has several coveted arts programs for which students must audition. I usually make the audition piece the recital piece as well and have the recital first.  All of these things help students to overcome stage fright.

 

A Good Experience

The perception of playing well at a performance builds confidence making it easier to perform in the future. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If a student feels as though a performance went badly it will likely cause anxiety in the future. The effect of this is cumulative. A series of good experiences will make performing become easier, a series of difficult or bad experiences will make performing more and more frightening.

For this reason, I reserve the authority to take a student out of a performance. If I  think that a student is not ready I generally won’t let them play. When this happens, I explain to student and parents that I care deeply about their musical education and I want to ensure that they have a great experience.

Because I want to make sure that my students have practiced well and are ready to play at performance time. I require that all students have their pieces performance-ready two weeks before a recital, evaluation, festival, or audition.

 

Most Importantly

No matter much practicing and preparation students and teachers do there may still be mishaps. Mistakes, flubs, and memory slips can and do happen. There’s always an element of risk. After all, that’s really what makes the live performance so exciting.

 

I explain this to my students over and over again. They can all finish this statement,

“Playing the piano is not easy if it was easy…Everybody would do it!”

 

Positive Perspective

If a student feels that their playing has been less than perfect. I encourage them to press on and get past it. While the performer may be very upset about his performance it’s unlikely that anyone else is thinking about it. Plus, there will always be another time to try again.

Most of all I want my students to have fun playing for others. I teach them not to take themselves to seriously. I tell them “we’re musicians, not physicians if you make a mistake nobody gets hurt”.

I teach them that it’s all about sharing the music. About the joy of playing the piano.

I help my students realize that they have accomplished something amazing whether or not they feel that they have had a great performance.  They have faced their fear and got up and played anyway. This is something many people have never done. Something to be proud of and to celebrate!

 

This post is written in memory of

Nancy DeCicco Porco 1959-2002

 

How do you help students overcome stage fright? Leave a comment below.

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Learning Piano Scales and Arpeggios the Easy Way

Learning Piano Scales and Arpeggios the Easy Way

In the last blog post “Convincing Kids to Play Piano Scales & Arpeggios” I wrote about explaining to students why playing scales and arpeggios is important for aspiring pianists. Hopefully, this explanation will help students to get on board. I am not talking about kids jumping for joy at the idea of playing scales, but at least having a willingness to practice and memorize them. This is how I make learning piano scales and arpeggios  as pain-free as possible for my students:shutterstock_17243083

Where to begin

I start teaching piano scales & arpeggios at the end of book 1 of the Paloma Method (when I used other methods I would also wait until the student could read some music and play with hands together). I consistently follow these steps when teaching scales and arpeggios:

1. I start with the C major scale two octaves, hands separately. I never teach one-octave scales. I think it’s pointless. The pianists’ standard for exams and auditions is the four-octave scale, learning two octaves from the start makes it easy to play three and four-octave scales (or arpeggios). I write my scales out as follows to make them easier for my students to learn;

 

2. When teaching scales I ask my students to pay super careful attention to technique, i.e. arms parallel to the keyboard, hands relaxed (especially the fifth finger), thumbs travel smoothly under the hand.

3. Once my student can play the two-octave scale well, hands alone she begins putting the hands together. We do this at the lesson and I make sure that my student can play hands together before she leaves my studio. I know that if I leave it up to my student to learn hands together at home she probably won’t. If all she has to do is practice what she already knows how to do she probably will. I always drill into all of my students the importance of daily practice especially on the day of the lesson and again on the following day! No waiting a couple of days to practice

4. When my student can play the C major scale two octaves hands together memorized at a decent steady tempo (eighth notes at 80 bpm) I have her learn G major in the same manner and then follow the Circle of Fifths. The reason for this is two-fold, the first five scales have identical fingering with third fingers always playing at the same time and Bb through Db have the same left-hand fingering. This is also a great way to reinforce key signatures.
In my studio scales always take place at the end of the lesson unless I have a student who just refuses to practice them all together, at which time I move them to the beginning of the lesson.

As my students are learning the scales we constantly review the ones they already know. For example, my students know that if they are on the B scale I may ask for them to G scale as well at that lesson. Also, I will ask them to play the Ab scale if they are studying a piece in that key. Once in a while, we will just have a “scale review day”. This is usually when a student has had a busy week and not much time to practice or when a break is coming up and I want to wait to begin work on a new piece. I always try to make it fun. My goal is to give the students a chance to practice in the studio what I know they would rather not practice at home.
After my students have learned all of major scales (two octaves hands together) we start on the arpeggios (also two octaves hands together). I teach the arpeggios in the same order as the scales. The students review the corresponding scale while learning each arpeggio.

That’s pretty much it. At some point, I ask my students to turn two-octave piano scales & arpeggios into three and then four octaves. Once all major scales and arpeggio are learned I just keep reviewing them, forever. At the end of every lesson, I assign next week’s review scale and arpeggio. This is as painless as I can make it.
So what about metronome studies and the minor scales? I teach these only to early-advanced and advanced students or students who need to learn them for auditions or exams. Although the vast majority of my students are not studying piano to become professional pianists, I absolutely want to teach so that every one of them has the option of a career in music if they should so decide on one somewhere along the way.

In a perfect world, my students would focus more on piano scales & arpeggios. Most of them would spend more time practicing overall. But the fact is, I only see my students for 30 minutes per week and all of them have lots of other things going on in their lives.

The end game.

This method of learning scales & arpeggios fits well with my personal teaching philosophy. I believe learning to play the piano should be enjoyable. I want to balance gearing lessons to meet individual student goals with guiding them to become lifelong pianists and well-rounded musicians. That’s why I think it’s a good idea to learn piano scales and arpeggios the easy way.

You can find free Major Piano Scale & Arpeggio Sheets right here at Paloma Piano.

Read this post Convincing Kids to Play Scales and Arpeggios

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Convincing Kids to Play Piano Scales and Arpeggios

Let me start by being perfectly honest. I don’t like teaching scales or arpeggios. Come to think of it, I don’t like playing them either. I don’t know of many teachers or students that are jazzed about practicing scales. When it’s time during a lesson to play scales I always kind of feel like the nurse who comes in at the end of a checkup to give out the medicine. I know that my students are secretly hoping that I will forget to ask for the scale assignment. No, I don’t like teaching scales and arpeggios, not at all.unnamed-5 So why not just quit? After all, I could get by without scales, my students would be happier and no one would be the wiser. I don’t like pushing my students into doing things they don’t want to do and besides aren’t piano lessons are supposed to be fun? That stuff is so “old school”. Convincing kids to play piano scales and arpeggios, why should I? who needs em’?

Actually, we all need them. Really we do if you want to learn to play well and understand the music you need to study scales and arpeggios. When my students whine and tell me scales are boring I let them know I fully understand how they feel. I spend a little bit of time commiserating with them and then I set about the business of convincing them to practice those scales and those arpeggios.

Check Out Paloma Piano’s Free “Major Scale and Arpeggio Book”

Reasons to Play Piano Scales and Arpeggios

 

Here are five good reasons I give my students to get cracking on scales and arpeggios.

To begin with, I point out to my students the fact that all of our key signatures are connected to the scales. The D major scale has two sharps, so does the key signature. The relative minor scale also has two sharps. Scales give us the basis for music theory. I tell my students that piano players always excel in music theory class.

Chords are built upon scales and arpeggios are broken chords. This fact should be of particular interest to students who wish to play popular music or jazz.

Scales and arpeggios build technique. Students may not care to much about technique but I tell them that scales develop speed and strength. They can relate to that, especially the boys.

Scales and arpeggios give us the basis for piano fingering. If you know your scales and arpeggios you will have the basis for naturally correct fingering.

Classical music is chocked full of both scales and arpeggios. That’s a huge shortcut when it comes to learning new pieces.

Of course, I could just insist that my students practice their scales (and I do) but I like for my students to understand why I have them do things. My teaching practice is focused on helping my students reach the goals they have for their own playing as quickly as possible. For my students, this means a minimum of learning four-octave major scales and arpeggios.

Convincing kids to play piano scales and arpeggios is not the highlight of my piano teaching job, but they are important. I like to think of scales as vitamins instead of medicine. They keep your playing well balanced and healthy.

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Stay tuned for the next blog post. “Teaching Scales and Arpeggios the Easy Way”

 

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Easy Music Theory

Music Theory doesn’t have to consist of boring drills and endless busy work. Easy Music theory is in every piece so why not teach it as you go.

I majored in Music Theory and Composition in college and I happen to find the subject fascinating, but I realize I may be in the minority. Most piano students would rather just play than study Music Theory. In order to teach Music Theory effectively, three questions must be asked: What is Music Theory? Why should students bother learning it? and What about Music Theory do piano students really need to know? Once these questions are answered we can begin to devise a strategy to teach Music Theory easily and effectively.

What is Music Theory?

The subject of Music Theory is incredibly vast. According to Wikipedia, Music Theory is the Study of the practices and principles of music. I think of  Theory in music as the study of how music works, what makes the music we hear… well, the music we hear.

Why Study Music Theory?

Understanding music makes us better musicians.  Theory helps with learning and memorizing pieces, and it is imperative for composition and improvisation.

What Theory of Music do piano students really need to know?

Piano students need to know how to read music notation and understand basic musical terms. But I do not consider these things “Music Theory” per say. Music Theory goes deeper it deals with how the music is put together. Here is what I teach my students:

  • The definition of music.
  • The elements of music (Pitch, Rhythm, Timbre).
  • How sound is made.
  • How pitches are made.
  • Timbre.
  • Understanding rhythm. (Music is organized sound, the sound moves through time, rhythm is the timing of music.)
  • The hierarchy of beats within the measure.
  • Half steps and Whole Steps.
  • How to make a Major Scale.
  • Key Signatures (Well Memorized).
  • Relative Minor Keys and Scales.
  • The formula for creating Chords (Major, Minor, Dominant Seventh, Diminished, etc.)
  • Time Signatures.
  • Musical Form.

I like to teach Music Theory along with the pieces the students are learning. I make it a natural part of the lesson using the pieces the students are studying. I use the music Theory Lessons on the Paloma website as a jumping off point for discussions about theoretical concepts or to help reinforce things like intervals or Key Signature Memorization. I do not assign Music Theory “homework”, instead Music Theory is an ongoing part of the piano lesson. Concepts are presented again and again on an ongoing basis, so that the students learn them thoroughly.

In my studio I begin lessons by asking the student questions about the piece/pieces he is studying. For beginning students I ask will ask:

  • What are the names of the notes, clefs?
  • Explain the Time Signature.
  • How is the rhythm counted?
  • How many measures are in the piece?
  • Explain tempo marks and dynamics.
  • Intervals (Half Steps and Whole Steps)

For my intermediate students I ask all of the above plus:

  • Explain the Key Signature.
  • Play and explain the Scale associated with the Key Signature.
  • How is the Scale made? (WWHWWWH)
  • Name the Relative Minor Key
  • Talk about other Key Signatures (Review the ones the student has worked with)
  • Talk about basic musical form (ABA etc.)
  • Find Intervals with in the piece.
  • Chords (Beginning with I, IV, and V7)

I have the students do some written work at the lesson to reinforce the concepts that need memorization such as Key Signatures and Intervals. I also work in ear training by having beginning students sing, instead of say, the note names. With intermediate students, we work on recognizing chord qualities and playing by ear. My goal is to have students understand the music they are learning. I want them to be able to improvise, read a lead sheet and learn some popular music or church music by ear or by watching covers on YouTube.

These are the basic requirements I have for my students. I have found that by working Theory into the lesson, students learn these concepts easily and naturally. I occasionally have advanced students who want to go further with Theory. At that point I will present more advanced concepts. But for most, a basic working knowledge of  Theory is what they need to become confident pianists.

How do you teach theory? Leave a comment below.

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Convincing Students to Count Rhythm

To Count rhythm? or Not to Count rhythm?

Convincing students to count rhythm. Here I go again trying to cajole a student into counting aloud. I can tell what she’s thinking by the incredulous eye-roll, “Really count out loud? I don’t think so!” In my experience most piano students hate to count, especially counting aloud. As their teacher, it is my responsibility to make sure they understand and can play rhythm accurately. But before I can do this, I need to convince them that counting is worth doing.

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I think I know why piano students have more trouble with rhythm than students of other instruments. Pianists have to integrate counting to accommodate both hands while reading the grand staff the way other players read only one staff from left to right. It takes a lot of coordination to play the piano with hands together so pianists often have to slow down sections of the music to accurately play all of the notes, and most young players also tend to speed up the easy stuff. This distorts the rhythm of the piece. When the student plays the wrong rhythm the ear hears that wrong rhythm and accepts it as correct. The result is… well, a mess.

Additionally, piano students don’t usually play in ensembles where counting is crucial. Playing alone means there is no one to keep the rhythmic accuracy in check. That is why it is so important for young piano players to learn to do this for themselves.

What is music anyway?

I believe that it all goes back to the very definition of what music is, “organized sound”. Moreover, “organized sound that moves through time”. What is rhythm? Simply put, “the timing of the music”. This makes rhythm the most important element of music.

To illustrate this point, I tell my students that time is to the musician as the canvas is to the artist. In my studio, I have a painting. I point out that the picture exists on the canvas, the artist painted it and there it stays. I then ask where music exists. Some students will point to the score at which time I explain to them that the score is not really the “music”. It is only the notation of the music, kind of like a recipe. You can read a recipe, but in order to experience it, you have to prepare the food and then eat it. To experience the music you must play and hear it – this takes time. Your piece starts at 5:00 and is finished at 5:04 those four minutes of time are where the music exists. To take it one step further, I ask the student to imagine what the painting would be like without the canvas. That is what the music is without the rhythm.

See Paloma Piano’s Music Theory Resources here

This usually starts to convince them that maybe they should consider counting but I still have one more trick up my sleeve to drive the point home. I take a piece they are working on (one that has various rhythms) and play it straight through with no rhythm whatsoever. I play every note is a quarter note. I then play the piece with all of the wrong notes but the correct rhythm. It is plain to hear which sounds like music and which does not.

Convincing Students to Count Rhythm

I assure my students that I really want them to become good players. I tell them I don’t enjoy harping on rhythm (or should I say drumming it into them) but I must, in order to be a good teacher. Once the discussion is finished, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and work on counting. But that’s a subject for the next blog post.

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Piano Method Books – A Brief History

I have been doing some research on the history of piano method books. Who taught the great composers of the past to play? and what materials were used to teach these great musicians? Has piano teaching changed over the years? I think this topic is worth exploring.

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It is well known that Johann Sebastian Bach began his musical education under the tutelage of his very musical family. It is thought that his eldest brother Johann Christian probably taught him the basics of violin and music theory. He also played the Organ and the Harpsichord. What materials were used to teach the young Bach, who is now regarded as the father of modern music, is unknown. We do know however that Bach created his own music to use in teaching his second wife Anna Magdalena and several of his children to play the Clavier.

Most of the other great great musicians were trained by their musical families or by prominent musicians of the time. Mozart was trained by his father Leopold. Brahms learned piano from his mother but little is known about what music was actually used to teach these great masters or anyone else back in those days. We can assume that they had probably used Bach’s works as well as the easier works of other composers. Scales, and Arpeggios were undoubtedly used as well.

Carl Czerny (1791-1857) was the first composer to include fingerings in his music and actually create exercises based upon those fingerings. He also wrote a library of teaching pieces. Czerny’s music is still standard fare for the aspiring pianist. About the same time composers Henri Bertini, Franz Kohler and others wrote piano method books. These books consisted mostly of drills and exercises and are not wisely used today.

The time period around 1925 is referred to as the “Golden Age of the Piano”. The instrument gained popularity as many piano manufacturers made the purchase of a piano attainable for the middle class family. To coincide with the surge in interest a “New Age” of piano method was born. These newer piano books promised to make learning the piano more fun and featured whimsical songs and illustrations. The most popular of these older methods were written by John Schwam and John Thompson. There are newer versions of the same of these such as Faber and Faber, and the Alfred Piano Method.

In addition to traditional style piano books there are also a plethora of piano books with catchy themes and gimmicks that are supposed to make piano playing easy and fun. And let’s not forget learn to play online methods and those that rely heavily on technology such as computer based piano learning programs.

Keyboard playing has little changed since Bach’s time. Aside from the fact that Bach did not have the Piano as we know it today (The Piano Forte was invented by Bartomoleo Cristofori circa 1700.) the mechanics of playing are comparable. Music notation remains virtually unchanged since the 1600’s as well. And people are still people. So what has changed? Why do we have all of these “new” piano methods?

The culture has changed today’s piano students are more independent and I believe more sophisticated than I was as a child. Today’s kids have the world of music at their finger tips. They know what they like and what they don’t. They have technology and they know how to use it. They live in a fast paced highly engaging world, there are many things competing for their attention. I can not imagine any of my students sitting through Bertini’s Piano Method. No disrespect intended toward Mr. Bertini he was a fine pianist in his day but tastes and preferences have changed.

I really don’t believe in gimmicks or learn to play instantly piano methods. I firmly believe that students need competent teachers. I love to write music so I set out to create a piano method that would have some fresh music and would help my students with reading by moving slowly and omitting gratuitous fingering numbers. But I want Paloma Piano to be more that just a piano method, I envision a community where we can share ideas. Piano teaching is always evolving it is my wish that we as teachers can work together to better meet the needs of piano our students,

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Choosing Piano Repertoire

The Never Ending “I Can’t Find a Piece I Like” Continuum

Have you ever heard something like this while choosing piano repertoire?

“Sarah doesn’t practice much because she really doesn’t like classical music.
Maybe if you find some music she likes, it will motivate her to practice more.”

Or this:

“I just want to play that song that goes… E, D#, E, D#, E, D#…”

Maybe you’ve tried to give a persnickety student a choice and after three pieces you hear “Hmmm not sure, can you play another one?”

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How about the student that starts a piece and after a couple of weeks, he decides it’s not for him and he wants another one?

I call this the never ending “I can’t

find a piece I like” continuum. This is why I put a stop to it and
how I handle repertoire choice in my studio.

Early in my career as a piano teacher,
I really wanted to make my students and their parents happy. I also
saw that students would work harder on pieces they liked. So, I
thought, if I find music the kids like, they will be happy and
practice. If the kids are happy and practicing, their parents will be
happy. If the students are all working hard and practicing and their
parents are happy I’ll have a great studio! So I thought.

It actually turned out quite the
opposite. I found that giving my students too many choices of pieces
turned into a nightmare. Instead of happy students, I ended up with
students that never seemed to be satisfied with anything they were
playing. Instead of motivated students, I had frustrated students
and not so happy parents.

In his book “The Paradox of Choice –
Why More is Less” American Psychologist Barry Schwartz talks about
how having choices is a good thing, but having too many choices can
actually cause anxiety and even cripple the decision making process.
I believe this is especially true for children, and the younger they
are the more difficult choices can be for them. Now, I handle
repertoire selection differently. I still let my students have some
choices about what they are playing but I am much more careful to
guide them so that they can make good choices.

I believe my goal as a teacher is,
first and foremost, to help my students reach their goals. To do
this, I need to establish myself as the teacher. I believe it is
important for my students and their parents to understand that:
number one, I that know what I am doing and two, I that have their
best interest at heart. My students need to know that there is a
method to the madness when it comes to choosing what music they will
learn. I want to help them become the best pianists possible.

Beginning Students

Beginning students have very little
choice about what they will be learning. Basically these students
work through method books. Whether they are younger children, teens
or adults I want them to learn to read music and have good technique
before I will allow them to begin selecting their own music. The
exception to this would be holiday music or something for a special
occasion.
When it comes to intermediate students,
I allow them some choices while I still more or less guide them in
what they are learning. Once they are finished with piano method
books all of my students start on classical repertoire. I like to use
a collection called “Music by the Masters” compiled by Russell E.
Lanning. This book has a very nice variety of baroque through
romantic repertoire for the early to late intermediate student. At
this stage, I either assign pieces based on what I think they should
be learning or I may let my student choose between two similar
pieces. Students may also decide to learn some popular music at this
time (if they are keeping up with their classical repertoire). I let
them choose what songs they might like to play and teach them at an
appropriate level. I either use arrangements of popular pieces or
teach my students to play using chords.

Advanced students get the most choice
of all depending upon their goals. I consider advanced students those
who can play pieces at level 7 or above. At this point, many of my
students have reached their piano goals and wish to branch out into
different genres of playing. Some of these students will move on to
other teachers such as Jazz specialists, etc. For those who choose to
stick with me and want to continue to study classical popular and church music, I guide them through a discovery of the piano repertoire including pieces by
well-known and lesser known composers in various periods. I always
encourage my students to play popular music and improvise because I
think it makes them more well-rounded musicians.

What do I do when one of my students
really doesn’t like a certain piece or brings me something they would
really like to learn? It all depends on the situation and the
individual student’s needs. Most of the time, I will make my student
finish a piece once it is started. I point out that as a working
accompanist, I never get to choose the music I play. I tell them that
once in a while I also have to play music I don’t like and that
whether I like the piece or not, learning it makes me a better
pianist. If a student brings in extra music I will let them give it
a try if it’s something I think they can handle.

The main thing that I want my students

to embrace is that we are pianists; It is the piano we love, not
whether or not they love a particular piece. I let them know that
it’s important to learn many different types of music in order to
become well-rounded musicians and good pianists. And you can’t do
that on the Never Ending I Can’t Find a Piece I like Continuum.

The Paradox of Choice and Music by the Masters are both available on Amazon.com
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10 Activities for Preschool Piano Students

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I love teaching preschool piano students, but in order to keep the little ones engaged it is important to keep things moving. Here are 10 activities I use during preschool piano lessons to make things fun and to ensure that learning is taking place, All of these activities are totally free and can be used right away. And the best part is the students can do these “off the bench”. 

#1 The Bow

I begin each preschool piano lesson with a bow. I have the student put her feet together and bow as we count to three. Not only is this a respectful greeting it teaches the student focus, balance, and it helps to prepare her for recitals.

#2 Name the Finger

After teaching finger numbers I practice with the student by touching different fingers on his hand and having him call out the finger numbers. I also let the student point to my fingers as I call out the finger numbers. The fun part is to go faster and faster as the game goes along.

#3 Key Finder

I call out note names and have the student find the keys. For example I might say find all of the D’s on the piano. or play two different G’s with your second finger. I always give the students the chance to play teacher and call out keys for me to play. Sometimes I ask the student to catch my mistakes.

#4 Clap Back

Clap rhythmic combinations and have the student clap the combination back to you. The student can also play teacher and clap examples for you to repeat.

#5 Sing Back

Play pitches on the keyboard and have the student sing the pitches back to you. If the student experiences difficulty you can sing along with him.

#6 High, Middle and Low sounds.

Explore high, middle and low sounds on the piano. Have the student sit in a chair facing away from the piano, play high, middle and low sounds for the student to identify.

#7 Copy Cat

Play notes on the piano and have your student repeat what you have just played. (See the “Copy Cat” song in the Petite People’s Primer).

#8 Name That Tune

Play a familiar song or piece from the Petite Primer, see how long it takes for the student to call out the name of the song.

#9 Rhythm Only

Clap the rhythm to a song and have the student identify the song by rhythm only. For my preschool students I play two songs on the piano, I then clap the rhythm to one of them for the student to identify.

#10 Improvisation

I like to start by playing an ostinato pattern and have the student improvise with me. We usually start with the black keys. When improvising on the white keys I suggest notes for the student to play. For example; I will say. “for this song you will use the notes CD and E”.

I use these activities when I see my preschool piano students becoming restless or bored. It helps to make piano lessons interesting and fun.
Do you have any activities you like to use with your preschool students? Leave a post below.

If you would like Paloma Piano’s Primer for free

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Piano Lessons For Adults

Piano lessons aren’t just for kids anymore, and that’s great news! So many people who missed out on the opportunity to take lessons as children are signing up for piano lessons as adults. I have more adult students than ever before and they range in age from 18 to 87! I am discovering that working with adults is very rewarding. However, I have found working with grown-ups requires a different approach. Piano lessons for adults are a fantastic idea!

Adult Students are Motivated


A big difference between young piano 
students and their grown up counterparts is that the grown-ups know
that they want to be at piano lessons. No one is forcing the adults.
They made the decision and they are paying for the lessons. Most
adults are highly motivated students.Which makes piano lessons for adults very rewarding.

By the same token, no one is forcing
these adult students to practice either. And let’s face it, most
adults are very, very busy. Children are busy too, but adults have
much more responsibility to deal with. This is especially true for
Moms and Dads. Their work is never done, so finding time to
practice can be a real challenge.

Adult Students Have Different Learning Styles

I teach my adult students differently
than I teach the children. I begin by asking my adult students
exactly what it is they would like to be playing – popular music,
classical, jazz, church music, etc. With that in mind, I tailor the
lessons to the student’s individual wants and needs. Adults have
already spent a lifetime not playing the piano so they are all
anxious to get started. None of my adult students are planning to
have careers as professional pianists, so my goal is to get them to
proficiency ASAP!

What is “proficiency”? I define it
as being able to learn and play the music of your choice fluidly. I feel
that my goal as a teacher is not just to teach people how to play
pieces but to teach people how to learn pieces. Although I generally
let my adult students map out their own course of study. I always
focus on a few basic concepts when creating a syllabus for my adult
students.

Music reading

I teaching piano lessons for adults. I teach my students to read
music. I think that it is very important for people to have at least
basic music reading skills. Unless I can place students at a higher
level, I start all of my adult students beginning with Book One.
Students go through the lessons at their own pace. Most of my adult
beginners end up going through the material very quickly in the
beginning and settle in working at the Book Two level going forward
though the end of book four.

Technique

I begin teaching technique right away
with adults. My book of choice is “Hannon the Virtuoso Pianist”.
I start with the first exercise hands separately and then have the
students put hands together. I am not concerned with speed or having
them cover many exercises. We focus on hand position, relaxation and
coordination. If need be, I work with the students on more basic
exercises such as those found in Paloma Piano’s technique book.

Scales and Chords

Major scales are a must, in my opinion.
Most of my adult students want to play popular music and to play
popular music you need chords. To make chords you to know at least
the 12 major scales. Scales also help to establish basic fingering
patterns.

Read the post “The Overachieving Piano student”

Improvisation

At the first lesson, I show my students
how easy it is to improvise using the black keys only. True this is a
bit “gimmicky” but it gets fingers moving, imagination going and
ears working. I encourage all of my students, both adults and
children, to improvise and experiment with the piano. I also have a
few pieces that students can learn by watching the videos on the
Paloma Piano website. My goal is to have my students experience the
enjoyment of being able to make music from the very start of lessons.

Once my adult students can read music
fairly well, know some scales and can play with hands together (which
in the Paloma Piano method is at the end of book 2b). I change the
structure of the lesson. At that point, we spend the first half of
the lesson working on traditional piano studies and the second half
we focus on learning the music that meets the individual student’s
interest.

In Conclusion

Having spent the vast majority of my
piano teaching career working with children, I must admit that at
first taking on adult students was a bit of a challenge. I am always
trying to find better ways to meet the needs of all of my students. I
have found that my adult students are some of the best students I
have.

If you would like tons of free music and resources for your adult students or for your younger students,

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Visit our sister site for students and parents pianoparents.net

How to Teach Music Reading

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How to Teach Music Reading

In the last post we had discussed the challenges of learning to read piano music. This post will address how the Paloma Piano method can help students become proficient music readers.There are many ways to teach music reading. Any legitimate reading program involves hard work and practice. I do not believe there are “short-cuts” to music literacy.

In my 30 plus of years teaching the piano I have tried a plethora of programs to teach music reading including; Hand Position Reading, Intervallic Reading, and Guide Note Reading. In an earlier post I told the story of how the Paloma Method came about. Here is how I teach music reading.

Here is how the method is laid out;

Primer

The Petite Primer is meant to be used with very young children ages 3 to 5 years old. It is the first exposure to their piano and to music. Each book tells a story in poetic form, that the teacher can read at the lesson with the student. There are duets to play with the teacher, at this stage the pieces are taught by ear, or by rote. There is a big note student book with Allpha Notes and fingerings. There are also videos on the website that contain all of the music in the primer set to beautiful artwork for the kids to watch as they listen, (For more info see the video “How to use the Petite Primer”).

The books are split up for easy printing. All of the books are under 40 pages

Books 1a, 1b, and 1c;

These books teach music reading beginning with quarter notes, half notes, whole notes. and dotted half notes and the corresponding rests, along with all of the notes on the Grand Staff starting with Middle C through G, and Bass C through G. The books covers the notes in Treble C position, Middle C position, so that the notes of the Grand Staff are learned thoroughly. The books also include 4/4 and 3/4 Time Signatures Legato Playing Basic Dynamics, Repeat Signs, etc.

Books 2a. and 2b

These books include all of the skills above plus Ledger Line Notes, Notes A minor, Minor Key Explanation, Eighth Notes, Accidentals, Key Signatures Also included; Staccato Playing, Pedaling, Dynamics, Tempo Marks, The pick-up beat, Ostinato, and more Articulations,

Books 3a and 3b

These books include all of the above plus; More Major and Minor Key Signatures, The Dotted Quarter-Eighth Note combination, The Triplet, Pieces with Arpeggios,
Explanation of Scale Degrees and Chords, Alberti Bass, D,C, al Fine, Dissonance explanation, Intervals of the Major Scale. Phrasing, and More Advanced Articulations Accent Marks etc.

Books 4a and 4b

These book bridge the gap between the Paloma Piano Method and Standard Repertoire. Including such skills as; Sixteenth Notes Including the Dotted Eighth- Sixteenth combination, Grace Notes, Syncopation, 3/8 and 6/8 Time Signatures, D.S. and Coda Signs,The Chromatic Scale.

Paloma Piano Also includes many supplemental materials.

I have found that by beginning slowly with note reading and counting that students are able to build a solid foundation for musical literacy. These books include a minimal amount of fingerings and the pieces do not stay in hand position format. I have my students count carefully as they begin learning each piece so that rhythm is never neglected. On average it takes about a year and a half to two years for the average new student to complete all four books.

I have also used Paloma Piano to teach music reading with many a transfer student. I will admit that most of them find the lack if gratuitous fingerings in the music challenging. However, I have found with patience and encouragement even the most reluctant students learn to read the music. And once they can read practicing the piano becomes a whole lot more fun!

What do you think about how to teach music reading? Leave a comment below.

If you would like to try the Paloma Piano Method the first book is completely free. Just click on the button below and sign up.

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