How To Choose A Piano Teacher – Part 2: The Studio

Choose the right piano teacher by looking at these simple features at their studio

 

How to Choose a Music School for your child

 

Are you considering enrolling your child (or yourself) in piano lessons? Then this is the blog series for you.

In this two-part series, we’re discussing how to choose a piano teacher, with a focus on what to look for, what you can compromise on (if absolutely necessary), and what’s non-negotiable.

Last week, we discussed what to look for in the teacher themselves. If you haven’t read that post yet, you can find it here. As a refresher, when you choose a piano teacher, you should look for the following things:

  • University qualifications (preferably B.Mus. majoring in performance)
  • AMEB qualifications (A.Mus. or L.Mus – non-negotiable)
  • Experience (someone who’s taught for 5+ years)
  • Personality (someone you “click” with)

Today, let’s look at what you should look for in the teacher’s piano studio

Cost

Generally speaking, a piano teacher’s qualifications and experience determines how much they charge for lessons. Prices range from $40 to $150 an hour; $80 an hour is the average.

Piano lessons are a big investment for any family. So it’s important to ensure you get what you pay for. $80 an hour should get you a fully-qualified teacher with a B.Mus. (majoring in performance), an A.Mus. or L.Mus. from a music examination board, and at least 10 years’ teaching experience.

Some music schools charge $80 per hour, but their teachers are not fully-qualified. The extra money goes to the school, not the teacher. As I said, if you’re going to pay that sort of money, you want to get your money’s worth. (If you do choose to go with a less-qualified teacher due to financial pressures, be sure you’re paying a less-qualified wage.)

So how do you make sure you’re getting what you pay for with a fully-qualified teacher? As I said in my last post, don’t be afraid to ask about a teacher’s experience and qualifications. You’re paying for their services, so you deserve to know.

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Location

A common-sense consideration, but an important one: try to find a local teacher located no more than 20 to 30 minutes away. While you and your child may initially be enthusiastic about lessons at the end of an hour’s drive, this enthusiasm probably won’t last.

But be sure you do travel to the teacher. While some teachers will come to you, your child (or you) will be disadvantaged by learning to play only on the piano in your home. This is especially true when it comes to recitals or exams, as a student who has only ever played on one instrument will struggle to adapt to a foreign instrument, especially under pressure.

[Tweet “A student who has only ever played on one #piano will struggle to adapt to a foreign instrument”]

Which leads us onto our next point…

Instrument

Always choose a teacher who teaches their students on a quality acoustic piano. This is non-negotiable. Your child (or you) cannot learn to play the piano properly on an electronic keyboard. While a keyboard is an acceptable instrument for beginners practicing at home, you should always learn on an acoustic piano.

(To learn more about acoustic pianos vs. electronic keyboards, check out this post.)

Studio Policy

It might seem a funny thing to look for, but it’s important to choose a piano teacher with a thorough studio policy.

A studio policy indicates that a teacher is experienced and successful, and runs their studio professionally. The policy will protect them, but it will also protect you as a client.

Look for elements in their policy that discuss:

  • Trial lessons (you don’t want to be locked into a term of lessons without having a trial first)
  • How lessons are charged (e.g. weekly, monthly, per term, or annually) and whether late fees apply
  • Policies for make-up lessons and cancellations
  • Provision of sheet music (photocopying sheet music is illegal)

This will give you a good idea of the piano teacher’s level of professionalism, experience, and ethics.

Exams

While some music schools have their own exam system, any qualifications your child (or you) obtain will not be recognised elsewhere. If piano exams are important to you, then be sure to choose a teacher who prepares students for music board exams with either AMEB, ABRSM, or Trinity.

Your teacher should also have a transcript of their students’ past exam results. Feel free to ask them to show this to you.

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Performance Opportunities

I’m a big believer in providing students with performance opportunities. Performing helps your playing and confidence blossom. Ask if your piano teacher holds recitals for students, or provides them with other opportunities to perform. You can also check to see if there are photos or – better yet – videos of their students performing on their website or YouTube/Vimeo channel.

Making The Choice

Do you feel prepared to make the right choice when it comes to choosing a piano teacher and piano studio for your child (or you)?

When evaluating a piano studio, remember:

  • Make sure you get what you pay for in terms of teacher experience
  • Find a teacher near you
  • Always choose a teacher who teaches on an acoustic piano
  • Make sure there’s a studio policy to protect them and you
  • Look for a teacher who teaches AMEB, ABRSM, or Trinity
  • Make sure the studio offers performance opportunities to their students

If you have any questions or comments about this post, then please share them in the comments below. And if you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it on Facebook so your friends can learn how to choose a piano teacher, too!

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Looking For A Piano Teacher?

I know a good one 😉 Read more about learning the piano with Le Piano Academy here.

 

 

How to Choose a Piano Teacher – Part 1

Everything You Must Know to Make the Right Choice for You and Your Child

 

Choosing the right Piano Teacher for you

 

Are you considering enrolling your child in piano lessons? Perhaps you’re considering learning the instrument yourself?

As another school term approaches, you may be searching for a piano teacher. But how do you choose the right one?

In Part One of this two-part blog series, we’ll consider what to look for in a piano teacher themselves. If you want to be confident you’re making the right choice of piano teacher, then this is the post for you. Next week, we’ll delve deeper as we discuss what to look for in a piano studio. (You can find the second blog post here.)

Word-Of-Mouth vs. Google

I may be telling you this through a blog on the internet, but I’m the first to admit that word-of-mouth referrals from a friend or family member are the best way to find a music teacher. The reason for this is that the internet is unregulated, and so anyone can claim to be a “piano teacher”, no matter how unfounded the claim may be.

If you can’t get a referral from a friend, however, then this post will be extremely helpful for you. When you find a teacher via Google, the first thing to look for is whether they have a video portfolio of live student performances. This will provide insights into their teaching quality and style. When deciding whether they’re the teacher for you, you can also apply the same measures you would use to judge a teacher you found through a friend. These measures are listed below.

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University Qualifications

If you’re serious about learning the piano, you’ll want to choose a teacher with a music degree – usually a Bachelor of Music or “B.Mus.”.

You’ll also want to know what their major is, be it performance, musicology, composition, or music technology. While a performance major must first pass a piano audition to enter their degree, this is not required of students studying other majors.

It’s also important to discover where a teacher studied. Prestigious universities such as the Sydney Conservatorium or Elder Conservatorium have a good reputation for a reason. Their entry standard is higher than the standard for lower-tier music institutions.

Your child (or you) can, of course, take piano lessons with a less-qualified teacher. But be aware that if you do so, they will be less qualified to teach technique, and prepare you for exams.

So for best results, select a teacher who majored in performance, and studied at a prestigious university. Don’t be afraid to ask them about their qualifications, either. You’ll be paying for their services, so you deserve to know.

Music Board Qualifications

In addition to looking at a music teacher’s degree, major, and university, it’s also a good idea to ask if they have a music board examination diploma (A.Mus. or L.Mus.) from one of the three main music boards in Australia – AMEB, Trinity, and ABRSM.

A.Mus. and L.Mus. students have studied to an advanced level. If a music teacher claims to teach advanced music, but has only studied up to Grade 6 AMEB, then frankly, they’re exaggerating.

Experience studying for and sitting these exams also better prepares a teacher to train their students to do so. As before, don’t be afraid to ask prospective piano teachers about their music board qualifications.

While you may, for financial reasons, choose a teacher who hasn’t successfully studied at a prestigious uni, I would recommend that you don’t compromise on music board qualifications. Always choose a piano teacher who has studied A.Mus. or L.Mus.

Teaching Experience

As a general rule, an experienced teacher is better able to teach a beginner student. They know what works when it comes to teaching, and what doesn’t. And you’ll see this in their students at recitals and in their video portfolio.

Many less-experienced teachers are actually students currently studying at university, and teaching piano on the side. These teachers are often young and enthusiastic, but their teaching methods are not proven. They are cheaper, and may end up being a more affordable option in the short-term, but remember: you will get what you pay for.

When it comes to teacher experience, you actually don’t have to take someone’s word for it. Instead, ask to see a transcript of their students’ music board exam results. If they claim to have been teaching for 30 years, but have only put students through exams in the last couple of years, be wary.

[Tweet “Young and inexperienced piano teachers’ teaching methods are not proven #piano #pianist”]

 

Teacher Personality

You know the sorts of adults your child gets along with (and the ones you get along with, too). So make sure you choose a teacher whose personality will compliment your child. You definitely don’t want a teacher who will make them feel uncomfortable!

Of course, when it comes to personality, it’s a rather personal thing. But that said, you’ll generally find that the best teachers are easy going (especially towards younger beginner students), pleasant, and have a good sense of humour. They also know how to apply pressure to older and more advanced students that makes them perform, without making them feel threatened or uncomfortable.

As I said, personality is a very personal thing, so check whether your prospective piano teacher offers a free trial lesson, so you can get an idea of how your teacher and child (or you) will work together.

Making The Choice

Do you feel more confident in knowing what to look for in a piano teacher for you and your child?

Remember, when you choose a piano teacher, look for the following things:

  • University qualifications (preferably B.Mus. majoring in performance)
  • AMEB qualifications (A.Mus. or L.Mus – this really is non-negotiable)
  • Experience (look for a teacher who’s taught for 5+ years)
  • Personality (make sure you “click”!)

Next week, we’ll discuss what to look for in their studio and the way they run it.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, please share them below. And if you’ve enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it on Facebook or wherever you hang out online, so your friends can know how to choose a piano teacher too.

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Looking For A Piano Teacher?

I know a good one 😉 Learn more about learning the piano with Le Piano Academy here.

 

What’s the Difference? Group Piano Lessons vs. Individual Tuition

The past 20 years have seen the emergence of a new form of piano teaching – the group piano lesson.

 

Group Piano Lessons vs. Individual Tuition

 

On the face of it, group lessons may look like a good thing. After all, they’re sociable and fun, and from a cost per hour perspective, they’re cheaper than individual private lessons. But group piano lessons are not a good long-term investment in your child’s musical future. Here’s why…

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Instrument

Individual piano lessons at a studio are always taught on a piano. This allows the teacher to teach your child correct technique and musical expression – two of the building blocks for good piano playing.

Group lessons, on the other hand, are almost always taught on keyboards. This is problematic, because your child cannot learn proper technique on a keyboard. Other aspects of keyboard learning are also difficult to translate to piano playing, as many keyboards have keys that are a different width to a regular piano, and many have fewer keys as well – 49 rather than 61. (If you’d like to know more about keyboards vs. pianos, check out my piano buying guide for beginners.)

Teacher Qualifications

Most private piano lessons are taught by a qualified piano teacher – often with a university degree.

In contrast, many group lessons are taught by less-qualified teachers, usually with AMEB grade 4 certification. Less-qualified teachers know less about the theory and practice of teaching, and are generally less able to teach correct technique.

Individual Attention

Individual piano lessons allow the teacher to give your child their undivided attention. They can also tailor and personalise each lesson to suit your child’s learning pace, talents, and interests.

In group piano lessons, students receive little or no individual attention. Everyone is taught exactly the same thing at the same pace, and in the same way. Because of the less-personalised nature of group lessons, it can be difficult for students to improve quickly, and individual challenges can remain unaddressed.

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Technique and Note Reading

Thanks to the individual attention they receive, and the teacher’s qualifications, children enrolled in private piano lessons are often better able to learn correct technique and note reading. Correct technique is the foundation of piano playing. If it’s not taught, then a student will often have to start from scratch when they change piano teachers.

For some reason, many group piano classes don’t cover note reading. However, there’s only so far your child can go with the piano if they can’t read music. Because the teachers are unable to provide each child with extended individual attention, the children cannot learn good technique at the same pace they would were they enrolled in individual lessons.

Repertoire

During individual piano lessons, the teacher can personalise and vary the repertoire your child plays according to their interests and abilities. Your child’s repertoire choices are ultimately unlimited, if the teacher is willing.

Most group lesson syllabuses, on the other hand, aren’t designed to teach past nursery rhymes. So the repertoire is much more limited.

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Cost

From a basic dollars perspective, private piano tuition is more expensive than group lessons.

However, if you look at the number of dollars that you pay per minute of individualised attention, group lessons are actually more expensive. It all depends on your perspective, and whether you’re interested in making a long-term investment, or saving money in the short-term.

The Verdict

If you’re serious about your child learning to play the piano, then you can’t go past private, individual piano lessons.

The piano is a complicated instrument to learn. Your child has to learn to read two musical staffs simultaneously, and they have to learn to play with two hands, which will usually be doing different things simultaneously. As such, I believe that learning to play the piano is a task better achieved with individual attention and teaching.

Your Say

Have you ever enrolled your child in group piano lessons? What was your experience?

Thinking about enrolling your child in piano lessons? Share this post on social media to start a discussion with other parents about the pros and cons of group and individual piano lessons.

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Why It’s Never Too Late: Learning the Piano as an Adult

If you think that piano lessons are only for kids, think again.

 

Learning the Piano as an Adult – It’s Never Too Late

 

I currently teach six adult students at my Sydney piano academy. They’re each a pleasure to teach, and they’ve all made amazing progress in the time that they’ve been with me, be it 18 months, or over three years.

There are many misconceptions and myths about learning the piano as an adult. So this week we’re going to get our myth buster on and discuss why it’s never too late to learn to play the piano.

Busted: The Biggest Myth About Adults and Piano Lessons

The biggest myth about learning the piano as an adult is that you’re too old. And that’s simply not true.

I’ve taught adults ranging in age from their 30s to their 60s. They have gone on to accomplish all sorts of musical goals, just like my younger students. Some have successfully sat AMEB exams for the first time in their lives. Others have learnt to play a particular piece for a special event, such as their wedding. I’ve also had adult students who were afraid of public performances who now enjoy playing at our annual recitals. In every case, they’ve proven that you’re never too old to learn to play the piano.

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Pros of Learning Piano as an Adult

As an adult, there are actually several advantages you will enjoy when learning to play the piano.

Concentration

To begin with, it will come as no surprise when I point out that adult students have much higher concentration levels than kids. This means that as an adult piano student, you can learn musical concepts and musical theory much more quickly than children, which means you’ll also learn to play better, faster.

Motivation

Plenty of children don’t really want to learn to play the piano, and so motivating them can be a battle. Because most adults who take up piano lessons are there because they want to be, motivation isn’t really an issue. You’re there because you want to be, and because you want to improve, you will practise.

Emotional Development

Unlike children, adults are emotionally developed, and so it’s much easier for them to grasp musical expression. This allows you to connect with the music more easily, and to play more expressively.

Time Management

Adults are also much better at managing their free time than children. They also realise that improvement requires practise. This means they are better at allocating time to practise each week – and are more likely to do it.

Cons of Learning the Piano as an Adult

Of course, it’s not all easy sailing to learn the piano as an adult. In addition to enjoying all the benefits described above, you may also face some of the following challenges. Thankfully, if you are aware of them, you will be better prepared to prevent them from becoming a problem for you.

Time Management

Yes, this one can also be a con. Although, as an adult, you’re probably very good at time management, you’re also almost certainly very time poor. Family, work, and social commitments, as well as other activities such as going to the gym, dancing, etc., can make it difficult to find the time to practise the piano. This is a challenge that can be overcome, but it’s important to be aware of it.

Well-Developed Ear

Now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “how is this not a pro?” The reason for this is that adult students know what sounds good and what sounds bad (kids are much less aware of this). This means that adults students will often compare their own playing to the concert pianists they have heard, and then be disappointed when they don’t measure up. These musicians have years of training under their belts, and so it’s important not to be critical of your own playing in comparison. If you practise and have fun, you will improve.

Over-Developed Hand Muscles

Children’s hand and finger muscles are malleable, but adults have difficulty playing the piano without tension. I’m yet to teach an adult whose hands are relaxed and tension-free like a child’s. And I know how difficult it can be, because as an adult learning to play the violin, I also struggle to play with a relaxed technique in order to ensure the correct bow hold, etc. But that doesn’t mean you should give up!

Teaching Adult Piano Students: My Approach

Another myth we’d better bust is that as an adult student, you will be learning nursery rhymes and forced to wear fancy dress outfits like kids at school recitals and concerts. Maybe that happens elsewhere, but certainly not in my Sydney piano studio!

 

Puffy Shirt

 

Before teaching a new adult student, I will always ask what kind of music you want to play in a year’s time, and what your goals are. You may want to play classical or jazz music, you may want to learn chords, you might want to focus on learning to read music, or something else. Whatever you want to do, I will structure your lessons so that you can achieve your musical goals. (Of course, your goals need to be realistic; you won’t be a concert pianist in six months!)

I don’t use children’s method books, as there are plenty of good adult ones. Once you’ve learnt the fundamentals of music (note reading, duration, technique, etc) from these books and built a reasonable foundation, we will choose pieces you would like to learn, and work on them.

Recipe for Success

The recipe for success when learning to play the piano is simple: all my successful adult piano students have realistic goals, and practice regularly.

If you do the same, and enjoy learning something new, then you will love learning to play the piano too!

Do you know someone who would love to learn the piano, but has been holding back? Why not share this blog post with them so they can discover that it’s never too late to learn.

And if you want to learn more about piano lessons for adults click here, or call me today.

I would love to be a part of your adult piano journey!

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Simple Solutions to Help Your Child Practice the Piano

Tips for parents who want to support and encourage their kids

 

Simple Piano Practice Tips to Help Kids with Lessons

 

Attention parents!

Have you ever wondered how you can best encourage your child to practice the piano?

There are many different potential barriers to piano practice, from tiredness to busyness, and everything in between. Below I’ve outlined some tried and true simple solutions to these problems, as well as other tips to help you encourage your child to practice the piano.

How Often is Practice Required?

In the last Piano Notes post, we discussed how at the end of each weekly piano lesson, the practice tasks which I set for my five to nine year old students should be achievable after three consecutive 10 minute practice sessions. Not all piano teachers follow this pattern, but if your child is enrolled at Le Piano Academy, then that’s the volume of work they will be set. Ideally, that means that your child should be practicing for just 10 minutes every day.

But how can you help them do that?

Advice for Two Income Families

Many of my students come from families where both parents work. Because of this, they go to day care after school, and often won’t return home until 6pm, or even later. At this time of night, most young children aged 5-9 are too tired to practice. So what can you do?

The solution to this problem is actually simple: Get your child to practice 10 minutes in the morning, before they go to school. That way, they’ll be alert and awake (we all know too well that kids are morning people!). As an added bonus, having your child practice in the morning will also keep them out from under your feet while you get ready for work, or attend to your younger children.

Advice for “Extra-Curricular” Families

In addition to taking piano lessons, several of my young students participate in other extracurricular activities each week. These activities include swimming, tennis, football, dancing, gymnastics, and a range of other things. Once again, this can mean that they return home late each day, and even if they don’t return home late, they’ll often still be tired.

As before, the solution is simple: encourage your child to practice for 10 minutes in the morning, or before or after dinner.

The Best Forms of Encouragement

In my experience, bribing your child to practice (e.g. “if you practice, then you can play Minecraft on the Xbox”) and threatening punishment if they don’t (e.g. “you better practice, or we’ll stop taking you to piano lessons”) are extremely ineffective.

 

The Best Forms Of Encouragement

 

As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I structure my lessons for young beginners so that practice will be easy, achievable, and ultimately fun. It isn’t hard. So all you need to do as a parent is to remind and encourage.

One effective way to encourage your child to practice is to say something like “why don’t you go and practice what you learnt yesterday so that I can see how much you’re improving?” Most children love to receive attention, approval, and praise from their parents, so this approach tends to work a treat. Experiment and see what works for you.

[Tweet “Bribing your child to practice are extremely ineffective. #practicetweets #piano”]

 

The Final Word

Do you have difficulty encouraging your child to practice the piano? Have you found an approach that gets them playing every time? Share your thoughts in the comments below to help other parents in the Piano Notes community who are facing this age-old challenge.

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How to Practice the Piano Effectively: Young Beginners

 

Effective Piano Practice For Kids

 

If you read my last blog post, you’ll know all about my approach to teaching younger students. In particular, you’ll know that I choose to set homework or practice tasks that my young students (those aged 5 to 9) should be able to achieve after three consecutive 10 minute practice sessions.

Many people have asked why I choose to approach my beginner students’ practice tasks in this way, so this blog post sets out my practice philosophy, and why I believe this approach teaches young beginner students (aged 5 to 9) how to learn and to practice the piano as effectively as possible.

The Key to Effective Practice

The key to effective piano practice (and to being successful at pretty much anything else) is simple:

  1. micro-manage tasks
  2. set short-term goals
  3. achieve short-term goals (and set new ones)
  4. practice with purpose

This process needs to be taught (implicitly) to beginners and young children. Otherwise, their learning progress will plateau when they begin to tackle more difficult pieces.

How I Apply This to Kids’ Piano Practice

I always teach my students so that what we learn in their piano lesson is something they will be able to practice at home. As mentioned before, I set homework for my young beginners that’s achievable with only three consecutive days of 10 minutes practice after their lesson day. This is the “golden period” – the most effective time to practice after a lesson.

While the volume of work I give is tailored to a child’s individual learning level and pace, I always give them enough work that they personally will be able to achieve within the three day, 10 minute schedule.

Three days of 10 minutes practice meets all four of the steps to effective practice I described above: micro-managing tasks, setting and achieving short-term goals, and practicing with purpose.

Why I Set Work for Young Beginners Based on Three Day, 10 Minute Achievability

The reason I set my young students work that can be achieved after three 10 minute practice sessions is that by the fourth day of their practice, they will be able to play their set homework easily, and by the fifth and sixth days, it will be even easier. Being able to play fluently is a reward in itself, and gives these kids a sense of achievement.

This also means that the occasional bad week of practice won’t set them back – even if they miss a couple of days of practice, what they learn on days one to three will be enough to get them through their next lesson.

When children find things easier, they enjoy them more. In addition to the sense of achievement they will feel when they are able to play fluently, they will also be having fun by day four, because playing well is fun. By making it fun, they will be more motivated to continue the process each week. And, of course, they will be further rewarded at their next lesson with stickers and chocolates. (Never underestimate the power of stickers!)

Best of all, by setting such an achievable workload for them to practice, when they come back for their next lesson, their pieces are learnt, and we can move on to new pieces and new short-term, achievable goals.

[Tweet “Being able to play fluently is a reward in itself, and gives these kids a sense of achievement.”]

 

Why I Don’t Set My Students More Work

Setting work that requires five or six days’ worth of 10 minutes practice sessions can be overwhelming for kids. (Remember, we’re talking five to nine year olds, here.) If practice is overwhelming, then the fun factor of playing correctly is gone. Children can do it, but not for long. Eventually, they burn out.

I also believe very strongly in quality practice over quantity practice. If your six year old practices with purpose for 10 minutes a day, they will achieve much more than they would if they practices for 20 minutes a day without purpose.

Finally, I believe that setting this volume of homework allows for steady, weekly improvement with solid foundations. My methods aren’t a short-cut fix or accelerated program that will become a problem in the long term. Slow and steady always wins the race when teaching young kids, and so that is what I do.

[Tweet “Slow and steady always wins the race when teaching young kids. #piano #pianist”]

 

A Long-Term Approach

When my younger students are able to do three days of 10 minutes practice easily, I slowly increase the set time to 12 minutes, then 15, then 20, etc. After taking lessons for a year, most of my young students will be practicing at least three days for 30 minutes at a time every week.

Tried and True

My approach to effective piano practice for young beginners might not be the most common approach, but in my many years’ of teaching, I have found time and again that is the most powerful, and that it brings the greatest long-term results.

Has your child been following my practice program? If so, have you noticed the results they begin to enjoy on days four, five, and six? Share your answers in the comments below.

For the other piano teachers: how do you set work for your students to practice? Do you follow a similar methodology to mine, or do you have a different philosophy? I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Supporting Your Child’s Piano Practice

If you would like to learn how you, as a parent, can support and encourage your child to practice effectively, then read this blog post.

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Piano Teaching Methods for Young Beginners

 

Teaching Methods for Young Pianists

 

There is an old proverb that says

[Tweet “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. #piano”]

 

One of the main goals I set myself as a piano teacher is to teach my young beginner students correct methods for playing and practicing the piano. This is important because it sets the foundation for their entire piano-playing career. And if you get the foundations right, then you have created a solid base to build upon in the future.

My beginners’ practice methods philosophy is covered in another blog, but today we’ll concentrate on my piano teaching methods for young beginners. These methods encompass both what I teach, and how I teach it.

Young Beginners

A young beginner piano student is a child aged between 5 and 9 years old who is taking piano lessons for the first time.

Regardless of whether they are slow, fast, or average learners, I cover the same topics for all my young beginners. These topics are: the fundamentals of music, keyboard geography, and technique. However, while I may teach all my students the same things, I individualise the pace at which I teach, which topics I place more emphasis on, and the structure of my lessons in order to suit each child’s individual needs and abilities.

What I Teach: Fundamentals of Music

The most fundamental aspects of music are note-reading and rhythm. I teach my beginner students to read and recognise the two music staves (treble and bass clef), the different music notes (A, B, C, D, etc.), and duration notation that make up written music (minims, crotchets, quavers, semibreves, etc.). We learn using a variety of tools, including note-reading apps on the iPad, and rhythm games.

(You can learn more about why I use an iPad in this blog post.)

What I Teach: Keyboard Geography

It’s no use knowing that the note you’re looking at is a “C” if you don’t know where to find it on the piano! So I teach my beginner students to recognise where the notes on the staff are in relation to the piano keyboard.

What I Teach: Technique

For young beginners, I actually don’t teach scales from the outset. Children can still play simple pieces with good technique without having learnt their scales straight away. After all, we’re talking pieces such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, not a Chopin Etude.

But what I do teach technique-wise is posture – both sitting posture, and the hand- and finger-shape that’s appropriate to the child’s hand size. Both are vital for good piano playing, comfort and, ultimately, health.

How I Teach: Maintaining Attention

No one will be surprised when I point out that young children do not have great attention spans. Some seem to switch off their brains after only five minutes of lesson time, while others can go for longer. But no young child can maintain full concentration on one thing for an entire lesson.

When my young students’ concentration begins to wander, I mix up the lesson by introducing something new. We play aural skills games like clapping a rhythm, or humming or singing a simple melody. At least, to the kids, these are games – in reality, we’re actually learning something, and practicing some of the fundamentals of music. I also use the iPad to play note-reading games (the equivalent of flash cards) to reinforce the new notes they have learnt in their lessons, and the old notes they’ve learnt in previous lessons.

The degree to which I need to use these extra “games” varies according to each child’s ability to concentrate. But they are something I use with every young beginner.

How I Teach: Fun

Of course, the music learning games I play with my students during their lessons aren’t just to help maintain their attention and vary the lesson content. We also play them because they are fun. By making lessons fun and enjoyable, kids are actually more likely to learn, and more likely to feel motivated to learn. After all, if you enjoy what you are doing, you tend to do a better job of it, and you are more likely to want to do it in the first place. And that’s exactly the sort of outcome you want for a child learning to play the piano!

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How I Teach: Encourage, Encourage, Encourage

All students need encouragement, both at home and from their piano teacher. As such, I always encourage my students and praise them both for the effort they put in (regardless of success), and for their successes.

It may seem surprising, but often the kids who require the most encouragement aren’t the slow or average learners – it’s the fast learners.

The reason for this is that children who are naturally smart are used to being the top of their class without putting in much effort. This is a problem, because they only want to play a piece or song once. They are so used to doing everything else only once, that they get frustrated when they make a mistake and cannot play a song perfectly the first time. For these students, I spend a lot of time motivating and encouraging them, and reminding them that it’s alright if they cannot play something perfectly the first time – they simply need to keep trying.

How I Teach: The Ultimate Lesson Focus

The ultimate focus of each of my lessons is on teaching my students something that can be set as homework or practice for them in the following week. I always set homework for young beginners that is achievable with only three consecutive days of 10 minutes practice after their lesson day. The type and amount of work I give is tailored to suit their learning level and pace, and I constantly re-evaluate how much work I should give each student.

My practice philosophy, and the reasoning behind why I set beginners homework that can be achieved with three 10 minute practice sessions, is explained here. But the main reason is that I want to set my students something that is achievable, and which, if they do practice, will allow us to move onto something new in our next lesson.

My Teaching Approach

So there you have it: my approach to teaching the piano to children aged five to nine. After nearly two decades of piano teaching experience, I have discovered that this approach seems to be the most effective for teaching young beginners.

Audience Participation

Have you got any questions about anything I’ve covered (or not covered) in this post? Pop them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

For any music teachers out there: how do you teach young beginners? Is your philosophy similar to mine, or do you have a different approach? Let me know in the comments below!

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5 Essential Tools for Beginner Piano Students

 

Essential Tools for Piano Students

 

Are you a beginner pianist? Is your child beginning to take piano lessons? Parents and beginner adult students often ask me what tools they (or their children) need to be able to learn to play the piano. This blog post covers five essential tools I recommend every beginner piano student should have.

1: Every Pianist Needs an Instrument to Practice on

It may sound obvious, but every piano student needs a piano to practice on!

As to which piano you should buy, I’ve put together a blog post outlining some of the best value instruments for beginners and intermediates. But if you don’t have time to read that, too, then the short answer is: for beginners, an acoustic (regular) piano is ideal, and an electric piano is the next best option. Failing that, however, for a new piano student, a beginner keyboard will also do. If you choose to get a beginner keyboard, always buy one with 61 keys, and make sure that the keys are the same width as those on a regular piano.

 

Yamaha U1 Piano

Photo Credit: Yamaha

 

(Want a specific piano recommendation tailored to your individual needs? Send me an email, or leave a note in the comments below.)

2: An Adjustable-Height Piano Bench is a Must

An adjustable-height piano bench is a must for all piano students, but it’s particularly important for young beginners.

Many students are taught to sit at the piano incorrectly because they have the wrong-sized stool. This is not only uncomfortable, but can also lead them to play with their arm at an incorrect height, and can even result in a strained back.

All this can be solved with an adjustable-height piano bench. The adjustable feature allows little humans to sit comfortably and correctly, with their arms at the right height, and their wrists unbent. Best of all, the adjustability means the bench will still suit them when they grow to become bigger humans. Adjustable benches are also great for families with two or more piano students of varying ages and heights, as they can be adjusted each time a new sibling sits down to practice.

 

Piano Bench

 

An adjustable piano bench will cost you anywhere between $150-500. You can buy one at any reputable piano store. One final thing to keep in mind when selecting a bench is to make sure you choose a comfortable one, as in the future your child will be practicing for up to an hour at a time every day. And no one wants to sit uncomfortably for an entire hour!

3: A Metronome is a Vital Tool

A metronome isn’t necessary for a complete beginner, but once you begin learning scales, you will need a metronome.

It’s said that the Germans know how to do three things well: manufacture cars, play football (you saw the 2014 World Cup final), and make metronomes. As such, it will come as no surprise when I say that my favourite metronome brand is the German “Wittner.

Wittner metronomes come in three main categories – real wood, plastic wood, and novelty. Real wood metronomes are the best quality, and I just love the traditional ticking noise they make. They tend to be around $200-250. Plastic wood Wittners are also quality metronomes, and are cheaper, at $100-150. Then, of course, there are the novelty metronomes that come in penguin shapes etc., and are a similar price to the plastic wood options.

 

Wittner Metronome

Photo Credit: Wittner

 

You could buy a cheap Chinese metronome on eBay, but it will never be the same quality as a Wittner. Wittners are built to last, and so I believe it’s worth paying extra for them, as they will last a lifetime.

Metronomes are important because they help instil a sense of timing. And rhythm and timing are vital for good piano playing.

You may be wondering why I haven’t mentioned metronome apps for phones and tablets. Sure, you can use them, and there are even free ones, but I don’t believe that they are ever loud enough (unless you want to plug them into a stereo and drive the entire family crazy – not something I recommend!). And let’s face it, they really just don’t sound as good as that traditional metronome “tick”.

4: Invest in an iPad

Two years ago, this item wouldn’t have made the list. But I now find that the iPad is a great musical education tool.

I’m an Android fan, but the iOS music apps are more polished, and there are more of them. With an iPad, you don’t need paper practice diaries, flash cards, or note reading worksheets. Instead you can get a practice diary or log journal app, flash card apps, note reading apps, and apps for aural training. The last item in particular is a real money-saver, as you won’t have to pay nearly $80 for an AMEB aural training CD! And, of course (though I’m loathe to mention it), you will find metronome apps as well.

 

Apple iPad

Photo Credit: Apple

 

iPads are also great for music games, which can keep kids simultaneously entertained and educated. For those who are too old for games, you can also buy and store PDF sheet music on the iPad, meaning you don’t have to carry a large folder of sheet music around everywhere. (I particularly recommend the forScore app for this.)

5: Get a Recording Device

Recording devices are more important for intermediate and advanced students, but they’re also great for beginners.

When you play the piano, what you hear and what someone listening hears can be very different. The only way you’ll know if this is the case is if you can hear both. And the only way to do that is to record yourself. Recording is also handy because it allows students to record their lessons in order to listen to them afterwards.

 

Zoom Handy Recorder H4n

Photo Credit: Zoom

 

The very best recording devices are the Zoom products. I’ve been using them since they first came out about 20 years ago! Zoom mics allow you to record in stereo thanks to their XY mics, and these days you can even get them with a video recording option. Cost wise, you’re looking at $200-400 – more, if you want video.

Obviously, until you can afford a Zoom recording device, you can use your phone or camera, but if you want near-recording-studio quality, a Zoom is the way to go.

In Summary

So there you have it – the top five tools every beginner pianist needs are a piano to practice on, an adjustable bench to sit on, a metronome, an iPad, and a recording device. How many can you check off the list?

Share Your Thoughts

Do you have any questions about the items covered in this post? Would you like music app or piano-buying recommendations? Let me know in the comments below! I look forward to hearing from you.

For the piano teachers out there – what tools do you use and recommend? Share below and join the conversation.

Sharing’s caring! If you found this post helpful, please give it a friendly share on social media.

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Which Piano Should I Buy? A Guide for Beginners

Are you in the market for a piano to learn on (or for your child to learn on)? Then this is the blog post for you.

 

Keyboard and Piano Buyer Guide for Beginners

 

It may seem a bit obvious, but you can’t learn to play the piano unless you have one to practice on.

Ideally, every beginner pianist should be able to practice at home on a regular acoustic piano from day one. But in the real world, this is not always a realistic option.

While an acoustic piano is my preferred answer to the question “which piano should I buy”, it’s not the only option. So if you want to know what to look for when choosing a beginner keyboard, an electric piano, or an acoustic piano, read on.

(Please note: these recommendations are for beginners only. They do not apply to late-intermediate and advanced students.)

Beginner Keyboards

If you can’t afford a piano just yet, then a beginner keyboard is still an acceptable option. When you go out shopping, be sure to choose a beginner keyboard with the following features:

  • 61 keys (not 49)
  • Touch response
  • Piano key width that matches the width of an acoustic piano’s keys (some toy keyboards have narrower keys, which means students will learn to play on the wrong-sized instrument)

If you’re getting a beginner keyboard, I recommend buying a Yamaha or Casio, and spending no more than $200-300. Salespeople may try to talk you up, but there’s no point spending more on bells and whistles like light-up keys. If you’re going to spend more, spend it on an electric piano instead.

 

Casio CTK-3200 Keyboard

Photo Credit: Casio

 

A beginner keyboard will keep you or your child going for about a year of learning. After that, you’ll need to upgrade your instrument in order to continue to progress. However, thanks to its cheaper price, a beginner keyboard may be a better option for families with beginner children, as the drop-out rates for kids learning the piano is 80% after 2 years of lessons. And a keyboard is certainly more disposable than a grand piano!

Electric Pianos

If you’re after an electric piano, I recommend the Casio “Privia” range. Yamaha, Roland and Korg aren’t bad brands either, but in my opinion, Casio is the best.

My favourite Casio piano is the PX-750, which I tend to recommend to my beginner adult students if they can’t afford an acoustic. Despite being electronic, it sounds almost the same as a real piano, and the touch is better than most other electric pianos. (However, despite all the advances in technology, no electric piano is yet to match an acoustic for sound or touch.)

 

Casio Privia-PX750BK

Photo Credit: Casio

 

A Casio electric piano will set you back around $800-1200, and has a lifespan up to about AMEB Grade 2. After that, you will need to upgrade.

Acoustic (Regular) Pianos

I always suggest that new students buy a second-hand piano. If that’s what you want to do, then I recommend the Yamaha U-series or Kawai K-series – in particular, the U1 and K3.

When choosing an acoustic piano, make sure it’s at least 121cms tall. The reason for this is that the greater the piano’s height, the longer the strings. And the longer the strings, the better the sound. 121cm+ is considered a “professional” height.

It’s also a good idea to choose a piano that’s ebony or black in colour, simply because that’s the easiest colour to re-sell. And be sure to buy a second-hand piano from a reputable piano store. This way you’ll get a safer deal.

 

Yamaha U1 Piano

Photo Credit: Yamaha

 

You can expect to spend anywhere between $3000-5000 on a good second-hand acoustic piano. This is definitely a worthwhile investment if you can afford to make it, because a good second-hand acoustic piano will keep you or your child going until AMEB Grade 7.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I haven’t suggested that you buy a new piano? The main reason I advise against buying a new piano if you’re a beginner is that new pianos take two or three years to settle, and you’ll lose a lot of money if you choose to re-sell one. Second-hand pianos are already a big enough investment, and will keep you going for years, so there’s really no point in buying a brand new piano if you’re a beginner.

The Best Way to Buy an Acoustic Piano

If you’re going to buy an acoustic piano – new or old – then my top tip is to go to the music store with a piano teacher.

Going with a piano teacher help ensure that you’re taken seriously, and that you’re not taken advantage of. Your piano teacher can also advise you on what instrument to choose, and may even be able to help secure you a preferential deal. That’s certainly what I do! I love helping my students choose a new piano.

Ready?

Now you’re ready to go out and get piano shopping. But before you do, don’t forget to give this post a share on Facebook or Twitter, so all your friends can learn which piano they should buy.

Got more questions about choosing a piano to buy? Let me know in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

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How to Prepare Your Child to Take Piano Lessons

A handy guide for parents of young, budding pianists

 

Tips on Preparing Kids to Take Piano Lessons

 

Are you thinking about enrolling your child in piano lessons?

Learning to play the piano can be a great experience for your child. However, sometimes as parents we can become so excited about our child learning the piano that we forget to make sure they’re actually ready!

Having worked as a piano teacher for over 16 years, I’ve developed a pretty good idea of things you can do to prepare your child to take piano lessons. While some of these steps simply involve waiting (waiting for them to grow, to learn, and to mature), there are also plenty of things you can do to help prepare your child for piano lessons. While every child is different, this checklist for preparing them to take lessons applies to all young potential pianists.

Expose Your Child to Music

One of the best things you can do to prepare your child to take piano lessons is to expose them to music – especially piano music. After all, why would your child be interested in learning to play an instrument when they don’t know what it sounds like, or what it can do?

There are lots of things you can do to expose kids to piano music. For instance, you can take your child to piano recitals at the Sydney Opera House, or the Sydney Conservatorium (which offers some free concerts). You could also watch my “Piano Fingers” showcase page, where your child will see several examples of other young children performing on the piano.

I also suggest that you try to play music in the background at home. One good, free place to start is to listen to radio stations such as ABC Classic FM (92.9 FM in Sydney). You can also buy recordings for your children to listen to. I particularly recommend Mozart and Bach, as the first years of your child’s piano journey will focus on classical piano. However, you can also expose them to other genres such as jazz.

Teach Them Their Left and Right

Playing the piano requires an understanding of the difference between left and right, the ability to tell the two apart, and the ability to control and use each side of the body independent of the other side. Teaching your child their left and right is one of the most simple and important things you can do to prepare them to take piano lessons. By making it a fun activity you do together, it can also be a great bonding exercise!

Make Sure Your Child Knows the Alphabet

Music employs its own alphabet – F A C E G B D, which your child will become familiar with as they begin taking piano lessons. But first they must be familiar with the English alphabet. As such, an important step in preparing your child for music lessons of any kind is to teach them the alphabet. If you make learning the alphabet as fun and interesting as possible, this will help your child to learn.

One Reason You May Need to Wait

Many young children have difficulty differentiating between letters such as “b” and “d”, or “p” and “q”. If your child confuses these letters, they will almost certainly confuse the written musical alphabet too. It’s normal for a young child to struggle with this aspect of reading, so don’t worry! You just need to be patient and encouraging. You may also want to speak to your child’s school teacher to learn how you can help your child to overcome this difficulty.

Teach Your Child Basic Reading Skills

Playing music involves reading. Before your child begins to learn to read music, they must learn basic reading skills. They need to know that reading involves going from the left to the right, and they need to demonstrate that they can do this by reading simple sentences or children’s books. Once your child can read words, they will be ready to read music.

Check Their Concentration Levels

The reality is that if your child can’t concentrate for at least ten minutes at a time, they’re not ready to take piano lessons. We might all occasionally wish it were otherwise, but concentration skills can’t be forced on a child (although you may be able to help them learn).

Try testing your child to see if they are able to concentrate for ten minutes at a time. One easy way to do this is to sit them on a chair and start asking them simple maths questions, such as “3+2=?”. Young children think with their feet. If they start moving their legs and feet, you’ll know they’re not concentrating.

Be Prepared to Invest in a Piano

In an ideal world, you would have an acoustic piano (i.e. not an electric keyboard) for your child to practice on from the moment they begin taking lessons, but I’m enough of a realist to know that this isn’t always possible right from the get-go. After all, pianos are expensive, and require space in your home.

However, once your child has been taking piano lessons for a year, it’s time to seriously consider getting them a real piano to play on. Proper piano techniques such as playing with a relaxed hand and fingers, and producing different sounds, tones, and colours, cannot be taught or practiced without a proper acoustic piano.

Always talk to your piano teacher first before buying a new piano. My advice is to stick to popular brands such as Yamaha and Kawai. I also have partnerships with some of the piano and music stores around Sydney, so my students can get discounts for instruments.

Wait Until Your Child is 5 Years Old

This can be a somewhat controversial topic, but as an experienced piano teacher, I can assure you that most children under five years old are not ready to learn the piano. Children under five generally can’t read very well (if at all), they don’t know their alphabet or their left and right, and they have very short attention spans. In other words, they don’t yet meet the criteria we’ve been discussing.

Five years isn’t very old, and as any parent can attest, the time flies! In the meantime, you can concentrate on helping your child to prepare by following the guidelines I’ve outlined above.

Recipe for Success

Letting your child begin piano lessons when they’re ready, and not before, will improve their learning experience and mean they will become a better pianist, sooner. If you teach your child the alphabet, reading and their left and right, and expose them to piano music, you will prepare them for the first steps in their musical journey.

Over to You

Do you have any questions about preparing your child for piano lessons, or other thoughts you would like to share? Then I’d love to hear them! Leave them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.

Did you find this article helpful? Do you know someone who is planning on enrolling their child in piano lessons? Give this post a friendly share on social media so your friends and followers can learn about preparing their child for piano lessons too.

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