5 (Often Ignored) Skills Teen Piano Students Must Learn

AMEB exams are great. But there’s so much more to learning the piano…

 

Skills Teen Piano Students Must Learn

 

When I teach teen piano students, I want them to play music for the rest of their lives.

But as many parents can attest, all too often, teens sit their Grade 8 AMEB exam, then never touch the piano again.

I believe that one of the reasons this happens is that most piano lessons only focus on teaching for exams. When this happens, teachers fail to teach several other fundamental skills that are key if you want piano playing to be more fun, more rewarding, and more enjoyable.

Exams are important. But they’re not everything. So here are 5 non-AMEB skills all teen piano students must learn if they want to lay the foundation for a lifetime of piano playing fun and enjoyment.

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#1 – Playing By Ear

Many teen students have no idea how to play by ear. If that’s you, then you’re missing out! Being able to play the songs you hear on the radio is great fun, and it’s a fantastic party trick, too.

Because playing by ear is a rarely-taught skill, many teen students have bad or poor aural skills. But they don’t have to stay that way. Playing by ear is something I focus on with many of my teen students. It may be hard work in the short term, but in the long term, it will pay dividends for you.

#2 – Improvisation

There’s nothing more valuable than a pianist who can improvise. Yet this skill is neither taught nor examined as part of the AMEB syllabus.

Most Grade 8 students can play a Bach Prelude and Fugue perfectly, but if you asked them to improvise on a simple 12 bar blues, they wouldn’t know what to do.

Improvisation is about understanding how chord and scale systems work together. It isn’t difficult to learn, however many teachers don’t teach it. If you’re not learning improvisation, you’re missing out. However, the good news is that if you’re capable of learning the Grade 8 syllabus, you’re more than capable of learning how to improvise.

#3 – Chord Chart Reading

When I play pop music, I never read the sheet music note by note. Pop music is about playing with freedom. Freedom to improvise and freedom to play by ear. But if you’re going to do that, then you also need to be able to read the chord chart.

Many teenagers want to play current, modern music. To do this well, they need to be able to read chord charts. But most are never taught how.

All that’s required is to build upon a teen student’s already well-developed classical technique by teaching them about how chords and scales work. Then, when they go to play pop music, it’s fun, it’s interesting (because it’s never the same twice), and it’s a great creative outlet.

#4 – Accompanying Skills

Piano playing can often be a lonely pursuit, as you spend hours practicing by yourself. However piano playing doesn’t always have to be a solo exercise. In fact, playing the piano with other instruments and people is great fun.

While other music students such as trumpet players or oboists almost always learn to accompany other instruments, this is a skill that’s rarely taught to pianists.

Once again, this can be changed. All you need to learn about is listening and staying in time – two things I’m always sure to teach my students.

Learning to accompany other instruments can also be a great way for you to earn some extra money as a pianist. Other musicians such as clarinet players, saxophonists, and flautists often require piano accompaniment for their AMEB exams. So do singers. If you can learn to be a good accompanist, then you can get paid to accompany them during their exams.

#5 – Teaching Skills

By teaching older teen students (those in grades 10 to 12) how to teach young beginner pianists, they’ll know what to do when they’re at uni and want a part-time teaching job. But this isn’t something that many students learn.

Teaching beginners involves learning to understand the student. They need to be taught correct foundations and fundamentals, and they need to be motivated. (You can learn more about teaching beginners here.) I like to ensure that I teach my teen students about this so that they’ll have the option of taking on casual or part-time teaching work in the future.

That’s All, Folks

So there you have it – five often overlooked skills that teen students must learn if they’re to enjoy the true fun playing the piano has to offer.

Want to spread the word? Share this post on Facebook or Twitter with your followers to start a discussion!

If you’re a piano teacher, do you believe it’s important for teens to learn these five skills? If not, why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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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.

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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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