Why Student Performances Are Great For Music Teachers

Live music is a winner all round

 

Why Student Performances Are Great For Piano Teachers

 

Music students enjoy a range of benefits when they have the opportunity to perform. But student performances are also great for piano teachers. Here’s why…

(To learn about why music students need performance opportunities, read my last post.)

See How Students Perform Under Pressure

Perhaps the biggest benefit I enjoy as a piano teacher when I watch my students play live is to see how they perform under pressure.

Does their posture suffer? Do they stumble over any difficult passages? Where do they make mistakes? How do they recover from their mistakes?

Knowing this gives me the information I need to tailor their piano lessons as I work with them on their performance skills. It also highlights areas that will need improvement before they play in their piano exam. This helps me to better prepare my students – both technically and psychologically – for sitting their next AMEB exam.

See Which Students Need More Psychological Preparation

Many of my students play perfectly in their lessons and at home. But when it comes to performance time, even if it’s a crowd of two people, they crumble.

By watching my students perform live, I can identify which students need help developing their confidence in performing. This allows me to tailor my approach to their lessons. This will usually involve words of encouragement, and teaching them simple techniques such as breathing and staying calm and relaxed under pressure. If I had never seen them perform live, I would never know that they needed this additional support.

Satisfaction

There’s really nothing better than watching your students playing live in front of their parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends. It’s even more rewarding than a string of “A” grade AMEB exams.

As a teacher you know how much work both you and your students put in to learning a new piece of music. So it’s very rewarding to see them shine as they perform live.

[Tweet “It’s very rewarding to see them shine as they perform live. #piano #pianist”]

 

Video Portfolios

If you read my blog regularly, you’ll know all about the importance of a video portfolio. You’ll also know that video portfolios should always be filmed live.

Student performances provide a great opportunity for a music teacher to work on their video portfolio. It’s said that a picture paints a thousand words, and I’m pretty sure a good video paints at least ten thousand words! The videos are also a wonderful lasting memento for students, who can be rightfully proud of their achievements.

[Tweet “A good #piano performance video paints at least ten thousand words! #youtube #vimeo”]

 

Live Music’s A Winner

As you can see, live music’s a winner all round – for students, parents and family, and teachers alike!

If you’re a piano teacher, do you value watching your students play live? If so, why?

For parents, how do you feel watching your son or daughter perform? Let me know in the comments!

If you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to give it a friendly “share”. You may also enjoy:

Why Music Students Need Performance Opportunities

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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.

[Tweet “Some music schools charge $80 per hour, but their teachers are not fully-qualified #piano”]

 

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.

[Tweet “Some schools have their own exams, any qualifications obtain will not be recognised elsewhere”]

 

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.

[Tweet “Word-of-mouth referrals are the best way to find a music teacher #piano #pianist”]

 

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?

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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.

[Tweet “In group piano lessons, students receive little or no individual attention. #piano”]

 

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.

[Tweet “Most group lesson syllabuses aren’t designed to teach past nursery rhymes. #piano”]

 

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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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.

[Tweet “All too often, teens sit their Grade 8 AMEB exam, then never touch the piano again. #piano”]

 

#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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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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What’s the Difference? AMEB Pianoforte vs. AMEB Piano for Leisure

Everything you should know about the AMEB’s two main piano syllabuses

 

AMEB Classical Piano vs. AMEB Piano for Leisure

 

If you’re a piano student, or the parent of a student, then you’ll undoubtedly encounter the AMEB at some time during your piano career. Many piano teachers, myself included, choose to teach their students the AMEB piano syllabus.

Although there are other music examination boards, such as ABRSM and Trinity, I prefer the AMEB syllabus because the AMEB has formal links to Australian universities, they help write the HSC music syllabus, and they have a larger repertoire for students to choose from and be examined on.

Nowadays, the AMEB offers several piano examination options. Before you or your child take a piano exam, it’s important to educate yourself on the differences between each option, and the pros and cons of choosing each.

(Got questions or comments? Share them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to get back to you.)

The AMEB Piano Courses

In addition to their traditional Pianoforte syllabus, the AMEB now has two other piano/keyboard courses: AMEB Piano for Leisure, and AMEB Contemporary Popular Music (Keyboard). Of these three courses, the original Pianoforte and the more recent Piano for Leisure are the most popular choice for piano students to study.

But what’s the difference between the two? We’ll compare by looking at the Grade 5 syllabus for each of them.

Grade 5 Pianoforte vs. Grade 5 Piano for Leisure

At a glance, the AMEB Pianoforte and Piano for Leisure syllabuses seem quite comparable. Both examine technical work (such as scales and arpeggios), piano pieces, and general music and piano knowledge. For Pianoforte, students are examined on both aural and sight-reading skills, while Piano for Leisure students are examined on only one of the two, a choice they are able to make. Importantly, the standard/difficulty of the pieces in both syllabuses is the same.

However, while the two courses may be almost identical on the surface, a closer look reveals that they are ultimately very different.

A Closer Look

Here’s a breakdown of how the grade 5 AMEB Pianoforte and Piano for Leisure courses are examined.

Pianoforte Piano for Leisure
Technical 37 scales (legato & staccato) 13 scales (legato only)
Pieces 4 list pieces, 2 extra pieces 3 pieces
Sight-reading Always examined Optional (can choose aural instead)
Aural Always examined Optional (can choose sight-reading instead)
General Knowledge Always examined Always examined

As you can see, a piano student’s workload is 50-70% less if they sit the Piano for Leisure exam rather than Pianoforte.

The Pros and Cons of Choosing the Pianoforte Syllabus

While each AMEB piano course has its own advantages, each has its own disadvantages, too.

AMEB Pianoforte students benefit from a more thorough examination, with more pieces and more scales. Pianoforte is the better choice if you wish to apply for a music scholarship at a high school, and if you’re interested in studying piano at university level, Pianoforte gives you a much more solid foundation. The syllabus also goes beyond Grade 8 to A.Mus and L.Mus.

The only real disadvantage of studying Pianoforte is that the set repertoire is classical. However, this is barely a disadvantage, as students can choose to be examined on non-classical repertoire from the Piano for Leisure syllabus as their extra list pieces.

The Pros and Cons of Taking Piano for Leisure

The greatest advantage to choosing the AMEB Piano for Leisure course over Pianoforte is that it involves less preparation and is therefore ideal for less serious music students – for instance, those who have many other extracurricular commitments and do not have the time to devote to the practice required when preparing for a Pianoforte exam. Piano for Leisure also includes a wider range of music genres, including film, popular, and jazz music.

The Le Piano Academy Approach

Many piano teachers only teach for exams. But that means that a student will only be learning three pieces a year. If you’re only going to learn three pieces a year, you really shouldn’t be playing the piano.

At Le Piano Academy, my number one priority is to ensure that my students receive a thorough musical education. Learning to play the piano isn’t all about taking exams – or at least, it shouldn’t be. I don’t force my students to take exams, and I leave the choice of which AMEB syllabus they take up to them.

Every year, my students and I plan out what they will learn at the beginning of the year. We allocate pieces not only for exams, but also for their recital. The recital is just as important (maybe more) as exams, as it gives students the chance to play in front of others, including their parents, grandparents, and family.

Thorough Piano Education

For students who are planning on taking exams, I like to ensure that they still study a varied and thorough curriculum.

For Pianoforte students, I always pick popular or jazz music pieces for them to learn from the Piano for Leisure syllabus as well, because no one wants to play only classical music all the time! If they wish, my students can use these pieces as extra lists.

When my students choose Piano for Leisure, I still make sure they do the Pianoforte scale syllabus, as more scales mean better technique, and better technique will mean that they play the Piano for Leisure pieces more easily. I also still teach them both aural and sight-reading skills, because while they may only be tested on one, both are very important.

The Bottom Line

So there you have it – AMEB Pianoforte vs. Piano for Leisure.

While the AMEB might argue that Piano for Leisure isn’t a “lesser alternative”, it’s quite clear that it involves a lot less work and preparation than Pianoforte. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. Instead, your choice of AMEB curriculum should be based on your personal circumstances, preferences, and musical goals.

Your Say

Have you taken AMEB exams? Which did you sit, and what did you like/dislike about it? Let me know in the comments below!

For any piano teachers reading this, which syllabus do you teach? Do you still teach your students aural and sight-reading skills, and extra scales, when you teach the Piano for Leisure course? Share your approach in the comments below.

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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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