7/28/10

think about it.

One of the big problems that piano students face in memorization is that they only memorize by muscle memory. They play a piece over and over and over, hoping that their fingers will catch on and do the memorizing for them. Often this gets alright results, that is until the student is in a stressful situation (such as a recital!) and their nerves get the better of them. Their fingers get a little mixed up, and suddenly they are completely lost! Muscle memory is definitely useful in memorizing a piece, but we should not rely solely on it. As was written in my college pedagogy notes, "Don't take chances!! Don't just say, 'good luck, fingers!! I hope you make it.'" As teachers, we need to teach our students to actively learn and memorize pieces with their mind, not just their fingers....we need to teach them to


THINK.


In the book How to Teach Piano Successfully, Bastien says, "The student should think while practicing, not just play by rote." (Bastien, p. 246)

Now that is some great (albeit somewhat obvious) advice - think while you practice! If your students learn their pieces thoughtfully and thoroughly, they should have no problem when it gets to the memorizing stage. Here are a few ideas to get you thinking...hehe...

Ways you can encourage thinking while practicing:

Saying letter names out loud
Counting rhythms out loud
Forcing your brain to learn the notes, not just your fingers
Not letting your mind wander while practicing...
Writing out the chords
Looking for patterns in the chords or in the melody
Knowing the form of the piece


What do you have to add to the list?

7/26/10

the important things

Thanks to all who participated in our poll this week! I think the results to this poll were closer than any other - it seems that all of these factors play an important role in laying a good foundation for our piano students.

What is most important in laying a good foundation for a beginning piano student?

Other answers:

  • Trusting the teacher/Collaboration between student and teacher/Cooperation
  • All of the above!


Interestingly enough, "knowledge of theory" did not get any votes - yet if our students do not have a sound knowledge of music theory and how music works, do they really have a good musical foundation? Something to think about!

This week we'd like to talk about memorization. How do you teach it? What techniques work the best? Tips? Ideas? What are the challenges? Why is it important? I can't wait to hear your comments :)

On a personal and somewhat unrelated note, today I visited my former piano teacher and it reminded me how important and far-reaching our influence as teachers really can be. My younger brother had his last lesson from her before leaving for college, and so my mom and I went to give her a little gift and to visit. She has been teaching my family piano lessons for over thirteen years, starting when I was an awkward thirteen-year-old girl with braces (gotta love awkward years). She has made such a difference in my life and the lives of my siblings who also studied with her - and I think of the many students we have each taught (my three siblings who studied with her have also taught piano for a long time) and realize that one teacher can have a very far-reaching influence. All the more reason to be the best teachers we know how to be, right? No pressure ;)

7/25/10

a foundation of good practicing

A student can be bright and talented, have a true love and appreciation of music, can catch on to concepts very quickly and sight read well, BUT will they really be good musicians and have a good musical foundation if they do not practice consistently? If they don't make an effort to apply themselves, or if they are not taught good practicing techniques/habits by their piano teacher, are they really becoming good pianists?

Teaching our students how to practice and helping them establish good practicing habits is key in laying a solid musical foundation for their continued music study. In the past few days I have read a few things that have really made me think about practicing - how I can better teach my students to practice, how I can help them enjoy practicing more, and how I can help them practice more effectively:



    With Your Own Two Hands: Self-Discovery Through Music
  • I have just barely started reading the book With Your Own Two Hands: Self-Discovery Through Music by Seymour Bernstein. And I mean just barely - like I've read the introduction and a couple of pages. But so far I love it! It talks about how skills gained in practicing can influence your life. And something that really got me thinking was that it mentioned something about practicing and discovery. And it made me think - when my students practice, is their practice session full of discovery and excitement or drudgery and monotony? Is it a real joy for them to be learning new pieces and new concepts (and do they speed through their method books as a result) - or do they just do the bare minimum practice requirements and call it good? Something to think about!
  • I read a great article on The Musicians Way Blog about mindsets and how they influence practicing. The author talked about two different types of mindsets - the "growth mindset" and the "fixed mindset." Those with a growth mindset might hear a great performance and "inquire about the ways in which the artist acquired fluency and then apply their discoveries in the practice room." Those with a fixed mindset would hear the same performance and think, "They're more talented than me. I could never do that." Go check out the article!
  • Mariel Mohns wrote a post on her blog (fenwickpianostudio.blogspot.com) about helping her students become perfect practicers. She includes a great chart to help students apply good practicing techniques at home. I think this is a fabulous way to ensure our students are becoming good practicers at home!
Thoughts? Comments? :)

7/22/10

What I Want My Young Students to Know

Image Credit

If you were to teach a beginning student for maybe a few months or a year, what would you hope that they would know by the time they stopped taking lessons from you? In order to feel like you gave them a great foundation to build on, and that their new teacher will be able to pick right up where you left off without needing to reteach concepts, what would they need to know? Even if they will be continuing to study with you, what would you like them to know and learn early on in their study to lay a great foundation for their piano study over the course of the rest of their life?

Here's a little list I came up with of skills & knowledge I would want my students to have. These are pretty basic, but sadly a lot of young students don't really know these basic things. If I got a young transfer student who knew and really understood all of these things and was able to play them well, I would be thrilled!


Technique

*good hand position - curved fingers, no collapsing knuckles, plays on the fingertips instead of flats of fingers
*legato playing - able to play nice legato phrases, including lifting of the wrist at the ends of phrases
*staccato playing - able to play nice, short staccatos - see my "basketball analogy" :)
*dynamics - plays good, contrasting forte and piano

Theory

*knows all the notes on the grand staff - and really knows them - not just by finger numbers or by playing in C or G position
*basic understanding of intervals and primary chords
*knows and understands the rhythms of basic notes - quarter, half, whole, eighth
*knows and understands sharps and flats

What would you add to this list?

laying a foundation: the joy of music

Tonight my sister and I were talking about teaching piano (she is also a piano teacher!). One thing we talked about was the challenges of transfer students. At times it can be challenging and slightly frustrating when you need to completely re-teach basic concepts, such as note names or rhythms.

This conversation got me thinking about my own teaching, particularly of young beginners. Do I teach them the things they need to know to become good musicians? Do I give them a good foundation that will help them succeed with other teachers they may study with?

Teachers of young beginners really do have a great responsibility. It is at the beginning that the student starts to form habits - good or bad - in their technique, their practicing, and their performance. A child's first experience with piano lessons will probably remain with them for a long time. If they have a bad experience, they may not progress much, and probably will quit early on; if they have a good experience it will make all the difference in their success and their later piano study. If they learn how to practice early on, they will learn so much more and progress much more quickly. If their love for music is nurtured through a positive and engaging experience, they will likely be music-makers and music-lovers for life!

So how do we give our beginning students a good foundation? What are the things that are important? (I hope you take a second and take our poll this week, for it deals with this exact question!) I believe there are many factors, all important to some degree.

Image Credit
I believe that two very important ways that we can give our students a good foundation of piano study are:

  • fostering an appreciation and a love of music, and by 
  • making lessons a positive, fun experience that will give the student a good attitude toward piano study.

(I also believe that teaching them good technique and theory and practicing skills are of the utmost importance....we will talk about that later!)

Do we make lessons a fun and positive experience for our students? Do we plan fun and creative ways to teach and reinforce musical concepts? Do we introduce them to the joy that is found in music? I think these are great questions to ask ourselves periodically as we evaluate our teaching.

I think that Bonnie Jack said it so well in her post about teaching a first lesson. She talked about the importance of getting your students excited about piano lessons. She said, 
"Do something fun! Young children especially have eagerly looked forward to this day, filled with the wonder of music that is so evident to their little minds. Be careful to nurture that wonder, rather than squashing it with lengthy explanations and assignments. Get off the bench. Move to the music. Do not for a moment let this newly opened mind begin to believe that music is boring and unmoving."
I love discussing teaching and sharing ideas with other music teachers, and have really been inspired lately by so many of your blogs, particularly by ideas of how to teach concepts in fun and engaging ways. I am excited to use many of these ideas in my own teaching, and really want to strive to make my teaching more fun and engaging, particularly for young beginners.

Amy Greer, a pianist and piano teacher who blogs at tenthousandstars.net, shared a wonderful quote by Kodaly that I love:
"If at the most susceptible age, from the age of 6 to 16, the child isn’t at least once moved by the life-giving power of great music, later he will hardly be influenced by it.  Many times one single experience opens the young soul to music for his whole life.  This experience shouldn’t be left to chance:  to obtain it is the duty of the schools."  -Kodaly (1929)
I think of my two-year-old son who is so into music right now. He sings as he plays with his toys throughout the day; he dances around whenever there is music playing; he climbs up on the piano bench and loves to play the piano. I think of the joy that music already brings to his life, and how much that joy and appreciation will grow if my husband and I continue to nurture that love of music in him. I believe it is the same with our piano students - if we nurture that love of music (that I really think is inherent in young children) by making piano lessons fun and engaging and by bringing great music into their lives, we really can lay a strong musical foundation that will bless their lives for a long time.

7/20/10

Laying a Foundation

What gives a beginning piano student a good foundation? If you were to teach a young beginner for a few months or a year, what skills and knowledge would you wish to teach them in that time to start them off on a lifetime of music making? What skills would you hope they could attain before studying with a new teacher? What is most important for a beginner to learn?


**Thanks to a survey-taker for the idea for our topic of the week! Yes, I do read your responses and love your input on what we should discuss on this blog. If you haven't yet taken our reader survey, head on over!

7/19/10

Piano Teaching Q&A: Teaching New Pieces

Occasionally we will be featuring questions from readers, and will do our best to answer them and to give some ideas :) We'd love lots of comments to see what you think as well!

I am very interested in this topic. Can we discuss a "syllabus" lesson, maybe where we set everything up for the semester for goals? What about metronome markings for goals?

I have thought a lot lately about practicing and how I can make goals each week with my students on what to hear the following week. When I have a student learn a piece with FERN, do they do it just 5 times hands alone per day for a week? When do they start putting hands together? I have run into problems with how much each student can handle and sometimes when I write the metronome marking I would like to hear a section at the following week, they can't get it. Do I just rely on them to make their own tempo marking?



Many of these questions depend greatly not only on the level of the student, but the particular piece being learned and the student learning it. I would like to share some thoughts on some of these questions, though!

Goals for metronome markings:

I think that the key is to start your student out on a slow enough tempo. If you give them a tempo that is too fast, they will just get frustrated! It's better to start out too slow and to have your student perfect the piece or the section very slowly than to start out too fast and result in a discouraged student. Once the student can play it perfectly at that slow tempo, you can increase the tempo a little at a time. I also think it's helpful to have them practice hands alone with the metronome.

Weekly goals for students:

I usually break any piece into smaller sections, and challenge the student to learn a certain section (either hands alone or hands together - depending on the difficulty of the piece) by the next lesson. 

Practicing: a certain number of repetitions per day?

I think this depends on the personality of the student. Some students do well with this type of practicing, while others do better simply with the assignment to learn a certain section by a certain day. Some students practice better when recording all of their practice hours, and others not so much. I think it is best to get to know the strengths and personality traits of each individual student, and then decide which way would work best.

When to put hands together?

I usually have a student learn a short section of a piece hands alone, and then put it hands together before moving onto a new section. Although it really depends on the piece! In general though, I think that a lot of students don't do enough hands alone practice! Even after it is learned hands together, it is still very beneficial to continue to practice hands alone.

I found this great quote from Gina Bachauer about the benefits of practicing hands alone

"To me, the essence of study is to acquire at a young age the habit of slow practice. Not nearly enough emphasis is placed on this important point. Practicing slowly enables one to control everything one does on the keyboard. The simplest scale, practiced slowly and with concentration, puts one in the position of having to control each finger, and of testing if the resulting sound is right, if one is articulating enough, if the two hands are exactly together. I also advocate practicing with the metronome; this, too, helps toward perfecting that high degree of control which is the goal of all practice..."

"From the very beginning the aspiring student should learn to play each hand separately. In my view, one does not really know a composition, long or short, until one can play it through without the score, taking each hand separately from start to finish. Among the students to whose playing I have listened, all too few can do this and almost none make a special point of it...The two hands cannot gain complete independence until they grow accustomed to working separately, the right hand bringing out the melody, without the support of the harmony, and the left hand asserting its values without the help of the melody. Working through the day's tasks in this way brings great gains in balance."

-Gina Bachauer, from "The Education of a Pianist"

If you have a question you'd like to ask, leave it in a comment or submit it here!

FERN is your friend. Or, teaching new pieces to intermediate & advanced students.

The ways you can teach new repertoire to students are as varied as the vast amount of piano repertoire available. But, I would like to share some general ideas and suggestions, as well as some ways of teaching FERN, using four different pieces to illustrate. Ready go...

Pick pieces that your students love. If they don't like their pieces, they won't practice. Period.
Divide the piece into smaller sections (have your student help you - a great way to teach form!).
Teach good practice habits - practicing a short section many times is so much better than playing through the entire piece once. You may want to have them practice until they get certain assignments done, instead of for a set amount of time - they may learn repertoire faster (and better) that way.
Hands alone practice! Helpful in learning notes, rhythm, and fingering really well - one hand at a time.
Slow practice = your friend. I like to pick a good metronome speed for my students - just make sure it is not too fast, that it is a speed at which they can play the section comfortably. You can always speed it up later.
Help your student find patterns in the piece. Help them analyze what is going on. They will learn it so much better and more easily when they recognize melodic patterns, chords, etc.
FERN - make sure they learn the four important elements of the piece. Give them specific practicing instructions to help them learn these elements. For example:

  • F (Fingering)
In Chopin's Nocturne Op. 72 No. 1, help your student find a good fingering for the left hand right from the beginning. Have them write it in and use the same fingering each and every time. Encourage lots of hands alone practice in small sections (for example, one line at a time) in order to learn the notes and make the correct fingering a habit.




  • E (Expression)
In the Minuet from Bach's Anna Magdalena Notebook, teach your student to produce a lovely, graceful sound as they are learning the notes of this piece. Help them decide where the phrases should be (if not already written in the score) and make sure they learn to play them legato with a relaxed lift of the wrist at the end of each phrase. If you wait to add in these important details after the notes, rhythm and fingering are learned, the student will have already formed habits of playing it with the wrong expression.




  • R (Rhythm)
In Chopin's Fantasie Impromptu, the four-against-three rhythm usually poses a problem. Once the student has the right hand and left hand learned separately and is ready to put them together, spend some time on the tricky rhythm. I find it helpful to have them beat out a four-against-three rhythm on their lap, with their left hand beating three and their right beating four. It should go like this (try it!): together, right, left, right, left, right, together, right, left, right, left, right, together, etc. 

Or, you can use this amazingly helpful sentence, taught to me by one of my dear teachers, which somehow magically solves the rhythm problem and helps you to play it perfectly: "My mother had a duck." Seriously, try it. On "My" you will be playing the right and left hand together. On "mother had a duck" you will play the right and left hands alternating, beginning with the right hand. It will seem a little rigid as you learn it, but once you get it down (with lots of slow practice, my friend!) you can easily smooth it out and even out both hands. To this day, I cannot play Fantasie Impromptu without saying (in my head....usually...) "My mother had a duck, my mother had a duck, my mother had a duck, my mother had a duck......"


And, last but not least:
  • N (Notes)
Hopefully your intermediate and above students will all know the notes on the staff very well, and won't need to say them aloud (as is very helpful for beginners). However, there are still some things you can do to help your student learn the notes quickly and efficiently. One such way is to have them look for patterns - in the melody, in the chords, whatever. When there is some kind of pattern to latch onto, note-learning is much easier.

When teaching Bach's Prelude No. 1 from the Well-Tempered Clavier, I always point out that each measure is basically made up of one chord. One chord, that's it! And usually only a note or two changes from measure to measure. I actually like to have my students learn the notes of this piece by playing each measure as a block chord - so instead of playing the broken chord pattern all you are doing is playing a C chord, holding it for four counts. I have my students look ahead to the next measure to see which notes change, and then play the next chord. I find that this can be so helpful in learning the notes and getting your hand to be in the right position to play the entire measure. It eliminates any pauses and searching around for notes. And it is super easy to add in the real rhythm once all of the notes are learned.


The End. I hope some of these suggestions were helpful, or got you thinking about ways to teach other pieces! 

p.s. Please share any great insights into teaching FERN - I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas.

7/15/10

Teaching New Pieces: Beginners

There are so many things we could discuss in the topic of teaching new pieces! I think this is an important topic and I hope to get lots of input from you! I think today I will focus on how to teach new pieces to beginners. Since beginning pieces are rather short and very simple, I think it is a good place to start :)

Four Elements of a Piece

Basically, there are four elements which need to be learned in any piece. Each element is important and should be learned right from the beginning. A good way to remember these elements is by the acronym FERN:

F - fingering
E - expression
R - rhythm
N - notes

(I actually sometimes like to use the acronym NERF instead - especially for students who may be familiar with or into Nerf toys!)

I think it is a big mistake for our students to learn the notes and the rhythm, and then only after they are learned to add in dynamics and expression. We need to teach our students to play musically right from the beginning, to make it a habit to play slurs, staccatos, and dynamics as they are learning new pieces.

Teaching New Pieces to Beginners

Here are some techniques to teaching new pieces that I have used in my studio. I'd love to hear what you do in yours!

Look the Piece Over

Before a student begins a new piece, it is important to look it over with them (just like the first step of sight reading) and help point out all of the important elements of the piece, including key signature, time signature, accidentals, dynamics, etc.

Hands Alone Practice

Practicing hands alone is an important way of practicing a new piece, no matter what level the student is! Students should become comfortable with playing hands alone before putting hands together. For beginners, many pieces are not hands together anyway, so you won't have to worry about this. When students first learn how to put two hands together, it can take some coordination and getting used to! Hands alone practice will make this a lot easier.

SLOW Practice

Pianist Rudolf Firkusny says this about slow practice: "I do advise practicing in a slower tempo. I think it's a good idea because...you can overcome bad habits which can creep into your playing." (The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher, p. 356) This is true at any level! Let's help our students develop good habits in their practicing and playing.

Show Them How to Practice: FERN

In order to help our students learn the four elements of their new piece, it is helpful to give them specific practicing instructions. Here are some ideas:
  • Notes
    • Have them name the notes before playing
    • Play and say letter names (When learning new pieces, I find it so helpful to have the student say things out loud as they play, such as note names or counting - it helps keep their minds active in the learning process and, in my experience, helps to learn a piece more accurately!)
    • Play and say "intervals" - step, skip, or repeat (helpful in learning relationships of notes on the staff)
  • Rhythm
    • Clap and count rhythm (is helpful in learning the rhythm without needing to worry about playing the right notes)
    • Play and count rhythm (depending on the student, you may want to have them count "1,2,3,4" "1, 1, 1-2" or "quarter, quarter, half-note")
  • Expression
    • Dynamics: have the student practice the piece, focusing mostly on dynamic contrast. I always tell my students to exaggerate the dynamics - make forte really loud, and piano really soft. Make a big deal out of how musical it was and how fun it was to listen to with such great dynamics! We should teach our students to listen to the sound and dynamics they produce from a young age.
    • Slurs: If the piece has simple, two-note slurs, you could have your student say, "down, up!" as they learn the correct wrist movement used in a slur.
  • Fingering
    • Although fingering is important at all levels, I like to be careful about not stressing finger numbers too much to beginners. Yes, it is important to teach them the finger numbers and help them play in the correct position with the correct fingers. But, I have had too many young students who rely way too much on the finger numbers and not enough on the actual notes. As a result, some students do not learn the notes well enough. This illustrates the great disadvantages of playing pieces only in C major position for too long. I think we need to get our students out of C position as soon as possible, get them playing notes all over the keyboard, and get them to realize that, although fingering is important, you can actually play any note on the piano with any finger (what a concept!! hehe). I like to have my students find the correct note first, and THEN look at the finger number.
Polishing Up a Piece

Whether or not a piece is going to be a future recital piece, the end goal should be for the student to be able to play it with correct notes, rhythm and fingering, with good expression and musicality, with no stopping and at a comfortable tempo...right? What are some ways you help your students achieve this?

If the student has learned the piece well, focusing on each of the four elements, and has practiced it efficiently, there should be no problem polishing it up! 

If the piece needs some polishing, try breaking it into shorter sections (one line at a time) and challenge the student to play that line three times in a row, perfectly.

Teach the student to evaluate their own playing and to identify spots where they have problems. When my students play a piece for me, I like to ask them to evaluate their own playing. If they learn to be aware of when they mess up in a piece, they will be able to better fix it in their practicing.

Using the metronome is something that needs to be learned by young students, and can be very helpful in keeping a steady tempo. I try to pick a good tempo for them that is not too fast, one that they will be able to play the entire piece at comfortably. Once they are able to do that, we may raise the tempo a bit, depending on the piece.

I hope these ideas were helpful. I would love to hear ideas of how you teach beginning pieces in your studio!

7/14/10

the influence of a teacher

As I have the great opportunity of starting my piano studio over from scratch in a new city, I have been thinking a lot about things I want to change, things I want to improve and and things I want to do differently. I have thought a lot about my goals as a teacher, my teaching philosophy and what I am trying to accomplish as a teacher. I have thought about my own teachers and how they have not only taught me piano lessons but have helped me to become a better person.

Yesterday as I was going through a box of papers and books, I came upon this great quote, which I think is so applicable to us as teachers, and I wanted to share it!


I have come to the frightening conclusion
that I am the decisive element.
It is my personal approach
that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to make
a life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture
or an instrument of inspiration.
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response that decides
whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated,
and a person humanized or de-humanized.
If we treat people as they are,
we make them worse.
If we treat people as they ought to be,
...we help them become what they are capable of
becoming.

-Goethe

7/13/10

New topic: Teaching New Repertoire

I hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!

For this week's topic I thought we'd talk about how we teach our students new repertoire. When your students begin a brand new piece, how do you introduce it to them? What strategies do you use to teach it, and what practice techniques do you encourage? If it is to be a recital piece, when do you have them start memorizing it? What are the important elements of the piece that you stress right from the beginning? Do you have them initially only work on it in smaller sections, or do you encourage them to sightread the entire piece right away? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

7/12/10

Pedagogy Books: The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher

The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher
The Well-Tempered Keyboard Teacher by Marienne Uszler, Stewart Gordon and Scott McBride Smith is a great book about piano pedagogy. This was one text used in my college pedagogy class. There are so many great ideas and suggestions in this book, that I really need to read it again! :) 

Teaching Advanced Students

One chapter that I really enjoyed is the one about Teaching Advanced Students. Teaching advanced students is really an entirely different world than teaching beginners, isn't it? I would guess that the majority of students that many of us have are beginners or intermediate students (at least that has been my experience!). Many students drop out of lessons before reaching the advanced level. This chapter, written by Scott McBride Smith, is a great one to read if you are a teacher of advanced students.

Practicing What We Teach

Smith says, "It is not possible to teach something that you have not mastered thoroughly through your own training and investigation."

As piano teachers, and particularly as piano teachers of advanced students learning advanced repertoire, it is imperative that we are able to play the repertoire as well. How can we teach the techniques and musical expression needed to play an advanced piece of repertoire if we have not mastered it ourselves?

This topic came up on our Facebook Page recently, and one of our readers had a great suggestion. Here is what she said:

"One thing you mentioned is to 'learn advanced music' to be more aware of what's needed in students' pieces and to teach more effectively. I agree with your statement completely but take it to the maximum and usually don't teach a piece that I haven't pre-tested for my student first. I actually do written analysis of complex pieces and prepare written lesson plans. This was a new habit when I began 39 years ago and it has really helped me be secure in my teaching. Going the extra mile on all pieces just exercises your brain so much that you could eventually teach a new piece in your sleep just from observation..."

Skills of Advanced Piano Study

Scott McBride Smith talks about the different skills needed for intermediate study vs. advanced study. I thought this was a great list to get us thinking about what we need to teach our advanced students.

Intermediate Skills:

  • accurate note learning and rhythm
  • wide-ranging dynamics
  • good tone
  • appropriate balance between the hands and between voices
  • basic projection of form and harmony

Advanced Skills: ("...a higher level of artistry is needed for these challenging works.")

  • phrasing
  • rubato
  • accent
  • tone color
  • pedal
  • sophisticated practice techniques (lots of slow, super-accurate repetitions, work at different tempos, practice in rhythms and shifting accents, etc.)
  • public performances

So many great books out there, so much to learn! What are some of your favorite pedagogy or music books?

7/9/10

Pedagogy Books: Practical Piano Pedagogy

Practical Piano PedagogyPractical Piano Pedagogy by Dr. Martha Baker-Jordan is a wonderful resource for any piano teacher looking for some great ideas and printable resources for their studio. Yes, this book includes TONS of free printables (you can photocopy them from the book, or load them on your computer from the included CD!) - including all sorts of studio forms and other resources. (I mentioned this book before in a post about personality types and piano methods.)

The author has written a great chapter called "The Business of Piano Teaching," which discusses good business procedures which help to make you more professional. This chapter includes many forms such as a Telephone Interview form, a Beginner Interview form, a Readiness Evaluation for Beginner form, a Studio Policy, Billing Form, Yearly Tuition Schedule, Letterhead Stationary, etc.

Other great chapters include: "Tuition: Being Paid What You Are Worth," "Strategies for Acquiring Students," "Now You Have Them - What Do You Do?," and "The 'Black Hole' of Piano Teaching: Why Does it Exist?" (Can you guess what the "black hole" refers to? - Improvisation, Harmonization, Composition and Transposition!)

I have not yet finished reading this book, but so far have enjoyed it very much. I definitely will use it as a resource in the future!

7/7/10

Pedagogy Books: How to Teach Piano Successfully

Book: How to Teach Piano Successfully by James W. Bastien, Neil A. Kjos Music Company

How to Teach Piano Successfully (Third ed #GP40)

I really like this book. Although possibly a bit out of date (first published in 1973, and the Third Edition published in 1995), particularly when discussing things like technology and piano methods (mainly because there are newer methods out there now that are not listed in this book), it really has a wonderful variety of topics and is a great overall piano pedagogy text.

Some sections I really like:

A Guide to Piano Fingering

Written by pianist Robert Roux, this twenty-page section on fingering talks about topographical fingering (using the most natural position possible), special uses of the fingers, physical versus mental convenience, and the relationship of fingering to musical content. Roux states that "the student should learn and apply general principles of piano fingering, and not blindly follow published fingerings."

Editions of Keyboard Music

This is a great section written by Maurice Hinson. It is an awesome reference because he goes through each musical period and each major composer and lists the best music editions of each one.

Basic Theory Outline

This is a brief overview of basic music theory, found in the appendix - a great review for any piano teacher!

Music Reference Books

Also found in the appendix, this is a HUGE list of books about piano pedagogy and other music-related topics.

Ideal Precollege Training - Repertoire List

One of my favorite sections of this book includes an ideal repertoire list that a student should be familiar with after studying for about ten years and before entering a college music department. I'd like to share that list because I think it can be so helpful to us as teachers in choosing repertoire for our students. This list includes representative works from each musical period. I should also note that my pedagogy teacher in college emphasized that this list is only a minimum of what students should know at that point.

Baroque Period
Bach: Two- or Three-Part Inventions, preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier, French Suites
Scarlatti: any of the Sonatas
Handel: Aylesford Pieces, any of the Suites or Sonatas

Classical Period
Haydn: easier Sonatas
Mozart: Sonatas, Variations, or easier Concertos
Beethoven: easier Sonatas, Variations, or Concertos

Romantic Period
Representative works by Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Brahms, etc.

Contemporary Period
Bartok: Rumanian Folk Dances, Three Rondos, later books of the Mikrokosmos
Barber: Excursions
Bloch: Poems of the Sea
Copland: The Cat and the Mouse
Debussy: Children's Corner Suite, easier Preludes, or either of the Arabesques
Dello Joio: Suite for Piano
Hindemith: Sonata No. 2
Kabalevsky: Twenty-four Preludes
Muczynski: Six Preludes, Op. 6
Poulenc: Mouvements perpetuels
Tcherepnin: Bagatelles, Op. 5


There are so many more great sections in this book - check it out! I have learned a lot from it.

7/5/10

what are your favorite books about piano teaching?

I hope you all had a wonderful week! I just drove for six hours home from visiting my in-laws in eastern Oregon (gearing up for a loooong drive from Utah to Texas in August!). Why is it that my two-year-old stays awake for the entire drive, until about 20 minutes from home when he finally decides to fall asleep? Good times. Well, here are our poll results from this weeks polls about sight reading!

How important would you say sight reading is in a piano education?



How often do you teach/require sight reading in your studio?

Thanks to all who participated in our polls!

This week I'd like to talk about books about piano pedagogy (or just about piano and music in general!), and some helpful things I've learned from them. I hope you will also share some of your favorite piano/pedagogy books, or books that have been most helpful to you in your own teaching. I am always up for a new read that will give me some fresh ideas about teaching! In place of our weekly poll, this week I'd love it if you could leave a brief comment on this post, telling us one of your favorite books about piano teaching/piano!

Putting Sight Reading to the Test!

Once your students have achieved a certain level of playing and sight reading, why not help put their sight reading to the test? Encourage them to accompany!

I love accompanying and feel that it is a really important skill for a pianist to have. We will definitely talk more in-depth about accompanying one of these weeks. As a young pianist, opportunities to accompany began to present themselves to me. As I used my piano abilities to accompany others, that was when my sight reading really started to improve a lot.

Encourage your students to:

  • accompany vocalists and other instrumentalists
  • accompany choirs
  • accompany for vocal master classes
  • accompany religious congregations
  • play in ensembles at school


Sure, as an accompanist you often get the music ahead of time and have time to prepare. But as you accompany more and more, there will definitely be times when the music gets placed in front of you right before you need to play it. This is why encouraging your students to accompany will definitely help them to become better sight readers and better overall musicians.

7/3/10

Studio Idea: have a sight reading competition!

I hope everyone is having a great weekend, and for those in the U.S., I hope you do lots of fun fireworks or something to celebrate the 4th! I myself am having a grand time visiting my in-laws in Eastern Oregon - I sneakily (or not so sneakily) wrote this post a few days ago and post-dated it. I love technology :)

Here's a little idea I have (but have not tried yet) - why not have a sight reading competition in your studio?

You could challenge each student to keep track of their sight reading - either by how much time they have spent or how many lines or pieces they have sight read each week. Keep track on a big, colorful chart in your studio and at the end of the month (or however long you decide the competition will run), the winner gets a prize. If you teach a lot of advanced students, you could challenge them to sight read pieces from the piano literature of the great composers (and maybe get in on the fun yourself!)

I think this would be a wonderful way to motivate your students to sight read, and to get them to make sight reading a habit.

7/2/10

Improving Your Own Sight Reading


As we are discussing sight reading this week, I have been doing some thinking about my own sight reading.

Now, I have been sight reading for many years now, and feel pretty confident in my sight reading abilities. Because of this, I haven't been sitting down and formally sight reading regularly. Of course I play a lot and sight read things here and there, but maybe I should be doing more.

I had a great Keyboard Foundations class in college, taught by Scott Holden. Each week we had a sight reading quiz. Dr. Holden would give us a piece of music (usually pretty advanced in some way or another), and we would have to record our sight read of the piece and turn it in. It was a bit stressful because if we stopped, missed a beat or skipped a beat we would automatically fail the quiz. I loved it though, it was such a wonderful learning tool. Thinking back on it it is such a great reminder of the need to sight read regularly, to always be improving our skills and to regularly become familiar with new repertoire.

As teachers, it is so important that we are able to sight read well. I once read an article in a music journal (I will have to go in my files and find it so I can quote it exactly!) that basically said that a good pianist should have sight read through all of the major piano works of the great composers. Now that is a lot of sight reading, but just imagine how a project like that could improve your playing (and your teaching as well)!

One of my favorite assignments in my piano literature class in college was to sight read through the entire Well-Tempered Clavier (both books). Now of course this took a bit of time, but what a rewarding thing! As teachers we need to be familiar with the great literature for piano.

One of these days (probably after going through all of my belongings, packing up our entire house, finding a new place to live and driving all the way to Texas with my little family and getting settled - ya know, after I have a little more free time :)) I would love to make a goal to sight read through a new piece each day, with the end goal being to sight read through a lot of the major piano works - Bach Well-Tempered Clavier (again), Beethoven Sonatas, Mozart Sonatas, Chopin Preludes, Nocturnes, Ballades, etc.

But for now, I just wanted to share some of those thoughts. Do any of you sight read regularly? Do you have anything to share regarding this topic? Also, I just stumbled upon this neat blog, check it out!

7/1/10

Good Habits of Sight-Reading

As a follow-up to Jenny's post, I would like to mention a few good habits that we can teach our students as they work on their sight-reading skills.
  • no stopping: Jenny already talked about the importance of this habit. Sometimes students have developed such a bad habit of stopping that they don't even realize they are doing it! The metronome is a good tool to help students realize where they are stopping, and to help them keep the beat consistent. Counting out loud can also be helpful, and of course good rhythm is essential to good sight reading. And like Jenny said, it is better to choose a nice slow tempo than to stop. Eventually, of course, if you are sight-reading as you accompany, it will have to be up to tempo, but the skills must be developed first at slower tempos.
  • no looking at hands: It is important for a pianist to have a confident feel for the keyboard, and to know the feel of any interval without having to look down at their hands (this feel for the keyboard is developed through good technique study). Looking down takes unnecessary time, and can cause you to lose your place in the music. For students who really struggle with this, you can cover their hands with a book or a towel (drape it behind the fallboard on a grand piano, and down over their hands). Another thing that works great is to have the student hold a paper plate in their mouth. They may feel a little silly, but it works!
  • looking ahead: If a student is busy looking at the note they are playing, they obviously don't know what note is coming next. It is important for them to learn to look ahead so they know what is coming. As they get better at identifying patterns, they will be looking not just one note ahead, but whole phrases and measures ahead.
  • smooth eye motion: This is related to looking ahead, but has more to do with establishing a habit of keeping your eyes moving, so that you don't get stuck on one note. This will allow the beat of the music to flow without stopping as well. A good way to help students learn this smooth eye movement is to cover the notes with a piece of paper, just as (or before) they play them. As you move the paper smoothly across the page, their eyes will naturally move smoothly with it.
  • reading from bottom to top: Most students are more comfortable reading treble clef than bass clef. If you can create the habit of reading the bass clef notes first, the treble clef notes will usually fall into place just in time. But if the treble notes are read first, the bass notes often just get left out.
If you find your students are struggling with basic sight reading, it is important to make sure they have the basic elements of notes, intervals, and rhythm mastered. Even more advanced students occasionally need to come back to a review of these basics, if they have never been good readers. Once students have a solid grasp of the basics, more advanced music theory concepts will become important in their sight-reading (for instance, recognizing chords, cadences, and form).
In order to really develop good sight-reading skills, it is important for students to be sight-reading on their own every day. One challenge I have had is in finding music for my students to sight-read, since once they have played a piece, playing it again isn't exactly sight-reading. Here are some solutions I have found, and I would love to hear others' ideas on this:
  • easy method books: students may have younger siblings who are playing in easy books that they can use for sight-reading, or if you have a library of method books and easy literature books, you could check them out to your students for a few weeks at a time.
  • Essential Keyboard Repertoire: I have used volume 1 of this series with advanced students, since the pieces are an intermediate level, only a page or two long, and there are 100 pieces in the book. For $10.95, it's not a bad investment for several months worth of sight-reading.
  • folk tunes: a book like this one by Jane Smisor Bastien can provide easy tunes with simple rhythms and intervals for early sight-readers. The problem may be finding enough books of these to keep students busy, but an advantage is that most folk tunes are in the public domain, so while you can't necessarily photo-copy published versions, you could easily write them out yourself and start a collection of sight-reading tunes for your own library. Folk tunes can also be a good place to teach transposition, another skill that will contribute to sight-reading ability.
  • hymns: If your students belong to a church, have them bring a copy of their hymnal to lessons. Hymns are usually too difficult for beginners to sight-read, but are perfect for intermediate and advanced players.
  • broadway or popular songs: These are really for advanced students only, as the rhythms in this type of music are much too complex for beginning readers. But for students who need a sight-reading challenge, these are a lot of fun.
  • Four Star: this is a gem that I have just recently discovered. There are 11 books, and each book has 10 weeks worth of daily sight-reading exercises. Read more about these books in this review by Sue Haug.
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