Piano Teaching Q&A: Stopping Lessons

Each week we will be featuring questions asked by our readers, and will do our best to answer them and to give some ideas :)

A few weeks ago, we received an email from a fellow piano teacher which stated the following:

How does everyone else deal w/ students who drop? I just came home yesterday to a voice mail from a mom of 2 of my students. Out of the blue, after 4 years of lessons, they've decided to go with a different teacher. For whatever their reasons, my feelings are hurt that after all this time invested, I just get a message. I've also been dropped by email. I know that no one likes confrontation, but geez!. Thanks!

In response, firstly I'd like to offer my condolences for such insensitive and impersonal behavior! Like you said, I think sometimes we want to avoid confrontation by any means possible, but don't realize that by trying not to "come off as mean" we end up coming off even MORE mean than before!

I haven't been teaching for as long as many of you, and we've moved around so much that I always ended up being the one who left my students, before they even had a chance to leave me! However, I'd like to offer some thoughts and suggestions on the matter. My current studio is comprised entirely of transfer students, and I can share with you some suggestions I gave those parents who were about to leave their current teacher in order to have their children study with me.

Of course it hurts that after 4 (or however many) years of invested time, emotion, and talent, a student chooses to leave our studio. I think the important thing to remember is that there is a wide array of reasons why a family may choose to study with someone else - we don't know everything about their circumstances. It could be that their financial situation has suddenly changed and they can no longer afford piano lessons. It could be that the student has a conflicting schedule and has chosen the other activity (sports, ballet, etc) over piano. Those are just 2 of the many possible reasons for leaving. If this were happening to me, I would convince myself that it was definitely one of those two things - but that's just how I am! :)

Now, to tackle the more uncomfortable possibilities... It might be that their learning style was not matching up as optimally with your teaching style - and that is okay. One might immediately say "Yeah, but then why did they study with me for FOUR YEARS? Wouldn't this have come up sooner?!" Possibly, possibly not. Students change - we all know how much personalities change as students get older! The last (and most uncomfortable) possibility is that the mother found a teacher that was a better fit for her children. However, the important thing to remember about that sentence is the last part - FOR HER CHILDREN. It doesn't mean that you are a bad teacher or a "lesser teacher" than someone else. And this is assuming she's even leaving you FOR SOMEONE ELSE - it might be that she just chose to remove her children from lessons altogether!

I am totally the "Every Cloud has Silver Lining" sort of person, and so what I would do is this:

1. Call the mom and ask why. I know it might sound gutsy - because it is - but you have a right to know, at least as it concerns you. Why? Because you want to know how you can improve yourself. I wouldn't call her and demand "Why did your children drop out of my studio?! TEL ME NOW!" Nothing like that! But call her and kindly ask if there was anything in the way you ran your studio that prompted her to remove her children from your studio. Explain to her (and this, I think, would be the most important part) that you aren't trying to be nosy, but as a professional teacher, you want to know how you can improve your services to your students. This phone call will be very revealing, and if you're a sensitive person, brace yourself, because you don't know what the response will be. However, whatever the reason is, know that it will help you be a better piano teacher.

If the mom doesn't respond to your phone call or email (I'd do both), then perhaps try contacting her via both mediums one week later, and then leave it at that. If you choose to not contact the mother, or if you never hear back from her, then I would do some self-evaluation. Do a Studio Evaluation, as I like to call it - scrutinize every aspect of your studio, think of a master teacher (such as Leon Fleisher, Nelita True, etc) and ask yourself "Would his/her studio handle it this way?" and model your studio after that. This way, you are ensuring that you have the most professional studio possible.

These are just my thoughts and theories - I would absolutely love to hear feedback. If you completely disagree, please let me know - we can all improve!


Weekend Repertoire: Le Cimetiere

In honor of Halloween, I'd like to share a great piece I played at my senior recital. Le Cimetiere, or The Cemetery, is from the four-piece work Clairs de lune by Abel Decaux, a French organist and composer who lived from 1869 to 1943. I believe this is the only piece he ever published, and is very modern for his time. Make sure you keep listening for the awesome chords in the second half of the piece - I just love it!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN from The Teaching Studio!



I wanted to share a few wonderful things I have discovered lately:

1. This fun blog, Music for Tots. I love this post about making a difference in someone's life.

2. Another great piano blog, Gretchen's Pianos, and this post that tells how sometimes "enthusiasm trumps experience!" Love it.

3. These. Although not exactly piano-related (hehe), these were my usual practice break treat in college, and they are a-mazing. Last week when my usual dark chocolate wasn't available at the store I decided to try extra-dark....mmmmmm...

4. A great scale preparation exercise, or spider fingers - what a great idea! I love this blog by pianist/writer/teacher Amy Greer, who I first became familiar with by reading her column in American Music Teacher five years ago.

5. Dvorak piano quartets (or maybe quintets?)...so a couple of weeks ago I went to the grocery store at night after putting my son to bed. As I pulled out of the garage and turned on the classical music station I heard the most gorgeous music. After sitting in the grocery store parking lot for a few minutes and realizing that an entire new movement was just starting, I called my husband and asked him to google the radio station, listen online and find out the name of the piece! Well, he caught part of the name and we know it is either a Dvorak piano quartet or a quintet....quite possibly this one, but I'm still not sure. Either way, it's gorgeous!


Poll Results & a Congratulations!

Thanks to those who took our poll last week! We only had a few takers this time, but I am sure that many of you would agree that there are many challenges in running a piano studio with a variety of students. Here are the results!

What has been the most challenging thing about teaching a variety of students?

And, congratulations are in order to our wonderful contributor, Bonnie Jack, who two weeks ago gave birth to a sweet little baby boy. Head on over to her blog for some adorable pictures. Congratulations, Bonnie!!


Teaching the Individual, Part 5: Communication & Attitude

This week we are discussing ways that we can maintain standards of excellence in our studios, while at the same time adapting our teaching styles to help each individual student succeed. For this final segment, I'd like to talk about the importance of communication and attitude.


Just as it is important to communicate with a new student about goals and expectations, it is just as important to keep communicating with them all along the way. Communicate with the parents to keep them involved, for they play an important role. Discuss with the student how they are doing on their goals. I think if we can keep a good line of communication going, students will feel like they can tell us when they absolutely loathe a piece we chose for them. They will be more likely to communicate honestly about how they are feeling about lessons, if they are enjoying them or if there needs to be some changes.

In what ways do you keep a good line of communication going with either the student or the parent?


A couple of weeks ago I heard an inspirational address given on teaching. While this was directed specifically toward teachers in a religious setting, the speaker said a couple of things that really resonated with me as a piano teacher. He quoted David McCullough, the great author and lecturer, who said, "What matters most in learning is attitude. The attitude of the teacher."

I think that if we can approach teaching each individual student with a good attitude, no matter the student's ability level, goals or personality, we can truly succeed in teaching them the joy of music. Even if they never perform on a big stage, or any stage at all, we can teach them the joy that comes through making music, and hopefully give them a great, positive experience with music lessons.


Teaching the Individual, Part 4: Lesson Planning

This week we are discussing ways that we can maintain standards of excellence in our studios, while at the same time adapting our teaching styles to help each individual student succeed.

Lesson Planning

As you approach each individual lesson, have a plan! Obviously this will have to be a flexible plan at times, depending on the preparation of the student and on things that may come up during the lesson. But it is always good to know what you would like to teach the student that day. Depending on their age and level, you may want to have some type of game ready to introduce a new concept. You may want to focus on an important concept they have been struggling on in the past, maybe on counting, keeping those fingers curved, memorization, sight reading, etc. 

Sometimes it's helpful to jot down a few notes after each lesson - note the challenges and difficulties a student is having in a particular piece, or a concept they need help really learning. Note the successes and strengths and things they have really done well in. When it comes time to teach them the next week, get out your notebook. Decide what you want to focus on that day to help them. Even if it is a five-minute activity, or game, or demonstration. Let's strive to be teachers who plan for each student to succeed, who know the things our students need to learn, and who think of creative and innovative ways to teach these concepts. Let us not be teachers who merely turn the page and see what concept the book tells us to teach next.


Teaching the Individual, Part 3: Choosing Good Repertoire

This week we are discussing ways that we can maintain standards of excellence in our studios, while at the same time adapting our teaching styles to help each individual student succeed.

Choose appropriate repertoire that is fun for the student.

Let's face it, any student, even the most motivated, will hate lessons if they hate their pieces. They won't practice, they will dread coming to lessons, and they won't progress. The trick is to pick pieces that are fun and enjoyable for them, challenging enough to boost their confidence and improve their skills, yet not so challenging that they get frustrated.

The best way to do this is to become familiar with a lot of repertoire yourself! Listen to lots of repertoire. Pick up a book and play through it, noting which pieces are fun, what types of techniques and musical concepts they teach, and what level of student they would be appropriate for. I often like to give a student a CD to listen to which includes a few possible pieces to learn. This way, you have some say over the pieces and can pick some that are at a good difficulty level for them, but the student gets the final say.

(Choosing repertoire is so important, and is partly why I started the Weekend Repertoire feature here on The Teaching Studio!)

How do you go about choosing good repertoire for your students?


Getting off of the bench...

I wanted to share something fun that has been really great for my young students (and my young son loves it too!). Sometimes (especially with young students who have the wiggles) sitting on the piano bench for an entire lesson is just out of the question. Young children need to move around, their minds and imaginations sometimes go at a mile a minute, and their attention spans can be so short at times.

So at times like this, I like to whip out my roll-up piano! This thing is so cool. Of course it does not have the same feel as a real piano, but it really does work. It is perfect for sitting on the floor and learning about the keyboard. You can use it to teach theory concepts, the layout of the piano keys, note names, chords, etc. Plus it is so darn cool that students will be so interested and get a real kick out of it. This thing is awesome, it is so portable and really works quite well. I definitely recommend it for young students, and think that anything to make lessons more fun and exciting will have an impact on the success of the students.

Teaching the Individual, Part 2: Goals of the Student

This week we are discussing ways that we can maintain standards of excellence in our studios, while at the same time adapting our teaching styles to help each individual student succeed.

Discuss with each new student their goals related to piano lessons.

As new students enter your studio, sit down with them and have a candid discussion about why they are taking lessons. If they are transfer students, ask if they enjoy it. Find out exactly what they are hoping to get out of lessons. Some students may be very talented and motivated, and wish to prepare to study piano in college. Maybe they just want to learn how to read music, or work on their performance anxiety. Some may want to be able to play well for their own enjoyment. Some might want to learn how to sight read. You won't know until you ask

Sometimes students don't know what they want to get out of music lessons. In this case, it is a great opportunity to talk with them and help them come up with some goals. Doing this puts a little more responsibility on the student, for when they have set their own goals they will have something specific to work toward that is for them.

I have my new students fill out an information sheet when they join my studio, and the most important line on that sheet says, "What do you hope to get out of piano lessons?" I think it is better to start out on the same page right from the beginning, than to deal with a lot of frustration along the way.


Teaching the Individual, Part 1: Teaching Philosophies

So, I want to be a good piano teacher.

I want my students to all be musically-literate, to sight-read fluently and play with a beautiful sound. I want them to have great technique and play with no mistakes, and wow audiences with their great performances. Who's with me?

Don't we all have certain ideals and standards that we have set for ourselves as teachers - standards for our music studios that we would love for each student to achieve? I have learned, which I am sure you have also learned because it becomes pretty apparent as you start teaching a lot, that not only do our students each have unique and individual strengths and weaknesses, but they also have their own goals related to piano and music. Believe it or not, not all of your students are striving to become piano performance majors in college (what??).

As music teachers, how do we maintain our standards of excellence that we have set for our studios while still adapting our teaching style to the individual student and allowing for each student to have their own set of goals? How do we join our expectations with our students' expectations, and produce well-rounded students of all abilities, types and backgrounds? Over the next few days I want to discuss this important topic, and give a few specific ways I have found to accomplish this. Today we will focus on Teaching Philosophies.

Sit down and write out your teaching philosophy.

Your teaching philosophy is your vision for your studio, your goals and standards which you feel are most important to teach your students. This is a great exercise if you have never done it before, and really helps to focus your teaching and be more effective as a teacher.

What is most important to you as a teacher? What are some goals which can be achieved by students of all ages and levels? What standards would you like to set for your studio which will set you apart as a successful teacher? 

Whatever your philosophy is, make sure your students know what you are going for and know what you expect of them.

Make your teaching philosophy applicable to students of all levels.

My teaching philosophy is two-fold; it includes some specific goals for me as the teacher, and three specific goals for each of my students. My goals for each of my students are that they 

1) become musically-literate sight readers, 
2) that they learn how to play with expression and beauty, and 
3) that they become acquainted with the piano literature of the great composers. 

Of course, there will be more goals which you come up with that are specific to each student, but these are three goals which I feel confident that any student can learn, no matter their individual strengths and weaknesses. I also feel that if they can accomplish these three things, even if they don't become professional musicians or go on to study music in college, they will at least gain a love and appreciation of music, and be able to play and enjoy music for the rest of their life.

What is your teaching philosophy? What goals do you have for your music studio?


Teaching the Individual

Something I have learned about teaching over the years is that, every time you get pretty comfortable teaching and feel like you have a pretty good grasp on the art, you all of a sudden get a new student who completely throws you for a loop.

What worked for your students in the past just does not work for this one! They learn at a different pace. They see things differently. They need things explained a completely different way. They have totally different goals.

And when you get the hang of teaching them, you get someone new who is completely unique and different from the last student!

And so it goes.

Anyone else notice this pattern? I actually enjoy it, because it keeps me on my toes. When I come up with new and exciting ways to teach different personality types and different ages, I get really excited. My confidence grows, my attitude changes and I really feel like I can influence my students for the better.

So how do we do this? How can we be flexible and adaptable in our teaching, yet still adhere to high standards in our studios? How can we help each student, no matter their background, personality type, and musical goals, have a positive experience with music lessons?

Preschool Poll & Resource List

I have loved discussing preschool music this week! Here are our poll results:

Have you ever taught preschool music of some sort?

Other answer: "Have tried; depends upon child and their day!"

I also thought it would be helpful to compile a list of websites with helpful resources and information pertaining to preschool music. Most of these things were mentioned this past week or so either in a post or a comment. What wonderful resources are out there for music teachers! Love it. Let me know if you have any great websites to add to the list!

My First Piano Adventures books & CD's
Pianomouse Goes to Preschool software


Weekend Repertoire: Good-Humored Variations

Easy Variations on Folk Themes, Op. 51: Schirmer's Library of Musical Classics, Vol. 2060I just discovered a great little set of theme and variations and had so much fun playing it that I had to share! I can't wait to teach this one to a student.

Today's piece: Seven Good-Humored Variations on a Ukrainian Folk-Song, Op. 51, No. 4 by Dmitri Kabalevsky
Level: Mid-Intermediate
Teaches: oh so many great things: theme and variations, staccato at a piano dynamic level, accents (including tenuto and sforzando), marcato, leggiero, alberti bass, arpeggios, left hand melody, syncopated/off-beat rhythm, cantabile
Preview the score: here
Buy the score: here
Listen: here, on YouTube

So I had to laugh at the title of this piece, but these variations definitely are good-humored and playful. This would be a wonderful piece for a student looking for something fun, a little bit showy (would be excellent for a recital), and challenging enough but totally doable. The theme itself is super simple. The thing that makes this piece so great for teaching is that it uses a great variety of articulations and musical markings - soft, staccato & leggiero; loud & marcato; smooth and flowing and cantabile; and basically everything in-between. The final variation and coda includes lots of octaves, accents, sforzandos and fortissimos.

My advice in learning this piece would be to:

  • Learn it one variation at a time, hands alone.
  • Figure out the basic chord progressions and write them in. Learn them well because the progressions in each variation are very similar. 
  • Learn the details right from the beginning - have fun with it! Make your dynamics very contrasting, play staccatos very short and crisp. Make the legato sections very smooth, connected and beautiful, to contrast the many staccato, marcato, and just plain loud sections. Figure out what the character of each variation should be, then work on listening to the sound of each variation and creating a unique sound and character for each.
  • Practice with a metronome - go for accuracy and control, especially on the fast sections. They will sound much more brilliant and energized when you can play each note clearly at a controlled tempo.
  • Again - have fun with it! Make it sound like a dance

Image credit


Teaching High and Low

I recently came up with a little game to teach the concept of high notes and low notes...it has been a success! Not only has it been great for teaching high vs. low on the keyboard, but has become a great tool for exploration and improvisation at the piano. I have used this with preschool-aged children (and even with my son who is not yet three). It would probably also be great for other beginners who are school-aged.

It is really very simple. You can play it at the piano or away from the piano (I have a little keyboard printed on the sheet to use if you are not at a piano). I put the sheet and a small envelope inside of a file folder for easy organization. Here's a photo:

The child gets to reach in the envelope and pull out a little picture. It could be a picture of a fish, a star, a butterfly, a rocket, etc. We then talk about if the object is high or low - a fish would be LOW because it swims deep down in the ocean. An airplane would be HIGH because it flies high in the sky.

Then we play some notes to represent the picture! My son likes to put the picture on the left side of the piano if it is low, and on the right if it is high.

The fun of this game is the improvisation that naturally happens when you start to play what things "sound" like. For example, when a child pulls out a picture of raindrops, you can start up high (where the clouds are) and play short rain drop notes going all the way to the bottom of the piano! A rocket ship can start low, and then when it "blasts off" you can play a fast glissando all the way to the top! A swing goes up, then down, then up, then down. The possibilities are really endless.

I love this because it gets the child playing and exploring on the piano! My son and I love playing "train music." One of us plays short, low "chugga chugga" notes and the other plays high, long "train whistle" notes.

High or Low Game

What ways do you teach the concept of high and low notes to young beginners?


How to Teach Music to Young Children

People often ask me when they should start their child in piano lessons. My answer: as soon as possible! It is never too early to start exposing your child to the world of music. Now, I am not saying a 3-year-old should be in private lessons. No toddler or even preschooler should be expected to sit on a bench for 30 minutes, listen to explanations, memorize terms, and follow complex directions. Not if you want that child to actually enjoy music and come back again next week! Here are a few ideas for teaching these young beginners.

Strategies for Teaching Music to Young Children:

  • Teach in groups: Children learn best in a group environment where they can explore, learn from their peers, and feel completely at ease. This is not to say that some children won't be shy and take some time to warm up to the group situation. Be patient with these students, and let parents know that they are learning by observing, and there should be no pressure for them to perform.
  • Involve parents in the class: Children learn by watching not only their peers, but their parents. If parents participate in class activities, their children will (this obviously doesn't apply to older kids and teens, but works great with toddlers).
  • Include lots of movement: Not only do kids not sit still well, but they also need to feel the rhythm and the music in their bodies. They are hands-on learners, and need to be completely immersed in the music. March to the beat, tap your knees, do actions that match the words, and allow free movement with scarves or rhythm instruments.
  • Keep up the pace: Move quickly from one activity to the next, without pausing to look at your lesson plans too long, and without too much explanation.
  • Use repetition: All learning occurs through repetition. Don't rush through activities so quickly that kids start to feel lost. They do have short attention spans, but that doesn't mean they won't enjoy singing their favorite song three times instead of once. Repeat activities in each class, and from week to week.
  • Layer concepts: Along with repetition, use the concept of layering. Rather than trying to teach a 2-year-old to play a C on day one, first teach him about black and white keys. Repeat this for a couple of weeks, and then introduce groups of 2 and 3 black keys. When the students are comfortable playing 2 black keys with right hand bunny-ear fingers, show them that C is right underneath their thumb. Use this kind of layering with any concept you are trying to teach.
  • Have a routine: Children thrive on routine. They like to know what to expect. The class will run much more smoothly—and the kids will be more able to learn—if the sequence of activities is mostly the same each week. For instance, always begin with a welcome song, then move to a rhythm activity, flashcards, movement to music, singing with actions, and keyboard time, etc. Keep this as consistent as possible from week to week, allowing it to evolve as you add more activities and concepts.
  • Use by-copy techniques: Chant rhythms and have the students chant them back while tapping sticks or drums. Sing solfege melodies and have the students sing them back.
  • Teach ear-before-eye: You can tell a 2-year-old that a quarter note gets one beat, and he won't have a clue what you mean, but if you give him a drum and let him pound away to the music, eventually you can show him a quarter note and tell him that's what he was playing.
  • Incorporate social skill development: Include activities in the class that require the children to take turns, share, and cooperate with each other. These social skills are new to most toddlers and preschoolers, and are just as valuable as the musical skills they are learning.
  • Play! Children learn best through play. They experience the world through all of their senses, and they are constantly learning. They will not respond well to lengthy explanations or drills. A play-centered environment allows them to learn without even realizing they are learning.

Activities and Materials to Include in a Preschool Music Class:

  • Rhythm instruments: bells, drums, tambourines, maracas, woodblocks, castanets, shakers
  • Keyboards: this requires a significant investment, but if you can even have a small keyboard for every child, you will be able to prep these kids for later piano training
  • Singing: Use solfege and words to get children singing.
  • Large-Motor Skills: marching, actions to songs, tapping on various body parts, rolling a ball, holding hands and moving in a circle, dancing with scarves
  • Small Motor Skills: finger plays, songs with finger actions (like Itsy Bitsy Spider), keyboard activities
  • Listening Activities: read stories, listen for different instruments in a recording, listen for more abstract sounds (does this part sound like a lion roaring? or a fish swimming in the ocean?)
  • Other Materials: balls, hoops, scarves, big colored flashcards, etc.

Obviously I could go on and on, but short of writing your curriculum for you, I hope this gives you some good ideas and place to get started!


Early Childhood Music Education

guest post by Stephanie Talbot

During my my senior year of my bachelors degree I took two music education courses from Susan Kenney at Brigham Young University. My eyes were opened to a whole new perspective of music education. I volunteered with the BYU Young Musicians Academy for three years. I loved teaching young children music. It is so exciting to see their faces light up when they sing songs together, play games, move to music, and play instruments for the first time.

During the summers while at BYU, I took Musikgarten courses for Babies, Toddlers, Cycles, Musik Makers, and Musik Makers at the Keyboard. I also took Level 1 certification courses in Orff Schurwerk and Kodaly. All of these music education approaches have the same vision and build upon each other.

Children are always listening, learning, and trying to comprehend the world around them. Music education begins in infancy, and there is ample evidence that it begins before birth. The first three years of life are the most important for educating young children. At this time, brain cells are making connections most rapidly. These connections are what give the brain its capacity to grow and learn. What happens in the home has significant impact on the children’s musical performance when they reach Kindergarten. Children’s experiences during the first years of life lay the foundation for learning that will take place when they enter school. Their feelings of importance and security are determined by your approval of them. The music you listen to, the instruments you play, the singing you do, will all influence the child’s future musical tastes and preferences for music making. Research indicates that by age four, 50 percent of the intellectual learning a child will have at age seventeen has already occurred. (Boloom)

Early childhood classes:

I have taught a few early childhood classes each year. The tricky thing is finding a place to do it that is big enough to house the children and their parents. I have co-leased a dance studio before which worked out great. The home is an option--but having enough space for the children/parents to move is essential. If it is cramped then the purpose of the activities becomes less effective. A babies class works great in a home since movement is limited to lifting, tickling, etc.

What can you do as a parent?

1. Create a musical environment. 

Piaget, a music education theorist, said that environment is critical for learning to take place, and a music environment is as important as all other environments. Children will be able to construct their own musical meaning form the musical experiences they have. The role of the teacher and parent is to provide musical environments from which children can construct their own meaning. EXPERIENCE precedes understanding. EXPERIENCE precedes symbols! Include musical toys, tape recorder, songbooks, picture books about music, good recordings. Different kinds of experiences allow children to explore, make choices, and build their own curiosity.

2. Participate in music activities.

Go to a musical play, the symphony, recitals. Sing with your children at family activities.

3. Observe and listen all kinds of sounds!

Sounds of animals, birds, water, rain, etc. (inside, outside, sounds around the home, instruments). Listen to a variety of musical selections (classical, pop, rock, jazz, choral, orchestral, singing from other cultures). Consider checking out a different CD each week from the library and make a special time to listen such as in the car, while you are making dinner, putting them to sleep.

4. Label the different sounds while listening as high sounds, low sounds, fast, slow, violin, piano, trumpet, etc.

3. Participate with your children in musical activities.

Use CD's and rhythm sticks. If you play an instrument—play it often. If music is valued to you, then it will more likely be valued to them. Your daily modeling creates a model for your children.

Something to do at home:

1. Find 6 matching non-glass containers (Easter eggs, pill bottles, plastic cups taped together)
2. Partially fill 2 containers with salt, 2 with beans, and 2 with pennies (or other materials)
3. Close and secure
4. Place the containers in your child’s environment and encourage a child to shake the containers. (sing a song while they shake, label them as loud or soft, have them try to match the containers to ones with similar sounds. Encourage the child to shake one sound while you find another just like it.)
5. Enjoy! Play is the child’s work!


Guest Contributor: Stephanie Talbot

We are pleased to welcome a wonderful guest contributor this week, Stephanie Talbot. Stephanie is an excellent pianist and a wonderful teacher, and has some great insights into early childhood music education  that she will be sharing with us. We look forward to her wonderful post, and wanted you to get to know her a little bit!

Stephanie Talbot

she is from:
Provo, Utah

she attended:
BYU for her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Piano Performance, recently received her K-12 music endorsement. (has additional training in Musikgarten, Kodaly, and Orff)

teaches Elementary Music in Provo School District (Kodaly emphasis)

she loves:
to make music with children, play piano/violin, cook, run, and spend time with her 30 nieces and nephews!

she recently:
ordered lots of children's books to sing with and make music with children

Preschool Music

Recently I have become really interested in early childhood music education. In the past I would always say that students definitely need to be at least five years old to take lessons. And if you're speaking in terms of traditional sit on the bench and learn piano lessons, I still believe that is true. But, as the mother of a bright little two-year-old who loves music, the wheels in my brain have really been turning about this subject. I am excited that we will be discussing this topic a lot this week!

My son loves music. He loves to dance around the room when we play the piano, and particularly when my husband plays fast, exciting pieces like the 3rd movement of Moonlight Sonata or Maple Leaf Rag. I have found that he absolutely loves to learn about music and to have "piano lessons" with me. I have also learned the importance of keeping it fun and exciting - I would never force him to play the piano,  95% of the time it is he who comes to me, wanting to play the piano. In fact, he has learned his first little piece and loves to play it! How cute is that.

I recently found out about a new website all about preschool music, and they have some really wonderful video interviews where they discuss preschool music - check it out! These are so informative, and I particularly enjoyed the video about research showing the benefits of music to preschoolers.

I really do feel that children who have exposure to music at an early age can really learn a lot, and that it will have far-reaching positive effects in their development. In the future I would love to teach preschool music classes. I know of many readers who have wonderful piano blogs who have mentioned "pre-piano camps" for young children - what a great thing!

I have actually started teaching "piano lessons" to a couple of preschool-aged students. I put piano lessons in quotations because it is so different than any piano lessons I have taught in the past! "Lessons" are super short - 15 minutes. We hardly even sit at the piano bench. We sit on the floor and play games, we tell stories, we listen to music, we play and improvise on the piano - and the students have such fun, while learning some great foundational concepts about music and the piano. I will probably be sharing some of the games I have been using, so stay tuned! In the meantime - for those of you readers who teach preschool music of some type, what are some things you have learned about teaching this age group? What are some ways you have found to teach music in a fun way?


Weekend Repertoire: Sunday Afternoon Music

Music Pathways 5B RepertoireA few months back I was at my local thrift store in Utah. My husband and I always love to browse through the books, especially music books, to see what great things we can find! On this particular day I happened upon an old piano repertoire book from the Music Pathways series by Lynn Freeman Olson, Louise Bianchi and Marvin Blickenstaff. This great little book is really a gem! So it is one of these great little pieces that I want to discuss today....

Today's piece: Sunday Afternoon Music by Aaron Copland
Level: Late intermediate
This piece teaches: control at a very slow tempo and at a very soft dynamic level, clarity and control of 32nd notes, phrasing, artistry, tenuto symbol, triplet rhythm, double-dotted eighth/32nd rhythms, listening to the sound produced
Listen: This little piece is kind of obscure, but I found a 30-second clip that you can listen to here. It is a pretty good preview of the piece, and you can hear some of the 32nd notes, as well as the triplet rhythms. Kind of lazy and mesmerizing, yes? You can also listen to a preview of it or buy the track on iTunes for $1.
The sheet music: Looks like you can buy the Music Pathways Repertoire book 5B (which includes Sunday Afternoon Music) here on amazon.com for about $4. It may be in other collections as well...

This is a piece that truly exemplifies a "Sunday afternoon," in my mind. It is so much fun to play because (I think) it is so relaxing and laaaaazy (like a nice, long Sunday afternoon nap). Copland, of course, added in some cool jazz harmonies to this little piece (it is 22 measures long), making it very fun, indeed, to try and bring out those neat harmonies while playing at a triple-piano dynamic level.

Playing very slowly and very quietly is actually a tricky thing for a lot of students! This piece is an awesome way to teach that. The very soft chords can be tricky to pull off - challenge your student to play as quietly as the absolutely can!

The 32nd-note runs should be played quickly, of course, but the student should make sure to not blur the notes together. Have them practice slowly at first to be able to hear each note individually and equally....like taking a stroll around the block on a Sunday afternoon while running a stick along a white picket fence, hearing each individual click...

Image credit


Weekend Repertoire:Bowed Piano Technique

If you are not familiar with bowed piano or prepared piano techniques, you have got to watch this video. In fact, you have got to watch it even if you are familiar with these crazy techniques :) I think it is so fascinating to hear all of the sounds that the piano can produce if it is just played a little....differently than normal. ;)

This is Dr. Scott Holden (my college piano professor) performing Entrada, a bowed piano piece by Stephen Scott, with a 10-student ensemble. It is well worth the 7 and a half minutes viewing time, and if you are like me you will be completely mesmerized by this cool piece. You can read more about this neat performance here.


Using Recording Equipment in the Studio

Alright, so I actually don't own any fancy recording equipment. But, I have enjoyed using a little bit of audio and video recording during my lessons to help get my students to pay attention to what is coming out of the piano. Because seriously, sometimes we can get so caught up with what our fingers are doing, what the notes on the page are doing, what our feet are doing with the pedals and all of the counting going on inside our head that we forget to listen. Go figure. I swear, you have got to be some kind of crazy multi-tasker to be a pianist!

So, enter technology - whether it be some kind of nice and expensive recording equipment, or something a little more common and affordable, like a small tape recorder of some sort or even an iPod (my iPod records sound and video - not the best quality out there but it definitely works). Here are a couple of ways to use this during a lesson:

  • Are those little fingers not staying curved again? I have sometimes whipped out my little iPod video camera to show my student what their hands really look like. I'd say that 90% of the time, things like flat fingers can be fixed quite easily just by having the student see and realize what they are doing.
  • A quick audio recording of a "polished" piece may save you many lectures about whether or not they are really playing piano in that one section, or if their phrases are really connected. Or whether or not the piece actually sounds musical and exciting to listen to. Sometimes students just need the chance to listen in on their own playing as an observer to really get what needs to be fixed.
How do you use recording equipment in your studio?


My studio blog

In addition to my website about my studio (which really is only a blog - someday I will set up a "real," fancy schmancy one!), I also have a private blog with lots of resources for my students and their parents. Students and parents need to log in to view this blog. Some things I have on this blog:
  • my studio policy
  • monthly studio news
  • studio calendar (I use Google Calendar)
  • fun links (includes links to online music games, music theory lessons and reviews, fun music websites like the San Francisco Symphony Kids website and Classics for Kids, and a link to online ear training
  • assignments - a big part of this blog is the assignments section. I have many listening and music theory assignments on this blog that I have created to be a bit of a supplement to lessons. For example, during a lesson I can assign a student a specific listening assignment. They can then go home, pull it up on the blog, print out the assignment sheet, and listen to the assigned pieces online (either on a website like pianosociety.com or on a YouTube video that I have embedded into the assignment post).
  • Composer of the Month - links to information and listening examples to go with our composer of the month
  • Meet the Composers - a bunch of links to some wonderful websites to help students learn about music history (NY Philharmonic Kidzone Meet the Composers, Meet the Composers on Classics for Kids, a composer map, and games like Beethoven's Baseball and Time Machine).

Since I am still working on re-building my studio after moving to a new state, in the future this blog will also contain things like:
  • photos and videos from student recitals
  • a student phone list for switching lesson times in the event of a cancellation
I feel that this is a really great resource for my students. They can at any time have so many great online resources at their fingertips to help them learn about music theory, music history, or ear training; they can listen to any piece online; and they can have access to all studio policies and other information.

**Have you checked out the studio websites and blogs that have been shared by readers this week? Make sure you go take a look, and feel free to share yours as well! It is wonderful to get ideas and learn from each other!

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