I know that one of my weaknesses in lessons is sometimes to rush through things. I do try hard to slow down and make sure the student understands what I am saying, but, especially with 30 minute lessons, I am always aware of how quickly the time moves along, and I want to get to everything I planned on covering.
I recently came across this quote from a famous, well-respected teacher (who has an entire institute of music education named for her).
“Teach the student first, the music second, and the piano third.” –Francis Clark
This has really reinforced things I already know, but don’t always keep in the forefront.
The list of things that students learn in music lessons is long, and it is full of life lessons. (This list is from the Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.)
Practice (benefits of)
Teachers know that not every student is going to become a highly skilled pianist. But we know that every week students learn something about music, about piano playing, and about life. I try to incorporate as many different kinds of learning as possible in lessons, but I know that I can do better. My goal is for every student to become a good pianist, a dedicated music lover, and a smarter, more capable person. The reminder from Francis Clark will help me.
The Minnesota Music Teachers Association (MMTA) has developed an outstanding program of piano exams to help motivate students to continue with lessons, practicing, and advancing in their piano playing. The program is rigorous and is not for every student, but many students will benefit from the program. This year, two of my students took the Level Five exam and scored with High Distinction, which, of course, made me very proud. I will continue to encourage my students to consider taking part in the exams. Doing so will guide lessons and practicing toward specific skills and polished performances of music from all different eras of music history.
The 2014-15 year has gone by quickly. I have seen wonderful progress with my students, and they will put their talents on display at our Spring Recital, Sunday, April 26 at 2 p.m. The location is First Evangelical Free Church, 5150 Chicago Ave S, 55417.
New this year is several of my students have taken the MMTA Piano Exams, and two are taking the MMTA Theory Exam. I’m very proud of these students for taking park in these valuable programs that help students achieve high musical standards in their playing. The requirements are rigorous, but all of them have done very well, achieving high marks.
It is gratifying that just about all of my students came to lessons this summer AND practiced to keep up their skills. Many students worked on new duets and will have an opportunity to play them at a recital on Sept. 28 for residents at the Walker Methodist Health Center. Family members and friends will also be welcome to attend.
I will be adding Minnesota Music Teachers Association piano exam and theory exam curriculum to many of my students’ lessons beginning in September. We will focus on keyboard skills and repertoire chosen by MMTA. Once a student passes the appropriate level for his/her playing, we will move up to the next level. The exams themselves provide incentive for students to practice hard and work toward excellence in their playing. I look forward to using the excellent programs that have been developed over decades by MMTA teachers.
Putting together a new lesson schedule is always a challenge, but I think everyone’s needs have been met as far as lesson times is concerned.
The fall recital will be at the same location on November 23.
For some students, recitals can be enormously stressful, while for others, they are enjoyable. It can be a lot of fun playing for other people, but the pressure to play perfectly can ruin the experience.
I try to keep the recitals for my students low-key. For example, while I recommend memorization, I don’t require it. Many times students have the music in front of them, but never look at it. If it makes them more comfortable to have it there, I’m all for it. This is not, after all, a college-level recital required for a degree!
Some students do want to have more recital experiences, and for that I am glad to be a member of the Minneapolis Music Teachers Forum, an organization that sponsors about 30 Sunday afternoon recitals throughout the school year. These are more formal, with memorization required, and strict rules about the type of music that can be performed. The performances are critiqued by experienced teachers, and students can obtain honors and honorable mention rewards for high-level performances. Student also can earn ribbons and trophies for multiple recital participation through the years.
These recitals are not for all students, but I encourage them all to consider it. Recently I had two students perform for the first time in an MMTF recital. One mother wrote to say:
“My daughter was super nervous prior to the recital and felt so good after, that she wants to do it again…. She wants a ribbon she said, so maybe we can challenge her even more.”
That’s what these recitals should be—a way to challenge a young person to do something outside their comfort zone, but in a supportive environment. I’m happy that I can offer this experience to my students—to help them grow as musicians and grow as people.
This past week I put a brighly-colored “Outstanding” sticker on a page of a student’s book. She had done an outstanding job learning the piece in one week, and her effort really stood out from past lessons. I wanted her to know that I noticed her work and appreciated it, so I used the sticker in the hopes that it would encourage her to work this hard more frequently.
I know that many piano teachers regularly use award stickers with their students, but I do it only occasionally, when I sense a significant increase in effort or a special performance by a student. A large part of my thinking is that I want the student to desire and appreciate excellent playing for its own sake, not because they are praised or rewarded by a teacher. Of course, I do praise students when they achieve small AND large goals. I believe positive reinforcement is an important part of teaching, and I always look for something to praise before I talk about the problems that need to be fixed.
Music is unique among activities and pursuits. Rarely is there a “winner.” While others might appreciate hearing a performance, the performer must feel the satisfaction and joy in the music, regardless of who else might be listening.
When I sense that a student is especially motivated by stickers, I do tend to use them more, especially to encourage more frequent practicing. The father of one of my younger students let me know that when they started a sticker system for practicing at home, his child went to the piano more frequently, and without prompting.
I’ve come to realize that it’s just in my nature to use vocal praise and not rewards at lessons.
I would like to thank all my students, and their families, for their part in a terrific fall recital. All the players played confidently, especially the new students, for whom this was their first piano recital. Playing in front of about 60 people, many of them strangers, is not easy for everyone, but all my students performed very well, making their teacher quite proud.
Thanks also to those who brought treats and drinks.
I look forward to getting back to lessons in December. We will have three weeks of lessons before breaking for the holidays, starting Dec. 2. There will be no regularly scheduled lessons the weeks of Dec. 23 and Dec. 30. However, if any student would like to schedule a lesson during that time, let me know and we can find a time that will work. We will start up again on Jan. 6, 2014.
I wish everyone a great Thanksgiving holiday!
I’m please to announce that I am the winner of the 2013-14 Minnesota Music Teachers Association Original Duet Composition Contest. My duet “Frolic–a duet in C” was selected in the Junior A level and will be performed at the MMTA Honors Concert in June 2014.
After two months of lessons this school year, I am happy to report that lessons are going very well. I currently have seven new students who are brand new to the piano, and it’s been exciting to watch them grow and learn. Reading music is a whole new language of symbols and meanings, and every person reacts differently to the complex task of reacting with their bodies and brains to this new language. Parents should be assured that every students learns differently and at a different pace. They all hit roadblocks that take a little time to climb over, but they all will get over the top and move on to new challenges. I hope all the students are having a good time learning and exploring music. It’s a joy like few others in life.
I am continuing to challenge my returning students. They are figuring out how to fit daily practicing into their schedule. I know that every new grade means more homework and new activities, and that all parents are helping the kids understand how important practicing is to their musical and personal development. Lessons don’t yield much results if students don’t practice at home.
I will continue to work on communicating to each student my expectations for their work at home. I have discovered that while I write down in their notebook what I want each student to work on, some students don’t look at the notebook very often. If you feel that the notebook doesn’t work for your child or you, or that the information is incomplete or confusing, please let me know so I can make a change. Some teachers have their students write in the book, but I have found that this takes time away from other things in the lesson, and I don’t want to give up that time.
Speaking of time, I am grateful to those parents who agreed to increase lessons to 45 minutes. For me, it is making a huge difference. The extra time is allowing me to cover everything more thoroughly, and in some cases include more things in the lesson, such as ear training and composition. I am more relaxed in lessons, without feeling like I have to rush to get to everything. Again, it is different with each student, but with everyone the extra time is being used constructively.
At the November 17 recital, my goal is for each student to demonstrate their skill and artistic abilities at the piano. I try to keep the experience as relaxed as possible while still giving them an important musical experience. Playing for others, and the hard work necessary to achieve a high a level of excellence in their recital performance are worthwhile experiences. This year two adults will be playing pieces by Chopin—myself and an adult student who really enjoys performing for others. I look forward to seeing you there!
Some parents have asked about the effectiveness of lessons during the summer, when there can be two, three or even four weeks between lessons. My first response is that four weeks between lessons must be better than 12 weeks!
If students don’t take any lessons over the summer, they usually aren’t playing the piano over the summer, and that means their skills diminish and they start the next year behind where they ended the previous year. Even if they are practicing a little, they don’t get the direction and support that lessons provide.
Students can progress if they practice regularly and have at least 6 lessons during the summer months. While summer can be a busy time, it is without homework and the other demands on time that school places on kids. It is possible to carve out 15-30 minutes several times a week for practicing.
And remember, learning discipline is part of what learning a musical instrument is all about. If parents just let go of practicing over the summer, they’re losing the opportunity to teach their children the lesson that regular hard work is what’s necessary to learn, to improve, and to achieve their goals.
One positive about the summer is that kids might realize that reduced practicing and fewer lessons results in much slower progress.
I am looking forward to seeing all my returning students in the fall, as well as several new students!