Why Practicing Students Are Good For Teachers

practicing

As music teachers, we encounter many different personalities and levels of interest with our students.

Unfortunately, some students are not as naturally enthusiastic about practicing as others, and one of the difficulties of teaching music is in getting a student such as this to practice consistently and more efficiently.

If this isn’t happening, parents can get frustrated with their child’s lack of progress and take them out of lessons altogether.

What can we do as teachers to avoid this and help all of our students feel fulfilled in their daily practice?


When students don’t practice regularly or efficiently, it causes many problems between them and their teachers and parents.

Parents sometimes feel helpless when they cannot get their child to practice, which ultimately leads them to take them out of music lessons.

If they do practice, but not effectively, the progress is plodding and can become a source of frustration for everyone involved!

The best way to make sure students are on the right track to practicing consistently and efficiently is for parents and teachers to help them set up a practice schedule that is a part of their daily life.

This helps set them up for success!

Within that schedule, the teacher must make certain that the student is practicing effectively (not just running through the motions) and this can take a considerable amount of time and effort during the lesson time to demonstrate and reinforce.

They must learn to be efficient and fruitful in their practicing. And the teacher has to be the one to ensure that they attain these most valuable skills.

One good way to introduce better practice skills with a student is to use a fun piece as the example for how they can become more efficient.

This does not usually work if teachers impose a piece that does not interest the student, so leave the choice up to them.

Once they have decided, use that piece to explore all the different ways they can develop their practice skills at home and spend time in the lessons demonstrating and analyzing the results.

This is an excellent way for a student to become more in-tune with her learning methods while still having fun in the process.

Working on developing better practice skills can be a very long process. But the benefits greatly outweigh any difficulties we experience.

How do students benefit from practicing?

When students practice consistently and efficiently, they become more engaged, enthusiastic, inspired and inquisitive.

We want all of these things for our students!

As students progress more quickly, they soon get to learn more exciting music, which helps keep them inspired.

Students can more easily see where their music studies are leading as they progress.

And then teachers have the opportunity to compare diligent students to other more advanced students to show how their hard work will eventually pay off.

How do teachers benefit from practicing?

With positive results from proper practice techniques, we are more inspired to push students further.

This also helps us feed off the students’ progress and to be more creative!

It opens an opportunity to use positive reinforcement instead of negative punishment, and successful students become good examples for the rest of the studio.

When students are efficient and diligent in practicing, we teachers feel like we have more time and space to add other aspects to teaching that they otherwise couldn’t, such as the exploration of other musical styles, theory, improvisation, composition, arranging and more advanced technique.

With successful students, we get a greater sense of accomplishment, which increases morale.

Not every student will be naturally enthusiastic, so we need to cultivate this kind of attitude to keep us motivated as teachers.

How does this affect parents?

When parents can see progress, they are more likely to keep their children enrolled in lessons and involved in recitals and competitions.

That’s a big one, right? I mean, we all like our paychecks!

Parents are a big factor in their children’s success in music, and they are instrumental in establishing a regular schedule, attainable goals, and positive reinforcement.

Clear progress helps parents stay motivated and excited about helping their children succeed in music.

When goals are set and met, parents can easily see where the path is leading in their children’s musical development.

Student success can ultimately encourage them to enroll other siblings, family members or friends for lessons.

This is a super positive side effect of students practicing!

Remember: happy parents are the best advertising we teachers can get!


Sharing the gift of music with our students is the most important thing we do.

Engaged students and parents equal success in music lessons.

The PracticeHabits Membership Community is a fantastic community for piano teachers dedicated to inspiring student practice and parent engagement.

Piano teachers are already benefitting from the wonderful community and resources!

Click the image below for more information.

 

Parent Engagement Equals Success in Music Lessons

parent engagement

One, of the most common questions that parents have for music teachers, is how they can be more involved in their child’s music education.

Sometimes it can feel like there is a divide between what happens in the lesson room and what happens on a daily basis at home.

Parent engagement equals success in music lessons.

There are many ways to approach parent engagement.

Here are a few effective ways to encourage your student’s parents to get involved more meaningfully in their child’s musical development:

EXPERIENCE MUSIC TOGETHER

Often, children feel they have very different musical tastes than their parents, and this can certainly be true.

Parents can go to live performances together to establish a musical connection with their children.

This can be any kind of music, whether it’s more to the child’s liking, more suited to the parent’s sensibilities, or somewhere in-between.

The important thing is to experience music together and to talk about it afterward.

Discuss what your impressions were: what you liked and didn’t like, what surprised you, and what inspired you.

Take advantage of the connections you make in these interactions, and you will see your musical relationship grow very naturally.

On a more daily basis, listen to music while at home or in the car. This is the easiest way to connect with your child about music.

Go so far as to invite music to be a part of your family, whether it’s while you’re doing chores at home, driving to school, or just relaxing on the weekend.

When possible, take the time to have sessions of “active listening” – not just passively hearing background sounds, but focusing on the music and talking about it afterward.

Enjoying and discussing music through these kinds of experiences will help you get to know each other’s musical sides much better, which will open the door to getting more personally involved in your child’s education.

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TAKE A MORE ACTIVE ROLE

Once you’ve established a relationship with your child regarding music, it becomes much easier to take an active role in their music education.

The best way to begin this is to ask them specific questions concerning what they are working on and how their lessons are going.

Too often, parents ask the obligatory “Did you practice?” and “For how long?” without following up with more in-depth questions.

Find out what exactly what they are working on, how it is different from the other pieces or technical exercises, what do they find easy or difficult, what they like or dislike about it, and what they aspire to be able to play.

It’s essential to ask your child how they think they are doing in their practice and lessons.

If the child is struggling to stay disciplined in practice, you can help them set up a practice schedule that is easy to maintain.

Overall, encourage self-appraisal and always be supportive, since self-criticizing isn’t easy for any of us to do!

SET GOALS INDEPENDENTLY OF THEIR TEACHER’S GOALS

The next step in taking an active role in your child’s musical development is to set goals independently of their teacher’s goals.

The teacher will always have the dominant role as an educator, and this can make the parent-child dynamic seem less important.

The best way to remedy this is to come up with activities that don’t directly involve the timelines of what they are doing in lessons, for instance, set up family concerts at home or have recording projects that you do together and share with family and friends.

Reinforce the idea that music is not just about preparing for lessons and competitions but is something that enriches the lives of all of your loved ones.

If your child responds well to this approach, make it into a family ritual, and your musical relationship will strengthen further.

Along with these ideas, it is helpful and fun to play duets with your child if you have basic skills on any instrument, particularly piano.

Playing together is truly the most direct way to establish an active role in your child’s musical life, so if needed, you can take lessons as an adult to share the experience.

GET MORE PERSONAL

An important aspect of understanding your child’s musical education is to have honest conversations with them about their experiences.

You can talk to them about their musical aspirations, what makes them nervous or anxious when performing, or what kinds of music they are interested in.

As they reach adolescence, it becomes crucial to discuss with your child how they see their future regarding music, whether as a career path, as a serious hobby, or just an appreciation.

These kinds of discussions are much easier to have if you’ve already established a supportive relationship when it comes to music, and with the advice of their teacher, you will be able to help your child realize his or her musical aspirations as an adult.

Above all, remember that parent engagement = success in music lessons.


About the Author: This guest post about parent engagement in private music lessons is by Carter McMullen from the Baltimore School of Music. You can read more about Carter and his work below.

Carter McMullen is a piano teacher at the Baltimore School of Music. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgia State University and a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Georgia, both in Piano Performance. He continued his music studies at conservatories in Paris, France and London, England.

Carter maintains an active performing schedule including solo and chamber music, instrumental and vocal accompanying, and jazz. He toured South America three times with the Chase Educational Foundation, giving concerts and masterclasses in Argentina and Chile, and has performed in concerts in France, Italy, the UK, and the US. He regularly collaborates with performance students at the Peabody Institute.

In 2017, Carter founded the Union Square Chamber Music Society, and as Artistic Director, he organizes monthly salon concerts in which he regularly takes part as a performer.


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Memorization

Memorization technique

The following is one of the most efficient memorization techniques that I’ve taught my students.

It’s common knowledge that students all around the globe practice too fast. And this produces poor results!

Slow and steady wins the race.

I always remind my students about The Tortoise and the Hare.

Who wins?

The tortoise, of course.

Why?

Because he’s slow and methodical.

The hare gets cocky and only knows one speed – fast! And this ultimately leads to his losing the race.

We have to take care in reminding our students to practice slowly.

Learning the piano is a marathon, not a sprint.

So, why memorize music?

Well, we encourage our students to memorize music because it helps them internalize and bring a higher level of interpretation to their music.

They don’t have to worry so much about the notes anymore and can focus on the dynamics, phrasing, and other musical nuances.

When it comes to memorization, I like to teach a back to front approach.

It’s not a quick approach, but it yields amazing results!

Maybe you, like me, have seen students attempt to memorize a piece from beginning to end quickly.

Impatience = Sloppiness

This is why it’s so important to remind students about the long game. In the end, the tortoise wins the race!

One caveat before we dive into the technique; a student shouldn’t attempt memorization until she can play a piece from beginning to end without making mistakes.

She must have a solid grasp of the music.

Now, on to memorization.

As already mentioned, I prefer a slow and steady back to front approach.

Once students are ready to begin memorizing, I have them turn to the very back of a piece, extract the last three to four bars, and play them several times slowly along with the music.

I stress slowly here.

Once they’ve played the three to four measure phrase slowly with the music, I ask them to play the phrase from memory.

Carving out small sections one at a time and practicing them in this way forces students to pay attention to what’s going on in the music.

What are the intervals? What does the melody sound like? What’s the rhythm?

Extracting small snippets of a piece and practicing them in this way gives way to solid memorization.

You’re determining these little fragments by the phrasing, or course. You could be working with six bars phrases in your case. Or it could be less.

But I would not bite off more than six bars. This may be a bit much for your students depending on the tempo and difficulty level of their piece.

I’ve had my students repeat as little as two measures at a time.

Once students have mastered the last three or four bars of a piece (or last part of a phrase), I have them back up to the preceding three to four bars of music.

Now, have them repeat the process. Not only with the new measures, but the measures they’ve already memorized.

This technique reinforces the music that they’ve already memorized and works extremely well when it comes to solidifying memorization of any piece.

Okay, so just to recap. –

  1. Play the last three or four measures of a piece (depending on the phrase) several times while looking at the music.
  2. Next, play the passage from memory.
  3. Then back up to the preceding three or four measures and play them plus the memorized measures several times while looking at the music.
  4. Now try the passage from memory.
  5. Rinse, wash, repeat.

This approach just works!

I encourage you to approach large-scale works, such as Beethoven’s sonatas a little differently.

You’ll want to break larger pieces into smaller chunks (one or two pages at a time) and then apply the slow back to front approach.


So there you go!

I hope this quick article gives you some food for thought as you’re resting and gearing up for a new semester of teaching

Remind your students of the classic fable The Tortoise and the Hare.

Remind them who wins the race!


So what works for you?

What memorization techniques are you using in your lessons?

I’d love to hear from you!

Please leave a comment below.

And as always, thank you for supporting the PracticeHabits community!

Student Procrastinating and Parent Involvement

work student procrastinating

Student procrastinating…

Oh, I remember studying (cramming really) for those school history and language arts tests.

Sincerely meditating on the test material, I’d allow my head to fall deeply into the center of the thick textbook memorizing dates and vo..caa…buu…lar…….y….. woooooo..r……d….ssssss (zzzzz……zzzzzz…..zzzz).

Oops! I’m sorry! I dozed off!!

Just thinking about it makes me super sleepy.

The textbook wasn’t as soft as my down feather pillow, but I made it work.

We’ve all been there!

  1. Temporarily fill brain with information.
  2. Take test.
  3. Dump information.

It’s unfortunate, really.

I used to procrastinate on my piano assignments as well.

I’ll never forget student procrastinating the week of piano festival. Oh, what a fearful experience that was!

Served me right, though!

My parents pushed me to practice, but they could have pushed harder at times.

It’s tough to strike the appropriate balance, right?

We don’t want our students to burn out. But they need to be pushed. And sometimes parents need to be pushed.

I believe that parent involvement is key to children’s success in the lesson room.

There’s perfect case study by The Center for Public Education on this topic. It’s not a quick read, but worth your time.

Unfortunately, too many parents allow piano teachers to shoulder all of the responsibility.

Sound familiar?

Many of you have told me that the two biggest problems you face in the lesson room are a lack of practice and parent involvement.

I struggle with these myself.

But there are ways to combat these problems.

One of the most efficient ways is to inspire students to practice with well-crafted and imaginative music. 

Rote pieces are perfect for early-late beginner students because they allow them to play more exciting music since they’re focussing on patterns and not note reading.

There are other ways to combat these problems, of course. But that’s enough from me.

I want to hear from you!

How do you open this dialogue with your families? What’s working for you? What’s not working for you?

Please leave a comment below.

Inspiring Music Sparks Imagination and Creativity

Inspiring

The boy in the picture looks pretty bored, doesn’t he?

I think he needs a new and inspiring piece of music!

Do you remember receiving a brand new piece of music from your piano teacher?

Do you recall the wonderful feeling you’d get when opening the clean, crisp pages for the first time?

I sure do.

What a joyful experience it was!

There’s something special about introducing a student to new and inspiring music.

This reason alone helped me fall in love with festival competitions.

My teacher, Mrs. Jackie Hudson, always picked the best pieces for me to play.

The vibrant and colorful pictures on the front covers and the clean smell of the new pages inspired me to practice (something Mrs. Hudson was super thrilled about).

Of course, the music had to be good as well!

And it always was.

The National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) sure knows how to put on a good piano festival.

I’m always impressed at the attention to detail in every aspect of the festival.

They’ve produced a nice teacher resource of music titles suitable for students of all levels.

The NFMC Festival Bulletin is an excellent resource. And they’re always updating it. So you can trust its contents are relevant!

There are other sources for new and exciting music; PracticeHabits.co of course, and others.

I’m a huge fan of the Festival Collection series produced by F.J.H. Music Company Inc.

It’s perfect for actual classical pieces (no arrangements) and runs the spectrum from beginning to advanced students.

Many of my students have made their way through these books.

The repertoire contained in the Festival Collection series is excellent for festivals, auditions, and recitals.

Here’s a quick list of several other fantastic and inspiring resources I’ve used in my teaching journey –

  1. The Complete Book of Scales, Arpeggios, and Cadences
  2. Music and technical exercises arranged by Keith Snell
  3. Most anything by Dennis Alexander
  4. Alfred’s Music for Little Mozarts

What about you?

Are you in the market for some new and creative piano music to inspire your students this Summer?

I sure do hope so.

Well-crafted and inspiring music sparks imagination and creativity in piano students and encourages healthy practice habits!

 

What is Rote Learning and Why Should I Teach By Rote?

teaching by rote

Rote piano teaching seems to be experiencing a resurgence.

But what does it mean to teach by rote?

Webster’s has two definitions for the word.

  1. “The use of memory usually with little intelligence.”
  2. “Mechanical or unthinking routine or repetition.”

I don’t really appreciate the first definition…

Little intelligence?

I guess Webster is trying to say that there’s no formal process for solving a problem such as an algebraic formula or the scientific method.

But it sounds demeaning!

The reality is that this method of learning is an excellent way for students to quickly discover musical patterns and develop their ear.

The following is a quote from the mid 20th-century Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki. I firmly believe his thought process.

The early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin. Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others.

The primary concern among piano teachers in teaching the Suzuki method is that it takes so long to begin written notation.

So, why not adopt a hybrid approach? Why not teach music by rote and traditional notation at the same time?

There are several benefits to teaching by rote.

  • It forces students to quickly identify musical patterns.
  • It helps student’s ears develop more quickly.
  • It helps students learn precise rhythm and correct fingering.
  • It allows students to play more exciting music at an early age.
  • It paves the way to excellent musicianship.

Alfred Schnittke is one of my favorite composers and musical thinkers.

Schnittke advocated that the future well-rounded musician would feel at home with various styles. In other words, she would play jazz, classical, pop, and other styles equally well.

Do you know any musicians that can masterfully play in different styles?

Chick Corea, Dave Brubeck, and Yo-Yo Ma come to mind.


So now that you have a good understanding of rote piano teaching and its many benefits, you may be asking, “what makes a good rote piece?”

Above all, patterns.

Music is all about patterns. Well-crafted music is full of familiar patterns to help listeners grasp the main themes and ideas.

Here are a few fantastic rote selections listed by Natalie Weber at the Music Matters Blog.

  • A Day in the Jungle by Jon George
  • Bumblebee Toccata by Lynn Freeman Olson
  • Buzzing Bee by Mark Nevin
  • Castle Days by Kathleen Massoud
  • Cross Current by Ted Cooper
  • Devil’s Night Dance by Catherine Rollin
  • Dragon Hunt by Nancy and Randall Faber
  • Dream Echoes by Nancy and Randall Faber
  • The Fly by Nancy and Randall Faber

Candle in the Night, The Music Train, and Running in Circles are three excellent rote pieces that you can find in the PracticeHabits.co store.

I love what Amy Greer has to say about scouring for rote piano pieces on Tim Topham’s brilliant Creative Piano Teaching Podcast.

She says that a good rote piano piece is a piece that’s easier to teach by patterns than traditional notation. If it’s simpler to learn from the music, then it’s not an ideal rote piece.


I hope that you’ve found this article to be helpful and informative.

As always, thank you for your ongoing support of the PracticeHabits.co community. I appreciate you.

Your friend,

Chris

Paving a Path to Excellent Musicianship

paving a path to excellent musicianship

We piano teachers share the responsibility of moving our students toward excellent musicianship.

Of course, students and parents also share in this responsibility. But that’s a post for another day!

Beginner – Intermediate – Advanced

What a tremendous privilege it is to see a child through all three stages! But how do we responsibly guide our students through each stage?

I’m convinced that we do this in the following ways –

1.) Instill students with passion and love for music and the piano.

Many students begin lessons enjoying the piano. Many do not. But it’s our duty to help them fall in love with the instrument!

Instilling passion and love for music should be at the top of every teacher’s list.

Imagine pursuing something without excitement. Without joy.

How dull.

Chances are you’ve been there. I sure have!

But our joy for music and the piano should be infectious – spreading from one student to the next.

Teach them to love the piano like they love their video games, TV shows, or playing outside (do kids play outside these days??!!).

Make it fun and exciting!

Make it a goal for your students to arrive at each lesson prepared and excited to learn.

May they never lose their sense of wonder and awe!

The next two principles come much more easily if they’re guided by the first.

2.) Promote excellent technique.

Students can not achieve excellent musicianship without proper technique.

Five-finger drills, scales, arpeggios, chord inversions, and Hanon exercises all help promote excellent technique.

Albert Franz of Key-Notes brilliantly reinforces the importance of teaching proper technique –

Piano technique could be thought of as the “interface” between a musical idea and the music that comes out of the piano. Piano technique is our control over our instrument.

After all, the most sophisticated airplane in the world is useless if you don’t know how to fly it. So it is with the piano.

Are your students learning how to control their instrument?

(Scales are the first exercises that come to my mind when I think about technique. Here are some fun scale exercises I created just for you! I’ve had great success with these!!)

3.) Encourage students to share the gift of music.

Above all, we should be preparing our students to share the gift of music with others.

We do this through providing opportunities for them to play in front of others in recitals, festivals, competitions, worship services, and community events.

Do you encourage your students to share their gift with their friends and family outside of regular lessons and recitals?

When was the last time you asked your students to play for the local retirement facility?

The elderly have become a neglected part of our population. It’s unfortunate but true. This is a prime opportunity to serve and share.

Graham Cochrane of The Recording Revolution has this to say about sharing music –

Musical talent and inspiration wasn’t given just for you to have and to keep. It was given so that you might give it out; that you might share it with others.

So if music is given TO you, and it’s best enjoyed when it flows OUT of you into the lives of others – then doesn’t that make you some kind of musical conduit or channel?

I like that a lot!

Music should flow out of our students. We pour in, and they pour out – blessing others one note at a time.


You’re helping your students along on this very fun and difficult journey. A journey that yields bountiful fruit if properly tended to.

Keep up the excellent work you’re doing. Continue paving the path to excellent musicianship!

Your students will appreciate it. And so will those who hear their fantastic music.

Improvisation in the Lesson Room

Improvisation

My three-year-old (Oh! excuse me) my three-and-a-half-year-old, Emma, is now interested in the piano.

Let me define interested here –

It’s early in the morning, and we (my wife and me) hear the pitter patter of little, sticky, bare feet across our rustic 1950’s wood floor.

We listen to a big CLUNK as Emma pushes the black fallboard of our mid-1990s Kawai Upright out of the way.

Tiny partially painted fingers begin caressing the white and black keys from low to high.

Next, dissonant clusters resound as groups of black notes are pressed with preschool force.

It’s not the most pleasant sound, but that’s okay.

She’s improvising.

That’s right; our three-and-a-half-year-plus-a-day-and-a-second-old is improvising!

I’m a huge proponent of dedicating a small part of the weekly lesson to improvisation.

Why, you ask?

Children learn to speak before reading, right?

Well, why should it be any different with music??

A child must first learn to speak the musical language before learning to read music from a page.

Consider this quote from an article featured on the Suzuki Association of the Americas website

The early years are crucial for developing mental processes and muscle coordination. Listening to music should begin at birth; formal training may begin at age three or four, but it is never too late to begin. Children learn words after hearing them spoken hundreds of times by others.

My daughter is learning to speak music.

And I’m encouraging it!

Now, I’ve never been one to lord practice over my children. (I have a six-year-old as well – Abby.)

Instead, I’ve adopted a different approach –

“Daddy?”

“Yes, Abby.”

“Can you give me a pliano lesson??” (No mis-spelling. That’s how she says it. My daughter plays the pliano.)

Believe me – she doesn’t have to ask twice!

You can’t force small children to play. Well, you can, but you shouldn’t.

Abby has declined my offer to give her a lesson plenty of times. And that’s okay.

I want HER to make the decision to play. And so far this approach is working beautifully.

Now, back to improvisation.

Webster’s dictionary defines to word “improvise” as follows –

Improvise – to compose, recite, play, or sing extemporaneously.

I feel like I need to define the long “e” word!

Extemporaneously – done, spoken, performed, etc., without special advance preparation; impromptu.

Emma (my youngest) did not prepare her ebony and ivory improvisation well in advance or its execution. She just saw the keys and went to playing.

And this is a beautiful thing! Children need this opportunity!

Freedom to explore possibilities is essential to the learning process, especially as it pertains to music.

Are there ways you can begin incorporating improvisation in your studio?

Maybe you already do.

Are there things you can do to enhance the time devoted to improvisation?

Consider this –

1.) The Ostinato (a recurring rhythmic idea as found in Ravel’s Bolero) is a beautiful canvas on which the young student paints with his or her improvisatory colors.

(Example – Play a quarter note ostinato on a low “C” and then have your student improvise with a “C” in his left hand and a “G” in his right hand. You’ll be surprised at just how clever youngins are!)

2.) Next, change your ostinato pattern up slightly. A minute change may trigger your student to come up with something different as well.


Thank you for spending a few moments with me! I hope that you’re walking away with some nuggets to help you in the important work you’re doing.

Consider some of the lead sheets in the online music store to help you teach your students the art of improvisation.

There are some nifty Christmas arrangements in ALL twelve keys available right now!