This is part two in a two-part post on the on the topic 6 Common Beginner Student Problems and How to Solve Them, by Ivy Belk Pirl.
She continues with problems number 4, 5, and 6 in part two –
4. Rushing And/Or A Generally Unsteady Tempo
Some kids come to lessons with a natural steady beat, but some definitely don’t!
My thoughts on why this is (and why music literacy is in decline, and music is sometimes reserved for only the “talented”)…well, that’s a topic for a different post. There are, however, ways that we can develop a steady beat and fluid playing in our students.
First would be to have students listen, listen, listen!! Have them listen to you playing their piece or listen to recordings of their pieces.
Play duets with them all the time! Assign them other pieces to listen to. Just have them listen to lots of music! While they listen, they should move their bodies. Maybe sway, maybe stomp around the room; small motions, big motions- anything to help students internalize and feel what they are hearing.
Another suggestion would be to have them sing the songs, though some students are reluctant to sing (another worry of mine, see above). For those students chanting rhythms may be helpful.
And finally, use more rote pieces in the beginning.
Some students are just struggling so hard to read the music that that is all they can manage.
Teach them fun songs by rote and you take the worry of reading out of the equation. Most students will automatically play more steadily and fluidly this way.
5. Associating Finger Numbers with Specific Notes
Does your student think that her right-hand finger 3 is “E”?
If you ask her to play a “D” with her right hand, does she automatically place her hand in C position and press finger 2?
This issue can be solved by carefully selecting the method you want to use to teach reading (or make your own).
Methods that rely too much on 5 finger positions (and stay in these same positions week after week) really contribute to this problem. Some kids are flexible and can make the switch when moving out of familiar positions. And some kids will be stuck in C position for a frustratingly long amount of time.
Reading pieces should begin in many different positions so that one finger never has a chance to become associated with one particular note.
Also, if you do flash cards or a note naming app, have the student play the note answers all with pinky one day. Students usually get a kick out of this, and you will get a more accurate feel for their note naming and finding abilities.
6. The Honeymoon Phase Is Over…Now They Are Bored!
Well, can you blame them?
Their beginner pieces may not be the most exciting pieces to hear and play. They might be beginners, but they still have discerning ears that want to hear interesting and exciting music.
This is another reason to teach some rote pieces in the beginning. Students are able to play more advanced and more interesting songs than they are able to read.
So teach them some awesome songs by rote that they will be proud to go home and practice and play for people!
There are many wonderful collections of pieces out there for beginners that are meant to be taught by rote. They often come with links to online videos that students can watch to have help at home.
Having music to be excited about is key to keeping kids hooked on piano!
So that’s my 6: the 6 most common problems I see in beginner piano students. None of them have easy, quick fixes. They all require time, patience and persistence, but the benefits are worth it!
Do you remember how awesome it feels to begin something new? It’s so enlivening. You almost feel like a new person! How lucky we are to teach beginners!
Interested in some free sheet music?? Click the pic below for some free (fun!) scale exercises proven to inspire MORE student practice 🙂