Teaching Proper Damper Pedal Technique

damper-pedal

Breaking bad habits is hard to do, and this is especially true with damper-pedal technique. Students don’t always get direct advice and instruction on how to properly use the damper pedal, and this can become a real problem when they advance to more difficult repertoire.

But, if taught properly, damper-pedal technique can be very clearly executed and with the following method, teachers can correctly instruct their beginning students or even remedy bad habits acquired by more experienced students.

WHEN SHOULD THE DAMPER-PEDAL BE INTRODUCED?

One question that many teachers have is when to introduce the pedal to a beginning student.

It seems each method book has a slightly different approach, but overall it is best to wait until after the student has gotten comfortable with posture and position, is consistently playing correctly with arm weight and sufficient individual finger strength, and is comfortable playing with both hands together.

After these first techniques are successfully incorporated, then the pedal can slowly be added into their playing.

BEGINNING PEDAL TECHNIQUE

The best way to introduce this new technique is to go over how the damper-pedal works. Take the time to look inside the piano and explain the mechanics of the pedal, as this can help students visualize what happens every time they depress and lift their right foot.

Next, you can demonstrate what a difference the timing makes when trying to “catch” a sound with the damper-pedal while trying not to have any of the previous sound blended in. Make sure to work with no-pedal to pedal technique first, not overlapping pedal, which will come later.

After this, have the student play a note or chord while you demonstrate the proper timing of the pedal with your own foot. Also, show examples of incorrect timing and make sure they understand the difference.

Remember to indicate how the pedal goes down directly after the note or chord, and that the foot “reacts” to the hands. The pedal must always be after the hands; otherwise, it blurs with the previous sound.

Next, you can switch around and play a note or chord and have them attempt the correct pedal timing. Make sure they keep the right heel on the ground, play with the ball of their foot and lift all the way up and down.

Listen and discuss the outcomes. This is usually the “Aha!” moment for students with the pedal.

Once they understand the timing, have them try the note or chord and pedal together until they get the timing right. At this point, you can assign them easy songs that use the pedal, but still not overlapping pedal yet.

MOVING ON TO OVERLAPPING PEDAL

Once they master individual pedaling, you can show them overlapping pedal technique.

First, you can demonstrate with a longer passage of music that has overlapping pedal.

Explain that at the start, you pedal as already learned, then you hold the foot through the first harmony change. You play the next note or chord and then change the damper-pedal quickly after the new sound, but hold the new note or chord long enough to “catch” the sound before moving to another note or chord.

Reiterate the concept of the foot always “reacting” to the sound the hands make. The pedal is the “glue” that holds the two different sounds together without fully combining them.

When demonstrating, note the different moments that happen in the sequence:

  1. Just before the new chord the pedal is down and the hands are free to move where they need to go.
  2. During the dropping of the new chord the pedal is still held and there is a brief mixing of the two harmonies.
  3. Immediately after this the pedal lifts and drops while holding the new chord, which “fixes” the blurry, mixed sound.
  4. Then the pedal holds while the hands move to another chord (i.e. another inversion of the harmony).

Each of these actions should be distinct and demonstrated in “slow motion” to have the full effect.

You can use the same method as before, first having them play as you do the pedal (both correctly and incorrectly to show the difference), and then you play as they try the overlapping pedal timing until they get it right.

Have them practice in “slow motion” then gradually get faster with the sequence of motions. Once they are able to do one pedal change properly, then have them try two in a row, and then a series of changes.

After having mastered this, you can assign them a technically easy song that has continuous overlapping pedal. Monitor their pedal in the following lessons to make sure the timing doesn’t get “lazy,” especially if the student is relearning how to properly use the damper-pedal.

——

This method takes some concentrated effort, but it will give your students the skills to naturally execute the pedal in more advanced pieces as well.


About the Author: This article about developing excellent technique 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.

Developing Excellent Technique

technique

When we think of what students get the most excited about, probably the last thing that comes to mind is technique.

Students don’t usually jump for joy when given the task to practice scales or arpeggios, and this lack of enthusiasm can make an already difficult job even harder to accomplish.

But, technique is essential to the craft of making music on any instrument, and students must learn how to play their instrument correctly and with the most efficiency to express the music as clearly and effectively as possible.

What can we do as teachers to make sure our students are developing proper technique?

In every stage of learning, teachers can help their students focus on the skills that will help them get to the next technical level while staying engaged and inspired.

Beginning technique

It is essential that proper technique is taught from the very beginning – not only so that the student learns to play correctly from the start, but also so that they get used to the element of technique in their daily practice and lessons.

When beginning to teach a student to play the piano, we must make sure they always play properly with their fingers, wrists and arms, always have correct posture, and that they try to watch the score without looking at the hands as much as possible.

One fun way to begin addressing proper technique is to demonstrate what playing looks and sounds like when done with bad technique and then contrasting it with good technique.

You can have the student try as well, and the silliness of it can help them remember!


Very early on, have the student master the pedal timing so that it is not an issue later with more complicated pieces.

Basic pedaling is frequently overlooked or just casually taught when it comes about in the method book, but if not taught correctly, it can completely throw off rhythms, articulations, and dynamics in more challenging passages.

Be as demonstrative as you can with how to execute the timing of the pedal and make sure the student knows how it works mechanically, so there isn’t any gap in the sound.


One of the most important late-beginner techniques involves putting the thumb under for scales and arpeggios.

If students can learn to use the muscles in their thumb without moving their wrists or arms when playing scales (even just one octave at first), then their technique will have a solid foundation upon which to build.

With these basic skills mastered, the intermediate-level techniques of multi-octave scales and arpeggios will be much more smoothly executed.

Intermediate Technique

Intermediate-level technique is an extension of the beginning technique and should develop naturally out of it.

There are many new things for the student to learn, so it’s best not to focus on too much at once.

Perhaps start with multi-octave scales first, and then move on to arpeggios so as to not overload the student.

When possible, try to engage the student by asking him or her to determine what technique would work best in a situation by using logic.

A good example is scale and arpeggio fingerings: Why don’t we use thumbs on black notes in scales?

Why is it better to use thumbs and fifth-fingers on white notes and the longer fingers on black notes?

Have them figure out scale fingerings on their own and check their work.

This approach will help them feel more connected to the way they play, and not just that they are doing as they are told.

(Click below for an excellent piece especially crafted for the intermediate student.)


The intermediate level is a good time to start implementing metronome practice.

Work on using the metronome with the student in the lesson to make sure they know how to use it properly.

Try using different beats and subdivisions and have them count and subdivide out loud.

It’s worth taking time in lessons to teach this correctly, as it becomes essential in practicing more difficult pieces and rhythms.

The earlier students get used to doing this, the better!


Begin to incorporate etudes into your students’ repertoire.

In addition to the standard etudes, make sure to choose some fun etudes in different styles that develop specific techniques.

One of the best ways to keep all of this interesting is to turn technique practice into games, puzzles or challenges.

Have the student come up with their patterns to practice in addition to the exercises you assign to keep them engaged.

Leading to Advanced Technique

Once students have a firm grasp of the intermediate techniques of multi-octave scales and arpeggios, you can begin teaching them advanced scales (3rds, 6ths, 10ths) and arpeggios of inversions and seventh chords.

Different trill fingerings could also be developed at this point as well.

In a studio with multiple early-advanced students, have technique competitions for prizes.

With scales and arpeggios, you can set metronome markings goals to aim for, and the fastest and most accurate player wins!


Overall, start to make technique a focused part of every lesson, even if you don’t call it that explicitly.

You can practice scales and finger strengthening exercises without calling it technique, and if you can find ways to make it fun, then students will be more enthusiastic about doing what it takes to bring their technique to the next level.


About the Author: This article about developing excellent technique 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.

Balancing Music and All the Other Things

Children are incredibly active. Honestly, too much.

When competing with sports, academics, church, clubs, play dates, and all the other things, how does music fit into a well-balanced life for today’s youth?

Here are eight ways to help you keep music on the schedule.

1. Don’t Compete.

We need to understand that we cannot compete with all of the other things. We must accept them, work with them, and above all, embrace them.

These activities are what makes our students who they are going to be. They may not choose or even like all of the activities they are placed in, but it is part of their life, and it will shape them.

Likewise, our lessons play an important in developing the person that youngster will become. Use that time wisely and positively to help shape that love of music.

2. Use their activities to enhance your teaching.

Your student dances or plays basketball? Talk about the importance of moving their fingers correctly for muscle memory.

Your student is a mathlete? Subdivision, fractions, tempo: built-in math/music-learning!

Science Olympiad? Talk about the process of dissecting the music. Those kids love processes!

Reading bowl? So much of our music has a built-in plot line. You can talk about how a crescendo is similar to foreshadowing in a story.

Whether or not your students love metaphors and similes, most will appreciate the connection between the two seemingly unrelated activities.

3.) Don’t make them choose.

You will lose. There is room in their lives for both.

Your student can be both an athlete and a musician. At least at the beginning levels. Regardless, they can love both.

Sometimes, their coaches really do mean that they cannot play in the championship game if they miss practice.

Their instructors may really mean that they cannot dance in the annual performance of The Nutcracker if they miss the first rehearsal.

Making them feel guilty for missing a recital or other performance is only going to tarnish their love for music.

Tell them you understand that life is full of tough choices and you are just sad they miss the opportunity, but there will be others.

4. Help them manage their time.

I’ve noticed in my years of teaching that the students in all advanced classes with sports or ballet every day after school managed their time better than other students.

Necessity is the key to learning to manage time.

Younger students will need your guidance. Try not to over-program their practice time.

Give them quality exercises that address their immediate needs rather than multiple assignments that barely scratch the surface.

Keep the exercises short: just a few measures for younger students and thirty seconds or less for older students.

5. Suggest a time to practice.

This is not a new concept at all, but it is worth re-stating.

After they brush their teeth, before they eat their snack, immediately following math homework, all are very specific and memorable times to practice.

Remind them that it takes forty days to create a new habit.

Providing some sort of visual chart or sticker can help with the process, but keep it simple.

6. Develop relationships with both students and parents.

By really knowing your parents, you can understand more fully where music lies in the list of priorities.

One parent may have it at the top of the list, while the other could not care less about music.

As you talk to each, you can subtly draw connections between their top priority and your top priority.

7. Support the other endeavors.

Make the time to go to the game. Show up to the dance recital.

You have no idea how these small actions impact your students. You may also be surprised at how seeing your student in different light impacts you.

You’ll be able to see shadows of musical ability in your students’ performances.

8. Remember why you teach.

We teach because we believe it makes us a well-rounded person. It smoothes the rough edges and enhances creativity.

Someone taught you to love music. Someone helped you choose music over all else. Be that for your student.

Then, all the other things are just the other things.

Happy teaching!


About the Author: April O’Keefe is co-founder and current Associate Director of SoliMusica Academy.  She graduated from Georgia State University in 2002 with a Bachelor in Music Performance with a focus on cello performance.  She taught at East Cobb Middle School from 2004 until 2014.

While teaching at East Cobb Middle School, the orchestra program grew from 120 students to over 275 students.  Under her direction, the orchestras consistently received superior ratings at local and regional Large Group Performance Evaluations.  Many of her students participated in select ensembles such as the Cobb County Middle School Honor Orchestra, Georgia All-State Orchestra and the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra.  Mrs. O’Keefe has been actively involved in the Georgia Music Educators Association serving as District Twelve Honor Orchestra Chair and District Twelve All-State Audition Chair.  She also actively serves and clinician and adjudicator throughout the metro-Atlanta area.

Since 2008, April O’Keefe has served as music education assistant for Kennesaw United Methodist Church.  While in this position, she has worked with and organized children’s choir, children’s handbells, and various summer camps.  She also created a barbershop ensemble, taught an adult violin class, and served as interim Music Minister directing adult choirs and adult handbell groups.

Mrs. O’Keefe lives in Kennesaw with her husband, Paul, five-year-old Carson, and two-year-old twins, Logan and Molly.  Paul is a violinist, Carson is just beginning his musical journey on violin, and the twins are enjoying watching – for now.

Six Ways to Stay Motivated When Your Students are Not Practicing

We, as music teachers, believe that what we do is important to the development of young people.

We look for those moments when the music suddenly grabs the student and they show glimmers of that passion we see in ourselves.

Instead, we repeatedly see students whose music seems to get progressively lower on their priority list.

We know they are playing video games, spending time on Snapchat, building massive things on Minecraft, but, “you didn’t have time to practice this week?!?!?”

Maybe we should just cut them loose.

But—This is our chosen profession. Or, it chose us.

So how do you keep the joy in teaching when it seems your students have joy in everything else but learning?

1. Focus on the big picture.

Not every child we teach will choose music as a career. How many of your childhood friends did?

It’s not really about grooming the next concert pianist or headlining soloist. It is really just about teaching them to love music.

Music is awesome. It will still be awesome if they only look at their music in the car on their way to you.

So instead of stressing about their upcoming recital, stress over making it an enjoyable experience.

2. Small victories are important.

Celebrate the little accomplishments they get with you.

Watch them carefully as they tackle a difficult passage in your presence.

Look for the sparkle in their eyes when they accomplish something. Look for those moments when they are searching for your approval.

When you see those eyes: the sparkling or searching eyes, you can leave the lesson knowing you reached that student.

3. Teach your students to practice.

They aren’t putting in the work at home, use their lesson time to teach them to practice.

Teach them your method that you use to get through difficult passages.

Go over a few measures the way you would practice and say, “Do you know what that was called? Practicing. This is what you do at home. Let’s go through these step again. I know how much I struggled in the beginning learning how to practice.”

Then, go through the same steps again to remind them how to do it.

We focus so much on the results of the practice time, we forget to teach our students how to practice.

They don’t have the tools in their belt that we do to overcome difficulties.

Too often, we have forgotten what it is like to be a beginner. They do not realize that playing from the beginning to the end is not practicing.

They do not know how to isolate measures. They do not know how to identify the parts that need work. Instead, they look at the parts they already know.

Most importantly, they do not know how to overcome frustration.

Teach them how. One note at a time.

Well-crafted and FUN sheet music is a great way to inspire students to practice!

4. Remind your students (and yourself) why it’s important to practice.

Do they even know why they are supposed to practice?

What’s your answer when someone asks why they are supposed to practice?

We practice to develop muscle memory so when nerves kick in, the hands know what to do.

We practice reinforcing what we learned in our lesson.

We practice so our teacher can instead focus on making real music-dynamics, phrasing, articulation, making the music speak so that we and our audience become breathless.

5. Give grace to your students.

Sometimes your students need your forgiveness without them actually earning it.

Sometimes music just has to take a backseat in your student’s life. They may not tell you everything that’s happening at home.

Their one respite from the world’s judgment and difficulties may be sitting in your studio.

Make that time count.

Show them that in your studio, there is no judgment. There is simply expression without words.

Give them that.

6. Realize that it is not about you.

Students are not skipping practice because of some issue they have with your teaching.

They are not setting out to offend and insult you.

While you spend much of your time thinking about music, they simply do not. They have not gotten there yet.

It is not about you or me.

Teaching music is about teaching students that some things are worth working for.

There are no shortcuts in music.

If they aren’t going to put in the time to be the best they can be, you just have to let that go and teach what walks into your studio.

One final thought…when was the last time you really practiced?


About the Author: April O’Keefe is co-founder and current Associate Director of SoliMusica Academy.  She graduated from Georgia State University in 2002 with a Bachelor in Music Performance with a focus on cello performance.  She taught at East Cobb Middle School from 2004 until 2014.

While teaching at East Cobb Middle School, the orchestra program grew from 120 students to over 275 students.  Under her direction, the orchestras consistently received superior ratings at local and regional Large Group Performance Evaluations.  Many of her students participated in select ensembles such as the Cobb County Middle School Honor Orchestra, Georgia All-State Orchestra and the Georgia Youth Symphony Orchestra.  Mrs. O’Keefe has been actively involved in the Georgia Music Educators Association serving as District Twelve Honor Orchestra Chair and District Twelve All-State Audition Chair.  She also actively serves and clinician and adjudicator throughout the metro-Atlanta area.

Since 2008, April O’Keefe has served as music education assistant for Kennesaw United Methodist Church.  While in this position, she has worked with and organized children’s choir, children’s handbells, and various summer camps.  She also created a barbershop ensemble, taught an adult violin class, and served as interim Music Minister directing adult choirs and adult handbell groups.

Mrs. O’Keefe lives in Kennesaw with her husband, Paul, five-year-old Carson, and two-year-old twins, Logan and Molly.  Paul is a violinist, Carson is just beginning his musical journey on violin, and the twins are enjoying watching – for now.

How To Spark Imagination and Creativity in the Lesson Room

Music

One of the biggest challenges of teaching music is finding ways to keep each student inspired and motivated to learn.

But it can also be one of the most satisfying parts about teaching since there are so many possibilities to explore!

Each student is different, and it takes time to get to know individual personalities and interests.

But if we put in the effort and find ways to spark imagination and creativity for students in their lessons they are much more likely to enjoy the process of learning, and this will translate to their practicing at home.

Here are some creative tips to incorporate into your lessons:

MIX IT UP SOMETIMES

Consistency is important, but deviating from the pattern from time to time keeps piano lessons fresh and exciting.

We’re always anxious to get to the next song in the book or get ready for the next recital, but now and then, throw in a musical game or take time to focus on a particular technique in a fun way.

This will help you avoid getting into a rut of always having the same routine, and it opens up other possibilities to explore and be creative.

BE INTERACTIVE

One of the best ways to keep students inspired is to hear you (yes, their teacher) play in the lessons.

It is beneficial and fun for them to hear you play the songs they are working on, and once they are ready, you can play duets with them!

You can also show them videos of music that relate to what they are learning, and you can ask them to find piano videos that they want to show you.

Another great way to be interactive is to teach them basic skills of how to improvise and then improvise with them, making new music together!

GET TO KNOW THEIR INTERESTS

Many students are happy to go along with whatever the teacher assigns for them to practice, but it is very common for students to want to be able to play a song that they have heard that is not in their method book or curriculum.

They might not always tell you what they want to play, so it’s important to ask.

If you can get to know what their interests are, you can supplement their regular lesson music with arrangements of popular songs.

This gives students a different sense of satisfaction in their practicing and performing, so when there is extra time in lessons you can focus a bit more on their interests.

Using this as a sort of reward translates to more overall interest in piano lessons in the long run.

ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS – REALLY MAKE THEM THINK

While teaching a new concept, make sure not just to tell them the answers.

Keep them involved in the learning process by helping them to figure out problems on their own.

Have students come up with ideas and solutions to particular technical difficulties, and then show them why their ideas would work or not.

This encourages students to think outside of the box and be more connected to the process of learning while being creative in coming up with solutions.

LET THEM INTO YOUR PRACTICE

As musicians, we’re always working on new music ourselves, and a great way to connect with students about being creative is to show them what you are doing in your practice.

Be honest about what is giving you trouble at the moment.

Show them ideas you’ve come up with about how to remedy your problems.

Students really like this; it helps them relate and see how their efforts could one day translate to more virtuosic playing.

It shows them how being imaginative when practicing helps us all to play better and have more fun!


About the Author: This guest post about staying in shape during the Summer months 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.


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!

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.