I have discovered over the years there many teachers who are hesitant to teach children younger than 6 or 7. While it can be a challenge if you are not very patient and think fast on your feet, the excitement you see on those little faces are well worth it. The key of course is to have a solid plan and be able to include body movement along with keyboard activities. I highly recommend as series called “Music for Little Mozarts” (Alfred Publishing). It is designed for students aged 4-8. It captures their imagination with Mozart Mouse and Beethoven Bear. I have been using this series since it came out in the early 2000’s. I will also say that all of my students who started with this series, stayed with lessons though high school. That’s a win-win for everyone. If you are considering teaching little ones and need some guidance, don’t hesitate to contact me. I love working with teachers!
Today is World Pianist Day, how are you celebrating? Me, I am giving piano lessons! I have been blessed with so many piano students over the course of 44 years. I cannot even count how many students have been through my studio. I have had the honor of watching these students become fine pianists and the world is a better place. Whether you are a concert pianist or just play for your own enjoyment, you have a gift and are to be celebrated today (and every day).
This is a delightful little story about Tchaikovsky as a young boy.
1~You must charge/bill in advance of lessons
~Whether you are charging by-the-lesson, monthly, quarterly, semi-annually or annually, this is necessary. Do not expect a student to pay you after a lesson, as you will be disappointed.
2~You must notify your students how many lessons they are receiving for this fee
~Always let your students know what they are getting for their tuition. In your Policy Letter, make sure you have everything that is included or excluded. Make the student (parent) sign a contract that you will keep in your files. This is to protect you (and them).
3~You must not teach for free
~You are not giving lessons out of the kindness of your heart. This is a business. Although there are times where you might offer some sort of scholarship or reduced rate, teaching for free is not the way to go. You will be taken advantage of and then become resentful.
4~You must raise your rates annually taking into consideration of Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA)
~This year, the COLA is 1.3%, so your fees should be raised accordingly.
5~You must remember that you are a professional
~Think of doctors, before you see one, you are charged for an office visit. This should be no different for you. You have studied hard to get where you are and be paid for your expertise in this area. Don’t let your emotions cloud your judgement.
This is another touchy subject for most piano teachers! I used to be in the “never allow them” camp, but as the years have passed, I am embracing them. When I was young teachers, I wanted my students to only experience original compositions. In taking this path, my beginning students, who may have wanted to learn the Minuet in G BWV 114 would now need to wait for several years until they had the technical background to play successfully. I had no idea if that student would still be taking lessons before achieving their goal. What a missed opportunity to introduce them to the classics! They might be stuck in method books for a year or two and lose interest in a broader base of repertoire. Although I do not adhere to a steady diet of arrangements, I do regularly assign them if a student REALLY wants to learn a specific piece. It is a win-win in my book.
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There is a movement among some piano teachers to ditch the classics and only teach 20th and 21st Century music. The reasoning behind this seems to be students do not like “old” music and are much more engaged in contemporary music. I am not in this camp. I think that teaching the classics is like teaching history. It is important to know where we came from and the journey that we have taken. I tell my students if they can play Bach, they can play anyone. Although, some don’t particularly like Baroque music, they learn so much from the intricacies of the period. I can appreciate teachers who want their students to be happy, but to have an appreciation for what was is imperative. I am always thrilled when a former student contacts me and tells me they now love Baroque or Classical (era) music. It fills my heart. They have now moved into the patron category of music lovers.
This is an age old question that almost every piano teacher has grappled with in their career. There are those who never consider testing their students and others who required testing.
~What is the purpose of testing?
~Testing should a benchmark for a student’s progress. It is generally done annually, but can also occur after a student has met the guidelines of the specific test.
~Why would a teacher avoid testing?
~Many teachers feel that testing is too much pressure for their students. They prefer to teach at their own pace and let the students guide their own progress.
~What are some of the different levels of testing?
~Testing can be as simple as a teacher reviewing material and the giving general feedback to rigorous requirements that require intense practicing and study.
~Do some countries test more than others?
~There are many countries that administer and encourage (or require) standardized testing. In the USA, we do not have a single test that the majority of teachers have their students enrolled in. Many of our teachers use the European (ABRSM) or Canadian (RCM) tests. There are also a few US based tests that are excellent, including the National Guild and PCS Piano Proficiency Examinations.
It is certainly a personal choice for a teacher to test or not to test, but I would like to encourage all piano teachers to consider testing. This gives the student and their parents a clear window into the progress being made.
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SCALES! It’s almost a dirty word to most students. Why do we have to learn them? I hate practicing them! Why can’t we just skip them? It seems as if it is a battle ever week, doesn’t it? I think if students understand the importance, they wouldn’t fight us so hard.
~Relationship between whole steps and half steps
~As a beginning student is introduced to whole and half steps, five-finger scales should be introduced. This is a wonderful way to get the student to experience the difference in elevations on the keyboard (white and black keys) and it also keeps them from staying in a single hand position.
~Sense of tonality
~Most teachers begin their students with pieces that have a tonal center. If the student is cognizant of the tonality within the five-finger scales, the process of learning these instructional (method) pieces will be more effective. When the student plays incorrect notes, they will hear the difference and be able to adjust quickly.
~Identifies with Key Signature
~As the student progresses and becomes aware that music is written in keys, this is a simple correlation to their scale study. I often interchange the two words key/scale when the student is young.
~One of the most important elements to learning how to play scales is to implement the correct fingering. This becomes helpful when scale passages occur within a piece. All a teacher has to do is point out the passage is a scale and the student will automatically be able to play.
Please consider scale study with your students if you are not currently doing so. I think it will bring a better understanding of structure to their lessons.
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It is important to set goals for all piano students, whether they are competition bound or are taking for recreation. Goals do not have to be lofty, just realistic. Depending on the student, you may want to set short-term goals and with more serious students add long-term.
Short-term goals may include completing an assignment within a given time-frame. It could also include mastering a technical element or musicianship skill. Maybe you want them to learn about composers, so you have them do some research. These are very attainable goals within reach for all students. Long-term goals may include setting benchmarks for mastering a set of skills or perhaps mastering a large work. It may also include preparing for an adjudication or competition.
Let your students actively participate in setting their goals, with you encouraging them to be realistic. By doing this, you work as a team and students are more likely to accomplish these goals.
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What should a young beginning (ages 6-8) piano student learn over the first 6 months (25 lessons) of their studies? Every teacher will have their own criteria for this time-frame and I would like to share mine.
1~Posture and Hand position
~This is the first thing ANY student should be taught. Sitting properly on the piano bench, feet flat on the ground (or stool), with arms parallel to the keyboard are a must.
2~Right hand and left hand
~Have a little chuckle here, but there are many students who get these mixed up, so make sure they are clear which is which.
3~High, Low, Up & Down the Keyboard
~Students should be able to differentiate high pitches from low ones and the directions of going high to low and low to high.
4~Treble Clef, Bass Clef and Grand Staff
~These are very basic symbols and students should understand.
5~The Staff and naming the lines and spaces
~A student should be able to identify the names of each line and space on a given staff and be able to associate them with the proper key on the piano or keyboard.
6~Whole note, half note, quarter note and their rests
~The student needs to understand the relationship between these notes and rests and how the function. There are 2 components to each, rhythm and pitch.
~The specific grouping of notes is essential. Three/four and four/four are the first two that should be addressed.
8~Measures and bar lines
~The basic understanding of notes and rests being placed within a measure is often confusing for young students. They want to place the number of notes, not the number of beats within a measure.
9~Legato and Staccato
~The first technical elements that a student should learn are the differences between legato and staccato. They should also be able to recognize a slur.
~Dynamics should be learned from the beginning. Students should begin with loud and soft.
So, these are my top ten concepts and elements for the first six months of piano study. I hope it is helpful navigating lessons.