Five Signs Your Child is Ready for Piano Lessons

This is one of the most frequent questions I receive from parents of potential students. Children ideally begin piano when they are in elementary school, but depending on the child, that can be early elementary school or later. See if your child is exhibiting the following signs to help guide your decision to enroll them in private piano lessons.

Fine Motor Dexterity: Learning to play the piano is like doing a workout for your hands, fingers, and wrists. Generally, if your child can write with a pencil, use a pair of scissors, or hold a spoon or fork well during meals they are physically ready to take on piano lessons.

Focused Cognitive and Attention Skills: Attention and cognition are interrelated when it comes to learning to play the piano. Holding attention for 20-30 minutes on a specific task will allow the child to utilize thought processes to learn various concepts at the piano. Cognition directly impacts learning, and the piano will help develop your child’s thinking skills.

Alphabet/Counting Skills: If your child can recite the alphabet and count to ten easily, then this is a sign they are ready for piano lessons. Learning to read music is like learning a new language. The musical staff is the sentence, and the notes are the letters. A musical phrase is like a putting together a word. Keeping a beat and rhythmic accuracy is like using math. The interrelationship between the alphabet and counting is critical to the success of a beginner piano student.

Respecting Teachers: Children who have been in a school setting, with teachers, teacher’s aides, and other adults in counseling/advising roles have an advantage at the piano. They understand that the teacher is a person to help guide them in their studies, advise them to work out new concepts and techniques, encourage them to commit to their learning, and respectfully challenge them in a judgement-free zone.

Teachers are the keys to doors of discovery. It is their mission to equip their students with the skills and desire to open these doors.

Interest in Music: Music is all around us. Children are especially attuned to picking up rhythms, melodies, and feeling the urge to sing and dance. Tap into this natural desire and cultivate their musical potential with piano lessons. By setting small, attainable,  but challenging goals in lessons, the confidence boost in achievement is a propeller into more lofty goals. Including music in the students’ favorite style is just as important as following a method book. Take advantage of your child’s enthusiasm and let them ignite their passion for music!

Sound Off: What have you found to be a sign you or your child was ready for lessons? Comment below!


The Transformative Power of Music for the Elderly

The holidays are a time where romances are rekindled, sweethearts become spouses, and the desire for connectedness becomes strong. Music is one of those powerful things that kickstarts these sorts of deep emotions and feelings. Imagine the transformative power that listening to Rosemary Clooney’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” has on an elderly WWII veteran. What was a sullen, bitter old man has turned into a dapper, exciting fellow who is itching to reminisce about the good ol’ days. Let’s take a look to see what benefits music has on our elderly.

Music can trigger memories long lost in an elderly person’s mind. Watch the story of Henry, featured here in the trailer to Music and Memory’s documentary, “Alive Inside.” He is “quickened” by music, and a normally mute and downtrodden man is transformed.

Music can rekindle a passion or feeling from days past. Music can spark old feelings of excitement of youth, of testing limits, and of happier times in the elderly. They have a life full of memories, passions, and ideas, and with music, can rediscover what magnificent people they are.

Music can help dementia and Alzheimer’s patients gain improved quality of life. One in eight elderly persons has Alzheimer’s Disease.  Music has been found in one study to be a positive step in reducing agitation and frustration in the daily life of elderly people with dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease. When given an opportunity to listen to their preferred music, agitated behavior was reduced. Other studies also note that dementia patients have shown improved cognition, communication skills, and relational skills when listening to or making music.

Music can help the elderly preserve or reclaim a sense of identity. Former concert pianist Lucien Leinfelder spent a career wowing audiences on grand stages performing concertos and show-stopping encores. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1999, and even though the disease has affected his movements, he takes two hours a day to practice at the piano. Music has been a constant part of his identity since first taking lessons at age three, so to stop playing would be to deny who he is as a person. As a way to preserve or reclaim identity, reintroduce music as a part of your elderly loved one’s care.

So this holiday season, take an hour or so to visit your cherished elderly loved ones, or go make some new friends at the local nursing home. Bring an iPod and headphones with you, or perhaps a CD player and some old CDs. Explore their world with a beautiful soundtrack. Listen to the stories they tell, and discover who they are as human beings.

I’ll be seeing you
In all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces
All day and through

–verse from “I’ll Be Seeing You,” song by Sammy Fain, lyrics by Irving Kahal

Sound Off: What music or songs trigger memories in your life? Can you think of a particular piece that brought about a joyful emotion? 


Click to access Facts_Figures_2011.pdf

Rosemary Clooney – I’ll Be Seeing You

Alive Inside Film of Music and Memory Project – Henry’s Story

Secrets to Success in Music Lessons: The Critical Role of Parents

Many students are very excited to learn to play an instrument like the piano, and when given the opportunity to develop their skills, they excel and find joy in music. But sometimes, students are put into a difficult position when the parent has unrealistic expectations of musical success, or an indifferent attitude of the small challenges their child has worked through on their instrument. In order for a child to truly succeed in their musical endeavors, parents must be fully involved in their child’s learning. Read below about what it takes to be a supportive and engaged music parent, even if you don’t know anything about music.

Encourage your child to learn, don’t force them. Parents are critical stakeholders in their child’s music education, but that doesn’t mean they should push their child’s limits. Children should be allowed to discover naturally, persevere through problems, feel curious, channel self-discipline in wanting to learn, be optimistic, and practice self-control.  They need to believe they have what it takes to conquer learning to read music and play an instrument. It is the role of the parent to encourage the child that they have the skills to figure things out.

Celebrate the little victories in practice time. Practicing an instrument is difficult and can be overwhelming at times. By taking the time to celebrate small achievements, such as playing the G Major scale hands together with correct fingering, a child is more likely to continue believing they can learn how to play an instrument. Parents should actively listen to their child practicing to pinpoint these small victories. Shower your child with praise when they get it right!

Find yourself on the piano bench with your child. When a child is going through a particularly hard time, sit with them at the piano bench. Frustration is something to work through with someone they are comfortable with, rather than alone. Ask your child what part is hard, or which line is confusing, and do your best to work through it with them. Tell them to take the lead in showing you how it is supposed to be done. Make it a point to diffuse the difficult situation by getting them to “teach” you the piece of music.

Regularly ask your child about how music lessons are going. By taking a bit of time out of our day to just ask our children how music lessons are going, their brains begin activating and firing. Keep music theory books and/or flashcards in the car, to take advantage of spare moments in traffic when they may be bored. Have them describe the most fun part of learning, as well as the most challenging. By vocalizing these concerns, children are more likely to be open to communicating with their parents about their music education.

Always bring your child to lessons on time and prepared. Parents who regularly bring their children to lessons on time and with all their books and materials have an easier time actively engaging their children in music lessons. Children don’t have any control over this, so it is up to the parent to be responsible. Leading by example is critical to communicating the importance of being on time and prepared for your child, and shows them that you care enough about their music education to make the effort to get them there eager and ready.

Converse with the teacher about your child’s progress. Make it a point to sit in a lesson every now and then, and ask the teacher how your child is doing. If talking in person isn’t an option, give the teacher a phone call, or send a quick email. Most teachers would be happy to talk more in detail about a student’s progress, and it will start a conversation about areas where they may be struggling and excelling.

Find common ground in learning an instrument. If you are a parent that took music lessons as a child, share these experiences with your children. Both positive and negative experiences are beneficial to a child to hear, as they can relate with the challenges they are currently facing when learning their instrument. Talk openly about how you felt when learning how to jump from middle to high register on a flute or trumpet, and encourage your child to keep working to accomplish these small goals.

Sound Off: When did you find you were most influential in helping your child with music lessons? Did you have actively involved parents when you were learning an instrument?



You are Never Too Old to Learn to Play the Piano

Are you one of the 70% of adults who wish they had taken piano lessons? What about someone who wish they had studied longer than the five years your parents required? More and more adults are rediscovering the piano as a form of relaxation, self-expression, creativity, and a way to relate with their children. Read below about four reasons why you should consider taking piano lessons.

Pressure’s off. No one is forcing you to learn to play. By this reason alone, many adults find themselves enrolling in piano lessons. They want to rekindle their love for music, on their terms, and on their time. There is no pressure from parents, competition from friends or family members.

Steady, uninterrupted progress will happen. When adult learners consciously choose to learn to play the piano, practice comes very easily. Difficult passages become healthy challenges, and most adults don’t shy away from a challenge. For some very helpful practice tips, check out my post here.

You will be playing real piano pieces in a very short amount of time. My adult students learn from Alfred Piano Library’s Adult All-in-One Series. These spiral-bound books incorporate all lesson songs, technic, and theory necessary for an adult learner to swiftly begin playing the piano with ease. I believe it is also important to include modern, classical, romantic, pop, show tunes, duets, and sing-along pieces into the repertoire of the adult piano student. Tapping into these various genres of music keeps that passion for music growing.

If you are motivated to learn, knowledge and skill will come. It’s important to note that in order to succeed at something, you must have three things: motivation, knowledge, and skill. As your piano teacher, I will do everything in my power to supply you with the knowledge and technical skills to be a great piano student. The motivation part is where you come in! If you are motivated to play, excited for the challenge, and ready to learn, then piano will be a successful endeavor.

Sound Off: Are you ready to take on piano lessons? What age did you start playing piano?


You Can’t Have STEM without STEAM: The Great Debate

STEM, or Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math is a movement in which educators and policymakers are pushing for children in schools to focus their attention on the technological and engineering fields as career choices. While motivation and education for children in these fields is critical, we absolutely cannot forget the importance of the arts: language arts, fine arts, performance arts, and liberal arts. What kind of scientist and inventor would Leonardo da Vinci have been, without his conceptual visual design skills and enormous talent for painting and sculpture? What about a modern day Renaissance woman, like Elizabeth Gould, psychologist and neuroscientist, who dreamed of becoming an artist as a child, but found “a great deal of creativity in science?” Let’s take a look at why STEM without STEAM does not have life.

Arts education provides children valuable interpretive and communication skills. If a child is able to communicate clearly the meaning behind a science fair project, or explain a complex coding problem in the simplest of terms, they are utilizing their interpretive skills. Storytelling, language and metaphorical phrasing, and visualization are all interpretive techniques that can be enhanced with a solid arts education. Performing and fine art is the heart of communicative perception as the viewer, critic, or subject experiences it. When children are put in the role of communicator through these mediums, they are given the opportunity to see from both sides, as artist and critic, how their message is being intuited.

Arts education, when teamed with STEM subjects, helps cultivate deep learning. At the recent Martin Luther King Day Breakfast hosted by the National Action Network, arts education advocate, health professional, and MLK Merit Award recipient Floyd W. Green III presented about the importance of STEAM in education. A struggling child in math may have an easier time understanding fractions when studying music. A student who doesn’t understand reading comprehension may have an interest in memorizing lines and conveying a character from a play. See what he says during his award acceptance speech here.

“We must put a crayon back into a child’s hand, so they can create rainbows.”

–Floyd W. Green III

Arts education welcomes students to appreciate differences and be more culturally-aware. Large ensembles such as choir and orchestra have provided children with a wider appreciation for a variety of music and instill a dedication to teamwork across the group. Those children who actively participate in arts education develop more cultural sensitivity than their peers. They are aware of the importance of diversity in education, appreciation of various populations and their contributions to the human race.

Where arts education is waning in your community, make contributions to your local Arts Council. Reach out to your school districts. Donate art supplies or old musical instruments to schools or nonprofit groups. Enroll your children in arts and music education programs. Remember to educate the whole child.

Sound Off: What is being done in your community to advocate for STEAM? What do you credit in your life to arts education in your youth?


Click to access Culture%20%20Art.pdf


Early and Often: Music Education for Toddlers and the Very Young Child

As of late, many parents have contacted me about starting their toddlers and preschoolers (think 18 months to four years) in some kind of music class. As formal lessons may be much for a very young child to take on, group classes and a consistent exposure to music and music education in the home will spark the interest of the child in music. Check out my recommendations below to make music an everyday part of your child’s education.

Active versus Passive Music Listening. Passive listening includes having background music on during playtime or listening to the radio while in the car. This type of musical exposure is nice, but is not creating lasting neural connections in your young child’s brain. By incorporating movement: clapping, dancing, singing along, marching, or something similar, your child is remembering not just the fun they had while actively listening to music, but also the way music made them feel. They can replicate those feelings again when given the chance to express themselves through music.

Daily Activities Sing-Alongs. There is a reason why we have an Alphabet Song, Old MacDonald, and B-I-N-G-O. By learning how to spell, count, and make animal sounds through music, there is a higher chance that the young child will remember these concepts. The Alphabet Song in particular is set to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, another important children’s song that incorporates hand motions. As a parent of a toddler, I try to sing to my child at regular times throughout the day. At morning wake up, I sing, “It’s a Beautiful Day,” a simple tune I made up to prepare him for the day. But after singing it nearly every day for the last 18 months of his life, he has started to sing with me!

Movement and Music. Research has proven that incorporating movement into music for young children is remarkable for literacy, learning, and language skills. One of the leading providers of early childhood music education is Kindermusik, a tried and true method to begin a child’s music education. Their curriculum is developmentally-based, and each age from young infant to preschool is sure to enjoy the active and fun learning atmosphere that Kindermusik provides. Find the location nearest you here.

Parent and Child Parallel Learning. It is not unheard of for a parent to enroll in music lessons, just to give their very young child the exposure to music on a daily basis. For those parents who have pianos or guitars already in the home, consider enrolling in lessons, and make time to practice in front of your child. Sit them at the piano with you while you are playing, and explain simple concepts to them, like forte and piano, or high notes versus low notes. These concepts will be forged into their developing brains, so when it is time to enroll them into formal lessons around age 5, they will be ahead of the curve.

Sound Off: How did early exposure cultivate a love of music for you? What is your earliest musical memory?


Click to access anvari_et_al_2002.pdf

Click to access impact_of_music_on_literacy.pdf

Top Twelve Moments from Composer Eric Whitacre’s Reddit AMA

Eric Whitacre, composer and conductor, had his second AMA on Reddit earlier this week. Check out the top twelve moments here:

He’s old-fashioned, Y’all.

Old-fashioned composer.

He gives solid advice for young composers.

Solid advice for young composers.

He is really into clusters.

The Cluster Guy.

He has a power chord progression, and it’s a GOOD one.

Power chord progression.

He’s not afraid to throw huge pieces of a composition away when they just don’t “work.”

Kill it with fire.

He will gladly join your 80’s techno-pop band.

Bring on the funky glasses.

He has named our musical era: The Golden Age of Composition.

Golden Age of Composition

He has EUREKA moments when playing accidental chords.


He has a sick list of collaboration requests. Oh, the possibilities!

Collaborate with me baby!

He has NO PROBLEM with parallel fifths.

Parallel Fifths.

He has both fans and critics of his work.


He’s always up for a game of trashketball with middle schoolers.

Trashketball, y'all.

Sound off: What questions would you like to ask Eric Whitacre?

The Whole Child: Making the Case for Music Education

“The fact that children can make beautiful music is less significant than the fact that music can make beautiful children.” – Cheryl Lavender

A well-rounded education includes focus on the whole child, from physical and mental development, to emotional and social development. The highlight of music education is that it encompasses all facets of a whole child education, providing an outlet for expending physical energy, maturation of the entire brain, greater emotional intelligence and self-awareness, along with the skills needed to facilitate understanding  in various social groups. Let’s break it down into each of these areas and make the case for music education.

Physical Development. Learning to play an instrument has physical challenges, including gross and fine motor development. Children who begin their music education on the piano find they fatigue easily, noting the need for technical exercises to strengthen their wrists, hands, and fingers. Having proper posture will greatly aid in reducing fatigue at the piano, as well as having a persistent practice schedule. If a music student is involved in marching band, the physical development is even greater. Take a percussion student, who marches in the drum line with a snare drum attached to their body. They must keep time with their instrument, play intricate rhythms with proper form, while marching into various complicated formations with the rest of the band. Many times, marching bands practice and perform in inclement weather conditions, too! The physical conditioning and exercise gained by playing a musical instrument knows no bounds.

Mental Maturation. Take a look at the graphic below and see how music education can help make your child a more mentally mature individual.

Mental Benefits of Music Education


Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence, or Emotional Quotient (EQ) is the ability to understand and manage your emotional life, which in turn will affect the life of others around you. The music student is more apt to be patient, have a better attention span, and greater memory recall than those students who aren’t in music lessons. Music students understand the need to communicate more clearly, take responsibility for their actions, and learn self-control. Learning an instrument takes focus and determination, as results can take time to manifest.

Social Skills. Children involved in music lessons develop healthy relationships with their peers, have more self confidence, and are more emotionally mature than their counterparts. Music students are frequently using their social skills to remedy conflict, solve problems in class or on the field in sports. They understand that teamwork is the essence of success in large groups, referencing their participation in large ensembles like marching band or orchestra. Music is something that forms strong relationships between children, encouraging the creation of “garage bands” and singing groups, all working toward a common goal. All of these skills can be applied later in their adult life.

Sound Off: What facet of whole child education can you add to this list? How did music education prepare you for your life as a professional adult?


Click to access susan-hallam-music-development_research.pdf

Four Vocal Exercises for the Adolescent Singer

Adolescence is a time of great change, both, physical and emotional. The adolescent singer is especially vulnerable when his or her voice changes seemingly overnight. As the young singer approaches and pushes through puberty, his voice may drop an entire octave. This puts him in an awkward and self-conscious position when participating in voice lessons or choir. Rather than shy away from participating, it is best to take the challenge of strengthening his voice through the change so that he comes forth from this temporary phase even better equipped than before.

Here are four strengthening vocal exercises that can help power a male or female adolescent singer through those difficult puberty years.

Sirens. This exercise is a staple in building the chest, midrange, and head voices. A siren can be done at the beginning of each voice lesson, in each of the student’s ranges, including their low, middle, and high range. The siren in head voice is especially helpful for young men to help strengthen their falsetto.

Fifth Descending Passages. I find fifth descending passages to be an effective exercise to strengthen the developing voice. Starting on “do” then jumping to a long “sol— fa-mi-re-do” gives the adolescent singer a solid foundation in their chest or midrange voice to sustain their breath up to and past the new break in their voice. This exercise allows the singer to power through the register bridges as the adolescent voice adjusts to its new sound.

Octave Jumps. Octave jumps are an exercise in diaphragmatic breathing, accuracy of notes, and confidence. As the young singer learns to take in a breath that will sustain a large jump into the high register, they notice the confidence it takes to aim for accuracy. Most young singers will have just enough air to squeak out the octave but not enough to sustain the jump back down. The exercise is begun on an A3 or A below middle C to A4 sung twice, then back down to A3 sung twice, with the following syllabic enunciation: “YAH–AH-AHH–AH-AHH.” Continue this exercise ascending chromatically until the student has achieved their desired range.

Staccato Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do. As the adolescent singer works through their register bridge, accuracy is difficult to achieve. Staccato exercises are helpful in coordinating epiglottis opening and closing, forcing the young singer to listen carefully to guide the voice in the right direction. As Do-Mi-Sol-Mi-Do is a simple melodic line, focus can also remain on vowel and tonal quality in addition to accuracy. This exercise furnishes the adolescent singer with the tools to sing with greater flexibility, as is necessary for the maturing voice.

A special word of note: Adolescent voices are constantly changing. Whatever exercise works one week, may not work the next week. Persistent practice will be the key in developing the student’s voice, as singing is a “use it or lose it” skill. The more frequently the adolescent singer practices, the greater chance that they will emerge from their teenage years with a round, healthy, well-developed singing voice.

Sound Off: What exercises helped get you through your adolescent singing years? Is there a technique you are willing to share that worked for you?



The Keys to Effective Piano Practice

Piano practice is essential in maximizing the investment you’ve made in your child’s music education. Without practicing, improvement is stunted, you and your child get frustrated, and the teacher has hit a brick wall.

As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” No, not quite.

Rather, persistent practice makes progress.

Persistent practice will strengthen your child’s will to learn, build confidence, and enhance their curiosity and interest in music. Keep the guide below handy for children when implementing an effective practice process.

Pledge commitment to their music education. Children respond quite well to verbal affirmations of commitment. Recall the children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could,” and the persistent, optimistic mantra of “I think I can” as he chugs to pull a train over a mountain. Just like that little engine, our children need to say, “I can do this” as a verbal reminder that with hard work and determination, they can achieve their goals.

Practice, don’t just play. Children can slip into a habit of “playing” the piano instead of practicing. Unbeknownst to parents, the notes that are seemingly progressive in nature are actually the child avoiding hard parts. In order to fix this, students should follow the Three S’s Rule: Slowly, Separately, and Sections. According to Graham Fitch, pianist and teacher, dividing pieces into sections will help a child set attainable, but challenging goals. Playing those sections hands apart helps a student focus on technical and musical elements, one hand at a time. Finally, playing slowly will allow the brain to analyze the selected passage and increase note accuracy.

Practice problem spots first. After your child warms up, they should begin with their hardest pieces and most difficult sections. I typically circle or use brackets around these sections in my students’ music. Putting the energy and focus into these spots will allow for more effective use of practice time. Remember: it’s better to have short and sweet practice sessions, rather than lengthy, monotonous ones. By starting each session with problem spots, your child is guaranteed to make more noticeable progress.

Turn on Auto-pilot. There is no such thing as practicing too much. Cognitive psychologists have noted that the key to mastering a skill is not just to learn it, but to overlearn it. The neural connections in our brain are constantly firing with each repetition of a musical phrase. Overlearning a piece helps to free up the energy necessary to inject more musicality, emotion, and passion. This is when you know they’ve reached the “auto-pilot” stage of mastery. They can just play without a lot of thinking, giving them a real chance to connect with the music.

Have a pop performance. Teachers love to throw a surprise “pop quiz” on you during a class going over a concept you learned earlier that week. Pop performances are similar, in that when given the chance to perform, most music students, albeit hesitantly, will oblige. The adrenaline is just enough to put the child to the test. This is called the “audience effect,” and can lead to better performance. Call the elderly next door neighbor, invite the grandparents over for coffee, or have your child’s best friends over for a jam session. Giving your child a chance to show off a little will give them just the right amount of nerves and confidence to keep mastering the piano.

Sound off: What tips can you give a beginner piano student to make practicing more interesting? How long are your practice sessions? When did you find you were most motivated to practice?