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!

References:

http://www.andnextcomesl.com/2014/06/starting-piano-lessons-when-is-child.html

http://www.wisegeekhealth.com/what-is-the-connection-between-attention-and-cognition.htm

https://brendamueller.wordpress.com/2015/01/20/giving-a-music-student-an-opportunity-to-shine/

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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?

References:

http://news.illinois.edu/news/08/1113musician.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9785373/The-secret-to-making-children-succeed-Dont-be-a-pushy-parent.html

http://www.academyofsound.org/parents

http://www.amparents.org/resources/beginning-music-parents/

 

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?

References:

http://www.woutersmet.com/2014/02/24/7-reasons-you-are-never-too-old-to-learn-to-play-piano/

http://melaniespanswick.com/2013/07/13/are-you-ever-too-young-or-too-old/

http://www.pianoworld.com/forum/ubbthreads.php/topics/1420649/Re:_50_too_old_to_start?.html

http://www.reddit.com/r/piano/comments/18954q/people_who_started_to_learn_the_piano_old_25/

http://www.seattletimes.com/lifestyle/youre-never-too-old-to-learn-a-musical-instrument/

http://artfacts.australiacouncil.gov.au/music/participation-7/20-of-kids-learn-to-play-music-70-of-adults-wish-they-had/

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?

References:

http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/20/dont-just-practice-over-practice/

http://oxfordindex.oup.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095731503?rskey=syTmSW&result=4&q=

https://citizensketcher.wordpress.com/2015/01/22/persistence-the-only-technique-that-that-matters/

http://www.practisingthepiano.com/top-ten-tips-maximise-practice/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Engine_That_Could

Choosing your Instrument: Acoustic or Digital Piano?

Here in the Houston Metroplex, we are lucky to have such a supportive arts and music community. The market for used acoustic pianos is relatively good, and piano lessons are something that most parents seek out for their children at some point in their childhood. But in choosing between a digital and acoustic piano, several factors come into play. Follow this easy guide to see which instrument will work best for you and your family.

Do you have the space required for a full acoustic piano? They are heavy, difficult to move, and take up a good amount of space. An upright piano would be more easily placed in a smaller room than a baby grand/grand piano, which requires a large space to hold the instrument. A digital piano is much smaller and more portable than an acoustic piano, making it a good choice for a beginner. They can keep the instrument in their bedroom/living room, without it taking up too much space.

How important is the quality of sound and feel to you as a piano student? Acoustic pianos will always be the preferred choice of piano teachers across the country, just for their authenticity of sound in the hammer action and the subsequent string vibrations after pressing a key. This is the heart of the piano. Digital pianos have certainly come a long way in their software, but they will still just be electric instruments. There is no hammer/string action and no vibrations within the piano. The tone quality and sound in higher tier digital pianos comes very close to sounding like the real thing, but the action in playing doesn’t quite feel the same.

Can you afford the maintenance necessary for an acoustic piano? Keeping an acoustic piano regularly tuned is very important for the life of the instrument. According to the Piano Technician’s Guild, if you purchase a new acoustic piano, it should be tuned two to four times the first year, and one to two times annually after that. If you purchase a used acoustic piano, you should tune it a few months after it has been moved into its permanent spot in your home to give it time to settle into its climate/environment, and annually from thereafter. Check out this guide to help determine your piano’s tuning schedule from the manufacturers. Digital pianos require no tuning, therefore are a significantly more cost-effective choice regarding maintenance.

Are you comfortable with the melodious and “not so melodious” music coming from your budding pianist? All piano students make mistakes. Lots of them. This is all a part of learning and mastering the instrument! If you feel that volume controls are something that would be important for you as a parent/student, then make sure to look into a digital piano. All digital pianos have a convenient volume control and headphone jack that allows for students to practice quietly and comfortably in their home without causing major dissonance. Most digital pianos have a recording function as well, so the student is able to record and then listen to their practice sessions.

How much of an investment are you willing to make for yourself/your child? Acoustic pianos are expensive. New, they can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $15,000. You can probably find a good used acoustic piano anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000. Acoustic pianos become heirloom instruments, passed down to family members, and can last upwards of 100+ years! Imagine the gift of music you will be giving not just your child, but your family for generations to come. My family has three heirloom pianos, two of which are over 130 years old! Digital pianos are more affordable, ranging in price from $800 to $3,000. There are several digital pianos in my Amazon Music Store which I personally recommend.

Whichever piano you decide to purchase, make sure it is the best choice for your unique needs as a family.

Sound Off: Do you have an heirloom piano in your family? What are your favorite things about a digital piano? What other reasons can you think of to go with an acoustic or digital piano?

References:

http://www.wikihow.com/Choose-Between-Digital-or-Acoustic-Piano

http://www.ptg.org/Scripts/4Disapi.dll/4DCGI/cms/review.html?Action=CMS_Document&DocID=29&MenuKey=Menu7

http://www.ebay.com/sch/Upright-/43377/i.html?_nkw=used+yamaha+upright+piano&_sop=15&rt=nc

Four Reasons Music Lessons Benefit the Child Athlete

“Music lessons are not for my son, he is an athlete.”

“My daughter isn’t artsy enough to play music.”

“We are a football family, we aren’t musically-inclined.”

These are all phrases that come to mind when I talk about the benefits of learning and playing an instrument to parents of athletic children.  Athletics are essential to the physical and mental growth of children, but what can music lessons do for the athletic child? Let’s take a look:

Learning to play an instrument can increase the athletic child’s dedication to practice, commitment to learning and overcoming obstacles, and build confidence. The piano, for instance, has the challenges of learning to read music, remembering symbols, utilizing fine motor skills in the hands, wrists, and fingers, and controlling all of those on a keyboard of 88-keys! Imagine the mental and physical stimulation your child receives when taking piano lessons.  Transferring these into their chosen sport can positively influence their training.

Learning to play a wind instrument (clarinet, flute, saxophone, bassoon, trumpet, tuba, trombone, oboe, and others) can greatly enhance lung capacity and breath control. The connection here was recently discussed by Aaron Perdue, a professional flutist and endurance runner, on NPR and American Public Media’s Performance Today. There are many endurance athletes (triathletes, swimmers, runners, etc.) who are also wind instrument players, noting the benefits of conditioning, disciplined practice, and the ability to manipulate their bodies to achieve desired results as the greatest links between endurance athletics and playing an instrument.

Learning to play an instrument can help make the athletic child more patient and persistent to achieve desired results. Long-term goals are something that the athletic child is all too familiar. The long distance runner slowly but surely increases their distances over long periods of time to eventually reach their running goal. Patience and the ability to see past current challenges is essential in training and conditioning. Just as learning to play an instrument takes time to master, such is the time to become a good athlete.

Learning an instrument provides the athletic child an outlet for personal expression/emotional release.  Athletic children may be surrounded by a results-only environment for the majority of their day, without a dedicated way to express their emotions. Music lessons provide a way for these children to get in touch with their creative and expressive side, in a safe and controlled space. A study was recently published noting the positive effects of music lessons on attention skill, anxiety management and emotional control. By exposing your athletic child to  music lessons, you are training the brain to be emotionally mature.

Sound off: Are you an athlete? Did you take music lessons when you were younger? What was your experience being an athlete and musician?

References:

http://www.linkedin.com/in/cjjaffe/en

http://www.wikihow.com/Increase-Your-Lung-Capacity

http://performancetoday.publicradio.org/display/web/2015/01/28/young-artist-in-residence-aaron-purdue

http://graphic.pepperdine.edu/sports/2005/2005-02-03-exploring.htm

http://www.underwateraudio.com/blog/hold-your-breath-surprising-tips-on-increasing-lung-capacity/

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2015/01/07/music-lessons-spur-emotional-and-behavioral-growth-in-children-new-study-says/

http://www.jaacap.com/article/S0890-8567%2814%2900578-4/abstract

Winter Recital 2015 | College Station Piano/Flute/Voice Teacher

Encore Music Studio put on a great show this weekend! Each student performed one or two musical selections, and worked through their nerves to perform for family, friends, and the residents at Bluebonnet Place, a local assisted living facility for the elderly.

Pieces included Ode to Joy, Sleigh Ride, Grandpa’s Clock, Kum-Ba-Yah, Away in a Manger, Silent Night, The Can-Can, Air from Overture in D Major, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Schumann’s Little Piece, Waltz from Sleeping Beauty, and Raindrop Prelude by Chopin.

Students each achieved their Encore performance credit for a successful recital. I look forward to their continued success in the months to come!

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