Strong Foundations for Playing at Sight

Guest post by Liz Giannopoulos

Over the past few months I’ve undertaken the challenge to improve the sight-reading ability of my students and help the tutors in the Encore Music team to find new and creative ways to teach sight-reading.

As most of our students are children, this research – and this article – is child-centric but much can still be applied to older learners.

Continue reading Strong Foundations for Playing at Sight

Simplifying SEO for Piano Teachers

Guest Post by Sam Ficek

Sam Ficek has done a fine job of helping me maximise traffic on the Keyquest Music website, using basic Search Engine Optimisation tricks. Now he shares his know-how with the wider piano teaching community…

Continue reading Simplifying SEO for Piano Teachers

It’s Time To Stop Practising & Start…?

Guest post by Roberta Wolff

Alternatives to an outdated word

I propose a new word…

The word ‘practise’ is insufficient, it provides

  • No insight into what the activity entails
  • No guidelines on how to be successful at it
  • Little in the way of mass appeal

As a teacher and writer, I am not in the habit of making up words. I find using words my students and readers already comprehend far more efficient. So, my research started with a thesaurus. Here is a summary of the synonyms listed for ‘practise’:

  • Execute
  • Knock off
  • Persevere
  • Take up
  • Labour,(eek!)

Obviously, they won’t do. There were a few others though:

  • Pursue
  • Develop
  • Create

Not bad, but still not the full picture. From this overview a realisation emerged. There isn’t a word already in existence that can update and improve on the word ‘practise’.

If I wanted a new word, I would have to make it myself.

Continue reading It’s Time To Stop Practising & Start…?

Piano Tuning – What’s Under the Lid?

Guest post by Simon Reich

I have a recurring nightmare. It involves me and a piano…

I see the instrument from the other side of the room and then move stealthily, not too fast mind you, over to sit down on the stool waiting patiently for me. Everything seems like it’s going well up to this point. The horror only kicks in as I press down the notes for that first D minor 7 chord. The piano is totally out of tune with sticking notes I can’t avoid.

I’m sure some of us have also encountered this outside of our sleeping times, me included. Apart from our instrument, a piano tuner is our next most important point on our must have checklist.

With this in mind I decided to interview Nathan Winterbine, a piano tuner (based in Melbourne, Australia) who I only met last year, but instantly warmed to. His prompt service, fixed price and then excellent workmanship cemented him as my “go to” tuner.

I sat down with Nathan and plugged him with questions I wanted answered…

Continue reading Piano Tuning – What’s Under the Lid?

Preparing for GDPR: A Piano Teacher’s Perspective.

I would like to thank Liz Giannopoulos for this exclusive article which will be of special interest and importance to all piano and instrumental teachers working in the UK.

Guest post by Liz Giannopoulos

Continue reading Preparing for GDPR: A Piano Teacher’s Perspective.

Stories of Recovery

Guest post by Simon Reich

Unless you lived in a humidified bubble, away from sharp objects and potential harmful items, injuries are part of life.

The response to my invitation for stories and anecdotes regarding incidents that may have curtailed your piano playing or ended your musical career altogether was overwhelming. As I was therefore unable to squeeze the material into one blog, I’ve been compelled to write a second part to You Can’t Stop the Music.

Just to reiterate, the injuries were not necessarily musically acquired, but things as simple as falling off a bike, crushing fingers between two bricks or hurting your back slipping down a flight of stairs.

Amazingly, after writing the first article, I found out my mum has some nerve problems in her fingers.

She told me that as children, her siblings would melt wax on their fingertips and when cooled to dry, play the piano as a fun alternative to the standard method! This was the way she described how playing the piano keyboard now felt. It hasn’t stopped her from performing but it’s certainly put a spanner in the works of eliciting dynamics and feeling to her performances.

Continue reading Stories of Recovery

Working Positively with Parents

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

Pushy Parent Syndrome

Is this something you are experiencing in your studio?

I recently attended a teacher meeting where a teacher was relaying her recent experiences with a very difficult parent of a young 6-year-old student. As I pondered the topic I realised that ‘pushy parent syndrome’, luckily, has not been something that I’ve recently encountered as regularly as in my young teaching years.

I felt it may be helpful to share some practices I’ve developed which have certainly made my teaching life far easier.

My approach is partly a conflict resolution one.  I would add its a “work in progress” – I would never claim to have all the answers and I’m still learning constantly after over 25 years of piano teaching!

I say conflict resolution because a relationship between a teacher and parent has potential for conflict, simply because the parent purchases the lessons and the child receives them. The relationship is a triangle – if anyone has ever had a dotted line with two managers you will know first-hand the problems that can cause.

  • The parent’s needs may be different to the child’s – conflict.
  • The parent’s expectations may be different to the abilities of the child – conflict.

Before you know it, you are jam-sandwiched between the child and the parent. So, what are the practical things I try to employ to make things easier and – most importantly – best for the student whilst maintaining good professional practices?

Continue reading Working Positively with Parents

You can’t stop the music

How your creative outlet survives an injury…
Guest Post by Simon Reich

Ouch!!

Putting a brand new blade in a window scraper demanded concentration, as the surgically sharp implement would slice the end of a finger off in a millisecond. Unfortunately I didn’t give my scraper the respect it demanded…

While trying to multitask, taking a mobile phone call (with it wedged between my chin and shoulder), holding the scraper, and attempting to close the back door of my van, I accidentally sliced so deeply into my left hand, that I could see my bones and severed tendons.

Although not feeling pain straight away, the sight of the inner workings of my hand caused me to collapse onto the footpath, holding my skin together to stem the flow of blood.

As I sat in the back of an ambulance, it suddenly dawned on me I may never play piano again.

The paramedics informed me that because the blade was brand new and incredibly sharp, the cut would have made a surgeon proud. Amazingly I was still not feeling pain in my hand, but the thought of losing my musical outlet was causing me enough ache as it was. I knew this situation only too well, as my brother (while serving a cabinetmaking apprenticeship) lost three fingers to an electric wood buzzer. This severely curtailed his drumming career.

Continue reading You can’t stop the music

The Musician’s Tool Bag

Guest Post by Roberta Wolff

In my previous post, which you can read here, I considered the importance of reflecting, both in teaching and learning. As such, it was a thoughtful and ‘serious’ article. However, that is not necessarily the best way to approach teaching reflection to our students. Nothing engages the student and gets the message across like a bit of creativity and fun.

This article, therefore, is focused on incorporating reflection as part of the lesson and practice process.

The trouble with reflection is that it often seems long-winded. All the amazing advice along the lines of think 10 times play once is actually very hard to carry out. Whereas, it is very easy to get locked into a cycle of thinking with your fingers – at least then it sounds like something is happening!

In teaching students to incorporate reflection, unconscious learning with the support of tools to interrupt the spell of trial and error practice is immensely productive and enjoyable.

The Musician’s tool bag, The Box and the Language of Reflection are all ways to unconsciously build in reflection time.

Continue reading The Musician’s Tool Bag

Child’s Play: Why do parents send children to music lessons?

Guest Author: Simon Reich

There we sat in the dark. My Mum and I had been looking at the local Church hall for half an hour now and nobody had arrived, the building still in darkness.

I could tell my mum was getting more and more upset as the minutes ticked by. But to understand the full gravity of the situation, we now found ourselves in, we need to go back in time a little bit.

Continue reading Child’s Play: Why do parents send children to music lessons?

“You Composed This!”

Guest post by Garreth Brooke

Those of us who grew up hearing stories of the young prodigy Mozart composing his first music aged 5, or Beethoven composing the 9th whilst already deaf, may be forgiven for sometimes assuming that composing is something rarified and mysterious, inaccessible for us ordinary folk.

But if the recent explosion of wonderful original solo piano compositions from the likes of Barbara Arens, June Armstrong, Alison Mathews and Nikolas Sideris and many others that have been featured on Pianodao teaches us nothing else, it is that composition is not reserved just for the transcendent few.

What’s more, there are many resources available that you can use to guide you through introducing composition to students.

These resources, combined with an encouraging attitude and a sense of humour, can make composing a really fun and educational activity that both you and your students will enjoy. Best of all, none of these resources require you the teacher to be a composer. All you need is an encouraging attitude and a willingness to experiment.

Below you will find a list of resources that will help you to introduce yourself and your students to composing, as well as some tips from Barbara, June, Alison and Nikolas.

Continue reading “You Composed This!”

Musical Afterthoughts

That, Not That, And Other Musical Afterthoughts…

Guest post by Roberta Wolff

Teaching offers ongoing opportunities to reflect and learn. For me this is one of its great attractions.

We learn how to present what we teach in easy-to-recall, bitesize chunks. We learn about our students and ourselves, and we learn about learning. As well as enjoying watching my students develop their skills, teaching has made me a better musician.

The key to maintaining our learning lies in reflection.

In this day and age, with “information overload” and countless media vying for our attention, it is easy to forget that we often learn more by looking inward.

Instead, we are distracted by a near-constant stream of external input, and as a result it is becoming easier to overlook the importance of reflection in the learning processes of ourselves and our students.

This results in the development of reactive tendencies rather than considered responses. It also inhibits progress and self-knowledge.

Continue reading Musical Afterthoughts