How do we stop students quitting?

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

These days when I catch up with teaching colleagues, there is often a common theme:

“I need to recruit some new students as I’ve got X amount leaving (especially in the summer term).”

The numbers vary from just one to as many as twelve.

As most are self employed with bills to pay, adverts are out, websites are being updated, and they are doing their very best to fill those gaps – and fast!

We will always have some students leave as families move out of the area, or a student leaves for work or University. However increasingly (from anecdotal evidence) it appears that students are giving up in greater numbers. With lots of other activities going on, children heavily tested with demanding national examinations along with technology distractions, instrumental learning can suffer.

In my own teaching practice, I have tried to become much more conscious about any signs that perhaps I need to adapt a little in order to keep a student coming through the door…

Continue reading How do we stop students quitting?

Reindeer Reading Duets

Guest Post by Alison Mathews

including Free Sheet Music and Lesson Games downloads

Continue reading Reindeer Reading Duets

Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body

Guest post by Doug Hanvey

Have you ever had (or been) a piano student who struggles to learn good technique, or to retrain poor technique previously learned?

I certainly have! As a piano teacher specializing in adult learners, many of whom have studied in the past, it’s not uncommon that I must help a student improve or even completely overhaul their technique…

For example, there’s Monique, my 60-year-old student who last studied as a child. Try as she might, Monique has continued to struggle with flying pinkies and collapsing wrists.

Even students with relatively good technique may need improvements. For example, I’ve studied and teach the fundamentals of the Taubman technique. Bringing awareness to the many subtle movements involved such as forearm rotation, in-and-out movements and “shaping” can be challenging for any student.

How might teachers and self-learning students facilitate the learning or retraining of technique?

Perhaps it’s first worth asking: are there any prerequisites for learning or retraining technique?

Continue reading Enhancing Technique with Mindfulness of the Body

Do Not Play This Work!

Guest Author Paul Harris shares an enthusiasm with a less well known piano masterpiece

Continue reading Do Not Play This Work!

How to motivate the demotivated student

Guest Post  by Amy Wakefield Taylor

Lack of motivation in our students is a problem that all teachers of piano can expect to encounter at some point in their practice, so it seems important to develop strategies for tackling it…

Continue reading How to motivate the demotivated student

Steve Luck’s Practice Tips

Steve Luck is a piano teacher from Newcastle Upon Tyne. This guest post originally appeared as a forum post within the Piano Network UK group, the leading Facebook community of piano players, teachers and enthusiasts living in the United Kingdom.

Steve’s post includes such useful information, aimed primarily at piano parents and students, that he has agreed to me giving it a public platform here on the Pianodao site, for which I am grateful, as I am sure many readers will be!

Continue reading Steve Luck’s Practice Tips

“Me Time”: a work in progress

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

A work in progress! That’s how I would describe my work life balance. How’s yours?

Continue reading “Me Time”: a work in progress

Thumbs up for the Thumb!

Featured Image: Anthony Kelly

Guest Post by Mark Tanner

Pianists tend to think of the thumb as being the root cause of unevenness, bumps and a host of other undesirables…

Continue reading Thumbs up for the Thumb!

Your Story: Simon Reich

Your Stories

Simon Reich is a pianist and award-winning composer from Victoria, Australia. He has written several articles published here on the Pianodao site.

Simon’ latest post tells of how he has, in later life, turned to music as a full-time professional, and his experiences training as a media composer. As well as giving a special insight into his own personal journey, the post will be an encouragement to all considering a career in music.

Continue reading Your Story: Simon Reich

Practice Resolutions

Featured Image: Wolfgang Lonien

Guest post by Liz Giannopoulos

As the New Year begins, my thoughts turn to my practice routine, and I’m full of good resolutions about what, when and how I will practise.

A new term also provides an opportunity to reflect on my students’ practice habits and how I can encourage them to commit to regular and effective practice.

Continue reading Practice Resolutions

What Makes a Good Lesson?

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

A Student Perspective

Have you ever asked your student what makes a good instrumental lesson?

A number of years ago I did just that in a secondary school. There was a whole class full of students of different ages, learning different instruments with a variety of teachers.

Their feedback was enlightening. Here are the main themes, the messages I believe are still valuable.

Whilst revising this, from a personal perspective, it was a useful reminder to ask and listen more to the needs of my students and to think more creatively – especially when teaching sight reading and scales.

So, what did they say …

Continue reading What Makes a Good Lesson?

Tidings of Joy and Goodwill

In a special Christmas message for Pianodao, Karen Marshall offers generous words of encouragement and advice for musicians, teachers and parents during this busy season…

Continue reading Tidings of Joy and Goodwill

Gabriel’s Egg

In this guest post, Alison Mathews outlines a fabulous benefit project she has committed to, as well as unveiling a brilliant new piano composition…

Continue reading Gabriel’s Egg

First Steps in Pedalling

Guest Post  by Margaret Murray McLeod

This post is an exclusive excerpt from this month’s Piano Teacher Talk – the online newsletter from EPTA UK. The whole newsletter is also available as a PDF at the end of this excerpt, with the kind permission of EPTA.

In this month’s EPTA post, Margaret Murray McLeod offers much-needed advice on pedalling…

Continue reading First Steps in Pedalling

A Halloween Treat

Guest Post by Alison Mathews

including Free Sheet Music and Lesson Activity downloads


With Halloween approaching, it is an excellent time to engage pupils in some creative work and explore the evocative and haunting sounds the piano can make. I’d like to share a short story and resources that may inspire you and your pupils to be creative!

Continue reading A Halloween Treat

Becoming a Virtual Virtuoso

Guest Post by Mark Tanner

In this post Mark Tanner – author of The Mindful Pianist and Mindfulness in Music – considers the benefits of virtual ‘ghost’ practising …

Continue reading Becoming a Virtual Virtuoso

Learn to Sight Read

Sheet Music Review by Karen Marshall

In my own selection of educational music, I must have over 20 Sight Reading Schemes. I see which is a best fit for my student and then get them to order a copy.

However, I still loan out many to help the student get a very varied experience. Just like reading, I think its important that students get a varied amount of material.

With quite a lot available out there, in order to impress me, a sight reading resource needs to be something special.

Well congratulations Sandy Holland and Peter Noke, I am impressed! Heres why………….

Continue reading Learn to Sight Read

Get Set! Advent Calendar

Guest Post by Karen Marshall & David Blackwell

We are thrilled to be able to offer this Practice Advent Calendar to Pianodao readers.

The idea of a Practice Advent Calendar went down really well with Karen’s students last Christmas. That little bit of extra reward and recognition can be very helpful to motivate music practice.

1The simple logo-like Christmas symbol illustrations (for each day in December up to the 24th) are line drawings for children to colour in.

We are excited to see finished advent calendars in the future so please do take pictures and show us them on social media. We’d love to see them!

We really hope it will inspire your students to do a little more practice this festive period but most of all, to have some fun!

pdf-logo   Practice Advent Calendar  [PDF Download]

Very best wishes, Karen Marshall and David Blackwell

3

All images and downloads included in this post are copyright Collins Music, shared with the kind permission of HarperCollins Publishers.

Behind the Scenes: Christmas Crackers

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

Behind the scenes of Get Set! Piano Christmas Crackers and its five aims.

The book was written between October and December last year, with all the materials tested with pupils in Karen Marshall’s teaching practice.

Karen and David spoke extensively to teachers to find out exactly what they were looking for in a Christmas book and ‘Get Set! Christmas Crackers’ was the result.

Here you get a ‘behind the scenes’ account of the ideas behind the pages and a quick summary of the main ‘Five Aims’.

Continue reading Behind the Scenes: Christmas Crackers

Curved Fingers, or Flat?

This post is an exclusive excerpt from the new monthly online newsletter from the UK branch of EPTA, The European Piano Teachers’s Association.

In order to reach a wider audience, Chair of EPTA  Murray McLachlan  has kindly agreed to Pianodao exclusively hosting the newsletter for non-members, as well as picking a short piece each month to feature as a guest post here.

This month, I’ve picked this short but very helpful and thought-proving piece written by Murray himself… and below you can download the full newsletter for additional free articles!


Curved Fingers or Flat Fingers?

Guest Post by Dr. Murray McLachlan

A big subject, but in essence I would say a lot depends on the style of the music…

If I want to play rapid semiquavers in pre-Beethoven repertoire then I naturally curve my fingers for more articulation.

If I wish to have more legato and sonority in the romantic repertoire, then they tend to flatten instinctively.

Of course, we should all try to find power, focus and physical control from the knuckles. It is fundamentally bad practice to collapse the first and second joints of the fingers.

However, pupils with hypermobility may well find it difficult not to collapse their finger joints inwards as they play. Perseverance, patience and awareness of what they are doing can help.

Stress, tension and stiffness should be avoided at all costs. It can certainly help to focus on the knuckles and visualize internally a mental picture of finger movement from the ‘bridge’ of the hand (knuckles).

But in terms of how curved fingers should be in terms of a default position, try experimenting:

To find a pianist’s natural finger curve, get them to pick up a pencil without thinking about it. Just say have the thumb on one side, and the fingers on the other. After this is done, look at the curvature of the fingers.

What is there is what is comfortable – the correct curvature for that pianist at that time in most normal contexts.


EPTA Piano Teacher Talk No.1 (September 2018)

This article is drawn from the EPTA Teacher Talk newsletter. If you would like to read more from and about EPTA UK, please download:

pdf-logo   Piano Teacher Talk No.1

Special Thanks to Karen Marshall, Murray McLachlan and Liz Dewhurst. 

Piano: the future of music?

Guest Post by Simon Reich

Looking at the crystal ball into the future would have had me shaking my head and not believing what I was seeing…

The ubiquitous guitar is falling out of favour with the new generation of musicians.

Yes, you are reading correctly! Both electric and acoustic sales are dropping through the floor. The big guns of the guitar world, Fender and Gibson are facing hardships. In fact, Gibson, have already begun bankruptcy proceedings.

The six-stringed instrument has been the virtual logo for rock and pop since its inception. No-one ever suggested substituting a piano or keyboard as a sexy alternative to the guitar, but it appears that could now be the case.

And while you’re at it, you may need to add a laptop computer as well. Yes folks, these are the items that are causing a huge drop in guitar sales, MIDI keyboards and music software.

Continue reading Piano: the future of music?

‘My Piano Friend’

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

One teacher’s answer to preventing ‘negative self talk’ within music learning…

Continue reading ‘My Piano Friend’

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

Introduction

The new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will apply in the UK from 25 May 2018. For many private music tutors this is already causing uncertainty and confusion.

The summary that follows is the outcome of the research I have completed and steps I have taken to ensure that my piano school is compliant with the new legislation.

PDF download of full article: 
Preparing for the GDPR – A Piano Teacher’s Perspective

About the Author

Liz Giannopoulos is the founder and director of Encore Music Tuition Ltd, a thriving piano teaching group in SW London. Encore Tutors share a love music, a passion for teaching and unwavering commitment to delivering the highest quality tuition to every student. Together, they coach more than 130 piano students on a weekly basis.


Liz Giannopoulos

In addition to giving private piano lessons in her music studio and at local primary schools, Liz uses her experience of teaching and learning to coach and mentor the team of Encore Music tutors.

In 2015, she founded Battersea Piano Festival, an annual amateur piano competition. In 2012 Liz completed ABRSM’s Certificate of Teaching and Diploma in Instrumental Teaching. Liz is Mum to two musical boys and a relentlessly keen piano student herself; the family motto is “never a quiet moment”!


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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