Parenting a Piano Player

Building a Library

Peter Walsh’s new book The Non-musician’s Guide to Parenting a Piano Player seeks to offer valuable advice to parents – but does he strike the right notes?

Guest Reviewer: Roberta Wolff

Peter Walsh is an experienced pianist and educator. His work includes running a large studio for young pianists, teaching workshops, holding masterclasses, recording and performing in both Australia and Europe.

Drawing on this diverse experience Peter writes this, his first book, ‘The Non-Musician’s Guide to Parenting a Piano Player’. The book provides practical and insightful advice for parents about to embark on piano lessons for their children.

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10 Ways to turn “I can’t” into “I can”

Guest Author: Frances Wilson

Whenever we have a thought or physical sensation thousands of neurons are triggered and get together to form a neural network in the brain.

“Experience-dependent neuroplasticity” is the scientific term for this activity of continual creation and grouping of neuron connections in our brains which takes place as a result of our personal life experiences. With repetitive thinking, the brain learns to trigger the same neurons each time, and neuroscientists and psychologists have found that the brain can be “trained” to build positive neural traits from positive mental states.

The trouble is, the brain tends towards the negative and is very bad at learning from good experiences and very good at learning from bad ones. This negativity bias was very important in keeping our ancestors alive during times of great hardship and danger, but in our 21st-century brains it can be a block that prevents positive experiences from becoming inner strengths which are built into our neural structure.

As musicians most of us are very familiar with “the inner critic”, that destructive voice within that can sabotage a practise session or performance and damage our self-esteem with negative self-talk.

Continue reading 10 Ways to turn “I can’t” into “I can”

Confessions 8: The Final Scene

Guest Author: Simon Reich “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student“, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions.
In this series he shares their answers…

Question 8

Although movies can’t always finish with a happy ending, I thought we’d round up this series with a question that could give teachers a chance to give a positive finale.

“I have a few secondary school teachers as friends. They often remark how they hardly ever hear from former students. So as the last question, Have you ever had a response from a past student, years down the track? Something that really warmed your heart?”

Continue reading Confessions 8: The Final Scene

Confessions 7: How wide are piano teacher’s job descriptions?

Guest Author: Simon Reich “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student”, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions.
In this series he shares their answers…

Question 7

How wide are piano teachers job descriptions?

Continue reading Confessions 7: How wide are piano teacher’s job descriptions?

Confessions 6: Are Exams helpful?

Guest Author: Simon Reich “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student“, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions.
In this series he shares their answers…

Question 6

This controversial question needed to be asked.

“Do you feel the current system of testing and grading of students is helpful to budding creative musicians? If not, what would you consider as an alternative?”

Continue reading Confessions 6: Are Exams helpful?

Confessions 5: Student listening tastes

Guest Author: Simon Reich “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student“, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions. In this series he shares their answers…

Question 5

This question was born from an ugly personal experience I had as a child. At a local monthly musical society concert, a classical guitar teacher had found out his most gifted pupil had bought an electric guitar and was dabbling with it in his own time. Admittedly the guitar teacher was an older man, but he publicly tore strips off his prized student and humiliated him in front of the whole crowd. He then banished his pupil and told him not to return to lessons until he’d given up the electric guitar.

It’s in this context, I asked the following question.

“What would be your reaction to a student confessing they played synthesizers in a simple dance music style of playing? How would you feel about them listening to electronic music or heavy metal style genres?”

Continue reading Confessions 5: Student listening tastes

Confessions 4: Choosing music with each student

Guest Author: Simon Reich   “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student“, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions.
In this series he shares their answers…

Question 4

When I had lessons as a young man, my teacher had a set, worn path of selected pieces, so the answers to this question interested me no end.

“Are the selection of music to be learnt, important to maintaining the interest of a student? Do you tailor the music to each student?”

Continue reading Confessions 4: Choosing music with each student

Confessions 3: Naturally gifted students?

Guest Author: Simon Reich   “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student”, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions. In this series he shares their answers…

Question 3

Being someone who had a natural ear for music and could play back most things I heard, this was a question I was keen to hear the answers to –

“Do you feel some students have a natural gift in music? How does that manifest?”

Continue reading Confessions 3: Naturally gifted students?

Confessions 2: Are teenagers difficult to teach?

Guest Author: Simon Reich   “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student”, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions…
In this series he shares their answers…

Question 2

This question was born of my own frustration as a teenager, and seeing the skill level I wanted to be at and the skill level I was achieving.

“Are mid to late teens a difficult age bracket to teach? Why?”

Continue reading Confessions 2: Are teenagers difficult to teach?

Confessions 1: How many continue to play

Guest Author: Simon Reich   “Confessions Series

Following on from his warmly received guest post “Confessions of a Piano Student”, Simon Reich invited teachers from around the world to answer 8 Questions. In this series he shares their answers…

In my previous article “Confessions of a piano student”, I stepped through my personal journey growing up learning music, which led me to believe I was mismanaged by my teacher, who possibly didn’t have a grasp of the natural musical gift I already had, or how to assist in its growth.

So it was with great interest that I conducted an open interview with today’s piano teachers to see how the prevailing thought in musical education has changed since my childhood.

Continue reading Confessions 1: How many continue to play

Piano Teaching in the Age of Video Conferencing

Guest Article by Mark Polishook

This essay is about my experience teaching piano and jazz improvisation to adult students on Skype. Right now Skype is a standard technology for online instrumental instruction. But there are alternatives, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Oovoo among them.

We call the medium Skype. We say we’re Skyping. But, really, it’s consumer-level video conferencing.

Marshall McLuan some years ago offered the medium as answer to what’s the message?

My question now:

How does video conferencing shape teaching and learning?

Three immediate answers on the positive side:

  1. It moves teaching from the local to global.
  2. It enlarges the pool of teachers from which students can select
  3. More stylistic diversity and specialities come from a larger, global teaching pool.

Are there downsides?

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Accentuate the Positive: Music and Neuro-Linguistic Programming

Guest Article by Frances Wilson

What is Neuro-Linguistic Programming?

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) was created in California in the 1970s by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. The name makes a connection between the neurological processes (“neuro”), language (“linguistic”), and behavioural patterns learned through experience (“programming”) which can be altered or harnessed to achieve specific goals in life. Popularly known as “the study of human excellence”, NLP uses the criterion “does this work?”, and gives us the tools and processes to deconstruct how we do things to discover the key elements of a positive strategy that enables us to do something more successfully. Equally, it can highlight negative issues and help us to discard unsuccessful actions and impulses.

In NLP the word “strategy” is used to describe how we organise sensory representations – external and internal images, sounds, sensations and feelings. This determines how successful we are in doing something, assuming we have the relevant skills.

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Tobin Mueller and the Influence of Illness on his Music

Guest Author Frances Wilson interviews pianist Tobin Mueller

Composer and pianist Tobin Mueller has recently completed a trilogy of recordings in which he explored three eras of Western music through adaptive arrangements, reinvention and original composition. Each album took one year to develop. The Masterworks Trilogy included jazz interpretations and new works based on:

  1. the Impressionists (Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Fauré, Carpenter)
  2. the Baroque period (J.S. Bach), and most recently
  3. the Romantic movement (Frederic Chopin).

The albums by title are :

  1. Impressions of Water and Light
  2. Flow: The Music of J.S. Bach and Tobin Mueller”, and
  3. Of Two Minds: The Music of Frederic Chopin and Tobin Mueller”.)

Not only have these double-CD albums highlighted the elements of modernity found in these forebears, they have allowed Mueller to discover a personal kinship with each composer.

Tobin’s personal journey has also been colored by the challenges of dealing with a compromising illness. This relationship between the composer and his illness is what we wanted to discuss…

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10 Important Memory Tricks for Pianists

Guest Article by Sofie Kay

Have you ever suddenly forgotten your PIN? It happened to me once. I was standing in line with a friend who said something to me just as I was about to enter my number, and it suddenly went out of my head. I couldn’t remember those 4 digits until about a year later! It was a bizarre experience.

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Motivation: one size doesn’t fit all

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

What is motivation and how does it relate to music teaching?

Motivation is all to do with thoughts and tasks becoming actions.

There are 10,050 minutes between one 30 minute weekly music lesson and the next – or 10,020 minutes for a weekly hour music lesson.

Here are some ideas to hopefully motivate students to use the time in between lessons musically!

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A Practical Guide to Teaching Sight-Reading

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

My Lessons from Christine Brown on how to teach sight-reading

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Confessions of a piano student.

Regular guest author Simon Reich (pictured above as a little boy) has a confession to make… 

“I’d let down my piano teacher, my parents and ultimately myself, by not being able to read music better than my grades suggested”. This was the unfortunate soundtrack playing inside my head, each time I went to piano lessons.

But deep inside me a sleeping talent was about to emerge – and I didn’t yet know it!

Continue reading Confessions of a piano student.

Encouraging Music

Guest post by Simon Reich.

Before recording became a viable option to most home-based musicians, I would improvise and compose tunes at my piano each day, as a way of winding down after work.

Sometimes I would forget them completely by the next day, but that didn’t concern me, as I had felt something quite deep and cathartic during the creation of these musical adventures.

Continue reading Encouraging Music

The “People Person” Piano Teacher

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

In memory of Enid Oughtibridge, 1993

A number of years ago I wrote an article for Music Teacher Magazine after interviewing a large number of children on a theme of ‘what makes a good music lesson or music teacher’. It became pretty clear that the teacher’s personality was just as important (if not more important) than their subject knowledge.

Time and time again students would talk about the importance of the teacher making them feel ‘liked’, showing interest in them and simply ‘smiling’ on their arrival in lessons.

In this blog I want to share with you my experience with one of my teachers, who I feel was a powerful influence in my teaching career and the ultimate in being a ‘people person piano teacher’.

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Social Media and Feelings of Inadequacy

Following on from her well-received post “Am I Really Good Enough“, guest author Frances Wilson turns her focus to the impact that social media can have on our view of ourselves…

Continue reading Social Media and Feelings of Inadequacy

Iconoclasts, Shibboleths, Paul Bley and Pierre Boulez

Classical composer and conductor Pierre Boulez passed within a week of the influential jazz pianist Paul Bley… in this brilliant in-depth article, guest author Mark Polishook considers the impact that both musicians had on the music of the 20th century and beyond…

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Am I Really Good Enough?

Guest author Frances Wilson considers a question we all ask ourselves from time to time, sometimes more frequently than we should…

Continue reading Am I Really Good Enough?

The Practising, Playing, Performing Piano Teacher

In this Guest Post, well-known author and regular Pianodao contributor Karen Marshall considers how teachers can continue developing their own journey at the piano …

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Is Mindfulness relevant to piano playing?

Guest post by Doug Hanvey

It is with great pleasure that I welcome Doug Hanvey from Portland Oregon as a guest author on Pianodao. Doug is a highly qualified and experienced educationalist and teacher of both piano pedagogy and mindfulness.

Here he discusses the link between the two…


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The Importance of Music

Guest author and professional visual artist Simon Reich gives his personal perspective…

Being a visual artist myself, I have to reluctantly admit that it’s quite possible that the general populace of the world could live without paintings, sculpture and visual art. But I severely doubt the people on this planet could live without music.

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Overcoming Injury – A Personal Story

Guest Post by Evelina de Lain

Evelina de Lain writes of her background growing up in the former USSR, the serious injury that stopped her piano playing career in its tracks, her discovery of jazz, and how she finally overcame her injury to become a successful professional pianist with a growing international career… 

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Karen Marshall: “Bespoke Teaching”

I am delighted to welcome Karen Marshall, the co-author of the excellent “Get Set! Piano” series and compiler of the ABRSM Encore books, as a regular contributor on the Pianodao site. In this, Karen’s first post here, she explores the importance of personalised teaching…

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Piano Technique, Weight in Motion, Boxing, Taichichuan and The Cherry Tomato

Guest Author Mark Polishook takes a look at the benefits of weight-based piano technique, with reference to boxing, martial arts and … cherry tomatoes.

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Healing with music

Guest author Simon Reich shares an inspiring personal testimony to the power of music.

With war in Syria, daily muggings, deadlock in the Middle East, domestic violence and escalating racial tensions, we are in desperate need of some good news stories.

Being a creative musician, you may not realize it, but you hold the key to giving the world some peace and inspiration.

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“The Creative Pianist”: Interview with Mark Polishook

Interview by Guest Writer, Simon Reich

I have always thought that to be a well-regarded teacher in a particular area, you need to know the subject inside and out and be a proficient exponent of the subject and Mark Polishook is definitely one of those.

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