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…

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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Alternatives to an outdated word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

Emotions – playing their part.

Guest post by Simon Reich

Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Brian Wilson & Johnny Cash all had things in common. Not only were they gifted musicians and composers, but they managed a depressive side to their lives.

Continue reading Emotions – playing their part.

Get Set! Practice Chart

Guest post by Karen Marshall

Here is the Get Set! Practice Chart   DOWNLOAD

“… for student, teacher and parent partnership …”

The Get Set! Practice Chart is a simple practice record designed to support communication between students, teachers and parents. I’ve used it for over two years now, and it’s been the most ‘filled in’ chart to date!

As a teacher I have gained some excellent insights into what my students have enjoyed and found challenging each week, and it has really helped me to focus lessons on their needs.

The chart includes:

  • practice focuses for the week ahead
  • a daily practice log for students to fill in
  • a list of questions for the student to complete during the week
  • comment spaces for teacher and parents
  • two staves to jot down any musical notes

The practice chart is free for anyone to download. I hope you find it as helpful as I have!

And remember – there’s loads of other FREE Get Set! Downloads available here.

Very best wishes, Karen Marshall

Karen, Heather and Collins Music want to thank all teachers for their support for Get Set! Piano and apologise for the delay in getting this out to you. Many thanks also to Andrew Eales for hosting this on the Pianodao site!

Online Piano Teacher Training

Guest post by Garreth Brooke

This is an updated and expanded version of Garreth’s previous post.

Like many other piano teachers I have studied music but not pedagogy.

When I first began teaching after finishing my music degree this did not seem such a problem, and certainly it did not stop me from finding work or  my students from telling me that I’m a good teacher. Increasingly, however, I’ve realised that if I want to be a great piano teacher I need to be trained both as a pianist and as a teacher. It doesn’t matter how much we know about music or how well we can play, we have to also understand how to communicate that knowledge effectively to our students.

A 2014 survey on the UK-based Cross-Eyed Pianist blog of private piano teachers revealed that less than half of the respondents had teaching diplomas, and only 30% had training in music pedagogy. This is understandable. Piano teaching often comes as a result of a passion for playing the piano, not because we have always wanted to be a teacher. I’m certainly true in that regard, and indeed actively avoided teaching until forced to by circumstance, when I realised to my surprise that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In an ideal world, once we realise we want to be a piano teacher, we’d all be able to afford to take 3 years off and get a degree in music pedagogy but unfortunately that’s rarely – if ever –  realistic. Luckily there are several options for part-time study for teachers who are based in the UK or who use the UK examination boards, including studying for a diploma with an exam board like ABRSM or Trinity, getting a qualification from a pedagogical group like Suzuki or Kodály, attending the EPTA’s Practical Piano Teaching course, or signing up for the Curious Piano Teachers.

Only one of these, however, allow you to get a qualification from a recognised examination board from the comfort of your own home: the Curious Piano Teachers run a course that prepares student teachers to take either the ATCL from Trinity College or the DipABRSM in Teaching from ABRSM. This course was however not open for enrollment when I was researching what I could study (the next enrollment date as I write is likely to be in June 2018) and I was therefore excited to learn about the RCM’s Online Piano Teacher Specialist Course, which is run more frequently. (NB for Brits – this is the Canadian Royal Conservatory of Music, not the Royal College of Music).

I eagerly signed up and was thrilled to be invited to share my experiences with the Pianodao readers. I first wrote an article on this topic back in February 2017, when I was in Week 3 of the course. What you are currently reading is the revised and updated version, written in September 2017, a few months after I completed the course.

Continue reading Online Piano Teacher Training

A Weekly Smiling Face

Guest Post by Karen Marshall

A few weeks ago when I arrived at school I was given an envelope from the secretary.

One of my pupils (she’s only 5 years) had given her the letter to save and give to me on my next arrival. The envelope was beautifully decorated with some of my catch phrases written all over it.  I was a little stunned but very touched. And then I opened the envelope.

Not one letter but three, each about how much she loves the piano, is excited about coming to lessons, and is always greeted with a big smile!

Gratefulness spilled from the pages, I was truly humbled by the generosity of this little girl, but also very aware of the power of my words (repeated by her in the notes), which had all been absorbed and responded to.

Continue reading A Weekly Smiling Face

Losing the joy in music?

Guest Post by Simon Reich

After reading a rather sad article by Washington Post author Arianna Warsaw-Fan Rauch, I began discussing the issues raised in the story with other musicians.

Arianna lamented her loss of joy in music due to endless exercises, scales, playing the same pieces ad nauseum and various other musical drills akin to army training, that robbed her of any love she might have had for a life as a musician.

Once I’d read the expose, I wondered about the author’s mental or emotional approach to music. Was it her attitude or the way she interpreted music that was a reason for her eventual dissatisfaction, and could this also affect your own (or if you teach others) students longevity and enjoyment in the art of music?

Continue reading Losing the joy in music?

Revelling in the moment

Guest post by John Pitts, composer, teacher, and author of the book How to Play Indian Sitar Raags on a Piano

As a pianist, I’ve always loved the actual sound of the piano. It is a very personal instrument. I’m not knocking the usefulness of an electric keyboard, but for me nothing beats the responsiveness and the intimate resonance of a real piano, with the unstruck strings reverberating in sympathy with the played keys. Intimate, because the physical sound is at its most absorbing up close and personal.

Andrew Eales has kindly invited me to chart the journey that lead to my book of Indian raags (ragas/rags) for piano. In contemplating this, two related thoughts strike me:

  • first, that enjoying the piano’s sound itself (before and above the emotional journey of a piece) has been a common thread throughout my musical life, both as pianist and composer.
  • and second, that the slow exploration and enjoyment of sound is an intrinsic part of Indian classical raags.

This ‘revelling in the moment’ has been a big part of the appeal of Indian music for me: it resonates with what I’ve always done at a piano – doodled, improvised, composed.

It is music which organically grows – from slow, peaceful and pulseless, focussed on a small group of notes, with space to enjoy each note and gesture, gradually developing to fast and furious, rhythmically thrilling, filled with energy and joy.

The typical structure of a raag is a wonderfully crystallized miniature of the whole creative process – starting with slow, spacious improvisation, playing around with tiny ideas, gradually unveiling and exploring each small characteristic of an exotic collection of notes and motifs. This is followed by the main body of the raag – a kind of loose ritornello, based on a pre-selected melody (that may include a number of variations on the theme) interspersed with episodes of ever-more-exciting improvisation.

Continue reading Revelling in the moment

The Effects of the Gendered Musical Canon

Guest Author, The Reverend Professor June Boyce-Tillman writes about the effect that the lack of female composers in music syllabuses had on a young child’s aspirations…

Continue reading The Effects of the Gendered Musical Canon

Women composers and Graded Exams

Guest Post by David Duncan
Publications Officer, LCM Examinations

Should we care about the representation of women composers in graded music exams?

Continue reading Women composers and Graded Exams