Piano Lessons PLUS — Information

A parent’s group dedicated to young students and pre-schoolers wanted to feature me in their monthly newsletter concerning my teaching program.  She asked me several questions via an email conversation we had.  I thought the questions and answers would give a good background as to what they could expect from choosing Piano Lessons PLUS for their children’s piano lessons.

What is your background in music, professionally and educationally?

I began formal lessons at age 11 on the organ.  My first “professional” engagement was three years later playing organ at fairs and shows.  It was common for organists to arrange their own music so it was on the organ that I began my first arranging and composing.  I began piano a couple years later mostly for developing my technical skills.  My first college degree was in liberal arts and it was after that that I decided to study music and piano performance.  It was here that I received my classical training and learned more formally about composition and arranging.

I began my first piano studio after graduation from college.  I continued studying piano, composition and orchestration after my degrees.  I became involved in professional piano teaching organizations holding leadership positions and established 3 Audition Centers for the National Guild of Piano Teachers.  I became a judge for their yearly sponsored auditions.  I also began writing articles for Keyboard Companion on various aspects of piano pedagogy.

In 1988 I became very interested in what computer technology was doing in music to enhance music education so I began Severino’s Piano Keyboard Lab in Wexford.  I developed some software programs in conjunction with a software developer in Ohio.  As technology advanced I got involved in “desktop publishing” at started Piano Teacher Press as an outlet for my compositions, arrangements and books I developed for my students.


What kinds of music do you teach?
Since I’m classically trained I tend to move students in a traditional classical direction but with my background in organ I also identify with a lot of popular music; anything from Cole Porter to Oscar and Hammerstein, from The Beatles to Billy Joel, from Andrew Lloyd Weber to John Williams.

Why might piano be a good choice for a young child?

Piano has become the standard instrument for teaching music.  Pianos are everywhere; churches, restaurants, community centers, recreational rooms.  Most all professional musicians have had some sort of piano training.  And, you’ll find that many professional people, not involved in the arts, has had some piano background in their educational resume.

Piano develops so much in terms of mental development.  It develops muscular coordination.  It develops ones sense of hearing.  It develops hand/eye coordination.  It develops ones artistic sense.  Playing piano gives one a great sense of accomplishment.  Almost everyone would love to play the piano; more so than any other instrument.  Music gives one the awareness to appreciate life in terms of beauty and order and helps one move out of the ordinary.

Can you talk about how a preschool piano student is different from, say, a school-aged child or adult?

For me the difference is only a difference in development which requires a different pacing of learning.  One who teaches a young beginner has to do a lot of rudimentary work; teaching basic counting, teaching alphabet letters, teaching right and left, developing the very young, yet very supple, hand.  If one has studied this young age and knows what their capabilities are they are very teachable.

The older the student the quicker the pace; but everyone begins at ground zero.  When I started teaching professionally I got very involved in teaching the pre school student.  I developed a pre school music program called Dan Dan the Music Man.  At this time people began asking me if I would teach their pre schooler piano so I developed a pre school piano method, the Keyboard Kids.  I wrote this method to match the learning pace of a pre school piano student.  I have been using my Keyboard Kids books successfully since I first wrote them in the early 90’s


What types of instructional materials do you use that are specific to a preschool learner? Why?
Beyond Keyboard Kids it is important to understand how to work with students and their developing attention span.  It is best to have a wide variety of activities where the teacher doesn’t max out the student’s ability to concentrate.  Playing rhythm instruments, playing musical games, playing computer games, having listening activities, not taught randomly without a direction, but taught purposely toward the goal understanding music, to play the piano intelligently.

Do you provide performance opportunities for students? What are the benefits or drawbacks of children performing at a young age?

Performing should be developed in a very natural way.  Parents and teachers provide the best first audience.  If students learn that you are interested in what they are doing in their piano study performing becomes a very natural part of what they do.  Nurture self confidence.

The major drawback of performing is that it can easily become negatively competitive.  Music is something to be shared with another. Students need to be taught they don’t compete with others, they compete with their personal best and even this has to be approached in a healthy manner.

Finding the “middle ground” in piano performance is a challenge.  We don’t want self confidence to become over confidence and we don’t want competing with ones self to become obsessive.

Personally, I do provide incentives for student performances.  I have recitals.  I make recordings of students performances, both video and audio.  I have performance incentives where students earn certificates for seeking out performance opportunities.

How much time is appropriate for a preschooler to spend practicing?
I wrote a blog on the very topic.  The first goal is to establish the habit of daily practice.  The second goal is to slowly build the duration given to this daily practice.  It’s a methodical process.  Details can be found by follow this link …

https://pianoteacherpress.wordpress.com/2015/08/24/the-six-hour-practice-incentive/

Can music lessons, or specifically piano lessons, enhance a child’s development in other areas? If so, how?

I already touched on this subject but I think the most important thing music and piano can teach is the development of a sense of beauty.  This is something that’s missing in sports but it’s not missed in learning to expressing something artistic in music.  Piano is centered on making beautiful sounds.  It is centered on form and proportion and the balancing of contrasting parts.  It is about imbuing their performance with expression that not only draws on the emotional, but the intellectual, the artistic and the beautiful.  In a technical world, music almost becomes a necessity to aid us in becoming a whole person.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
Yes!  If you have any other questions or are interested in piano lessons please call me at (724) 935-2840

The Six Hour Practice Incentive

Plato famously said, “The beginning is the most important part of any work.”  He said this because in the young we have a person that is unformed.  The ability to be formed by good information and good habits is at its highest.

Relating this to piano we can ask what is the most important habit we can develop in an unformed young piano student, in a student that does not, as yet, have any bad habits?

Before we answer that I think it’s important to highlight that when we begin a new student there are not bad habits to unlearn.  We get a blank slate.  We get to form the first habits in our student.  We get the first and best chance to help this young person develop a love for music.  We get the first and best chance to develop a healthy attitude toward education, especially if we are dealing with a preschool student.  We get the first and best chance to impress on the child a positive concept of “teacher”.  These are all huge responsibilities but also great opportunities to think through and make some deliberate steps to move this life in a positive direction.

Certainly one of the most important parts of our work as a piano teacher is to instill in our beginning student the habit of DAILY PRACTICE.  We would do well to think about a planned systematic approach to develop this crucial habit.  If we do, the many challenges we find in piano study will have a means to be successfully dealt.  If we do not, accomplishing these challenges will be made immensely more difficult.

I believe that DAILY PRACTICE is so fundamental a habit that it must be established even before a daily duration of practice time is discussed.   Here’s a plan I’ve devised to develop the habit of DAILY PRACTICE that works, even, especially, for the youngest of piano students.

THE SIX HOUR PIANO PRACTICE INCENTIVE

I created a little folio for my students.  Here’s the cover.

6 Hour Incentive

On the cover the student writes their name to give them pride of ownership of their efforts.  Make this incentive like a contract between you and the student.  Of course, your job is to guide the student to develop the habit of daily practice one step at a time, always moving the student forward to the goal of daily practice.

The next page of the little folio contain several Daily Practice Charts.   Each chart can record five weeks of piano practice.  Below each chart is a place for the parent to sign (verify) that the record is accurate.

First, you and the student set a goal; how many days am I going to practice this week.  The student is to fill in the number of minutes they practice each day they practice.  At this point it’s not too important to set a duration for each practice session.  The important issue is the number of days.  As quickly as the student is ready, move this up to 6 days per week.  The important thing is not how quickly the student gets to 6 days a week but that you are always moving/encouraging the student to reach higher.  I like the maxim – HURRY SLOWLY.

Practice Chart

NEXT — THE CLOCKS

Clocks

This incentive is called THE 6 HOUR PRACTICE INCENTIVE because as we are working toward the goal of daily practice, we accomplish this goal in 6 hour increments.   Our 6 HOUR PRACTICE INCENTIVE begins at 12:00.  Let’s say our student, after the first week, practiced for 40 minutes.  If this is the case, set the clock at 12:40.  If, on the second week, our student practiced for 65 minutes, then, set the second clock at 1:45.  Do this for as many weeks as it takes to reach the goal of 6 hours of practice.  But, to repeat, the goal is to move the student to DAILY PRACTICE.

If the student practices for more minutes in fewer days, encourage the student that it’s better to practice 60 minutes in three days than doing it all in one day.  We all know that music learning doesn’t “cram” well.  In other words, “guide/mentor” the student into daily practice.

CERTIFICATES

Ceertificate

After accomplishing the 6 hours of practice the student is awarded a handsome certificate for the good effort.  There is a place on the certificate for awarding the certificate”With Honors” (practicing 4 days a week) or “With High Honors” (practicing 5 days a week) or “With Highest Honors” (practicing 6 days a week).

After the certificate is awarded you can begin working toward a 2nd certificate.  For the second certificate see if you can move the student to a higher goal, practicing more days per week.  On the 3rd certificate again see if you can move the student to an even higher goal.

When this becomes easy move the goal posts to a 12 hour or a 24 hour goal.

This product may be purchased at Piano Teacher Press.  It is sold in a Licensed Edition for $3.95.  This means you can use the materials given here IN YOUR STUDIO on each and every student in your studio for as long as you teach.   It is priced low because DAILY PRACTICE is so important.  (ALSO – for those with black and white printers this product also comes with a Black and White Cover page and a Black and White Certificate included).  Click on the Piano Teacher Press LOGO to get your copy of THE SIX HOUR PRACTICE INCENTIVE.

PTP - Piano LOGO

Piano Parents

“I DON’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT MUSIC!!”

I cannot count how many times I’ve heard a parent repeat this phrase to me.  When I hear this concern from a parent, I know I have a concerned parent and I always take note.  This concern of parents deserves a well considered response.  Here is my response.  Two simple points to remember.

A GOOD PIANO PARENT IS A PARENT AND NOT A MUSICIAN

To say that  A GOOD PIANO PARENT IS A PARENT AND NOT A MUSICIAN is not to let parents “off the hook”.  Parents are crucial to a successful  experience in piano study.  Parents provide the grounding and foundation to their children that make success possible.  Most important of these is a very high view of education and the discipline necessary to achieve it.  Teachers build upon that grounding with their musical and pedagogical skill; but the foundation is established by the parents.

Other parts of that foundation include the provision and maintenance of the instrument.  Is the instrument in an quiet area of the home where the student can concentrate without distractions?  Is the instrument tuned regularly?  Once a year is a good minimum.  Twice a year is better.  Scheduling tunings 4 weeks after turning on your heating in the fall and 4 weeks after you shut it off in the spring would coincide with the humidity changes in your home.  Humidity change is a major cause of instruments going out of tune.  Keeping humidity constant is the ideal.

Parents provide an atmosphere in the home that says – Learning is valued in this dwelling.  The library is a place where silence is honored so concentration can be maximized.  Silence is golden and a gold mine for focus.

Parents provide maturity for their child until it becomes a part of their personality.  Children are not born physically mature and I, as a teacher, do not expect them to be psychologically mature.  Leading a child to mature decision making is one of the most demanding aspects of parenting.  Relating this to piano; people are creatures of habit and practicing is an acquired habit.  I’ve always recommended to parents of beginning students that the first thing to establish is the habit of daily practice.  The amount of time per day is not important as is the fact that they practice every day.  After the daily routine is established then the duration can be determined.  For preschoolers 10 minutes per day is good.  For school age children this time can be increased in 5 minute increments; 15 minutes a day to 20 minutes a day, and so on.  Another good plan is to practice twice per day.  For young beginners, most often, more can be accomplished  in two 15 minute sessions per day than in one longer 30 minute session.

A good piano parent is also involved in the extra curricular activities of piano lessons; namely, recitals and evaluations.  These are big events and if they are taken as big events your budding pianist will perceive this and adjust his perception accordingly.  When grandma and grandpa come to the recital this translates as an important family event.  If you post a picture of the recital on your Facebook Wall or send a picture of the recital to a distant relative this communicates that piano is special.  If you buy a special frame for certificates won in a special place of honor in your home this reinforces everything you’ve said about how pleased you are about your child’s music studies.  When words and actions speak congruent messages, you’ve created a powerful means of highly effective communication.

A GOOD PIANO PARENT LISTENS

When I was a young student I was fortunate to have many fans at a young age.  My parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts all complimented me on my musical accomplishments.  I wasn’t playing great music, by any means, but I could give a very mean reading of The Muffin Man after a few months of lessons.  They made me feel that I was very musical so I kept working hard to meet their expectations.  So, I cannot recommend enough to listen to your child.  When you listen sit on the chair nearest the piano and give them your full attention.  Give them expectations they will strive to reach.

I always recommend that parents sit in on the lessons of my young beginners.  Many parents sit in even through grade school.  Listen to the teacher as they instruct your child.  By listening to the teacher you will likely be able to see where the teacher is leading with their instruction.  You will then be equipped to help them in their practice.  Often in a lesson, I will take a moment and tell the parent directly the reason I am emphasizing a particular point.  This way the point doesn’t get lost.   If lessons resort to you picking  your child after the lesson and ask “How did the lesson go?” and he replies “OK” and that’s the end of it; you are really taking yourself out of the loop and eliminating the crucial parent-teacher-student triangle that is so important to maximizing the piano lesson experience.  It’s a very easy habit to get into.  This is just an encouragement ahead of time to get back on track when things get off center.

See.  Nothing I mentioned above requires one bit of musical understanding. Be a good parent. Be a good listener.  Follow these two points and you’re destined for great success in piano study.

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This blog is just getting started.  If you like the contents and know of other piano parents please let them know about this blog.  I plan to make a major part of this blog to address the questions of parents regarding piano lessons.

DO YOU HAVE A QUESTION REGARDING PIANO LESSONS?  If you do please send them to me via the comment section.  And while you’re at it — don’t forget to register to receive all updates of this blog so you won’t miss the answer to your question, or perhaps an answer to an excellent question you never thought to ask.

I also plan on using this blog for piano students to ask questions about their piano lessons and try to give them help on their studies.  I can give you a good reason as to why your piano teacher is teaching you scales, Bach, sight-reading, theory, asking you to trim your fingernails — pretty much anything.  I’ve been teaching piano since I was a teenager in the late 60’s so I think I’ve seen everything at least once.  So, if you are a piano student please register to receive updates on this blog.   Don’t be afraid to send me your questions; if you want to ask your question and remain anonymous I will honor your request.  Just ask.