Friday, January 27, 2012

More Pattern Recognition

   My First Piano Adventures students need pattern recognition drill and it is helping them immensely. I thought about this process before and lately I have been hiding little slips of paper around the room with note patterns on them.

    For the first three minutes of the lesson I play a pattern on the piano, they look at me playing it and I ask them to tell me the notes. Then they look around the room and find that pattern on a paper.

When they bring it back to the piano we play it to check if they have the right one. It works well and this starts us out on a the right path to playing their assigned pieces.

I have a small box with patterns on the piano, ready to go when I meet their smiling faces. Hurray for chunking music patterns.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tambourine Party

  Group Lessons are around the corner in February. I am having a Tambourine Party for my First Piano Adventures students.

  All the students have played this song and could accompany us as we sing it. So here is the agenda.

Title: Tambourine Party
M.C:Tap, who loves rhythm

Goal: Explore 3/4 and 4/4 Time Signature
          Use rhythm instruments to keep a steady beat
          Review the patterns we have been highlighting
          Let everyone play a piece for each other
          Share cheese sticks bread sticks for a snack

   Sing Tambourine Party with student accompaniment
   Bring out the instrument Box

   Substitute instrument sounds for the words of the instruments within the song
   Assign places on the floor to make a line of music
   Give each student an envelop with paper notes
   You can find these rhythm blocks here.
   Make four measures in 3/4 time then everyone taps that measure with sticks

Do the same with four measures of 4/4 time
Take out the "chunks" of notes we have been reviewing and play "Guess the Pattern"
  (One student plays one of these patterns on the piano and the other students look, listen, and guess.)

Invited: 7 students who are in My First Piano Adventures
It should be fun!!!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

One Arrow At a Time

  No lessons again for the third day due to extreme weather. I predict some of us will lose power sometime in the next 24 hours. That acoustic piano may be the only music we hear for a while.

      School closures give you some extra time to play your instrument.
     When you find yourself at the piano with your child, you as a parent can see ways they could improve.
   "Suzy, you must sit up straight. And remember to curve your hand, so that the thumb is in position. Now, play it again and even out your rhythm. Oh,oh, you missed a note."
   Too much. Your child can only pay attention to one thing at a time. They will get frustrated and soon your practice relationship is in crisis mode. So, "only shoot one arrow at a time". Take a few minutes and listen, find something that is working well, comment on that and then take aim carefully. Shoot your arrow and keep your eyes on that target.
     If you do not see exactly what direction to give, it is a good idea to buy yourself some time. Go to the thing which you observed and ask to see that again because it was well done. The second time through you may hear some issues resolve themselves. That is your child learning by practice. Be sure to point out the corrections she made so that she hears about how she is learning. Learning to be tactful and patient are the best arrows in your quiver.
   I hope for better weather next week. See you back then.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The In and Out Game

  This is the first post in a series entitled "Why Should I Play It Again?" As teachers we all know that children, and adults for that matter, don't always want to play a piece again. They know we are going to try to fix something and it will mean re-learning. I have a game which I suggest before I say anything else.
   "Let's play the in-out game. You play the first line and then you jump out of playing and I come in right where you left off. On the third line you jump back in and play. We will continue this way through the whole piece. The object of the game is to make the piece sound like only one person is playing. Follow the music carefully and prepare to jump in."

This game often fixes irregular rhythm, wrong notes, and incorrect phrasing. I am spared the explanation of what is going wrong and we both have fun playing. I always play it again so that we play the alternative lines as well. Do you do any games with the object of playing the piece again?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How To Be As a Parent at the Piano

   There is no more important asset to your child's success at the piano then you.  But how should you be with them? Let me draw on my experience as a child, as a parent, and as a teacher.
  My mother really wanted me to learn to play the piano. We were immigrants from Germany and buying a used piano was a real sacrifice. She was strict and relentless in her pursuit of my practicing time. One of the best things she offered me is her sincere interest in the music I was playing. I swear she could hum all the tunes. In fact, she started learning to play herself from my beginning books. The music I played was appreciated and heard.
   Lesson No.1- Become a good audience for your child. Don't send them into the trenches alone. You don't have to talk, just listen.

   I made some mistakes as a parent helping my daughter take violin lessons. She was just so slow at getting out her violin, putting rosin on her bow, tuning up, I showed my exasperation by rushing her. My goal was getting 30 minutes of practice in and I couldn't see just how reluctant she was to get into the mode of playing.
   Lesson No. 2- See the getting ready to practice as important and appreciate the change of mental attitude that accompanies the process.
   "Now focus your attention!", is a phrase I have thrown in the trash. Children don't get that statement. Does it mean look really hard? Does it mean tense up my neck? I look at my students and observe what they look like when they are fully engaged. It is marvelous to see a relaxed and intent child playing and listening. What do they sound like when they are in that mode? Watch and listen to find uplifting comments to gift to them.
   "When you sit up so tall and regal you look like a king at the piano." "That first line sounds so smooth and relaxed." "I like how your eyes look ahead at the music just like a detective." "Your pinky finger is resting so lightly on the white keys. It must be getting stronger."
    Lesson No. 3- If you expect to give your child direction, give honey first. Watch and listen to them to discover what they do well.
   More tips for parents to come, stay tuned please and boy, I would love some comments.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The "Land of Easier"

  I just finished the best piano lesson for D. in his whole life. "That was so fun and it was easy!"
  We were in the Land of Easier for the whole 30 minutes. What happened to make it so good?
1) He let me into his heart today
2) We prepared the patterns for his new songs by reviewing songs he loved and played well.
3) The new songs had a great physical feeling with repeating thirds on C and E
  As you practice with your child these same components can bring you into the Land of Easier.
1) Bring an open heart to the task and invite your child to open up with that same good vibe.
2) Don't jump in with "the task at hand", but allow your child to shine in your eyes by playing pieces he knows and feels good about.
3) Talk about his new piece and get feedback about what he remembers from the lesson. A new piece is daunting. Most of the time lack of confidence sets in just before they look to see how to start. Let them think about the first note for each hand. Give them time to look ahead in the music to see what happens in the first line. Take it SLOW. Marvel at how they decode and move ahead. Did they only play 1 line? Celebrate!
  Leave the task just before it gets frustrating.
I will give more tips in upcoming posts. Do you have a comment? Leave some feedback below.

Monday, January 2, 2012

What Is Your Child Practicing This Week?

     For a while in these posts I want to pursue the "Land of Easier". Making practice time easier at home would make piano so much more productive and pleasant.  In the last post I covered three ideas which seem worthwhile for all parents. Let's look at the third idea and start on the ground level. Prepare yourself to try new ways to infuse your practice time with your child with more calm and help them enter the "Land of Easier". Wouldn't it be great if you, as a parent, had a magic wand to make hard things easy? It is time you told your child that you really don't have a magic wand. But, you can make things easier.
       If your child is under eight they need you to be there when they practice. You, as the parent, need to know what their assignment is for the week. That means if you weren't there at the lesson it would be really important to sit down the evening of the lesson and talk about what is expected for the week. If you wait more than 24 hours your child will remember very little of what happened at the lesson. That will make practicing hard. The parent knowing the assignment for the week is important for all ages. This allows you to listen from afar and know if progress is happening. Look at the assignment book together. Ask questions which allow your child to recall. You don't need to be pushy, this experience is for recall. This will work even if you were at the lesson. You can learn what your child remembers and compare it to your memory, mentally. You have heard this before, it is not new, but it doesn't always happen and trust me, if you start with this step again, practicing will be easier. 
   Stay tuned for more steps to making practice easier.