I was recently inspired to write about this topic from a parent whose child is extremely gifted in music composition and chord recognition...even before they started learning how to play the piano. This kind of knowledge of music is something I never understood. At least, I didn’t just know how to play chords or understand how music worked. I only knew what was taught to me. It wasn’t until much later, during college, that I truly understood the music I was playing. Now that I’m a teacher, I understand more and more every day that these skills come to everyone at a different time.
Now for me, taking lessons was easy. Simple really. You put a song in front of you, you decode each note, and voila! Sight-Reading is definitely my forte, and I love a challenge. I was never much on creating music, I just enjoyed challenging myself to perfect the next piece and make it absolutely beautiful.
Sight-Reading is my gift, but I’ve had students gifted with perfect pitch and their knowledge of how music works. It’s incredible what these kids can do! What amazes me is that they almost never go hand in hand. The sight readers like myself, have to be taught how to make chords and how to compose music. Those with perfect pitch have to be taught how to read music and how music works. Those who understand how music is formed, have to be taught how to read music. And we all struggle with what needs to be taught because it’s human nature to use the gifts that come natural to us.
We all know what it’s like to struggle. It can be hard to persevere and continue on. It can be hard to love what you’re doing. You might want to quit, and before you know it you miss out on how much your gift has to offer. So how do we foster the students who enjoy making their own music without skipping all of the fine details that will perfect these traits?
The key is to understand that everyone is different. Everyone is going to love and dislike different things. Whether you understand it or not, as a teacher that is not for you to decide. Instead you have to use and adapt to each student's strength to develop the parts of their education that may be lacking. What I've noticed is when you fight students on what they love, they tend to rebel. But isn't that something we all do?
So, my advice to working with students that don't share the same ideology as you is to take it head on. Don't assume anything, empathize and do your best to understand their way of thinking or why they might be avoiding certain tasks or assignments. Ask questions and experiment with different tasks. It's okay if you struggle understanding a student, or if you don't exactly know where to begin. The point is to try. If you have a student who loves to compose, ask them to play something they made up. Ask them if they would like to record it, play it for recital, or write it down. If you have a student who likes to use chords, see if they would like to add chords to their current lesson book songs or write their own songs using chords. If they like to sight read, pull out a software or app such as Staff Wars, Music Ace, or Home Concert. There are tools out there for every type of learner, you just have to jump out of your comfort zone a little to help your little ones utilize the talents they love! The most important thing I ask you take away from this blog is to not neglect what students must know in order to further their education. In other words, don't neglect parts of a subject because a student doesn't seem to be understanding the material. More on specific books, assignments, games, and exercises later (:
A common misconception I've noticed while teaching these last few years revolves around confidence. Confidence is a key factor when learning how to play an instrument and, depending on the student, if taught incorrectly could hinder their progress. This is partly why we center our lessons around independent learning.
We've found that some teachers and parents like to give their child or student the answers while helping learn a new song. Although giving answers can sometimes be unavoidable, it is crucial that you don't do this too often. When students are give the chance to explore and ask questions to help them further their knowledge or come to conclusions on their own, they gain the confidence because THEY did the work. The students who are consistently given the answers while practicing at home or during lessons, are the students that struggle with starting a new piece or after playing each note, ask if it's correct.
We know it's hard to see our children struggle, but it's important to remember that with struggle comes perseverance and triumph. In other words, struggle doesn't always have a bad outcome if you approach it in the right way. When a student may not know the answer, you must guide them towards the answer rather than giving it to them right away.
Learning an instrument is more than performing and knowing how to play a song or two. It's about all the little things in between--reading your notes correctly, dynamics, rhythm, articulation, etc..
This post goes out to my fellow teachers who run a small private Music Studio. If it's one thing I've learned since teaching, people love routine and organization. If you are constantly changing your schedule or cancelling and rescheduling lessons, you may find yourself struggling to keep students. Keep in mind that your parents & students already have a hectic schedule juggling jobs, school, family, a home, and after school activities. They crave a routine and when you provide that sense of organization, you build on so much more--making your business more dependable.
Same thing goes for your classroom. When you stay organized and your students know/understand the routine, your classes will run efficiently. I found these amazing dry erase sleeves at Walmart and they have transformed the way my classrooms run! I've found that kids LOVE to check off once they have completed a task. I've also noticed that when students set their own goals, they are more willing to put in the effort to achieve them (:
I'm going into this blog with an open mind as I do not have any children of my own...this is just a thought I had based off of personal experiences. We have many parents and students who come to us and say something along the lines of: we need to take a break, it's just too much right now. We completely understand how hard it is to maintain a routine when you have a lot going on. Especially with school and other extra curricular activities.
When I'm approached with statements such as this one, I have so many questions. And the questions arise in my brain because I know what it's like to stay busy every single day. Growing up, Monday-Friday my schedule looked a little like this: Wake-up 5 am, 5:30 am swim practice, 7 am breakfast (in the car), 7:30 am go to school, 2:50 pm leave school, 3:30 pm ANOTHER swim practice, 6 pm go home eat dinner, 7 pm homework & practice piano/violin/viola, 10 PM sleep and then wake up the next day at 5 am to do it all over again.
Now, I know everyone is different and we all can't handle the same schedules but the direction I think I'm going in is that it was the best thing my parents did for me. Now that I'm an adult, maintaining that busy routine and working my butt off really paid off for what the real world has shown me so far. It wasn't easy, but I'm so glad I stayed active. It taught me how to manage time, how to get things done, how to focus. Not only that, school was stressful...I loved it, don't get me wrong, but I would much rather have swum and played instruments all day long -- swimming and music didn't stress me out. If anything, they were outlets to relieve stress. I know I'm a bit biased. I do run a Music Business and I would love to have all the students in the world. BUT, don't strip away extra curricular activities when stress seems to rule your world. They actually might be helping you out more than you know (:
We know a lot of families postpone joining a music program during the summer. There are vacations to work around, swim team, and let's face it....school's out and we're all looking forward to that break. Plus, music lessons are hard work, right? And, who wants to have to nag their kids to practice all summer? Surely, that kind of commitment and discipline can wait until school starts. Summer is for....wait for it...PLAYING! Hmmmmm?
The best reason for music in the summer is...music is PLAY! That's right -- it's "playing". At The Music Studio, the required practice takes place during the lesson. What we want students to do at home is play, create, explore, and have fun! Gone are the days of having to beg your child to practice. Instead, ask them to give you a performance at home (kids love to show Mom and Dad what they can do!).
And, playing gets results. Here's some proof of what happens when kids have time to simply enjoy and have fun with their music. This is our student, Emma...she plays for fun and relaxation (but you'd never know it!). No one has to remind her to practice...but lots of people ask her to play:
What most people don't know (this is 35 years of business and teaching experience talking here) is that Summer is actually the absolute best and most strategic time for music!
Could a forgotten, centuries-old "one-room schoolhouse" teaching method hold the key to unlocking natural musical ability?
When it comes to music teaching, we wish we could turn back time! Could a forgotten, centuries-old "one-room schoolhouse" teaching model hold the key to unlocking natural musical ability? Let's take a look at what happens (and doesn't happen) during today's modern private lessons.
Nothing against our childhood music lessons (I dearly loved my piano teacher, and modeled my first 20 years of music teaching after her). But, after decades of teaching the usual 30-minute weekly lessons, we've made a discovery: the private lesson is BACKWARD!
If you've ever experienced private lessons, they were most likely 30 minutes once a week (mine were, too). Between lessons, on your own, is when you were expected to make the real progress - to remember what was taught/fixed during the lesson, make improvements, memorize stuff, drill on exercises and scales. Then, at the next lesson, the pressure was on to present all that...perfectly...then grab the next assignments. Your teacher sat next to you, ever at the ready to correct mistakes (sometimes before you even made them!). There's a problem with these "traditional" private lessons, and it puts music learners at a huge disadvantage, without even realizing it. Let's examine some serious and obvious flaws with that model...and how to fix them!
Flaws with the traditional private 30-minute weekly lesson:
LESSONS ARE TOO SHORT
Thirty minutes is simply not enough time to cover everything necessary to make fast musical progress, or to allow students to make a true physical connection to music (at any age!). It might be, if perhaps a student consistently showed up to each lesson ready to play the assigned songs at tempo perfectly, completed all exercises flawlessly, took initiative to work on sight reading new songs during the week, correctly completed pages in their theory workbook, memorized the upcoming recital song. More likely, the student practiced something incorrectly that will then need to be fixed (there goes the rest of the lesson time), ran into struggles and didn't practice everything, forgot about the sight reading, left the theory workbook at home, or didn't practice at all (the lesson is then spent repeating everything from the previous lesson).
You remember your childhood lessons, right?...and feeling like you were on the hot seat, breathing a sigh of relief when it was over. There's a bit of pressure on students during a 30-minute private lesson, with the teacher right beside the whole time, watching your every move and at-the-ready to provide corrections. What the student practiced (or didn't) during the previous week is about to be closely examined and critiqued for mistakes. Personally, I recall being so nervous during my childhood piano lessons that most of what my teacher said was white noise. Nerves during a lesson can severely inhibit students from truly absorbing new information and making a deeper connection and understanding of their music.
Unfortunately, unless you happen to be the child of a piano teacher, all practice during the week (if there is any) goes unsupervised and unchecked by the teacher. Even the most dedicated practicers work in mistakes and poor habits that need to be "un-practiced" at the next lesson. Another common occurrence is that students may not realize how much time should be spent practicing, and will simply skim through playing their songs rather than mastering them.
LACK OF MASTERY
In traditional 30-minute lessons, the bulk of the lesson time is spent either fixing mistakes or introducing new concepts and music. There is little remaining time for the student to play repeatedly and to truly absorb something new. Repetition and mastery of songs is expected to be done during home practice, and the student is left to decide where that barre is.
LITTLE OR NO SIGHT READING
With little or no time during a lesson to practice sight reading (sight reading is the skill of being able to play through a new piece of music almost perfectly without having practiced it beforehand), this skill is often neglected and very underdeveloped in most students. As sight reading becomes more challenging, it's not likely students will put it in their Top Five list of things to work on during the week.
LITTLE OR NO PERFORMING
We're not talking about actual formal "performances" here, like recitals or competitions. We mean there is little or no playing in front of people (friends, family, other students). Students might eventually get used to playing comfortably in front of their teacher, but any other playing/practicing is probably done in solitude. Performing and learning to be comfortable playing for others is a skill rarely practiced (no wonder recitals can be such nerve inducing events).
POTENTIAL FOR A WEAK FOUNDATION
When you're building something -- a house, a bridge, anything -- where do you start? How do you build it so it stays in place, doesn't shift or fall so that you can finish the project without endlessly starting over? By putting down a solid FOUNDATION. Without it, music lessons are like constructing a building on quicksand...and a waste of your time. You will still learn some skills along the way, but you're in danger of the slightest "earthquake" setting you back, making you feel like you're not getting any better, or that you can't be as good as the "talented" students. If the weekly lesson format and length simply don't allow time for a student to comfortably absorb basic skills and concepts, it's likely those skills will never become "natural".
So, what's the solution?...and the secret to amazing progress, and becoming a great musician? How do we build a solid foundation?
The solution (and the secret to getting really, really good) is in a lesson design and restructure that addresses the issues of lesson length, nerves, unsupervised practice, lack of mastery, under-developed sight reading skills, under-developed performance skills and anxiety, independence....that allows students to subconsciously and innately absorb music, and master those foundation skills - DURING THE LESSON! At The Music Studio, we've essentially taken a cue from the one-room schoolhouses of days past, and created a lesson structure where students learn and work within the same classroom (quietly, of course, with headphones), practice independently and confidently at their perfect pace, and on their own personalized lesson plan. Furthermore, we want PARENTS to feel that sense of "Lesson Success". We want to make sure students have conquered any musical and technical issues during their lesson so playing at home is actually FUN -- never a chore, and never a battle. And, that they feel confident showing off - performing - what they can play.
How do we know this works?
What we notice the most with our lesson program is that students move easily and quickly through their lesson books -- twice as fast as they would with traditional private lessons (we have the book orders to prove it). Student outlook has changed, as well. They look forward to their lessons (parents tell us), and are confident warming up on their own when they arrive. In private lesson days, if we had said to our students they should learn their next song within an hour, they would have looked at us with despair. Now, they come to lessons knowing they'll master many new songs (with time left over to review old ones) before they leave.
We hope you'll check out more of our articles here....and be sure to visit the rest of our website!
This Newsletter just had to be long! I've had the realization that absolutely everyone at our studio has the WOW factor.
One Tuesday night, every student that had a lesson from 7:30-8:30 PM had a conflict. Honestly, I think there was some sort off telepathic conversation taking place because...WHAT A DAY! You know those days where every possible thing had gone wrong? Or you think to yourself, wow I really didn't do my best today. In our case, it was teach our best. Anyway, during that hour lesson where no one showed, our little teacher meeting started as a vent session but soon enough, the positives started pouring out. We realized that although we had a bad day, when we started looking at the big picture, everything else seemed perfect. And I mean that literally. Bad days tend to consume us, everyone in fact. It is true when they say you are more likely to talk of a bad experience than a good one because it's something you need to talk about to make yourself feel better. The only difference with this, is that once we started listing the ways we were going to adapt or fix what we thought needed fixing, we realized how small the problem was.
I know we thank all of you in almost every newsletter--our teachers, students, parents--but sometimes I don't think we say it enough. After this one conversation we realized how far this studio, as a whole, has come. And this is including ALL of the obstacles we have had to face during a time where we just don't know what's going to happen from one day to the next. It's a scary time. And some how through all of it we have had SO MANY accomplishments and we want you to hear about them. Bare with me as it might take me a while to get to those WOW factors we have seen throughout the year but IT IS WORTH IT THOUGH. I promise.
So taking it back to our February Newsletter, I wrote a blog in reference to quitting because of a bad day. The advice given was simply when you have a bad day, don't quit. Finish what you start, move forward, sleep on it, and if you don't feel differently in the morning it can be discussed further. I received a lot of feedback from this post and I'm not going to lie, it felt amazing to know that you all are reading what I have to write about. One email, in particular, provided an article and Ted Talk that really connect with the article I had written (I'll reference the links below). These references are of Angela Duckworth, a psychologist from University of Pennsylvania, including her experience with piano and what it takes to be good at what you do. She speaks of practice, developing grit, and the incredible impact of sticking with an activity can have on your life. (cont. pg 4)
So, in regard to grit and practice efforts, it is mentioned that in order to truly love what you are doing, you have to put in the effort first. Take Michael Phelps for instance. He didn't make it to the Olympics and become the most decorated athlete in history swimming one lap and simply leaving the pool. No, he instead did more than swim a lap. He did more than swim 100 laps. He dug deep into the psychology, the technique, anything he needed to dive into (haha get it) to become what he is known for today. Granted, we all don't have the genetic gene pool to be a Michael Phelps, however, that is besides the point. There are plenty of other swimmers out there that were told wouldn't make it, and did. This is just one example! What I mean to say is that not everyone understands what it takes to become a great musician. And I'm not even talking about the best of the best, I'm simply talking about succeeding and becoming proficient. What Michael Phelps did, what many other athletes, musicians, those who succeed at what they do, is practice. Really think about it, are you really going to love what you're doing if you do it for 5 minutes a day? Are you really going to love it if you don't put forth effort? When you put forth effort and enjoy the outcome that hard work as given you, you become proud of yourself, giving you the satisfaction and self love that you need in order to enjoy what you are doing. In other words, the outcome doesn't pay off when you aren't truly digging deeper into what you are working on or perfecting.
What exactly does it mean to put in effort? Back to my Michael Phelps example, I had stated he did more than swim laps in the pool. He dug into the physical and mental psychology of the sport. He looked and studied at every inch of his race, stroke, technique, and probably more. Much more than that, he pushed passed the physical and mental pain that sometimes tells us we just can't do it anymore. He pushed these limits EVERY. DAY. As I said, this example is a little bit of a stretch. But when you think about it, you can't just simply play piano every day to be good at it. What we do during lessons, is we provide the support and the opportunity to practice and I mean, REALLY practice.....including your knowledge of music theory, vocabulary definitions, reading your notes, reviewing older pieces and more. The practice techniques learned during lessons are then transferred to at home practice.
Don't worry everyone, we have finally come full circle from where I started this blog. Thanks for hanging in! What comes out of this teaching method (Advanced Program) we started a year ago, is a love for music not solely because our students loved it to begin with but because they are putting in the effort, they are learning, progressing, and advancing faster than we have ever seen from such a large population of students. And the best part is they enjoy it AND appreciate the outcome that they are truly good and gifted at what they do.
To summarize, this year has been nothing we ever imagined in our lifetime, but our students are really helping our Studio shine. For the first time in The Music Studio's history, we need Level 4 and beyond music books fully stocked. Before switching to this Advanced format, we specifically needed and abundance of Primer and Level 1 books. They say it takes the average student 6 months to finish a lesson book, our average is 4 months (that's 12-16 lessons)! I see students playing pieces I would have never dreamed of performing at their age. And the best part? The discipline, motivation, independence, and team building skills they are developing are an endless supply of growth needed to benefit them in the future, in everything they do in life.
I started listening to motivational podcasts a little before the Holiday. One podcast in particular includes a segment on "what is the best advice you have been given?" There is one piece of advice I found extremely powerful and I wanted to share it with all of you!
One of my favorite Olympic Gymnasts, Nastia Liukin, happened to be guest starring on one of the episodes and said that one day, in the midst of training, she had wanted to quit. Her coach (and father) told her something along the lines of, not today. Finish practice strong, sleep on it. And if tomorrow you wake up and still want to quit, then we can discuss it.
I found this statement spoke to me in more ways than one. First, because there have been SO many times throughout my life I have wanted to quit. Whether it was a sport of music, there were many times I wanted to quit but never looked at the deeper reasoning of why. And second, because I see too many students who have such a natural talent and genuine love for music suddenly stop taking lessons/playing.
When I think of all the swim practices I left feeling defeated, the music lessons where I just thought I wasn't good enough, or the competitions I lost of didn't do my best. Those are the times I wanted to quit. All because of a "bad day". Fortunately enough for me, whether my parents knew it or not, I think they lived by the advice I shared above. It's not that they wouldn't let me quit, it's that they didn't want me quitting so irrationally. They could see that the temporary disappointment wasn't because I didn't love what I was doing. They saw it for what it was, a bad day.
I think this way of thinking should be encouraged--not only to students, but parents. Your child might have an "off" lesson and come home wanted to quit. This happens, and sometimes it is in fact because they don't enjoy it. That is completely fine! Not everyone is going to love what they're signed up for. However, it may be worth saying, "Not today. Give yourself time to think about it or to decide after a good night's sleep."
Throughout your lessons at The Music Studio, you will hear time and time again from all of your teachers, that when you practice at home be sure to review/practice old pieces, as well as new ones.
The best way to explain why review is very important? SONGS ARE LIKE FRIENDS. Sure new friends come along from time to time, but it's important to check on the friends you've had for years. The friends you have kept longer, you know better and can build a deeper relationship with. As for your new friends, you are just getting to know them and can use your current friendships to build your new ones even further.
All in all, it's a good idea to keep those old pieces around. After all, they are all apart of the musician/person you are today (:
Before I begin this article, please understand that in no way am I saying the piano is easier than any other instrument. Truthfully, it is one of the hardest: you have to be able to decode the notes of 2 clefs (as opposed to 1_ and use both hands that play different notes, rhythms, and keys at the same time....eventually, you'll have to throw in your feet to push down and up the pedals that lay underneath your keyboard. Although, this may be difficult, learning the piano encompasses the discipline, muscle memory, hand-eye (and foot) coordination, and cognitive thinking needed to play other instruments. In other words, you develop a plethora of musical knowledge that makes other instruments seem simplified.
Don't get me wrong, any instrument you learn whether it's piano, saxophone, cello, voice, guitar, etc. will be difficult at first. Getting used to a knew sound, holding an instrument differently, and the muscles needed for certain instruments all take some getting used to. The key component is your knowledge of the Music Theory and Ear Training you receive from learning how to play the piano.
In all, we always recommend learning the piano first before any other instrument. Our students that know how to play piano before starting other instruments tend to progress at a faster pace than those who do not. Before you know it, those students have two (sometimes more) instruments up their sleeves!
Your teachers here at The Music Studio want to share their insight on our Music Lessons and provide the tips and tricks needed for a successful music education!