-Doreen Hall is a piano teacher and piano parent. She has been teaching the piano for over 30 years and has five sons all of whom have been involved in piano and other music lessons. For more blogs written by Doreen, check out her website, www.PianoParent.net.
Before we begin the count-down, let me set a little scene. I am a piano teacher mom so we have a studio in our home. It’s a room that has my Kawai baby grand piano and all of my other music stuff. It’s where I teach all of my students. My boys also like to “practice” in the studio. Which works out just fine. I have always encouraged my boys to practice their instruments.
Well anyway, one day, one of my sons, whom I’ll call Johnny (his real name) was in the studio “practicing” his violin. I had a friend over and she was really impressed with this. “Wow! Johnny is really practicing hard” she said. “No he’s not.” I told her. “What do you mean?” she asked “I hear him, he sounds great”. “OK. Yes, he sounds great”, I told her. “He’s very talented, but he’s not practicing right now, he’s playing, but he’s not practicing” My friend turned her right palm over and raised an eyebrow as if to ask, “What’s the difference?”
Alas, what is the difference? This is a question I face almost every day. Parents will tell me their child is practicing and I believe that they are seeing their sons and daughters go to the piano and hearing them play something. But honestly, if I am not seeing progress in the students abilities, they are not practicing, or at least they’re not practicing correctly.
Why is this so important? Because incorrect practice can actually be worse than no practice at all. Spend an hour practicing wrong notes, incorrect rhythm and bad technique and what do you get? Wrong notes, incorrect rhythm and bad technique. I am only with a student for one short lesson per week so I think that it’s important for parents to be able to distinguish proper, productive practicing from other things that may be going on during practice time.
I am writing under the assumption that you have a competent teacher that you trust has your child’s best interest at heart and understands his unique abilities.
To begin, I think we should define the word practice; practice is “the repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency”. With this definition in mind, here are 10 ways you can tell when your child is not really practicing while they are at the piano.
1- The teacher tells you that your child is not practicing. This may seem like a no brainer, but if your teacher is questioning your son’s practice habits it may be time to check into what is going on in the practice room.
2-You are hearing the same piece or pieces over and over. While it’s true that practice is about repeating parts of the music until the music is learned, you shouldn’t hear your daughter playing “Carol of the Bells” over and over especially if we’re in the month of July. If you suspect this may not be what the teacher has assigned go ahead and check.
3-Your child is spending weeks and weeks on the same page in her piano book. Beginning through early intermediate students should progress through their method books fairly quickly. At the beginning, even the youngest students should be learning at least one new piece per week. Toward the end of most piano methods (about books 3 or 4) students should spend no more than three or four weeks on any particular piece. As for the intermediate through advanced crew, it is more difficult to say how long each piece should take to learn. But, by this point, students should be responsible enough to manage their own practicing.
5-The music doesn’t sound good. Too slow, full of mistakes, bad rhythm. All of these things are signs that something is not right and it’s time to find out what’s going on during practice time.
6- The music sounds more like just doodling around. This can be a tricky one, because I am all for a certain amount of doodling (or I should say improvisation). I once saw an interview with Billy Joel, where he said his mother would tell him to spend more time on Beethoven. I guess the point is, Beethoven is great but you also need some doodle time.
7-He doesn’t want to go to his lesson. It’s no fun to go to a lesson unprepared. If your child is regularly trying to get out of going to his lesson it may be because he isn’t learning what has been assigned by the teacher. I’m not talking about the occasional “off week”; Most teachers make exceptions for that. When going to the lesson becomes a problem for more than two or three weeks, it may be a practicing issue.
8- The music books are always getting lost. This falls under not wanting to go to the lesson. When my student shows up without his books odds are good that he hasn’t done much practicing.
9-He never seems to get any better. Maybe your son plays a few thing pretty well, but he never seems to progress to a higher level. You may also notice that his piano peers seem to be leaving him “in the dust”.
10- Your child wants to opt out at recital time. It’s probably not a big deal to miss a recital from time to time. But if your child is isn’t getting pieces together in time for performances he may not be practicing enough or correctly.
I hope this blog post will help parents to be more aware of what is going in the practice room. I know it isn’t easy. Practicing is super hard work and kids will sometimes come up with lots of ways to make it easier. I once had a student who would record himself playing and then just hit the playback button for 20 minutes so his mom would think he was practicing. His sister finally “ratted him out”. I had to give him an “A plus” for ingenuity.
Sometimes students may not know how they should be practicing. If there is an question, discuss it with the teacher. Teaching kids how to practice is a big part of the job. Your teacher wants to see your child succeed.
Learning piano is a long-term project. There are bound to be ups and downs in your child’s practice routine. Helping your child to stay on track can help him reach his goals and make playing the piano a lot more fun.
So what ever happened with Johnny? He actually became a Worship Leader and plays music all of the time. He is married and has three kids, now it’s his turn to get them to practice. 🙂
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It took me a loooooonnngg time to decide on a software program to use for Music SO Simple. I wanted something SIMPLE- that was my goal in everything from the starting minute- all they way down to the software. I had honestly only used one software program before, which had more cons than pros, and I definitely knew what I was looking for (there are lots of options out there!) I came across My Music Staff at the Music Teachers National Conference this past April. I stopped by the booth to learn more about the program- it was designed by a voice teacher’s husband! It checked off all of my boxes and it was super affordable. It made me think of my own husband, who is a software engineer, and my complaints about various issues I would have with a program. He would say “That’s easy to fix; I should just write a program for you!” I felt like it was a sign that this was the right program for the studio. It’s certainly not perfect, but it’s been user-friendly for the teachers and the parents. And that’s the bottom line.
So, once you have officially joined Music SO Simple, you are sent a link and password to log in. Once the parent or student has logged in, the portal allows you to:
And just so you know, my hubby hasn't heard me complain about THIS software in 4 months!! Ha!
This week I am writing about what really goes into the cost of private lessons. Some people are a bit surprised when they learn how much private lessons can cost, but there are a lot of things that must be considered when determining a rate.
First off, we look at what other teachers are charging in the same area; the price for lessons varies all across the metroplex. Rates are usually higher in affluent neighborhoods and if there is a lack of teachers in the area. If several teachers are offering the same services in one place, rates may be a bit lower to give a competitive edge.
Besides the expertise and guidance a teacher offers in the actual lesson, there is a lot of prep work that occurs before, especially when it comes to choosing repertoire. On average, I’d say it takes me anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to find two or three pieces for a student and and then play through them to see if it is a good fit. Now, multiply that time by how many students you teach (usually around 20-25 students). That’s a lot of time spent just finding pieces! Planning recitals and attending festivals that our students participate in is also extra time that is usually unpaid.
We have to tack on any administrative work that is required to keep the studio running (checking in with our families, purchasing and picking up new music and materials, billing, and marketing). Keeping up with social media accounts and blogs also takes time, but again, we think it’s important to send our families the latest research, events, and insight and to build a sense of community within the studio.
Another factor that increases a lesson rate is if the teacher travels to your home for the lesson. Obviously, this is extremely convenient for families as it is one less activity to drive to. Most traveling teachers expect their travel time to be incorporated into their rate since that time is taken out of their teaching schedule. If you are unable to take lessons at the teacher’s home/studio space or prefer to have lessons at your home, expect to pay a bit more.
Lastly, I have to mention every self-employed person’s favorite topic: taxes. Outside of paying ourselves, we also have to budget for quarterly payments. Self-employment can be a beautiful thing, but let’s face it, those taxes can take a real hit financially.
So, why be a teacher when there is all of this extra unpaid work outside of lesson time? This may sound cliche, but watching a student progress, achieve new goals, and grow as a person through music is priceless. Our goal is to provide something wonderful for the community, but also to be able to make a living, so please remember everything that happens outside of lesson time that we must account for in our rates. We feel that our prices reflect the high quality of our teaching, but we still remain accessible to families in our area.
We are so excited to see so many bright and eager young beginners. We know that you must have many questions as to what this year will bring. This is to provide you with some information about what to expect and maybe a few words of wisdom...
How much practice is required? This depends on how well your child practices, but as a general rule, try to aim for 5 days a week. If you can help your child practice, that’s ideal.. It is especially helpful to practice with them the first couple of days after they get their assignment; after that, they can probably practice on their own, perhaps within earshot.
At first your child will probably be practicing 5-10 minutes a day. I always say: "Practice
each piece 3 times in a row. Then go on to the next piece." The pieces are short. Often we
will encourage kids to count or chant rhythm on "ta" while they play or before singing, which helps with rhythmic accuracy. For piano, singing the words while playing may help some students. We ask that our students reread their assignments when they practice, and to mark their practice log since it is the only visible thing the teacher has to go on. (You will need to help them do this at first.) We give small rewards based on good practice habits and progress. Try to include practice with their daily routine: perhaps find a similar time each day. Treat it like "homework" (in a sense that it is necessary and not an option), only it's more fun!
We have two recitals in December and May, and your teacher will be in touch with you about these. There will be much preparation ahead of time during lessons, and it is a great opportunity for students to showcase their hard work and gain self-esteem.
Can lessons be made up? Music SO Simple has a 24-hour cancellation policy. Certainly, if your teacher has to cancel, the lesson will be made up. If you know your child is going to be absent, please let us know as soon as possible, and we will try our best to reschedule at a mutually convenient time. We appreciate close communication with our parents, as it will only make your child more successful. Feel free to call, email, or text anytime. You will receive a Music SO Simple weekly newsletter that will feature our “Students of the Week”, and a monthly newsletter with upcoming events via email. .Also you should "like" us on Facebook to see student achievements and news.
Can/should you sit in on lessons? This is up to you and your teacher. Parents are welcome to sit in on private lessons at any time, and it may be helpful to attend so that you are able to help your child practice correctly at home.
How long does it take to know if private lessons are the right thing for my child? We know that if you say "we're just going to TRY this to see if you like it", there will quickly come a time when your child says "I DON'T WANT TO PRACTICE! I WANT TO QUIT!". We recommend that either your child take lessons through 6th grade if he/she started early,, or for 3 years, -something long term without an easy out. We think that piano is a great instrument to begin on (and continue on), but after 3 years, they will have enough general knowledge of music that they will be equipped to pursue any other instrument they wish!
What happens if they lose interest? Don't panic! Discuss the situation with your child and talk to your teacher to see what might can be done to rekindle their enthusiasm. Give them increased encouragement and support. Frustration typically sets in when they are not practicing enough, and that happens to everyone from time to time. Remind yourself that the habits of self-discipline that are learned in music study carry over into other areas of life. Your child is developing the confidence to master difficult tasks and to pursue challenging goals!
Hopefully, you have found this information useful. If you have any more questions, please
don’t hesitate to call or email us. If you would like to come in and talk in person, that would be fine!
Learning an instrument is such a lifelong gift. Thank you for making it a priority!
It's gonna be a great year!
Stathia & Meredith
Paige Kelley was a piano student of mine for 11 years, and she wrote this essay as part of her application to Vanderbilt University. She is now a senior in college and still plays piano for enjoyment. She has such a special place in my heart as my first piano student to graduate from high school! It's wonderful to know that the teacher-student relationship os two-fold!
"Sitting at the piano, I squint at the sheet music in front of me. Frustrated, I continue to stumble through the next measure of the piece. I cringe. Something about the previous chord was not right. I slump, filled with chagrin. My piano teacher’s voice rings in my ear, “Not perfect yet. Try again.” Once again, I remind myself of the five flats in the key signature of “Clair de Lune” - B,E,A,D, and G. The thought of mastering this piece makes me want to bang my head against the white ivory keys looming in front of me, but I know that my teacher, Ms. Stathia, will lead me through the intimidating jumble of music in my Classics book. She is my guiding light - in many ways other than music instruction. Lessons learned from her, through the key of D-flat, are lifelong and everlasting.
B – Blunt. Occasionally, an overwhelming amount of schoolwork hinders me from coming to a lesson well prepared. Although I may try to convince my teacher that I managed to practice, she can tell when I haven’t met my expectations. She is not afraid to let me know when my performance is sub-par. However, my teacher is also able to commend me when my discipline has paid off to transform a sheet of music into a piece of art. Her honesty has taught me to never expect any more – or less – than my dedication deserves.
E – Encouraging. Performing in recitals has always given me the worst case of nerves. Despite my unfailing commitment and countless hours of practice, trembling hands can reduce my flawless production into something lackluster. At every recital, she sits besides the stage to mentally prepare me before I walk into the spotlight. Disregarding the times I have frozen in the middle of a piece and skipped to the final measures during a performance, she has never relinquished the hope that I have the ability to astound the audience with my artistic capabilities. Whenever I doubt myself, I can turn to her consolation and fortitude.
A – Avid. My teacher’s passion for the piano proliferates every minute that I spend with her. It’s evident that she teaches children the beauty of music because she treasures the impact that it can make. Without hesitation, she will lower the tuition fee for a student from a struggling family. She will meet for a lesson at 7:00 on a Saturday morning or 11:00 on a Wednesday night. Regardless of the circumstance, she continuously stretches herself for the absolute wellbeing of those whom she teaches, influencing me to do the same.
D – Delightful. Although my study of piano requires focus, the first ten minutes of my lessons are generally filled with light conversation. I look forward to sharing my week’s highs and lows with my teacher, as she proves to be a source of advice. Unlike the stereotypical piano instructor, she is understanding and easygoing, serving as an outlet for my venting. Because of her charming disposition, she makes every moment we share enjoyable as well as constructive.
G – Greek. Both my teacher’s mother and father were born and raised in Greece, and her roots are evident even in her name – Efstathia Dimoulakis. Throughout the eleven years that she has served as my mentor and instructor, I have enjoyed learning about the various cultural characteristics of Mediterranean tradition. Not only have I been exposed to the customs of her country, but I’ve also experienced first-hand the characteristics of the typical Greek. She is vivacious and lives every moment as if it may be her last. She is faithful and hospitable, treating me as if I were not her student, but instead a member of her family.
My time with my instructor has been a learning experience for the both of us. As heart rendering as it is to conclude my study of the piano, I will continue to carry the lessons that she has taught me as I embark on my journey of adulthood. As I face future disappointments, I will be reminded of my mastery of the five flats in “Clair de Lune” and my piano teacher, who lead me every step of the way, so that I can persevere and live the life I dream. B, E, A, D, and G."