Archive | September 2016

Note Reading Reinforcement: Identifying Correct Intervals and Octaves


Two challenges I’ve noticed students can have while playing piano are playing correct intervals and matching a note to the correct octave’s hand placement.

Identifying correct intervals:

Why is this a difficulty?

I believe sometimes it’s due to poor quality of sheet music or even students’ eyesight (perhaps some students could use a pair of reading glasses. At times students just need to pay good attention to the music by keeping focused and also by listening to themselves as they play. Often students think of notes individually without reading ahead or finding the relationships between notes and this can make playing correct melodies more difficult than needed.

What are some remedies?

Intervalic reading! Train students to almost subconsciously know the distances between notes. For example, an interval of a 2nd goes from a line to a space or a space to a line. One possible activity is to show a student 2 identical bass clef F notes and ask, “does the second note go up, down or stay the same?” Then find F and G flashcards and ask the same question, pointing out that in the first example the notes stayed on the same line while in the second example the first note is on a line but the second note moves up to the next space. Also, drilling the “anchor notes,” notes that students can use as their reference points such as G in the treble clef and F in the bass clef, is very helpful. If students are playing notes that are close but not quite what’s written, have them look at the slope of the music. Is it going down, up or does it curve? What intervals are within the music’s slope (remember to notice the lines and spaces!)? Is it mostly steps or skips? Are the notes written close to “anchor notes”? If so, how close? With both study and paying close attention students will improve by becoming more familiar with intervals and intervalic reading.

Playing in the Correct Octave:

Why is this a difficulty?

I believe sometimes it’s lack of familiarity with the teacher’s studio keyboard. Or maybe students struggle to find their starting notes before playing a piece because they are nervous or haven’t practiced as much as was needed. Students also tend to be familiar with a certain range of notes (usually close to middle C) or 5-finger positions (such as C and G) but when their pieces move out of their comfort zone they are unsure where to put their hands!

What are some remedies?

Do sight reading activities or repertoire pieces that are “outside of the box” with different starting notes and hand positions than students are used to. Also, use the whole keyboard. One way to do this is using lead sheets. Lead sheets are so flexible and students can play their left hand in broken arpeggios or in octaves down in the low range of the keyboard. They can also play the melody in octaves. Even though these lead sheet suggestions don’t require reading the higher or lower notes specifically, students can at least become more familiar with the keyboard as a whole.

When a student comes to a piece where he\she needs to read and play specific notes, however (such as the D above treble C), ask them, “which C is the D closest to, middle C, treble C or bass C?” Identifying middle, treble and bass C is important for confident playing. If students see an 8va or 15ma symbol and is unsure where to play, make sure they know note that’s written before the extra symbol was added and THEN have them move up or down. I find that usually when students are confused which octave to start in, they can often tell me the note but it’s more a matter of hand placement they are struggling with. Get familiar with the keyboard and with the various C’s as they are written in sheet music.

Reading notes better is important. It gives us greater freedom to enjoy music. Diligence and being grounded in the basics will yield encouraging results.

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Teaching Piano to Children Vs. Teaching Adults

I’ve taught piano lessons to both adults and children and decided to post a few similarities and differences that I’ve found.


Teaching Piano to Children Vs. Teaching Adults

Lessons with Children:

  • Simple instructions! Rather than talking theoretically focus more on practical, easily achievable instructions such as, “please play middle C” or “please clap this rhythm.” use concrete analogies.
  • Make lots of music playing time. Keep the talking minimum and kinesthetic action to a maximum.
  • Teacher and parental decisions direct lessons. The parents are the ones paying for the lessons so follow their wishes as much as possible. Also, children need direction so the teacher must espeically guide young students.
  • Play lots of music games! Make sure the games teach a musical concept but try to find fun ones as lesson fillers.
  • Use an engaging method book. This varies according to a student’s age and ability. Find the one that works best for individual needs.

Teaching Piano to Children Vs. Teaching Adults

Lessons with Adults:

  • Students make most decisions. As adults they are making a conscious decision to pay for and attend lessons so be attentive to their wishes.
  • Allow for busy schedules. Most adults already have quite full lives so keep this in mind while teaching.
  • Explain the “why.” Adults tend to want to learn theory. They need to play a lot as well but making connections between theory and application will help them as they study.
  • Be patient if student is shy to play. Sometimes adults only want to play some pieces during their lessons and learn other ones at home so if this is the case just focus on helping them become better self learners.
  • Use recognizable songs. While children enjoy this as well, adults especially like playing songs they’ve heard before.


Lessons with Students of any Age:

  • Teach both children and adults to enjoy music. If they don’t enjoy what they are playing they will not make much progress.
  • Play quality music. Make sure the repertoire they are learning is teaching them things that they need to learn when they come across other new pieces. Be systematic in teaching and try to not leave any learning gaps. Don’t just focus on sight-reading to the neglect of rhythm, etc.
  • Use the whole lesson time. Make the whole lesson count.

These are just a few similarities and differences to keep in mind. Hope you’ve found them helpful.