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“Ta’s” and “Ti-Ti’s” for Toddler Music Class

xylophone-players

Rhythm is a very important element in piano lessons. And while we all experience rhythm from the very start of life, why not incorporate thought-out rhythm activities into our toddler’s day? I’ve been teaching my toddlers (2 1/2 year old twins) a little bit about minims (half notes), crotchets (quarter notes) and quavers (eighth notes) lately and they enjoy hearing and mimicking simple rhythms. They don’t know the technical names of these rhythms, but they are learning the kodaly words and feeling the rhythms at the same time.

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One way of having a toddler feel simple rhythms is to use xylophone mallets like a drum stick onto a suitable surface. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Rather than using the toy xylophone itself we used a rubber frisbee as our “drum.” I had one mallet and one of my toddlers had the other mallet. The girls really enjoyed hearing me say and tap rhythms such as “ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta-a, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, ta-a.” The girls took turn tapping along with me using the other mallet and they did a great job keeping up with the beat. Toddlers not only use their hands but also their whole bodies feel the rhythm and it’s really fun to see them bobbing up and down while they play.

The same basic exercise can be done on a piano. A toddler might play clusters of notes at times or else play one key by itself but they will stay in the same general area of the keyboard. My girls really hearing various rhythms on the piano and sometimes they would ask for more if I stopped playing. Notice how a child will also simply start playing on their own using “ta’s” or “ti-ti’s.” They can also try mimicking a rhythm that the teacher plays, but so far in our case playing together is the way that works for us.

What are toddlers learning by doing this exercise?

  • Sound (before symbol) and feel of crotchets, minims and quavers
  • Relaxed bouncing on the piano keys
  • Improvisation (if they create their own rhythms)
  • Listening skills–learning to listen to a music teacher and learning to listen for rhythmic nuances

From Preschool to Piano

imageAlthough 2-year-olds are young to take formal piano lessons, they are definitely not too young to become familiar with music.

Melody and rhythm can be introduced to toddlers and the sooner the better. Just like a baby needs to hear words in order to learn how to speak, similarly a young child should hear music even before learning to count beats or name notes. A few things my twin toddlers and I have added to our day-to-day life are:

Singing

Every morning and evening we sing the Psalms in our home and often during the day as well. The Psalms have a wide range of emotions (joyful, reflective, mournful, triumphant) and the tunes we choose often reflect the words being sung. Crimond is a tune we sing often for Psalm 23 (audio from sound cloud: https://soundcloud.com/connorq/psalm-23r-tune-crimond).

Rocking back and forth to music is really enjoyable for children and great bonding time as well. Rocking to music helps children feel the beat of music. Remember that beats are steady. And while rocking to a 4/4 song, for example “Old MacDonald had a Farm,” you can just do one rocking motion for the entire 4/4 measure unless it’s a particularly lively song. Also, action songs are engaging. If a child can’t do actions for a particular song, lead them to clap, stomp, point to their toes etc. and after a while see if they will do it on their own. A few songs we sing at home are: Lavender’s Blue, Old MacDonald, If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands, 5 Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day etc.

Xylophones:

I found these for a very inexpensive price at a local shop and they are a fantastic resource for €1.50 each! For now the girls just play little tunes or glissandos across the xylophones. Also I sometimes play for them as well and I noticed that sometimes at least one of the girls would use the mallet to discover what noise objects other than the xylophone would make when tapped. Eventually we can do more activities once the girls can follow more complex instructions. I like Teach Preschool.org’s idea about creating a colour-based xylophone composition (link: http://www.teachpreschool.org/2014/03/colorful-fun-with-musical-notes/).

Piano Time:

Just explore and enjoy playing on the piano! Also, sometimes what we do is listen to the pre-set tracks on our keyboard such as “Turkish March” (the girls still enjoy bouncing along to this one!) or “Twinkle Twinkle” ( which has been a good way to sing the alphabet song to the girls).

In order to learn piano, simple things like knowing the alphabet or sol-fah names, counting, knowing the difference between left and right hand etc. are very important. Recognising colours, being able to hold a pencil etc. are also helpful for various pre-piano music activities. Gaining basic skills will allow more and more music learning to occur. Take small steps but seek to make the toddler years meaningful musically!

Note Reading Reinforcement: Identifying Correct Intervals and Octaves

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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.

If you’re interested in taking lessons at Flynn Piano Studio, please contact me for more information! If you’d like to sign up for email updates, sign up on my home page.

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.

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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.
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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.

 

Free Ways to Advertise Piano Lessons Online

 

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“Free Ways to Advertise Piano Lessons Online” | Flynn Piano Studio

Advertising piano lessons was one of the first steps to take in beginning Flynn Piano Studio. I implemented a variety of advertising venues then (see my article “Advertising Home-Based Piano Studio Lessons”). Now I’d like to share some further details about online advertising, particularly free venues. Advertising on free websites has a variety of advantages. Not only does it give a wider range of people a chance to find your studio but also it gives your studio a better visibility in the search engines. You can also include your website on some ads which will give potential students a better idea of who you are as a teacher should they continue on to your webpage.

Free web listings can be a lead for reaching new piano students. If you’re not sure which sites to use google search “piano lessons (your city or state/county)” and see if any free classified ad pages appear which other teachers use. Particularly see if any webpages advertise courses. Or more generally google search “advertising (your city or state/county)” and see which websites come up. In this case, for example, one website I found was goldenpages.ie. Choose the most reliable-looking advertising sites. The Internet has a variety of choices ranging from eclectic to professional ones.

Be as descriptive as possible when writing ads and think of the search terms that you would use if you were looking for a teacher. Google search for piano lessons in your city and see if your studio appears. If not, either advertise more places or re-write the descriptions on your ads and provide more details or relevant phrasing. Decide whether you want to include one or all of these contact details: your phone number, email and studio address. For privacy reasons you may not opt for all but make sure that those who want to contact you have a reliable way of doing so.

Trust these tips will be of help to piano teachers. And If you are a student who is interested in taking piano lessons at Flynn Piano Studio (currently located in Dundalk, Co. Louth, Ireland), please visit my HomePage and send me a message through the contact form!

Fill-ins for Autumn Piano Lessons

Fill-ins for autumn piano lessons

Piano Lesson Fillers

 

As a new piano term is approaching I’ve been looking at various worksheets, sheet music and games to use with my piano students.

  • At some point every piano student should understand the theory concept of scales. A blog called “Sara’s Music Studio” has two free worksheets which reinforce pentascales for major white and black keys. Rather than printing off the Major White Key Pentascales Worksheet & Major Black Key Pentascales Worksheet for each student I plan to print off one copy of each worksheet and to have students create pentascales on the pages during the lesson with colored buttons, afterwards playing the pentascales on the piano keyboard.
  • I believe it’s beneficial to teach adult students chords and chord progressions. Adults enjoy hearing a full sound from the keyboard and playing chords gives a sense of accomplishment as the right and left hands are playing together. 8notes.com have a variety of easy sheet music with chords written alongside a right hand melody; I’ll be keeping on hand Fur Elise and an Irish tune called Star of the County Down.
  • Makingmusicfun.net is offering free ebooks to download. The Mozart Piano ebook and Beethoven Piano ebook contain piano pieces which are suitable for students who are getting a start to playing Classical music.
  • Joy Morin’s “Color in My Piano” blog has several games which I’d like to try. One is called The Amazing Keyboard Race Game and it reinforces note-reading. The other is called Finger Piano Twister and it reinforces finger numbers. These games are quite kinesthetic and look great for children.

If you are interested in taking lessons at Flynn Piano Studio this autumn, please get in touch using the contact form on the home page!

Should I Learn How to Read Sheet Music?

Being able to read music notation opens up a whole world to piano students. While many musicians can play beautifully without knowing how to read sheet music, learning how to read sheet music will enhance their musical skills.

Benefits of Reading Sheet Music

Reading Sheet Music

  • By learning how to read sheet music students can play virtually any piece of notated music.
    When a student learns how to read notes, rhythm and other musical markings, sheet music will be understandable. Music is very orderly and structured, so there is no need to be confused at all the symbols. Start by learning simple rhythms and commonly used notes and then gradually adding on to that knowledge until almost any combination of notes, rhythms and  markings make sense.

    Reading Sheet Music

    Music Theory

  • By learning how to read sheet music students can visually see theory principles at work.
    Reading sheet music allows a student to play other peoples’ compositions and to see how these composers applied the “rules” of music into their compositions. Rather than simply learning theory principles (ex. chord progressions) in an isolated manner, students can view how individual theory principles work in a broader musical context.

    Composition

    Composition

  • By learning how to read sheet music students find ideas from other composers for their own compositions.
    As students play sheet music they will find musical combinations that sounds pleasant to the ear. Students can then transfer these ideas into their own compositions, improvisations, or accompaniments. Musicians benefit not only from listening to well-played music but also from playing beautiful music scores by skillful composers.

Advertising Home-Based Piano Studio Lessons

Advertising piano lessons from a home-based studio

Advertising home-based piano lessons

When my husband and I moved to Dublin last August I soon after began a home-based piano studio. Since students do not automatically show up the doorstep, one of the first things to consider was advertising. When moving into a new neighborhood and setting up a private piano studio, a few advertising venues can be very effective in letting people know about the new studio. It takes time to spread the word but the work put into advertising is well worth it.

I’ve found the internet to be a very effective way to advertise for piano lessons. A great benefit to internet advertising is that those who are specifically searching for piano lessons many times use internet searches to find piano teachers. Another benefit of advertising via the internet is that the ads can be posted with little effort. Some websites allow people to post free ads (don’t forget to find sites that advertise activities for children!). I chose to advertise on one website which charges a yearly fee, but the fee has been more than recovered from the lessons I gained through inquiries from that particular website (for those who live in Ireland, the name of the website is: musiclessons.ie). Also, a Facebook studio page is another way to advertise through the internet. Place ads in various sites to reach a varied audience.

Another method of advertising is to leave fliers in shops or other public places. This is particularly effective if the ads are placed in shops right near the piano studio. Be sure to include the location of lessons in the flier so that local people will know that they don’t have to travel far to reach the studio. Schools or other public places that offer after-school activities may allow teachers to put up ads on a bulletin board. If there isn’t a public advertising board another option is printing out small, loose leaflets that people can pick up and read.

If your country allows it, as Ireland does, put fliers in mailboxes. This method is quite time consuming but it reaches individuals, including those who may not have previously thought of taking lessons. I have printed out and delivered quite a few fliers and have found that the best place to put them is in houses near my piano studio. Another option is going door-to-door and telling people about the piano studio. Though I have not done this to advertise for piano lessons it is an alternative to placing fliers in mailboxes.

It’s best to use a mixture of several advertising venues. If one method works particularly well, use it several times throughout the year. Ultimately living in an area for many years and building a good rapport with students and their families will be the best way to keep a piano studio up and running, but these are some ideas for the beginnings of a piano studio.

If you are a private piano teacher, how do you advertise piano lessons? If you are a piano student taking lessons from a home-based studio, how did you find your teacher?

Boredom during Piano Lessons: Some Remedies

Tips for alleviating boredom during piano lessons

Tips for alleviating boredom during piano lessons

Learning the piano takes a lot of patience, but nonetheless piano lessons should should be interesting for a student. There are ways to help students who seem bored or apathetic towards piano lessons.

Certain piano students get excited about all sorts of pieces but others have less motivation. I find that to increase motivation it helps students to play songs which have words associated to them. They do not necessarily need to be well-known songs. If there’s a story to go along with a composition students may enjoy playing it better than practicing a piece that only has notes on the page. Some examples are songs with information about a composer (the Faber series has songs like this) or songs talking about animals. These can be a remarkable help when a student seems apathetic towards playing the piano.

As a teacher I am more fully learning that I should be interested in the class and paying attention myself. Sometimes I wonder why a student is lagging behind and then I realize that if I stop writing or looking ahead in another music book that the student will probably pay better attention! With some students it helps to sit close to the keyboard and to show them that I am paying attention to their playing from up close, particularly for young students. Encourage as much playing as possible during lessons. Students will ultimately enjoy it better than wishing lesson time away.

Making sure that students understand their assignments is so important. Sometimes a student may dislike a song simply because they don’t know how to read the notes, are confused about the fingering, etc.. Their frustration may seem like apathy and boredom but they may just be confused and needing help. Taking time to fix these problems means not simply giving students an answer but also eliciting the “why” of their answer. It’s very encouraging to see students go from guessing, to comprehending, to progressing and ultimately to enjoying their pieces better.

Teachers can help their students enjoy lessons better by finding pedagogical yet fun songs to teach. It may mean skipping ahead a few songs in the method book and finding something that a student likes. The students’ choices might be surprising! No matter what pieces the student ends up enjoying, review and ask many comprehension questions to prepare students for their next pieces. Parents have a lot to do with a child’s attitude and those who teach that life is a mixture of exciting and mundane moments will prepare their children to become better pianists. Although it’s appropriate to find interesting songs for students, piano pupils should remember that who will shine most brightly are those who are diligent even when they don’t feel like practicing or paying attention.

Teaching “Mary Had a Little Lamb” during a First Piano Lesson

“Mary Had a Little Lamb” has only three notes and three note values, so I find it a good song to teach to absolute beginners. I do not tell the students that they are learning this particular song. They discover that as they follow instructions and play the tune for themselves.

"Mary Had a Little Lamb"

How to teach “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to beginner students.

Before learning this song some groundwork needs to be laid. Play the scale match-up game (see article “First Piano Lesson”) or have students practice finding and playing C, D and E on the piano. They can also write out these notes on staff lines for practice. Students also need to learn crotchet, minim and semibreve (quarter, half note and whole note) values and notation. Also, feeling the weak and strong beats of 4/4 timing will help students understand why they will write out bar lines to “Mary Had a Little Lamb” which is in 4/4 time.

Using only one note (so students will focus only on rhythm), play the rhythm for the song, one measure at a time. Have students repeat what they hear. Next, have them write out the note values for what they have just played onto a blank sheet of paper. After the symbols for the rhythm are written out, add bar lines. Tell students that every time that the notes add up to 4 beats they can add a bar line.

After students have written out the rhythm and added bar lines, play notes one measure at a time and have students play what they just saw and heard while saying or singing the note names out loud. If a student is young and there is a staircase available, a variation is to assign three steps to the notes C, D and E. Sing the note names and have students hop up or down the stairs to the tune. This is a fun exercise and will help children release some of their energy while learning at the same time! After students play the notes, have them write out the note letters (or sol-fah) above the rhythm that is already notated from the last exercise.

At this point students are ready to play the whole song and they probably will recognize the tune. Have students play from the sheet that they just created. Afterwards, have students draw a staff lines on the same blank sheet, adding the time signature, bar lines, notes and rhythm for the tune “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The students can play the song a few times for assessment, familiarity with the song and for practice on the keyboard.  In addition to assigning students to practice “Mary Had a Little Lamb” during the week, a good follow-up assignment is for students to write a simple composition using the method used for learning this song–choose a rhythm, add notes, and notate it on staff paper.

If you are a parent to a young student and you can read some note names, a fun exercise to do with your child would be to sing tunes from a beginner method book and have students hop up and down the staircase to the melody. If you are a student, why not create a composition by creating a rhythm, choosing notes to go along with the rhythm, and writing it all out on staff paper? If you are a teacher, consider teaching this song to beginners since it will help students understand the steps to composing a basic musical composition and because it introduces a variety of simple yet important musical concepts.