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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.

 

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!

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.

Musical Instruments Quiz

Piano students should learn about music as a whole. One way to learn about the broader musical world is to quiz students on musical instruments. I created this quiz sheet by copying and pasting images from the internet onto a blank document. After coloring the instruments I laminated the sheet. The quizzing usually takes less than one minute or two, and students simply name the instruments from the page. A variation of the quiz could be to play clips from certain musical instruments and to have students say which instrument is being featured (ex. playing a clip of a violin).

Paste clipart images of musical instruments into a blank document and quiz students, asking them the names of the musical instruments.

Print images of various instruments and quiz students by asking them the names of the musical instruments.

First Piano Lesson

Individuals have unique personalities and diverse learning styles.  While every student is unique, all students can benefit from certain considerations during their first piano lesson.  I believe that a successful first piano lesson provides answers to at least the following four questions.

Why piano lessons? Motivations for taking piano lessons are varied and it’s good to know why a person finds himself or herself in front of my studio’s keyboard. Some students know just a little about music but are very interested and excited to begin lessons. Perhaps others already can play whether by ear or by reading music and want to learn more songs. Other students are taking lessons because their parents want them to study music. Whichever category a student falls into, it’s helpful to know what motivates them to study the piano.

Any hobbies?  Knowing if someone does many activities or has many responsibilities helps me have an idea of how much time the student is able to dedicate to music. Knowing a person’s interests is also useful because I can use analogies that the student will understand. For example, someone interested in art would appreciate the comparison of dynamics in a piece of music to hues of colors in a painting.

How much musical knowledge? Everyone knows something about music. Even a toddler experiences rhythm by marching or moving to a piece of music.  Students can quickly learn a few basic things about the piano: that it is a percussion instrument (which has a variety of sounds based on how quickly the notes are played), that the notes have a repeated pattern and that the notes have high and low sounds.  The first lesson is also a good time to assess how much a student knows about rhythm and music notation reading.

Rhythm needs to be felt in ways such as clapping, tapping or counting from the very first lesson.  A good example of natural rhythm is by having a student hold their hand over their heart to feel it’s rhythm.  A picket fence is a good analogy for explaining the consistency of rhythm.  Each beat is the same distance apart and some notes have one beat (“picket in the fence”), others have a few beats of duration.  Note value and time signature flashcards are visual helps.  The website “Color in my Piano” has a free download  of flashcards for both simple and difficult rhythms http://colorinmypiano.com/wp-content/files/Rhythm_Value_Cards.pdf .  A nice aspect of these flashcards is that the dimensions of these cards change based on the length of the notes.  If I am teaching an absolute beginner I want them to learn three note values by the end of the first lesson: semibreves, minims and crotchets (whole, half and quarter notes).

Students match up the C/do scale using homemade laminated flashcards.

Students match up the C/do scale using homemade laminated flashcards.

Flashcards of notes are also helpful.  A simple set of flashcards is two sets of the C/do scale which can be hand-made and laminated. Set the scale in order so that students can match their mixed up notes from the second set of flashcards on or near the scale that is already in order. Alternatively students can place the flashcards in scale order without any aids. If students already can read notes a little, show them individual flashcards and ask them to play those notes for you.  If someone is an absolute beginner I like to teach at least 3 note symbols to students: middle C, D and E/do, re and mi.

If I am teaching transfer student I don’t assume that they have a good understanding of notes or rhythm values.  I isolate concepts to better see a student’s strengths or weaknesses (example: reviewing only note names will give an idea of how well a student can read notes) .  Sight reading a piece of music is also useful for assessment.  If students bring music with them, I ask them to play something that they have already studied in the past.

What can they take home? I either want to teach students something they can practice at home or help them with a piece that they have already started learning. If a student has brought no music along I typically teach the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb” (I plan to explain steps for teaching this in another article).  It’s important that a student goes away from the lesson having achieved something while also realizing that there are many other things to learn.

If you are a teacher, perhaps some of these suggestions will be helpful to incorporate into your piano lessons.  If you are browsing this site and are considering lessons, this article should give you a general idea of the first piano lesson at Flynn Piano Studio.