Last Updated on 2022-11-27 | Originally Posted on 2022-01-05
You’ve decided to learn piano, but do you have a practice goal? I talk about how to Set a Practice Goal in a separate blog post. Once you set a practice goal, it can be helpful to see if you’re meeting that goal. I can guarantee that you won’t be able to meet your goal without sufficient practice. I’ll start by showing you how I track my practice time.
Last Updated on 2022-11-27 | Originally Posted on 2021-11-22
“Never good enough” was the original title I proposed for this post. That along with “How to discourage and demoralize a piano student” as the short description. I hope it’s obvious I don’t endorse any of this “never good enough” stuff. However, I experienced it first hand during my first two years of piano study at music school. I noticed a lot of this, across many students and teachers, during the six years I spent earning my BFA and MM degrees.
I realize that I had a lot to learn and that constructive criticism is key to learning how to make a piece better. However, spending an inordinate amount of time on a piece and picking it to death is not the road to success.
Last Updated on 2022-11-30 | Originally Posted on 2021-09-19
I remember seeing this expression on a motivational poster decades ago, where a runner is shown in full stride with no one else in sight. The others gave up before going the second mile. I’ve known both mid- to long-distance runners, and most of them wouldn’t bother to lace up just to do a mile. But what the expression originally refers to has nothing about recreational runnning.
Last Updated on 2023-01-20 | Originally Posted on 2020-11-21
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Christmas songbooks that are sold in the mass market, like at Sam’s Club, on Amazon.com, or at your local bookstore, are not thoughtfully compiled with piano students in mind. You’ll get a lot of songs at a reasonable price, but the arrangements will vary in difficulty from page to page. They’re often too complicated for beginners, but too easy and boring for advanced students.
Fortunately, there are many Christmas songbooks compiled with the piano student in mind. Some of these work great for amateur pianists as well. Faber and Piano Pronto are my favorite publishers for these books.
There is an overwhelming number of choices even with a singular publisher, so be prepared to spend some time searching for the right book(s).
Last Updated on 2022-11-30 | Originally Posted on 2020-07-25
One of my memories of public school is whether the teacher required a pen or pencil for class. Once you got past early elementary school, pretty much every class except for math required a pen. So it’s always been a surprise to find that kids don’t bring either to lessons. In case your kids missed the onboarding notice, here’s the announcement once again: Sharpen your pencil!
Last Updated on 2022-11-10 | Originally Posted on 2020-05-01
This article was originally intended to help my students prepare for their first recorded recital in May 2020, two months after lessons went online due to Covid-19 confinement. I’m repurposing it to preparing for any recording because it’s a different preparation process from live playing. You might say, yeah, it’s actually easier because you can record yourself as much as you want, and then just choose the best take. However, that flexibility can actually make the recording process much more difficult!
When I sit down to practice, I usually set a practice goal. The practice goal is pretty clear and not needing a lot of thought when I have to have a piece ready to go for the next day. Practice goals become more important when I have a bunch of pieces that are in different states of readiness. At any one time, I have a number of pieces that I’m working on that are scheduled to be performed at different times.
Much of this comes from my job as a church organist where there’s a weekly requirement to have new music ready. Fortunately, I have a lot of experience doing this, so it’s pretty routine. My students, however, may be new to this, or have at most a few years of figuring out how to manage their practice. For that reason, I like to help all my students learn how to set a practice goal each time they sit down to practice.
What Does Practice Look Like For A Beginner?
For the beginning pianist, practice is going to be pretty straightforward. Read through all of the pieces in the assignment, and then repeat two or three times. Stop along the way if you need to figure out the notes, or clap the rhythm. You might remember that I talk about establishing good practice from the beginning in the post Guide Your Child to Independent Practice.
How Does Practice Change for the Intermediate Student?
An issue I see frequently is when a pianist moves on to early intermediate repertoire where pieces typically double in length and become more difficult. No longer is it possible to practice every piece cover to cover in each practice session with good results. Intentional practice becomes a lot more important for this student. Why? The tendency is to start from the beginning, which means that sometimes the student doesn’t get to the end. Ever!
I typically will notate practice zones in the score. Sometimes I map them to the recognizable structure of the piece, like exposition, development, and recapitulation. At other times, I might just choose zones that equalize the amount of difficulty in each section so that there is a similar amount of material to be practiced each day. If there are three sections, and a student practices six days a week, she can cover each zone twice during the week. This fixes the problem of getting really good at the first page or two while neglecting the rest of the piece or movement.
Practice Often Includes Other Things
Many of my students forget to budget time to do other parts in their lessons plan. Technique comes to mind, even though I’m not specifically addressing technique in this post. It also might be a little homework assignment or activity page, which is really theory work. Depending on the size of this supplemental work, you might choose to do a little bit each day, or two or three times per week. Typically it’s not good to do it all at once unless it really is a small assignment.
It’s really easy for me to preach practice goals when I’m not the one enforcing them in the home. However, it’s my goal to be a partner with the parent and the student to make practice a normal part of each day’s activities. Please let me know how I can provide the support and guidance you need, no matter where you are in your piano journey. Certainly doing a little bit each day, moving forward bit by bit, is going to get you far when weeks become months, and months become years.
Last Updated 2021-09-18 | Originally Posted 2019-10-01
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I was asked much earlier in my career if I’d ever taught a continuing education class for church, or whether I’d consider doing so. Up to that point, I’d never done it, but I was open to the idea. The possibility has since then intrigued me, but until recently I hadn’t put together a plan. Now that a date is on the calendar, October 16th, it’s becoming real. I’m teaching a class in sacred music at church!
The course is based upon the book Te Deum: The Church and Music by Paul Westermeyer. I became familiar with Dr. Westermeyer through his work with the American Guild of Organists, and was impressed that an ordained Lutheran pastor would spend so much time associating with organists! He has spent his career steeped in teaching both seminarians and church musicians, so this book has an interdisciplinary approach.
I warn that the text has a scholarly bent, which is probably no surprise given the scope of the topic. For those who wish to take this journey with me, there will be quite a lot of reading involved, though I’ll parcel it off to make it manageable. As a reward, you will receive musical samples from each period to illuminate the weekly readings.
As the title of my post hints, the first five weeks will be covering just a portion of the history of sacred music. A continuation of this class will continue the exploration, beginning at the Reformation and continuing through modern times. In this session, we’ll cover music in Old and New Testament times, the First Centuries, and Before and After Charlemagne. I realize that this period may not be glamorous to some, but hopefully you’ll join me anyway. For those who are curious about what exactly is covered in later on – yes, there is a section on the Wesleys! Even a Lutheran like Westermeyer knows it’s best not to omit John and Charles!
Last Updated on 2022-11-15 | Originally Posted on 2019-07-11
July 3, 2019 just wasn’t my day. I was having trouble getting the things done that I planned. My tendency is to try to do to much right before leaving for a vacation, even one lasting just a couple of days. I needed to complete the list that included doing the dishes, house cleaning, laundry, and mailing a birthday present to a friend in France. As a result, I ran out of time to salvage driving to Kansas City to see the Royals play and enjoy a fireworks show at Kauffman Stadium afterward.
I wasn’t looking to buy a piano. Really! But I bought a piano anyway. The interest was sparked by a piano parent who was searching for an acoustic piano. But I was surprised when she emailed me an advertisement for a 48-inch Yamaha U1 upright, built in 1977. This is a top-of-the-line upright, which Yamaha continues to make in Japan, along with their tallest model, the 52-inch U3. They offshored production of all of their shorter uprights decades ago.
When it was clear that my piano parent was pursuing pianos in a much lower price range, I made the call. It’s tough to fairly evaluate resale prices for used instruments, but I knew that the asking price was correct if the instrument was in excellent condition. However, even well-loved instruments can develop issues requiring significant rework, so I didn’t want to take any chances.
I hired my preferred tuner to do an analysis of the instrument, since a $60 fee was well worth saving hundreds or even more if I chose poorly. I have to be realistic that this might be the last instrument that I purchase. Yes, I’d still love to have a Steinway B or Mason & Hamlin BB, but this is a practical decision for now.
Everything worked out, and I was able to find a new owner for my Knabe spinet that is old enough to have ivory key covers. It was a gift to me, so it is now a gift to a new piano parent. I never loved this piano, but that’s more a reflection on me than it; I have better instruments available to practice where I work. It still has more to give, and I hope it will be appreciated for years to come.
Adopt a new-to-you upright of your choice. You won’t be disappointed!