Ongoing education is critical to good piano teaching! I have scheduled time in my calendar each week for research, networking with other teachers, and attending webinars and conferences. I feel as if I can never learn enough about early childhood piano technique, method books, creative teaching techniques, ear-training and rhythm exercises, the best way to teach theory to five year olds, new pieces that should be added to our music library, student competitions and performances, practice expectations, new apps – the list goes on and on. It is a world I’m sure I’ll never get to the bottom of in this lifetime!
Without this ongoing education my teaching would be stale. My students would be bored. I would be burned out. And my mission of developing lifelong love of music in young piano students would miss the mark.
I am a member of MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) and NEPTA (New England Piano Teachers’ Association). The picture above was from our NEPTA meeting last week. Dr. Julie Knerr, co-author of the Piano Safari Method (highly recommended - some of my very young piano students love it!), came to speak to our member meeting about creative teaching techniques and lost gems in the classical piano repertoire. Very inspiring!
I also enjoy following a few blogs that are in line with my philosophy as a piano teacher.
What do you do to further your own education?
As a piano teacher, my mission is to provide a well-rounded and engaging music education for young piano students that will develop in them a lifelong love for music. I want my students to (someday!) be able to pull any piece of music off the shelf and be able to play for their own enjoyment and for the benefit of others. Essentially, I’m working to teach myself out of a job!
In order for this to happen, my students need to have a good working knowledge of music theory. A study of music theory is essential to good music education because it helps the student notice patterns and understand the building blocks of music. We study chords, scales, and various rhythm patterns. We work on being able to recognize different chords by sound (this is called “aural skills”). The older students analyze pieces to understand the forms and structures the composer created. All of this speeds up their musical learning process, helps them play more beautifully, helps them memorize better – the list goes on and on!
For my younger students I typically use the Faber Piano Adventures theory books. For my students who are beginning to play full octave scales and more, I use the KITS Music Theory Course.
What theory textbooks do you use in your lessons?
If you took lessons when you were younger, that word probably conjures up images of boredom, pain, and great suffering...
From their very first lessons my students are playing scales, chords, and arpeggios (even if in an abbreviated form). We frequently talk about the importance of these exercises, so that their minds don’t get lost in monotony.
For my beginner level students, I use "Scales, Pattern, and Improvs", published by Hal Leonard. Along with major and minor key five finger patterns, basic cadence chords, and over hand-arpeggios, there are also small sight reading and transposition exercises included in the book.
My more advanced students use "Scales, Chords, and Arpeggios", published by James Bastien. This book contains full scales in major and minor keys, cadences, and double-hand arpeggios.
Scales, chords, and arpeggios:
While a lot of emphasis should be on finding a good teacher for your child, it is often easy to forget that there are actually three persons equally involved in a successful piano lesson experience.
And the Parent.
It is important to do some research, take a few trial lessons, and ask lots of questions before settling on a teacher. Just because a teacher has amazing credentials does not necessarily mean that they will connect well with your child. Your child will learn more, be happier, and be more willing to get over the slumps with a teacher with whom they connect well.
There should be an intrinsic interest in piano lessons before you take your child to their first lesson. You can encourage this by playing music on the radio and in the house, purchasing a piano for them to play around with, talking with them about the possibility of starting lessons, taking them to concerts, etc. Once lessons start, your child needs to understand that practicing is a commitment – just like homework! It will need to become part of the expected every day routine.
A piano teacher sees your child once a week, for 30 or 45 minutes. You see your child every day. You have more power than you realize to influence your child’s practice routine and love for music. Without a doubt, the students I have who have parents involved in their weekly practice are far more successful than those who don’t. Take your children to concerts. Ask them to play for you, or make a piano video to send to grandma. Help them read through their assignments, and make sure they complete everything before their next lesson. Help them settle into a practice routine. Encourage them when the going gets rough, and use that as an opportunity to talk about perseverance.
At Belmont Piano Academy, students commit to practicing at least 5 days a week, for various amounts of time depending on their skill level. There is an area on their lesson assignment page for them to record how much they practice each day, and at the end of the week the parents sign it to verify. Under this commitment, the students make great progress, and they have a wonderfully enjoyable musical experience! I have never heard a student complain about how much they are required to practice. They see for themselves that the more they put in, the more they get out of the experience.
When I was creating Belmont Piano Academy last summer, one of the “essentials” I built into the business was an Ipad station. There are so many incredible music apps that develop the skills my students and I are working on in lessons. When I told my mom about it, her reaction was, "I wish we'd had these apps when you were learning piano!"
This is a hot question, and one I am asked frequently. Every piano teacher has vastly different opinions on this subject - and mine is not necessarily the most popular one!
My goal at Belmont Piano Academy is to provide an engaging and well-rounded music education to young piano students, ages 5-18. My goal has always been, and always will be, to do what is best for each individual child. I don’t take students younger than 5 years old – and to be honest, 5 is even pushing it! Here are some of the reasons I suggest starting lessons later than other teachers.
I always encourage parents to examine the thought process behind why they want their child in private lessons before the age of 5. I tell them that I was 8 years old when I started lessons – and I started because I wanted to. I also received one of the best piano degrees in the country, which is proof that it was not too late.
Music lessons should enrich the child’s life, not define it.
For the past five months, I have been in training to become a Kindermusik educator. Kindermusik is the world’s leading provider of music-based education for children from birth through age seven. Licensed Kindermusik educators use the power and joy of music-making to help children learn and grow during the years most critical to brain development.
I spent the past week in Kindermusik educator intensive training in North Carolina, where the high quality of the program truly hit home for me. I am more convinced than ever that this early childhood music education helps the physical, mental, and emotional development of young children, and prepares them beautifully for the private lessons they will take when they are older.
One of the many benefits I took away from teacher training was the beauty of imaginative and creative play facilitated by the instructor during Kindermusik class. Imaginative play activities are beneficial to improving intellectual and cognitive skills in children, especially skills such as problem solving, creativity, and critical thinking. As an entrepreneur and musician, the skills of creativity, improvisation, and problem solving instilled in me from a young age have been invaluable to my life – and I can link those skills back to activities in my childhood. I watched the Kindermusik instructors this past week facilitate play for the children through singing, acting, coordinated movement, and musical storytelling.
Some of the other benefits of Kindermusik include:
Are you interested in Kindermusik classes at Belmont Piano Academy? Click here!
In my piano studio, at least three-quarters of the parents of my students never learned piano as youngsters.
For those who did, it has been many years since they played.
I only see each of my students once per week, and man, do we pack a lot into those forty-five minutes!
But honestly, once-per-week piano lesson time doesn't provide everything students need to learn and grow.
Children who have their parents involved in practice at home have a much more successful and satisfying lesson experience.
So as a piano parent, what can you do to help your children succeed in piano practice and stay motivated?
As a piano teacher, my goal is to provide a well-rounded and engaging music education that will develop a lifelong love of music in young piano students. Private music lessons enrich the lives of every student in invaluable ways. Music lessons with a good teacher will help your child in every area of life, for the rest of their life.
As a business owner, it is necessary to possess and develop the qualities of creativity, poise, and perseverance, and be able to receive critical feedback without being crushed by it. These are all qualities that, for me, had their beginnings at the piano keyboard.
Here are just a few reasons it is beneficial to have your child in private lessons!
It’s not just about playing the music!
It’s very important to own a piano before you begin piano lessons. Resist the urge to "give piano lessons a try" before purchasing an instrument – that will most certainly end the lesson experience before it has had a real chance to blossom, and it will end with a frustrated child!
I always provide the pros and cons of each kind of instrument whenever a prospective student is in the market for a new piano. I generally recommend digital pianos to my students in the Boston area because they are more easily moveable, require no maintenance, and resell very easily. But I personally love my beautiful acoustic grand pianos!
Michal Grace Harris
Piano Teacher & Accompanist