Getting the Most From Lessons: What is Required At Home?

By Courtney Hall

Playing an instrument IS:

  • Learning a new language. (Just as you learn alphabet letters in preschool & kindergarten first, then you learn to combine them into sight words in first grade, then read hundreds of children’s books before reading fluently– musical notation is an identical process)
  • Learning a new sport. (Precise fine motor skills are required to play instruments. A musician is “good” when muscle memory takes over, which requires many hours of repetition, just as professional sports players spend many hours repeating the same action. There is no shortcut.)
  • Having a goal of independence! The music teacher’s job is to teach the student how to teach themselves.

HOME ENVIRONMENT:

  • Placement of instrument– away from distractions (away from TV!) but not too isolated (walk past it often! Out of sight, out of mind)
  • Be an occasional audience for your child instead of isolating them (with young children, help practicing is necessary every time!)
  • Musically rich– Both live music exposure & YouTube exploration– this helps the student have a goal to reach toward, discover music that motivates, and develop a good ear for music

QUALITY OVER QUANTITY

  • 2+2=7… If I practiced that over and over and over while preparing for my math test, would I get a good grade? Of course not! But why not? They say practice makes perfect and I practiced that for hours!! But in reality, practice does NOT make perfect. Only Perfect Practice Makes Perfect!
    • Quickly running through songs is not very helpful. Very focused playing and stopping to fix mistakes is what counts!
  • 5 days a week: play each assigned song 3 times plus reviewing 2 old songs rather than a set # of minutes
  • Split up practice (10 minutes of piano before school, 5 minutes of piano after school, 15 minutes of homework, 10 minutes of piano, 30 minutes for dinner, 5 minutes of piano, 30 minutes of TV, 10 minutes of piano) Remember that tired brains aren’t accomplishing much!

WHEN FRUSTRATION SETS IN:

  • For difficult pieces, try to break it down in some way.
    • A lot of times this may be done by playing one hand at a time before attempting both hands at the same time.
    • If there is a certain spot in a piece that is more difficult than the rest, isolate only that small section and practice just those measures for a while before attempting the entire piece again.

MOTIVATION IS KEY:

  • Piano Maestro App for iPad
  • Let the teacher know of songs they love

SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT:

  • PARTICIPATE, PARTICIPATE, PARTICIPATE!!!!
    • Workshops have a duel purpose: they give children the social environment they crave & allow them to meet other kids taking lessons & give them a chance to expand musical knowledge beyond what can be covered in a 30 minute lesson
    • Recitals give children the opportunity to show off what they’ve learned & have a sense of pride over their accomplishments as well as giving them goals to work toward to keep them motivated
    • Attending other musical performances (live when possible, but also watching youtube videos) helps them have goals, know what they’re working toward, & inspires them.

GRIT

  • Youtube: “Grit: the power of passion and perseverance | Angela Lee Duckworth”
  • Growth mindset- children must believe that practice changes their brain and just because they aren’t getting it in this moment doesn’t mean they aren’t going to get it
  • Teach your children how the brain learns. Help them to understand that repetition develops muscle memory and there is no shortcut other than repetition.

Tips adapted from Suzuki Method of Education:

  • Remember that practicing is lonely and children often like company when practicing
  • 2 or more enthusiastic practice periods a day are far better than 1 long period where the student becomes bored
  • Children do not tire of repetition unless others show boredom in their remarks, manner, or tone of voice
  • Avoid discouragement. Use very specific positive comments about the progress they are making such as:
    • “You certainly can play that part of the piece faster than yesterday!”
    • “Your arms and hands looked so much more relaxed today!”
    • “I was able to hear the staccatos much better in the middle section today!”
    • “Sounds like you’re playing it with a much steadier beat than last week!”
  • See that your child attends all recitals, classes, and special events

Other notes:

  • set small, attainable goals
  • consider what else works best in your particular household– could piano practice be included on a chart your child uses?
  • have a consistent practice schedule (always practice after dinner or whatever works best for your family)
  • use a visual— certain amount of coins/candy/etc lined up on the music stand or piano that represent each time they play a song correctly that they get to keep
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When Should I Start My Child in Piano Lessons?

By Courtney Hall
There’s no simple answer to “how old does my child need to be for private piano lessons?”. Every child is so different in their development, maturity, attention span, and interests between 3-7, and every family has a different parenting style and routine at home that all effects the child’s success in lessons. The first requirement that is a necessity is knowing left from right really well. They also need to be able to identify written numbers and letters really well, and if they are starting to read independently, that is a huge help. Lastly, they need to be able to sit relatively still, focus, and be able to follow directions for about 30 minutes.
Although learning to play an instrument is fun, it is also takes a lot of really hard work. Very young children are all about having fun and aren’t so good at doing hard work yet. I have agreed to do lessons with 3, 4, and 5 year olds before, and although they have the capability of learning piano, it almost always results in the same thing– getting “burnt out” and fighting their parents horribly at home when they’re told to practice. They have fun at their lesson and still want to take lessons, but they absolutely refuse to practice at home. Therefore, the progress is so unbearably slow without practice between lessons that everyone starts getting discouraged. Now there’s always some resistance to practicing no matter what the age, but I feel like there’s usually a big difference after about kindergarten or 1st grade when they’ve been through a little school and start understanding homework because basically that’s how lessons work– a half hour private lesson then at least 5 days of piano homework to work on independently. The older they start, the faster they progress and get to harder songs which helps them have more confidence and enjoy piano more, so they’re a little less likely to get burnt out.

 

How creative the parents can be with practicing at home can be a huge help though. If the parents make piano practice a short consistent part of a daily routine and are really creative about making it feel like fun and games, piano practice is likely to go a lot better.

 

For children younger than 1st grade students, make sure they have had at least 3-6 months of just playing around on the piano before starting lessons. This is actually very beneficial because they’ll be learning where the high sounds and low sounds are and learning that they can make quiet & loud sounds and short & long sounds (which cuts out several lessons where you have to pay me to teach those basic things when they could be learning it on their own through experimentation and play!) And for girls in particular, make sure they have done at least 1 year of a dance class before starting music lessons. My students who have dance experience almost always seem to do better in piano lessons because they’ve experienced music and rhythm through their body and have already learned how to keep a steady beat necessary for piano playing. And most importantly, make sure you are making music a major part of your life at home by listening to classical music, kids songs, pop/rock songs, traditional/folk songs, patriotic songs, etc. very often. Singing at home is extremely important too– exploring their voice is the most intimate way to explore music and become aware of pitch that they will hear on other instruments. Kids that have been exposed to lots of music at home almost always have an easier time learning piano! I also highly recommend enrolling in several semesters of our Preschool Music, Story, & Art Class for ages 4-6. Not only does it give kids exposure to music and instruments from around the world, but it also gives them a chance to explore pitch and rhythm that they will need experience with in piano lessons, get comfortable with our school environment, and practice direction following skills needed in lessons.

 

So, in short, by age 6 or 7 almost all children are ready for private lessons. Occasionally some children are ready by age 4½ or 5. And very very rarely, there are some children ready at age 3 or 4. Personally, I worry that if you take a risk and start lessons before age 6 just to see if they can handle it and it ends negatively, as they get older, they’ll have it in the back of their head that piano was difficult and boring and be hesitant to give it another try. I’d prefer for piano lessons to be a successful and enjoyable experience from the very start for all of my students.

 

I personally didn’t start lessons until 3rd grade. My grandma had a piano at her house that I was allowed to play around on as a young child, and I started learning the basics about music notes in my elementary music class in the public school system. When I finally started piano lessons, I progressed very quickly through the beginner books which gave me a lot of confidence and motivation to continue. I never felt like I was falling behind other kids who started lessons at a younger age. I’ve met a lot of other professional musicians who didn’t start piano lessons until late elementary school, and they all turned out to be incredible musicians!

 

I hope this gives you a better understanding of when to enroll your child in lessons and helps you understand why some piano teachers will refuse to teach very young children.

 

I also HIGHLY RECOMMEND purchasing either this children’s clarinet with 8 color coded keys prior to starting piano lessons. Your child should be able to independently read the “notes” to the song and play them in the correct order and should be willing to play songs through 2-3 times in a row to “practice.” This is a great demonstration of cognitive ability, attention span, fine motor skills, left and right coordination, and musical interest that are all needed in piano playing. If they are unable to complete this with the children’s clarinet, it is very unlikely that piano lessons will be successful. Download the songs to play here.

Piano Lesson Readiness Checklist

Although it’s not impossible to start lessons without these skills, if your child already possesses the few academic & fine motor skills below, they will progress MUCH faster and you will get much more for your money when enrolling in lessons. It is very beneficial to work on these skills at home to increase the productivity during lessons:

My child can recognize & confidently name written letters of the alphabet (particularly A-G for music)

My child can recognize & confidently name written numbers (particularly 1-5 for music)

My child can confidently name their right & left hand

My child can tap on a table with each finger using just ONE finger at a time

My child can easily recognize patterns (for example, if you put the same objects in a line arranged in groups of 2-3-2-3-2, the child can complete more of the pattern and also point to just the groups of 2 and just the groups of 3)

My child can sit and focus on an activity for at least 15 minutes without getting up or asking if they’re almost done

My child already has an instrument to practice on at home and has had at least several months to play around on it prior to beginning lessons **Required**

 

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Registration Form

You may print this registration form and bring to first class of enrollment or we will have extra copies in class that you can fill out when you arrive:

Registration Form early childhood classes

 

 

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Family Music Play Group– What To Expect

Welcome to our Family Music Play Group!

What the Class Is:

This is a recreational and casual music class for ages 6 months- 6 years old to participate along with an adult whom may be a parent, guardian, babysitter, grandparent, or other relative. This group gives children the opportunity to explore different instruments, have fun dancing and singing, have an opportunity to work on social skills such as sharing & turn taking, and be introduced to some loosely structured group activities.

What the Class Is NOT:

This class is not the same as instrumental lessons where they are learning how to play a particular song on an instrument. We recommend private lessons start at age 6 and up. Until then, instrument exploration through play and listening/moving to music is one of the most beneficial precursors to learning how to play an instrument.

What is Expected of the Parent:

  • Please guide your child to play the instruments in an appropriate and gentle way. Turning pegs on stringed instruments can result in injury.
  • Please guide your child to take turns and share the instruments.
  • Do not get frustrated if your child does not sit for the entirety of story time or the hello/goodbye song like other children. It’s ok to explore during those times too!
  • Please take a break from your phone and participate with your child! This is a judgement-free zone where we can all act silly with our children and sing along no matter how bad our singing is. They will participate so much more if you are participating with them!
  • Babies and toddlers will put things in their mouths– just help us keep track by putting dirty items in the “Yuck Buck” on the side of the classroom so they can be sanitized later.
  • Adapt what we’re doing to whatever fits your situation! For example, dancing and jumping for babies and younger toddlers really means you’re the one dancing and jumping while holding them, while older toddlers and preschoolers enjoy doing this on their own next to you.
  • Your child won’t let go of an instrument to clean up when we’re done with it? No problem! Let them keep it until they’re ready to give it up! Every child is in a different stage of development! You can gently encourage them, but don’t let that ruin a whole class for them if they’re not ready to clean up!

The Hesitant Child

All children greatly vary in development, personalities, courage, and participation levels. It can be frustrating or discouraging when everyone else in the class jumps right in and participates while your child refuses to join in. Be patient! This is a brand new atmosphere with brand new instruments they may have never seen before and brand new people they are not familiar with. (Also remember that some children may have already been enrolled in previous semesters & their comfort level may be different.) It’s ok if they only cling to you the whole time– they are still taking in the things around them and absorbing the music! Just gently encourage them and keep modeling the activities yourself to show them it’s ok. Over the years, I’ve had some students who took almost a year to warm up, but once they came out of their shell, music class was one of their very favorite activities! I’ve also had students who looked like they were paying NO attention at all in class but would go home and start singing the hello song and repeating activities we did in class. Please know that it is NOT my expectation with this age range that everyone should perfectly participate & have a wonderful attention span. Instead, I would just like them to have fun and enjoy the music, and they can each do that in their own way!

If you misplace your schedule at home, you can look it up on the website: http://www.creativecanton.com

At the end of each semester, you will be given first priority to keep a spot in the class and continue. Please RSVP in a timely manner so that if you are not continuing, that spot may be given to someone else.

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