Piano Lessons and Piano Teacher Hints!


In Home Lessons

In-Home lesson are a great way to conserve your time and energy taking the kids to lessons for more important things. This also creates a positive piano experience. Imagine the difference when the piano teacher comes to you...

 (MisterEvan is always available to give  lessons at his very well equipped in- home studio, with playstation, games and waiting room!)


Here's the Point!!

Music is communication. So if you are not saying something with your music, what's the point?  I like to ask my students what does the piece that they are playing mean to them. If it means something to them that is the start and continuation of a vital interest in music. Through louds and softs, crescendos, accents, stacatto and expressive markings, the piece begins to express something that's important. It's important for children and young adults (and the rest of us too) to be aware of what we are thinking and feeling and to express it appropriately. Some of the things music expresses are deep level communication. We like to hear our deeper thoughts and feelings expressed through music... The great thing about music lessons is that we connect with the thoughts and feelings  of the great composers and ourselves. 

  Rapport and Laughter with my Students

How serious is the average 5 year old? Not very.The number one goal of any teacher should be and needs to be rapport. Every student is different.One of the great joys of teaching is to find out how each young person relates, then reach to that level where they can say to themselves "Hey, I get this! "How is this done???Well, building confidence for starters. Truly, a lot of parents have had a neighborhood piano teacher who seemed overly concerned with accuracy and holding hands in a certain shape and even using a ruler as a knuckle rapper! I ask you...how much confidence can be built using a yardstick? So my goals are different: Building confidence and enthusiasm is everything in this teacher's mind. The learning will happen when the confidence precedes Praise to the sky,stickers, and sense of humor, are an important part of my teaching tool box. Fun is an integral part of my teaching style...no matter what age my student might be!....and I am serious about this! My adult students know this the best of all. Just can't believe how much fun we have together!

The How of Reading  Music
Most of us want our children to learn to read as part of the piano teaching experience. Here's what it takes after 35 years of teaching experience:
When a student learns their notes, it's helpful to sit in the same position on the chair. This  is "key"! Learning your notes is more than memorizing flashcards. It's muscle memory too. Playing the same finger on each note at first, assists our student to  physically remember where the notes are as well as name them.....beginning note reading is matched with particular fingers. The most useful method for this purpose is the "Middle C" method-- both thumbs resting on middle C. As a comparison, some methods introduce more than one position within days of each other. These methods create confusion and frustration. If you think that you  might be experiencing this, please give me a call. See also the Wright Way Notefinder

The Two Belief Systems: To Read or Not to Read
There are two belief systems when it comes to the value of reading music and playing an instrument. This is played out in extremes by comparing the Suzuki Method, with the standard Classical Training that most of know and grew up with.
Suzuki innovated the process of imitation. Thousands of Japanese children in stadiums across Japan learned to play the violin in unusual positions - by imitation. Its just easy and fun to play imitating  a teacher's fingering, body posture and hand positions when it comes to that new song! Imitation creates amazing results. You can get a lot farther, quickly.  Is it definitely faster than figuring out notes on a staff and understanding where each note is physically on the piano?  Of course.  This is called learning to read ! Some children and adults have an amazing ability to imitate - and their teachers rightfully encourage this. Yes, it is a great form of learning and needs to be part of teaching strategy.  The other shoe drops when we realize  that imitation alone is not sufficient for us to become thoroughly independent and able to play the piano. Our imitative memory is not as dependable as some of us would like to think! Learning to read, we open ourselves up to musical possibilites, composer's  repertoire,and great skill at the piano.  Students who have the misfortune of only learning imitation usually wind up with 2 or 3 songs at the end of their piano study...or worse ...forgetting everything they know!
Those who are introduced carefully and surely to reading music come out of lessons with a skill for the rest of their life, entertaining themselves and others, and with a life long potential to explore further musical adventures.

Mr Evan's Reward System...

When teaching piano to children, my first step is rapport. The goal is for the student to feel that MrEvan is a cool guy that is interested in lots of things...besides just piano. I take a Holistic approach. I really want  to know where their minds are. Sure the goal is for their mind to be centered on learning piano. Yet, in order to get there,  one has to know what else is going on in the young person's life. If young Sally just came back from dance and  soccer, and is going to do a sleep over later, I want to know...because if so, the lesson plan is going to change. 

Asking "How are you?" at the beginning of each lesson helps my students communicate and let me know what is going on in their lives. Sometimes it is quite surprising what comes up. The purpose is to encourage them to love the instrument, spend the time necessary to practice, and raise the value of playing on their list of priorities. The results are quite surprising: "I never have to ask him to practice -- he just sits down and does it" or, "I can't get them off the piano" are phrases that I hear from parents quite frequently. So creating the relationship, praise and encouragement with my students is number one. This is working on the inside-out for my students to really feel good about their progress and their piano accomplishments. Children being who they are and teens, often need more than a relationship and encouragement. For example, when teaching my son words,  at first, he did not want to read...later a different story. My rewards with him included many extrinsic rewards...Stickers, toys, money...these things are part of an external reward system. I often ask myself during a lesson if I were the parent of this child what would I do to show them that playing the piano is of great importance? Students really get to know that their playing piano is very important to me. Without a parent's all important interest though, all efforts that I might make are diminished in value. The good news is parents can do so much to enhance their child's natural interest in music.  In short order, we can be successful at completing the triangle power loop between student, parent, and teacher.

The Importance of the Recital...

Today, one week after the recital, I went to a home as usual. There I met a young man (7 years old) who wanted to do the song from Harry Potter...all because he had heard another student do it at the recital. Previously the student's motivation level was on the wain. Today he was really excited about learning. Does this tell you the importance of the recital to piano lessons? Recitals bring together a group of students who have been working by themselves for 6 months. It is great fun to be part of a group with a common mission: to become good at music and piano. When students hear others play, they see and hear and admire and that there are musical goals that others are accomplishing.   It serves them to set their sites higher on the piano performance ladder. Their efforts are valued by other students and parents! That is why it IS a powerful experience and significant and you want to make an effort to be there, Each recital has a personality of its own. It is the celebration of my student's efforts and have found it to be very exhilarating..if it doesn't go on too long!!! :)

The Importance of Fingering....
It has come to my attention that some students have been taught using hand positions and have become stuck in that mode. Certain books that are very popular introduce middle C and C below middle C position at once. This is too much material. These books are written to make money for their authors and not with students best interest in mind. This is written as a public service so that parents and teachers might avoid this method. You are welcome to call me about the name of these books so that you can identify if you are going in the right direction.
Hand positions are used at the beginning to create a touch anchor that feels right. When the touch anchor is established, from there it can be expanded. This sense of what feels right, develops with guidance, into proper fingering at the piano. The beginning piano teacher guides this touch sense -- this 6th sense of fingering. "Hand positions" are taught to give the easiest understanding of position, location and fingering at the keys..Later, students need to feel comfortable with any finger on any note..regardless of positions. If your student is stuck thinking about hand positions, call me -- we'll talk. 


Why Note Reading is So Hard to Learn
Yes it is about memorizing the notes on the page -- yet, it is also about WHERE those notes are on the piano! Most of us believe that learning notes is a mind exercise. We get the flashcards from the music store thinking this will solve everything right?. Quickly we find that maybe it  doesn't work for some reason....that's because it is 50% of the job - the other part is the muscle memory that  goes along with the mind exercises. HintMake sure your student says the note, then plays the note when drilling with cards. Better than cards, I use the WRIGHT WAY NOTEFINDER  because it's quick and easy to drill notes. A minute a day is so much time using this tool. Students should be seated  in the same location --- belly button aligned to the center of "Middle D" , and fingers in Middle C position. Associating the same finger with the same note  helps alot to reinforce the short and long term memory of the note location and note name -together. This creates a secure foundation to note reading/piano playing for a young beginning student. Put another way, all the note memorizing in the world will not help if at the same time, you do not feel and do not know where the notes are!

 Piano Lesson Quotes from MisterEvan:

1.  "Middle C is the same on the page for both hands...stem goes up for one and down for the other!

2.  "It took me thirty years to figure out that fingers of the C scale going up, are the same exact finger numbers going down!"

3.  "The C scale fingering is: 123  HOP   12345"

4.  "pinky goes on g"

5.  "It takes 3 chords to play 90% of music."

 6.  "Heart and Soul is a great way to learn 4 of your chords"

7.   "There are 7 letters on the keyboard....ABCDEFG...that's all!."



 Teaching the Theory of Music to Children...
Adults frequently have a concern that their children learn music theory. Music Theory is defined as the science of how music is put together. At the beginning, I like teaching chordal patterns in songs like Heart and Soul. This fun exercise introduces chords as part of the art of playing. I avoid learning the more complex types of chords ...diminished, augmented, 7ths, 9ths 11ths and 13ths, until we are studying rock and roll or jazz.  At that time we are "beginners  no longer"! The need for music theory grows as we become more skilled. One of the basic goals at the elementary level is to learn the difference between major and minor chords and to tell them apart by sound. I give the explanation  that  major chords are happy chords and the minor are serious/sad chords. Children then  connect ... how major and minor relate to the emotions of music.  Theory needs to be meaningful and connected to emotions...like the music it attempts to explain!  A program like CERTIFICATE OF MERIT given by the Music Teacher's Association is just one way to cover Theory adequately. Theory can also kill a student's interest in music so it is best to consult with your music teacher exactly how to approach the learning of Music Theory!
 Frustration Level in a Child when Learning the Piano
Frustration is Communication. It tells a piano teacher when something is not working and correction in approach must be made-- instantly! That telltale sign...quiet, slight head bend, a slight watery eyeball, these communications are very very important. Sometimes you get lucky.. the other day, I asked my student about her eyes. She told me she had allergies. I breathed a sigh of relief. If a teacher catches frustration early, huge changes can be made in the attitudes of students toward piano. The famous teacher Suzuki, said music making needs to be approached with JOY. Does Frustration equal Joy?  Without a doubt, 90% of piano dropouts are caused by inexperienced teachers not attuned to warning signs of frustration... and the need for the teacher to make adjustments in the moment. When you hear: "I wish I had continued"...that person is a product of a teacher who needed to know more about paving  the road for their piano student. On the other hand, if your student is one of the 10--20 % that has a high frustration threshold, be sure that your teacher is paving the road with pieces that they can be successful in.  Little by little, building success upon success, they will go just as far and  learn confidence, persistence and self esteem and learn to conquer their frustration--it'll happen!

Higher Levels of Advancement for Children
Does the quality of a piano effect the outcome of piano lessons? The short answer is yes and here is why. With a modest piano...a spinet...a lot can be accomplished...yet in a little while there are diminishing returns. Why do people sit at the piano? What will attract a young person to want to play, keep on playing, and want to practice? Beyond playing notes fast and being able to play pieces, is there something else which is ever changing, challenging, almost kaleidoscopic in nature about piano that could have someone sit there hour after hour without tiring? The answer is yes. It is the HEART of piano playing. 
The Heart of piano playing is tone production. Learning about tone production is like learning how to convey meaning with words. Tone production has to do with the way you touch the piano. The quality of touch directly effects the quality of tone produced. A small grand is much better suited to learning tone production. After beginning lessons have taken a student to the edge of tone production, it is necessary to change the piano. Without concentrating on the HEART of piano -- tone production -- playing the piano becomes "something my parents want me to do".  In contrast, when tone production is taught, the product is uniquely that individual's expression and the playing is owned by the young person. No longer does it have to do with Mommy and Daddy. We want this sign of maturity...personal expression...in our student's piano playing!

Competition and It's Role in Piano Teaching
Does competition have it's place in teaching piano to children? Well for sure, children are competitive, yet introducing competition sparingly is something I like to do to see how much is appropriate. If we stop to think about our own lives a moment, how many of us would be where we are in life if it were not due to a little competition here and there?  So I like to introduce a larger and larger perspective to my students as they become more proficient. By introducing it sparingly, I am able to produce inspiration...rather than disheartenment. Something exciting is something that we aspire to...and I want to create a certain amount of excitement and anticipation of accomplishment in my students. Sometimes, when a student is reasonably on the road and has accomplishments at the piano, I will play a video like the one below, to show my students what is possible. I think letting them know what is possible...musically and by way of  recognition...is a good idea. Let them know what is possible..that's what I am aiming for!

Click here:

Sing to MrE's America the Beautiful

What's in a Song?

What would it be like to have shared song with a neighbor in the community?
Well, just 50 years ago piano bars were the mainstay in a variety of public places and we did just that.  The general public sang these songs together, danced these songs together. 
Now it would seem that most young people have little idea of American Music.
All the songs once known, are lost. 
For example, I ask my students whether they know Oh Susanna, and they say... "No".
That something missing is part of the fabric that holds our uniquely American culture together.
When there was common song
there was...well there just was more in common.
The piano was the instrument that represented that togetherness as a culture. 
People would sit around the piano bar an request songs. Usually the musician was someone of real ability and talent...Our culture had a real respect for performance and good music.
I think what we might be asking ourselves is... how can we bring some of this back?
Perhaps these questions shed some light, from a pianistic point of view, on some of the challenges we face today as a society and culture.