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Posts Tagged ‘piano parents’

‘He loves their lessons with you, but I just can’t get them to practice,

and don’t want to nag!’

I’ve heard this refrain oodles of times in my years of teaching and my answer to parents is …..frustrated-parent1

NAG BABY!!

OK; let me refine that a bit …. PERSUADE BABY!!

Let’s take a closer look at that statement.He loves their lessons with you, but I just can’t get them to practice, and don’t want to nag!’

Your child loves his teacher.  That’s a huge positive. The comment implies that you want your child to succeed in piano.  That’s also a huge positive.  This is NOT the time to give up when so much is going on in the plus column in the ongoing family drama of piano lessons.  Like I said, I’ve heard this refrain from scores of parents over the years.

When a piano teacher hears a statement like this they have many options available to them, especially when the student “likes them”.  Many teachers will analyze the many different aspects of the piano lessons to find a solution to this commonly heard difficulty.  There are many things a piano teacher will consider using his professional perspective drawing on his education and experience.

I may have a professional perspective, but parents, you have a more powerful and more important perspective; you have a parental perspective. I say this as a teacher; with your perspective you can provide a support that I just cannot provide.

You’re the yin to our yang

The idea of yin and yang is that, taken together, they form a complete unit, a whole. Yet, at the same time they are different.  Yin and yang do not overlap or intersect.  Teachers cannot effectively work alone. Our Yang cannot do the job alone; at least cannot do it near as effectively.

NOTE: As in all analogies, this one, too, is not perfect in all aspects.  But, here are a couple ideas that parents can do to yin yangcompliment our yang with your yin.   Here are some strategies that you can do to persuade your child not only to love their piano lessons and piano teacher but to love the whole learning experience itself, even practicing.

I want to give you two simple points that will help all parents in The Art of Subtle Persuasion and I promise ….. no nagging required.

Yin Number One – LET YOUR CHILD KNOW YOUR DESIRES

I think often what happens is the homes across America, and the world for that matter, is that a child will do something to demonstrate and interest in music.  The parent is delighted about the child’s interest in music. I also think most parents have a secret hope that their child is musical.  They have a little conversation together. The parent then asks the child if they would like music lessons.  The child enthusiastically says, “SURE!!”.  And then, I get a phone call.

In all of this little conversation the parent never expresses their personal desire to their child The child doesn’t know that their parent is as enthusiastic as they are.  Teparent and child at pianoll your child how pleased you are about his love for music and how excited you are about getting him lessons.  This is a great bonding moment!!  Take the opportunity to unify with your child on your common desire you have together.  If you’re a hugging kind of parent maybe a big hug is in order here.  If you do, that unity of desire will inform your child that he isn’t taking piano lessons totally on his own.  He knows his parent is totally on board and is invested in the endeavor.  Young children thrive on knowing they are doing something that please their parents.

I also think it’s important that when you communicate this to your child you communicate it directly into the child’s mind/soul/heart.  You want to make sure this communication takes root in your child’s person.  I think eye to eye contact is called for in this situation.  This is not something frivolous you may shout from the kitchen before meal time, like, “Wash your hands before coming to dinner.”

This shouldn’t be a one time thing, either.  In a moment like when a parent must explain to the teacher, “I just can’t get them to practice and I don’t want to nag!!” may be such a moment to reiterate you commitment of your desire for your child’s success.  Speaking of your desire for your child’s success repeats the communication that this is an activity that you both want.  It is a much stronger statement than saying, “You told me that you wanted piano lessons.”  “You told me that you wanted piano lessons.” can easily turn into a “nag” because the whole communication is focused on the child. Speaking of your desire for your child’s success repeats the “we” unity.  You are part of this team effort.

I know there’s a lot of discussion that parent’s should not live their desires through their children.  I agree with that.  That is something to be avoided.  I think, though, in reaction to that concept one can go too far in the other direction. That other direction is that the child must make Parent-child-talkevery decision totally on his own accord or it must be looked upon as a parental manipulation and therefore no good. What I’m encouraging is a middle ground where the parent guides, encourages and persuades their child to follow through on a decision that was made together, not through any coercion whatsoever, but through mutual agreement.  Since it’s a mutual agreed upon commitment, you, as parent, have input in what your little team does when that initial resolve and enthusiasm wanes.

Notice, our first point is something totally out of the realm of the teacher.  This is your yin.  My yang comes from a totally different realm where there is no intersection.

Yin Number Two – KNOW YOUR CHILD.  Often, with younger students, parents will think a lesson time right after school may be convenient.  But, it ends out that the student is tired after being at school all day and really need some time to “recharge” or needs a snack to sharpen their mind up for piano lessons.  This is knowledge that cannot be known by the teacher because some children do very well with a piano lesson immediately after school.

Other important things that a teacher doesn’t know.

Is the piano is a area of the home where practice may be accomplished where other family members will feel put upon to “endure”?  But (and a very important but) the piano should also be in a place in the home where people can easily gather and music can be readily shared.

When I was a young student my family put our instrument (an electronic organ) in our living room.  The organ had headphones and when I practiced other family members could use the living room without me distracting them or they distracting me.  This was back in the day when the living room was the center of family activity when we were not all eating.  BUT, when the family members wanted me to play having the organ in the living room was the perfect place because it was the most social room of the house.  My grandfather lived with us and he would have me playchristmas at piano the hymns he loved.  When the insurance man would come to explain a new policy, my parents would ask me to play something, especially if I was practicing.  When my friends would come over and want me to play baseball they would come through to the living room and I’d play something I was learning.  When relatives would come and visit everyone would sit in the living room and invariably someone would ask me to play.

The point here is all social occasions are enhanced through music and it’s great incentive to have young student use their developing skills to share with others.  Don’t allow piano to become a lonely activity. Music is to be shared.  Nothing can persuade a student to practice than to know he can have all the attention of everyone in the room for those moments he can share music with others.

Again, this is the yin you add to my yang.  I cannot provide opportunities at this gratifying a level.  I can provide a recital or two per year or an academic setting of a performance class.  My opportunities are bronze or, at best, silver.  Yours are pure gold.

These two point will add powerful yin to my yang and should go a long way in The Art of Subtle Persuasion  …. no nagging required!!

 

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As a piano teacher and as a parent I can say without equivocation that being a parent is tremendously more difficult.  This is true in spite of 6 years of music lessons through my grade school years that prepared me for 6 more years to attain 2 college degrees that prepared me just to enter my profession as a music teacher.  So, the advice I give here is given humbly because I think both of us want your child to be a resounding success in their music study.  I want to succeed because of my calling as a music teacher and I’m sure you want to succeed because of your vastly more difficult challenge of being a good parent.

Musical Family
I’m not going to give you 12 points on how to be a good “piano parent”.  I’m not going to give you 7 points, or even 3 points.  I’m just going to give you 1 simple point. That point is …….

PREPARE YOUR CHILD TO BE A GOOD STUDENT

student

When I became a parent in the late 1970’s there was a move away from the view that “a child should be seen but not heard”.  Children were encouraged to interact with adults.  Children were taught to be assertive. Children were taught to express themselves confidently.  As parents we listened to our children and did our best to respect their thoughts and wishes.  All these things are proper and good.  However ……..

……. these good traits do not always work for the best in a teacher-student relationship.

teacher student

The most common issue teachers face is the student that looks on the teacher as their buddy or their friend.  Sometimes teachers affectionately refer to these students as a “Chatty Kathy”.  Of course I consider all my students my little friends but in a teacher-student sense.  Some students will take each lesson as an opportunity to tell me everything that’s going on in their life.  I must say that sometimes this is all very interesting but it’s really not critical that I know that their little brother hid the beans he didn’t want to eat for supper behind the trash can.  And I certainly don’t want to know that mommy made daddy sleep on the couch last night! It’s important for a young child to know that even though their teacher is friendly and interested in them, that the main reason they come to the piano lesson is to learn about playing the piano and not sharing their life experiences, interesting though they are.  Their relationship with their teachers is a special one; and one that is unlike other relationships they will encounter in their lives.  It is a relationship that’s different than the one with their parents, or, their relationship with their peers.

Teachers love it when students feel free to communicate and interact with them during their lesson.  This free flow of communication helps the teacher in many ways.  It helps the teacher in making good educational decisions.  If a student expresses his like for a certain kind of music and his dislike for another kind of music that is important information for a teacher to know. A good teacher will consider this when choosing appropriate music; music the student will enjoy practicing.  However, this free communication does not mean that the teacher is duty bound to direct the student to music that is limited only to their area of interest.  A teacher-student relationship is one where the teacher helps expand the view of his student.  A good teacher will never discount the views of his student but he will want to expand the views to take in more territory.  So, it is important for any child to know that in a teacher-student relationship the teacher is going to be expanding horizons and moving the students out of their “comfort zones” in order to expand those horizons.  This is part of the teacher-student relationship.

Again, it is very helpful when a student is assertive.  If a student is assertive and says I DON’T LIKE FINGER EXERCISES that is very useful information for a teacher to know.  With information given that bluntly, the teacher can immediately respond.  When I’m confronted with this type of assertiveness I do not take offense.  I do not take it personally as an attack on my teaching.  I want to know “why” the student asserted this.  I will ask the student many questions to determine the “why”.  Were the exercises too difficult.  Were they uninteresting.  Were they intimidating because of the speed I may have demonstrated the exercise.  Were the exercises awkward for their hands.  With the student’s assertiveness I can immediately go about solving a difficulty.  However, this assertiveness does not mean I abandon the idea of finger exercises.  A student needs to know that in a teacher-student relationship assertiveness does not translate into a capitulation on the teachers part.

We live in an age when bullying is an issue we must confront.  We teach our children, quite correctly, not to be intimidated by bullies.  We teach them to be confident in their convictions, to stand up for themselves as to not be influenced by the tactics of a bully.  However, taking this attitude into the teacher-student relationship can be problematic.  This attitude often comes up in a piano lesson when the teacher will make a correction in a student’s performance, on a piece they’ve prepared for their lesson.  The student will resist the teacher’s instruction, confidently thinking the teacher is wrong in their evaluation.  Often when this happens I will try to come from a different angle to make the same point.  Again, in the teacher-student relationship the teacher is there to educate the student in their musical and pianistic understanding and this will often challenge the student, especially as the student gets into the junior high and high school years.  Again, a major part of the teacher-student relationship is to correct and refine.  All quality teachers do this with the student’s best interest in mind.  It is never done to tear a student down; though, at times, especially if the student is having a bad day, it may feel like it.  It is done to build them up and make the student better.  To have a good teacher-student relationship this must be understood.

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parent student teacher

I certainly understand the difficult demands of raising children in the 21st century and if I were a parent I would certainly teach my children to interact easily with adults,  to be assertive, to express themselves confidently.  I would teach them in how to deal with strong personalities and bullies. I would do my best to always respect their thoughts and wishes.  I would even give them a certain suspicion of adult authority figures. But, I would also temper these thoughts where there would be limits in their interaction with adults where adults would still be given due deference.  I would temper their assertiveness with the ability to listen to the wishes of others.  I would temper confidence with humility and teach them the best way to gain the respect of others is give due respect in return.  I think these points will all go towards preparing young children to be good students where music lessons will be the resounding success we desire for student, parent and teacher.  And, I think it will develop outstanding teacher-student relationships.

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Letterhead - Valencia Studio
Piano Lessons – Mars PA

Dear Piano Lover,

I’m establishing a NEW PIANO STUDIO in Valencia, PA.  It’s in a location easily accessible to the people of Valencia, Saxonburg and Mars PA.

Most people would just love to play the piano. The reasons are many. They love the sound of the piano – they want some means to relax after a hard day at work – some just want a chance to get back the joy they had playing the piano as a child – and many parents want to give their child an opportunity for musical expression for their personal development.

I’ve been teaching piano for years and one of the most satisfying things about teaching is hearing from my old students, now adults, telling me how much playing the piano means to them. I presently have openings at my studio(s) in Wexford and Valencia to give you the opportunity to learn to play the piano.

Here’s what a former parent said of my instruction:

Mr. Severino is an excellent instructor, he teaches students on a age appropriate level. He is good at giving background history so the student is better educated in understanding how and why the music is composed. I had my child interview a number of instructors and she choose him because he made her feel the most comfortable. It has been three years and we could not be happier with her progress. Mr. Severino encourages a child’s talent and enjoyment of music. It has been a pleasure and truly rewarding experience.

Please give me a call (724) 898-0273 or eMail me at pianopressings@gmail.com to join my growing studio of great piano students.

Best,
Dan Severino

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PLP Letterhead

 Piano Lessons – Mars, PA

Dear Piano Lover,

Most people would just love to play the piano. The reasons are many. They love the sound of the piano – they want some means to relax after a hard day at work – some just want a chance to get back the joy they had playing the piano as a child – and many parents want to give their child an opportunity for musical expression for their personal development.

I’ve been teaching piano for years and one of the most satisfying things about teaching is hearing from my old students, now adults, telling me how much playing the piano means to them. I presently have openings at my studio(s) in Wexford and Valencia to give you the opportunity to learn to play the piano.

Here’s what a former parent said of my instruction:

Mr. Severino is an excellent instructor, he teaches students on a age appropriate level. He is good at giving background history so the student is better educated in understanding how and why the music is composed. I had my child interview a number of instructors and she choose him because he made her feel the most comfortable. It has been three years and we could not be happier with her progress. Mr. Severino encourages a child’s talent and enjoyment of music. It has been a pleasure and truly rewarding experience.

Please give me a call (724) 935-2840 and join my growing studio of great students.

Best,
Dan Severino

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THE IMPORTANCE OF EXPERIENCE

I began teaching while in high school.  I had taken about 5 years of lessons on the organ and made good progress.  I thought I could teach beginners.  So I put an ad in our local newspaper. The ad produced several inquiries which turned into my first students.  I thought I did quite well teaching my first students.  My students respected me, accepted me as their teacher and complimented me on my ability to teach.

One mom complimented me saying that I was the only person, other than her son’s father, that could communicate with her son so readily.  The little boy was shy, socially awkward and today would be classified as a slow learner.  All these positive experiences gave me confidence to study music in college and become a teacher.

In college I majored in piano and kept my organ studies. Today I own a teaching studio, Piano Lessons PLUS, and am the organist for my Church.  But after getting my college degrees and starting my teaching career I found there were some things that my natural teaching ability didn’t provide.  There were some things that only experience could provide and those experiences were critical in making me the teacher I am today.

MY PERSONAL LEARNING TRAJECTORY AS A STUDENT WOULD BE FAR DIFFERENT THAN THE LEARNING TRAJECTORY OF MY TYPICAL STUDENT

Most music teachers choose to be teachers because music comes easily and naturally to them.  That’s not to say we didn’t have to work hard but it was “fun”work.

So, I naturally thought that all my students would love music as much as I did.  I mistakenly thought they would learn pretty much at the same pace I did.  Unfortunately this wasn’t the case so one of the first major lessons I learned after my college education, a lesson that could only be learned through experience, was my experience as a student was going to be different than that of my students.

In the first years of my teaching I tended to go much too fast through the initial books.  I could get away with this for a short while but then the student would come to a plateau and crash.  We would try to fight our way through that plateau but it brought about a frustration to the student that wasn’t necessary.

The initial steps in learning to read musical manuscript must be thoroughly understood.  Depth of learning is critical to teaching the beginning piano student, regardless of their age of beginning lessons.  It doesn’t matter if the student is 4 or 12.  To learn to read music well a student must read music, a lot of it.  Here’s one place where we are not talking quality; we’re talking quantity.

Once I learned this very important lesson my students began learning at a much steadier rate.  I found they were no longer the running into “brick walls”.  There was much less frustration and piano lessons became a natural progression.  The trajectory of my students learning was much steadier.  Experience became my friend.

TECHNIQUE IS A LONG AND ARDUOUS TASK — FOR THE TEACHER

It wasn’t until I was in college that technique was approached as a scientific study of how to utilize the human mechanism to produce facility and a beautiful tone.  My teachers before college gave me finger exercises.  Play these exercises and with sufficient repetition you could play any piece you desired.  While in college it was a huge mental adjustment to approach the piano from this new paradigm.

When I began teaching professionally I had to take these rather complex ideas I learned in my 20’a and apply them to young grade school students.  It was among the most difficult of the tasks I had, to bring these sophisticated principles down to a grade school level.  But with each student I taught I learned better and better ways to convey these principles to my students.

My class of students had students with so many different mechanical abilities that it just added to my personal learning curve.  Some students had very delicate hands.  Some where honestly frail.  Others students had very strong hands but each with varying degrees of flexibility.  Even other students had finger joints that easily collapsed that made producing a good sound on the piano difficult.

But after years of close observation eventually I got to the place where I had enough experiences that the problems I saw began to repeat.  Eventually I knew what I needed to do and the tasks I needed to give the students so they could maximize their personal technical potential.  It was only through experience that I as a teacher learned how to master the teaching of technique to my young students.

PROGRESSING THE STUDENT — ANOTHER TASK ONLY MASTERED THROUGH EXPERIENCE

My first lessons were on the organ.  I was 11 years old.  My progress was far different than the progress of those who started on the piano at age 7, which was the typical starting age in the early 1960’s.  The rate a student progresses is very different depending on the age the student begins.

When I began teaching I had to guess which books to purchase.  I had to hope the books I choose would match the rate of progress of each student.  Of course, each student had a different level of natural ability and that further complicated this issue too.  Every student brought me a different set of issues that demanded my attention.

But again, the only example I had was my own personal experience.  And starting music rather late at age 11 didn’t give me a very good template when I began my own studio of students.  Again there was a lengthy learning curve in understanding all the possibilities of judging the right level of music that would maximize my individual student’s progress.

This is especially true in the intermediate level of piano study where one chooses more repertoire from a body of musical compositions that really wasn’t written with any thought to step by step progress as is typical of method books written for the elementary piano student.  Bach wrote many superb pieces for children.  So did Schumann and Bartok.  But these pieces were written with no thought to sequencing; which piece to teach first and which piece to teach next.

So, choosing the “right” next piece is dependent upon the teacher’s judgment.  This requires a lot of thought and study for any piano teacher.  It comes from seeking out and knowing a vast amount of literature for the developing piano student and then categorizing them it in a logical progression of study.  Then from this body of music choosing selections wisely that will maximize the students learning.   Of course, this is different for each student.

Choosing selections that are not too hard or too easy, choosing selections that are progressing the student musically and technically, choosing selections that are properly varied from the major historical epochs of music history, choosing selections that would be appealing to the personality of the student all go into finding the next “right” composition.  I didn’t learn this without a lot of study and experience.

TEACHING THE CLASSICAL MUSICAL TRADITION

Most piano teachers I know feel they are passing on to their students a great musical tradition.   A tradition that is centuries old and a tradition that was centuries in the making.  It is a tradition that teachers feel a responsibility to pass on to their student because it represents the very best of all human endeavor.

Passing on that tradition to my students was another item in my teaching that required a lengthy learning curve.  At college all our classes; history, theory and performance classes combined to give us an overview of that tradition.  There was no class in MUSIC TRADITION 101.

Our musical tradition is something that is slowly absorbed in the consciousness of the student through diligent study.  As a teacher one of my goals and functions was to take this information, this tradition, and distill it to my students in a level they could understand.

When I taught my students about simple music notation, the treble and bass clef or grand staff,  I would relate the story of a time when there was no musical notation.  Music was passed on aurally.  In time, as music became more complex the need arose that music could no longer be passed on from generation to generation aurally.  So, musical notation was born.  Through the next generations a system of musical notation was devised that eventually became what we have today.

Then I can present to my students the concept that music notation is something that is still in the process of changing and most probably what we have in a couple hundred years will be something different from today BUT something that will be built from what we have today.  Students can then see and understand that they are a member of the great sweep of history and they come into the long ongoing story of history at this special moment in time.  Taking this approach we can help students see that when Bach was born he came on the scene at a time when music was doing things that caused him to write music the way he did.  We can understand why Bach wrote minuets but Bartok didn’t.

The reason I use Bach and Bartok as my examples is because Bach and Bartok wrote music at the level of young piano students.  They are going to come in contact with these composers and through these composers I can pass on this great musical tradition to the next generation.  But again, it took a lot of thought and study to take my musical education, absorb it, and bring it to the level of my students.  This only came through experience.

THE CONCLUSION OF THE MATTER

I started teaching in my teen years and found I had a good aptitude for teaching.  This teaching led me to consider studying music in college.  After college I had a good education and could begin my own studio.  But there was a major thing I lacked and that was experience.

It was only through applying myself to the day to day task of teaching my class of students that a comprehensive picture began to emerge of how to go about my teaching tasks in a way that was best for my students.  It was only through drawing constantly from my education and thoughtfully taking that knowledge and making it connect with my students at their level that I became the teacher I am today.

It was only through a careful study of how students learn and progress that I became confident that the materials I was giving them was the right materials for them.  All teachers that take their work seriously go through this same process.  Their journey and their emphasis may be somewhat different but the process is the same.

So parents, if you are considering a piano teacher, consider a teacher that teaches because they love teaching.  And certainly consider a teacher that has had the time to have his education simmer and has had the experience to learn those things that only experience can give.

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