Piano Teachers

Musical Scales

Are Music Scales Needed?

Are music scales really needed? Does playing musical scales improve one’s musical ability? Why even play scales? Isn’t that something done in the past but no longer relevant in today’s music? Tip #11 will give you five reasons why musical scales ARE vital in today’s music.

Musical Scales
Musical Scale Youtube Video

What is a music scale?

Simply put, music scales are ascending notes in musical order, starting and ending on the same note with the sharps or flats for the starting note’s key signature. For example, the key signature of C has no sharps or flats. So when playing all the notes starting and ending on C, you will only play the white keys.

Playing scales on the piano or any instrument used to be the standard for learning. But in recent years, many music teachers have stopped teaching them, thinking they are outdated and boring. So why are the musical scales so necessary?

Key signatures – Reason #1

Music is played in a specific key signature, meaning a certain number of sharps or flats. Can’t remember what are in a specific key signature? The major scale has a sound most can identify. So if you’re not familiar with the correct sharps or flats needed, you can figure it out by playing the scale. I always teach scales by ear rather than reading notes or by the math formula (whole and half steps).

Scale Numbers – Reason #2

Musical scales help in ear training. Assigning a number for each of the seven notes 1 through 7 are called scale numbers. Each scale number has a unique sound. However, each specific scale number sounds the same in any key signature. For example, the “1” scale number, the “root,” sounds the same once your ear is acclimated to that key signature. The “1” is also the easiest to identify and the most prominent. The following most prominent scale number is the “5”, called the dominant (for a good reason, since it’s…dominant). The third most prominent scale number is the “3”. Then, like magic, if you play the “1-3-5” together, you have a major triad! Showing this to your students is a great way to introduce triads and chords. There are ways to help the student identify the sound for the other scale numbers, the “2”, “4”, “6”, and “7”. A fun assignment is to have the student listen to a simple melody, and identify the scale numbers. For example, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” starts out using the following scale numbers: “3-2-1-2-3-3-3-2-2-2-3-5-5”.  

Scale Numbers
Chord Numbers

Chord Numbers – Reason #3

We can build a triad (playing 1-3-5) on every scale number. This is called Scale Harmonization. For example, in the key of C, playing “C-E-G” builds the triad from the 1 scale number, which is the I chord. In traditional theory, roman numerals are used to identify the chord numbers. For example, I ii iii IV V vi and vii diminished. The great thing about the roman numerals is the upper and lower case identifies the major and minor triads. And just like each scale number has a unique sound, so do the triad or chord numbers. Once you learn how each triad number sounds, you can identify the chord number when listening to a song! This can be done on both the major and minor triads.

Identifying Accidentals – Reason #4

Accidentals or chromatic notes are commonly used in music, meaning notes and chords, not in the song’s key signature. Without accidentals, music would be dull. So if your ear is trained to hearing scale and chord numbers in the musical scale, an accidental will stick out like a sore thumb. Figuring out the scale and chord number for the accidental makes more sense when the student is familiar with the diatonic notesmeaning the scale and chord numbers that occur in the scale.  

Exercises – Reason #5

Using the scales as an exercise is a great way to start your practice. I play scales in multiple octaves many times before a serious practice and teach my students to do that as well. Playing scales build finger dexterity, control, strength, and speed on the piano or any instrument.

But how can the music teacher make music scales fun?

Piano Scales
Piano Scales

I agree that teaching the music scales can be boring at times. That is why I wrote the “Scales on Fire!” series. Each major and minor scale is taught in a short, fun song, using rhythm and harmonies on the scale. The sheet music can be downloaded at MelodyMusicPublishers.com for all the major and minor scales for sharped and flatted keys, or each major and minor scale individually. There’s also a video showing myself playing each of them. Now you can teach your students each major and minor scale in a fun and exciting way!

Melody Music Publishers
  • Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Are Music Scales Needed? Read More »

Piano Songs at Melody Music Publishers

Easy Piano Songs
Easy Piano Songs

Hello fellow piano instructors! You may be wondering why you haven’t heard from me in a while. Well, I’ve put my “Tips for Teachers” videos and blogs on hold while making videos of all the piano compositions from my “Drill & Excel On the Piano” books. There is a video of each song individually as well as compilation videos. Here are the compilation videos per level for books 1-3. The videos show me playing along with the sheet music. They are now at Melody Music Publishers for viewing and for purchase. These songs in each level are useful if you need more repertoire for your student if you’re not using the “Drill & Excel on the Piano” series. Remember these are all original songs you can’t find anywhere else!

Late Beginning Level Piano Songs

Here is the video compilation for 16 late beginning songs. Each song stays within a five-note hand position in the keys of G and D. The rhythm includes quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and rests.

PianoSongsLateBeginner

Intermediate Level Piano Songs

For the intermediate student, here is the video compilation for 16 original piano songs from books 2 and 3. Songs are in the keys of G, D, and A, and some are slightly outside the five-note hand position. Rhythm includes eighth, quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and rests.

PianoSongsIntermediate
PianoSongsIntermediate

“Mood Swing” Series for the Late Intermediate Level Piano Songs

This series called “Mood Swings”, is a short song in the classical style in all the major and relative harmonic minor keys. This helps the intermediate student to be familiar with all the key signatures. The notes include all seven notes of the scale in a two octave range. Rhythm includes eighth, quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and rests.

PianoSongsMoodSwings

Late Intermediate Volume 1

For the late intermediate piano student, here is the first of three volumes of original songs you won’t find anywhere else! Key signatures include F, D minor, B flat, E Flat, and A, and including accidentals. There is no hand position. Rhythm includes sixteenth, eighth, quarter, dotted quarter, half, dotted half, and whole notes and rests. These songs are beautifully written to teach specific skills for the late intermediate piano student.

PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol1
PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol1

Late Intermediate Volume 2

PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol2
PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol2

Late Intermediate Volume 3

PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol3
PianoSongsLateIntermediateVol3

Our Youube Channel

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Early Advanced Level Piano Songs

The next blog will include all the songs from “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4” for the early advanced student. These original songs include accidentals and rhythms up to all triplets (quarter, eighth, and sixteenth).

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 5

I’m excited to let you know that I’ll be writing book 5 to the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series in 2022. This will be like no other book for the advanced to late advanced student. The theory will include up to an advanced theory course, and world music and theory. And once again, all songs will be original and will be written for each chapter’s skills and information taught.

Please let me know what you think! Leave your comment below so teachers can have a conversation.

Melody Music Publishers Owner Kathi Kerr
  • Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Piano Songs at Melody Music Publishers Read More »

Piano teacher and student

How Do Children Learn Piano?

How do young children learn to play the piano? Playing the piano and reading the notes simultaneously requires multiple skills that may be challenging for students under seven. Tip #10 is the best way to teach a young beginning piano student.  

Learning to play the piano requires learning the key names, playing them, and reading music, all at the same time. Learning all these skills simultaneously may be unrealistic for a child under seven. It may cause the student frustration and quit even before they’ve begun. 

Children Learn Piano
https://youtu.be/CGHzAYKk3DQ
Children Learn Piano

There are many piano method books for young students that offer different approaches. 

  •  There is a method called “rote learning,” a “copycat” type of learning. The teacher will play specific notes, and the student will play back what they’ve heard. There is some value in learning this way since a child at this age has learned everything by watching and copying. And it helps them to play songs right away, which keeps their interest. However, I don’t consider this a long-term teaching technique since they may not understand what they’re playing. It also doesn’t teach reading skills.
  • Another method is learning the notes by pattern numbers. However, this is also not effective long-term since most songs are not written out in pattern numbers.
  • Some method books use animal characters to teach fun activities that may not directly help teach the student to play. Even though it’s fun for the student, I feel this is a waste if too much time is spent on these activities.  
  •  Some books start with playing the black keys only with finger numbers. Playing this way doesn’t teach the key name and is not realistic to playing the piano.
  • Some books start with the middle C hand positions, where both thumbs awkwardly share middle C, then skip to other hand positions before the student has the chance to master each one.
  • Another method book offers colors for each key to play songs instead of the key name. In my view, this is an example of another waste of time and learning, since this is not used in reading music.

Children Piano BookAt Melody Music Publishers, we have two books for ages 4-8 called “Color It Say It Play it and Create It,” a 60-page book, and Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too”, a 50-page book. They’re taught for children to learn piano with clear steps that start with one concept and incrementally add the next concept needed, which is perfect for the young beginning piano student.  

Both books start with the proper technique with knees at the edge of the keys, sitting tall, and letting the fingers relax to form a rainbow shape. 

COLOR IT!

Keyboard geography is taught with a coloring book using the seven colors of the rainbow for the seven notes. It starts with coloring the sets of 2 black keys, then the 3 black keys, followed by just C-D-E in the first three colors of the rainbow.

SAY IT PLAY IT!

Children Songs by Letter Names
Children Songs by Letter Names
  • Songs to say and play, using letter names using the C-D-E.
  • Copycat games on C-D-E so the student can learn to listen and playback.
  • Familiar songs with letter names and words like fast and hold for the rhythm.

AND CREATE IT!

Children Writing Songs
Children Writing Songs

Then my favorite part, where the student does the “Write Your Own Song” using just the C-D-E notes in any order they want, can then play what they just created!

More Keyboard Geography!

Back to keyboard geography, coloring the F-G-A-B, then letter names for songs to practice all five notes. More copycat games follow with C-G.

Piano Exercises for children to learn piano

Children Piano Exercises
Children Piano Exercises

Then something is added that no other method book for this age has, EXERCISES! I believe even the young student needs to play exercises to develop their playing skill. These are patterns they can memorize and play multiple times to create control, steady beat, and speed! When students do not have to concentrate on the notes and rhythm, they can let their fingers fly on the keys.  

Then there are more familiar songs with letter names and fast and hold for the rhythm, and another “Write Your Own Song.”

Rhythm for children to learn piano

Rhythm Children Piano
Rhythm Children Piano

Now rhythm is introduced, showing the value for the one, two, three, and four-count notes and rests (notice their names are not included). Worksheets follow for the student to fill out, then RHYTHM DRILLS, something not seen in any other method book for this age! I have found even a 4-year-old can play the rhythm drills and count aloud. Playing rhythm drills establishes fluency in reading, counting, and a steady beat. Then there is rhythm dictation, where the student listens and writes the rhythm they hear and a chance to create their own rhythm.  

Songs With Big Notes!

Once the rhythm is introduced, familiar songs are given using big notes with the name inside and rhythm for the young piano student to read notes and rhythm.

The left hand is introduced with fingering, songs, exercises, and copycat games to say and play using letter names. A page of rhythm drills is given, then left-hand songs with big notes and rhythm. These are original songs that are written how the left hand typically plays.

Both Hands Playing Songs!

Children Piano Songs
Children Piano Songs

Then as you may guess, both hands are introduced with letter names to start and exercises. And finally, big notes with rhythm to play hands together. There are copy games for hands together that start with both hands playing the same note, then hands playing different notes. The book finishes with both hands playing familiar songs. Each song gets a little more challenging with a total of 33 songs.  

“Color It Say It Play It and Create It Too”

This book starts out recapping book 1 at an accelerated pace, so students ages 7 or 8 can begin with this book. After the student completes playing hands together with big notes and rhythm, it then introduces notation for the treble clef notes C-G, worksheets, and four songs. Then the bass cleft C-G notes are taught, worksheets, and four original songs for the left hand, written in the left-hand style. A rhythm drill is included reading both treble and bass clef lines. And finally, six songs with both hands, all original except the last song, “Ode to Joy.”  

The beginning of each book has assignment pages, note pages, and large manuscript pages for the student to write songs. The back of the book has a practice chart with points to give the student for passing assignments. And just for fun, there are Christmas songs at the back of both books. The student can play the arrangement for the level they’re in at Christmas time. 

By the end of book 2, the young student can play with skill and read fluently in the C position! They’re now ready to progress to our “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series!

I have seen my own young students learn when one concept is taught at a time. The “Color It Say It Play It and Create It” series offers the perfect step-by-step model for the young student to learn and thrive on the piano!

I hope this helps you be the best teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

How Do Children Learn Piano? Read More »

Intermediate Piano student

Piano Method Books for Intermediate Students?

Are piano method books needed for the intermediate students? Most intermediate-level piano method books are merely repertoire for the student to play. But is there more for the intermediate student? Tip #9 are the information and skills the intermediate student should learn.  

What do beginning piano method books teach?

Beginning-level piano method books primarily teach keyboard geography, note reading, a little rhythm, diatonic intervals up to a 5th, and the I, ii, IV, and V7 triads. After finishing levels 3 or 4, most students can read music reasonably well and identify the intervals and the triads. However, there is more for the intermediate student to learn beyond just playing songs.

Watch our video

More for the beginning student?

First, let’s start with the beginning-level books. Here’s what you’ll find in “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 1” from Melody Music Publishers that you won’t find in most beginning-level method books:

Drill & Excel Book 1
Drill & Excel Book 1
  • Rhythm Drills for the whole, half, dotted half, quarter notes, and the rests with multiple rhythm drills 
    1. “Rhythm is the most neglected part of most method books, even at the beginning level. Most piano method books only show the note’s value. However, simply knowing the value doesn’t create a sight-reading skill. Playing rhythm drills where the student plays and counts aloud (using a metronome) on one note is needed to read rhythm fluently”.
  • Theory 
    1. notes in order on the staff with multiple note reading worksheets
    2. C scale hands separate, then hands together for one octave, then multiple octaves (I have found even beginners are capable of playing scales in multiple octaves)
  •  Exercises
    1. multiple 5-note patterns (most instructors will add a book like Hannon for exercises; however, it uses a 6-note pattern, which can be difficult for a beginner)
    2. Staccato exercise – I’ve never seen this unique exercise in any method books, but it is an important skill to learn
    3. Independence of hands playing different dynamic levels and staccato/legato in each hand simultaneously using motor movement skills  
    4. Multiple notes exercise learning to play 2, 3, and 4 notes together.
    5. Dynamic exercise for learning control in playing with different volumes and velocity (firmness) of the key – This is another unique drill that is critical to learning to play with dynamics.
  • 60 original songs in the C position to create a sight-reading skill in this position

Easy to follow steps

After book 1, the first chapter reviews the previous books so that the intermediate student can start with books 2, 3, or 4 without missing essential information needed.  

The late beginner/early Intermediate Student

Here is what you’ll find in book 2 for the early intermediate student not found in most method books:

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2
Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 2
  • Rhythm drills for the eighth note and rest, dotted quarter note (explaining the formula for the dot), the tie, and the 6/8 meter
  • Theory 
    1. G and D scales in multiple octaves
    2. remaining notes on the staff with multi worksheets
    3. diatonic intervals from 2nds through the octave with multiple worksheets for learning at sight (this helps in sight-reading)
    4. dynamic markings and musical symbols, including the pedal and a drill for how to use it
  • Exercises 
    1. intermediate level exercises played at a faster tempo 
    2. grace note exercise teaches how to play the grace notes with a quick and light touch
    3. diatonic interval drills using every finger combination – this unique drill teaches the student how to “feel” each interval with every possible fingering without looking and prepares the student to play songs outside the 5-note hand position
  •  60 original songs in the keys of the scales taught

The mid-intermediate Student

Here is what’s included for the mid intermediate student in “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 3” not found in most method books:

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 3
Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 3
  • Rhythm drills for the sixteenth note and rest, dotted eighth, and the eighth, sixteenth, and quarter triplets
  • Theory
    1. major scales A and F in mulitple octaves 
    2. minor scales Am, Em, Bm, F#m, and Dm
    3. explanation of relative minor scales and accidentals
    4. chromatic scale
    5. whole and half steps
    6. chromatic intervals and how to name them
    7. the four kinds of triads
    8. three kinds of minor scales
    9. Picardy 3rd
    10. dissonance and resolution
    11. phrases
  • Exercises
    1. finger pedaling to learn how to hold one note while playing other notes simultaneously
    2. embellishment exercise needed when playing Baroque and classical style music
    3. left-hand drills show the typical left-hand movement to play without looking
    4. chromatic intervals with every finger combination – this repeats the previous diatonic intervals, except for playing the chromatic intervals, which completes EVERY finger combination when moving from one note to another
    5. chromatic scale
    6. consecutive 3rds – this is a challenging drill that is essential for playing intermediate and advanced level repertoire
    7. arpeggios – which are great as a drill and to learn all the triads’ inversions
    8. repeated notes and held notes while changing fingers – this is an essential skill to fingering
    9. left-hand bass jumps without looking – this skill is needed when the left-hand moves from bass note to chord
  • 60 original songs in the keys of the scales taught

Repertoire

Choosing a repertoire for the intermediate student has its challenges, whether using a method book or not. You want to make sure it’s the right level, not too challenging or too easy, and interesting for the student. Using the “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series is easy because the songs are specifically written for the chapter’s level, skill, and information taught. No more wondering if the repertoire is the right fit for the intermediate student. And the songs are written in various styles, giving the student exposure to them, from classical, pop, ragtime, jazz, and folk styles. When the student plays songs using what they’ve just learned, it creates deeper learning and understanding.

Late Intermediate Student

And finally, for the late intermediate student in “Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4”, here is what you’ll find:  

Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4
Drill & Excel On the Piano Book 4
  •  Rhythm – odd meters and counting the 6/8, 9/8, and 12/8 in big beats, triplets with 2 against 3 and 3 against 4
  • Theory
    1. Scales B flat, E flat, G minor, and C minor
    2. triad numbers for major and minor keys
    3. improvisational tools
    4. music terminology
    5. circle of 5ths
    6. adding the 7th, 2nd, sus 4th, and 6th to triads
    7. blues scale
    8. 7th chords up the scale.
  • Exercises
    1. working on the 4th and 5th fingers, which are the weaker fingers
    2. playing multiple notes while holding a note (a great skill needed for intermediate and advanced repertoire)
    3. independence of fingers when you want one or more notes played louder than the others within one hand
    4. thumb exercise
    5. dominant 7th arpeggios, which is another arpeggio exercise for both skill and learning the dominant 7th chords around the circle of 5ths
  •  60 original songs in the keys of the scales taught

Go to the next level!

Everything is taught in an organized, step-by-step way that anyone can learn. Finally, there are piano method books for intermediate students that will help them excel to the next level!

I hope this tip makes you the BEST music teacher ever!

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Piano Method Books for Intermediate Students? Read More »

Performance Practice

How To Do a Performance Practice!

You spend hours practicing a piece to get ready for a performance. But is there a difference in practicing in the final stages? The answer is YES! Tip #8 is part three of my practicing series on how to do a performance practice!

Before the Performance

Tip #4 was how to practice, namely spot practicing troubled areas. However, there is a different strategy for practicing in the final weeks and days before a performance.  

I used to think once I had worked through all the troubled areas in a piece, I was ready to perform it. However, after several poor performances, I realized that knowing the piece didn’t necessarily mean my performance would be flawless. Indeed, the better you practice and work through all the troubled spots, the better your performance, but other factors also play into it. Here are practice strategies in the final stages before a performance that will help keep your performance smooth. These are things I wish I would have known this in my early years of performing.

#1 Record yourself and listen with a critical ear

After fixing the troubled spots, record yourself. There’s a vast difference between listening while playing and listening to a recording of your playing, where you can listen with a critical ear. As you’re listening, circle areas that you may need to go back and spot practice.  

#2 Play the piece without stopping as in performing

Once a piece is learned, and troubled spots fixed, play the piece without stopping as though you’re performing it. Play THROUGH the mistakes, and resist the urge to stop and fix them. As the saying goes, never stop while performing, so you should practice it this way. As you play, imagine an audience is listening to you. The more times you play a piece through without stops, the more confident you’ll be when performing, and the more confident you are, the better you’ll perform!

#3 Play the pice “cold” for a performance practice

The final step to preparing for a performance is how you play the piece “cold,” how you play before warming up. Playing this way is how you will be performing it, so it’s good to practice it this way. It’s also a true test for how well you know the piece. If you still have troubled areas, return to spot practicing.  

During the Performance

#4 What you think about while performing matters!

Performance Psychology
Performance Psychology

When we learn a new skill, we use the frontal part of our brain, which means we cannot have any other thoughts while doing the task. Remember learning to tie your shoes or driving? You probably couldn’t think about anything else until you had it mastered. Once we’ve mastered a skill, it then goes to the back part of our brain, where we do it without consciously thinking about it. Once you’ve learned a piece, it leaves your thoughts open during a performance, like the fact that people are watching you or not making mistakes. I’ve had performances where I began playing perfectly, but as soon as I thought, “Don’t make a mistake,” is when I DID make one.  

Train your thoughts to ONLY think about the music you’re playing and not care that people are watching you. Concentrate on how you’re enjoying playing, and you’ll give the performance of a lifetime!

I hope this tip makes you the BEST music teacher ever!

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

How To Do a Performance Practice! Read More »

PianoTechnique

Bad Piano Techniques and How to Fix Them!

Tip #7 – Singing or playing an instrument requires proper technique.  Improper piano technique can prevent the pianist from attaining their potential and may cause injury. I will be highlighting bad piano techniques and how to fix them!

#1 Sitting Too Close and Too Low

Most pianists, even professional pianists, often sit too close and too low to the piano. Sitting this way causes the hand, wrist, and arm to be in an incorrect position, possibly causing pain and tiredness after prolonged playing.

Correct Piano Technique: Knees at Edge of Keys 

Your knees should be aligned with the edge of the keys and your elbows in front and not beside your body. For the height, your waist should be level with the keys. For children, have them sit on something (a phone book is perfect for this). The wrist should be flat, not lowered, making your hand, wrist, and arm level. Having a low wrist puts pressure on it and makes the fingers do all the work, causing them to tire quickly. A lowered wrist may also cause carpal tunnel, pain, and numbness in the fingers. Sit tall (don’t slouch) at the front edge of the bench, which gives you a forward angle that helps when needing to play with force, using gravity to assist in playing. Sitting on the edge of the bench doesn’t apply to children if their feet cannot touch the floor.

#2 Fingers too Flat or Too Curved

One bad piano technique I’ve seen is the wrong positioning of the fingers, from being too flat to having too much of a curve. Some method books describe the position of the fingers as though you’re holding a ball. The problem with this concept is the fingers will be naturally tense.   

Correct Piano Technique: Relaxed and Rounded Fingers

Your fingers should be as relaxed as possible. For a beginner, relaxing is not the easiest way to play, but it gets easier with skill. The simplest way to having a correct finger position is to place them palms up on your lap and let your fingers relax. That is the EXACT way to hold them on the piano. Imagine the rainbow curve, which is the exact curve needed. Play using the pads of the fingertips, not above the first joint (too low) or the part just below the fingernail (too high). Also, keep the first joint from bending. Unfortunately, pianists can never have long fingernails; otherwise, it will hinder playing at the correct part of the fingertip. 

#3 Moving Hands and Arms Too Much

If you’ve ever watched someone playing piano on TV (which we know they’re not really playing), they will usually move their hands and arms way too much. Moving unnecessarily may cause you to play incorrect notes, especially when playing quickly, and tire more easily. Moving the hand up and down is never needed. A technique called “rolling the wrist,” is where the wrist is lowered for stressed notes and raised for lighter notes. This kind of motion, in my view, is unnecessary and may make it difficult to play quickly and accurately.  

Correct Piano Technique: Little to No Movement

The goal of playing the piano is to keep your arms and hands as still and “quiet” as possible. The composer Mozart was known for placing a coin on the student’s hand while playing, with the goal to keep it from falling off. I’ve had fun doing this with my students as well. The fingertips should be “glued” to the keys, only going down and using the weight of the fingers to play the keys.  

With that said, there are some movements that help when playing. One movement is pivoting left or right towards the notes you’re about to play. Another is positioning the hand towards the back of the piano to accommodate the black keys, especially when the shorter fingers (the thumb and pinky) play the black keys and longer fingers play the white keys. And finally, another movement that is an exception to the fingers staying glued to the keys is raising the entire hand for staccato and accented notes or playing loudly. Raising the hand to play the keys gives momentum and strength.  

Good Piano Technique is Critical!

Having good piano technique helps the pianist play the very best. It also helps with the physical aspect of playing the piano to prevent tiredness and pain. You, the piano instructor, can help your piano students play well, not despite their technique, but because of it.

I hope this tip helps you be the best piano teacher EVER!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Bad Piano Techniques and How to Fix Them! Read More »

MusicTransferStudent

Teaching A Music Transfer Student!

Tip #6 – Teaching a music transfer student, someone that has taken lessons previously, is probably the most challenging of students for a music teacher. You don’t know what they know or, more importantly, what they don’t know, and they will compare you to the previous instructor. This tip will give you great insights into making a smooth transition for the transfer student and can apply to any instrument.

Be Prepared

Before the first lesson, ask the student or parent what curriculum they used or music they played with the previous instructor, as well as any notes the instructor had written. Take the time to read and become acquainted with the information they give you. Knowing their background will help you determine their skill level and style of the previous instructor. If possible, try and continue with their curriculum, especially at the beginning, to keep a smooth flow into your teaching.  

Establish a rapport with the music transfer student

The first lesson is the most critical and will set the tone. Start by getting to know the music transfer student and letting them get to know you. Spend a few minutes to let the student know your training background and experience. Then take a few minutes to ask the students questions about their past piano experience and what they are interested in learning. Knowing this will help you plan the best path for the lessons. It will also help the student be more comfortable and let them know you care about their interests and goals. 

The first lesson

Once you’ve made the student feel comfortable with you, have them play a piece that shows their highest level. Upon hearing them play, you can tell their strengths and weaknesses. Asking them specific questions about the piece they played is a good way to determine what they know and don’t know. 

Make Changes Slowly

You may be tempted to make multiple changes from the start, but be careful to present changes slowly and incrementally. They will need time to adjust to your teaching style and personality, and that alone may be overwhelming at the beginning. The most challenging changes are bad habits or wrong technique. Start with complementing the student on what they do well, then make changes one at a time. However, it is good to offer some information or changes in the first lesson to show them you can take them to the next level.  

Be Careful Commenting on the Previous Music Teacher

Whether the music transfer student had a positive or negative experience with the previous instructor, it’s essential to keep your comments at a minimum. Keep the focus on the direction between you and the student. Telling the student they were taught incorrectly may cause frustration and a sense of wasted time and money. It may also cause a division between you and the student. 

Not every student-teacher is a match for the music transfer student

Be realistic that you may not be the right instructor for all music transfer students since they may have specific interests you cannot fulfill. If that is the case, be honest with them. They will appreciate and respect you for your honesty. If you can, recommend another instructor who can teach their interests. If this happens, don’t be discouraged; there are plenty of other transfer students that will fit your teaching style and personality.  

It Gets Easier

While you may feel like you’ll be the “new” instructor forever, before long, you’ll be their new favorite! Just like any relationship, it takes time to establish. Be patient, and soon you’ll be the instructor they compare others to!

I hope this tip helps you be the BEST music teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

Teaching A Music Transfer Student! Read More »

Sight-Read Sheet Music

Sight-Read Sheet Music

Tip #5 – Sight-reading sheet music on the piano or any instrument is technically reading “at sight,” or the ability to read fluently, without counting the notes.   Learning to read music can be as complex as learning a new language and takes time and repetition to master. However, in time it will pay off, and soon the student will read music as effortlessly as reading words! Here are steps in the process of sight-reading.

Knowing The Logic of the Written Music

The written music as we know it today began around the 9th century in Italy (which is, by the way, why the terms are in Italian). Imagine the task of writing down the music you hear? It has evolved over the centuries and looks different today than their original writings, but the “logic” of the notes are still the same, ascending and descending on the staff. Unfortunately, today’s students are taught mainly by acronyms like “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” This way of teaching the notes is ineffective for sight-reading sheet music in two ways: 1) it doesn’t show the staff’s logic, and 2) counting to identify the note is too slow to read fluently. If you teach your student the logic of the notes ascending/descending right from the beginning, they will remember them better.

A Small Number of Notes At a Time

Learning to read music can be overwhelming for a student, so it’s best to start with a small set of notes in order on the staff at a time. Repeatedly reading songs with the same set of notes will instill a visual memory of each note to create fluency. Our series “Drill & Excel On the Piano” takes five notes per chapter, with 20 songs using just those sets of notes. By the end of the chapter, the student can sight-read these notes with ease!

Rhythm in Sight-Reading

For many students, the rhythm is often the weakest part. However, if the rhythm is taught early on in the student’s training, they will play correctly automatically. I use rhythm drills at the start of lessons with a beginner, playing the rhythm without notation on one note while counting out loud. Repeatedly playing the rhythm creates fluency. For challenging rhythm in a song, you can have the student play the rhythm on a single note. Melody Music Publishers sells “Rhythm Workbook 1” and “Rhythm Workbook 2” for beginners to late intermediate. By the end of each book, a student can read the rhythm fluently!

Don’t Look At Your Hands

I’ve seen students look back and forth between the sheet music and their hands while playing. This way of playing creates two problems: 1) it stops the flow of reading, and 2) it hinders the student from remembering where the keys are and feeling the notes’ distance. On the other hand, when the student keeps their eyes on the music, it creates a smooth reading and a feel for the keys.  

Read Ahead

Another essential point to sight-reading is reading one beat to one measure ahead. As a “trick” question, I ask my students if they should “think” about the note they’re playing. If they say yes, I’ll say, nope, too late. You have to know the note before playing it, so reading ahead of your playing will ensure playing correctly and fluently.  

Interval Reading

Since music is a set of intervals, the distance from one note or set of notes to the next, identifying intervals by sight is another way to sight-read. This way of reading is called “interval reading.” The “Drill & Excel On the Piano” series has interval worksheets for the student to write the intervals without counting to know them at sight.  

Sight-Read Takes Drills and Repetition

Just like learning a new language, reading music fluently takes time and repetition. Many methods claim a student can read fluently in a short amount of time. That is not realistic. Letting the student know it will take time to be fluent will help them not to be frustrated. However, let them know that once they’re reading fluently, they can play a new song with ease, and reading music is no longer a chore but FUN!

These books are an excellent curriculum for home-schoolers too!

I hope this helps you be the best teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

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HOW to Practice a Song on the Piano

Tip #4

In my previous blog, I talked about how to motivate a student to practice. Now I want to talk about HOW to practice a song on the piano. Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect. The amount of time doesn’t automatically mean improving. A lot can be done in a short amount of time if practicing correctly. Practicing incorrectly may do more harm than help.  

What Practicing is NOT

Playing a song from beginning to end is not a practice; that’s called a PERFORMANCE! Here are ways to practice a new song.

First Step

The student should begin each practice with exercises and warm-ups. Doing this helps to get their mind and fingers ready. For a new piece, let your student play it from beginning to end, mistakes and all, to get acquainted with the song.

Spot Practice on the Piano

After playing through the song, it’s time to spot practice the more challenging parts. It may be a few notes, a measure, or an entire line. 

1. Play notes without rhythm

If the notes are the problem, play them without rhythm or steady beat. The student can start with hands separate, especially the hand that may give them the most trouble. If the notes jump around, have the student play them without looking to “feel” the notes’ distance.

2. Play rhythm without notes

If the rhythm is challenging, have the student play the rhythm on one note and count out loud. This way of playing is what I call a rhythm drill. The student can start with hands separate and then both hands to learn how the rhythm lines up.

3. Alignment Practice

If the student plays hands separately well but can’t play them together, I suggest alignment practice. Have the student play the notes with both hands VERY slowly, with no rhythm or steady beat. Notice where the notes line up in each hand and how it feels to play them together. When the student can play the notes together, play with the rhythm at a very slow tempo. And finally, increase the tempo incrementally until it’s at the desired tempo.

4. Repeat section immediately until learned.

When the student plays the troubled spot correctly, have them immediately repeat it until it’s solid. The sooner the student repeats the area when it’s still fresh in their mind, the better the retention. Once it’s learned, have the student practice a measure before and after several times to ensure it’s smooth going into and out of the troubled area. The gauge to having learned the troubled areas is how they play it cold at the next practice. If the student makes the same mistakes, they will need to repeat the spot practicing steps.

5. Record the student

It may be difficult for the student to listen to themselves while playing, so recording the piece is an excellent way to critique it. Listening to the recording is much different from listening while playing. The student may want to circle the parts they may still need work on and then go back to spot practicing those areas.

Now Play the Entire Piece

Once the student has untangled the challenging areas, they can now play the song from beginning to end. When the student has played the notes and rhythm correctly, this is an excellent time to focus on dynamics and phrasing.

6. Final Practice on the Piano

The last step to finalizing a piece is to play it without stopping. If the student is unable to, they may need to go back to spot practicing certain areas. If the student will be performing the piece, a week or so before performing, have them play the piece without stopping, even playing through errors. Being able to play it all the way through without stopping will give the student confidence when performing.

I hope this tip helps you to be the best music teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

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Music Student

How To Motivate The Music Student to Practice

The second greatest challenge a private music teacher has after attendance is getting students to practice. However, your job isn’t to make a music student practice; it is to make them want to practice. When you look at it from this perspective, it may help change your approach. I’m not talking about an occasional week where the student was out of town or too busy to practice, but a student that perpetually doesn’t practice. The responsibility for the student’s motivation to practice comes primarily from you, the music instructor.

Does Brow Beating Work?

If a student has a track record of not practicing, your “browbeating” or “guilting” them into it is NOT going to work. All this does is make the student feel bad about the lessons and may cause them to quit. If a student tells me they haven’t practiced this week, I tell them it’s ok and focus on practicing more the following week. Your negative comments won’t change the past. So music and piano teachers, let’s stop doing this, ok?

But How Do You Motivate Them to Practice?

The first step in motivating a student to practice is finding out why they’re not practicing. This kind of thinking takes discernment on your part. Here are some possible reasons and solutions for a student’s lack of practice.

Problem: Too Busy

Being too busy is probably the biggest reason for a student not to practice or at least the biggest excuse. For children whose parents put them in so many programs and school functions, their (lack of) time is your biggest competitor, not only for practicing but also for getting music students. Adults have so many responsibilities that it’s difficult for them to put in the time to practice.  

Solution: Schedule Practices

Since a week can go by without practicing, having the student schedule a time to practice will help make it a routine. I suggest practicing before or after homework, school, or dinner for kids. Or practice at the same time as the lesson itself. For adults, it could be before or after work. Whatever time works the best when they’re fresh and have undistracted time. Also, tell the student to practice even if they only have 15 minutes sporadically. Multiple 15-minute practices can add up to sufficient time and are better for a beginner student.

Problem: Confused about What to Practice

I believe this could be why students do not practice, even though they may not admit to it. This reason may be the most challenging to discern. Some students will assume it’s their fault for not understanding and may not ask you questions. Others might be afraid to ask you questions if you had already explained it. Another reason a music student may not understand is a lack of clear and concise assignments. 

Solution: Ask a Lot Of Questions and Give Clear Assignments

The most important thing you can do as a music teacher is to let the student know they can ask ANYTHING of you, even if you had already explained it. Never let the student feel intimidated to ask you questions or feel they’re not smart enough to understand. I tell my music students I will explain something a million times if needed! And to make sure they understand, I always ask them questions after explaining a new concept. Also, make sure your assignments are written down and are clear and specific. After writing down the assignments, again ask them if they have any questions. Asking them questions will give you more insight into their thinking. And it sets the tone that questions are good, making them more at ease to ask you questions. 

Problem: Non-Realistic Goals

I’ve heard teachers (and parents) tell a beginning student to practice an hour a day. That’s unrealistic and will cause the student to fail ultimately. The discipline of practicing is something learned, just like learning the instrument itself. The beginning student not only doesn’t have the discipline, but they also don’t have enough information TO practice for that length of time.

Solution: Short Practices Done Often

For the beginning music student, the best way is multiple, short practices. For ages 4-8, I recommend 10-20 minutes at a time. This time frame doesn’t sound overwhelming to the beginning student. As the student progresses, the longer they can practice. The beginning of each practice is when the student is the freshest and gains the most improvement. I tell my students to start each practice with the most challenging parts.

Problem: Family or Personal Problems

Life is messy at times, and you may have a student going through family or personal problems. I don’t recommend asking personal questions since you’re there as a music instructor only. But what if their problems continue and hinder their practicing and learning?

Solution: Be a Good Listener

Without asking personal questions, you can ask the student how they’re doing. I usually start a lesson by asking how their week has been. By showing them you care may be enough to have them focus on the lesson. However, if the student is troubled, asking how they’re doing may help them open up. I don’t suggest giving your opinion on their situation, but sometimes listening is all that’s needed, and giving them your empathy. Giving them the gift of music may be the help they need and may encourage them to practice.  

Problem: Not Interested In Music

The lack of interest is the most challenging of all and may not have a solution since music is not everyone’s cup of tea. I once taught a little boy for one year. No matter how much I tried to make the lessons fun, he hated it. His mom was diligent in making him stick with it. However, after a year, I asked him if he liked to play the piano. He said no, of course. Then I asked if he liked the “sound” of the piano, and again he said no. That’s when I let his mom know after a year that I didn’t think it was in his DNA to play the piano.

However, I wouldn’t have suggested he stop after only a few months of lessons. A beginner’s first 6-12 months is the most challenging and can be the opposite of fun. It’s good to remind the student to give it time, and the better they get, the more fun it becomes. However, if a student is still not interested even at the intermediate level, there may be different approaches you can take before giving up.

Solution: Different Path

The late beginning to early intermediate music student is an excellent time to show them different styles or songs or ask what they’re interested in. You can add these to the regular assignments or change the entire lesson. Or, if your student has only played by reading music, you may want to change to by ear and improvisation, or vice versa.

A Final Note

Finally, I don’t tell my students to practice; instead, I give them assignments. During the lesson, they either pass or don’t pass them. I’ve noticed that students want to do well to pass, motivating them to practice. Their reward is my accolades when they’ve done well and get to move on to the next assignment. For the young student, I give points when passing each assignment or practicing five times in a given week, with a prize after so many points. You’ll be amazed at how the music student will have time to practice when there’s a prize involved!

I hope this tip helps you to be the best music teacher ever!

Melody Music Publishers

Kathi Kerr founded Melody Music Studios in 1989, a nationwide music instruction studio. In 2017, she founded an independent publishing company called Melody Music Publishers for piano and singing method books. The learning model is small steps using drills and repetition, how students think and learn.

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