Teaching piano week 6

Over the last few weeks, I have reflected a lot on what I taught my students and how they have progressed. However, I haven’t talked much about what I have learned as a teacher and what I need to do to be the best piano teacher I can be. At the start of my teaching, I was aware that I needed to start with the basics and to put myself into a beginner’s shoes. One thing that children have trouble with the most is positioning their hand on the keyboard so that their fingers are curved. This is the ideal position as it makes playing the notes a lot easier as opposed to playing them with straight fingers. One thing I like telling the child is to pretend that they are holding a bubble in their hand, and to not wrap their fingers too hard around it or it might pop. Another thing that children find difficult doing is lifting their fingers up to play one note at a time. To help with this, I like to play the “spotlight game”. This is something I made up by telling students that only one note can be in the spotlight at a time. For example, if the student has to play the note “C” followed by an “E”, I would tell them that “E” can’t be in the spotlight until “C” lets go, or “let’s give E a time to shine now”. I believe that the main difficulty for children to do is to remember notes, which is still something I am working on with my students. To help with this, I like to give each note a name. For example, the note C is “Cat”, D is for “dog”, E is for “elephant”, etc. This strategy seems to help them remember notes more effectively as they have something to relate to.

Here are some things I have learned to do through my teaching process:

  1. Simplify concepts and break them down into steps
  2. Be patient! Don’t expect children to understand concepts right away
  3. Have your student bring a notebook to class and write notes inside it of what you covered in class to help them remember
  4. Be specific! Write down exactly how many times they should practice a song, sections of a piece they need to work on, and what they need to do in order to see improvement (i.e. fingering, hand placement, dynamics, rhythm, etc)
  5. Make markings in their music (circling notes they got wrong, dynamic markings, fingering) as a reminder on what they need to watch out for
  6. Make it fun! Give the student lots of encouragement and ask what they would like to learn how to play

Teaching piano week 5

After a few weeks of teaching, my students have definitely shown some improvement in their piano playing. I went over technique and scales with the brother and he was able to play a C major scale with both hands. He was playing one octave (8 notes) so I encouraged him to challenge himself and play 2 octaves. This was a challenging task for him as it required him to play another 8 notes, and his fingering got a bit mixed up. I told him to practice this at home hands separately first, and then put them together if he felt comfortable. We then moved on to his pieces. A few weeks ago, he wasn’t able to play both parts (both hands) but after practicing at home he was able to do it! It took him longer to figure out what notes to play as he had to concentrate on two hands at the same time, but I told him to keep practicing at home every day for at least 15 min and he’ll get it in no time. Here is a breakdown of everything that I told him to practice for this week:

  1. C major 2 octave scale- keep the rhythm steady and try playing soft at the beginning and gradually get louder at the end.
  2. Practice practice practice! Consistency is key to seeing improvement, so practicing each piece every day 2-3 times is important.
  3. Once notes are learned, look at other features of the piece such as dynamics (playing loud or soft), slurs( joining of the notes), and chords (playing more than one note at the same time in one hand).
  4. Break the piece down into smaller sections. If you find a particular section of the piece hard to play, practice just that section over and over a few times. This is a much more efficient way of practicing rather than playing the whole piece from beginning to end.

The sister could play her pieces hands together as well and improved greatly from the last lesson I had with her. She was able to play all the notes to their full value and she was able to count how many beats each note had which helped her to keep a steady speed throughout the whole piece. Below is a chart that I made with her to help her keep track of the different notes and rests:

We focused a lot on playing 2-note chords as she found them tricky to play. Instead of playing one note at a time which she is used to doing, her music showed a 2-note chord which meant she had to play 2 notes at the same time. This can be tricky to do especially for young kids who have never done it before. It requires a lot of finger control as you have to play the two notes at the same time and make sure they sound. We practiced the sections of her piece that had these chords and played the chords over and over again, until she felt comfortable. I made sure her wrists were lifted and that finger tips were strong (I told her to pretend that there was honey on her fingertips that made it sticky to play).

Here is a breakdown of everything that I told her to practice for the week:

  1. Work on memorizing fingering (review the hand/finger diagram that we made together).
  2. Look at where your fingers are on the keyboard! Sometimes we forget to look down at our hands when we are so focused on the music in front of us. But looking down every now and then can help us see what note we are playing instead of playing the wrong notes.
  3. Work on dynamics (F for forte= loud and p for piano= soft).
  4. Memorize note/rest value chart.

Teaching piano weeks 3 & 4

Over the last 2 weeks, my piano teaching has been quite successful. I ended up teaching two students, a brother and a sister and I realized that I had underestimated their skills and knowledge on the piano. Both of them already knew how to read notes, so that made my job a lot easier. They also had experience playing songs, and the brother stopped playing at a 4th grade level whereas the younger sister stopped around a 1st grade level. I began by asking the brother if he knew what technique and scales were, and to my surprise he seemed to have no idea what I was talking about. A scale is a series of notes that are played on the keyboard one at a time, going up the keyboard and back down again. This exercise is a component of technique, which helps to improve finger control and strength. I introduced the C major scale to him, which is the easiest key of them all as it includes no sharps or flats (only the white keys are played). Below is a picture of this:

We focused on just the right hand first and then moved on to the left, and here are some tips I gave him

  1. lift the fingers and wrist up for better control and precision
  2. release each note before playing the next one
  3. work on fingering! Each note must be played with a certain finger in a scale
  4. curve the finger tips and spread fingers apart just enough so that each finger has a note to play
  5. practice the left hand and right hand separately first then put them together

After scales, we worked on playing pieces which he had learned in the past with his old piano teacher. Because it had been a while since he practiced them, much of what he learned was forgotten so I helped guide him through the whole piece. Every so often, I corrected him if he played the wrong note and made sure to tap a steady beat to help him play at a consistent speed. I also made sure to write down everything he needed to work on in a notebook so he could keep track of what to practice for the week.

For his sister, I didn’t teach her any scales or technique because she is at a lower level than he is, and we went straight into learning pieces. Although she knew how to read notes, it took her some time to read them and she needed my help for some of the trickier ones. The main thing we worked on was counting to keep a steady beat and tempo. Because there are different rhythms in music, it is important to count how many beats are in each note value. I wrote the counting in her music and together, we counted aloud as she played through the piece and I also tapped a steady beat. This helped a lot with her speed and consistency. Another thing we worked on was fingering. It piano, each finger is assigned a different number that is used to play different notes. For a child, this can be confusing especially because it is different for both hands. To help her understand this concept better, I traced her hands onto a sheet of paper and numbered each finger. Having a visual like this can make things simpler and easier to understand.

I am looking forward to my next lesson with them!

Teaching piano week 2

Originally, I was going to start teaching piano last weekend on Saturday, however the student I was going to teach was sick and could not make it to her lesson. Instead, I decided to spend this time to focus on my theory analysis homework. Outside of taking classes at uvic, I also take a class on music analysis once a week in preparation for my exam this summer in August. Upon completion of this exam, I will receive my ARCT certificate in piano teaching which will help me become one step closer to becoming an experienced music teacher. Although I do not need this certificate to teach piano, it will be a great asset to have and help me towards building a professional career.

For music analysis, I have to analyze sheets of music from 4 different periods: the Baroque period, classical period, 19th century art song, and 20th-21st century music. Because I am more familiar with music during the classical period, my teacher and I decided that I should start with this. I was quite overwhelmed at first skimming through the pages and pages of music I had to analyze, which are like the ones in the image below:

My job is to identify certain sections by marking it in the pages of the music such as the exposition (beginning of the piece), the development section (middle of the piece), and the recapitulation (where the theme of the beginning of the piece is introduced again. Other terms include the different themes of the piece which introduce a new key or musical line, the bridge which helps to transition a section into a different key, the codetta which introduces the closing of a section, and the coda which leads to the end of the piece. The questions below are what I have left to complete and it often takes me hours to do so. Through more practice and hard work, I’m sure it will become easier for me and be a great benefit towards my musical career.

Teaching piano week 1

In preparation for my first lesson that I will be teaching starting in February, I looked up some resources and pulled out a few piano books that had been lying around in my basement that I thought would be helpful. Initially, I was feeling a bit lost and I wasn’t quite sure on where to begin. Should I start by teaching my students notes? What about matching notes to the keys on the piano? Dynamics, rhythm, note values, tempo? I realized that there are just too many things to learn about the piano in one session and that it would be far too overwhelming for a child who has never even touched a piano before. After much thought and research, here is what I came up with:

  1. Before starting, make sure the student is comfortable on the chair. It should be just the right height and the right amount of distance from the piano in relation to their size. Their feet should be touching the ground (a foot rest may be required) and they should have good posture.
  2. Allow the student to play around on the keyboard, pressing down on the white keys and the black keys. Ask them how many keys they think the piano has in total. Tell them to notice how the sounds of the notes are lower in pitch on the bottom left half of the keyboard, and increase in pitch as you move to the right of the keyboard.
  3. Teach them finger numbers by tracing out their hands (or right hand only) onto a sheet of paper and write down numbers 1-5 starting with the thumb as number 1
  4. Introduce note names by focusing only on five notes for the right hand (middle c, d, e, f, and g). Show the student where “middle c” is on the keyboard and tell them to play it with their thumb on their right hand (finger 1). Next, tell them to play the next note with their second finger followed by the next note with their third finger and so on until they reach their pinky finger.
  5. Allow them to experiment with playing the five notes in different orders (ex. pinky down to thumb, skipping a finger…. etc).
  6. After a few minutes, the student should feel more comfortable and get the hang of playing these five notes. Show them a few songs they could play by ear by using just these notes such as hot cross buns, and Mary had a little lamb.
  7. Here is a website that I found with really great techniques for teaching kids piano! https://www.letsplaykidsmusic.com/first-piano-lessons-for-kids/

This should be enough to cover a 30 minute lesson especially for a first lesson. It’s best to break everything apart and start simple, evaluate how the student takes on the information and applies it, and go from there. I’m looking forward to seeing how it all works out!

My passion project

For my passion project, I had a difficult time deciding what I wanted to do. There are many things that I am interested in such as painting, cooking, photography, and exploring the outdoors. After much thought, I finally decided on something that I have wanted to do for a while now- to teach piano. Music has been an integral part of my life since the age of six, and although I am no stranger to the technical and performance skills that are needed to be a good piano player, I am new to the concept of teaching children those skills and I want to learn to be the best piano teacher I can be. Starting February, I will be teaching two children how to play the piano and plan on documenting my journey by posting pictures and videos of techniques I used, describing what went well and what didn’t, and reflecting on my overall experience. Alongside this, I want to keep track of my ongoing music studies by playing the piano regularly and completing music analysis for my upcoming exam in the summer. Upon completion of this exam, I will be given my ARCT teaching diploma. Because I have completed all my exams for piano, I’ve been finding it hard to find time and a purpose to practice regularly. I believe that by also documenting my journey towards getting my ARCT diploma, I can keep the passion that I have for music alive which will also help me to become a good piano teacher.