Archive by Author

Coming Soon! | In Righteous Paths

In Righteous Paths is a collection of sacred solo arrangements for intermediate viola, complete with piano accompaniments. These arrangements were written with the amateur violist in mind, but are also appropriate for those who have reached more advanced levels. Also included is a bonus arrangement of Abide with Me set for violin/viola duet with piano accompaniment. Artistic yet simple, these solos are perfect for church services and much more.

Theory and Technique: Competitors or Completers?

The words theory and technique are often lumped together in the world of piano pedagogy, especially when in the context of elementary and intermediate students. There are often books that are labeled for developing theory and technique together, which could be fine. For many situations, though, it may be well to address these two aspects of music individually.

Theory is, essentially, the nuts and bolts of music, and deals primarily with the mind and intellect. The sharps, flats, and naturals; the order of sharps and flats in key signatures; note values, and how they relate to each other; intervals; chords and chord progressions; time signatures; major vs. minor, et cetera.

Technique, on the other hand, is the nuts and bolts of the physical interaction between the body and the instrument. How to sit or stand; how to touch the instrument or hold it; how to attack the strings, valves, or keys with the fingers, et cetera.

Without any doubt, students need to learn about and understand theory. They also need to know the how-to’s of their particular instrument. As teachers, we need to learn to balance educating our students’ minds as well as their muscles. This can be quite the challenge, especially for new teachers or musicians whose teachers may have taught both well, but didn’t explain the difference between the two.

It is important, whether teaching theory or technique, to be equipped with the necessary tools to make the most positive impact possible, in the most time effective manner possible. What are these tools, then? In a word, they are books. The books you choose to use with your students will shape them for better or for worse. Some of the issues I have faced in this area include using books that focus almost exclusively on developing the mind to the demise of the muscles.

As a side note, literature is where we gain much technique, but exercises and etudes are almost indispensable as well (these form the foundation of technique that will then be applied in the literature). Learn to see the theory and technique that is being presented in the literature and teach as you go. This is often quite effective in reinforcing what you have talked about in exercises, and provides “real life” application for what the student is learning.

What I have found and am still finding to work well is to divide the two into individual materials. Rather than using books that are designed to teach both at the same time, use theory books and technique books. Our favorite theory books are the Just the Facts series by Ann Lawry. For technique building, Jane Magrath’s Masterwork Classics series is wonderful, both for its incredible leveling of classical repertoire, as well as the supplementary Technical Skills series that provides exercises to enhance the study of literature. (See links below.)

We obviously need both theory and technique, and even though they fall on two different sides of the musical equation, they ought to complete each other, rather than compete with each other, in the lives of a musician. Keeping them separate can help each side get the attention it needs.

Work from the beginning of your student’s journey to develop these two sides of study. It can be a challenge, but the effort will be worth it!

Cover tiny file look inside Just the Facts – Book 4 Just the Facts. A unique workbook series, useful as preparation for the Texas State theory test. Instructional book. Published by Music Bag Press (M3.JTF-4).
Cover tiny file look inside Just the Facts – Book 5 Just the Facts. A unique workbook series, useful as preparation for the Texas State theory test. Instructional book. Published by Music Bag Press (M3.JTF-5).
Cover tiny file look inside Just the Facts – Book 6 Just the Facts. A unique workbook series, useful as preparation for the Texas State theory test. Instructional book. Published by Music Bag Press (M3.JTF-6).
Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Classics (Level 3) Level 3. By perf. Valery Lloyd-Watts. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Masterwork Classics. Baroque, Classical Period and 20th Century. Collection and examples CD. With standard notation, fingerings and introductory text (does not include words to the songs). 48 pages. Alfred Music #00-166. Published by Alfred Music (AP.166).
Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Technical Skills Level 3. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection; Technique Musicianship. Technical Skills. Masterwork. Book. 32 pages. Alfred Music #00-6584. Published by Alfred Music (AP.6584).
Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Classics, Level 4 Level 4. By perf. Valery Lloyd-Watts. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Alfred Masterwork Edition. Instructional. Collection and examples CD. With standard notation, fingerings and introductory text (does not include words to the songs). 48 pages. Alfred Music #00-168. Published by Alfred Music (AP.168).
Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Technical Skills Level 4. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection; Technique Musicianship. Technical Skills. Masterwork. Book. 32 pages. Alfred Music #00-6585. Published by Alfred Music (AP.6585).

If you enjoyed this article, check out the others about music pedagogy here.

This post may contain affiliate links.

 

Helps for New Music Teachers

I don’t know about each of you, but there are some key things that I had to work through when I first began teaching music. Helps for new music teachers can be so valuable because these teachers are new. They don’t have 10, 20, or 50 years of experience, trial, error, and success from which to draw to help answer their myriad questions.

I remember so well the first piano lesson I ever taught. I called my older sister (who was newly married at the time) and told her how nervous I was. She was very reassuring, and told me that for the first several weeks, all I would have to do was read the material as it was presented in the method series we use. Whew. Talk about pressure release! I didn’t have to be creative, stressed, or anxious – all I had to do was just read.

That is probably one of the best pieces of advice for new teachers. Unless you are naturally fearless, have an ease and confidence about new challenges, can think “on your feet” without any hesitation, and feel no qualms about being thrust from the studio as a student to a new studio as a teacher… Well, certainly none of those things described me that week. It was almost entirely new ground in my experience, and it didn’t help that it had been years since my own journey as a beginning pianist had begun, which meant that I didn’t remember any of the techniques my own teacher used in my first lessons.

So read the method book. You need a method book that aligns with your goals, both short and long term. We desire that our students learn early on how to read music, and not rely solely on the finger numbers. We also prefer curriculum that supports our Biblical worldview, and isn’t filled with meaningless ditties about ghosts and goblins or other undesirable content. When we first opened our home-based studio, these were the two primary qualifications for the books we used. Since then I have added to that list, but more on that at a later date.

In keeping with our first two qualifications, we have come to highly recommend the Keys for Kingdom series. This course includes an effective means of teaching students to read notes, and also introduces beginner theory in a systematic and understandable way. Regardless of what method you decide to use, know your book and especially the pages that you will be assigning for the student’s practice that week.

The next tip came from one of my other sisters a little while into my teaching journey. I was struggling through knowing how to maintain authority in the lesson, how to graciously inform parents that new books were needed (I strongly dislike telling people they need to spend money!), as well as navigating general student/teacher and parent/teacher relationships. My helpful sister put it simply: You are the teacher, so be the teacher. Period. Yes, our words need to be gracious and kind, but our demeanor ought to also be confident and at ease with our position – even when we are trembling and screaming from terror on the inside. What you say, the student must do. What you say to the parent, they ought to heed because they are paying you to help your child excel. If new material is needed, then tell them (there’s no need to be apologetic). You would be doing them a disservice by not disclosing the information. Then, of course, other relational difficulties could and probably will arise. We will not address them specifically here, but keeping in mind that you are the teacher is key. And this one simple fact means much more than it may appear at the surface level!

I hope to be able to take a closer look at other challenges new teachers face in the future, and rejoice in the immense blessing it is that so many young people are taking their responsibility seriously to sing to the Lord a new song, and play skillfully with a loud noise.

If you found this post helpful, please take a few minutes to leave feedback in the comment section below. Also, check out the Keys for the Kingdom piano method series.

Cover tiny file look inside Keys for the Kingdom Level A Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 64 pages. Shawnee Press #H5001. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012003).
Cover tiny file look inside Keys for the Kingdom Level B Method Book. Shawnee Press. Christian Instruction. Softcover. 63 pages. Shawnee Press #H5002. Published by Shawnee Press (HL.35012009).

 

This post may contain affiliate links.

Traits of a Good Teacher

While attending a workshop on piano pedagogy recently presented by Dr. Susan Kindall, the students in the class were given the opportunity to describe in one word a good teacher by whom they had been positively impacted (these traits were not given exclusively as descriptions of music teachers). As each person in the class shared, it was both intriguing and inspiring to hear from students’ perspectives the positive qualities of those who guided their studies. Some of the adjectives given included the following, on each of which I have briefly expounded.

  • Caring
    Private teachers have an amazing opportunity to work one-on-one with students of all different personalities, backgrounds, and more. Take advantage of the opportunity God has given you to speak into these eternal lives.
  • Approachable
    We want our students to feel free to talk to us. When we ask a question, we ought to make sure that they know that if they don’t know the correct answer, it’s okay. They don’t have to be musically perfect, but they should be encouraged to discuss things over with us. Also, give them chances to ask questions. Many students will only ask about something if the conditions are just right, so endeavor to set up a comfortable, communicative atmosphere in the lesson.
  • Knowledgeable
    We all want to learn from our teachers, so having a teacher who has extensive knowledge about what they are teaching is invaluable. Obviously, no one can know everything, but we as teachers ought to 1.) Have a good foundation in what we are teaching and 2.) Continually seek for “gaps” in our own education and endeavor to fill them.
  • Precise
    Rather than listening to a student play something and then reassigning it for another week of practice to “finish learning” or “polish,” give them something specific to work on. If you are needing to reassign the piece, then there is obviously something not finished about it. What is it? Give specifics – “you need more dynamic contrast,” “double-check those notes,” “bring the tempo up gradually,” etc. Then explain the “how” for whatever is needed: “physically play into this section for emphasis on the fortissimo then drop the amount of weight you put into the keys to bring it back to pianissimo,” “analyze the chords and see what is going on ‘behind the scenes.’ Then you’ll have a more solid idea of the notes required,” “work with a metronome beginning at 60 on the quarter and work up 2-3 speeds at a time until you are at 120.” Precision is key!
  • Thorough
    Don’t settle for a perfect tempo with imperfect notes; be nitpicky about rhythms; don’t be afraid to reassign a piece (especially to an intermediate or advanced student) for work in one or two “little” areas or skills. If there is something amiss, do all you can to develop the student’s skill and repair the problem.
  • Exciting
    Get excited about the wonderful things your student is learning. Be enthusiastic about the progress you see each week (even if it’s miniscule!). Emphasize how much you love what you do: the instrument itself, the music you are studying, the thrill of training the next generation of musicians, geeky music theory… the list is endless! There is so much to be excited about; help the student see that!
  • Pushing
    Reach for new skills that will stretch the student’s ability. One of my favorite teachers has a saying: “Never say ‘I can’t.’ You may say ‘I can’t yet.’ Then I can help you.” In addition to always reaching beyond current limitations, insist that current skills be mastered thoroughly before moving on. Sometimes it’s better to plateau for a little while before beginning the next portion of the ascent up the mountain of music mastery.

 

Check out these excellent books by Jane Magrath, filled with graded standard repertoire purposefully selected for building technique for the pianist. These are amazing resources!

Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Classics (Level 1-2) Level 1-2. By perf. Kim O’Reilly. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection. Masterwork Classics. Baroque, Classical Period and 20th Century. Collection and examples CD. With easy piano notation, fingerings and introductory text (does not include words to the songs). 32 pages. Alfred Music #00-6581. Published by Alfred Music (AP.6581).
Cover tiny file look inside Masterwork Technical Skills Level 1-2. Edited by Jane Magrath. Graded Standard Repertoire; Masterworks; Piano Collection; Technique Musicianship. Technical Skills. Masterwork. Book. 24 pages. Alfred Music #00-6583. Published by Alfred Music (AP.6583).

If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Also, check out other articles on music pedagogy here.

 

This article may contain affiliate links.

Beginner’s Plunk – What Can We Do?

If you’ve ever heard elementary pianists play, you probably know what I’m talking about – that unmistakable beginner’s plunk (with which I was plagued myself as a young musician).

For the first several months of my teaching experience, I thought primarily of achieving one thing in the training of my piano students, and that was to get them to read music fluently. As time has moved on, this still remains a very strong goal. However, other things have also risen to the surface of mind, making my mental list of “topmost important things beginners should be taught” grow rapidly. Added to the note-reading fluency have been rhythmic accuracy, adherence to written dynamics, a beautifully correct hand position, a kneading or massaging motion when depressing the keys, and more.

More recently, I have noticed that the results I am seeing in my upper-elementary students leave something to be desired. Granted, they are upper-elementary, and will not, even with their best efforts, play “Mary Had a Little Lamb” the way a professional concert pianist would. This isn’t about absurd goals and utter perfectionism, but about reaching the highest level of excellence possible.

Something I want to see in my beginners (and have seen in some cases) is agility in the hands when moving across the keys. Additionally, students should be taught to play musically and with personal artistic expression, but within the general boundaries of era and style. Too often there is a tendency for the beginners to produce the plunking sound with which we are all familiar, and I surmise that this can have multiple causes.

Two of the causes that I’ve identified are 1.) a lack of understanding about legato (see the previous article, Pianistic Legato for more specifics on this) and 2.) muscle stiffness, which can be much decreased by the implementation of scales into the student’s daily work (one octave is good for beginners).  Five-finger exercises have proven very effective in removing the muscular stiffness and developing finger independence, as well.

Depending on the student’s note-reading ability and general teaching philosophies, another solid resource for developing agility and overall maturity on the keyboard and relaxing the hand muscles is The Little Pianist exercises by Carl Czerny.

Cover tiny file look inside The Little Pianist Op. 823 Composed by Carl Czerny (1791-1857). Edited by Ruthardt. Studies. Sheet Music. Edition Peters #EP2845A. Published by Edition Peters (PE.EP2845A).

Finally, consider utilizing the student’s ear.* Most of us learn best by example, so if there is trouble achieving the desired sound, try demonstrating it a few times and then allowing the student to imitate you. With demonstrations, it can be helpful to play the entire passage so that the student can get a better idea of the “big picture,” but then back down to a phrase or two as you work together to reach an accurate imitation.

Every student is going to be different, and there is not a one-size-fits-all cure for developing technique. Analyze the situation – the music, the hands, the student’s overall positioning, past successes and difficulties, general strengths and weaknesses. Articulate to yourself exactly what is missing and then direct the student accordingly.

*For students who have a naturally good ear, demonstration should be used carefully, as “feeding” the points that are already strong can hinder the growth of the weaker areas, especially that of note reading. If your student a) doesn’t have a good ear, or b) is already reading music somewhat fluently, I think demonstration can be one of the most effective and wonderful techniques at a teacher’s disposal. Also, students who struggle with hearing the music need to have their ears trained so that they can reach their maximum potential.

 

If you found this post helpful, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!

 

This post may contain affiliate links.

Pedagogy Question: Forgetful Students

Question: My student acts like [she] doesn’t remember the things I asked [her] to work on at the previous lesson. What are effective ways to approach this?

Answer: There could be multiple answers to this question. I will address three primary causes behind forgetful students (sometimes neglect in disguise) that I have encountered, with ideas for possible solutions.

  • The student is not interested in learning and/or playing the instrument.

I have sometimes found this to be the case, and it takes discernment to know for sure if this is actually what is going on. In some situations, students are only taking lessons because their parents want them to, and, sad but true, this is not enough to get them going. I have found that it is often beneficial in these types of scenarios to keep things bright and cheerful – maybe even going so far as to pretend that I think they are thrilled to be with me each week. If they don’t care about learning, they won’t care about remembering what you are trying to teach them. And if they don’t care about what you are trying to teach them, there is a good chance that they also don’t care about whether or not you are pleased with their progress. Try following this logic in reverse. Build relational bridges: talk about things they are interested in for a few minutes each lesson. Let them know that you are thrilled to be their teacher, and that you want to see them excel. Relationships take time, and you may not see results overnight, but this approach is almost always going to be the most successful in the long run.

  • The student doesn’t understand exactly what is expected of them.

It could be that you as the teacher unconsciously assume that your student is fluent in your personal music lesson language. Things such as “saying note names” and “counting” are common place, everyday terms for us as teachers, but the 8 year old who has only been playing for a short time may be a little confused about what that means when they see it in their assignment notebook. Take the time to walk them through exactly how you want them to practice one of their pieces, and then verbally apply those same techniques to the rest of their music.

Another idea is to let them participate in the note-taking process. Show them what you are writing as you write it, and keep the sentences/individual assignments nice and short. If you have a tendency to assign the same practice techniques week after week, let them take a guess as to what you are going to say next. They probably already know exactly what you are looking for! Also consider speaking the assignments before writing them, and then say them again as your pen crosses the paper. All of these techniques combined will help the auditory learner, the visual learner, and the kinesthetic learner.

  • The student doesn’t understand or respect your authority as a teacher.

This is especially something of which to be aware when you are teaching friends and/or children who may view you as an adult playmate. Draw a line in your interactions between when is a time to run around the yard playing tag versus when is the time to do what they are told. When it is necessary to play with someone who is your student, keep in mind that they are your student, and maintain a gentle firmness in your overall bearing that will help reinforce your authority when the next lesson day comes around

 

I hope these suggestions give food for thought and prove helpful in each of your teaching journeys. In the end, you might find that you have to teach your students not only how to understand and play music, but also how to learn and grow in their understanding. That’s okay! The great part is, even if they decide to stop music study permanently (hopefully they don’t!), you will have helped to lay a foundation in their minds for all of life.

 

Are you looking for additional material to reinforce what you are teaching to your students? These theory books are excellent for working alongside any method book system. We highly recommend them!

Cover tiny file look inside Just the Facts – Book 1 Just the Facts. A unique workbook series, useful as preparation for the Texas State theory test. Instructional book. Published by Music Bag Press (M3.JTF-1).
Cover tiny file look inside Just the Facts – Book 2 Just the Facts. A unique workbook series, useful as preparation for the Texas State theory test. Instructional book. Published by Music Bag Press (M3.JTF-2).
Cover tiny file look inside Just the Facts – Book 3 Just the Facts. A unique workbook series, useful as preparation for the Texas State theory test. Instructional book. Published by Music Bag Press (M3.JTF-3).

 

If you benefited from this article, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Also, don’t forget to check out my other articles on music pedagogy here.

 

This post may contain affiliate links.

Playing Skillfully

In my last article, Why Should I Learn an Instrument? I briefly referenced Psalm 33:3 where it says, “Play skillfully with a loud noise.” This verse has become an immense encouragement in my own journey of learning, teaching, and playing skillfully, and also helped me understand why we as Christian musicians should include classical studies in our preparation for ministry. (I touched briefly on this subject in the first goal of Thoroughly Equipping Music Students for Life, Part 1.)

We are counseled in Ecclesiastes 9:10 to do with all our might whatsoever our hands find to do. If “whatsoever” is a universal term then this counsel reaches into the realm of music education, as well as into other areas of life. And this is where I get almost passionately enthused with the sheer delight of music and all things teaching. Here is an admonition to do what we do, well. It’s almost as though I have just been given permission to do what I love, well, and I feel almost as excited as a ten-year-old who has just been commanded to spend chore time at the fish pond. 🙂

In a way, this subject of playing skillfully will serve as a sort of bridge spanning the gap between the behind-the-scenes pedagogical worldview and the up-front practicalities of making it happen. We’ve already established why we ought to put effort into studying. So what about the how?

Playing skillfully is challenging, no matter how you look at it. Even the most gifted musician you know would probably tell you that they had to work for the level they attained. In all truthfulness, it takes years to master an instrument. This fact leaves teachers with a task requiring painstaking attention to detail and just general attentiveness. Looking ahead to future articles, I hope to focus our discussions on various details that we ought to seek to develop in our students’ playing.

Teaching is such a delight – I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

 

If you found this article to informative, stimulating, helpful, or something else, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. I would love to hear from you! Additionally, I love using G. Schiermer editions of music for both my own study as well as for my students. Check out Sheet Music Plus’s amazing selection of G. Schirmer products!

G-Schirmer Sheet Music Plus G-Schirmer

 

This post may contain affiliate links.

Why Should I Learn an Instrument?

Why should I learn an instrument? It’s a good question: perfectly legitimate. It begs an answer. Perhaps it’s a question that your students will never ask you. They may not, after all, be able to summon the courage to face their teacher and actually put their thoughts into words. But regardless, it’s a question that is probably surfacing in their minds multiple times a week, maybe even subconsciously.

Some students genuinely enjoy their instrument, but in keeping with the human need for purpose bigger than themselves, will find themselves asking. I know, because that’s my own personal experience. Why should I learn an instrument? Actually, it was more along the lines of, “Why do I put six or eight hours into practicing every week… it’s fun and pleasant, and I want to excel… but what makes this this important?”

Other students may be learning an instrument because it’s a goal their parents have for them, but really have no interest in it themselves. Still more are interested in it for a passing season but the pleasure evaporates after a few months when it’s time to sign up for participation on the local sports team. And so the question surfaces again, Why should I learn an instrument? Or, why should anyone learn an instrument?

I’m going to make the assumption that if you are a teacher reading this article then you have already searched out the answers to this question for yourself. My point in writing this is to help all of us remember what may be going on in our students’ lives and minds and thus be more prepared to help them wade through some of these muddy areas.

It is not imperative that every person in the world learn how to play an instrument or two or three, or that everyone who does play an instrument becomes the next J. S. Bach or Leopold Auer. What is imperative is that everyone love the Lord with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and their neighbor as themselves. (Matthew 22:37-39) This means that if you play an instrument, you must do it first and foremost for the glory of the Lord, rather than for selfish fulfillment or vain glory. Also, that if you are learning at the expressed desire of your parents and/or authorities that you do all to the glory of God and submit to that authority. I believe this is the ultimate foundation for why anyone should put time into practicing and the pursuit of musical excellence (or excellence in any other area).

Now for general purposes, we will that your student and/or his parents have already made the decision to begin lessons, which is why you are working through these questions to begin with. How do we as teachers help our students find answers?

Because most students are not going to come right out and ask questions like this during lessons, it is wise to assume that the questions will come at some point “behind the scenes,” and then be working in advance to establish a biblical foundation in your students’ minds. Make a point during lessons to casually bring up the topic of why we do this. Take the time to explain the what a privilege it is to be able to serve the Lord and others through music, and how we as musicians can be used both in and out of the church to point weary ones to the cross of Christ. I sometimes hesitate to talk a lot on any topic during lessons because of a preconceived notion that I am being paid to critique the students playing and technique, which I am. However, a teacher who ignores the foundation is not only undermining everything they are trying to pass on but is also setting the student up for quitting because if something doesn’t seem to be worth doing, then they will probably stop putting the effort into it. Once isn’t going to be enough to really solidify the reasoning behind this, so on a practical level, bring it into conversation frequently over a period of time. Not every lesson lends itself to long (or even short) discussions on such topics, but you as the teacher have the reins, so to speak, so I encourage you to keep this mindset present throughout your work.

I love to think of the verse “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds” (Proverbs 27:23). Although we are not talking about literal animals, anyone charged with the responsibility of leading anyone or anything else (as shepherds lead their sheep) would do well to heed this nugget of wisdom given to us by the wisest man who ever lived. Given this, we as teachers ought to strive to know where our students are in their journey of the “whys” behind music, and then to direct our lessons and conversations accordingly.

Now back to our original question, Why should I learn an instrument? There are myriad reasons and more than I can thoroughly enumerate here, but I will share two that come most prominently to mind:

  • So that you can more effectively be prepared to fulfill the command to “Sing unto the Him a new song; play skillfully with a loud noise” (Psalm 33:3).
  • So you can minister to other believers (Colossians 3:16).

May you be blessed with wisdom, knowledge, and discernment to be able to lead your “flocks” in the righteous paths of our Lord and endeavor to redeem each moment with your students for the Kingdom!

 

P.S. Keep an eye out for the next article: titled “Playing Skillfully.”

 

Take a look at this beautiful collection of sacred piano solos by Dan Forrest for the intermediate pianist. These hymns are artistically arranged and reinforce common pianistic techniques.

Cover tiny file look inside Fairest Lord Jesus Intermediate piano solos. Composed by Dan Forrest. Sacred. SoundForth #215798. Published by SoundForth (S2.215798).

If you enjoyed this article, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Also, check out other articles on music pedagogy here.

 

This post may contain affiliate links.

Thera-pit-ics are restocked!

Yes, it’s true – Thera-pit-ics are now restocked with many of your favorites, as well as some all new prints. Check out Garden Galaxy (pictured above), Candy Jar, and summer’s best: Beach Towel. But that’s not all! We are pleased to introduce the new Cloud & Sunshine series for summer, which includes Stripe, Chevron, and Floral. Stop by the online Marketplace to browse the full range of options. And until August 4, use coupon code SummerPits to receive 10% off your Thera-pitics order. 

Teaching Music to Little Ones

One of the greatest joys is teaching music to little ones – the size person that sits on the piano bench and can barely reach the pedals, or whose violin measures an approximate 10.25 inches. I always find that these times gratify my love for adventure, and it is so rewarding to see the progress that such small children can make in a week’s time. There is so much potential in the minds of children. It’s a true joy to answer the phone and hear from the other end, “I would like to have my son/daughter start lessons.” “How old are they?” is usually one of the first questions I ask, and in reply I love to hear “almost 6,” or “just turned 4.” Often parents are unsure of whether or not their child is ready for music lessons at such an early age, and though sometimes it is probably true that some children would do better to wait a few more years, I love to start them young. The opportunities are so much greater when the mind and hands begin to be trained early in life.

But let’s get a little more practical for a while. Teaching anyone can be challenging, as delightful as it is. (Is there anything worth doing in life that isn’t preset with its own challenges?) Starting early isn’t going to eliminate all challenges, but it does exchange many of the actual intellectually-growing challenges for what I think of as practical challenges.

Practical challenges are things that you need to work through to help you reach the goal. The solutions to them are almost never ends in themselves, but that doesn’t reduce the need for solutions.

Some of the most prominent practical challenges I have faced while teaching music to little ones include:

  • Short attention spans
  • Abounding energy
  • Dramatic exhaustion

Though the list could probably go on, you have no-doubt observed that the three things mentioned above could all be connected in some way to the first one – short attention spans. There are also things to consider such as distractions from student siblings, the great outdoors visible from the windows, attractive books on the shelves in the home studio, and more.

It’s always fun to be creative and work through these challenges to keep the student engaged in what we’re trying to accomplish. Thirty minutes can be a long time for one of these little ones to sit or stand still. If you are teaching violin or another arm-held instrument, it can be even more difficult because little arms get tired quickly. Sometimes little things make a big difference in how smoothly the lesson goes, and here are some of my favorite go-to techniques for making the time pass in a productive and fun way.

  • Let them choose the color pen that you use to take notes. It gets them excited about starting the lesson.
  • 15-20 minutes through the lesson, play a game with the child by sending them running across the room, touching something that you specify, and then have them come running back to you. This burns energy, and as long as you are directing where they go, solidifies your authoritative position as teacher.
  • For students who are just “so tired,” let them set their instrument down (or take a break from sitting at the piano) while you take notes. Just a little break like this can go a long way.
  • While you are writing, ask them about their week. Let them talk about their favorite activity or what fun antics their pet has displayed.
  • Tell stories about your music learning journey, or about other things – what funny things have your pets done this week?

With any of these things, keep in mind that you are together for the purpose of learning, and after a minute or two of talking and playing, bring them back to focus gently and firmly. “Go ahead and play page __ now.” These little breaks can be repeated as often as needed, and you will {probably} gradually find that the student is maturing and diversions are not as necessary as they used to be.

Lastly, never forget: “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.” –Mark 10:14

 

Check out these hymnbooks for beginning pianists by Dr. Peter Davis. We love these books and how they fit in so beautifully with the Keys for the Kingdom method series. If you are searching for supplemental hymns for your students, look no further!

Cover tiny file look inside Keyboard Treasury, Vol. 1 A Graded Hymn Anthology Primary Piano Solos. Composed by Peter Davis. Sacred. SoundForth #110213. Published by SoundForth (S2.110213).
Cover tiny file look inside Keyboard Treasury, Vol. 2 A Graded Hymn Anthology elementary piano solos. Composed by Peter Davis. Sacred. SoundForth #110221. Published by SoundForth (S2.110221).

If you benefited from this post, please consider leaving feedback in the comment section below. Also, read other posts on music pedagogy here.

 

This post may contain affiliate links.