Archive for September, 2010

Sep 30th 2010 Christmas Music? It’s only September!

If the sounds of holiday songs are reaching your ears, you have not lost your mind. Your child is probably already starting on their winter recital piece. Now you are probably questioning if you child’s teacher has lost her mind.

Our winter recitals are the first two weekends in December. That is only 2 months away! Now those younger students don’t have to start so early but those that are more advanced definately need the full two months or more.

Last year I made a big mistake and waited until we were done with the Masquerade Musicale to hand out Christmas music. I thought my high school students were going to find the nearest tree and string me up. I made a classic teacher mistake and wrongly assumed that the students would learn the pieces as fast as I could. What was I thinking? Just because it is advanced music doesn’t mean they have the skills to learn it quickly like a college musician or professional. So with that lesson learned, I made a note to myself to hand out advanced music in September this year.

Hopefully by the time those Christmas parties roll around the students will have a few pieces in hand with which to impress the grandparents and family members.

No Comments » Posted by heather / Charlotte Piano Students

Sep 28th 2010 Excuses that Piano Teachers Don’t Like to Hear

There are a few phrases that I hear from my students that make me want to run screaming from the room. Not because the student doesn’t have a valid reason but the vagueness is distressing. Let’s start with number 3.

3. “I didn’t know what to do.”- It is excedingly rare that I send a student home with a new piece with no explaination. This is generally limited to highschool students or a student who I feel needs quizzed on their note reading ability. Most often either the student was intimidated by the piece and didn’t practice it or waited until late in the week and realized the piece required more work than originally thought. More appropriate phrases would be “I put it off until too late” or “I don’t understand this specific part” or “Can you walk me through this piece.”

2. “I forgot about that piece, theory, technique…” This one makes me a whole lot grumpy. Why? I provide my students ample assignment sheets and organizational tools. If the student is writing down their practice time daily, then that means they are looking at their assignment sheet each time they practice. If you tell me you forgot to practice or didn’t do your theory because you forgot, then we have a problem. That means you are not recording your practice as it happens and just filling in the blanks at the end of the week. This makes your practice record less than accurate and often results in a less than complete assignment.

1. “We were so busy.” Now I get that families today are busy. But this one really makes me mental. I would rather have a student just tell me that they didn’t want to practice and spent all afternoon playing outside. Or that mom was out of town or granny watches them in the afternoons. These kinds of details can help me plan the student’s assignments. I feel that the “we were so busy” excuse is something that kids hear adults say and think it is ok to repeat. Everyone is busy and has different responsiblities.

My point is that students need to work on their communication skills and learning to own their time management issues. Students are still learning and growing but excuses week after week begin to wear thin.

No Comments » Posted by heather / Piano Practice

Sep 28th 2010 Theory Classes and the Basics

This weekend I will be teaching a theory class for music students. Many parents have asked “What is the purpose of the class?” The purpose of the class is to review exisiting theory skills and to be introduced to new skills that the students will be learning soon in their lessons or the theory lab. Last year, I taught a class and many of the students found it very motivational. Theory is often on of those aspects of lessons that can fall by the wayside. Students don’t see the connection to their music and many times come to their lessons with this part of the assignment undone.

How can parents help with their at home if they don’t read music? There are a few basic questions and facts that you are looking for in many theory assignments. Almost all theory requires knowing the key that the example/music is in. This is shown using a key signatures that consists of sharps and flats.

A sharp looks like this

A sharp raises a note by a half step. This usually takes the note from a white key to a black key. If the key signature has sharps then finding the name of the key is straight forward. Find the last sharp and go up a half step. Whatever note that is, is the name of the key.

But how do you know what is the last sharp? Sharps will always be in the same order. F#,C#,G#,D#,A#,E#,B#. An acronym is Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bologna. Below you will see examples of all the sharp key signatures identified.

This is a basic run down on how sharp key signatures work and how to identify them. Look for a blog about flats later this week.

No Comments » Posted by heather / Piano Practice

Sep 13th 2010 Helping Your Child Succeed at the Piano: Part 4

Today’s blog is about making progress in practice and in lessons. Every student progresses at a different rate and it is my job make the connection between assignments and how much the student is practicing.

Progress and Goals:
My goal is for students to learn and understand their music completely and in a timely manner. What is a timely manner? This is different for each student based on their ability. I try not to assign more than what I feel a student can accomplish in their set goal of practice time. This may mean that some pieces are intended to take more than one week and that is completely fine. As long as steady progress in being made I consider the student as being successful in their progess.

We all have good and bad weeks and up and down lessons. What I keep a look out for is if there is a major disconnect between practice time recorded and progresses being made. If a student has begun a new level or idea and is slower to grasp it, that is apparent to the teacher and adjustments can be made. If a student is going through a lull in wanting to practice and adjustments need to be made to how much is assigned that can be done. If a student and parent confirm the amount of practice and there is still a disconnect with the material being learned, then we need to evaluate how the student is practicing. In this case, usually the student is just making endless repetitions of a piece, but not focusing on the challenging aspects of the music and we need to review how to practice and to go over the topics listed above.

As a teacher, I want all my students to be successful at their own level. Students often feel discourage when pieces must be repeated week after week. They feel that they aren’t making any progress. By practicing smarter at home and asking the right questions, everyone should see a gradual increase in skills. As always I am happy to try and help in between lessons via email.

No Comments » Posted by heather / Piano Practice

Sep 11th 2010 Road Trip for NCMTA Workshop

The things we do for professional advancement and for the good of our students. North Carolina Music Teachers Assocation hosts a festival in the spring for those students to aspire to a high level of musicianship. Due to the large volume of literature to choose from, the NCMTA puts on 2 workshops in the fall so that teachers can hear all of the music in a live setting.

Since I will be out of town next weekend when the workshop is in Charlotte, I elected to drive to Raleigh for the day. Leaving at 6:00 this morning in order to get there by 9:00 was not my idea of fun. But it was well worth it. The music was wonderful and God bless those clinicians. I can’t imagine learning that quantity of music. For a quick guestimation, they each played approximately 40 pieces of music. The level of difficulty ranged from early intermediate to advanced repertoire.

So 3 bottles of water, 3 diets cokes, a cup of coffee, and a stop of Chick-fil-a later, I am home. Oh yeah and a bag of gummy worms, the yellow ones are the best.

For more information on the NCMTA festival visit Also, watch the website for more updates.

No Comments » Posted by heather / Just For Fun

Sep 10th 2010 Sept. 10 Studio Class

I would like to congratulate my students that played today in studio class. It takes alot of courage to get up and play new untried pieces this early in the year.  Great job!


No Comments » Posted by heather / Charlotte Piano Students

Sep 9th 2010 Helping Your Child Succeed at the Piano: Part 3

Student tend to have one area of musicianship that is more difficult for them. For some it is note reading and for other it is counting. Learning to keep a steady beat can be something of a challenge. It takes practice and patience. In the paragraphs below, we will look at different ways to check the student’s counting.

Counting. The dreaded exercise of making sure the notes fall on the correct beat. Counting starts in a very simple way of having 3 or 4 beats in each measure. A measure is the grouping of notes between the bar lines. We have whole beats of 1-2-3-4. Almost everyone can tap their foot in time to a song on the radio. You should be able to tap your foot in time to the student’s music. It might be very slow, but you should hear a steady beat. What if you don’t hear that beat?

a. Have the student break the piece into small sections. Work on each section of the piece until the entire piece is mastered.

b. Help the student identify the types of notes in the measures, Quarter Notes, Half Notes, Whole Note, or Eighth Note is appropriate.

c. Write in the beats to the music. Usually I will have written in the first few measures if not, have the student write in the number of beats each note receives.

d. Have the student say the beats or note values out loud while playing the section of music. When you can tap your foot to learned section, have the student move on to another section.

No Comments » Posted by heather / Piano Practice

Sep 7th 2010 Helping Your Child Succeed at the Piano: Part 2

Practice Time:
What is the goal of practice? As a teacher, I see the goal of practice being for the student to learn new material, correct mistakes found in pieces during a lesson, and polish music to an acceptable level. How do we accomplish this?

1. Learning correct notes. Many of my beginning students are currently using the Alfred Premier series. At the top of each song in the lesson book, the new material is addressed. This often includes a chart of where the hands need to be placed on the keyboard. Students will often say, “I don’t know where my hands go.” In a lesson, I don’t just tell the student where to put their hands but help them ask the correct questions so they can practice correctly at home.

a. What is the first letter name in the right hand? If I can’t remember this letter name find a note I do and count out the letters from there.
b. What finger number am I using for this letter in the right hand?
c. Repeat these same questions for the left hand.

Many times students will use the excuse of “I don’t know where my hands go” to not practice a song they fear might be challenging. Help them ask the correct questions and follow and guide at the top of the page. Sometimes just a reminder of how to ask the right questions is enough to get the student on the right track.

For older students, the challenge is to make sure they are playing the correct notes without a reference guide. The trick here is to play slowly and not to not allow mistakes. Play as slowly as needed to avoid playing a single wrong note. It only takes playing a note wrong 3 times before it is learned that way. Focus is key here. Practice new pieces in short segments of time.

It truely is up to the student to make sure they learn the notes correctly. By taking the time necessary to learn them correctly the first time, much frustration can be avoided later.

No Comments » Posted by heather / Piano Practice

Sep 6th 2010 A Piano Teacher’s Weekend

I hope that all of my students had a wonderful weekend.  This weekend I went to visit my parents in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC.  My dad and I took the bike out onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few hours on Sunday.  Most of my students have heard that I love to ride a Harley but I thought picture proof would be fun.

I look foward to hearing great lessons this week!  Don’t forget about those music history assignments and make sure to write your practice down.

1 Comment » Posted by heather / Just For Fun

Sep 3rd 2010 Helping Your Child Succeed at the Piano: Part 1

Every week in the studio I encounter the same situations repeatedly.  A few years ago I wrote a document called Helping Your Child Succeed at the Piano.  The idea behind this paper to is to help the non-musician learn to navigate supervising practice at home.  I hope these ideas will assist you in supervising the daily practice required in piano lessons.

The Notebook:

Each student is given a three-ring binder assignment book.  Every week the new lesson is written in, usually with comments regarding what the student needs to pay attention to in terms of corrections that need to be made in the pieces.  The student should be looking at this assignment book every day!

Many times students come to a lesson and say they forgot to practice a piece.  If they are checking their practice regularly against the assignment book, it helps cut down on this occurrence.  Also, practice time should be recorded on the day that it occurs.  This is another chance to look at the assignment to make sure all material is being covered.

Please visit again on Tuesday for Part 2 of Helping Your Child Succeed at the Piano

No Comments » Posted by heather / Piano Practice