Meet Schubert the Studio Mascot

IMG_0904  Schubert would like to say hello to everyone.  Schubert is Brunner Studios mascot.  He loves to play the piano and has his own concert bench.  This fall Schubert will be starting his own newsletter for the studio.  So be on the look out for our first edition. 


*Mama made me go to the groomer’s.  Don’t I look cute?

What is the Best Time of Year to Begin Piano Lessons?

What is the best time of year to begin piano lessons?  Often we think about the age the student is but not about what else might be going on in their lives.  As a teacher who likes to pay her bills, I say that any time is a good time to begin piano lessons.  Smile  However, there are some times during the year that the transition can be a little smoother.


1.  The weeks leading up to school starting.  This is my personal favorite.  The students begin to build good practice habits and are not overwhelmed with so much new material from school and piano lessons.

2.  The weeks after school starts.  You are building your schedule for the year and can get the time that works best for you. 

3.  Right after the new year.  The student got a keyboard or piano for Christmas.  The school year is getting back into the swing of things and the newness of the gift is still there.

4.  Summer break.  Everyone’s schedules are more flexible and there is less homework.  You can even schedule multiple lessons per week to really get a great start.

5.  Late Spring.  This is my least favorite.  Everyone is so busy with end of the year tasks that sometimes it is hard to establish those good practice habits.


As we are approaching mid-summer and fall isn’t so far away, go ahead and give some piano teachers a call and see what their schedule openings are like.  Piano lesson are for all ages!

Piano Assignment Sheets Update

Today I added a Beginner Piano Assignment Sheet to the Resources Page


Also on the Resources page you will find the Piano Assignment Sheet and the Technique Assignment Sheet.


Please feel free to use these in your own studio.


What Qualifications Should a Piano Teacher Have?

Last week we talked about how to find a piano teacher.  Another part of finding the right teacher is making sure they have good qualifications.  So what qualifications should you look for in a piano teacher.


1.  Does the teacher have a degree in piano or music?  This could be a Bachelors, Masters or  DMA of Music in Performance, Pedagogy or Education.  While a degree in music doesn’t always make a good teacher, it does ensure that the teacher has gone through a rigorous course of study in their field.


2.  Does the teacher belong to professional organizations?  This could be NCMTA/NMTA , NFMC, or the National Piano Guild.  For more local examples, the teacher might belong to their area piano teachers forum or guild.  Most of these organizations have membership requirements and teachers must meet them to have different levels of membership. 


3.  Can the teacher supply you with examples of musical achievement for themselves or their students?  Have the students placed well at local festivals and competitions?  If it is a younger teacher, did the teacher place well in the same competitions? 


4.  Can the teacher supply references?


5.  Is the teacher active in the local music community?  Teachers need good contacts.  If they are participating in the musical community, then they are more likely to hear of opportunities for their students.  


So for an example, let’s look at my qualifications:


Heather N Brunner

Charlotte, NC- Piano Teacher

Educational Background:  BM and MM in Piano Pedagogy from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

Number of Years Teaching:  10

Professional Memberships: 

1.  NMTA, NCMTA and Charlotte, NC chapter of NCMTA.

2.  NFMC

Student Participation:

NCMTA Charlotte Area Festival-

NCMTA Western State Festival

NFMC Festival

NFMC Scholarship Festival

Current Community Participation:

NCMTA  Festival Charlotte Area Chair 2012

NFMC Scholarship Festival Charlotte  Chair 2012

Accompanist for local high school choirs

Should Piano Lessons Be Fun?

Almost every parent that contacts me says that they want piano lessons to be fun.  Should piano lessons be fun?  The unequivocal answer to that is YES!  However, how we can accomplish that is dependent on the student and the teacher.


As  a teacher with a degree in piano and with over 10 years of experience, I know lots of ways to make piano lessons fun.  Obviously the first way is with literature that the student looks forward to playing.  This doesn’t mean though that occasionally the student doesn’t have to play something they aren’t thrilled with from the get go.  Usually even those pieces that the student is iffy about in the beginning end up being great fun after learning the first few pages. 


With little kids, I like to get up and use movement in lessons.  Marching, singing and dancing are great ways to break up a 30 min. lesson and let those wiggles out.  Did you know the Hokey-Pokey is an effective teaching tool?  Color is important for all levels as it brings information to our attention.


I can do everything and stand on my head if necessary to try to make piano lessons fun.  However, there is a contingency.


The student has to want to learn and to be prepared.  A large part of having fun in piano lessons is getting to learn new music.  This hinges on the student practicing and be prepared for lessons.  That doesn’t mean that it might not take repetition of pieces, but that they should be showing marked improvement week by week. 


I like to think that it is a 50/50 split on who is responsible for fun piano lessons.  If the student keeps practicing and the teacher strives to incorporate new and creative information then the lessons should be a success.

Supplies for Piano Lessons

What supplies does a student need to help make taking piano lessons easier and to make practice at home run more smoothly?


1.  Assignment Book- Every teacher has their own method of tracking assignments.  Some teachers write the date on the page, other use a pre-printed book that goes with a method book series, a spiral notebook is always effective, or a 3 ring binder.  I have my students use a 3 ring-binder.  Every week I print out assignment sheets that are customized to the lesson with the listening and music history assignment printed in.


2.  Music Bag-  Most kids have a clumsy streak and go through phases of forgetfulness.  A music bag is a quick way to keep track of everything.  Pack it up the night before a lesson so that the student doesn’t forget any books. 


3.  Pencils-  keep a few sharpened pencils with good erasers at the piano for use during practice.  I like to have my students make notes of any questions they have during the week.  Also, theory should always be done in pencil.  Would you do your math homework in pen?


4.  Metronome- Counting is essential to playing music correctly.  A metronome can aid in this process.  My students usually begin learning to use one quite early on in the process.  The sooner they have the hang of using the metronome the better.


5.  Timer-  Kids are forever asking if they have practiced long enough.  Forestall this questions by equipping them with a timer that is easy to set.


These are just a few things that help students succeed in piano lessons.  A prepared student makes for a happy piano teacher.  

How to Find a Piano Teacher- Part 2

On Friday, we talked about how to find a piano teacher.  The first thing you need is a name.  What were our steps?

1.  Ask your neighbors

2.  Google your area

3.  Visit reputable teacher websites


Now that you have a few names in hand what is the next step?  You need to interview teachers and interview with teachers.  The best of mode of communication really depends on the teacher.  Let’s face it, most piano teachers are stereo typed as old ladies with cats.  So yes, you will find teachers who don’t communicate by email.  You will definitely have to call these teachers to get information and to feel out what their personalities are.


If you do find teachers who are more technologically savvy, don’t hesitate to email them with a request for them to call you.  My reasoning on this is simple.  I teach from around 1:00 to 8:00 Monday thru Thursday.  I do not answer phone calls while I’m teaching. I don’t want you to think that I’m ignoring you or not getting back to you.  I can however, send you a quick email that I received your inquiry and will contact you back as soon as I have a break or am done teaching.  If you want to include details in your email or questions, this is a great idea.  Any info that the potential teacher has to help answer questions or address concerns is appreciated.


What questions should you ask a potential piano teacher about beginning lessons in their studio?


1.  What is your training?

2.  What opportunities do your students have for performances and festivals?

3.  Do you have a policy sheet?

4.  Are lessons customized for the student’s learning style?

5.  What is your availability?

6.  What do lessons cost and are their additional fees?


The answers that the teacher gives you should give you a feel if you would like to continue to the next step of scheduling a trial lesson or signing up for lessons.  Follow your instincts.  Not every teacher is suited for every student.  Be honest with yourself when looking at the type of teacher you want.  Taking piano lessons is a big commitment.  You are learning another language.  Find the teacher that is best suited for your educational needs. 

How To Find a Piano Teacher

If you live in a small town then finding a piano teacher is probably pretty easy.  What if you live in a big city or just moved to a new area and need to find a new piano teacher?


Let’s take Charlotte, NC for an example city for finding a piano teacher for your child who wants to take lessons.  Obviously the first thing would be to ask around.  Do the neighbors recommend anyone or is there music business in your immediate area?  If the answers to these questions are yes then you probably want to check out the reputations of those in question.  If the answer is no then follow the next steps.  Google is your friend.  Type in piano lessons charlotte, nc or piano teachers charlotte, nc.  This is a great place to get started.  The first page is usually going to be larger studios or music businesses.  Take a look at the map on the right to see what is in your area.  However, keep in mind that many of the local independent teachers cannot afford to maintain space on the first page of searches.  Keep looking on to the next pages for those independent teacher websites. 


Another good way to find a piano teacher is to look at websites that piano teachers advertise on.  Some reputable websites for Charlotte, NC are:


Search these websites for teachers in your area.  Cross check them to see the different teacher ratings on each site. 

Make a list of the teachers that are interesting to you.  We will talk on Monday about interviewing piano teachers to find the right teacher for you. 

Does Your Piano Teacher Vacation?

Since summer is here.  Let’s talk about the subject of vacations.  As a piano teacher, my schedule has some flexibility.


My husband and I like to travel in the fall when it is cooler and crowds are lower.  Also, from about mid-January to the beginning of May, most of my weekends are filled with piano related activities that relate to my students.  Did I mention that all of those weekends are unpaid? Yes, that’s right folk.  Your piano teacher has to volunteer time so that your student can participate in festivals.  Now most of the piano teachers don’t mind working those weekends.  If you add in additional weekends for recitals and then for studio class, that is a lot of time outside of lessons that your teacher is dedicating to their students. 


So if you teacher lets you know well in advance and offers ample make up lessons or payment options for time that they will be away, please try to be understanding.  Most families are very understanding about vacation time away from the studio.  If your teacher has excessive absences on short notice, then that is a bird of a different feather.


Oh yeah, did I mention that Walt Disney World is offering free dining again in September? 


Educational Expectations for Summer Piano Lessons

Today my students will begin having their last lessons before the summer session starts.  Many of them will be taking summer lessons but not on a regular schedule.  What should parents and teachers expect from students who take lessons during the summer?


If a student is taking infrequent piano lessons in the summer, then my goal is retention of knowledge.  Just like with academics, if you don’t use it, you will loose it.  All that hard work we put into theory and technique will quietly drift away.  As a teacher who as high standards week after week for the literature that the students are learning, I find that summer is a great time to play ‘fun’ music.  Now, I find classical music to be fun but my students don’t always agree.  So we will be pulling out the pop and show tunes.  Recognizable pieces that students enjoy playing so much.  The technical skills are the same and we might learn some new interesting rhythms. 


I try not to stress out about the lack of practice in the summer.  Kids go to camps and travel with their families.  When they are home, I encourage them to try to maintain a normal practice schedule.  Even if the amount of time is less, I don’t want them to lose the habit of practicing.   Parents can help by reminding the students to practice when they are able.


Summer is a nice time for teachers and students to relax and regroup.  Review those skills and make sure everything is in order for when piano/music lessons start back in the fall.  Festival season will be here before we know it.  So help maintain those skills be practicing for you summer lessons when the chance arises.