10 Non-Musical Skills that Children Can Learn from Piano Lessons

Lisa Phillips has an excellent article on the ARTSblog identifying The Top 10 Skills Children Learn from the Arts:

  1. Creativity
  2. Confidence
  3. Problem Solving
  4. Perseverance
  5. Focus
  6. Non-Verbal Communication
  7. Receiving Constructive Feedback
  8. Collaboration
  9. Dedication
  10. Accountability

Be sure to read the post for specific insights on each of these areas and how they are developed through music lessons.

40 Interview Questions for Prospective Piano Students

Years ago I started conducting and interview and evaluation/assessment with every prospective piano student and their parents. This is so helpful in getting to know the families, the individual student, and their musical expectations and aptitude. I’ve recently been coming up with some new questions that I’d like to add to the forms I use, and just came across a list of 40 questions from Yellow Cat Music Education that has some possibilities I’ve never even thought of! These are very thought-provoking and so helpful in establishing clear expectations regarding practice right off the bat. This would actually be a great list to send to parents even before the initial interview so that they have a chance to look over it and think through their level of commitment to their child’s musical studies.

Wee Sing Resources

Did anyone else grow up with the Wee Sing series of songbooks? I still have a collection of these childhood favorites sitting on my shelves (I think I need to pull them off and start using them in my teaching!). I just recently discovered that there is actually a Wee Sing Website with more info, resources, and activity sheets to go along with the Wee Sing books. And even though these have been around for 30+ years, the authors are keeping up with the times and have created a new Wee Sing and Learn ABC app to help children learn the alphabet. The Wee Sing series would be a fabulous teaching resource for planning themed preschool or elementary music education classes!

Monday Mailbag – How Can Parents Help Motivate Their Children?

I am a new piano mom. I’ve been wanting to put my children in lessons for many years, but we’re just finally able to put it in our budget. My two daughters both started lessons a few weeks ago at ages 9 and almost 7. Their teacher doesn’t use an incentive program or anything, so I’m wondering what I can do to help encourage them to practice at home. One of them is already getting a bit bored with lessons; I can see how it would be a little discouraging when it takes a few months to start seeing a lot of progress. Thanks for any insights!

Like a lot of things in life, I’m realizing more and more that there will be seasons of great enjoyment in working on piano assignments and there will be times where you just have to be disciplined and do it when you don’t feel like it. A piano teacher can only do so much in a short weekly lesson; the rest is up to the parents to make it a priority and the student to take responsibility. In the end, it has to be a combination of everyone working together to make learning any instrument a successful endeavor. That’s the only way to progress.

That said, probably the two biggest motivators in general are:

  1. Learning music that the student loves – pieces that sound cool, are fun to play, and give the musician the opportunity to play musically.
  2. Having an outlet to play for others – recitals, group classes, festivals, and church specials are wonderful, but even if it’s a family gathering every month where each child is given the opportunity to perform a piece that they’ve worked up to a polished level, that does wonders for giving a child a reason to practice and learn a piece well.

Any parent can help influence and motivate their child by expressing enjoyment in their music, asking the teacher if he/she has additional suggestions for fun music their child could learn, and providing opportunities for them to play in a variety of settings. If you have other suggestions, either as a parent or a teacher, feel free to share! What can parents do to help motivate their children when it comes to learning and practicing an instrument?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Ever Thought About Adopting a Piano?

Yes, that’s right. Thanks to PianoAdoption.com you can now find a good home for your used piano or search for just the right match for yourself. There is a listing for every state, so you can look for pianos close to you. Obviously it would still be wise to have the piano checked over by a good piano technician (for about $25 my piano technician will give a piano a good look and see how much work and money it will need to get it in good working condition) before hauling it to your house, but this looks like a great resource for families who really need a piano but may not be in a financial position to afford it.

Review and Giveaway of Beethoven Who – Family Fun with Music!

From the colorful, eye-catching artwork on the cover to the extensive index at the back, Marcia Washburn has put together a fun and practical resource that is great for parents and teachers alike – Beethoven Who?! This 334 page ebook covers everything from why children should learn music, to an overview of different styles of music, to handy hyperlinks that take you directly to the corresponding terms in the glossary, and lots more.

Coming from a Christian perspective, Marcia includes a multitude of Scripture verses, inspirational quotes, listening suggestions, and full-color pictures. The book would be a great resource for music teachers wanting to plan a music camp, gather ideas for group classes, or just build their own knowledge of the history and elements of music to incorporate it more into their teaching. It is also ideal for a homeschool family looking for a fun, easy-to-use music appreciation curriculum.

Now, for the best part…Marcia has graciously offered to giveaway one copy of the Beethoven Who? curriculum (a $29.99 value) to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing to win. A winner will be chosen using a random number generator on Thursday, September 20 at noon (CST). [Also, if you want to go ahead and purchase a copy, Marcia said that she would be happy to refund the winner for the purchase price if they’ve already ordered it.]

Inspiration and Practical Tips for Parents and Teachers Working with Young Children at the Piano

I “saved” this post on my browser as soon as I saw the title, but just finally got around to watching Mario Ajero’s video clip on How to Start Piano Lessons for Pre-School Aged Children. If you are a parent or teacher of young children and need a little inspiration and practical advice, you have to check this out! It’s so neat to watch Mario work with his daughter and see the excitement in her face as she learns to play simple songs on the piano. I really love his suggestion of making time at the piano a part of your daily routine so that it becomes a normal and expected part of life.

These are great ideas that could also easily be incorporated into a Pre-Piano Camp for young students who are considering starting formal piano lessons.

Five Ways to Introduce Concert Music to Children By Robert Greenberg

Robert Greenberg, author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart, has written a humorous and helpful article for those looking for ways to introduce children to concert music. I’m looking forward to reading his book and gleaning new ideas for myself and my students! Enjoy the following guest post: Five Ways to Introduce Concert Music to Children by Robert Greenberg:

“Concert Music” is music written by primarily dead Euro-males between roughly 1650 and 1900, music typically heard in the rather formal environs of a concert hall. Yes, this music is often referred to as “classical music”, which is as useless and misleading a phrase as “real imitation margarine!” When we call something “classic”, we are identifying it with the ideals and restraint of ancient Greek art, which immediately rules out the great bulk of concert music, which as often as not is filled with       schmerz und schmutz, sturm und drang, angst and exaltation. Even if we use the word “classic” in its loosest permutation — to indicate something exemplary — who’s to say there isn’t such a thing as “Classic Jazz”, “Classic Rock” — and even, painful though it may be to contemplate, “Classic Death Metal/Grindcore”. So: a pox on the phrase “classical music”. Concert music it is.

And why, pray tell, should we want to introduce our children to concert music? Because it constitutes some of the greatest art our species has ever cooked up, musical art that informs, educates, entertains, inspires, and ultimately packs a toy shop’s worth of joy that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.

1. It is a truism that children will read if they are read to and if they see their parents read. It is incumbent upon parents to set an example by listening to concert music at home and in the car (the latter might require some negotiation, but it CAN BE DONE). Don’t be afraid of playing the same piece over and over again; familiarity breeds affection.

(Having said all this, don’t play one type of music to the exclusion of all others. The distinctions we have created between “concert music” and “rock ‘n’ roll”, and “jazz” and so forth are generally meaningless to children. They tend to just like music — all music — which is how it should be.)

2. Invest in some decent percussion toys and encourage your kids to “play along” with recordings and videos. Yes, I’m aware that this can drive an adult up a wall, which is why we should do it with them. This makes us active, not passive participants in the musical process, and it’s more fun than you might think. As for “insulting” Bach or Mozart or Beethoven by doing this; my friends, they’re dead and beyond insult. Besides, do you really think playing along with a recording is more insulting than the disco arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony that was featured in the movie Saturday Night Fever? I rest my case.

3. Rent/buy/download and play cool movies like “Beethoven Lives Upstairs”, “Mr. Bach Comes to Call”, Disney’s “Peter and the Wolf” and “Fantasia 2000″. Each episode of Disney Junior’s “Little Einsteins” series focuses on a different piece of concert music and teaches all sorts of musical terminology as well. My three year-old son and five year-old daughter love them.

4. Go to local orchestral concerts TOGETHER, in particular children’s/family concerts. Outdoor festival concerts are even better, because the kids can run around and move to the music. Try to listen to the pieces on the program before hand. Music literacy is akin to written literacy, and a little (even a tiny!) bit of preparation pays off big time in terms of intensifying the experience.

5. Get a piano. It doesn’t have to be a 8’11¾” Steinway “D” (list price around 130k); a little spinet will do. Put it in a place where the kids can bang on it without making the rest of the family crazy. When it’s time for piano lessons (at age 6 or 7; no need to rush) the piano will thus be an old friend and not a new torture device. (A “piano” is made out of wood, medal, leather and felt. It breathes. It is real. Its mechanism follows the will of the player’s body. An electric keyboard is made out of plastic and circuitry. It is not real. It does not breath. It has no place in your house or apartment. “But it makes so many different sounds!” So does a cat in a microwave: does sonic variety justify putting little Boots in the micro? “But we don’t have room for a piano.” Yes you do. “But my child can practice a keyboard wearing earphones, so we don’t have to listen”. Oh, that’s a GREAT message to send your child: go practice, but don’t make us listen to you.)

Recording starter kit. Here are some great works wonderfully performed to start out with.

  • Johann Sebastian Bach, Brandenburg Concertos; Trevor Pinnock conducting, on Archiv
  • Wolfgang Mozart, Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, & 41; Neville Marriner conducting, on EMI
  • Ludwig (“my friends call me Louis) van Beethoven, Nine Symphonies; John Eliot Gardiner conducting, on Archiv
  • Camille Saint-Saens, Carnival of the Animals; Charles Dutoit conducting, on London
  • Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf; Carlo Rossi conducting, narrated by Boris Karloff, Vanguard

© 2012 Robert Greenberg, author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart

Author Bio
Robert Greenberg, 
author of How to Listen to Great Music: A Guide to Its History, Culture, and Heart, is a speaker, pianist, and music historian. He has served on the faculties of UC Berkeley, California State University East Bay, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he was chairman of the Department of Music History and Literature and director of the Adult Extension Division. He is currently music historian-in-residence with San Francisco Performances and also serves as the resident composer and music historian to NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered. Since 1993, he has recorded over 550 lectures for The Great Courses.

Founded in 1990, The Great Courses produces DVD and audio recordings of courses by top university professors in the country, which are sold through direct marketing. It is a nine-figure-a-year business and they distribute forty-eight million catalogs annually. They offer more than four hundred courses on topics including business and economics; fine arts and music; ancient, medieval, and modern history; literature and English language; philosophy and intellectual history; religion; social sciences; and science and mathematics.

For more information please visit http://www.robertgreenbergmusic.com and http://www.thegreatcourses.com and follow the author on Facebook.


This Quote Should Be on Every Wall in My Studio…

“If it is important to you, you will find a way.

If not you’ll find an excuse.”

I’m still pondering the results of the Practice Survey I conducted in my studio last week. It’s interesting to see how many of my students selected the option, “I am too busy; my schedule doesn’t allow time for me to practice.” I know that some of my students do have pretty crazy schedules, but I wonder if our fast-paced culture has conditioned kids to think that they’re too busy to do things that they really could fit into their day if it was important enough… In going above and beyond the call as a teacher to keep piano lessons fun and engaging, I wonder if we sometimes forget to tell students the reality:

* Sometimes daily practice will be hard.

* Sometimes you will fall short of what you want to achieve.

* Sometimes practicing will not be fun.

* Sometimes you will feel like quitting.

*Sometimes you will wonder why you are learning to play the piano.

This is normal. It’s okay to feel these things. But you must press on. You must be diligent to practice every day. You must put your whole heart into doing the best you can. Because it will be worth it. It is worth it!

Quote HT: Artiden

Monday Mailbag – Help for Parents Teaching Their Children Piano

There are no piano teachers here in our area that will teach kids under the age of 7 or 8. Do you have any lesson and/or book recommendations…teaching approach recommendations for beginning teachers and learners?

Occasionally I receive questions like this from parents who really want their children to have a music education, but just have no opportunities for them to take lessons from a dedicated piano teacher. I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of getting a solid start with an excellent teacher, but I sympathize with parents in this predicament and applaud you for wanting to find the best materials/resources for working with your children.

For starters, there are some great musical things you can do with your children that will prepare them for piano lessons even if they are not specifically starting in piano lesson material yet. Here are a few resources that might be helpful:

13 Ideas for Parents to Prepare Their Young Children for Piano Lessons – a post I wrote a while back that gives some helpful ideas for a well-rounded musical start.

Fun and Easy Musical Activities for Young Children – a video interview I did that gives practical suggestions for parents wanting to work with their children.

Pre-Piano Camp Package – this is a course I put together specifically for children ages 3-6, and it should be very easy for a parent with minimal music background to use with their children.

As far as specifics, here are some of the books I use with beginning students:

My First Piano Adventure – This is especially designed for young beginners and comes with a CD that has lots of fun music and interaction for the students. It’s fabulous for several students at once, too, because they can clap or tap along and enjoy the music, even if not all of them will be specifically learning to play the piano right now. There are three sets in this series (A,B, and C) and by the time a student goes through all of them, they are ready for level one of the Piano Adventure series (and have a great musical foundation!). There’s a writing book that goes along with the lesson book so that students can do fun activities and learn theory concepts as well.

Piano Adventures Primer – This is good for a student who is already reading and is ready to jump right into learning the piano without a lot of other supplemental activities. The layout is clean and easy-to-follow. I usually use this along with the corresponding Technique and Artistry book to help students develop good technical habits right off the bat.

Flashcards-in-a-box – This is my favorite set of flashcards. I love using these with students and try to develop fun games that will make it exciting to learn the concepts, terms, symbols, etc. You can find some specific game ideas in my book, 5 for Fun!

Premier Piano Course – This is a newer series that I enjoy using for some students. It has appealing music, is similar in teaching method to the Piano Adventures series, and also includes an At-Home book with a fun story and specific practice suggestions for parents who want to work with their children. It moves a little faster than some of the other methods, so I recommend this more for an older beginner, but I could see even just getting the At-Home book and adapting the practice ideas to whatever else you’re using.

If anyone has other suggestions, please feel free to share, especially if you’re a parent working with your own children!

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!