By: Jim Lansing
The Rascal Flatts song “My Wish” is one of my wife’s favorite songs. The chorus goes:
“My wish, for you, is that this life becomes all that you want it to,
Your dreams stay big, your worries stay small,
You never need to carry more than you can hold,
And while you're out there getting where you're getting to,
I hope you know somebody loves you, and wants the same things too,
Yeah, this, is my wish.”
This became her anthem, a song she would sing to my boys. It resonated so much with my eldest son, now a college junior, that he and my wife got matching tattoos of the phrase “Dreams stay big, Worries stay small.”
As a piano teacher, I have dreams for each of my students: I wish that they will play piano for the rest of their lives. We begin this musical adventure by learning how to hold their hands/fingers, how to sit on the bench, and how the mechanisms work inside the piano. We also learn musical concepts like note values, names of spaces/lines, and playing loudly/softly. Through practice and recitals, students build up their skills and confidence.
My wish for each student is that they lead “Happy Birthday” from the bench when their families gather to celebrate milestones. Maybe they’ll accompany a song by their school choir. Perhaps they’ll play a piece at a family wedding. Once they’ve done that, they might make a musical offering during a worship service at their house of worship. Their path might lead them to play keyboard in a garage band with their friends, audition for their school jazz band, or even earn a few bucks playing in a church worship band. Some of these activities could take six, eight, even ten years of study to achieve. A few students will become that proficient; many will not.
When a student announces their “retirement” from piano lessons, it often coincides with their move to middle school and a shift to playing a band or orchestra instrument. At this point, my wish for them being lifelong pianists shifts to a dream they will be lifelong musicians. When they are “out there getting where [they’re] getting to,” maybe they’ll join a drum & bugle corps, a church choir, or a community orchestra and continue to make music!
Should they quit their musical endeavors, my final wish is that become lifelong consumers of music. For the musical arts to survive, we need people to purchase tickets to concerts, buy recordings, and otherwise make it possible for musicians to make a living at their craft.
While I don’t have lyrics tattooed on my body, “My Wish” resonates with me just the same. As a piano teacher, I hope that each student will become a lifelong pianist. I wish this for every student because you can never predict what each will achieve!
Jim Lansing is a piano teacher in Bloomington, MN. You can find out more about him at www.jimthepianoguy.com or follow him at www.facebook.com/JimThePianoGuy.
Developing Good Practice Habits
By: Lia Hwang
As a teacher, I'm supposed to be encourage my students to practice, but I don't. Of course, I subtly hint at it during lessons and I physically write a long list of things for them to practice after every single lesson. However, I am not perfect and I don't expect them to be. I would much rather have them have a good summer or go swimming with their friends than worry that they have to practice. Practicing is very important. It's actually the only way to get better, but at their age, they are still learning how to practice.
Think of practicing like this: you are going to sing in front of the Queen tomorrow and you haven't even picked out a song. If you don't practice, you're going to embarrass yourself in front of the Queen. Which, if I might add, is not something you really want to do. So what SHOULD you do? Practice, right? You end up practicing all night, and you wake up the next morning dazed and nervous. If you had prepared this song two-three weeks in advance, you would be well-rested and confident (as best as one could be before performing for the Queen). Time is up. You can't go back in time.
I don't tell this story to all of my students. Instead, I show them a video by Josh Wright. He talks about how to develop good practice habits and he talks about how successful it can be if students were to try this technique. There are a couple of suggestions he makes:
1. Figure out a time in your schedule to practice. Only you know how much time you have to practice each week
2. When practicing, stick to only working on one page at a time. Don't do more than that. If you're trying to learn a lot of pages in a short amount of time, you can increase it to two pages
3. Divide the song into parts. Focus on one part at a time and perfect it
4. Once you have perfected one part, don't go back to it. Many students practice only the beginning of a song because they keep practicing what they learned. You have to force yourself to practice the next part. And repeat this until you have finished the whole first page
5. Work with separate hands first and then both hands together
And here are some of my own suggestions:
1. Hold yourself to a standard. If you practice for your lesson every week, don't let a week slip by without you practicing
2. Practice what your teacher suggests or gives you. Don't go back and practice material that your teacher didn't tell you to practice. It's counter-productive
3. Practicing for hours is sometimes the necessary way to master a piece. The more advanced it is, the more hours and hard work you'll need to learn it
4. You are not a machine. That is why you have to look at your schedule and carve out specific times to practice. Make this a priority. And schedule it in every single week
5. Practicing is piano playing. Lessons are not meant to be your only playing time. When you are practicing, you are playing by yourself. And eventually, your teacher will not be there in the future to help you. You have to become independent.
I hope this helps many of you! There are so many ways to develop good practice habits and it starts with implementing just one of these suggestions. Start slow, and take your time. Hold yourself accountable. And you will start to see yourself progress much faster.
Here is the link for Josh Wright's practice video if you want to check it out:
I also have two blogs of my own that I write in all the time. I write about lifestyle, and everything under the sun about music and teaching!
My name is Lia Hwang, and I’m a full time piano/double bass/English teacher and part time blogger. I started my blog with the purpose of writing about whatever I wanted. I didn’t know it would turn into so much more. It has become a community and I’m so lucky to help other teachers + parents learn more about music. Nothing was easy for me, but I wouldn’t trade teaching for the world.
Helping Students Practice at Home
By: Christina Mathis
Practicing at home. These words tend to fill most parents with dread, bring up questions of how they can help, or they just really stress you out. And as a piano teacher, that’s the last thing I want! You are a vital part of your child’s education, and I am here to help make your job easier when it comes to getting your student to practice.
So, how do you help your child practice?
Now that you have a few ideas for helping your child practice, how do you know what they’re supposed to be practicing? This will depend on your child’s teacher. Ask for detailed instructions. I can pretty much guarantee that he or she will LOVE you for this!
As a general rule, I suggest practicing the day after a lesson so that the information is still fresh on the student’s mind. I ask my beginner students to play through each piece 3 times every time they sit down to practice. (3 times a day, 5 days a week is my ideal for beginners.) This is incredibly simple but very effective. Older students will require more time depending on the level and difficulty of the pieces. By about 9 or 10 years old, students should be writing down practice instructions during their lesson time. If they are not, ask their teacher to pass along what was covered during the lesson and how they need to practice at home.
Lastly, remember that you, your child, and their teacher are on a team and are working together for your child. Communication is KEY! If you don’t understand what your child is learning, ask to sit in on a few lessons. If you have any questions about how to help your child at home, just ask! Teachers LOVE having involved parents!
Happy practicing to you all!
Christina Mathis is a classically trained pianist with a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance from Judson College in Marion, Alabama. Christina has extensive experience as a church musician, collaborative pianist, & music educator. She has been teaching private piano lessons for more than 25 years & in private schools throughout Alabama for 13 years as a classroom music teacher & choral director. She currently teaches private lessons at her home studio & is pursuing a Master of Arts in Music Education from Liberty University Online & national teaching certification from the National Federation of Music Clubs. Christina lives in Decatur, Alabama, where she is pianist at First Baptist Church Decatur, choral pianist & piano teacher at Austin High School, & staff accompanist at University of North Alabama in Florence.