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Monday, August 30, 2010

Back To School

I have always loved this time of year - shopping for new clothes and shoes, colorful notebooks, and shiny new crayons - and its opportunity for a new beginning. As a piano instructor, my teaching year coincides with that of the local public schools, so in many ways my "new year" really starts not on January first, but on the first day of the local public schools. From the moment my students returned to my studio on August ninth, I have encouraged them to renew their commitment to piano study. Similar to making new years resolutions, we have been setting goals for the coming months.


First, I have reminded my students of the importance of practicing consistently. Generally, I recommend they practice according to the following schedule.

Beginners (5-6 years old): 10-15 minutes/day, 5 days/week

Elementary (7-11 years old): 20-30 minutes/day, 5 days/week

Intermediate (12-15 years old): 45 minutes/day, 5-6 days/week

Advanced (16 years and older): 60+ minutes/day, 6 days/week

I encourage them practice at the same time every day, so it becomes a part of their routine. And I remind them that the longer they go between practice sessions, the more frustrating their practice will be. However, younger students tend to respond better to stickers and candy than platitudes, so I offer these as weekly incentives.


My job is to find music and materials that will make my students WANT to go home and practice. So I have also been asking them if there are particular pieces they want to learn to play. To such a general question, the usual response is, "I don't know..." So I try to get more specific. "Did you hear something performed by another student in the spring recital that they really enjoyed? Do you have a favorite song on the radio right now? Would you like to try getting away from printed sheet music and learn about chording and following a lead sheet?" Usually, these kinds of questions open a dialogue; as a result, I am very excited about some new directions I will be heading in with many students this year.


Most of my students participate in holiday concerts at area assisted living centers, NFMC Federated Festival, the GCMTA ensemble concert, the Asberry School of Music Spring Piano Recital, etc.; consequently, much lesson time is spent in preparation for these events. While these are valuable goals, I am trying to encourage more "big picture" goals, as well. Depending on level of ability, I am challenging my students to be able to identify major and minor key signatures, play their pentascales or major scales/primary triads in twelve major and minor keys, and to have a minimum of three new pieces in their active repertoire by the end of this academic year. In a show of solidarity, I have promised them that I will also be practicing my scales and arpeggios and working to building my repertoire, as well. As a matter of fact, I am almost ready to record my first solo. You will see it here first!

Check here every Friday for updates. And feel free to comment with questions, concerns and suggestions. Teachers, students and parents: we can learn much from each other!