Monday, August 25, 2014

Pondering Practice

My daughter Taylor. She still likes to play the piano! (It was cold in my studio that day, that's why she's got the funky blanky!)

"I didn't have time to practice this week".  "I'm really busy with _____________".  "My brother/sister won't let me near the piano". "My cat threw up on my music book!" I've heard many excuses.  And as a survivor of painful piano lessons from harsh teachers and strict father, I've made excuses myself.  Sometimes I still do! But, being very much older and hopefully a Little wiser, I have learned not to dwell on the amount of time practiced, but the quality of time and enjoyment of the music produced.

I told myself when I became a teacher, I would not be harsh, strict and condemning like some of the "old school" teachers I had experienced and/or heard about. But it is indeed frustrating as a teacher, to have a student come to their lessons unprepared.  

I try to avoid lecturing, but instead fill the lesson with sight reading, and note drills which encourage my students to not come unprepared again! :)  In addition, I try to find a piece of music the student really likes. This is enormously effective.  If someone enjoys hearing a piece of music, they will get a lot of joy from learning to play it!  Often they will work harder and then with pride, want to perform this special piece.  

I used to think having a performance looming would make my students step it up in their practice. It usually does. But often my students practice really hard before performance,playing their piece to the best of their abilities and then lay it down and never play it again!  In a sense, they over practice their piece and then get sick of it, much like an overplayed popular song on the radio.

Lately, I have been pleasantly surprised to have a few of my students that have been with me for many years and are now teens really practicing and genuinely interested in the music they are learning! Wow! This is why I teach! I love that enthusiasm! One in particular had liked a Beethoven sonata I played for him.  But he said, he really wasn't "into performing it, but just wanted to learn it because it was cool".  I told him he could make the choice to just study it and not perform it, although I really liked performance because it was a way of sharing with others and the challenge of playing before others makes us stronger and more confidant.  But I honored my word not to pressure him. He is 15. I've been teaching him since he was about 6.  This seems to have set him free. He is practicing, really engaged and interested.  His sensitivity to phrasing and dynamics has recently moved me to tears.  I've realized that he does love music and enjoys playing, but especially at this age, is wanting more control over decisions in his life. Since his parents pay for lessons, they like seeing him on stage. I did check in with his mom and suggested we just let him study and take away they performance requirement.  She reluctantly agreed.  And now I really look forward to our lessons, which he obviously does too. Last week he told me he had practiced for two hours the day before!

If your child is resistant to regular practice, perhaps he/she has begun to think that practice is painful, just another chore. My own daughter Taylor was very resistant to practising. This was especially distressing since I was a teacher!  Out of desparation, I discovered a few solution.  I used to ask her to play me some "dinner music" on her viola while I was cooking dinner.  I told her it made me happy. She would bring her viola into the kitchen and play for me. I would also sometimes just sit at the piano with her and we'd try to play songs she liked from the radio.  I'd play, she'd sing.  I have many fond memories of those times.  Taylor still likes to sing and play the piano.  It is not her career, but it brings her great joy.  

Talk to your kids. Listen to them.  Practising is a solitary activity. Many kids don't like to be alone. Just knowing you are there, listening in a nonjudgmental way can be supportive. Ask if she/he has a piece of music she really likes to play. It is always frustrating learning something new, but if they love the music, perhaps they will learn that regular practice will move them toward the goal of being able to play this piece. This beats thinking of practising a chore, or suffering and torment! :)

Back to Piano!!!

Hello Piano People!

Summer is speeding to a close - I just wish the hot weather would speed along with it! (I will be the first to admit that I LOVE the rain!)
So... I am fine tuning my fall schedule.  Most of you have a spot reserved. If you are desiring piano lessons this fall and are not on my schedule, please contact me. I have a couple of spots remaining.


  • I am taking Monday through Friday, 09/01 through 09/05 off as a mini vacation. (My daughter Taylor got married this summer. It was a beautiful, glorious event! But I think I need a bit of down time to breathe and relax before the busy fall season begins.)
    Taylor and Mike's Wedding!

  • Fall term for private lessons will begin Saturday, 09/06. 
  • I will be teaching at St. Mark's Lutheran Church on Saturdays this fall. The church is located at SE Powell and 54th.  
  • I will be teaching in student's homes in Portland this fall on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday.  I will begin those lessons on Monday, 09/08.
  • Fall term at the Community Music Center begins 09/29/2014.  I have decided to focus on continuing, intermediate and advanced students. I will only be teaching group classes at CMC on Fridays beginning this fall.
  • The Winter Piano Recital is scheduled for Sunday, December 14th. The 4:30 time will be for younger students. the 6:00 p.m. time will be for older, more advanced students.
  • I will be teaching weekly lessons again.  I've adjusted to commute from Salem to Portland quite nicely and weekly lessons do keep students motivated.  However, some of my students are very self motivated and have many activites scheduled.  I have some times available for students who would like less frequent lessons. :)
  • I am still offering discounts for prepaying of tuition.  This helps my planning - I get a discount for buying multi-ride tickets from Amtrak, if I purchase a packet of 10 in advance.  So if you are able to prepay the month or the term, let me know!

    And most important of all: Thank you all for being such wonderful students. I feel very lucky to be your teacher.  Your enthusiasm and love for music makes my work very meaningful.
    Happy Back to School!!