Articles, Reflections

Thoughts on Gold Stars and Overscheduling

My post today is in reference to two articles. The first is from Today’s Parent and it’s about over-scheduling your child. There are some great tips like watching for burnout, selecting things that the child is truly interested in, and just as important, making sure that you as a parent are not too exhausted either.

I wish they had mentioned something about commitment though. It’s a great value to impart through our actions and expectations. And speaking of our values, how many of us parents have our child learning music because we feel it is an important thing to learn? How badly did we want to (but perhaps could not) do it as a child? Perhaps we quit music lessons and wish our parents had encouraged us to continue. I don’t think that’s a negative influence on our decisions regarding our child’s programming, as long as you don’t take it too far!

I admire every single one of my music families because I know that music lessons are a very big commitment, and it’s even bigger in and MYC setting. The parent goes to lessons, regulates practice at home and is expected to understand the material right along with the child. I guess it would be considered a two-for-one, but what a lot of work! It’s just not as simple as dropping off your child and coming back in 30 minutes.

But I do believe the method is worth it. I have now taught some of the same children for 5 years and watched them grow from wiggly toddlers or precocious pre-schoolers into confident young musicians. And I know the path wasn’t all roses- sometimes thorns! I hope that parents can see the transformation and will celebrate the successes at the recital this year.

This brings me to the next article about “Giving Gold Stars”  or rather, praise. Children need it; they crave it. And I like to give it 🙂 Sometimes it’s stickers, sometimes a party (like the Movie Night coming up) but more often it’s words about their progress. “I like the legato you put into that song” or, “The was really forte! Wow!” And I also like to notice progress. “Can you believe how well your bridges are coming a long? Two weeks ago you didn’t even know the C-A and now you’re doing ALL of them in the scale!”

I really prefer words to stickers. I mean, I won’t sticker EVERY single thing. They’ll become meaningless. Don’t get me wrong, they’re fun, but a pat on the back (literally!) or saying specifically where the improvement has happened makes more sense to me.

How do you offer praise? What are your thoughts on over-scheduling for children and the rest of the family?


Reflections, Resources, Uncategorized

Acoustic piano vs. Digital vs. Keyboard

I have had a request to share some of this information in a post, so here it goes…

The “Bare minimum” for lessons with me is a touch sensitive keyboard with at least 62 keys. A standard keyboard/piano is 88 keys. Touch sensitive means that you can press softly on a key to produce a quiet sounds, and harder to produce a loud sound (and many shades in between).

There are several considerations and realistically I would have to say that budget is the defining and deciding factor. What are you willing and able to spend? Will that be worth the life of the instrument – how long will it be used and by whom? Will all or one child/ren take lessons? Do you like to play sometimes?

On a used keyboard, you can expect to spend anywhere from $60- 200. But it is important to make sure that it has the minimum requirements. You can always email me to ask, but to be sure, see the keyboard in person before you buy.

For a used piano it’s buyer beware! The range here is anywhere from FREE to $5,000 (or more depending on the brand). Always remember there is a reason that the person is getting rid of the piano. Are they moving, want more space, don’t have children living at home who play anymore?  The same thing applies to pricing: is it overpriced because there is an emotional attachment to it?

Don’t forget the care and maintenance of the piano. It will need tuning (at least twice a year) and the temperature that it sits in should be monitored. Too much humidity will cause the wood to absorb moisture, swell up, and cause the tuning to become sharp. Too much dryness can crack the wood and cause a vibrating bzzzzzzz effect. Here are some tips for keeping a piano in tune through it’s environment.

The most important thing to do when buying used is to see, play, touch and hear a piano. You don’t buy a car without a test drive, so this is the same. In fact, the safest thing to do is have a technician inspect it (look up piano tuner/technicians in the phone book and ask if they have this service). It’s very easy to fall in love with an beautiful antique, but remember that it’s function is vital to your child’s learning. It will be mighty annoying for your child to press a defunct middle C each time they play! (I am speaking from experience– BEFORE my parents had our original piano professionally restored). My upright piano on the main level is simply a piece of furniture for my daughter to discover. If I want the best tuning, I’ll go downstairs and play a digital…. it can’t fail!

So, let’s discuss digital pianos. I think it is a practical compromise. Many people will argue that they can NEVER recreate the warmth of an acoustic sound, but those people have underestimated new technology. I’d have to say the sound is definitely getting closer. Roland digital pianos, for example, record the sound from a concert piano- like a Steinway, in a concert hall, played by a professional musician – painstakingly note by note. See this video  (go to 1:35′ to see what how they’ve taken sampling to a new level).

Furthermore, if you play a high quality one, you’ll feel the weight of the keys similarly to a real piano. Some prefer the touch of ivory under their fingers, but that material has been out of use in piano keys since about the 50’s.

Let me remind you that some teachers will REQUIRE the use of an acoustic piano for study with them. This usually applies to those studying at higher, performance levels. If only we could all look into the future and see what our little ones will be doing when they’re 16 year old Mozarts… Another decision for you to make!

What do you use at home? How did you come by the instrument? Any tips or suggestions for your fellow music parents? Please comment below.

Practice Tips, Resources, Uncategorized

Your practice Space

Okay folks, now you have your first assignment– a bonus one, yes, I know- but even if the page isn’t fully checked off come the first week of September, you really ought to get back to the bench (or book) and start practicing. Athletes don’t run the big race without warmups and test runs.

Getting started early...

I will use this blog PLENTY to describe practice tips, but just as important as that is the space you’ll be working in. So what should your practice space include?

  • Pencil – write on the score, write in your notebook/diary, write down questions for your teacher etc….
  • Notebook– This can be used in a variety of ways. A lesson agenda details what you will do in between each lesson (one week). What will you do TODAY? How will you know when that’s ready? What do I need to do to be ready for next class? You can also write down questions for me. Another section could be for breakthroughs and can ready as diary entries: “Today I NAILED the staccatos in Sur Le Pont” or “I can read/play the RH of Bow Wow Wow without starting and stopping.”
  • Homework Sheet- These are your practice instructions. But don’t stop there. Put them into your own words, or scribble your own notes onto this sheet. Always keep track of your daily practice on the keyboard/days of the week (or chart for Moonbeams 3).
  • Coloured Highlighters– For information at a glance. Orange for dynamics, blue for phrasing, yellow for note reading accuracy- it’s up to you!
  • Photocopies- Best to colour and write all over a copy– not your original score. This is not copyright infringement, it’s a study tool. You aren’t distributing these copies or performing them in public.
  • Playing Cards/Dice- name 2-Ace (or the suits) for scales, practice elements (adding dynamics, fixing the phrases, speeding up tempo etc..), bar numbers- just about anything! This can really shake up a BORING practice routine.
  • Recording/Listening equipment- Record yourself or listen to a performance of the song you are working on. Review your previous recordings and track your improvements or find your weak spots. I can record you in studio, just ask.
  • Family Members- Well, not always. Although sometimes it’s good to perform for a test audience.

Like what you see in this post? I am very much “into” this book, Practiceopedia, right now. There are so many ideas for music study, I’ll never get to them all. Oh, and you’re welcome to borrow, but chances are, you’ll end up wanting your own copy 🙂