Time To Perform

Pig Cookies

Special cookies are part of the celebration.

When I was young, I sang, danced, acted, and played the piano a lot. “Back in the day” we rarely recorded these events. When we did, we recorded sound on a portable cassette player or action on a movie camera with no sound. Some people love to watch themselves perform. Not me. I am always curious but super critical with any imperfection or mistake. I am simultaneously disappointed and relieved upon discovering no one has recorded the event.

My family gathered round on special occasions and just shared their talents. Two of my brothers stood back to back, arms linked, turning around as fast as they possibly could while reciting the counties of New Jersey. We all laughed and applauded. I do not need to watch this performance on my phone in order to remember how terrific and fun it was. I was there and someday, when I only have my long-term memory, I will still be able to recall these events. But today, for better or worse, every event gets recorded, warts and all.

So what does this have to do with you and your kids? Well it is concert week and this is how we do it. I gather my students twice a year. They have prepared a piece to share with their “piano lesson friends.” There are no parents present and no fancy outfits, unless they choose to do that. We rearrange the room to make it seem more formal and then they just play their song. Every person brings the best he has to offer on that day and puts it out there for the gang. We all applaud. After everyone plays, we have a party. We celebrate the effort that has been put forth throughout the last few months, not just that one day.

This idea is foreign to us as parents. We are invested in our child’s progress and performance. So my advice is this. Take a step back. When you are asking your child about the concert, start with questions like: Did you have fun? Were you glad you picked that piece to play? How did it feel to play in front of everyone? Were you nervous or happy or both? Were you satisfied with your performance? Whose song did you like the most? (meaning – the song, not who played the best!) How was the party?

If your child was not satisfied with how he did, assure him, there is always next time. Make sure performing remains fun for your child. That is why people stay involved in music. Sometimes it really doesn’t matter if you are a superstar, it just matters that the experience felt worth the effort. If you learn to love it…

Music Lasts a Lifetime.

The Prodigy

Occasionally I will have someone ask me if I have any prodigies. This is a question that, without fail, makes me hesitate. Have I? Did some little Mozart slip right through my hands and I missed the clue, and now their talent is lost?

My dictionary says: prodigy– a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities. OK, well I have had lots of talented kids. I can help them to learn and love music, but do not be misled. Even with all the pieces in place, there is no magic.

Desire? Is that the missing link? Well sure that is important, but the real answer is hard work and lots of it. It takes hours and hours and hours to be brilliant at pretty much anything, and it is not always fun. If you have the desire and are willing to put in the work, what gets left behind?

We live in a fast paced society with many demands and opportunities. As a teacher, I depend on parents to partner with me. Encourage your child to practice, but keep your expectations realistic. Insist they practice their pieces within 24 hours of the lesson so they remember what was taught. If every week is a struggle and they are constantly unhappy about playing, talk to the teacher. If the pieces seem too easy and are played perfectly in the first two days, let the teacher know that too.

Is your child a prodigy? I do not have that answer. However, if they lose the desire to play because they are unhappy, this will be the limiter. Keep your expectations reasonable. Create a balance in your household that works re: practicing. Communicate with the teacher. Prodigy or not, this is how you develop a lifelong love for music.

This is how “Music Lasts a Lifetime.”


Positive Piano Participation

Last night I attended the 8th Grade/High School Choral Concert in my town. Every year, each 8th grade music group (chorus, band, orchestra) joins the high school in a concert. The purpose is to introduce 8th graders and their parents to the opportunities that lie ahead of them if they choose to participate in the high school music program. I love this idea. It is truly heartwarming to see how excited the 8th graders are about their potential musical future. This year the directors added another element. They used this concert as an opportunity to demonstrate to parents what actually happens during a rehearsal and what the singers are learning in class. They called this performance an “Informance”.

This informational aspect of the evening probably met mixed reviews. I would guess parents that love singing drank this in. Those that are not quite as passionate about music may have just wanted to hear their kids sing and get them home to finish homework. It was a Wednesday night, and the bus comes early. I get it.

So – why do I want to know what is happening in my kid’s chorus, art class, etc. Well I actually have a little first hand experience from another perspective. My kids swam… a lot… Oy!!!! My knowledge of swimming? “Swim meets are weekend long steam baths for spectators.” A coach once suggested some specific words that could help me converse with my swimmers after practice. “How do you avoid getting water up your nose during flip turns?” etc. My daughter taught me how to do a flip turn one Sunday afternoon at the pool. These are the things that allow you to be a part of the process and appreciate the knowledge that your children are attaining.

So – when you pick your musician up from piano lessons, try a few specific questions. In other words, don’t just say, “How was piano?” unless you just want to hear, “Fine.” Instead, ask things like, “What do you like about your favorite piece?” “What is the most challenging part about the songs you are playing right now?” “How many notes do you know?” “Did you learn any new music words today?” Just a few well placed questions each week will let them know that you respect and appreciate the challenge of learning to play an instrument. And, you might learn something new…

because as we know…   Music Lasts a Lifetime…


Scheduling Fall Activities

There they are, three words that strike terror into parents’ (and teachers’) souls. Planning the school schedule with all of its many fun and demanding activities is never easy, and actually implementing them is the next hurdle. Personally, I just continue to breathe and remind myself that many things can be maneuvered and made more manageable if necessary.

So once you schedule your child’s music lesson, how do you fit in the time for them to practice? If kids never, ever are going to practice, save your money. Use the cash to take them to see the high school productions and concerts and an occasional NYC trip. Hating music lessons is worse than never taking them.

How much practice is enough? Well that depends on your expectations. If you are looking to create a concert pianist, target about three hours per day. But if you are looking to develop a child’s talent and love for their instrument, start with 15 minutes a day, and here is the key: EVERY DAY. And, don’t skip the day after the lesson because that is when they will remember what they were just taught. As a matter of fact, if you can get them to play the day of the lesson, that is even better. Have them start by practicing the pieces they were assigned, and there may be screaming as starting a new piece is rarely fun – think of it like getting into a new book. When those pieces are practiced, ask them to review their old songs. Say things like, “Hey, what’s your favorite piece?” or “I love the way you play _______. Would you play that for me?” My mom told me that my dad loved the song “Moon River”, so I played it practically every day after I finished my lesson material. I don’t actually know if he really did love it, but the suggestion worked. It is in a book my students sometimes use and I always say, “My dad loved this song.” So whatever – it made me happy.

And if your child has a bad practice week, tell the teacher. Just be honest. It is better to just review and fit in practicing the next week. Everyone will be much more relaxed when the cat is out of the bag. No one has a great practice week every week. Life is busy and there are tons of fun things to do. Remember, you scheduled all these activities for your kids because you love them and want them to learn how to do cool stuff. Enjoy the process.

You know… Music Lasts a Lifetime!

Got time? Play a Tune

I don’t know about anyone else, but I am really enjoying this long vacation. It is very relaxing. The holiday rush is over and there is still an entire week until I have to get back into the swing of regular life. Still, I don’t want to get too complacent because I know that if I over plan the entertainment or put off those little tasks that I thought surely I would be able to accomplish, boom – vacation will be over and I will be left tired and having to catch up.

Wait – what does this have to do with piano lessons? Well, your kids feel the same way. They performed their pieces for the family. Everyone is feeling a little fat and happy. Not so fast. Here are some ideas to keep their fingers from getting rusty. Have your child take out the early books – the very first books – and play from the beginning. It is fun to remind yourself that you have progressed. Take out the completed fun books and play the favorites. Then take out the current fun book and try a piece that is brand spankin’ new.

There are times when you have to remind yourself that the reason you are taking piano lessons is so that you can actually play the piano and it is fun. This is one of those times. So don’t delay. Get your kid playing. And by the way, if you play the piano also, get to it. I promise that if you sit down and play, your child will most certainly follow suit. You are an inspiration. How many times can you say that?

Remind them that “Music Lasts a Lifetime”.

Welcome Holidays!!

Just as we break away from Halloween and embrace daylight savings, in comes “The Holidays”. Holidays are SO MUCH FUN… until they’re not. They are full of traditions that exhilarate us as children but can suffocate us as adults. Our days are filled with many special events including “recitals”.

As many of you know by now, the formal “recital” is not part of my show here. We have a super fun concert/party day – only students and me. (If you want to read more about how it works, search “concert” on my home page.) If you feel like you want a more formal recital than I offer, here is another idea.

When I was a kid, my family would gather together after dessert and perform for each other. It was a variety show. Many of us: brothers, sisters, parents and grandparents, would perform something. There were poems and jokes, musical selections and stories. You stood up and were “on stage”. Then we all sang together. This was not meant to be a competition and no one got “voted off”. It’s a great memory. I have a pretty giant family and nearly everyone is a ham, but even if your family is smaller, you can still give your child a chance to “show off” a little.

As we get closer to our concert day, I keep discussing with my students what pieces they really like and encourage them to keep working on them. At home, you can encourage your child to practice a piece that they want to share with your family at holiday occasions. By creating a little more structure around this, you can accomplish two things: 1) A little extra piano practice, and 2) A controlled “show off” experience for your family and friends. Think about it. You say to you kid, “Sally, how about you play that piece you have been practicing for Aunt Ginny?” Sally plays, everyone claps. End Scene. Now Sally can continue to play and you and Aunt Ginny can continue your visit with beautiful background music.

Now careful here – “background music” is NOT code for “soft enough so it doesn’t bother our conversation.” I have spent a lifetime playing the piano in the background in my home. It is a delightful experience. You play in the prettiest way possible with no judgment. You know everyone can hear you, but they are not listening intently enough to catch every little mistake. It is freeing. It is one of the reasons I still love to play the piano today.

Let your child know that you love to hear him or her play. Be specific. Identify the song and say what it is you like: sweet, scary, fun. This is a pretty easy addition to any holiday routine. Best of all, when the holiday is over, you do not have to pack it up and put it in the attic until next year. You can enjoy it all year round.

Music Lasts a Lifetime

Aunt Golden & AB

My nephew, Paul, sitting next to my Aunt Golden (professional silent picture pianist). My sister Grace is chatting with her son. There was a crowd in the room and we all loved to hear Aunt Golden play. She was our background music until she was 96 years old.

Watching Piano Playing

As many of you know, I try to incorporate some music history that is a little out of the box. Our schools do a really nice job of exposing our children to music, which affords me the opportunity to be creative. This year I thought it would be fun to focus in on piano performances. When I have a minute or two, I have been sitting down and practicing my own pieces in front of the students. It gives them a chance to see what practice looks and sounds like. Plus I am trying to show them just how involved a piano piece can be. They sometimes follow the music while I play which is another worthwhile skill.

Last year I had them watch a couple of piano performances centered around the composers we were studying, and many of the students seemed to enjoy that. I was able to reinforce a couple of technical points for them to consider. This year I am going to focus on the actual performer. So of course, I am beginning with Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry. I’m sorry, but seriously – some of the best. The kids will love it. Then we head to the Marx Brothers – the power of the internet! I would have loved to have an actual video clip of Jelly Roll Morton or Fats Waller but next best thing is a couple of pianists playing some of their amazing Ragtime. And then, there is Liberace from the 40’s and 50’s.

After watching these speedy pianists, I fully expect your children to come home and play as fast as they possibly can. Playing too fast is something kids absolutely love to do. Don’t be discouraged. It is a great way to become more dexterous at the piano. I remember practicing a piece a million times to show my teacher how fast I could play it. She was not impressed and I felt she did not understand 8 year olds at all.

If you happen to be with your child at church or a concert or anywhere someone is playing the piano, you might want to choose your seat so that you have a good view of the keyboard. We have been focusing on two elements: “releasing” or letting go of the keys, and moving forward on the keyboard (closer to the wood) using the entire depth of the keyboard. This feels weird at first because your fingers are literally between the black keys.

Most of all just enjoy watching. It is like a dance on a very special stage. This awareness is something I hope will stay with your children forever.

“Music Lasts a Lifetime!”

Back to School

Well, now the summer really is over. It is always a little sad but nice to get into a new routine. There is so much to juggle: sports, clubs, music… oh, and school. Why do we do it? Are we just making the motions?

I read an article that said if you are going to get the most out of music lessons, you have to engage. This is why I run my lessons the way that I do. I believe that you learn more if you are immersed in the learning. This means: understanding the theory, actively listening, enjoying the piece you are playing, considering the physical requirements, eg. How do I get my fingers to do this?

In the following TIME Magazine article, Nina Kraus, director of Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory, says “I think parents should follow their intuitions with respect to keeping their children engaged. Find the kind of music they love, good teachers, an instrument they’ll like. Making music should be something that children enjoy and will want to keep doing for many years!”

Check out this brief article. I think you will like it.


And remember, Music Lasts a Lifetime.

Don’t Worry… It is Still Summer

There are still four more weeks until kids go back to school – five weekends. It is at this point in the summer when we start writing “to-do” lists: doctors appointments, school supplies, clothes, and the ever-exhausting “schedule”. Take a GIANT breath. The stars will align and you will figure it out.

If piano lessons are on your child’s plate for September, contact your teacher and begin the process. All you need to do is say yes or no for starters. Then if you can jump in with what days do NOT work or what days MIGHT work, that will be helpful to everyone.

So send a text, or an email, or even call. Then you can check off “contact piano teacher” 🙂

Welcome to the Spring Migration

It is that time of year when all “good” parents must sit down at their calendars and adjust for the ever-changing sports schedules, end of the year school projects, fun school picnics/field days, Spring concerts, and don’t forget you are supposed to let “kids be kids” and roam the woods and commune with spring (after you apply the tick repellant). After a long and very snowy winter, we are supposed to all be thrilled with Springtime, but we forgot about the mayflies. Migration is an adventure for sure.

The change in season is just part of the whole cycle. I used to get frantic wondering how I could make it all run smoothly, but after a few years of fretting, I noticed it always did  – both at home and at work. Requests would come in from parents that needed to switch days and times. Somehow they would mix and match and before long, everyone was accommodated.

Here is my Spring piano advice.

  1. Talk to your child’s teacher and work out the schedule if need be. It never hurts to ask.
  2. Keep your kid practicing. A few less minutes a day is better than skipping days all together. Consistency pays off.
  3. If you are planning to take the summer off from music lessons, line up some fun book to work on over the summer. Keep old books handy to review. This can be a lot of fun. Be prepared.
  4. A few lessons in the summer will sometimes provide structure to keep moving forward and limit what is forgotten. Vacation can be a time to remind everyone about the “play” in playing an instrument.

 As always-  “Music Lasts a Lifetime”