Was Piano Lessons a Waste of Time?

Fitting music lessons into your child’s schedule can be a challenge. It takes a long time to make noticeable progress, but the experience can be very worthwhile. There are many scientific studies that measure brain activity while listening to music etc., but that is not what I am talking about. Learning how to play an instrument or participating in a vocal group requires many other skills. Here are some examples.

Concentration. Did you ever have the experience where you read a page and realize that the entire time you were thinking about what you were going to have for dinner that night? Well that happens when you are playing an instrument. Your mind can wander and you have to keep your head in the game the entire time – active concentration. This is a great skill to have.

Emotional Control. Playing an instrument can be extremely frustrating. Sometimes your ears and eyes know what to play, but your fingers keep making the mistake. You have to take a breath and keep practicing. There are times when singing with a chorus can be very emotional. It would be easy to break out sobbing which would ruin the moment for the audience. You have to keep your emotions intact. The singer has to feel that surge of emotion but maintain control. This is a pretty good skill to develop.

Of course there is the chance that you might actually develop the life skill of playing or singing which you will be able to do for a very long time. You create connections with “music friends” and become part of a community. I belong to Wilton Singers, a local community choral group. These people have become some of my very best friends. Age, marital status, political stance, and religious views are inconsequential. Our bond is first about the music. That is how we connect.

Even if your piano lessons didn’t put you on the stage at Carnegie hall, your efforts were not in vain. You can still make music a part of your life. The skills that you learned are both directly and indirectly transferrable… and lots of fun.

Check out the articles below when you have a chance. And in the meantime remember…

Music Lasts a Lifetime

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/20/nyregion/at-voice-charter-school-in-queens-students-have-outperformed-their-peers-academically.html?smid=fb-share&_r=1

http://m.mic.com/articles/108022/science-just-discovered-something-amazing-about-what-childhood-piano-lessons-did-to-you

 

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.