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On Piano Practice: Piano Lessons in Flemington, NJ (Jason Gallagher)

You get home from school, finish your homework, and Mom says “Make sure you practice piano!” “Why should I practice piano? I know what the notes are and what the rhythms are. I played the piece in class. What's practice for?” Well, let's discuss some goals for your daily practice.

I imagine you've heard at least one terrific performance on your instrument. If not, go listen to Mendelssohn's Spinning Song played by Daniel Barenboim. (Other instruments should ask their teacher for a great example.)
 
Now, Barenboim is an unusual example, and a certain amount of giftedness is necessary to attain his speed and musicality. However, I'm convinced anyone starting piano young should be able to learn this piece well as an adult, hopefully sooner. It requires, though, that many skills become automatic.

If you're like many of my students, you need a few moments to count lines and spaces, figure out intervals, etc. toclinton_nj_piano_lessons find a note in one of your pieces. I assure you someone playing the piece above could figure out any note on the staff and play it automatically. For most of us, this doesn't happen by some stroke of chance. It requires practice. Especially in the beginning stages, you should practice so that, the following week, you can find your starting position and notes with no further help from your teacher, and mistakes should just be little mishaps instead of reading issues.

Similarly, I'm sure many of you have heard that you need to keep your fingers curved, or that you need to shape the phrase with your arm. You've probably done five-finger patterns and other exercises to help you. I'm sorry to say that five-finger patterns alone won't do it. The reason we teach you these things is because they must transfer to all of your playing. So, when you're wondering what to do next on your short piece, why don't you make sure that your fingers are curved, with no collapsing knuckles, as you play each note? Check and see if your arm is participating, helping to string the notes together. Is your legato perfect?

I promise you: I would not be teaching the piano if I did not believe it were possible to learn to play any piece in the repertoire. However, the preceding steps need not just be learned, but mastered, before you can play a Chopin Etude. In a February 6 post on PianoPedagogy.org by Angela Triandafillou, she talks about how, often, her students were coming to lessons having completed all of their practice steps but still not performing well. She found out from watching her students practice that they would often continue to the next step before having mastered the previous ones. Questions she asks her students now, and I think we should all be asking are: “Could you wake up in the middle of the night and play that perfectly?” “If you had to do that in the recital tomorrow, would it be steady?” The answer should not be, “Well, I think so,” but a resounding “Yes!”

Let's consider one other person's thoughts on the matter. In his book The Musician's Way, Gerald Klickstein offers seven Habits of Excellence: 1) Ease 2) Expressiveness 3) Accuracy 4) Rhythmic Vitality 5) Beautiful Tone 6) Focused Attention 7) Positive Attitude. Some of these will need further discussion with your teacher, but if you aim for these habits you won't be left wondering what to do when you sit down to practice. My best tip to you would be to copy these down on an index card and prop it up on your piano where you can see it every day when you practice.

Too often a student comes in and plays, the teacher asks “Did you practice?,” and the student answers “Yes” and is being completely truthful! Hopefully these ideas will at least start you thinking about how you can practice so your teacher never doubts you again. Remember that your teachers never request that you do the impossible, but only that you do your best.
Jason Gallagher, Piano Instructor at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts in Flemington, NJ
Schedule a Piano Audition with Jason Gallagher!

I’m sorry I didn’t practice, I had [insert excuse] (By Brian Michalowski)

I am definitely not the first person to write aboutpiano teacher Brian Michalowski practicing and I am certainly not going to be the last. I feel, however, that this is such an important topic and every music teacher should share his or her opinions and thoughts.

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines practicing as “to perform or work repeatedly so as to become proficient.” That doesn’t sound very fun, does it? I’m sure it doesn’t help when music teachers like myself are constantly reminding you that practicing is important and needs to be done. After all, with everything else we have to do in our lives, who has the time to practice? Unfortunately, I am going to repeat that practicing is important and needs to be done. Yet, I am going to say something that you may not have heard before--practicing can be fun!

Most of the students I teach are either young beginners or within the first five years of their piano training. At this age, many students do not willingly sit down on the piano bench on a daily basis without having to be reminded of the need to practice. Most of my student’s parents also tell me that they themselves have no musical ability and are unable to instruct their children at home. As a result, practicing often becomes an activity with negative associations since it is often precipitated by a fight, or it is not done at all and excuses are made (hence the title of the blog).

It doesn’t matter how much experience a parent has with music, they can and should be a part of their child’s learning process. One way to accomplish this is through role reversal, by allowing your child to become the instructor teaching YOU. Now that your child is forced to think about the material from a different perspective—that of a teacher—practicing, as teacher preparation, becomes an integral part of communicating the information to you. Moreover, going through this exercise, your child will more easily retain the material she has learned.

Even if you never had piano lessons before, there are certain elements and technical issues in your child’s piano practice you can keep an eye on. You can remind him to keep his shoulders down, wrists straight, legs straight and feet flat on the floor (unless they can’t reach!), even though you may not be able to help with complex note reading. These issues are incredibly important for you to watch out for at home because they are usually the hardest habits to break with only 30 minutes of lesson time!

Don’t be afraid to ask your child’s teacher about more ways to become involved. Practicing should be a stress-free and simply fun time for child and parent to spend together. After all, if we can make it enjoyable for children now, you will see the hard work and commitment develop down the road…and then maybe you will not have to apologize for a lack of practicing due to [insert excuse].

Brian Michalowski, Piano Instructor

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