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Summer is over and for those students who may have taken some time off from piano lessons, the school year is back in swing. For many teachers, it’s always quite surprising how tall a student can get even after two weeks of not seeing them, let alone the entire summer! Therefore, it is important for the piano teacher to address the issue of sitting at the correct height at the piano. Adjusting or re-adjusting the height will happen frequently as the student grows taller in height.
In considering this, a couple of points must be communicated in order to achieve the optimal height:
1) Students’ feet must be planted on the floor for balance. No crossed legs or other forms of leaning.
2) Student should be sitting up with back straight. No slouching or raised shoulders.
3) With a relaxed arm, student lifts up arm (usually from the elbow joint) and, with a proper hand position, places hand on piano as if ready to play.
4) What is important to notice is the level of the wrist and elbow:
• Look for a level/even wrist (neither too high nor too low)
• Elbow should be at the same level as the surface of the white keys
With these simple guidelines, one can set up a student correctly for playing with greater ease, comfort and, most importantly, with no possibility of injury.
Below are examples of wrist positions that are too low/too high based on the sitting height of the student:
The following posiiton shows a level/even wrist:
Below image shows wrist and elbow at the level of the keys, based on sitting height:
Sitting at the right height is an important step to setting up your student to succeed! And we at YOUniversity of Music and Arts are lucky to have such dedicated and talented students that skipping this step would be an injustice. If you don't have adjustable benches, you can also use foam pads to achieve proper sitting height. These pads are soft, comfortable and are easily stackable. I recommend testing them out. I am sure that by taking the time to adjust your students’ heights, you will see faster and more solid results from them. The less they struggle, the more they will enjoy their lessons!
I started my collegiate studies as a Music Education major, hoping to become a high school choir director. Life took me in a very different direction, and I've had many exciting and varied opportunities. I never imagined being where I am when I started my piano studies at the age of 8. You never know where your studies will take you!
Dr. Lynada Saponara, Piano Teacher at Hunterdon Academy of the Arts in Flemington, NJ
I’ll begin with the disclaimer that I’m no psychologist (well, at least not one by trade; I think every teacher is a psychologist to a certain degree). I haven’t spent years studying the theories of cognition, or the parts of the brain, or what it is that makes us able to function as we do. Or have I…?
What do we do when we learn a new instrument? We hone physical coordination. We attune our ears in new and different ways. We exercise our sense of rhythm. We train our eyes to focus on tiny little black lines and dots, and our brains to make sense of those otherwise meaningless symbols. But if I may be abstract for a moment, I’d like to argue that through this journey, we also learn how we ourselves learn. It’s the difference between “teaching to the test” for a specific desired result and mastering a concept that can be applied to any variety of questions that arise. If you just memorize the answers to last year’s exam, you’re not going to be able to ace the question that asks you to apply the theory or concept to a new problem. Similarly, if you just memorize the notes as they’re written in above the music for that one piece, when you’re presented with a new piece of music, it’s going to look like hieroglyphics all over again. Back to the drawing board. Or, to be a bit more mundane, it would be like a handyman showing up to do some repairs with only a Phillips-head screwdriver in his toolbox. Hex-wrench? Sorry, you’re going to have to call someone else for that job.
As musicians, we need to have a personal arsenal of tactics for addressing our various and sundry issues, and know when and how best to apply those tactics. I’m a big proponent of breaking stuff down and making it easier for my brain. I often ask my students if they’d shove an entire piece of pizza in their mouth at once. The answer I hope for is “no”; I usually get that answer, but it, ahem, depends on the age and gender of the student… Regardless, the pizza analogy stands: take little bites. Chew slowly and thoroughly. You can digest it better, and my goodness does it make for a more pleasant experience in the end. Speaking from a pianistic standpoint: lots of arpeggiated chords? Play them as blocked chords until your hand understands the feeling of those chords. Tricky leaps? Isolate and practice the leaps faster than they need to happen in real-time. You wouldn’t run a marathon to train for a 5K race, so why tackle an entire piece at once when you can work in smaller chunks and build up to a successful end result?
Analysis is also critical in the “learning how to learn” process, I believe. Look for patterns. Reduce a piece of music as much as possible – do those four measures return three times? Well, great! When you’ve learned four measures you’ve actually learned twelve. What? The piece is only 24 measures long? You’re halfway there! These are the conversations I have both with myself when practicing and with my students as we start looking at a new piece. The most glorious moment comes, though, when you draw from what you mastered in a previous piece and apply it to a new one. “Hey, that fingering we talked about in the B major scale just made sense in context in this one section of the piece!” (See? Even the oh-so-torturous scales serve a purpose, students!) In that recognition, the student has shown their internalized mastery of the concept and a way to personalize it so it fits within their own realm of musicianship. I’ve often wanted to throw confetti in the air when a student has a moment like this; not because it’s a time to be self-congratulatory, but rather because that’s a BIG STEP in working toward the ultimate goal of every teacher, whether we realize it or not: obsolescence. We love you all very much, students, but someday, you’ll be able to take off the training wheels and do a lot of this on your own. And we’ll watch you ride off into the sunset, knowing that you’ve learned what it takes to…learn. Good for you.
This is all responsible, sure. But I believe that the perspective can be a bit skewed. Only the most self-disciplined of us could maintain such nutritional and financial order in our lives by viewing (and wording) the above philosophies as such. Wouldn’t we rather choose tasteful yet healthy food selections, embark on physical activities that coordinate well with our busy daily routines (such as parking a bit further from work in order to incorporate an extra 10 minutes of walking a day), and spend money in such a way that supports our needs while truly making us happy?
Dr. James Goldsworthy, one of the professors from my graduate music program, imparted an extremely influential philosophy regarding practicing. As an alternative to practice rooms, he gave us the notion of “play rooms.” In “practice rooms,” students repeat a tricky scale passage 20 times with a metronome. In “play rooms,” however, students explore various ways to play a section according to their musical desires and curiosities.
Personally, I would rather enter the “play room.”
This may all sound appealing so far, but we need to be realistic. How can a student incorporate playing their instrument at home on a consistent basis if they have cross-country after school every day, band on Mondays and Thursdays, yearbook on Tuesdays, and gymnastics on Wednesdays?
I myself have had this kind of schedule all throughout my middle school and high school years. I remember finding it extremely difficult to find a block of 30-45 minutes to sit with my instrument on any day other than Fridays and Saturdays. But I found that after dinner and before watching a half-hour of TV (my only relaxation activity for the day), I could sit with my instrument for 15-20 minutes. I learned to focus on the two measures of my music where the fingering is tricky. Or I used these 15 minutes to play my favorite song, but experimented with different interpretations—more lyrically the first time, and a bit more rhythmic and upbeat the second. These short sessions became relaxing for me—a refreshing break from the stresses of school work. I was quite surprised at how much easier a piece seemed when I focused on these small goals throughout the week before Friday came along, when I finally had time to sit down for a full block of time. This was easier than waiting until Friday to figure everything out from scratch.
Additionally, I was able to make music on a consistent basis throughout the week on my own terms rather than dreading the weekly lesson where I had to admit to my teacher yet again that I could not find a 30-minute block of time to practice every day. Even after high school when I went off to college and stopped taking music lessons, I had perceived making music as a form of relaxation, where I could sit down with my instrument even for just a few minutes a day whenever I choose. Because this is what I had done throughout my childhood.
It’s all a matter of perspective. Rather than “practicing” everyday to prepare for a weekly lesson, play music throughout the week to indulge your musical desires and curiosities. Your journey with music can then last you a lifetime.
To learn more from Richard Woo, take a complimentary trial piano lesson with him!
Richard Woo, Piano Teacher
I am definitely not the first person to write about 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
We are pleased to have added two new music teachers--Nina Yenik (Piano) and David Cifelli (Drums)--to our faculty roster, providing you with expanded scheduling options for your music lessons!
Nina Yenik (see photo) completed her high school degree at the renowned Interlochen Arts Academy. Upon graduating, she pursued a Bachelor of Music degree, majoring in piano, at the Cleveland Institute of Music and later at Manhattan School of Music. Nina received her Master's degree from Manhattan School, where she studied with acclaimed pianist Andre-Michel Schub. A versatile performer of repertoire ranging from Bach to Boulez, Nina has performed solo and chamber music recitals at festivals in France, Italy, Japan, China and the US. She has been an active pianist and teacher in the New York area for several years and has taught piano at all levels. Schedule a Trial Piano Lesson with Nina at no cost to you!
David Cifelli, an experienced young percussionist with a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz and Contemporary Music Performance from the University of the Arts, has studied with some of the greatest drummers in the industry, including Tony DeNicola, Jim Paxson, Erik Johnson, and Cheech Iero. David's talents were recognized early in life; while in high school, he was selected to join the Jazz for Teens program of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and was twice the first runner up in Modern Drummer Magazine’s Undiscovered Drummer Contest. A private studio teacher for the past several years, David also served as Teaching Assistant and Tutor at University of the Arts. Schedule a Trial Drum Lesson with David at no cost to you!
I am so blessed to have met my husband at college while studying music. We both came to Westminster Choir College to study piano performance and pedagogy with Ingrid Clarfield. Every semester, Mrs. Clarfield would pair students in her studio to serve as “practice buddies.” Once a week, these practice buddies would meet and play for each other to prepare for weekly piano lessons and studio class performances. My first piano buddy was Ryan. Over the course of my first semester at Westminster, Ryan and I met every week and critiqued each other, providing each other with insight on how to improve the technique and artistry of our piano performance. It was during this experience that Ryan and I became close friends. Over the course of the next two years, Ryan and I maintained a strong friendship and supported each other through our enriching college experience. We grew closer together through the power and the beauty of music.
Out of our great friendship grew a beautiful romance! Our dates included local performances, musical lectures, and even Elton John concerts. One May evening, Ryan asked if I would like to sight-read through a piano duet that he had just composed. We sat down at the piano together and looked at the piece. The title was “Habanera d’Amore” and I noticed it was written in my favorite key: f minor. We began playing from his beautifully hand-written score. It was so lively and fun to play. Around measure 53, I noticed there were some words written in the score. I leaned in to get a closer look. The words were: “Will you marry me?” I’ve gotten surprises sight-reading music before, but not quite like that one! Ryan got down on one knee and gave me the most beautiful ring. We were engaged!
We are now happily married and Ryan continues to compose heart-felt music. We continue to create and enjoy beautiful music and we look forward to all of the wonderful musical experiences that we will share in our lifetime together!Rose McCathran, Piano Teacher
I grew up on a small family farm. We raised Holstein cows (for milking), steers (for eating) pigs, chickens, and ducks. We had lots of cats who were attracted to the milk, and our wonderful and very smart border-collie dog, "Whizzie", who was trained to bring the cattle into the barn. We farmed the usual crops necessary to feed and house all the animals; corn, wheat, hay, straw, alfalfa. My three brothers and I were born into a sports-minded family. My father made his living as a farmer, but he really wanted to be playing baseball. He was the on the varsity baseball team during his college years while he was working toward his business degree. My mother played varsity basketball in high school. Consequently, all of had at least one sport that we excelled in. Mine was softball; I played second base on the varsity softball team in high school.
Meanwhile, among the animals, and the farming, and the sports, there was singing. I constantly sang, hummed, and whistled, much to the dismay of my brothers, especially my older brother who was very vexed and annoyed by my laryngeal displays. I used to beg to mow the lawn (the gas-powered lawn mower was very loud at that time – there was no thought of noise pollution) so that I could sing at the top of my lungs and not get myself into trouble. Then there were those times that I did get myself into trouble – I was quite the tease and would harass my brother by singing or humming or whistling around him. He was never impressed by this. However, my mother was impressed. She noticed my constant singing, humming, whistling, and she signed me up for the waiting list for the best piano teacher in town.
Luckily, I lived about 5 miles from Penn State University which had a vibrant arts community. My single aunt took me to many wonderful musical and theatrical events there. I had a single Uncle who lived in Queens, NY. He worked as a steel salesman; his office was in the Chrysler building in Manhattan. One year, my aunt took my brother and me to visit him. It was the first time we had ever seen an elevator or an escalator. My brother and I rode up and down on my Uncle's apartment elevator and got out on the roof – this was for hours. We were mesmerized by all things "city". Later when I was in college, my aunt and I went back to NY and went to the opera. By this time, I had studied opera in college - both singing, and in music history class - but I had never been to an opera. Seeing Grace Bumbry (Delilah) lying on top of the tenor on a bed singing in Saint-Saens "Samson and Delilah" was heavenly. Well, it wasn't so heavenly for Samson since he died at the end, but it was for me. I really did not think anyone could sing so well lying down and - without a microphone. It was in French, and there were no LED English translations in front of you at the time, so I could not understand a word. But, it did not matter. It was still delicious. On my return to college, I got the part of Letitia in Menotti's "The Old Maid and the Thief" and had my own opera experience.
And now – the exorcist cat. Several years later…a few years later…many years later…quite a few years later!...my younger daughter (25) moved home and brought her cat with her. His name: "Peapod" Why Peapod? Because they were 2 peas in a pod. Dear Lord. Peapod had competition right from the start because my daughter's old cat, Velvet, still lived with me. Peapod and Velvet definitely did not become BFFs, in fact, we had to move Velvet to the basement, and keep Peapod on the first floor. This was after we tried to keep Peapod in the bedroom during the day and on the first floor during the night, while Velvet was on the first floor during the day, and in the basement at night. You can imagine that this did not work. Peapod dug up and destroyed the carpet near the bedroom door. Eventually, he learned how to jump up on the dresser, then jump down – with just enough velocity – to turn the doorknob and open the door. The worst part was that Peapod would bite everything and everyone who came in contact with him. Petting him for less than 5 seconds resulted in a bite. Not petting him for less than 5 seconds resulted in a bite. Moving bare legs resulted in a bite. Moving covered legs resulted in a bite. Toes moving under a blanket resulted in a bite. Knees moving on a chair under the kitchen tablecloth resulted in a bite. You get the idea. After a thwarted bite effort – and this is the exorcist part – he would hiss his exorcist hiss and scrunch up his nose, draw back, widen his beady eyes even more than usual, and attack. We installed a squirt bottle filled with water between the kitchen and the living room. This way we could squirt him during bite season (that is, every day), we could squirt him when he tried to run down to the basement (that is, every day) to terrorize Velvet, or simply hide under the car.
Finally – and this is the opera part – I found my secret weapon. One day I came home in a particularly jovial mood and started singing about everything and everyone. I was even singing to Peapod about Peapod. I was singing the conversation, (recitative) in my opera voice. I was making up the conversation as I went along. Something like, "Oh, my dear Peapod, Why do you bite me? Why do you hiss your exorcist hiss? What have I done to you to deserve thi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-is?" (the usual opera high drama) On especially important Peapod words (like this) I would hold the note and sing as high as I could in my coloratura range and trill. Peapod did not like it one bit. He put his back up and immediately jumped off the chair, ran under the kitchen table, and flattened himself like a pancake under the tablecloth. Now I use the secret weapon whenever I need to. I sing, hum, whistle, trill, and do so as loudly as possible, in my best fortissimo way. You know what they say, "it's never over 'till the fat lady sings". And, I intend to keep on singing for a long, long time.
Phyllis Schmidt, Piano Instructor
To meet the demands of its growing music program, Hunterdon Academy of the Arts is very pleased to add three new teachers to its distinguished faculty: Mialtin Zhezha (Violin and Viola); Natalie Megules (Voice); and Jason Pattie (Piano and Saxophone).
Hailed by The Hartford Courant for his “expressive and warm sound and faultless intonation," Albanian-born Mialtin Zhezha is an accomplished violinist and violist. Mialtin has won numerous prizes and awards at national and international competitions, including First Prizes at the Young Artist Competition in Fort Wayne; “Kenget e Tokes” and “Islam Petrela” International Violin competitions in Tirana, Albania; and at the Nicola Piccini Violin competition in Bari, Italy. Additionally, Mialtin received the “Best Classical Music Performance of the Year” award by the Downbeat Magazine. Over the past few years, he has performed across the United States in venues such as in Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, Miller Auditorium, and overseas in Piccini Hall in Italy, Red Hall in Kosovo, Great Britain, National Theatre and the Arts Academy Hall in Albania, Macedonia, and Greece. Request a Free Trial Violin Lesson with Mialtin!
The latest addition to our voice faculty, Natalie Megules received her vocal training at Westminster Choir College, graduating summa cum laude as an Andrew J. Rider Scholar with a B.M. in Vocal Performance with minor concentrations in Musical Theatre and Arts Management. In 2004 and 2006, Natalie received 2nd and 3rd place, respectively, in the statewide NJNATS Vocal Competition. Upon graduating, she began a full performing schedule in New York City, appearing with companies such as the Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble, The Bronx Opera, Opera Manhattan, and New York Lyric Opera Theatre. Natalie also has deep roots in the musical theatre genre, having performed with numerous regional companies in roles ranging from costume mistress to production stage manager to pit musician. Find out what a great teacher Natalie is by taking a Free Trial Voice Lesson with her!
Joining our piano and woodwind faculty, Jason Pattie received his Bachelor of Music in Music Education from The College of New Jersey, where he graduated, cum laude, in 2009 with a major in saxophone. Jason subsequently taught at Monmouth Junction Elementary School, providing oversight and leadership for Beginning Band, Advanced Band, Jazz Band, and Third Grade Choir. Additionally, he served as piano accompanist for the school's choirs, and taught Kindergarten, and 1st and 2nd grade general music classes. In 2008-09, Jason was a staff member of the Marching Band at Hillsborough High School, conducting alto/tenor saxophone sectionals. Find out if Jason might be the right teacher for you, by taking a Free Trial Piano Lesson or Saxophone Lesson with him!