7.28.2023

๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿผ‍๐Ÿซ How to Start Teaching Piano in 5 Easy Steps

July 28, 2023 0 Comments

Aside from knowing how to play the piano yourself, what are ways to start teaching piano? Once you've started teaching, what are avenues for continuing to improve your teaching craft?


Sometimes, all it takes is playing piano in public to be asked for piano lessons. This may take you by surprise or you may have been hoping to get a student, but everyone starts somewhere!

Little girl asking for lessons
"Will you teach me?"

No matter how you get your first student, you will have questions and maybe some hesitancy to start on this journey. 


Here are 5 steps for beginning piano teachers:


1. Be willing to try and fail.

Believe it or not, failing as a piano teacher happens the moment you decline because of feelings of inadequacy. Failure happens before you even started!  While I can't speak to your specific situation, I believe that if you have put in the time to learn piano; maybe 5 years of consistent lessons, practice, and performance experience, becoming a piano teacher is possible. 


Certainly, if a student eventually surpasses your skill level and knowledge, be honest. You may fit as a practice coach and an encouraging, helpful constructive critic. You may refer this person to a more skilled pianist that you trust or that your student finds. You will cross that bridge when you come to it! 


If you have a desire to teach piano, have confidence to start a beginner who is interested. You have to start somewhere just as much as a piano student has to start somewhere. If your thoughts say, "I'm not good enough," say, "I would like to teach and I am committed to continuing to learn and grow in this skill." Making mistakes is part of the process.  


2. Ask yourself who, what, where, when, why, and how.

  • Who? Will you market your studio or just use word of mouth? 
  • What? What level? What style? 
  • Where? Have a location to meet with a piano, whether that is your house, their house, a music school, or a local church that you rent.
  • When? Look at your calendar and determine your availability. Remember to consider prep time and follow up time. 
  • You're Big Why: What is your purpose in life? How does teaching piano serve you towards that purpose? What are your goals?
  • How? Decide your method series and other curriculum. 

I have written posts about starting up an independent studio: 

Resources that have been so helpful to me:

  • The Independent Piano Teacher's Studio Handbook by Beth Gigante Klingenstein
  • How to Teach Piano Successfully by James Bastien
  • Chopin: pianist and teacher as seen by his pupils edited by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger
  • Faber Piano Adventures website

Consider taking a piano pedagogy course at a local college or online:

In addition, you may want to pursue continued piano lessons with a professor of music or even pursue a bachelor's degree in music. I personally earned a Bachelor of Arts in Music, however, I don't believe that this a pre-requisite to start teaching.

Other blogs that I recommend:


3. Create Lessons Plans

Having a list of activities and a general idea of time commitment is very important. 


As you teach, you will find that the student may need extra attention in a different area or even have questions that they would like to explore. Write your plan in pencil; have flexibility. However, you need to have a direction. 


Do not become a "turn the page" teacher. Have supplemental games, apps, worksheets, and activities ready to go. I refer to Joy Morin's Color In My Piano blog regularly as she has created many engaging games and activities (many of them are free to print!). She is a huge source of inspiration to me. I definitely suggest finding teaching blogs that you are drawn to and consulting them regularly for relevant activities and new teaching ideas.


4. Familiarize yourself with the method.

Have your own copy of all the books you are planning to use. 


Read through the table of contents and all of the concept pages. Use these as springboards for supplemental games and activities to reinforce. You don't need to go in order and you can present ideas sooner than the book. That way your student will be ready for future challenges in their music as it incrementally gets harder. 


Play through all the music and spend time practicing any songs that are difficult for you. Write down how you learned the pieces and think through your approach. What are the patterns? The form? What notes need to be reviewed? What articiulations are present and what technique do you use to create those articulations? How will you teach this to someone else?


If you are using a no-book method or passing down a skill by demonstration, such as playing pop chords or in the jazz style, have a structure and outline of how and when you will present new concepts incrementally. Have a list of songs you will teach and any reference materials that will be helpful for the student printed and attached to follow up lesson notes.


I use a spreadsheet where I write which pages I will assign, what concepts we will cover, and what activities tie in.  Doing this in one large batch gets the hard part of brainstorming out of the way early.  When lessons come, I can refer to my chart and plug those into my lesson notes. 


5. Lesson Structure

Keep your introductions short, try to avoid long conversations that are off topic. Every situation is different, but avoid spending more than 5 minutes catching up.


Be open to a student opening their book to show you their progress. If you would like to encourage a more spontaneous day, ask "What would you like to show me first?" or "What topic or skill would you like to work on today?"


As the student is playing, avoid looking at the music score. Instead, watch their hands, body movements, flexibility, and relaxation.  Give constructive, positive comments.  Avoid reacting to each missed note. Instead, find a way to communicate how to be expressive with music.  


Oftentimes, students will tell me it was perfect at home, but in front of me it's not.  I do whatever I can to help my students feel comfortable, but I always keep in the back of mind how hard it is to play for someone who knows what the music is supposed to sound like. You will be able to tell if they worked on it. If they did, have stickers ready! Find something that sounded great to comment on. Demonstrate a way to vary the dynamics or articulation.  


After the lesson, type up your notes, detail the assignments, and email them to your student. 


Bonus: Have a sticker book

If you are still unsure about teaching because you don't know if your student will like you, make a sticker sheet collection and make a prize box.  Their eyes will light up, I promise. 


Tell me how your first lesson as a piano teacher went!  Did any of these steps encourage you?  If you are an experienced teacher, what is your advice? Let me know in the comments. 


As Brenรฉ Brown says, we're letting go of what people think + "supposed to" and cultivating meaningful work. I believe in you! 

-Jenny

7.21.2023

๐ŸŽ„Christmas In July

July 21, 2023 0 Comments

Do you remember Christmas in July? TV networks would air all of their Christmas specials in the middle of July and I remember distinctly the suggestion to make peppermint ice cream sandwiches while we watched. 


In my studio, Christmas in July means that it's time to get out the Christmas books and pick pieces and songs. I start this week on July 19 and end on July 25. 


Is it too early? Actually, no. By the time the holidays come up, there is simply not enough time to learn Christmas music for our winter recital and celebrations with family and friends. 


This year, I decorated my studio with a wreath and put little Santa hats on two of my little plushies. 


Requests so far have included Sleigh Ride, The Holly and the Ivy, Silent Night, and O Little Town of Bethlehem.  I have two more lessons coming up during this week, so I will update with the rest! 

Books and sheets I currently own:

  • Sleigh Ride
  • O Holy Night (High Voice)
  • You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch
  • Faber Supplemental Series Christmas books - solos and duets, especially Level 4 solos
  • Faber Supplemental Series - Classical Level 3A-3B - Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies
  • George Winston Piano Solos - The Snowman and more
  • Peanuts Illustrated Songbook - This contains transcriptions from A Charlie Brown Christmas

Christmas albums (and specific tracks) I love to listen to: 

  • Mannheim Steamroller Christmas
  • A Fresh Aire Christmas
  • Christmas in the Aire
  • A Family Christmas by John Tesh - Carol of the Bells
  • Kenny G Miracles: The Holiday Album
  • A Charlie Brown Christmas
  • Home Alone soundtrack
  • Winter - George Winston
  • Linus & Lucy - George Winston - Skating and Linus & Lucy
  • Forest - George Winston - Music from The Snowman
  • Elf Soundtrack - The Nutcracker Suite by The Brian Setzer Orchestra
  • 1996/ Ryuichi Sakamoto - Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

When do you start teaching Christmas music? What are your favorite carols or songs to teach, play, and listen to?

-Jenny

7.19.2023

๐ŸŽผ First In-Person Piano Recital

July 19, 2023 0 Comments

On June 3rd, my studio presented our first in-person piano recital. Since I recently opened my own small business out of my home, I only had 2 students for a year and a half, including my 6-year-old daughter. But in March, my current student's brother joined! Then, their mom, who also plays piano, joined us for the performance and we presented a 30-minute piano recital complete with a reception. 


This was my students' first time playing a baby grand piano; up until then, they practiced on my Yamaha digital piano and their Kawai digital piano. I made sure to give them a warm up time to get used to the piano first. I also gave them a pep talk to relax, to know we're all supporting them, and to ultimately play for the Lord and share the joy of music. 


Performing Bonfire

Duet





Only my students' family joined us from out of town, but that was okay! I made a livestream using my church's camera and YouTube channel and our long distance family members and guests who were unable to come in person were able to watch!


At the end of the recital, each participant received a prize from my prize box!


Refreshments at the end were provided by my family and my students' family. We had an assortment of cookies and ginger ale/pineapple juice punch. 


I used one of Joy Morin's program templates, which I will link below. 


Here is the program (with last names redacted):



This recital was very fun! 


What did you do for your piano recitals this spring? 

    -Jenny


7.12.2023

๐Ÿ“• 10 Keynotes of Piano Pedagogy

July 12, 2023 0 Comments
Wanda Landowska at Chopin's Piano - Public Domain

For some reason, when I put Chopin's name in the title of this post, the thumbnail will not show up on my main page. So this should be titled 10 Keynotes of Frederic Chopin's Piano Pedagogy

I recently read Chopin: pianist and teacher as seen by his pupils by Jean-Jacques Eigeldinger. Chopin had about 150 pupils in total, which is pretty incredible considering his many compositions and performances; and, he only lived until he was 39. In this book, his students share their experiences and the specific teachings of Chopin.


Here are the 10 most important takeaways that I'm actively applying. 

  1. Teaching Hand Shape

  2. Many methods teach beginners to pretend they are holding a ball or apple under their hands. Others mention keeping your fingers rounded, playing on fingertips, and keeping your wrist level.


    Chopin's instructions were to place fingers 2, 3, and 4 on the three black keys. Then place fingers 1 and 5 on the black keys. This is your natural hand shape. To play on the white keys only, gently pull your hand towards you and maintain the hand shape.

    Forearms should be level with the piano and the wrist needs to stay flexible. In addition to that, he taught that the 2nd finger was the center of the hands; turning my hand out has actually helped with playing his music, but it is awkward to maintain since that is not how I learned.

  3. Singing with the Fingers and Breathing with the Wrist

  4. You must sing if you wish to play - Chopin

    Chopin was a huge fan of opera singers and specifically the bel canto style of singing. By singing our piano pieces, we can hear our natural tendency to crescendo and decrescendo, to take extra time preparing for leaps, and have a freedom from the accompaniment to push and pull the tempo; an effective way to learn how to play rubato.

    Along with singing with the fingers, Chopin also taught students to create the impression of human breathing. He taught students not to lift their hands too quickly and would ask,

    Did it burn you?

    Legato playing was also emphasized. Playing detached would lead to Chopin asking if they were hunting pigeons.

  5. Teaching Rubato

  6. I don't know about you, but when I was taught rubato, the only definition I had was to push and pull the tempo. Listening to interpretations of Romantic music, I would often hear the artist use both hands simultaneously to push and pull the tempo. This sounded great to me! However, my execution often ended up being a cover for my less than stellar sense of rhythm and maintaining an even, steady beat.


    How did Chopin teach rubato? He noticed that singers didn't always stick with the accompanist's tempo, therefore his definition of rubato is the melody is free from metrical constraints leading to the artist being able to freely express their feelings.

    So, if you thought teaching hand independence was difficult, just wait until you teach rubato for Chopin's compositions!

  7. Inspiring Students

  8. Chopin used images to convey emotion. Chopin's own imagery included 

    • For legato - avoid a pigeon hunt
    • For staccato - think of pizzicato or plucking a string and grazing the key like a fly brushing it with it's wing

    I have practically applied this by telling beginner students that spiders can only crawl with rounded legs. Don't be a smashed spider! Use a hammer-like touch for accents and forte, but gently pet a cat to create soft sounds.

  9. Playing Pieces for Students

  10. Chopin would play piano pieces, including his own compositions, many times for his students in full. This is encouragement to us to also play for our students! Don't be shy! I think we may focus more on how to get through the method material or marking up the students' scores, but students need to see how technique and expression are applied.

  11. Advocating for Shorter Practice Times

  12. Chopin advocated for practice sessions to be no longer than 2 hours a day. He actually was angry with a student for reporting practicing longer than that. Why? Because he was very against being mechanical and he believed practicing more than 2 hours caused the student to lose expression and musicality to exhaustion.

  13. Being Self-Taught Is Not a Weakness

  14. I spend time on Reddit's r/piano subreddit. Many users have reported being told that they will have created too many bad habits from self-teaching that a teacher will not accept them into their studio.

    I will admit, I was self-taught for my early years. I did have bad habits. I, perhaps wrongly, perceived my high school piano teacher reluctantly taking me on as a student given my patchy background. Why can't we as piano teachers have the patience to help a student sort out bad habits? Are we worried about tarnishing our reputation? 

    Chopin was self-taught and his eventual piano teacher was a violinist. See how that worked out for him? A well-respected composer, teacher, and performer, remembered nearly 200 years after his death. Please don't underestimate self-taught individuals.

    In my own story, after a failed audition for a university, my dad recalls I was told that I didn't have the expected background of a future music major. When a different college accepted me, I thought it was because they felt bad for me and unfortunately, I carried that sadness for many, many years. I didnt feel as though I belonged and that I was simply given the spot because the professors felt bad for me. Kindness is free. Imagine how a student can thrive if they have your encouragement.

  15. Purpose of Technique Books

  16. Chopin was not a fan of training mechanical technique. Technique and expression work together. Therefore, the technique exercises he preferred weren't trying to create a perfect evenness between fingers, but challenging artistry to shine through even the most difficult passages. He actually prized the individuality in tone each finger could produce. We can hear that in his Etudes. They are performance literature for a reason! Practically speaking, Chopin assigned Clementi's Prรฉludes et Exercises and Gradus, Cramer ร‰tudes, and Moscheles Op. 95 or 70 for technique.

  17. Expression over Accuracy

  18. From the earliest levels, I have been drilling this into my students. Better to focus on the dyanmics, articulations, and putting your emotions into music than play robotic, trying to be perfect, and correct any and every mistake. I ask for my students to continue playing despite mistakes, cover the mistake if they are able, and, since we are still practicing the piece, we go back in and work on the problem spot. This is to train them to perform. We all make mistakes when we are performing; develop the skill of covering and the audience will not notice.

  19. Finding Joy in Piano Teaching

  20. Have you ever been told

    Those who can, do; those who can't, teach.

    Ridiculous, I know that now, but I was told by a student that his grandpa said that about me. His grandpa didn't know me, but even if he did, those words are not true. Chopin stopped giving performances due to anxiety about being on stage (another way I related to him!), but I don't think any of us would consider him someone who "can't" simply because he became a teacher full-time. He gave excellent performances of his works to his students. He continued composing. Teaching is an amazing career and rewarding. Don't let someone undermine your accomplishments.

  • Bonus! Chopin's Curriculum
  • Specifically lesser known repertoire

    • John Field
      1. Concertos 1, 3, 4
      2. Nocturnes
    • Weber
      1. Sonatas in C (op. 24)
      2. Sonatas in A-flat (op. 39)
    • Hummel
      1. Rondo brilliant op. 98
      2. La Bella Capriciosa, op. 55
      3. Sonata in F# minor, op. 81
      4. Concertos in A minor and B minor
      5. Septet op. 74

    In conclusion, I found these points to be so encouraging and helpful for practical applications and for creating a positive mindset. I highly recommend picking up this book. It is priced as a textbook, so I suggest doing what I did: use your library or your library's interlibrary loan service to borrow a copy.

    What books have helped you grow as a piano teacher? Please share them in the comments!


    -Jenny

7.05.2023

๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿผ‍๐Ÿ’ป Creating a Studio Website for $6 a month

July 05, 2023 0 Comments

Do you remember Geocities, the free Yahoo! websites? In the early 2000s, people would make "What You See Is What You Get" pages featuring dancing GIFs, tacky font, and tie-dye inspired backgrounds. Ah, those were the days. 

I loved making GeoCities websites.  One day, I decided to use the HTML editor with the help of the HTML help page for kids, Lissa Explains It All (referencing the Nickelodeon TV show, Clarissa Explains It All). Believe it or not, that website still exists in all it's vintage glory and the HTML help still works. 

Armed with my basic HTML and CSS knowledge, I made all sorts of websites and uploaded my original art. I collected cool MIDI files of my favorite music and linked them to drop-down menus so you could listen to music while you looked at my page. Building websites was a great hobby and served me well when I applied for jobs that needed website support. 

When I decided to open my own business in 2020, I needed minimal start-up costs. Covid was not easy for anyone and my husband was on furlough for the foreseeable future. 

Enter Neocities

Neocities' goal is 

"to enable you to harness the creativity, beauty, and power of creating your own web site. To rebuild the web we lost to automation and monotony, and make it fun again."

The basic account is free with no ads. That's even a step up from Geocities which would have a sidebar ad. You do need to code it yourself and you can't use a domain name until you become a supporter. But, if you don't mind it looking like an early 2000s website, you may get away with basic HTML from Lisa Explains It All. I built my website with the help of a free Bootstrap tutorial I found using a Google search which brought my page into the 2020s!

A supporter account from Neocities costs $5 per month. The next step was to make a domain name. I bought a Google Domain name for $12/year. 

Now I have a website that I built myself that is online for only $6/month. I am pretty proud of this accomplishment if I do say so myself! If you are good at teaching yourself new skills, I highly recommend this route as an option to save money. 

Click here to see my website

If you have a website, how did you create it and host it? 

-Jenny