Exciting Road Trip!

Selfie!

William, Mom, and Weston

OK, so I just HAD to share this story as a blog post. One of my student families made a very exciting road trip last weekend to Cleveland. What’s so exciting in Cleveland, you ask? See, there’s these two middle-aged men, one of them kinda-sorta plays some piano, the other one kinda-sorta plays some cello, and they’re actually kinda-sorta good at what they do, and maybe you’ve heard of them but they call themselves THE PIANO GUYS…?

The Piano Guys

The Piano Guys!

Yes, that’s right – William and Weston R, along with their parents, got to see The Piano Guys in concert last weekend! When tickets for this show became available last year, I had actually considered suggesting a Studio caravan experience up to Cleveland. Eventually (and perhaps in a rare moment of head-over-heart wisdom) I decided that this was one of those ideas that sounded good only in theory, and so it never got any further than just being a tiny little thought in my head. Needless to say, I was super excited when I heard that the R family had gotten tickets to the performance, and I couldn’t wait to hear all about it when they came to lessons.

Here is Will’s and Wes’ experience in pictures and in their own words (they were clearly very excited about the show – it was difficult for me to capture even the responses that I did, because both boys were talking non-stop at the same time – “guess what? guess what? guess what?”):

Me: So, you guys went somewhere really special last weekend, didn’t you? [Silence.] You drove up to Cleveland, right? (Right?? Did I get the wrong weekend???)

R Kids: The Piano Guys!!! (Whew.)

Me: So, what did you think about The Piano Guys? Were you impressed? Were they funny?

R Kids: It was really good! Yes, we were impressed. Yes, they were very funny! The cello player said he was working on playing his cello upside down (like John can play the piano laying upside down on the bench), but it didn’t look good because he punctured his neck (from resting the cello stand, which is a long metal rod coming out of the bottom of the cello, on his neck, I presume…). For the Charlie Brown song, they had Grandmas and Grandpas doing the conga line. And guess what? One of the Grandpas came down with only a shirt and his underwear!

Me: What was your favorite part of the performance?

Wes: The part where he (the cello guy) had to play the same notes over and over (Pachelbel’s Canon in D). He fell asleep and then they woke him up.

Will: The fast version of the song where he had all the same notes (Pachelbel’s Canon in D again, or the “Rockelbel’s Canon” version). The guy playing the piano jumped up and did a bunch of dance moves. Then he said, “Everyone’s gotta bust out a few dance moves sometime…”

(Note: you can actually watch the very funny “Rockelbel’s Canon” skit on YouTube here. The running around John did as part of that skit? I am so lucky – I got to see it live courtesy of Weston.)

Me: So, which one of you two drove home after the show, since I’m sure Mom and Dad were really tired after driving to the concert and keeping your bouncy selves under control during the show?

R Kids: We didn’t drive anywhere! Mom drove there and Dad drove back. We got back at 4 AM. (Thanks to the time change that night, and Mom told me William also had a Cincinnati Boys Choir performance the very next day at noon – wow, big weekend!).

The boys also told me a little bit about how The Piano Guys got started, demonstrated how John can play the piano laying upside-down on the piano bench AND with his hands crossed, and recounted how a certain large soft pretzel snack was divided (perhaps a little unevenly) between Mom, Dad, Will, and Wes.

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The wonder!

William and Weston, thank you so much for sharing your experience watching The Piano Guys! I’m told everyone had a great time! (Even Dad, who wasn’t really sure this was going to be his most favorite activity but ended up liking it a lot. Hey – The Piano Guys have a new fan!) I’m hoping that The Piano Guys’ next tour will come a little closer to where we are, and then I can get that Studio caravan organized…

State Theatre Cleveland

State Theatre, Cleveland

Stage View

The stage is set!

Intermission

Will and Wes at Intermission

Performance

Amazing cool stuff!

Here a Note, There a Note, Everywhere a Note Note…

Often, one way of teaching a concept works really well for some students, but leaves a puzzled look on the faces of others. I’m always on the hunt for new and creative ways to communicate musical concepts to students, so that I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve in case I encounter Little Miss Dazed and Confused. :)

My latest exciting discovery is an app that helps students with note reading on the staff, as well as connecting the notes on the staff to keys on the piano keyboard. This is often a very difficult concept for beginners to grasp – the fact that the notes they are reading on the lines and spaces of a staff actually map to specific keys on the piano keyboard. I like this app because it can be used for many different levels of students – most note reading apps are geared towards very young beginners, and do not appeal to older students who may be struggling with note reading or key mapping.

The app is called NoteWorks, and I have been playing around with it on my iPad. What I love about it is the note reading parameters can be customized to include fewer or more notes, treble and/or bass staffs, with or without accidentals, and best of all, if you make a mistake, you can go back and try to fix it. There’s a game component to it for kids who are competitive – you can accumulate points as you play. I also like the fun graphics with the crab and the flamethrower (who doesn’t love a crab and a flamethrower??!).

NoteWorks IconIf you would like to check out this app, you can find it in the iTunes App Store. There is a free version that includes a few features, and the full App has a cost associated with it. If you’re interested in playing around with the app prior to purchase, just let me know the next time you’re in the Studio, and I’ll get my iPad out so you can test your note-reading skills.

(Sorry to Android users – I do not know if this app is offered for Android. If you find that it is, please comment below and I can update my post with the relevant information. Thanks!)

Non-Musical Parents Can Help With Practice, Too!

I can see it… On this lovely snow day, children everywhere flocking to their beloved pianos – overjoyed by the surprise hours they suddenly have to practice on this cold, winter day; their faces beaming in delight as they pull out their lesson binders and carefully read over their assignments for the week to ensure they haven’t missed anything…

Oh wait. Was I just dreaming out loud?

On a serious note, I do hope everyone stays safe today. No need to venture out unless absolutely necessary. I’m actually not quite sure what the fuss is about, but maybe it’s more the ice and less about snow volume. But today’s surprise snow day did get me wondering how many students will choose to put in a little extra practice time!

I posted some thoughts a couple months ago about how parents can create a more welcoming practice environment. Today’s post addresses a very common concern amongst parents of piano (or any instrument, really) students: if I’m a non-musical parent, how can I help my student with instrument practice? After all, we can’t all be musicians raising musician children!

The fact is, you can help in probably more ways than you realize. Here are 7 ways a non-musical parent can help with piano practice, from the wonderful folks at TeachPianoToday.com:

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1. Your children will need help – Up until about age 11, children need hands-on help with home practice. And even though you yourself may not read music or play the piano, your assistance is still very much needed! Parental help can take the form of reading lesson notes, organizing practice time wisely, providing encouragement through difficult sections or situations, and seeking out answers for “I’m stuck on this” problems. Asking a young child to be in charge of something as important as piano practice is often asking too much. Your help at home will make a substantial difference in your children’s progress.

2. Your children need you to establish a routine – I cannot emphasize this enough: piano practice that happens every single day is by far the most effective practice structure. 30 minutes three times a week is just 90 minutes. 20 minutes seven days a week is 140 minutes. The total difference is 43 hours of missed practice per year if your children are only at the piano three times a week!

Short, focused and regular visits to the piano help your children retain and understand what they are learning while making the most of generally short attention spans. If practice is enjoyable, rather than arduous, your children will naturally (and unknowingly!) increase the time they spend on the bench… eventually reaching that 30 minute mark.

Setting a regular time of day when piano practice happens “no matter what” will ensure a daily practice routine is easy for your children to maintain.

3. Your children needs lots of encouragement – Learning to read music and play the piano can be difficult; it can be discouraging… it can feel overwhelming. Your children (no matter what their age) need loads of encouragement. Learning the piano is not a “fix it and forget it” endeavor that you have allowed your children to undertake.

And not just verbal encouragement. You can show your children that you value their efforts by attending their recitals with enthusiasm, inviting friends and family to listen to your them play, and taking the time to sit and listen to them practice with your undivided attention.

4. Your children need a home instrument that is enjoyable to play – Much of the pleasure from playing the piano comes from one’s ability to emote feeling, nuance and expression through music. Even young beginners will experience great satisfaction from making beautiful sounds…. so choose an instrument that gives them the best opportunity to make beautiful sounds. Guidance from your children’s teacher will help you find an affordable piano (don’t worry, there are many great and affordable options) that will give your children the tool they need to truly experience piano lessons. An investment in a good instrument protects the investment you are making in your children’s musical education.

5. Your children need a positive practice environment – Aside from providing encouragement, your children need you to create a positive practice atmosphere. Help your children avoid “cramming” the day before lessons. Stick to your daily routine to avoid weeks of forgotten practice (which lead to feelings of inadequacy on the part of your children). Music is joyful… and so practicing music should be as well. This is, fortunately, something that you are able to create easily with a commitment to regular practice.

6. Your children need you to communicate with their teacher – Working as a parent/child/teacher triangle is the optimal way to ensure progress and success in piano lessons. Be sure to communicate often with your children’s piano teacher. Check in on how lessons are progressing, ask for help if something is difficult for your children at home, let your teacher know when practice weeks have gone extremely well (or not so well). Working as a team means your children are supported equally on all sides at all times.

7. THE PLEASURE OF BEING A PIANO PARENT…

Learning to play music is a life-changing experience. And, as a parent, the process is a thrill to watch. Being a major part of this accomplishment is incredibly rewarding! The profound pleasure of being a “piano parent” far outweighs the required extra efforts; and this is, by far, the most important thing that piano teachers want parents to know about piano practice.

So as we start this new year, maybe choose a couple of these ideas to roll into your family’s daily routine, and let me know how it goes. In the meantime, stay warm everyone!!

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