Blog

Why Rote Pieces?

I have been exploring the idea of teaching by rote through the wonderful books Piano Safari, and Piano Partners by the Shaak family. The benefits of first teaching by example are so great that it seems incredible that I ever thought I could teach piano without...

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The Christmas Wind-down

Christmas is just around the corner and in Australia I can begin to see the Christmas wind-down as children and adults alike become tired as Christmas approaches. But do we put music in a box and forget about it until February 2017? What a pity that would be... Music...

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What age to start?

I am frequently asked, what is the best age for a child to start learning piano. How long is a piece of string? There are various factors to consider. Does your child love singing and hearing music? Have they shown an interest in playing? Another factor maybe the cost...

read more

Dogs and Birds Piano method for children aged 3 to 6

Introducing Dogs and Birds, a wonderful way to teach piano to very young children. Yes, children as young as 3 years can learn piano through the Dogs and Birds method. I have found that 3.5 to 4 years is the lower limit for most children but some children are ready to...

read more

Piano Readers

This year I am introducing readers for the children. I have made many books by selecting pieces from other books and combining them into suitably graded readers. This is a lending library and it saves me lending out dozens of books. As I own all the books I'm pretty...

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Why play games in piano lessons?

Here in Australia it is the second week of the teaching year. It is hot and steamy and the kids arrive tired and yawning from school. Really they just want to jump in the pool and cool off. What better way to make piano lessons the next best thing than to play a game...

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What and How to Practise

Well here it is, the long awaited article of exactly how to practise. This is a biggie!! We sign our child up for piano lessons and everything is happy ever after. Nope - it doesn't work that way. Children have no idea how to practise. They may not touch the piano...

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Why should my child practise?

Let's look at why practice is so necessary. After years of teaching I know that to succeed in mastering the piano, three things are necessary: The determination to succeed Daily practice Good reading skills If you are saying to your self, but my child doesn't want to...

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Determination to Succeed

Studies have shown that effort, not talent lead to amazing results. 10,000 hours seems to be the magical number required for mighty achievement but steady, regular practice will lead to success. To spend years mastering an instrument requires the child to have great...

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True Grit

The key to success boils down to 3 essentials: determination to succeed, correct practising, and acquiring good reading skills. Let's talk more about determination, or sticking to the task however long it takes. What we might call having grit. I want to debunk...

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Three Essentials for Learning Piano

The road to success can be long and hard. But does it need to be? Learning to play the piano can be a real chore for some children, but for others it is a great joy. Why is this? I would really love to say I have an answer that will turn every child into a budding...

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Explorers: Learning keyboard skills and music basics

Explorers is a two-year sequential programme for 3.5 to 5.5-year-olds. Those clever little preschoolers are brilliantly catered for! In 2014 I taught Kinderbach to this age group. Kinderbach is a lovely programme pioneered by Karri Gregor. But as an ex Kindermusik and...

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Evidence That Music Benefits the Brain

It is always exciting to read about scientific studies that back up what we already know, or think we know, about the benefits of music. An article appeared last month in the Medscape by Megan Brooks which reported on three new studies which showed that musical...

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Exam Time

Once again we are in the last run-up to piano exam with the usual nerves and anxieties for teacher and pupil alike!  If only children realised the stress they put their teachers through.  When I was a child I can remember thinking how lovely it would be to be the...

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Something Fresh

Unfortunately there never seems to be enough time in the lesson to fit in pieces, scales, ear tests, sight reading …. the list goes on… But what can you teach when you or your pupil need a break from routine.  Perhaps the long awaited exam is over, or the pressure of...

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Memorisation

One of my teaching resolutions this year is to put more emphasis on memorization.  This skill is too easily dismissed as a talent.  Either you can or you can’t.  To be honest that rather sums up my pupils at the moment.  Some are frightened to take their heads out of...

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Should children sit exams?

Should children sit exam?  Yes that old chestnut again! Just about everyone has an opinion about this, even people who have nothing to do with music, or learning the piano. But somehow it always draws hot debate, with tales of horrendous childhood experiences...

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Music and the Kindy Child

At my studio I teach a programme called Stepping Stones for 2-3s, and 3-5s.  The kindy class, 3-4s is the most popular and I think the most interesting in that there is so much growth that year.  Teaching to that age can be challenging  but I love it! YOUR KINDY CHILD...

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Typical Characteristics of 2 to 4 Year Olds

Children of this age can be even more confusing than 2 year-olds! Why? Because your child is now in the midst of enormous growth, physically and mentally as they take in masses of information about the world, sort and label and turn rapidly from baby into a small but...

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Music and the Preschooler

Between the ages of 4 years and 6 years children undergo enormous growth, and they are ready to expand and extend their musical experiences. This age is certainly a more comfortable age to teach (and parent!) than the volatile 3 year-old.  But they are also more...

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Teaching Music to Young Children

In my music studio, from time to time I stop and look at my own teaching and assess what works, what I could have done better and what makes children smile.  I know all successful teachers are constantly looking at their own performance. It is a necessary part of...

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Bringing up Children: Do We Have It Right?

It’s total sacrilege to say it, but have we got the process of bringing up children all wrong? Parents have an unenviable job in these busy times, particularly mums who are often, through necessity, juggling jobs and giving their children every possible opportunity....

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Committing to Learning

Yesterday a small incident in my teaching day left me pondering things for quite a while. It turned my whole philosophy of teaching on its head. So I’d like to share it with you, and invite comments. I teach a beautiful 16 year-old  girl who plays like an angel. She...

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Practice and the Beginner

In these free and easy times when we love and respect our children and acknowledge their rights and feelings, it is sometimes hard to enforce the need for self-discipline in order to get homework and piano practice done. In music lessons I see many bright children who...

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Teaching Theory Through Games

I was reminded this morning of how wonderful it is to teach through games. Group teaching can be so rewarding and so beneficial.  I’ve never had much success teaching group piano.  I know teachers who do it brilliantly, but for me it slows the whole learning process...

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Music and Babies

From time to time I am asked if babies should be taught music, or if 18 months is too early to start music, and once, could an 18-month old start learning piano as the mother had started putting the baby’s hands on the piano and felt they could cope!  In this case the...

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How to Help Your Child with Piano Practice

8 Ways to help your Child  Be enthusiastic! Show them that you think learning piano is very exciting and love everything they do. Anticipate your child’s ups and downs.  You may have to cajole them through the bad patches. Know when to help, when to support and...

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Making Music part of Family life

So you have always wanted to play the piano and now your child is learning!  Everything is fine… or is it?  Did you know that children are unlikely to commit to learning if their parents are not very interested?  I mean, why should they, when you clearly don’t value...

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Why Rote Pieces?

I have been exploring the idea of teaching by rote through the wonderful books Piano Safari, and Piano Partners by the Shaak family. The benefits of first teaching by example are so great that it seems incredible that I ever thought I could teach piano without teaching young children by rote.

girl at brown piano

Average age beginner

All children should have the benefit of learning the piano regardless of perceived aptitude and learning by rote at the beginning give all children a kick-start into music.

The traditional way of teaching piano, which has lead to countless numbers of children dropping the piano within a few years, is by learning to play through reading from the very first lesson. When you take a step back this seems a ludicrous idea. What parent would tell a young child that they couldn’t speak any word until they could read it?! Yet this is what we do in music. A child arrives, often very enthusiastic because they have been exploring all the possibilities of the piano, and we teachers say, “That’s very nice dear, but today we are going to learn where middle C is and how it is written and you can go away and read these middle C pieces”. Many disappointed children put up with this hoping for more, and eventually the notes increase as they play rather boring little pieces. It is really only a wonder that children don’t quit sooner!

Enter the rote piece and improvising in our early lessons. How exciting to be able to go home and play a piece about a lion or African drum or play a one finger duet with mum, or make up a piece about chattering monkeys. This is the stuff – they can enjoy pieces that move all over the piano and they will be really listening and enjoying the sounds.

Reading will be there, but a little slower. No need to pace everything to reading pieces – they will get there, and meanwhile we are learning how to shape and make beautiful music, to think in musical sentences not one note at a time, to enjoy moving freely and gracefully and with abandon. What fun!

And something else happens. Children start to understand music. They see patterns and shapes, they get quicker at memorising pieces which means that their reading progresses quicker because music has more meaning when they see the whole picture and not just individual notes.

Children become more ready to experiment and adapt songs they know, improvising by patterns and sounds. They really listen to what they are playing so their musical ear develops. This is a skill which is becoming lost by traditional trained musicians. Classical musicians of the past, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt etc. were all brilliant improvisers. This is the stuff of great musicians, whether classical minded or not.

So if your child comes home with a new piece they want to play you, but no music, rejoice – the seeds of a love of music are being sown. Reading will take a little more time, just as it does when your child is learning to read story books.

The Christmas Wind-down

preteen girl thinking

dreaming, thinking

Christmas is just around the corner and in Australia I can begin to see the Christmas wind-down as children and adults alike become tired as Christmas approaches. But do we put music in a box and forget about it until February 2017? What a pity that would be…

Music is a living art that brings joy to most of us. How many of us would wish a world without music. But learning to play an instrument is very demanding, and sometime we feel we would like a break… just for a little while. Unfortunately any break from learning a skill means a lose of momentum, the muscles forget what they have learned, facts are forgotten and sometimes it takes a while to pick up skills again after the break.

Here are a few ideas to keep your child playing over the long break:

  • Organise a Christmas concert for family and friends. Perhaps include a sing-song to keep all happy.
  • Look out those Christmas songs and carols.
  • Play with a sibling who is learning a different instrument.
  • Play piano duets with a friend.
  • Play and sing old songs.
  • Start your own band.
  • Make up songs on the piano, with or without words.
  • If you have a keyboard let your child explore different sounds and rhythms.

Make piano part of family life and watch skills grow, even through the summer break.

 

What age to start?

young beginner playing piano

Young beginner

I am frequently asked, what is the best age for a child to start learning piano. How long is a piece of string?

There are various factors to consider. Does your child love singing and hearing music? Have they shown an interest in playing? Another factor maybe the cost involved of buying an instrument and paying for weekly lessons. Now much time can you spend helping your child? Children of any age will need to follow up and practise their new skills at home. Can this be fitted into home life? Is there music in your home and an ethos of music and commitment in your family? Will you be able to be endlessly encouraging and supportive without being too dictatorial and put your child off?

The piano is often seen as a stepping stone to learning other instruments. It is certainly a good instrument to learn about music. People often forget that the piano is a beautiful instrument with a vast repertoire of music especially written for it. One never need be bored, the variety is endless. But it is also a very demanding instrument and to thoroughly master it takes about 8-10 years. A parent needs to realise the commitment required and be prepared to help a child through the peaks and troughs of learning.

Here are some pros and cons of starting at different ages.

girl at brown piano

Average age beginner

  1. The early starter (between 3.5 and 6 years): There are many advantages of starting early. If home is full of music of all sorts, your child sings and dances to music and has seen people playing instruments this maybe the route for you. Progress is usually slower at this age but lessons are fun and exciting and it pays dividends over the years as a sense of music is firmly established early and children have a headstart into quality music and the joy that brings. The disadvantage is that children require you to be beside them, joining in the fun for 5-10 minutes every day.
  2. Average beginner (7-8 years): This is a great age to start. The average child will make faster progress than the early beginner and is still young enough to see it as an adventure, springing from the music they enjoy at home. It is essential to commit to 20-25 minutes practising skills every day in order to maintain momentum and interest. You will still need to fan the enthusiasm and be around for their practice, but you may get away with being near. You will need to be involved and keep an eye on what they are doing.
  3. Later beginner (9-11): Although it is never too late to start we are reaching the limit here for children who want to reach a good standard of playing before they leave school. If a child is very committed it is just possible to get through their grades before leaving school if they want to pursue music further. To make the rapid progress they need and want to make, they will need to commit to 30 minutes practice a day and be fully involved in what they are doing. Usually children starting this age are more independent, but you may need to talk about goals and planning practice. They will need to commit to a set daily practice time which works for all.
  4. Teenager/adult beginner: These beginners are totally self-committed and as such get out of it what they put in. Often the goal is just to be able to play pieces they like on the piano, but a few aim for total mastery. I have known committed adults go from beginner, through their grades and become fine musicians.

Whichever route you choose, the journey should be fun. It is such a privilege to be able to paint sound pictures through our playing, in this wonderful living art.

Dogs and Birds Piano method for children aged 3 to 6

Dogs and Birds book 1Introducing Dogs and Birds, a wonderful way to teach piano to very young children. Yes, children as young as 3 years can learn piano through the Dogs and Birds method. I have found that 3.5 to 4 years is the lower limit for most children but some children are ready to start earlier.

As a piano teacher I am often frustrated at the lack of musical experiences shown by children when they start piano lessons. Children benefit enormously if they have some sense of beat and sing before they start learning piano. In Australia, unfortunately, it is rarely so. A generation ago children learned nursery rhymes on their mother’s knee, then they would watch Play School or Sesame Street and pick up songs which they sang as they played. My son at the age of 2.5 years would wake us up each morning by singing through his extensive repertoire of songs. I’m not sure why but it doesn’t necessarily happen any more and children often tell me that they don’t sing at home and seem surprised I asked. The consequence is that children are deprived of a happy occupation and source of comfort.

I’ve been teaching these basic music skills to very young children for a few years now, but Dogs and Birds has made me very excited, as it really does include everything to make our little people into fantastic musicians and give them a love of music to last their life. The method is ideal for children aged from 3 to 6 years.

How does it turn a three-year-old into a wonderful musician, and is it hot-housing?

  1. Dogs and Birds was devised by Elza Lusher, who is a native Hungarian and studied at the Liszt Academy in Hungary. In Hungary all students study solfege for at least a year before learning an instrument. When Elza moved to England she discovered that it was necessary to build musicianship into her piano lessons. Dogs and Birds was born. Ella has taught the method to children as young as 2.5 years, but recommends the method for children over 3. She has
    animal tiles

    animal tiles

    taught groups in a Montessori nursery school with excellent results.

  2. The materials are beautiful and very appealing to young children. The pictures and stories are designed to capture the child’s imagination and excitement.
  3. Animal tiles and coloured staves significantly speed up learning notation. Children do not need to know letters or numbers, only colours.

    coloured staves and animal tiles

    coloured staves and animal tiles

  4. Children graduate from picture notes to traditional notation.
  5. Children sing as they play, reinforcing learning.
  6. Use of arm weight for first pieces ensures relaxed playing.
  7. Children acquire a good sense of beat and rhythm through activities and games.
  8. Imaginative play leads to sensitive playing.
  9. Children are learning the way they learn about everything, through a sense of fun and wonder. Parents do not need to push their children, so hot-housing it is not.

Early music experiences aid learning in many other areas, including reading and maths. This method is perfect for parents who are committed to giving their child the very best start in music. But I have some words of warning:Dogs and Birds stave

  1. This method needs a friendly and gentle approach. Parents need to be deeply interested and involved and be sure they understand what the child needs to do at home each week.
  2. The helper parent should assist with all home practice, never getting cross or forcing the child to practise. Dogs and Birds is a very enjoyable activity that small children will enjoy. It should be done every day but kept as fun.
  3. Although it is possible to learn with a keyboard, musicality is greatly enhanced if the child has a piano to practise on. Electric keyboards do not have the nuances and range of sounds that delight a small child.

Please contact us if you have a small child and feel that Dogs and Birds might be right for you.

For more information: Dogs and Birds
To see what people are saying about it: Testimonials