How To Keep Your Child’s Piano Skills Sharp In The Summer

Summer is such a fun time of the year! There are camps, vacations, trips to the pool, longer days, looser schedules, more time with friends and family and generally less work and more play. All of these things are great for kids and so necessary for them to unwind from a school year and recharge for the next. But, it’s still important to keep a bit of structure in their lives!

I always encourage students to take a break from piano if they need it, but taking too much time off can make it really difficult to return to lessons in the fall. All of that hard work from the previous year can easily slip away if we don’t make any effort to maintain it.

Here are a some ways you can help your kids keep some piano going while still letting them relax and enjoy their time off.

1. Review old songs – Chances are, your student has quite a list of songs that he or she worked on in the previous school year. Have them go back and play through them again and polish them back up. Kids generally have a few favorites that they play over and over and move on past the other songs, but it’s always good to keep playing everything!

2. Sightread new songs – A lot of my students are working through the Faber Piano Adventure series. One of the reasons why I love this method is because of all of the supplemental repertoire. At every level, there are tons of books with a huge variety of styles. These books are great for students that want more music at their current level. For example, this Level 1 Popular Book is a favorite among my beginning students! If you search Amazon for Faber + your students level you should be able to find all of the different options.

3. Take a trip to the music store – I highly recommend taking students to a music store and just letting them browse. They are sure to find something that looks interesting to them and that might be just the motivation they need to keep up a little practice over the summer.

4. Piano Maestro – This is an excellent iPad App that is a great practice resource for students! This app is kind of like karaoke for piano. There is a huge variety of music to choose from and it is all set to instrumental back tracks. Students have to play the notes on their piano as they pass across the screen. The iPad’s microphone picks up the sound from the piano and students are graded on the accuracy of their playing. This is a really easy and fun way to keep your student playing and, most importantly, it is very effective for helping them sightread more efficiently!

5. Find Music Education Apps – There are tons of music related apps out there! Here is a list of the 9 apps we use most in my studio. I suggest just browsing and letting your student try a few out!

6. Learn with flowkey – Flowkey is an awesome interactive piano tutorial app. There are hundreds of songs that students can learn. Flowkey combines notated music, audio and a birds-eye-view of someone playing the piano to quickly and effectively teach students music. You can read all about how my students use it here. This is something that students can do with our without the help of a teacher, and curious parents might even learn a thing or two!

7. Watch YouTube tutorials – While this isn’t always the most pedagogically sound approach to learning the piano, I definitely support students learning through YouTube! Many of my students have very successfully learned music by watching videos. I recommend searching the name of a song that interests your student along with the words “piano tutorial”. Keep in mind that the person teaching the song doesn’t always demonstrate proper technique or may not use exactly the right terminology.

8. Create a composition – Any time I’ve encouraged my students to compose, I’ve been blown away by their creativity! The freedom of time that we have in summer is the perfect time for students to explore and create at the piano. An important thing to remember when composing is that limitations = freedom. If you just send your student to the piano and say “make up a song!” it is unlikely that you’ll hear anything productive. However if you give your student just a few guidelines you’ll be surprised by how easily and freely they can create. You don’t even need any musical experience for this!

For example, you could suggest to your student to make up a song about splashing in the pool. Encourage them to play around until they find some sounds that remind them of splashing water. You might just need to ask them a few questions, such as: Do high or low notes sound more like splashing? Are the splashes loud or soft? What position do you want to start your hands in? (Or for an older student, what key do you want to play in?)

9. Theory workbooks – Some students might groan at the thought of working out of a work book in the summer, but other students really thrive on the structure of having a something so concrete to work with. Theory Time is a good series to start with!

10. Learn a song by ear – This is a great skill and one that we don’t always have time for in piano lessons. Challenge your student to figure out the melody of a song. Start with something simple like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Happy Birthday. Once they have the melody, see if they can add some left hand chords or notes. If these songs are too easy branch out to their favorite popular songs, songs from musicals, hymns, or anything else familiar.

11. Find a challenging piece to get started on – I absolutely love it when my students think big and try things a little beyond their comfort level. Summer is a great time to pull out music that they’ve always wanted to try but looked too hard or to get started on something they have their eye on for next year. Figuring out challenging music can lead to a lot of light bulb moments that might make everything click! It doesn’t have to be perfect; this part of the process of learning music is so important! Sheetmusicplus.com is a good place to look new music. You can buy, download and print music instantly!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using this link.

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Music Teacher’s Helper has tons of great features, but even if you only use a handful of them, it’s absolutely worth it!

For me, I primarily use it for keeping track of student registrations, invoicing and bookkeeping.

When I have a new student interested in starting piano lessons, they fill out a custom registration form that I designed using Music Teacher’s Helper. Once they are registered, they are placed on my waiting list until I change their status to an active student.

For all of my active students, I can easily charge fees and enter payments. Each month I use Music Teacher’s Helper to generate an invoice that is automatically emailed to any family with a balance. The invoice is linked to PayPal, so parents can quickly pay online.

Parents can log in and view their balance at any time.

These few features have been invaluable to my piano studio. It’s nice to have a system already in place so that I don’t have to spend my time creating spreadsheets and tracking payments. If a family owes money, I simply resend the invoice to remind them to pay – no awkward texts of phonecalls!

Music Teacher’s Helper helps me maintain polished and professional interactions with current and potential students.

Other features of Music Teacher’s Helper that I don’t use as much but may interest you:

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  • Lending Library
  • Mileage and Business Expense Tracking
  • Automated Reminders Sent To Students
  • Mass Emailing
  • Lesson Notes

Music Teacher’s Helper has quick and helpful customer service and I’ve never had any problems with their service.

Click here to receive 10% off your first month of Music Teacher’s Helper!

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Make The Most Of Your Practice Routine With This Simple Technique

Today, I want to highlight a practice tip that is beneficial for everyone: all ages, all levels, all abilities, all instruments! It might seem like common sense, but repetition in practice is one of the very best ways to succeed!

Repetition in practice will absolutely look different for different people, but the idea is the same. You simply have to repeat something over and over to get better at it.

My one caveat is to avoid mindless repetition. Repeating something over and over without giving it much thought leads to sloppy work and little progress. However, intentional repetition is vital to a good practice routine.

Young Children

For young children who play short, simple songs, this means playing the entire song or a line of the song over and over.

Often times at this level, when every musical concept is new and a child is still working on the coordination needed to play the piano, their music may sound slow and messy. You might hear a lot of starts and stops, wrong notes that the student may or may not go back and correct, and a weak sound.

Of course, this is a perfectly acceptable starting point! Those little fingers and brain a working in overtime to figure it all out.

I notice that with some young kids, when they are in this stage of playing very slowly and the music sounds really choppy. It feels like a huge milestone just to make it to the end of the song.

After all of that work, they get to the end, take their hands off the piano and let out a big sigh. This is where the repetition comes in. Even if the student doesn’t seem eager to do it all over again, the magic will happen with repetition. This is where they will achieve continuity in the music and the song will actually sound like music. Their coordination will improve and they will really learn the song, rather than working so hard to think through it.

With young children, it’s important to set the expectation that practicing means repetition. Playing a song 1 time from start to finish isn’t an adequate practice session.

If a student’s music is lacking continuity, it likely needs to be broken down into smaller pieces. They may need to repeat the first line or even 1-2 measures several times before moving on to the next part of the music. Or, if they seem to be able to make it through the whole song but it doesn’t sound like music, repeating the whole song is a good approach.

Here are ways that adults (both teachers and parents) can help young children incorporate repetition into their practicing:

  • Use a practice counter! This is a great tool to keep at your piano. Kids love having a little gadget to work with. This is a great visual to help students see what they are accomplishing. Since the practice counter has 10 beads, you can have up to 10 repetitions, but you could also use it for fewer repetitions. For very young kids, a 3-5 repetitions is a manageable number.
  • A similar concept to a practice counter is to place some small items on the piano such as coins, iwako erasers, small toys, etc. Line them up on one side of the piano and let the student move each item one-by-one with each repetition. Young kids really enjoy mixing their work with play, so having a toy at the piano the serves a purpose is really motivating. They love making an animal or character walk across the keys or driving a little car across the piano.
  • Add variety into repetition by finding different ways to play the same thing. Let your student explore the range of the piano and play their music on the high and low ends of the piano. Try out different instrument voices on a digital piano. Play loudly, softly, slowly, quickly, staccato, legato, etc. The more creative you can make it, the more interested your student will be. Instead of using musical terms, have them play their music like a frog (staccato), like a fish (legato), like a dinosaur (low) or like a race car (fast).

For Advancing Students and Adults

For students who are making good progress on the piano, or for anyone who is not approaching piano practice as a chore, repetition will look quite different than it does for young beginners!

As students start to make progress on the piano, they quickly discover that some things come easily and some things are more challenging. At this point, students probably have a pretty good sense of continuity, but they might struggle with a certain parts of the music they are working on.

In this case, repetition will look like isolating small parts of the music and repeating them many times. It is natural for students to start at the beginning of their music and to want to play through all the way to the end. A lot of times when students play this way, they just gloss over the tricky parts or they may even skip parts that don’t come as easily as others.

Although it is satisfying to make it to the end of your music, it’s not very productive. To really practice and improve, you have to go straight to the problem and work on it. Don’t start at the beginning, and don’t keep going after just 1 pass through the tricky spot.

Here are ways that advancing students can use repetition in their practice:

  • Pinpoint exactly what the problem is. Mark on the page exactly where it begins and where it ends. It might be one measure, it might be part of a measure, it might be several measures. If a large section of music is problematic, start breaking it into smaller pieces – eat that elephant one bite at a time!
  • Commit to repeating only the problem area. Stop right after the problem and circle back around to the beginning of the problem. This takes discipline!
  • Keep track of repetitions. Sometimes I’ll suggest a student practice a tricky measure 100 times over the course of the week. We put a post-it note on the page near that measure and I’ll have them keep a tally each time they play that spot.
  • When working towards achieving continuity, work with musical phrases or lines, but not the entire piece.
  • A practice counter is a great tool for all ages and levels, not just beginners!
  • For students who may not be motivated by numbers, a simple approach is “practice until it’s easy!”

There is only so much that a teacher can teach a student. True progress and improvement happens from practicing and smart practice includes repetition.

 

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