Parent: "Why I want my child to take piano lessons" 

I read a blog recently from a fellow teacher (Susan Paradis) that was so TRUE! Parents have various reasons for their children to participate in piano lessons.

Here are the reasons that she mentioned with a few comments of my own added:
1. They want their child to learn a little bit about music. If they learn a pretty piece, that's a bonus. Just take for enrichment.
2. The family inherited or bought a piano, and need to justify the space it takes in a room.
3. They read it will help their child get better grades in school. The younger the child takes - the better.
4. They think it will help them get a head start on another instrument the child really wants to play.
5. They, the parent, were not able to take piano as a child, so they want to give their child that opportunity.
6. They want their child to show off flashy pieces for family or friends.
7. They took piano and enjoyed it, so they want their child to do the same.
8. They value a music education.

As a teacher, I see children come and go in my studio and have seen all these reasons fleshed out! Children who fit reasons 1-6 did not last hardly one year. Of course, many children do not see the value of music or can see down the road like a parent. Parents who see the value and knows that a good musician doesn't happen overnight are willing to ride the roller coaster of practicing and quitting seasons. At some point, as the child gets older and matures, they have to make up their mind that they really want to learn and improve their skills. Parents have to be firm about taking lessons and determine we are in this for the long haul especially if they really notice the child does deep down enjoys music, but she doesn't enjoy the process.  Of course, a child rather play outside/sports than practice. We all rather play than brush and floss our teeth but it doesn't negate having to do it. (I hope my piano teaching/lessons are better than having to go to the dentist! Ha!) Consistency with scheduled routines of practice and studying notes help make it a part of our daily routine and the progress is a reward in and of itself! 

To answer some of the reasons listed above:
1. Yes, enrichment/exposure is good. But you might just want to enroll the child in a general music class, music summer camp, or something like Kindermusik.
2. Inherited a piano....is it in good condition? Many inherited pianos need lots of work. The child sees a significant difference in their piano versus the teacher's.
3. Yes, exposure to music does help improve skills such as math, social, etc. The younger the better idea differs with each child. Some children would think it is pure torcher to sit down at the piano for 30 minutes to practice. Yes, there is a lot of scientific evidence that it improves our mind. Playing the piano is one of the few activities that involves many intelligences. See Reason #8 - a good reason for music education!
4. It is great to learn to read music. Piano is a great way to learn to read music because you learn to read treble and bass clefs and play multiple notes at one time. I highly recommend it! But I also have found that some people can only comprehend one note at a time so other instruments would be a better fit. I have even recommended a student to study violin instead because it only played one note a time (which he did in the lesson - played only one hand) and he already had a violin in the home.
5. The parent did not receive the opportunity to take as a child. Well, maybe not the best reason for your child to take. The child needs to a have a general curiosity or desire to play. Hey, if you are that parent, why don't you fill that "bucket list" and take lessons now. Many teachers take adult students.
6. They want their child to perform. It takes a lot of "practice to perform." I encourage children to perform often and early on because the more you are exposed to playing in front of others the easier it becomes. But not a valid reason to learn how to play. You need to learn to play for your own enjoyment more importantly.  Some children have a hard time being "pushed" to perform and have great anxiety in crowds or have a timid demeanor. I was that child. With proper encouragement,  I was able to overcome my fear by performing often and also playing for our church regularly.  As a parent, just know your child and how much you should "encourage."
7. I learned and want to pass that gift on to my children. Not a bad reason. But you might consider setting a time frame they have to take and at that point let them decide whether to continue especially if the child shows no desire to pursue further learning.
8. Value music education.....probably the best reason! Our children value what we value. If you value and enjoy good music, your children will probably develop that taste as well. Music is a gift from God. I think we should honor the Lord with our music. Music gives a great sense of pride, confidence and source of stress relief. It is one of the best gifts you could ever give your child that they can enjoy all their life no matter what age, whereever they live or career they pursue. It is a gift to enjoy by individually or shared with others. 

Help! My Child Wants to Quit! 

Every child has a bad day every now and then, sometimes a bad week and even sometimes a bad month and forbid it, a bad year. Children have to be guided with their choices. They cannot see the end result or consequences of their decisions many times. As a parent, you have to have your mind made up about extra-curricular activities and piano lessons. The parent that comes in with the mindset "we are in it for the long haul" will more likely succeed. Music unlike sports is a lifelong learning process and gift. With sports, your body wears out over time. Students are usually excited first about piano lessons until they realize that it can be hard work and sometime have to give up some "free time."  Practice is so crucial! A practice routine is a must for any success. Piano lessons are not just for enrichment. It requires dedication on each member's part: parent, child and teacher. Each child has times of wanting to quit (even I had my moment one time!) This is when the parent has to kick in and say let's keep on going for a little longer. I couldn't tell you how many adults have told me they wish their parents would not have let them quit! Sometimes a break in the summer is necessary and good. The student comes back realizing that they really want to continue and usually comes back with a whole new outlook. Many students are overwhelmed with too many activities: soccer, baseball, gymnastics, dance, Girl Scouts, etc. It is best to limit one's activities so they can learn to be good at that activity versus not very good at many activities and poor dedication to any of them. An excellent article on the students wanting to quit at various ages is highly recommend to read 
http://www.opusmusiceducation.com/blog/the-6-stages-of-piano-students-why-and-when-piano-students-quit-lessons (click & paste) written by piano teacher Theresa Chen. She points out that many students quit at the verge of having a phenomonal, musical, growth spurt. You have to determine want is my motivation and ask yourself "Why am I taking piano?" 
As a teacher, I try to keep the lessons fresh and interesting. When we have a waning of interest, I try to find some music that sparks that motivation again. Sometimes the concepts are hard and difficult to overcome and I find new ways to give time to soak in. I've noticed with group lessons that they give the student interaction with other of similar interest and provides built-in motivation.

iPad apps that I love! 

My Favorite Music Apps! That I use repeatedly!!!! All these are apps for iPad only. There is very little apps for Android or Kindle.

PIANO MAESTRO by Joy Tunes- It is the ultimate app for playing! It has a series of chapters that gradually add a note but they are songs and not random notes. It has a library of over 400 songs and new ones added each week. It has several piano method books so a student can play-along on songs they have learned, fully orchestrated. It has a Home Challenge button where the teacher can add songs to the student's iPad to work on home. When the student is registered with the teacher, the teacher receives a weekly report on how much the student has played and what songs they worked on the most! The students LOVE this app! You can play the songs on your piano or keyboard (which everyone prefers) or on the screen if not near your piano (so students can practice anywhere!).  Works on iPad only. Just email me for a PDF how to download this app for FREE!

Noteworks - notes slide across the staff and the player chooses the correct letter before it gets burned! If they get it correct, Munchy eats the note. It is a game that kind of reminds you of Angry Birds. They have a free version which works for a beginner but to unlock the other levels you will have to purchase it. Works on iPhone, iPod, and iPad.

MyNoteGames - very rewarding and "smart" app! The app recognizes pitches. It displays a note on the staff, you can play or sing it. If you play or sing the note correctly, it "rewards" you with a gold medal! Instant reward and satisfaction! The students light up when they receive a gold medal!

Flashnote Derby - is a racing game against time to answer notes correctly.  I like it because you can choose which notes need more help practicing. You can choose two notes to work on or twenty notes. Works on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.

PianoFlash! - music note cards. Twenty flashcards are presented. You play the correct key. It is timed. I use it for our One Minute Club. 5 Levels. Only works on iPad.

Erol Singer's Studio - Voice Lessons. It has warm-ups, and pitch training (how accurate is your pitch?). Works on iPhone, iPod touch and iPad.

ENJOY!
 

PRACTICE!!! 

 I heard this quote from the movie "Playing Father." He was a professional trumpeter who turned to teaching. He told his band students "Live to practice. Practice to live!" Such a good motto! If you want to be good at something, then you have to invest time, money, and energy toward it. With piano, you have to do the same. Music is a gift from God. It is a little taste of heaven here on earth. Not many things here on earth we get to enjoy or take with us, but music is one of the few. With sports, your body wears out at some point, and you can't enjoy it or enjoy it to its fullest as when you are young. But with music, it is a gift you can enjoy for a lifetime. It has it many benefits: therapy, stress reliever, worshipful shared and engaging. I have had students as old as 81 years old. 

Practice can be fun! It just depends on your attitude and the way you spend your time. In order to have success, you must practice a minimum of 5 days a week for 30 minutes. With younger students ages 5-7, you can break it up to 15 minutes twice a day or three 10 minutes intervals. If you practice more, you progress faster. If you do any less, you probably will progress at a slow pace or not progress at all. 95% of success in piano is in the practicing!! If you take an hour lesson, you will need to practice an hour daily. You need to have good tools: good piano, pencil, metronome or metronome app, book bag, practice notebook, flashcards, and timer/clock.

Good practice routine: warm-up (Finger Power book or Technique & Artistry book, scales), lesson book, performance book, special piece, theory book (workbook or worksheets), and flashcards or computer games. Then write down your practice time on your assignment sheet.

How to practice a song....
There are many ways to practice a song. Here are a few suggestions. Note the time signature, key signature, look for familiar patterns or phrases, and notice any changes or accidentals. Try to sight-read the piece to get an idea of the overall picture. You can practice difficult spots or lines by playing hands separately. Problem areas isolate them out and play them VERY SLOWLY and repeat and gradually get the area faster. If you can play three times in a row correctly, you probably fixed the problem area. Then play a little before it and a little after it to see if you have the continuity. Practice the song backwards by playing the last line first, then the next to last line, etc.  Don't learn a long piece in one sitting. Learn the first section and then another section that is similar. Practice the hardest section first. Parents: if you keep hearing pauses in the music or wrong notes, the child needs to stop and work on that section. If they consistently continue to make the same mistake each time, they are just reinforcing that mistake and creating a habit! It is very difficult to relearn a problem area correctly. Repetition is key!  It is better to practice a little each day, than to cram it all in one sitting. A little practice is better than no practice. 

Reward yourself...after a good practice play a past favorite! It is always rewarding to return to piece earlier done to see how easy they are and notice how far you have progressed.

If you can't commit to practicing, you are wasting your money on lessons. Music is very sequential and has building blocks. We must get the basics down well or later it will cause much difficulty and frustration. The ultimate goal is to be an independent pianist/music reader without the help of a teacher. So that you can enjoy the gift for a lifetime. My goal is for all my students to be very musical literate! "Practice, which some regard as a chore, should be approached as just about the most pleasant recreation ever devised." - Babe Didrikson Zaharias
"You play the way you practice." - Pop Warner

 

Piano versus Keyboard 

I am asked often from a parent about the feasibility of their child just practicing on a keyboard instead of a piano. This is a tough question that has many pros and cons. My ultimate preference is an acoustical piano in good condition! As the student will find out after they have taken lessons for a short period of time, that their preference would be a piano as well. Not having anything to practice on, is NOT an option! You can't play football without a ball so why would you consider piano lessons without a piano? Also consider buying a well made instrument. A used piano with some non-working keys will be a major problem. You are setting your child up for difficulty or failure if you do not provide a quality instrument. Those students who have better instruments are more successful and enjoy it more....too......I think parents expect more because they have invested more and it becomes a win-win situation for all involved!

Keyboard Advantages:
Never have to be tuned
Portable
Volume control
Earphones
Many sounds
Many can transpose the key with the push of a button
Cost cheaper than a new piano
Good brands - My favorite keyboard is the Kawaii digital from Broussard's. Other acceptable keyboards: Yamaha, Clavinova at least $500. Any keyboard under this price is not acceptable because it will not have "weighted touch" or full size keys.
Stores to consider buying from: Broussard's Piano Gallery in Mobile, Andy's Music in Mobile, Guitar Center, and Best Buy.

Keyboard Disadvantages:
Many do not have weighted touch. Even those with weighted keys, feel different than the piano and are lighter touch or a clicking feel than the piano. Those keyboards that don't have weighted touch cannot produce loud and soft sounds by pressing the key harder or softer and cannot play smooth or detached sounds. We are training muscles in each individual finger and need that resistance. There are very few activities that use each individual finger instead most activities use the entire hand. Fingers 4 and 5 are very weak compared to fingers 1,2, & 3. 
Many do not have full size keys or a complete set of 88 keys like the piano.
Many are complicated to use.
Many keyboards have an inferior pedal (square pad) that slides around the floor. (Remedy: buy a full size pedal for around $25)
Many do not have a good bench to sit at the proper height.
Those students who have a keyboard rarely use the other sounds. They find playing my piano difficult because their muscles are not developed enough in their hands and the weaknesses are magnified when they play a piano. Their reaction time is different than what they are used to on the keyboard.
Note: I am particularly impressed with the Kawaii digital keyboard because of the "feel" and neat technology.  They use wood in the keys and soundboard to give it an "authentic" sound and feel!

Many parents ask this question about using a keyboard because of the amount of money to invest in a good piano, lack of space in their home and don't want to invest in a lot of money and then the child decides to quit taking piano lessons.  All of these are valid reasons to consider but most can be worked out with a little effort. There are many used pianos for sale in the newspaper and swap shop and Craig's List for very little money. A friend may have a piano not being used that would let you borrow it for a while. Broussard's in Mobile has a rental program that is very reasonable. The lack of space usually can be worked around if you really want to make this happen for your child. Many churches don't mind their congregation to practice on the piano - just takes a little more effort to set aside time to go there to practice/not as convenient. A good used piano will cost you a minimum of $1000. New pianos range from around $2000 to $100,000 (for a Steinway concert grand.) If buying a used piano, it would be worth your time and money to have a piano tuner/technician look at it to see if it worth the investment and to check for any problems. I am not an expert but knowledgeable enough to tell you myself. Some brands to consider Yamaha (my personal favorite), Kawaii and the Steinway Brands. Another expense is yearly tuning of the piano by a piano tuner. Cost $75-100. Tuning is important to keep the piano in its best condition and to maintain it well for a longer lifespan. Another tip: keep the piano in an even temperature and even moisture level area. It is best not to place the piano on an outside wall if possible. You have to look at purchasing a piano as an investment. Also, a word of advice - the piano and the television don't work well in the same room. Most children have to practice in the evenings and that is when dad wants to sit down, relax and watch a little television; therefore, the child cannot practice or has to practice as soon as they arrive home from school. So the family will have to work out a schedule that works best for all of the family. If the child cannot commit to 30 minutes a day to practice nor has nothing to practice on, I suggest you NOT commit to lessons because it will be a waste of your money and time. If you buy something inferior as well, you are setting the child up for a difficult process and probable failure. So consider renting - at least for the start. 
Other excellent articles and resources, please see - http://www.ptg.org/scripts/4disapi.dll/4DCGI/cms/review.html
http://www.jmlpiano.com/info/facts-about-piano-lessons-what-instrument-should-i-start-with/

On my Freebie web page, see Keyboard PDF