How much practice time is required?
It depends on the age and advancement of the student. Beginners ages 4-7 can get by with 20-30 minutes per day, provided that the parent is in charge and very organized. As the student advances and grows in maturity and focus, the time lengthens. Students should try to practice a minimum of five days per week, not counting lesson day. In a period of extra-heavy schedules (for example, during final exams or when relatives come to visit), it is always preferable to do a short practice every day—even 10 minutes—rather than one or two long/regular sessions per week. Fingers and brains get spongy after a day or two of disuse and the more days we skip, the harder it is to motivate ourselves to sit on the bench.
What if a child doesn’t like to practice?
You can count on that. Almost no one—including most professional musicians I have known—likes to practice. Practice is very hard work. What child likes hard work? On the other hand, playing the piano—the natural result of having done the practice and accomplished a skill—is fulfilling, fun and sometimes exhilarating. You can help your child’s motivation level by making sure that each day’s practice includes a heavy dose of practice topped off with some wonderful playing of some pieces the student has mastered and enjoys. That makes it easier to face the task the next day.
What if a child doesn’t want to learn an instrument?
This is the parent’s decision, not the child’s. In the early years, nearly all children want to quit lessons as soon as the assignments become work. It’s generally not the piano the child dislikes, it’s the work, although the child might not be able to discern that. So from the outset, the parent will do well to clarify for himself how important he believes music instruction to be, and whether that instruction is a required component of a quality education in his home. Then he acts accordingly. We don’t give kids a choice about whether they will learn math, although we do attempt to make it as palatable as possible.
Instrumental study with an excellent teacher will grow the child’s character, focus, management skills, poise, frustration management and about 100 other qualities and life skills. In addition, it will build thousands of additional synapses in the brain which aid in language and math acquisition. For these reasons, many parents feel that the decision to require piano study has little to do with whether the child enjoys music. However, if you provide your child with 5-10 years of high quality instruction and you help him make good progress, he will enjoy music, because people generally enjoy doing the activities at which they excel. By the time the student is in his mid-teens, he will be in a good position to make an informed decision about whether he wishes to continue to commit time to music study. Meanwhile, you can be confident that you did your job as his parent.
Are there opportunities for performance?
Yes. Yearly performing opportunities are as follows.
- Play for classmates at monthly class lessons; master class setting.
- 1-3 small, informal recital gatherings in teacher’s studio with parents present.
- One all-studio spring recital; generally at a church or other public venue.
Do students participate in exams or assessments?
Yes. However, I am not yet familiar with the Maryland state testing system, if there is one. Until I feel comfortable with the requirements of any Maryland exam, I will teach from the California syllabus and standards. They are rigorous and thorough. Another possible resource for us may be enrollment in the National Piano Guild annual exams.
Do students participate in competitions?
Again, I haven’t yet learned about local opportunities or their requirements. However, I will say that I am not in favor of placing students in competitions until they reach high school age and play advanced music very competently. If you want to discuss this idea further, please call.
Must every student play in recitals?
It is important for both extroverts and introverts to learn to play in front of others. It’s part of learning to play; it’s one of the most profound ways in which the student matures; and it gives him a valuable and genuine means of blessing others with his gifts. If a student has suffered a traumatic performance in the past, please bring that to my attention. We may need to ease him into public playing with extra care. And I sometimes allow adult students (over age 18) to skip recitals. ☺ I can promise you that with proper preparation, terrible experiences are completely avoidable. I have never yet encountered a student of any temperament who could not perform successfully and confidently, provided that he followed my instructions.
Is memorization required?
That is the goal. Students who are Suzuki-trained do not struggle with memorization. Other students may have to learn some new techniques in order to memorize comfortably. But with good coaching and adequate preparation, anyone can memorize.
Is the study of sight-reading required?
Yes. It’s impossible to be a literate musician without being able to read the written language. If you’ve struggled with reading in the past, please allow me to show you a new way to learn to read. My students are actually known for their excellence in sight reading.
Is the study of music theory required?
Yes. ☺ Theory is the academic study and analysis of music fundamentals: pitch, rhythm, harmony and form. As with sight-reading, it is impossible to be a literate, well-educated musician without a good grasp of theory. Besides, the more theory you understand, the faster and easier you will learn new pieces. I do understand that because theory is the “grammar and composition” of music and involves pencil and paper assignments, many students dislike it and resist doing it. I will make it as painless as possible, but it’s not work-free. Depending on your level of advancement, please plan to invest 15-45 minutes per week on your theory assignment in addition to your daily at-the-piano practice.
Will the teacher travel to the student’s home?
Most established teachers don’t travel, for a number of reasons.
- Every piano feels and plays different from every other piano. Because a pianist can’t carry his instrument with him in a case as other musicians do, a pianist must learn the skill of instantaneous adaption to whatever piano is placed in front of him. Otherwise, he is likely to be thrown off guard in performing situations. Going to the teacher’s house gives the student weekly practice in adaptation.
- The teacher’s piano is often—not always—a better quality instrument than the student’s practice instrument, which gives the student opportunity to experience a higher level of control and better technique than he has at home.
- Students tend to be much more business-like at the teacher’s house and they work harder there.
- The teacher has her entire library and all her visual aids and teaching equipment in her studio.
- A high-quality, established teacher will likely have a full schedule of students. She wants to maximize her earning potential by using her time to teach, not to drive.
Why does a parent have to attend the child’s lesson?
How many times do we leave an important doctor appointment only to realize that we remember only half of what the doctor said? During the piano lesson, a huge amount of valuable information is flying through the air and the student can’t possibly capture all of it by himself. Someone needs to take notes. If the student writes the notes, he is wasting valuable minutes during which he could be working with the teacher. If the teacher writes the notes, she is wasting valuable minutes during which she could be helping him solve a problem or teaching him another concept. When the parent takes the notes, she not only writes down the assignment, but she also takes note of how each exercise and piece should be practiced. Then when questions arise at home, parent and child consult the lesson notes.
Why does a parent have to supervise the child’s practice?
The parent’s participation greatly accelerates the student’s rate of progress and greatly diminishes his frustration level, decreasing stress and increasing harmony in the home. The traditional American model has been to drop off the child for the weekly lesson and then on other days, to tell the child to “go practice”—with no accountability, no adult direction and no help. Kids are kids. They’re not mature enough to work hard enough to make this system succeed. Consider this: What percentage of the American adult population took piano lessons as children? And what percentage of American adults can play? I prefer a system based on a Japanese model. The parent attends the lessons, takes notes and then supervises the practice time at home. The difference in the results is astonishing—5% success vs. 99% success. No comparison.
Is it necessary for the lesson-attending parent and the home-practice parent to be the same person?
All families have the occasional hiccup in schedule when one parent has to pinch hit for the other, but it should be the exception. Part of the lesson is spent helping the parent know how to work with the child on that week’s assignment. The home teacher needs to see for herself how each exercise is performed and sometimes, she will even try the exercise herself under the teacher’s supervision. The home teacher should attend the lesson every week, except in extreme emergencies. The other parent and other relatives are always welcome in studio to observe the lesson.
At what age does a student no longer bring his parent to lesson?
When your child is mature enough to manage his own school work well and when he has proven over a period of two years or more that he is capable and willing to practice piano correctly and effectively, you will be able to turn the job over to him—often during the middle school years. However, some parents prefer to stay involved—at least by taking notes at the lesson—through the student’s high school years.
May siblings attend the lesson?
Absolutely! But bring homework or other quiet activities for them to do. They must be instructed not to cause a distraction to the parent, whose primary responsibility is to the working child. I have a table and stools for very young visitors and adult-sized folding chairs and tray tables for older visitors.
What curriculum is used for beginners?
For young beginners, it is my opinion that the Suzuki Method is by far the finest approach available, because it is developmentally appropriate for young aural learners and because it develops young players into sensitive, artistic players who enjoy playing and who memorize and perform easily and comfortably. I am certified by the Suzuki Assn. of the Americas and have considerable experience, not just in using its materials but also in applying its many teaching principles. If you are unfamiliar with Suzuki, you might find it to be quite different from approaches you have used in the past. Ask me if you need more information or do your own Internet search to educate yourself.
What curriculum is used for older beginners (ages 8+) and transfer students?
For older beginners, I use Suzuki materials and principles along with additional supplemental materials. Transfer students who already play will remain in their current materials until we can assess their needs. All students age 6 and up who can play will have weekly instruction in the following subjects.
- Literature (pieces to play)
- Technique (learning ergonomic use of muscles to increase control and avoid injury)
- Sight-reading (reading notation to a level of comfort and fluency)
- Theory (the “grammar and composition” of music structure; pencil and paper assignments.)
- Ear Training (to gain aural fluency)
What makes the Suzuki Method different from “traditional” methods?
That is a topic too large for this forum, but in the hands of a skillful Suzuki coach, students do tend to achieve superior results. The means for achieving those results include the following.
- Begin as early as possible
- Build a three-way partnership (teacher, parent as home teacher, student)
- Listen daily to a recording of the student’s pieces (as background music or in the car)
- Move in small, incremental steps (student spends more time playing well than struggling)
- Review previous pieces every day for muscle-memory, mastery and confidence
- Participate in group lessons to learn from others and be inspired by others
- Foster cooperation and confidence-building, rather than competitiveness
- Focus on the well-being of the whole child, not just the child musician
Are there opportunities for ensemble playing or group interaction?
Yes. In addition to private lessons, every student takes a monthly class lesson with one or more other students of similar age and ability. In past years, the class lesson has been most students’ favorite part of piano study. It was often the motivator that kept them coming, even after they wanted to quit. Class lessons give opportunities for achieving the following benefits.
- Theory- and musicianship-based games
- Exploration of musical concepts not possible in a private lesson setting
- For young children, music through movement such as Dalcroze Eurhythmics
- Master-class setting—performing for others in a small, safe environment
- For students who play, ensemble work (duets, trios, quartets, chamber music)
- Learning to follow a conductor/director
- Learning to be aware of and in sync with the sounds of others
- Improvisation and creativity in a safe environment
- Additional motivation for practice; students don’t want to let down their partners
Most class lessons will be scheduled for Monday afternoons, approximately once a month. However, I try to work with each family’s unique schedule. Please bear in mind that when you enroll in lessons, you are committing to your child’s ensemble partner(s) that your child will finish the year.
Are parents provided with feedback?
Students below middle school age will have their parents here with them. Those parents will have a very good idea how their students are progressing, because we will talk every week. For parents of teens, I will provide periodic progress reports or parent conferences. Very few students—even teens—have the necessary self-discipline to practice well and regularly without some accountability to the parent. That’s the reason that schools send home report cards. Parents, your student’s success and harmony in your home depend on your interest and involvement. Please don’t abandon your responsibility. Feel free to call or e-mail anytime you have questions or are struggling. I am available to help you.
Is it OK if the student practices on an electronic keyboard?
Even on the most expensive keyboards, the keys do not respond the same way that acoustic piano keys do. On less expensive keyboards, there are additional issues with the sustain pedal and with volume control. While the student can learn to play tunes by punching keys on a keyboard, he will likely never develop the strength, dexterity and coordination necessary to tackle harder pieces, which means that learning on a keyboard places a glass ceiling on the student’s ability to progress. It’s like learning to play baseball by using a plastic bat and a Nerf ball. The player will learn a great deal about the game, but if he ever encounters a real wooden bat in a real game, he won’t have the muscle power to be able to compete with the others. If you absolutely cannot afford a piano at this time, let’s talk.
If the student’s family doesn’t have a piano, is it OK to practice at a relative’s or neighbor’s house?
Only you can determine whether your relationship with the relative/neighbor is so close that he truly won’t mind that you’re in his house absolutely every day to practice and that he’ll cooperate by eliminating distractions while you’re there working. I’ve never seen an arrangement like this that worked very well, but there could be a first time.
Is it possible to enroll sometime other than August/September?
Yes, but choice of lesson slots will be limited. Tuition will be prorated for the remainder of that school year. Placement in a class/ensemble may not be possible until the following September.
Are there any perks for homeschoolers?
Yes! Students who come during the traditional school day and complete their weekly lessons by 2:30 PM will receive a 10% discount. Please tell your homeschooling friends and any adults you know who might be interested in piano study.
Is there an age at which it is too late to begin lessons?
No, in the sense that any motivated person can learn any body of information in which he has interest and to which he applies himself. However, there are some benefits of early piano training which unfortunately are lost on older beginners.
- Muscle pliability and brain-to-muscle coordination decrease as we age. Think about trying to start gymnastics training for the first time at age 40.
- The best ear-training window is from ages 4-7, which is the reason that it is difficult to sound like a native speaker of any language learned after age 6 or 7. The ear just isn’t as good after that. This is not a reason not to try. It’s just that the best chance for fluency—in language or in music—comes if the student begins well before age 7.
- Neuroscience tells us that the brain is most pliable and plastic during childhood. Playing one of the big trifecta of instruments (piano, violin, cello and I would add classical guitar to that list) daily for several years in childhood builds thousands of additional synapses in the brain which aid in language and math acquisition. Obviously, these benefits are lost on adults.
But if you’re an adult who always wanted to play, you can still derive much pleasure from doing the parts of piano study which are accessible to you. Don’t let the whiz-bang little kids discourage you. ☺
Where can I get more information about the Suzuki Method?
Start with the Suzuki Association of the Americas web site and/or do an Internet search of the term “Suzuki Method.” There’s lots of good information out there. Ask for reading suggestions. Watch the 1990’s video “Nurtured by Love.” It’s outdated, but gives an excellent synopsis of Dr. Suzuki’s ideas and achievements along with inspiring footage of young students playing very well.