Practice Guide for Parents

Dear parents,

I get a lot of things land in my inbox that claim to he helpful for parents of piano students. I won’t bore you with all of them. However this week, this popped up from Teach Piano Today. I have to say it’s really useful and I can happily say I agree with all the points.

I know some of you work really effectively with your children. They are well prepared for their lesson, excited to show me their new skills and eager to move on. When they are not prepared they don’t enjoy their lessons as much, they creep out of their classroom with apologies and the atmosphere of the lesson is totally different. When this continues over a couple of weeks they get demotivated, they won’t make progress and they won’t enjoy piano.

During the lessons we work really hard, make good progress and have fun. Without effective practice at home, this is really difficult.

Perhaps you didn’t realise how important you are. Maybe you think because you can’t play the piano you can’t help your child. Well you definitely can. Take a look at this poster that gives some good advice for piano parents.

In particular these phrases jumped out at me

“Sit down with your child immediately after the piano lesson. Ask him/her to show you the teacher notes, demo the newest material, and tell you what was covered in the lesson.”

This is really important. The evening of the piano lesson is the best time to do the first practice of the week. Your child will still remember what we did in the lesson, how the songs sound and the rules of the games or actions. If you wait too long, they will have forgotten the detail. Of course with DoReMi Piano you can always pop along to the audio resources section of the site to listen to the songs if you can’t quite remember them.

“Establish a realistic and predictable practice time that can happen easily every single day… regardless of other family activities”

Everyone’s daily schedule is different so I can’t say when it’s best to practise. In my house, after breakfast but before school is our instrument practice time. Sometimes practising isn’t possible because we forgot to do something for school, or we’re just a bit behind. However, on those days we get a second chance after school. Some days we don’t manage it, but if we aim for every day, succeeding four or five times a week is still excellent.

“Give your undivided attention.”

Gosh, I’m not very good at this with my boys. My eldest is past the beginner stage now and can quite happily get on with his practice without my supervision. Although I still listen out, and jog his memory when he’s playing his favourite piece and neglecting the others! My youngest is not so self sufficient. He will go and bash out something he thinks is quite adequate, but really the teacher wants him to work on more than just banging the right keys in sort of the right time. I sit with him and almost give him a mini lesson as we work our way through the activities for the week and chat about whether he thinks he has made any improvements in relation to that week’s objectives. I’m so busy in the mornings getting everything ready for school that sometimes I just let him bash the keys. However, I know that each time he bashes, it’s not much better than not bothering to practise at all. Bad habits are harder to get rid of.

“Inform yourself of the basic skills you will need to help your child at home. By following along with your child as they learn, you too can gain the knowledge you may need to assist with practice”

Learn with your child. Get them to teach you! And email me if you have ANY questions about the homework, or whether you’re doing it right. I will always be happy to answer.

There are more ideas on the poster. Take a look, and welcome to the world of piano parenting!!

Parents’ Practice Guide

Group Lessons with DoReMi Piano by Jeni Warder

Black CrowI love my job. As an ex-primary teacher, I’m motivated most by seeing children having fun, whilst discovering new things. When I left school teaching and began piano teaching 2 years ago, I never imagined I could end up being even more creative than I was in my classroom.

When I became a member of The Curious Piano Teachers last summer, the community and training focused me on improving my practice, challenged my creativity, and really began a snowball of self-evaluation. This led to lessons becoming more varied and child-centred, with more learning taking place away from the piano in practical activities and games. However, the more I have endeavored to make learning purposeful, musical and enjoyable, the less satisfied I have become with traditional tutor books. They seem to be at once limiting and intimidating, with musical value compromised but musical skills (such as time keeping and hearing pitch) assumed to be present from the start. I then discovered Helen’s DoReMi Piano! In this book, the structure and resources are there, but it allows me to be creative both at and away from the piano, and provides me with lots of support through the teacher book. It also follows the principle of ‘sound before symbol’, which I am becoming ever more keen to follow. I should say here, however, that I have no Kodaly training. I understand the basic principles, and would love to know more.

As I suggested earlier, I have been finding quite a few gaps in musical awareness at beginner level, so in January this year I took this matter in hand and set up my first pre-piano beginner group. I contacted three year 1 children from my waiting list and invited them to come along for half an hour a week of fun! (When I say fun, I actually mean aural training, keyboard geography and basic theory, but they don’t realise that!) We sing, play games, listen to music and really do all the things from the very beginning stages of Sing and Play. After Easter, and a lesson arranging Easter egg pictures to represent high and low notes in a song, I decided they were ready to start looking at notation and the first few pieces from the book.

image2One of my most popular activities with all my young students is walking the ‘floor stave’. (A metre of felt-backed pvc table protector fabric from Dunelm Mill which I cut into five 5cm-wide strips. When using it as a complete stave I use black rope to create the right clef.) I thought this would be a great resource to use for the pre-piano group’s first introduction to notation, except, of course, we would only need two of the lines. As we were working on ‘High low, Black Crow’, I thought I’d use an appropriate picture to represent the sounds on the floor stave, so I created a note head shape with a bird picture in the centre. (I’ve shared these as a resource just I case you’re ever after some quick crow notes!) After listening to the song, counting the high notes and low notes, how many times I sang the word “low” etc, and then singing it themselves, the children then took it in turns to place a crow on the right line to represent the movement of the song. Of course, when I then presented them with the sheet music they were keen to get on the piano as they understood exactly how it worked. I simply had to point out which note to use for high, and for low. (We have also talked about how line-line uses next-door-but-one notes as it ‘skips’ the one who lives in the space, we will talk more about this using the floor stave soon.)

In the lesson following, the children all performed the song confidently on the piano. No two children used the same fingers/hand/position and there was obviously a huge lack of technique, but that’s not what they were learning. Instead, I’m thrilled that they understand how the sound relates to the dots on the page, and that they are being creative in their communication of this. The children also went on to use sticky foam circles on two lines to compose and perform their own pieces in the same way.

image1We won’t be rushing on to the next piece, as I’m happy (and they’re happy) taking time to explore all the new concepts I am introducing. When we do start to ‘Bounce like a clown’ however, there will be some clown notes appearing….(and I’ve shared those with you too)!

Huge thanks to Helen Russell for her inspiration and skill, and also for allowing me to share this with you.

Download Crow Images as pdf
Download Clown Images as pdf

[Jeni used the original edition of DoReMi Piano which came with a single-teacher studio license. This allowed her to print individual pages of the book for her students. This edition has now been replaced with Sing and Play which also has the option of a single-teacher studio license]

Three Time with the Three Little Pigs

PigI was working on three-time or triple time with two brothers this morning and I thought I’d share some of our activities. The boys, Dylan and Thomas, are nine and seven years old and have completed Dippy Skips. Thomas is working through June Armstrong’s Toy Box and is about to play Sail Boat. I want him to have a really good sense of three beats in a bar before I show him the piece.Sail Boat

Pulse First I sang a song familiar to them, Bells in the Steeple from Dippy Skips. I asked the boys to show me the pulse softly on their laps while I sang. Once I’d sung a few times they took it in turns to sing or tap the pulse. Both boys achieved this easily. Remember, they already know the song.

I offered them one of two pulse strips which I’d printed and laminated. One was hearts and one was pigs! They both chose the “three little pigs”! I didn’t mention the significance of the three, and they didn’t comment. They took it in turns to tap the pigs while they sang Bells In The Steeple. The first time Thomas tapped, he paused on the dotted minim. I didn’t comment but he did it again but this time correctly. I was just deciding whether to comment or leave it and he looked at me puzzled. “I ended up on different pigs the second time!”. “I know why!” exclaimed his brother. “Ok, I said, hold that thought while we see if Thomas can spot what happened.” I showed him two different ways of tapping, one was correct and one was incorrect. Thomas knew immediately which was correct and explained that he hadn’t kept the pulse going on the held note.

Rhythm They each took it in turns to sing another song, Lavender’s Blue, and clap the rhythm. This time Dylan, clearly determined to show that he can keep the pulse through the high notes, managed a lovely rhythm-pulse combo! It was clear from his face that he realised his mistake and insisted on getting another turn. By the time Thomas came to do it, he had seen his brother do it a couple of times. He confidently clapped it perfectly with a beaming smile.

Writing Rhythm Using a couple of “Three Little Pigs” strips each, they used building blocks to record the rhythm of the first two lines of the song. We then clapped and said the rhythm names. Dylan and I also clapped in canon, something Thomas was reluctant to do, but I did insist he watch and decide if we had performed it correctly.

Still no mention of three beats in a bar but both boys were proving they had the feel for the metre through their performances.Three Time Pigs and Blocks

Rhythm Memory I created a new three beat rhythm, ta titi ta, with blocks on my heart strip and we all clapped it. I gave it some fun words. I explained that the rhythm had the words “Three Little Pigs”. The boys closed their eyes and I changed one of the beats so it became titi titi taI challenged them to record both rhythms on their strips and they came up with their own words for the second line.

Creating Rhythm Each boy then altered their rhythms to create something of their own, with their own rather interesting words! We played around for a while with activities to nurture their creativity and memory. Dylan even asked if he could march the pulse, clap an ostinato and say his rhyme. I watched carefully to see if he created a three beat ostinato. He didn’t, and was quite puzzled. It was time to point out how many pigs we had!

The Big Reveal Dylan realised straight away that there were three beats in each bar or line. Thomas wasn’t so sure. He was confused by the question, he thought I meant how many sounds per pig. Not unreasonable since we’d been focussing on rhythm. My fault entirely! I explained more clearly, giving examples of songs in two time and four time. Then chanted his Three Little Pigs rhyme and tapped the pigs. That was it, he realised it was three.

Practise We then sang as many songs, rhymes and patterns as we could think of while clap-clicking in threes. Clap click click Clap click click. I asked them to clap and click while I played Sail Boat. We will repeat some of these activities next week. By the time we look at Sail Boat in our lesson, Thomas will not only have a really good grasp of the feeling of three-time, he will also have heard the piece several times.

Solfa This session was all about the rhythm but Sail Boat has many patterns that are ideal for singing in solfa. There are repeating s-m-s, m-s-m, f-r-f, r-f-r It does go down to low la, and ti, near the end but otherwise stays within the do pentachord. If we do some work on these motives over the next few weeks then Thomas will find Sail Boat familiar and achievable.

Click Three Time Hearts and Pigs to download the pig and heart pulse strips. They can be cut into two strips or left as a two line page.