Readers' Questions and Answers About Pedagogy

Welcome to my Q&A for piano pedagogy. I hope you'll find an answer here - - perhaps even the answer to a question you didn't know you had!

Read through list of questions before you e-mail me with a question, please. I receive a lot of the same things over and over, and because of my RSI I really want to save keystrokes and avoid answering the same questions again and again! Therefore, please read first to see if there's an answer to your question. E-mail me if you have a question I have not answered, or if you need clarification. This way I can answer more questions before my hands refuse to type!

As these questions are answered in order of receipt, there may be other answers that are germane to your question. Please check list of previous and following questions, as most of the time I have not cross-referenced one answer to another. For example, there are numerous questions/answers about method series; please read all of them before e-mailing me. (Use the "Find" feature in your browser, usually found under "Edit," to search on keywords in this QA file.)

Please also consult my pedagogy home page, as the answer might already be on my site. Thanks for your understanding about my RSI!

And finally: Please put something in the subject line of your e-mail. My filters are set so that e-mails with blank subject lines are automatically deleted.

Question 1 Parents refuse to replace electronic keyboard with a piano.
Question 2 Problem with method book and preponderance of block-chord LH parts.
Question 3 Social friction caused by piano study between students who are best friends.
Question 4 Transfer student not fluent in note-reading.
Question 5 Beginning teacher without theory and pedagogy training and no college degree.
Question 6 Mother with caustic tongue puts down student at lesson.
Question 7 What to do at lesson when student has not practiced much (or at all) during the week.
Question 8 Adult beginner progressing slowly.
Question 9 Good graduate-level piano pedagogy schools in Canada.
Question 10 Effectiveness of group piano instruction.
Question 11 Danger in thinking "C position" or "G position" instead of reading notes.
Question 12 When to introduce minors keys.
Question 13 New adult student with some reading proficiency in treble clef but none in bass clef.
Question 14 How to set the metronome.
Question 15 College student wants to teach beginners; recommended method books for beginners; and how to create own method series.
Question 16 Saying goodbye to internship students.
Question 17 Un-degreed pianist wants to teach beginners; and recommended method books for beginners.
Question 18 Starting an adult student who reads only treble clef; and recommended method books for adults.
Question 19 When to introduce minor keys.
Question 20 Teaching big leaps.
Question 21 Comparing and contrasting four main types of method series.
Question 22 Clementi's Gradus ad Parnassum.
Question 23 Particulars of writing for harpsichord.
Question 24 Devising lesson plans ahead of time.
Question 25 Student has problem with concept and practice of location-specific notation.
Question 26 Copyrighting a composition.
Question 27 Master's degree teacher in another field wonders what might substitute for bachelor's degree in music, preparatory to teaching.
Question 28 How much university job pays and whether a doctorate is necessary.
Question 29 Creative ways to teach children.
Question 30 "How good" it is necessary to be in order to teach piano.
Question 31 Teaching legato, staccato, portato, and finger pedaling.
Question 32 Suggested Method Book for 14-year-old beginner with some experience.
Question 33 Preparation for teaching music in Early Childhood Education program.
Question 34 Transfer student can't read.
Question 35 Students don't hold half-notes for two counts.
Question 36 Structuring parent conferences.
Question 37 Child student "just doesn't get it" when it comes to the basic concepts of notereading.
Question 38 Child student habitually mistakes B for D and vice versa (in Middle C position).
Question 39 Effectiveness of one-day adult seminars given at community centers and similar places.
Question 40 Ear training for beginners.
Question 41 Definition of and tempo for a dompe.
Question 42 Father and son learning together.
Question 43 Better employability after attaining a master's degree. Secure income as a private teacher.
Question 44 Suggestions for teaching left-handed beginner child who plays by ear.
Question 45 Suggestions for literature and activities for holding attention of 14-year-old student at early-intermediate level.
Question 46 More on group sessions ("workshops").
Question 47 Starting a piano club for students.
Question 48 Student with ADD.
Question 49 Student with collapsing finger joints.
Question 50 More on playing by hand position.
Question 51 Changing students from "hand position" methods to note-reading.
Question 52 Excellent student's parents divorce and progress nose-dives.
Question 53 Child student resists playing slow songs.
Question 54 Sources for tunes for arranging for beginners.
Question 55 When a student arrives at the lesson agitated.
Question 56 Student moves entire arm with each note played.
Question 57 Asking parents to buy a book that has only a few songs the student will actually study.
Question 58 Student does not observe rests.
Question 59 The "20% fun" time allotment at the lesson.
Question 60 Teaching accidentals.
Question 61 Student unable to associate number with specific finger.
Question 62 A piece brought to the lesson, which an advanced student wishes to play, is not in teacher's repertoire.
Question 63 How some teachers are able to instruct the student to "learn and memorize this by next week".
Question 64 How to teach students to polish a piece.
Question 65 Suitable pieces for medium-to-advanced intermediate student.
Question 66 Distractible beginner who does not understand the concept behind notereading.
Question 67 Teacher at private elementary school attempting to teach all students keyboard skills.
Question 68 Practice time sheets.
Question 69 Whether an inexperienced and non-degreed pianist can teach beginners.
Question 70 Husband belittles wife's job as a piano teacher.
Question 71 Readiness for eighth-notes. What to teach a two-year-old.
Question 72 Getting students to "practice" with the teacher at the lesson.
Question 73 Filling a few minutes at the end of the lesson when there's not enough time to start something new.
Question 74 Which method series is best. How to "rate" teaching methods.
Question 75 Teaching a transfer student who plays by ear and doesn't read bass clef.
Question 76 Eleven-year-old with great talent wants to quit lessons.
Question 77 Selecting literature to meet competition requirements.
Question 78 Creating "worksheets" for students to do while teacher is on medical leave.
Question 79 College-bound student does not read notes well.
Question 80 Giving good value during the lesson when a student comes in with his tailfeathers dragging.
Question 81 Student wants to add ritards at ends of phrases.
Question 82 Teacher, without degree, takes first student.
Question 83 Students do not want to take repeats.
Question 84 Game to induce students not to drop wrists.
Question 85 When to introduce barlines and time signatures.
Question 86 Introducing a young teen to composition.
Question 87 Four-year-old now seems bored at lesson after starting piano study with such excellence.
Question 88 Student has arthritis.
Question 89 Teen boy suddenly starts missing octaves.
Question 90 Student suddenly develops memory problems.
Question 91 15-year-old student wants to take first student.
Question 92 Beginner has trouble curving fingers; is raising shoulders, also.
Question 93 Beginner attempts to divert teacher's attention to composition and ear-playing to hide the fact that she can't read notes well.
Question 94 Reading duets scores. When to teach beginners artistic playing in duets.
Question 95 Accompanying skills.
Question 96 Teacher senses adult student is quite frustrated (at the lesson) with errors in her playing.
Question 97 Students arrives without books.
Question 98 Student has not practiced during the week.
Question 99 How to teach sight-reading; the goal of sight-reading.
Question 100 How to learn and teach how to read ahead.
Question 101 Fake books and their availability.
Question 102 Student wants to compose nice-sounding pieces but has very limited ability.
Question 103 Practical perfection for students. Allowing a student to "drop" a piece before it's finished.
Question 104 Stickers: for a teen; last on the sheet.
Question 105 Helping student notate own compositions.
Question 106 Octave Es in Fur Elise.
Question 107 Distance learning platform for teaching piano (and guitar).
Question 108 Advisability of listening to a CD that accompanies a book.
Question 109 Student with body odor.
Question 110 How to help students make transition from hands-apart practice to hands-together playing.
Question 111 Parents concerned with beginner's progress and not understanding why there aren't a large number of songs the child can play.
Question 112 How to play measures 11 and 12 in Chopin's A Major Prelude (Op. 28 #7).
Question 113 Recommended pedagogy text.
Question 114 Teaching hand position.
Question 115 Choosing a beginner piano method.
Question 116 Child has difficulty learning letter names of notes on the printed music.
Question 117 More on the same student.
Question 118 Student practice: not enough time spent vs inefficient pratice.
Question 119 Teaching four against three.
Question 120 Young student is arrogant.
Question 121 Student is rude. (Bonus problem: Student uses bad language during lesson.)
Question 122 Teen who wants to start teaching beginners wants to know how to begin teaching. Also why beginning teachers should *not* teach beginners. See other responses in this file, as well.
Question 123 Chord method with adults.
Question 124 New adult student plays well by ear; advisability of learning to read notes.
Question 125 Student's first encounter with six-eight and three-eight time.
Question 126 Dyslexic students and the Suzuki method.
Question 127 Student rewards.
Question 128 Student with Turner Syndrome.
Question 129 Finding out before accepting a new student whether the child has learning disabilities.
Question 130 Teacher perhaps too much a friend because students are uncooperative in home practice instructions.
Question 131 Student with atypically-severe problems with left and right, which finger has which number.
Question 132 How to introduce fugues. Which Bach fugues to teach first.
Question 133 Painfully shy student.
Question 134 Piano bench covers.
Question 135 Student plays songs not yet assigned.
Question 136 Fake book style.
Question 137 Student with broken arm.
Question 138 Correcting bad fingering.
Question 139 Performance of notes printed in small type in Mozart's "Rondo alla turca" (K. 331).
Question 140 Weaning students away from "position" playing and "note-reading."
Question 141 Source material on particulars of special techniques for teaching adult guitar students.
Question 142 Student with note letter-name problem, possibly with learning disability.
Question 143 Two sets of half-notes connected by two lines in 4/4 time.
Question 144 Follow-up to question #142.
Question 145 Point at which a teenage student will decide not to quit.
Question 146 Student unable to play Bach fluently, even though materials is mastered when hands are played separately.
Question 147 Use of thumb on black note.
Question 148 Obtaining transcripts from the Royal Conservatory.
Question 149 Difficulty with Hanon #2.
Question 150 Student contradicts teacher as to what was part of the assignment.
Question 151 Difficulty starting in places other than beginning.
Question 152 Need for less traditional teaching. How to go about teaching improvisation and transposition.
Question 153 More on note-reading problems.
Question 154 Convincing student to practice as teacher specifies.
Question 155 Importance of piano study as a secondary instrument in a college music performance degree program.
Question 156 Student's hand position: dropping the thumb.
Question 157 Mother scolding sibling loudly in waiting area.
Question 158 Why rote learning is less effective than learning to read.
Question 159 How long it should a student to learn a song.
Question 160 Teaching blind students.
Question 161 Offering Kindermusik or other pre-study programs in the studio.
Question 162 Child with ADHD is uncooperative.
Question 163 Methods materials for group sessions.
Question 164 Sample contract between teacher and parents.
Question 165 Getting students to use metronome.
Question 166 Student wets pants during lesson.
Question 167 More toilet issues.
Question 168 Home-school "rules" and music selection.
Question 169 Home-schooled student doesn't want to play anything that isn't in her series lesson book.
Question 170 Ear-training information.
Question 171 Mozart's lullabye.
Question 172 Students with note-reading problems.
Question 173 Student with spotty training and fear of memory performance concerned that credentials are not adequate to teach.
Question 174 Method series for pre-schoolers.
Question 175 When to start scale study.
Question 176 How to "sell" an hour lesson to student who normally takes 1/2-hour lesson.
Question 177 Strange notation in Baroque music.
Question 178 Correcting errors close to recital time.
Question 179 Suggested theory book.
Question 180 What to teach a beginner at first lesson.
Question 181 Teaching because income needed.
Question 182 Resources for becoming a better teacher.
Question 183 Acceptability of method books and supplementing them with other materials (some teacher-written).
Question 184 How to ensure students have a well-rounded curriculum if method books are not used. Elements of a curriculum.
Question 185 Correct performance of "non-measure" section at the end of Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 32 #1.
Question 186 Playing adjacent triplets without pause.
Question 187 Suggested materials for group lessons.
Question 188 Complete outline of my curriculum and materials.
Question 189 How to phrase hymns in sight-reading.
Question 190 Why certain keys have specific flats and sharps in them; how to "build" a specific scale.
Question 191 Mother objects to teacher touching student's back for posture positioning.
Question 192 Keeping a completed piece "warm."
Question 193 Meaning of "keep warm."
Question 194 Students with poor hand position.
Question 195 Literature for transfer students who cannot read because they learned to play "in position".
Question 196 Why playing with "pre-notation" is harmful.
Question 197 Weaning "position"-playing-only transfer student to notereading.
Question 198 Student (with cerebral palsy) with difficulty holding 5the finger apart from 4th.
Question 199 Sostenuto pedal.
Question 200 Pralltrill.
Question 201 Funny-looking trill that looks like a mordent but is too long.
Question 202 Handedness, footedness, "eye-edness."
Question 203 Difference between lute and buff stop on the harpsichord.
Question 204 Beginning student with poor-and-failing eyesight.
Question 205 Beginning teen student who wishes to be a music major.
Question 206 Types of slurs.
Question 207 Final speed for exercises in Schmitt Preparatory Exercises
Question 206 Types of slurs.
Question 208 Student consistently forgets assignment pad, and teacher can't remember assignment given previous week.
Question 209 Portamento in piano music.
Question 210 What is wrong with bi-weekly lessons.
Question 211 Inducing parent to leave student and teacher alone during lesson.
Question 212 Dealing with parent who makes "helpful" comments during lesson.
Question 213 Teacher with varied and broad experience wonders whether a college music degree is needed, ethically, in order to teach.
Question 214 Benefit of making written lesson plans.
Question 215 What to teach advanced student.
Question 216 Uncooperative gifted students.
Question 217 Younger sibling, who is not a student, wishes to play on brother's recital.
Question 218 Student persists in "position" reading after months of teaching note-reading.
Question 219 Students refuse to play out of supplementary books because they feel the songs are too difficult.

I enrolled a student who had only an electronic keyboard on which to practice, with the proviso that the parents would buy a piano within the next several months. It's been a year, and still the child has no piano. What should I do? I hate to drop the girl; she's very good.

First of all, why has there been no forward progress on the piano? Do the parents not want to spend the money? Have they forgotten the bargain they made? Do they not know where to look to buy one? Do you think they might not want to spend the required money -at this time-? Maybe they're waiting (still) to see if the child "takes to piano" before moving on this? Maybe the student can shed some light on the situation. ("Has your mom or dad said anything about when they will get you a real piano?")

Eventually you must approach the parents. Don't be angry or accusative when you do this, of course. Go in with the attitude of "what can I do to help the student get what she needs?"

"Mrs. Jones, when I began teaching Margaret in (fill in month), we agreed that I would take her if you would have a real piano in the home by (fill in). It's now (fill in), and I wanted to ask you where you are in the process of getting a piano. Margaret says she's still practicing on the electronic keyboard."

Then be quiet and let her speak. Don't suggest possible excuses or prod her for potential answers.

She might say, "It's so expensive! We just can't afford to buy something right now."

Then you say, "I think we can solve that problem, but most important things first. Margaret is progressing very quickly. I'm so pleased with what's she's accomplished; and you are doing a wonderful job at home with her." Mrs. Jones beams. "She's now at the point, however," you continue, "where now she needs a real piano so she can begin to learn about piano touch. She can't do that on an electronic keyboard. She needs a real piano." [Assure the mom but say nothing specific yet; compliment her on the job she's doing; compliment the child; say why a real piano is needed now.]

"Now, as to solving the problem, it's very true that buying a piano for Margaret - - a good piano - - will require a sizable outlay of funds, so I suggest that you rent an instrument for her and then watch the newspaper for a good used instrument to buy. Since it may take a while to find just the right one, renting in the meantime gives Margaret what she needs, doesn't require a big expenditure, and allows you time to find the right piano."

You might also mention that "my piano tech" often has instruments he is restoring and then will sell. You offer to contact Ms. __ or give Mrs. Jones the contact info. In any event, you call your tech and explain what to expect when Mrs. Jones' calls.

In advance, you have located several music stores that rent instruments and have some ideas of prices. You also have called your favorite piano techs and asked them if they've seen anything recently that's a good buy under $X (make a guess as to what the family might pay, such as $3000).

I encourage you to tell Mrs. Jones -not- to "rent to buy" but just plain rent. (Rent-to-buy deals often are set up so the rental fee applies -only- to the piano that is rented and currently in the home, not anything in the store; in this way, the salesperson "chooses" the piano for the family!)

Anyhow, you say, "I know Ms. Smith at Smith's Pianos and have sent many students to her. Why don't you call her and ask what she has now in the way of rental pianos? You should be able to get something for about $30 a month. Now, it won't be a beautiful piece of furniture because it's a rental instrument, but it -will- be a real piano. Margaret needs a real piano right now, but you can take your time in locating an appropriate instrument - - probably a good used one - - later. In fact, I talked to Mr. Roberts at Roberts Piano Service. I've sent students to him, too, and if you call him and tell him what you want and about how much you want to spend, he'll keep his eye out for one and call you when he finds something he thinks might be what you're seeking."

Try to get a time commitment out of Mrs. Jones as to when she'll call about the rental if she doesn't say something like, "I'll call today." I'd say further procrastination (another six months, say) means that they don't intend to fulfill their part of the bargain any time in the near future. Re-evaluate whether you want to keep Margaret on these terms.

It may be just me, but I don't like the pieces in the beginners books (by Alfred, etc.) that use left-hand triads for accompaniment. I feel the effect is too "thick". I prefer either one or two notes, with a simple right-hand melody line. Or, in some cases, one note in the left hand, with two in the right. How do you feel about this?

As you will read in many of the answers that follow, I generally do not like "method book" songs because, simply put, they are not good music. They are contrived to drive home some pedagogical point. Particularly in books II and above, the amount of work required to get a decent performance comes nowhere near being matched by the musical value of the piece.

I don't use method books. (I have the same complaint about a lot of intermediate books out there by many of today's composers. The work required doesn't have a concomitant musical payoff. But that's another story!)

As to triads' being too thick, yes, I agree with you. It's also a case of three-against-one, as far as being able to hear the melody.

Another BIG drawback to triads-only accompaniments is that the student never learns to read two-voice music, which is a huge stumbling block when it comes to playing Bach or other contrapuntal composers (or composers who have contrapuntal sections in their works - - that's just about everyone!). I prefer to start with the more difficult approach - - that is, 2-voice music - - and add triad-accompaniment pieces later. It's much easier to do this than to go the reverse direction; my experience with transfer students has borne this out.

And now you are wondering what I -do- use for my beginners. I use my own arrangements of folk songs from around the world, American patriotic songs, and music of the masters. I use medieval and Renaissance European music, too; this stuff has lots of rhythmic shifts, changes in meters, and other good things that shouldn't wait until the intermediate stage to play. It's just as easy to teach Point A and Point B using a melody of Mozart's than some pedagogue's, and the student is the richer for it.

This all came about (many years ago - - ahem) when one of my beginners announced that she wanted to play "Für Elise." After initially dismissing the idea (the child had been studying piano about 3 months!), I thought about it and decided, Why not? So I arranged the first section for her with the melody divided between the hands (starting on one-line E in the RH and using six-four as the time signature). No accompaniment, just melody.

This was an instant hit with her and with the other students to whom I offered it. (The parents commented that they heard "Für Elise" for 20 minutes or more daily. Wasn't there another section? So, I wrote that out, and at least we had an ABA form.)

This reception got me thinking that maybe this was the way to go. The more I used these materials, the more convinced I was, and I embarked on a journey (I'm still on it!) to find good literature with the span of x notes. I have since developed a filing cabinet full of it. And it's all in quarter-notes as the smallest note-value, since I believe that eighth-notes should be withheld until the child can read 3 octaves and is in at least 4th grade. Some particulars: the first "real song" my beginners play is the theme from the second movement of Chopin's piano sonata ("Funeral March"); it uses only 3 pitches (small a through one-line c [Middle C]). After the Chopin, we continue through Bach(s), Mozart(s), Beethoven, Schubert, Schumann, Kabalevsky, Debussy, Ravel, Henry VIII, Byrd, Bull, Offenbach, Carr, Saint-Saëns, Clementi, Grieg, Türk, Dvorák, Pachelbel, Rameau, Machaut, Josquin des Prez, etc. You can do develop your own teaching materials, too, and I highly recommend it. Your students will benefit from it, but it's a heck of a lot of fun to search and a great way to stretch your own abilities as a teacher.

See also question 15 and question 115 for information on how evaluate available method series, with an eye to making your own (or at least extending and repairing the one you are currently using).

My students are doing fine so far, except for one girl, in grade one, who is not progressing as quickly as her best friend, who started at the same time as she did. They have been practicing together often, and have tried 'duets' - - playing the same piece together, one high and one low. They encourage each other greatly. Should I accelerate the slower one's lessons to help her catch up, while I slow down the other? I don't feel this is quite fair, but I believe that if I can't get them at the same level, the first one, although she would probably do well at piano, may drop out because she is discouraged. What do you think of this situation?

I would not alter the natural learning pace of either of these students, as it will not benefit either child. Surely both children understand that not everyone progresses at the same rate in school or in sports, and piano study is no different. And that's one of the beauties of private instruction: it is geared to the learning styles and learning speeds of each student, as well as her own musical interests.

For your situation, I suggest finding duets that are of different levels. If you can't find them, you'll have to write them yourself. Folk songs and holiday pieces are great fodder for this. For example, take Student B and give her the melody up an octave; take the more accomplished student (A) and write her a new accompaniment down an octave. I do this all the time. I make frequent use of 8va and 8vb (also 15ma and 22da), introducing these concepts early (Halloween is an especially good time to do this - - plenty of spooks in the upper registers and clomping goblins in the lower ones). Make sure student B doesn't always get the melody; give it to student A half the time. That way both students learn to bring out the melody when they have it and subjugate the accompaniment when they have that. This should keep everyone happy.

Save a photocopy of your creations because this problem will turn up again (ex: siblings, one of whom started after the other; or a child and parent who play).

You -can- do this. It's easier than you think. And even if your efforts at first wouldn't rate a publisher's glance, your students won't mind a bit and will be thrilled with pieces that you created just for them. Write "For Amy and Karen" on the duet for them. Maybe they'd like to title it themselves? If they are hesitant, encourage them. Maybe offer a topic (not a specific title). "How about something about animals?"

A student whom I began teaching last year had had lessons from another teacher in town, but he moved away and I was the only available teacher, so I agreed to teach her. I soon found that although she had appeared to be playing at a Grade 2 (Royal Conservatory) and had learned several songs by rote, she could not even point out where on the page she was at a given time! As a very inexperienced teacher who is still learning, I began to give her songs from a simplified classics book and exercises from a Dozen a Day book. Since then I have realized that perhaps I should have started at the very beginning for her, as she still is not fluent in note-reading.

This is a big problem in the States, too, I assure you! I think the root of it is that teachers feel obligated to produce "results" for parents (though sometimes for colleagues) or for a competition: that is, the child can play a recognizable tune. Thus, the teachers (and/or parents) push the child beyond comfortable limits; the child must compensate by learning the song any way she can - - many by "ear" and others by "hand position" ("this song is in G hand position and I start with finger three;" rather than "this song starts on B") and others by how their hands look at the keyboard. None of these is even a half-way good substitute for note-reading. I am a real bear about this; there is no substitute for note-reading. Period.

Ok, now what to do. Usually a student who has used these make-shift techniques knows it and knows she's doing it rather than reading. In my experience, these folks are exceedingly relieved when I say, "Hmmm. It seems that you aren't reading as fluently as the level of your pieces suggests you should." Student: "You're right. I don't read very well." Me: "What do you say we embark on a specialized program of reading for a couple of weeks until your reading is better? Then we'll go back to pieces." Student (obviously relieved that finally help is at hand): "Ok!" Then I go back to the pieces in my files that I have arranged and make a guess as to the real reading level that student has. I bring several pieces to the piano and say, "I'm just guessing. Maybe these will be too hard and maybe too easy, so you let me know." This sets the tone so the student knows she is supposed to give me honest input and that we will work together to solve her problem. Eventually we find the right level.

Maybe we even have to go back to square one. That's ok because the student has bought into the program and knows she can't read worth beans. "Ok, so we start over. That way we both know you haven't missed anything along the way. And these first songs will be really easy for you. Is this ok with you?" Note that the student is a partner in the endeavor; I am a facilitator, not "Moses on the Mount." (This is just my teaching approach; yours may be different, and that's ok, too!)

I would suggest, therefore, that you find out at what level the student truly reads and back up a tad before that and work from there. It would be good to preface this with a little heart-to-heart talk with the student (and maybe the parent - - at the same time or later, in the way of a conference). Make sure you indicate -quite clearly- that the fault is -not- the student's (but don't cast stones at the previous teacher, either! Don't even mention the previous teacher; the parent can draw his own conclusions.).

After the student is once again reading fairly well, don't abandon this element of the assignment. Give the child a sight-reading assignment to do daily to make sure she continues to progress well.

As an aside, you might also think about putting Dozen a Day on the shelf for a while, too. Those have quite an advanced note-reading range (rhythmic range, too), and you might do better with something more like John Schaum's Finger Power (Primer level only; the other levels have a large note-reading range that don't square with the technique being presented in them).

Also consider exercises you dream up yourself specifically for her needs. An adult student of mine was having difficulty with legato parallel thirds, so I wrote a bunch of devilish combinations for his pleasure; they're now called "Pete's Perils" and other students have them on their assignments! No matter what you devise for one student, you are sure to use it for one or twenty more students, so consider such time -well- spent! And keep a copy for yourself!

More at question 50 and question 51.

I have taught piano for about 1 1/2 years to 6 beginners, but now I am floundering. I am an elementary school teacher on leave while I raise my kids. I had about 9 years of lessons, accompanied choirs and church services on piano and organ, and now play a Korg x-3 for worship services, but I have very little theory knowledge and even less idea how to teach beyond beginners. I want to be able to give my students a better basis than I got as a student. Do you have any suggestions for me? I thought about taking lessons myself from a certified teacher or taking a college class.

Yes, definitely get some more training. I gather that you have no college coursework in music? Go first to the local community college and take theory and music history classes. Also join a chorus; all pianists need to sing, even if they don't have much of a voice (I'm a perfect example here!). You will find choral experience a tremendous help. Since you are a church musician you already may have a strong vocal background, but continuing to sing is still very, very helpful to any musician. See about taking piano lessons at the college, too. You might be able to work with a teacher in the community, not formally affiliated with the college, and still get college credit. The more you know, the better a teacher you will be.

It is my opinion that beginners deserve the best teacher they can get because not only is the teacher giving them the technical foundation (how to hold their hands, how to read notes, count, and maintain a steady pulse) but ALSO is setting their life-long attitudes about music, music study, and also certain practice aids (such as a metronome, counting out loud, reading ahead, etc.). Since you acknowledge that your skills are lacking at this time, I suggest that you teach early intermediate level students until you are ready to teach beginners and other levels. Early intermediates already can read (at least we hope they can!), have the basic ideas of different tempi and dynamic levels, know some practice techniques, and so on. You already have a "shared vocabulary" and there's no need to invent the dictionary with these students, whereas this is a major part of teaching beginners.

Also, I'd advise you to call the local president of the music teachers' group. Look in the phone book; ask at print music stores and piano dealers. Someone will be able to direct you to this person eventually. Join this group - - maybe as a student member if a degree is required for full membership - - and go to meetings all the time. Learn. Talk with colleagues.

Read the music (piano) journals. This will help a lot, too.

I'm very impressed that you recognize the shortcomings of your preparation and want to improve yourself. Good luck! You can do it!

See also Question 122.

I am teaching a student whose mother is very critical. The mother publicly puts down her daughter's playing and effort. She tells her daughter that her playing is pitiful. It is all done in a "joking" manner, but I believe that it really damages my efforts to promote motivation in the student. The student doesn't seem to mind (I'm sure that she is used to it), but I believe that the student needs a positive environment if she is going to learn. I have told the mother that I believe her daughter needs lots of encouragement and affirmation even for the small accomplishments she makes. That didn't seem to change anything. I am leery to flat out tell the mother that her critical manner is damaging her daughter's progress. Do you have any suggestions?

What a corrosive atmosphere for this poor girl. You bet this behavior damages your student, but she's just learned to hide it. Inside, however, she is totally lacerated. You are right to be concerned. This is clearly child abuse (of a psychological nature). The problem, of course, is the mother's. Probably low self-esteem. Perhaps jealousy.

I think at this point you need to do a couple of things. First is talk to the student about how terrific she is, how great her playing is, how well she's learning, and how she needs to listen to her own sense of self while trying to tune out negative comments, even from her mother. Ask her if she's talked to her school counselor, her pastor, or another trusted adult (perhaps a relative) about this problem. Suggest she do so if she has not.

Tell the student you are concerned about her and that you notice the effect her mom's comments are having on her. Suggest that she tell her mother that her hurtful comments are very damaging. This will be hard for her to do - - to stand up to her mom - -so she should "plan" her sentences, even speaking them out loud. And then she should wait until a good time to talk to her mom - - a time when they are both calm and doing something good together (not just after the mom makes a comment).

In a week or so, ask if she had the talk with her mom. If not, ask if she'd like you to intervene or ask someone else to intervene (such as a school counselor or pastor). Allow the girl to have control over the situation. If she says no, tell her your offer is always open and then stand by alertly, particularly at lessons. Listen to see if the mom has changed her tune in any way.

Another problem is that the mother may have de-sensitized herself to what she is saying. There is so much "put down humor" on TV, etc., these days; it almost seems to glorify the art (?) of cutting off another at the ankles or shoe soles.

Is there another parent in the family you could contact? How about a grandparent or other relative you could contact and voice your concerns?

Speak to her school teacher. What evidence, if any, does the teacher find in the classroom situation? Perhaps the teacher can arrange to "showcase" the girl, as part of a social studies unit (the child plays Bach's "Musette" during study of the French trappers in the old west; a musette is a small French bagpipe - - that's your "hook.")

Last resort: When the mom makes another hurtful comment within your hearing, leave the studio with the mother and point out that such comments are not only personally hurtful to the daughter who loves her but also very damaging to her progress in piano. You are concerned on both counts. Ask how you can help. She may respond, of course, that you should keep your big bazoo shut, but then you can rejoin that her psychological abuse of her daughter must not continue, whether you are involved in the solution or not. I would not quail at using the word abuse if the situation is as you describe it. Suggest that the mom talk over the problem with a friend, counselor, pastor to see why she feels so negative about the child, her abilities, and/or piano study.

Then you must wait and see what happens. Monitor closely. You may need to contact someone else to intervene. Good luck!! Thank you for being concerned about this girl. It's clear that she needs you. I've always said that piano teachers are great people who worry about their students' complete lives, not just their lives as musicians.

I have been tackling the subject of practice habits lately, and I'm never quite sure just how to handle a child, at a lesson, where it's obvious he or she hasn't touched the piano in 5 or 6 days. Do you lecture or what? Sometimes I'm wary that a home problem may be involved, and I hesitate to come down too hard.

Every teacher is confronted with this at some time - - and usually pretty shortly after beginning in this calling!

Here's what I do. When I perceive that things are going as well at this lesson as they have been, I stop the lesson entirely and have a chat. It's best if the parent is -not- there, incidentally, so the child can be candid.

"It seems that you aren't as well prepared as you usually are. Yes?"

"Yeah, I (insert whatever reason)."

If it's something that can be solved easily, such as a lot of homework or something, I say, "Does this week look better?" If so, "Good, then, I'll look forward to your usual good preparation next week. For today's lesson, though, let's pick some problem spots in your songs and work together on them. What's the worst place in your hardest song?" Then we practice together. This way the time is not wasted and the child knows you -know- when the quality is not there.

If it's not something that is easily solved, such as not wanting to play piano much any more, I dig a little deeper. Sometimes the problem actually is that, and I ask the child if he would like me to speak with the parent about another instrument, another piano teacher, or even another artistic endeavor (such as dance, art, drama, etc.).

If the problem is not antipathy toward piano playing, I then try to find out if the problem is that practicing is "getting in the way" of fun things. This is the case 97% of the time! I reiterate what I said at the interview, which is that for the child, schoolwork is the most important thing. I expect her to complete her schoolwork first thing when she comes home. Then she must play piano (I try not to say "practice"). THEN she may watch TV, talk on the phone, go out and play, etc. At the interview we've already discussed that some days when homework is so heavy or there's a dentist's appointment after school or some other reason she can't control that means a lot of time spent at the books. By the time piano is done, it's time for supper and bed with no play time. I remind the student of this conversation. Generally, the student will remember this conversation. I then ask whether she's been following this time management plan. If not, I ask if she can do better next week or if there are questions. How can she do better? Are there some things that give her problems every day? How can we work together to solve this problem?

Sometimes I have to use the "Those to whom much is given, much is expected" idea. True, this is a dose of guilt. Really bright kids often have terribly overloaded schedules; they can handle it if they're careful about time management, but most of the time, time management skills are new to them, and they're not very good at them. I go over the schoolwork-first-then-piano philosophy. In nearly all cases (98% and upward), it's a time-management problem: the child doesn't want to get on with bingo but takes a detour by way of the telephone. But who has not done this? And who among us adults doesn't wish she could do that just about all the time?

To answer your question directly, I'd let it slide the first time. It may have been a bad week; we all have them. If it happens the next week or one shortly after the first one, don't let it slide. Address it immediately, even if the parent is in the room. If the student knows you expect her best, she'll try to give it to you because you'll call her on it if she gives less than this. If she thinks she can hoodwink you, she'll try this when it suits her purposes. If the pattern is random but happens with fair regularity, I would also address the problem as soon as you decide it -is- a problem.

The parent is paying good money and making the effort to get the child to lessons. You are giving a spot in your schedule to the child; when your time's gone, there isn't any more. The child must learn to honor commitments made. I'd say that for everyone's good you should address the problem as soon as you see it.

I am teaching a 49-year-old beginner who had four teachers before me. Her progress seems very slow. What am I doing wrong? How can I help her learn faster? Her note-reading is note-by-note instead of patterns, too.

Because intelligence and ability to learn music often go hand in hand, I assumed early in my teaching career that a smart person would learn music quickly and, as a corollary, a student's lesson progress indicates her overall intelligence.

Today, I assume nothing about a student's ability to learn music and often have straight-A students or adults quite accomplished in their careers who learn music slowly. Experience tells me that either a light will go on one fine day and the student will take off like a shot, or that progress will continue at the student's natural rate, which to her does not seem slow. My guess is that your student is one who progresses at a more leisurely pace.

My advice is not to push. Be sure she has a solid foundation in note reading and counting (you might even want to use unit counting instead of meter counting). Rhythm may be this student's major difficulty, especially as she had four other teachers prior to you; the woman has now been required to use four (now five!) different approaches to counting.

That she reads note-by-note suggests she cannot read well. No one really can teach a student to read by taking in whole patterns (Gestalt reading) because each student comes to this skill using her own logic and perception and in her own good time. As this student is not a sophisticated musician, don't worry that thus far she still reads note-by-note.

Put your student on a concentrated regimen of sight-reading, paring back other elements of her assignment to focus her attention on it. Accompany this with rhythmic drills using quarter notes and rests: first divided between the hands, then with two hands playing different parts, and finally as duets of different material with you. Make the early drills extremely easy; remember you are teaching notation recognition (types of notes, rests) as well as rhythmic consistency. Progress slowly, with frequent repetition, before adding new material so you can identify the exact point where her understanding or facility breaks down. These drills will help her hold her own rhythmically and develop confidence in her ability.

After a month of two, start simple duets using no note values smaller than quarter notes. Only when she is completely comfortable with quarter-notes should you introduce eighths. This may take a year or more, so be patient. For eighth-notes, use the same three-part strategy of sight-reading, rhythm drills, and duets. Also give her pieces to prepare on her own that are two levels below her current ability; as she improves, raise this to only one level below.

Adults who seem to have no innate sense of rhythm do catch on eventually. I have taught adult students who took years and years to develop a firm rhythmic sense, despite great facility at note-reading. Do not communicate to her any of the frustration or impatience you feel about her progress. If she senses that you are dissatisfied or frustrated with her, she may substitute a faulty personal system for true note- and rhythm-reading. You don't want that! (That's probably what she's been doing!)

Each student is different, and this student is learning at a speed that feels comfortable to her. Her slow progress does not mean that either of you has failed. If she is happy with her progress and practicing daily the minimum amount you require, you must accept her rate of progress.

I want to earn a master's degree in pedagogy. I have already taught while a bachelor's candidate and find I like it very much! Unfortunately, there are no pedagogy studies at a graduate level in Canada. Can you tell me which schools in the US are good? I hope I can afford to study there! I would like to think that I would become more in demand once I return to Canada with my Master of Music in Piano Pedagogy (and Performance).

Last question first: do you mean you would be sought after as a teacher by people looking for one? I think this probably is not true. Just having a master's is not enough. Potential students would not care whether it were in performance or pedagogy, to be honest. They don't understand the finer points of music curricula. They just see "master's" and know that this person has more preparation than someone with a bachelor's.

As to your first concern, I think you would be better off with more performance studies because this would bring you into contact with an even greater variety of literature, which is going to serve your teaching very well. Pedagogy is going to focus primarily on methodology, so therefore the performance (playing) aspect of your training will take the second seat. Are you sure this is what you want? Just because you have a "performance" degree doesn't mean you -must- perform. If your professor is concert-stage-oriented, tell her that you are seeking more knowledge of literature and performance practices so you can be a better studio teacher. Ask if she can slightly rearrange her focus to fit your goal better. If she can't, perhaps another professor can. If you want something unusual, you'll have to ask. But I can't see a performance-oriented professor -not- being quite flattered that someone whose goal was to be a studio teacher was willing to work just as hard as someone who hoped to be a concert artist. I can't see that she wouldn't embrace your goals joyfully and assist in any way she can.

Another point: you -know- what you want to do. So many grad students don't! Or they don't have a very accurate picture of what they [think they] want to do and whether they have a chance to succeed in it.

Since you already know something about how to teach and have discovered you seem to have an affinity for it, why not seek a Canadian performance master's? You can pick up more pedagogy on your own--reading, conferences, personal correspondence, this website, etc. This would certainly solve the money and travel concerns. In addition to performance courses, I'd advise you to try to select more graduate-level courses in music literature and in form & analysis. I use from & analysis skills at each lesson and am so glad I have them.

In a nutshell, then: more in-depth knowledge about a topic is far superior to a potential teacher of it than information on how to teach that type of knowledge.

Is it possible for a group learning situation to be as effective as a one-on-one environment? Would some students be hindered? Others bored?

Your question illustrates why I don't teach group lessons. I also find that students are less inclined to try something they think they might not be able to do if they are forced to attempt it in front of other people.

Advocates of group lessons, however, state that "mild competition" is a good group stimulus to excellence. They also point to the exchange of ideas and the sociability factor (not only fun but discovering "there are other kids like me!"). Some teachers supplement a weekly private lesson with a weekly/biweekly/monthly group session.

More below.

Do you feel it is helpful or harmful for a child to study for upwards of one year with the idea that their pieces are "in C position" or "in G position" without any other type of playing?

I think it's wrong to have the child study even one hour thinking this!

Children - - adults too, of course - - should read notes! It doesn't matter if that note is played with the RH, LH, or the nose. That dot on the staff is location-specific to a place on the keyboard.

This is why I do not like "multi-key" beginner approaches: the student is busy thinking, "This song is in G position and I start on my third finger" rather than, "That's a B." And how is he going to find the starting note if that song is in F position? Either the teacher must tell him or he must wait for a heavenly vision! (More on multi-key problems in other entries here.)

What is the best way to introduce minor keys to beginning students? When? Is it necessary to go into depth in theory explanations? How much explanation is valuable?

A lot depends on what you mean by "introduce minor keys."

If you mean just having a student play in a minor key, I'd just assign the piece and not particularly mention it. If the student remarks that this piece "sounds different" you might want to say this is because the piece is in a minor key. If the student says no more, this means he's not curious and explaining it will be a waste of breath. If he does ask what this means, you explain it (see below).

If you mean figuring out the key signature and noting the raised leading tone, then you'd have to talk about relative majors and minors. I'd start out by talking about triads.

As a matter of course, do you have your students study triads? By this, I mean play them. (I like hand-over-hand ones and work through all 48, starting with the majors and minors by key signature - - that is, no sharps or flats, one sharp, one flat, two sharps, two flats, etc; the augmented and diminished I assign chromatically. My students also "build" all the triads.) If your students do study triads, then they can see for themselves that major triads have 4 half-steps between root and third (always speak of it as "4 half-steps -away-") while minors have 3 half-steps. This makes the minor triads sound different. Can they hear the difference? (I have a file on ear training for beginners which also may be helpful.)

If you want to go farther, and at some point you'll need to, discuss how scales are built. Major and minor scales have a different arrangement of whole- and half-steps. I like to have my students derive scales. This way they see -why- certain keys have "the black notes" they do. You can tie this in with study of relative major and minor.

See my discussion of this question 190. About the 2nd year - - or after students have mastered enough triads so they can identify them in the music--most beginner pieces are in the simple keys - - start to ask them to identify the key of the piece. Not by looking at the key signature but by -analyzing the final chord-, which is always more reliable. Then point out the key signature. They will find some songs in minor keys, so then you ask them to find the raised leading tone and point that out. You reiterate why that's there, etc. (That is, the raised leading tone preserves the half-step relationship between the 7th degree of the scale and the upcoming tonic which is found in major keys; the reason the half-step relationship is important is because the 7th degree sounds unstable; it "wants" to resolve upward to the tonic; a full step, which is in the pure/natural minor scale, is static and "feels no urgency" to resolve).

When you come to a new song, one of the first things to do - - before a note is played - - is to ask the student to determine the key. And then always ask, "Why?", regardless of whether the answer is correct or not. The student should be able to tell you how he arrived at the conclusion. In this way, he cements the reasoning in his memory and can apply it whenever he likes. If he memorizes some "trick" and forgets the trick, he is skunked. Of course, he might say, "I just guessed," which means you need to re-do the explanation in an entirely different fashion until the student understands.

I recently got an adult student, and I don't have a lot of experience with adult students. My student can read treble clef only. What do I do for the first lesson? What kind of material do I use? Do method books for adults work? Which series do you suggest?

Start right off with reading bass clef. At the first lesson, talk to him about the fact that he can already read treble; praise him for this. If he says he's rusty, assure him that it "will come back" very quickly. Then tell him you think you should start with bass clef so he'll be "up to speed" in both clefs at approximately the same time. Be sure to use a little bit of treble clef review. You also might want to do some hands-together unison playing, with both hands in C position; this will nurture coordination, parallel motion playing, etc., as well as note-reading.

As to materials, I think you'll have to write stuff out for him. I know of no book that is designed for this. (This would be a good niche in the market for -you- to fill!) You might be able to glean LH materials from a variety of method books, though. As this would be a huge expense for the student, especially if the rest of the materials were unsuitable, so I suggest lending him your books. (Photocopying just the songs you want him to play is illegal, of course.)

Start writing songs in 5-finger position-and in only one position. I recommend C for LH (C for RH, too). You'd be surprised at how many songs are in the 5-finger position: Beethoven's Ode to Joy, Mary Had a Little Lamb, Jingle Bells, Bluebird Waltz, first theme from Dvorák's "Largo" (New World Symphony), Lightly Row, Dreidle, As I Was Out Walking the Streets of Laredo, When the Saints Go Marching In, etc. Also look at the duets by Diabelli from Op. 149; the primo parts are all 5-finger position pieces; transpose to C where needed; convert rhythm so smallest note value is the quarter-note. Some other tunes fall in the 5-finger range but don't use all the notes (such as Hot Cross Buns, part of Frère Jacques, theme from Chopin's Funeral March, etc.).

As to method books, the reason I began arranging my own materials eons ago is that I do not care for method books. There have been many new ones published, but I still find the tunes to be musical deserts because they are written solely for a pedagogical purpose; and I feel that method books introduce eighth-notes far too early. I therefore can't recommend any method books to you. How about talking to your local music store and to members of your local teachers' group about what they use? Sorry I'm no help here!

Another thing I do to reinforce bass clef reading is with the technique book by Aloys Schmitt (Preparatory Exercises for Piano, Op. 16). Right out of the box, I ask my students to read the LH part only; and I -paint out- the right-hand part so they cannot inadvertently fall back on old habits. So my folks read bass clef only through exercise #33. I tell them that "reading bass clef for these 3 pages" means they will never have trouble reading bass clef again. And it's true!

How do you set a metronome to correspond to time signature?

Decide what note value you want to "keep track of." In a piece with mostly quarters and a few eighths, this would probably be quarters. If the student were having trouble keeping the eighths steady, she should set it for the eighth-note. Same if the piece had dotted-quarter/eighth combinations.

There is no correlation of metronome speed with time signature. Speed chosen depends on what kind of help the student needs.

There is also very little correlation with the tempo markings printed on the metronome and tempo markings on the music. If 138 is "allegro" on the metronome, does one tick represent the quarter? eighth? sixteenth? A whole measure? That's the problem. (Also consider "tempo inflation." For example, what Haydn marks "presto" is not a today's presto; it would be today's allegro or perhaps vivace.)

Pick a speed and assign it to the note value that is giving the student trouble at this time. The speed should be slow enough that she can totally control the troublesome notes. The others will be boring, but that's because the speed overall is dictated by the speed by which the most difficult section can be played without error. She won't be subjected to this "torture" very long. She'll be working on the troublesome notes a lot and playing through the whole piece only once a day, yes?

I have two questions. (1) I am a college student who taught beginning piano students as a high school student. I would like to continue teaching because I found it so enjoyable and fulfilling. Several of my students went on to other teachers when I left for college, and I have received very favorable comments on my instruction of these students from their new teachers. I was accepted into the piano performance and pedagogy program at my university but was unable to continue becuse of severe tendonitis. I wondered if it would be acceptable for me to teach piano to beginning students? I am not currently working toward a music degree because of my RSI. I know I am not as qualified as some, but I have a strong foundation in theory, sight-reading and sight-singing, and other important areas. (2) Is there a particular series of books (perhaps you have written a series?) that you recommend for using for beginning students. I have used various books, the Alfred series, Finger Power (Schaum), Clementi, etc., but I haven't found a series or combination I really like.

(1) Certainly you may teach! There are many people out there less qualified, less prepared, and less interested!

I would say, though, that having a music degree is something prospective students -do- look for when winnowing through the list of potential teachers. Is it possible for you to complete your degree in music history, music ed, or theory? RSI might make a performance degree out of the question, but you maybe could manage to complete your applied hours (required by a music degree) by making arrangements with your teacher, the department chair, and the piano chair that you would not be required to play Rachmaninov and Liszt, etc. because of your condition. (Presumably you got it from playing piano, right?!) Or you could switch to harpsichord or fortepiano, which puts much less stress on the hand. Or maybe singing? Just enough to get you through your applied music hours. Your goal (now) is not concert stage work!

(2) To be honest with you, I haven't found any satisfactory method for beginners on the market, either. I look at each new series that debuts, and it seems to be the same stuff with different art and a few different songs. I when I first began teaching, I used the Alfred d'Auberge series (book one only); don't know if it's even still in print! This is not the same series as current Alfred series.

I found this series did not progress in steps that seemed to fit students' needs, so I found myself writing my own stuff - - not composing, but arranging. I didn't use my own tunes, of course (one of the problems, I feel, with current pedagogical series: the music is contrived and aesthetically not very worthwhile). Instead, I set Bach, Beethoven, etc. After doing a whole bunch of these, I had enough to arrange in a systematic way so I have the equivalent of a pedagogy series. I have a filing cabinet full of the stuff now, having started with arranging Für Elise.

You can do the same. Unfortunately my "series" is not published; I just haven't had the time to pursue that. Maybe in a few years, though that isn't going to help you now.

Have you read the other pedagogy files on my web page? If not, please do and then examine which of what I said coincides with what your theory of teaching is and what you think is important for students to learn. That will give you at least a jumping-off place for designing your own teaching materials.

See also question 2 and question 115 for information on content of "my series."

Also look at all the method series and write down what you like and don't like about each. This will further refine your ideas. Then see if there is a series that is a close approximation to what you'd like. (For example, I didn't like the poor quality music and the fact that eighth-notes were introduced -way- too early! So, my first three "books" are all quarter-note-based.)

Also, what series did you use before? Did it suit you at all? What would you have changed about it? Is there enough good material in there to justify having the student purchase the book? (Remember, you cannot photocopy!)

Sometimes a book will have a bunch of useful things in it. Feel free to skip over the useless aspects. Also feel free to use an opaqueing fluid. I use it in abundance to paint out editorial markings I know are wrong (or feel so), excess fingering, etc., etc. Remember, you know your students best, not some editor.

Probably you will end up selecting the method series that does the least damage, in your estimation, and supplementing it with materials you have arranged

I am a senior in college and have been teaching about 1 1/2 years, through the pedagogy program at my college. This week is my last lesson with students I have taught for the past year and a half. It's so hard to see them go and not know if they will be able to continue. I will be doing an internship next semester, during which I will have the opportunity to teach lessons, as well. I am unsure if I should or not, because I would only have the students for about 5 months. What do you think?

Short answer: Yes. Go for it. It will be valuable training for you.

I applaud your ethics, too. No one with integrity would start a job knowing she couldn't continue with it past a certain date in the near future.

Now, how do we reconcile the two?

First, I'd make it plain to students that you are interning and that they will be with you only for x months. Make sure everyone is aware of that.

Second, you might want to focus on one thing. Sort of like a short course in xyz. Such as sight-reading. Or composition. Or improvisation. Or note-reading and rhythm-reading. Something that can be "contained" in a period of time and that you can bring to a feeling of closure for students and yourself. You can assign literature, certainly, but the thrust of your tutelage might be this certain area you have chosen. (Of course, this has to pass muster with your mentor teachers.)

As to saying goodbye to students, yes, it's hard. Take comfort in the fact that you have given them a good foundation and any receiving teacher will be thrilled to inherit your students. Some students may not continue, true, but my guess is that those who don't (and never take up piano again) will remember you their whole lives as someone who gave them something special, even if only for a short period.

I have been playing the piano for over 13 years now, and I'd like to try my hand at teaching in the near future. I have no idea where to start teaching a student who has never touched a piano before. How does one begin to teach a young child the piano? Where do I start?

As you have read in the answers to previous questions, I am not thrilled with any of the currently-available (that I know of) method series.

I wish I could say: "Get this great pedagogy book," but I really can't say that I know of any of those, either. That doesn't mean they aren't out there, just that I haven't found them. The ones I've seen are of varying utility. Look at books by Agay, Uszler et al., Clarke, Camp, Bastien. Of these, the Agay, Uszler, and Clarke are superior to the Camp and Bastien, in my estimation.

First, I would recommend that you list all the techniques and statements which you have found -helpful- from your past teachers. Also the ones you have found -damaging-. I learned a lot about how to teach from a college professor I had; I did the opposite of the corrosive things he did to me.

Second, sit down and decide what you want to impart to your students. Physical skills? Attitudes? (Go to the pedagogy section of my home page for some files on these topics.)

Also, why are you teaching? Money? Stop-gap job until "something real" comes along or until you "go to ___"? (Try the business section of my home page for files on these and other business topics for beginning teachers.)

What ages do you have in mind to teach? Young beginners have special needs. Older beginners, who have been in school already, are not quite as vulnerable. You also might be interested in my file Pedagogical Guidelines Based on Age and Achievement Level. I also recommend some reading in child psychology and learning theory (how people learn; different kinds of learning processes different people use; how you must adjust your teaching to the student's method of learning. I have found the Myers-Briggs Temperament Inventory (usually called "the Myers-Briggs") to be of tremendous help. There's file on learning and teaching styles which includes a link to a boiled-down version of this test available free and on-line.

And you'll need a method book or some other beginner materials. Many teachers use Alfred; please hold off on the eighth-notes. Just skip over those songs entirely or convert the eighth-note pairs to a quarter-note. (Play that part of the melody both ways; it will be pretty easy to tell which note to make into the quarter and which to discard.)

I also advise you to stay away from pre-notation or one of the really unusual and non-mainstream notational systems (such as Lo-No-Play).

It is my opinion that beginners need the -best- teacher they can find, so since you are untried and untrained to teach, I would recommend that you seek intermediate students instead of beginners. These people would have at least some of the skills down (counting, note-reading, etc.), and it will be easier for you both since you'll have something there to build on.

You do not state your age or whether you've had any college training in another area. I would suggest that you contact the local teachers' group and join. Try to find a mentor teacher. Ask if you can observe some lessons before you try to do it by yourself. If there are appropriate courses at the local junior college or university, enroll in those. And of course, keep up your own private study with an excellent teacher; the more you know about the instrument and its literature, the better teacher you will be.

I recently got an adult student, and I don't have a lot of experience with adults. My student played saxophone and clarinet in high school, but he can read only treble clef. What do I do for the first lesson? What kind of material do I use? Will method books for adults work? What are the good series that you will suggest for me to use?

Start right off with reading bass clef. Talk to him about the fact that he can already read treble. Tell him you think you should start with bass so he'll be "up to speed" with both hands. Then ease in some treble clef review.

You'll have to write stuff out for him. I know of no book that is designed for this; good niche in the market for you to fill! Start with stuff in 5-finger position--only one position. I recommend F for LH (and C for RH). This will help him see the connection between the staves, as (after you start the treble clef review), Middle C will be the common note.

There are lots of songs in a five-finger pattern: "Mary Had a Little Lamb," Jingle Bells," "Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow," "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Ode to Joy," "Lazy Mary," "Go, Tell Aunt Rhody," etc. (If you pursue this, I encourage you to use quarter notes as the smallest note value! You will discover that what "normally" fills one measure (when using eighths) must be spread over two measures. No problem! This is beginner stuff! You are not exactly replicating the original; you are making a beginner arrangement.)

I cannot recommend any adult method books. I don't use them. I don't like the pacing or the material chosen. A lot of teachers use Alfred, however. Sorry I'm not a lot of help with this!

Incidentally, all those songs in the five-finger pattern are great to use to introduce transposition!

What is the best way to introduce minor keys to beginning students? When do you think it should be done? Is it necessary to go into depth in theory explanations? How much explanation is valuable?

A lot depends on what you mean by "introduce minor keys." If you mean just having a beginning student play in a minor key, I'd just assign the piece and not particularly mention it. (Probably the piece is not long enough that a beginner's untrained ear could "hear" any difference in the short span of time needed to play the piece, not to mention the fact that beginners are focused primarily on translating what they see to physical action and have about zero brain cells left over to devote to listening. How many times have you asked students of any level if they are listening to their playing?!)

If you mean figuring out the key signature and noting the raised leading tone [LT], then you'd have to talk about relative majors and minors. I'd start out by talking about triads. As a matter of course, do you have your students study triads? By this, I mean play them. (I use hand-over-hand triads to start.) If so, then they can see for themselves that major triads have four half-steps between the root and third while minors have three half-steps. This makes the triads sound different. Can they hear the difference? (It's never too early to start ear-training.)

If you want to go farther, and at some point you'll need to, discuss how scales are built. Major and minor scales have a different arrangement of whole and half steps. I like to have my students derive scales for themselves at the lesson. This way they see -why- certain keys have the accidentals they do. You can tie this in with relative major and minor, too.

About the 2nd year - - or after they have mastered enough triads so they can identify them in the music - - start to ask them to identify the key of the piece. Most beginner pieces are in the simple keys. This should not be done by looking at the key signature (and, heavens!, not by any of those count back one flat systems!), but by analyzing the final chord, which is always more reliable. Then point out the key signature. They will find some songs in minor keys, so then you ask them to find the raised LT and point that out. You reiterate why that's there, noting the high incidence of that accidental, etc.

(Note: About 5% of pieces do change keys. A good example is Bach's Prelude in C Minor/G Major, BWV 999.)

Big leaps, usually in the left hand, are so hard to play. Any suggestions on how to teach them?

You speak, I presume, of jump bass patterns, such as in Joplin rags. Chopin, bless his heart, has huge leaps, too. You're right; they're tough, both to play and to teach. A great part of the problem is the movement of the forearm: how far does it have to go laterally to get to the right spot? Another part of the equation, which we often overlook, is body balance.

In playing these far-reaching notes, the pianist should have a firm sense of "centering" of his body on the bench. This center is "home plate." It is with this central position as a point of reference that the forearm will judge how far to move, lead by the hand. It is exceedingly more difficult if the central point is "moveable," that is, the forearm must use a different point of reference for each jump.

The student should know what chord she is dealing with. If, "in the heat of battle," she can't make it to the written note, if she can grab some other note in the chord, at least it will fit harmonically.

A very helpful exercise is what I call "play - place - play." This means the student should know the target and -get- there before the note is needed to be sounded. Here is how to do it. In slow motion the student plays the last note before the jump, moves the forearm the appropriate distance so the hand/finger is in position to play the next note (the one to which the pianist must jump). This movement occurs -before- that next note is played. This boils down to play the first note, jump to the new position and place your hand there in complete readiness, and only then play the jumped-to note.

I also suggest keeping the hands "low to the keyboard." This helps the forearm "judge" the lateral movement more accurately. This closeness to the keyboard should be combined with the play-place-play technique.

And of course, -look- at the target! It's ok to look at your hands!

There are four approaches to piano methods generally recognized: 1 - Middle C (such as J. Thompson, Schaum, M. Aaron), 2 - Multiple Key (such as Robert Pace, Bastien), 3 - Intervalic (such as Music Tree or Music Discoveries), and 4 - Modified or Eclectic (combining features the first three; such as Keys for the Kingdom or Faber and Faber). What do you think are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach? What differences do you think I'd see in a student after two or three years of study in the various methods?

I'm flattered that you think so highly of me that you want me to do your research project for you! (1) I point you to my voluminous comments elsewhere in this file, plus germane materials that you can access through my pedagogy front door. (2) I will say some things you may quote in your paper, provided you give me proper attribution.

My preference is for the Middle C approach because I think it promotes good body balance (centering) on the bench and good reading - - true reading. In my opinion, the multiple key approach is the weakest, as students to do not learn to read but devise "alternatives methods" for each song since they are not in any one "position" long enough to read well in it. Every student who has ever come to me in a multi-key method series cannot read. Every single one of them. Anecdotal, to be sure, but damning, in my opinion, just the same. Intervalic seems "strange" to students. Steps and skips can be seen readily, but soon the student parts ways with this concept. "A fourth? Huh? A skip + a step? Really? Gosh, that's hard to see, isn't it?" Assuming an eclectic method chose the best from each of the other three, then this would be superior.

I have very little positive to say about method books except that they give the inexperienced teacher some guidance as to what might be presented and in what order. A college-educated teacher should have her/his own ideas about what needs to be presented and what printed matter will do the job. A method, by definition, is based on the norm. And what student fits "the norm?"

Now you know a little of what I think. What do you think? By doing your own work, you will learn what is important to you. I highly recommend it!

I have come up with some problems in interpreting Clementi's Gradus ad Parnassum. Would you please give me your opinion?

I do not use this Clementi, so I am unable to give you the kind of help you need. If you can give me specific questions about specific technical or interpretive problems perhaps I can, but for generalities, I am afraid that I can't help you much! I am sorry!

To read about the work, try any music dictionary or encyclopedia (such as Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians; you will have to go to a university library to find this).

If you are looking for etudes, I like Czerny's Op. 821, which is a collection of 8-measure-long etudes. I like them because they are short!!! Students can finish them in a week or two. For lower level students, Czerny has other books. (I do not use the "velocity" books, however. Students play them too fast, and technique goes downhill insted of getting better!)

I have recently written a small collection of harpsichord pieces, my first for that instrument. (1) Is it true that there is little the performer can do to alternate between fortes and pianos, other than to add a rank of strings or eliminate one (or use a damping function)? (2) My inclination is to include performance indications in terms of fortes and pianos, along with crescendos and diminuendos, if for no other reason than to indicate the character intended for the music. Would this be of any use at all to the performer, or would it simply be seen as a visual encumbrance to score?

(1) Yes, more or less, true. The harpsichord is a plucked instrument, not a percussion one. No matter how "loud" or "soft" you try to play, the sound is not affected. It has been said the harpsichord is an "instrument of artifice." To play forte, you would arpeggiate chords, add ornaments, double roots and fifths, in addition to adding another rank of strings. Another possibility is offered by only a double-manual harpsichord: couple one manual to the other.

To play piano on a harpsichord, thin the texture, keep the voices close to each other and avoid doubling, and of course, remove any extra ranks or coupled manuals.

There is no generalized damping function such as the damper pedal on a piano. When you lift your finger from the key, the jack falls and the damper makes contact with the string. If there is any sound remaining from the pluck, the damper stops it.

The jack is the vertical piece of plastic (although it could be wood) that is sent upwards to pluck the string when the key is depressed. Attached to the jack is a piece of felt. This is the damper.

A further note on harpsichord mechanics: The part which does the plucking is called the plectrum. You will see that the plectrum is "hinged" in the jack. When the key is depressed and the string plucked, the plectrum is also above the string. Therefore the key must return to its original position in order to pluck again. If the plectrum does not fall below the string (the "hinge" allows this to happen), the string will not sound again if the key is depressed. This "problem" was "solved" by the piano's action.

There are other tone colors on most harpsichords, such as a buff stop, lute stop, etc. For example, a buff stop is a "rank" of bits of leather that can be moved to rest against a rank of strings. This changes the tone color of the strings when plucked.

(2) Not only are such markings a visual encumbrance, but a gross error. Omit these markings entirely! They will give the player no information at all! In fact, if you put these in your score, you lose credibility immediately! A harpsichordist would question whether you knew very much about the instrument for which you had written.

Based on your query, I question this, too.

And now something you will doubtless find insulting. -Do- you know the harpsichord? It sounds very much as though you do not.

It sounds to me as though you chose the harpsichord for the wrong reason. Perhaps it had the tessitura or color you needed for your ideas. Perhaps you selected it for its "novelty" value.

It sounds, however, as though you have just plugged in your ideas, rather like an orchestration homework assignment. You have written a suite for harpsichord and do not know the basics of how it makes music?!!

My -exceedingly strong- recommendation is to spend some time with a harpsichord. Only by being familiar with it can you write effectively for it. Writing effectively for this instrument is not like taking an orchestration course, where basically all you have to do is check that the notes you want to assign lie within the instrument's range/capability and then rely on whim/artistry as to which instrument is assigned the melody and which the accompaniment notes.

(Orchestrators: I know I have grossly over-simplied how orchestration is done. Please forgive me!)

The character of the music must be implicit in the notes, counterpoint, voicing, etc. when writing for the harpsichord. This makes is quite a bit more demanding than writing for piano!

Contact your local university and ask for practice time; or perhaps someone in your community can point you toward a private citizen with an instrument in the home (try the local orchestra conductor, choral conductor, and music directors of churches with good music programs; the local organ and piano instructors are another source). A church might have an instrument. You'd better start looking in the want-ads and check with builders for an instrument to buy because you're sure to fall in love with it!

For now, rename this composition as a suite for piano. You can write a real suite for harpsichord when you understand how the instrument works and "plays."

Do you devise detailed lesson plans every week for every student? Do you think this is very essential? And what do you feel about keeping track of practice times? I feel this is a waste of time, but some teachers I have met insist on it? What do you think?

No, I don't write out lesson plans in advance. I have in mind what the student needs. The student has a lesson pad (I like a full-sized steno pad), and I write the assignment in it every week. That is enough to refresh my memory if it has gone south.

I know the pillars of my curriculum (literature, technique, theory, performance practices, practice techniques, etc.), and that is enough [for me]. Thus, I do not write down such things as: "Susan: start 2nd mv of Mozart; introduce f# minor scale" and "Ben: introduce new RH note; check crossword puzzle form last week".

As to practice minutes, no. Never. There is a file somewhere on my site that deals with this. Look on the pedagogy front door.

If what other teachers do seems stupid or busy work to you, don't do it! You don't owe anyone any explanation of what you do or how. How you run your business is up to you.

I have a 7-year-old student who is a bright girl, but she is having difficulty learning to read notes on the staff and knowing which keys they represent on the keyboard. What can I do to help her? I have been teaching for almost a year, and she has been with me the whole time. Her method book does quite a bit of pre-staff notation, in which she was allowed to choose any octave, and now she doesn't seem to understand that Middle C represents only one key on the keyboard.

Your problem is exactly why I never use pre-notation! Begin the way you intend to continue, as the proverb says!

Perhaps you should re-think using a pre-notation method? Or, can you use the same method and leave out the pre-notation "songs?" Can you revise those songs and use them in a non-pre-notation form? Maybe you will have to write some new material to take the place of the pre-notation pieces. These don't have to be long (4 measures is fine - - besides which it yields a sticker quicker!), and they don't necessarily have to be a tune anyone recognizes. (I think many teachers fear that if the child does not produce a "recognizable song" fairly quickly that the parent will think the teacher is doing a bad job. Don't worry about this! The parent looked at a lot of teachers and chose you from the bunch of them, so the parent has confidence in your abilities. Insurance: tell the parent what you are doing - - "These first songs won't sound like anything you've ever heard, but I don't want to take short-cuts in teaching Denise how to read music." Let the student name these pieces (I've heard such titles as "Divergent Eyeballs" and "Broccoli Claptrap". These probably were vocabulary words that day in school! Wouldn't the teacher be proud?!)

On to solving your problem.

First, you have to sell the idea that she can no longer choose the octave. Even with a little one, I have had great success in referring to early pieces (maybe as recently as two weeks ago!) as "those baby songs": "Remember in those baby songs we did first [you open the book and point to them]? You weren't playing real music then, and so you got to choose where on the keyboard to play. Well, now we're playing real music, so you can't choose anymore. Notes on the page are only one place on the keyboard. So, we're going to play a game so you can learn where the notes are on the piano."

I suggest you play "Oh, Say, Can You Play?", wherein you make cards that show only one pitch. Use the grand staff - - not just one staff - - because she needs to see the relationships between the notehead and both staves, as well as the notehead and the keyboard. The student picks one card from the deck. You specify (before or after she picks) "with RH 3" or "with LH 5." I like to throw in a ringer or two (these always bring giggles), such as "nose" or "left elbow."

You "try to trick" her into not knowing where that note is and groan after she gets it right. "You are too smart today. You are winning all the time! That is not fair! So, here's what I want you to do. For breakfast next [whatever day her lesson is], I want you to eat dogfood." What?! Why?! "Because dogfood will make you dumb, and then I can win." Giggles all around. I'm not going to eat dogfood! "Why not? I want you to be dumb so I can win!" I'm NOT going to eat dogfood! "Oh, pleeeeeease?! You are too smart, and I want to win. Dogfood will make you dumb!" And so forth.

Make this game more elaborate for the next lesson by fashioning another set of cards that specify RH, LH (make several of each of these), R elbow, L elbow, nose, [eraser] end of a pencil, whatever. Make one or two "wild cards" which enable the student to choose the appendage. A third set would be the finger numbers (make about three sets of these, including a couple "wild cards"). If anything other than RH or LH is chosen, don't draw from the finger number pile. Make the stacks different colors (this will help you keep the decks straight at clean-up time!)

Now we're ready to play. In Deck #1, start with only the cards for Middle C (both clefs) and the B (bass clef only) and D (treble clef only) that surround Middle C. Set out Deck #2 and #3 beside the child on the piano bench and play the game at the lesson.

When these locations are well-learned, expand one note in each direction. Maybe it will take her a week of home practice to get those three notes stuck in her visual memory on paper and at the keyboard. No matter. What's important is that she learns them. Once the general idea of location-specific notation sinks in, she'll progress much faster. From the start, let her take it at her own pace and praise her every success. Explain the game to the parent (the parent will be playing this game at home with the student) and ask the parent to add a note on either side as soon as he is sure the student is solid in her learning.

I suggest you make a deck for yourself and one for her to keep at her house. When I make cards like this, I photocopy on bright-colored card stock. It's stimulating and the cards are fairly sturdy.

It won't take very long until she is reading well. Go back to her old songs during the lesson and have her re-play them for you as a double-check.

(1) If I'm writing music, how I can copyright it by myself? (2) If I want to have it copyrighted by a professional, how do I go about doing that? (3) Is there a difference between the two besides the price? (4) How much would it cost to get a song copyrighted?

(1) Your song is copyrighted -as soon as- you set it down on paper. All you have to do to invoke copyright protection is put your song in some kind of concrete format.

(2) I think you're confused with registering a copyright. You don't need anyone else to do it for you. There's no mystery: you fill out the form and send the money. You don't need an "interpreter." Refer to that section on my music copyright page for information about where to get the form.

(3) These questions are addressed in the link above.

(4) Zero. Copyright is automatic as soon as you write the song down. It's free. Registration costs a small fee ($20-$25 these days, I think - - I haven't checked recently).

I recently began teaching piano out of my home and hope to make this my career. I studied privately for 12 years but did not major in music in college. (I have a BA and an MA in the sciences.) I fear that I'm not very qualified to teach. I currently have 7 students, all beginners. I want to be able to give my students the best foundation I possibly can. What can I do to better myself and give myself more confidence as a teacher short of going back to college for a BA in music? I have tendinitis and fear I will not be able to do a BA in piano, physically. Is there anything I can do sort of in lieu of a degree?

First of all, hats off to you for wanting to offer your very best to your students and for recognizing that you need more training to do that!

Yes, there are things you can do, but eventually, I think you will want some college-level music study. Perhaps you would like to switch to harpsichord or organ? Meanwhile, take all precautions to guard against flare-ups of RSI.

Here are some suggestions in improve your teaching skills:

Join your local music teachers' group. Here you will find experienced and collegial friends. You'll recognize almost immediately those whose advice you will trust. Ask them about specific pedagogical questions you have. If you don't know where the group is, ask at any retail music store or instrument dealer.

Go to the group's meetings and listen to the speakers. If you can, go to conventions and listen and participate.

Listen to a lot of music - - not just piano music - - listen to vocal, orchestral, woodwind quintets, string quartets, etc.

If you are not currently singing in a group, find a civic chorus or church choir and join it. You'll become familiar with the masterworks of the vocal repertoire and also learn a lot about phrasing, feminine endings, and general musicianship. (If the best choir in town is not your church denomination, I'd suggest backing your ears and joining anyway.) There also may be a civic chorus at your local college or junior college. The more you know, the better a teacher you'll be.

Look into classes at your local college or junior college and see what's there for you. I'd advise classes in applied piano (hope your tendinitis is better!), music history, theory, form and analysis, and music literature (not just piano lit). When there's time, take a pedagogy class. My opinion is that pedagogy can be covered fairly quickly - - that is, learning the basics - - of course, it takes a lifetime to get that learning polished and in place in your studio - - but more "core material" will serve you better than "how-to" material. For example, you benefit more from a class in music history than one in the history of education.

Think back on all the teachers you've ever had and make two lists: what they did effectively (and apply whatever is applicable to your own students/classes) and wretchedly (and avoid that!).

How much does a university job pay? What are the hours? How should I dress? Do I need a doctorate?

The particulars of dress, hours, pay will be available from the college/university in question. I'd say, though, don't expect to get rich! You need a doctorate these days to be competitive.

I am looking for creative ways to teach children.

Here, you must be inventive. You know your students better than anyone else. And you know the content of your curriculum. You really can't rely on someone to have something that's prepackaged and that also "works" in your studio. You have to do it on your own. Actually, all that prepackaged stuff is what the writers worked up for their own studios; it is therefore very slanted. And we would be suspect if it weren't - - have these writers never taught kids before? (I suspect some of them actually have not - - or haven't in the last 30 years!! - - and are making it up out of whole cloth!)

Think like a kid. What did you like when you were a kid? What did you not like?

Think about your past teachers. What things did your piano teacher do that you liked or really liked? What did you really not like? What did classroom teachers do that you liked/didn't like?

Some ideas:

Kids like games: cards, board games, movement games, etc. They like silliness (funny names, nonsensical ideas). They like personalization ("Eric is a Star"). They like spontaneity (you write a song, and they give the title). They like to have some input into what they are doing. They like to be creative (encourage them to write a song on paper and play it for you; ignore all the notation errors and praise the effort, making sure an opus number and date is attached to each; when they are a few months into study, they will look at their pieces and see that they can't "read" them because the notation is incorrect - - then they'll ask for help). They like to see concrete evidence of progress (use short songs, technical exercises). They like immediate gratification (stickers, funny awards you draw such as "Good Sight-Reading Award" or "Terrific Playing Even with a Band-Aid Award"). They want a safe place to explore, a place they know they will not be ridiculed.

They don't particularly care for flash card drill (in my experience). They don't like regimentation (practice minutes charts). They don't care for the "Moses from the mountain" approach.

I've been toying around with the idea of teaching music from my home, but I've no idea how to get started. Do I need some sort of degree? How good should I really be before I can teach?

First, you need to ask yourself why you're doing this (or thinking about it); this topic discussed about halfway down in this file. This is not a job that anyone can do, like flipping burgers. If you are unprepared to teach piano, get some training.

Most parents seek a teacher with a degree, anyway. If you have no degree, you will attract parents who seek a teacher based on price. These are not the kind of students a professional teacher would want. What are you going to charge? There are several files in the business section of my home page that I think you should read.

But yes, you should have a degree to be believable. Naturally, the more data in your database (brain and fingers) the more you can offer to students.

Second, do you have any training or experience in teaching? Just because a person can -do- something does not mean that person can -teach- someone else how to do it.

Third, do you have a degree in anything?

As to how good do you have to be to teach piano: how incompetent would you allow yourself to be without embarrassment or moral discomfort?

I've discussed teacher preparation in many of the above responses. More information there.

How do you teach sensitivity to key speed as it relates to legato, staccato, portato, and finger pedaling?

You mean speed with which finger drops and does this vary from articulation to articulation? I hope so and will answer from this point of view.

To me finger pedal is holding a note down with the finger rather than with the foot, so I would not change finger speed from that used for a legato touch.

Staccato requires the fastest key speed and portato a medium one (I liken portato to trying to "run" in a filled swimming pool).

I don't worry much about teaching key/finger speed, per se. Instead I teach the -sound- that is required and allow each student to find the finger speed which works best with his hand musculature to produce that sound.

As to teaching sensitivity itself, I think there's not really a very effective way to actually teach it ("do it this way"): the student has to do it a lot and you have to give immediate feedback on each attempt. Eventually the student will "feel" and "hear" what is right and what the differences are between these articulations. You might try "playing" on the student's forearm, though.

I know you are not terribly impressed with method books, but if you could choose a method for a 14 year old with some piano experience, what would you recommend?

I would go straight to literature and avoid the methods, but since you're making me be very specific, look at Dénes Agay's The Joy of First Year Piano (Yorktown).

I just completed a course in piano pedagogy. It covered actual pedagogy only lightly and then went to music history of piano composers. I am finishing a music education AA in voice. I am also working on Early Childhood Education credits, and I'm trying to decide where I fit in the field of education today. I am not an accomplished piano player, as my first courses were in college. I received an A grade in a Piano 1 class last year but haven't kept up daily practice. I am interested in teaching young children at the beginner level. How can I prepare for this?

As I understand the job market today, there's not a lot of demand for young children (therefore, beginner) music specialists, per se. If you do other things and -also- are a music specialist, the music specialty is a plus. In today's job market the music with young kids shouldn't be the main job skill you are selling. Mainly because there's not much of a specific market, not because it isn't a worthy field.

As far as piano-for-young-children, to be completely honest, it appears to me that you have insufficient preparation, the most minimal of skills, and not much interest at this point in time. Teaching beginners is not a toss-off.

Beginners deserve the very best teachers, although it is commonly thought that someone with a few skills will be able to deal with them adequately.

As to insufficient interest, you say you have not kept up with your playing/practicing. If you don't find it interesting enough to make time for it in your own schedule, I think it will be difficult for you to convince young children that playing is important! Because you haven't made the effort to continue learning and began piano only in college, your technical skills at the instrument no doubt are very, very minimal. You cannot teach something that you can hardly do yourself! I wouldn't hold myself to be a golf teacher just because I knew which putter to use at the tee!

If you want to teach piano to young children, I think you need to read adjust your focus and really bone up on piano. Forget the young children for the moment. Instead, take a straight degree in piano. Piano performance, not piano pedagogy. Or, take ed courses as your elective courses in your music degree.

Here is a secret about university departments of education: their main goals are to justify their existence within the university structure, to fight for their share of university funds, and for the profs to protect their specialty turfs and their jobs. Ed departments will never acknowledge this, however, but it is 100% true. How many truly wonderful teachers are there of subject x who have a degree in education rather than a degree in subject x? Ask teachers you think are splendid what their degrees are (music or any other discipline)!

In my opinion, what teachers of subject x need, as far as education courses go, can be contained in a couple of courses: child psychology, learning theory (how people learn). The rest is learning stuff so you can speak educationese with the best of them! There is -no- need to spend a semester on the history of education, for example. (Unless your field is to be the history of education.) The history of education can be done up in a week's worth of lectures, if it takes that long! In my opinion, it can be summed up as: basics/try-something-else/back-to-basics. Horace Mann is in there, somewhere...)

What you need to teach music of any kind to any age student is a degree is music, not a degree in education. Specialize in music first; then apply it to young children. Don't start the other way 'round by picking through musical knowledge for what might apply to wee ones!

I have a 10-year-old transfer student who's been playing for four years, but mostly "pop" type pieces, full of arpeggios and fluff. The old teacher played them for her and wrote in the letter names above each note. She couldn't point to the place in the music where she was when I stopped her to ask. The parents thought their daughter was a very accomplished pianist, when in reality, the child can't read a note! I do have the mother's support now since she sits in on every lesson and has realized that her daughter literally cannot find Middle C. My question: I'm afraid the child will be bored with easy songs and quit altogether. I had her doing 5-finger songs for a while. I now have her working on a more challenging piece, but she still can't play it after two weeks of only being assigned 10 measures. Help!

I am glad to hear you have the parents' support. This tells the child that learning to play piano this way is important and that they have put their imprimatur on your teaching as valid, so the child can feel safe using your methods.

One more party you must bring to do the negotiating table! Do you have the -child's- support? Does she know that she can't read? If she doesn't, she may not understand what you are doing and why; and be rebelling at the "baby songs" and therefore is not giving them attention and effort. She probably is playing her "old songs" at home (at least some of them and sometimes) because those give her gratification. We all like to play "old songs" for the very same reason!

Have you had a chat with her about the reality of what she can do? If you can get her to buy into going back to square one and a half, it will be much better for you (and, of course, for her). The secret: show her how she's going to benefit from doing this.

Start by pointing out what she would be able to do with her present skills if she adds note-reading to the pot. Example, she'll be able to take a piece of sheet music she's never seen and learn it pretty quickly and then add all the frills and flourishes she already knows how to do. The piece will sound fabulous and with very little effort!

It will never work to say she "must do it this way now." You have to sell it as a *benefit* to her. It's like any other sales situation! Read my file on marketing and pay particular attention beginning at the section about what people buy and why.

Treat her like a grown-up. Be frank with her: "Look, I know this is not a lot of fun right now, but I promise you, promise you that if you can hang in there with me for just a little while you will see -such- a big difference and you'll be able to play even more songs and learn them even faster!" Get her to buy in by being honest.

Be alert that other problems may be the root. Does the child need glasses? Perhaps there is dyslexia. There could be other kinds of things making her resistant to learning to read, if, in fact it is a conscious decision "not to learn to read." She might be covering up some "defect" (for which she is certainly not responsible!) by being intractable so you won't find out and eventually will quit and leave her alone with her deep, dark secret.

On the other hand, maybe she's not being intractable. She genuinely might not understand. It's your job, therefore, to find out how much she understands and the best way to deliver the goods on the knowledge she still needs.

I am hoping that you are teaching her by intervals. By this method, I don't mean in the Alfred series' fashion. Kids can't absorb all those intervals.

Use only step and skip (2nd and 3rd, respectively) at this point. Later you can talk about empty triads (5ths) and octaves. Even mature readers don't think, "This is a fourth" and "Here is a sixth." They see distances and sort of "eyeball it." Gestalt reading, I call it. When -you- sight-read through something, what do you do? You use Gestalt, too. It's something that really can't be taught specifically. It comes with experience, and each performer comes to it in her own time and in her own way.

Since she's 10, and particularly as she's a young 10, she'll still enjoy games. Devise some note-reading games for the family to play at home. Play the game once or twice at the lesson, when it is new. This is for reinforcement and also for her to see her parents are supporting you and your techniques. Card games and board games are popular with my students, and I assume these might work with you student, too. (More info on games elsewhere in this file. Also look on my pedagogy homepage in files about teaching young children.)

Change what you do at lessons so you really focus on reading.

Here's an example. At the next one, work with her on one or two new measures only so she learns them well at the lesson. This will (1) show her how to learn new music "the new way;" and (2) give you insight into how she likes to learn and perhaps what she is doing at home by her comments on "what I used to do" or "what my old teacher used to do."

I suspect you'll have to spoon feed her a couple of measures a week for one to two weeks. Then do two measures as usual at the third lesson, but -also- talk about the next two measures. Don't learn them together. Instead, talk about how these measures are the same as and different from the ones she already knows. Engage her in an analysis and encourage her to tell you. Be sure to wait long enough for her to think and answer; don't just jump in and prompt her (we teachers tend to do that too often!). If she looks at you kind of befuddled, you say, "I'm not in a hurry. Take your time and tell me what you see in that next measure that is like what you already know."

Also talk about -how- she's going to read those next measures. Actually, you are "learning" them at this lesson. She just isn't playing them! You'd say, "Here you are on this note [you point to the last note of the previously-learned measure]. How far away is this next note [in the new measure]?" Talk about the music hands apart. If there are any kind of patterns, such as a triad divided between the hands, note that. Pay particular attention to any patterns which she already has mastered, such as a chromatic scale.

As you conclude the lesson, tell her how pleased you are with her effort and progress today. And that, "There is nothing there you can't do in this extra material." And "If you feel you are ready near the end of the week, why don't you take a stab at one or both of those new measures and see what happens? If you have a problem, we'll sort it out next time. I'm very confident that you can do this because I've seen you learn _ measures here today. I'm so proud of you!"

My guess is she also may be very afraid to learn by "this new method." She needs to see she can have success at this method, as well as the one used by her old teacher (faulty as it was!).

Also change the focus of the home assignment. Eliminate the technique and other kinds of things you normally assign. For a while, assign only the one piece. For variety, you might ask her to play "a review song" every day and perhaps "choose an old song and memorize it" so it's ready for the next lesson. Also consider asking her to "make up a song;" at the next lesson, you write it down together. This is an excellent exercise in note-reading by itself! "Does the next note move up or down?" and "When does the left hand change?" Playing by ear is another way to flesh out a weekly assignment that has only one song on it so it seems like a full assignment. I would advise *against* filling out the assignment with extra theory workbook stuff; in fact, nix the theory workbook altogether until the reading problem is solved. (I'm not a big fan of theory workbooks - - busywork.)

Another activity might be improvisation on the black notes. Try thundering chords and octaves, Alberti bass patterns, a RH melody that crosses over the LH accompaniment, a "music box" idea in the high treble, melodic sequences, and so on.

Also see Question 4 and Question 8. There probably will be similar questions later on in this file, as I often receive related questions.

My students short-change half-notes in their music all the time! What can I do to help them?

It's a real challenge to get beginners to give two counts to half-notes, I agree. Rather than "nag" at them, I suggest you make a joke about it the short-changed note. Here are some of the ideas I've used (and used and used and used...! This is such a common problem!)

Don't give up! A few months of concentrated effort will pay off, and then you'll need only occasional reminders.

Do you have any suggestions about how we piano teachers can plan discussions with parents? Should they be patterned after the parent-teacher conferences done in the schools? Should I take lesson time for this?

Yes, your idea about patterning these discussions after a school conference is one idea and a good one! If you have children, think back on what you have liked and disliked about your children's various teachers and the way they handled parent/teacher conferences.

Another idea is to plan what to say according to what you'd put in transfer papers for this student: (1) where is the student now in the areas you deem important (ex: notereading, counting, steadiness of rhythm, keyboard techniques such as arpeggios and scales, etc.); (2) what literature is the student now studying? what is the purpose of giving him these particular pieces? what will be coming next and why? show parent the present pieces and the pieces the child was playing x months ago (maybe "6 months", since you've not had "conferences" before); (3) mention any problems you see or foresee; (4) ask how things are going at home; thank the parent for his/her support; where warranted, add a compliment, particularly on something specific; (5) ask how -you- can help the parent do the job at home (more structure? clearer assignment pad notations? more songs? fewer? start some pop pieces now? explain concept xyz to the student [again]?)

I see nothing wrong in taking half a lesson (or 10 minutes) to use for this purpose. Make yourself some kind of "report card" that you can fill in the details for each student. Mostly this is for you as a memory-jogger, though of course the parent will probably want to take it home, so make it tidy.

As to how to institute these conferences if you've never done them before, contact each parent in advance - - say 2 weeks - - and say you are going to hold parent conferences for __ (fill in the amount of time) during lessons the week of ___. Ask that any parent who would like a conference longer than 10 minutes to let you know right away. This way the parent decides how much of the lesson (for which he is paying, by the way) will be used in this fashion. Don't ask "if it's ok that we use some lesson time for this." Make a statement that this is what you will do. This is your business, and you are in charge.

At the conference ask each parent whether they would like another conference in X months (12? 6? when school lets out in June?) or whether they would prefer to forego future conferences. Try to avoid a "parent requests" kind of set up because then you have to drop what's going on presently in the studio to prepare for only one conference because Mrs. Blushbucket decides she wants one. It's better to have set times for these.

This is not to say that parents shouldn't talk to you at any time. I believe they should have free access to you for their questions and concerns. I'm saying that this formal conference should only be offered at specific times in the year so you use your time most efficiently.

For the past 6 months, I have had a bright, agreeable, practising student who comes from a wonderful home; she is being home-schooled. Despite all this going for her, she doesn't seem to "get" anything I'm teaching her. She'll do some step and skip identification exercises and get most correct and then will suddenly skip over one or two or suddenly do an assignment backwards (example: 8 tasks where she is to "skip up;" she'll do 5 correctly and then do 3 as "skip down"). It took her three weeks to memorize four measures! We've talked at length - - almost every lesson - - about which direction the note moves, but each week, it's, "I don't know what you mean." If I ask her to play the notes and say the note names, she says, "I don't know what you mean." This is -not- a stupid child. She has a good vocabulary for her age (8) and can hold wonderful conversations typical of her age. She is sensitive, and I know that when she gets overwhelmed, her thinking processes don't work very well. I did talk to the mom tonight and asked when she was able to first grasp the concept of the letter "A" being more than the cute first "word" of a nursery rhyme; that is, when did she discover the "concept" that the letter A could be used to form words? Answer: age 6-1/2! In a phone call, I asked whether or not she struggled with any of her schoolwork. Except for the times tables, she is doing well, said the mom. I asked the student the same question at her next lesson, and she had the same answer: she can't remember times tables. Mom said her vision tested fine.

[An additional question and answer concerning this student about learning steps and skips in order to read notation. Also see file with suggestions about teaching a student who is slow to learn the concept of lines and spaces. The end of this file is how I teach all students to read notes.]

It sounds to me as though this child has a learning disability - - possibly two, as they often occur in what's called a "constellation" of conditions. I'm -guessing- dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. I am not a trained medical professional nor a music therapist. I'm just a piano teacher, but one of my sons has learning disabilities and so I've had a very personal interest in reading everything I can find on this subject. I've also had several learning-disabled students and recognize the symptoms you describe. As I said, I am -not- a professional in the area of learning disabilities, so please consider my answer in this light.

When you said the child doesn't have any sense of note-direction, I thought immediately of dyslexia. It's as though she's seeing these things in 3-D while you and I see them in only two dimensions. Not only three dimensions, but these two notes are sort of "swirling around" in the three dimensions, and she doesn't know from which direction to look at them - - think of the TV ads where you've seen a CAD drawing program rotating the engineering drawing for a new car. This is how she perceives things, and she'll have to learn how to cope with it, but right now, she just can't do it because she's so young. She doesn't even know what's wrong!

When you said she "shuts down," that rang the ADD bell with me. It's sensory overload, and the child does the only thing she can: she turns off. She can't handle the input she has on board - - let alone any more - - so she just closes down. This is what my son did, over and over.

Another possibility might be a vision problem, but it sounds as though the mom has already checked that.

Now, the parents will -not- be happy to even entertain the idea that their child has learning disabilities. This is a terrible stigma in our society, and what a shame this is! The child is "damaged" from the get-go thinking she is "dumb." In addition, the parents think they've "done something wrong" or "have bad genes" and will feel personally indicted.

Learning disabled kids are not stupid. In fact, most learning disabled kids are -above- average in intelligence, not below!! *They just learn differently.*

These kids just learn differently.

Repeat that, please. These kids just learn differently.

They are not stupid, they are not uncooperative, or any other label that's been stuck on them.

They will be just as successful as people who learn in other ways. They will be able to do their schoolwork and be healthy, happy, and contributing members of society. They will be able to get as much higher education as they want to work for. They just process information in a way that is different from the way most people do it.

If most people learned the way children such as your student does, people like you and me would be considered learning disabled because we did not fit the "norm." School systems are built around the norm, alas.

It is time that learning disabilities be de-stigmatized, and this task has to be done one person at a time.

Therefore, the way you present your ideas will make a big difference.

If the diagnosis does not come back as learning disabilities, then at least they know one thing the problem is -not-!

It is good that this child is being home-schooled, I think. One-on-one is very good for kids with ADD because the teacher/parent is totally focused on the child and vice versa. When attention wanders, the teacher can call the student back and can tailor the length of different lesson activities to the student's attention span, pushing just a little at a time to extend it over a period of weeks and months. This is the same reason private piano study is good for ADD kids. Not to mention the fact that it gives them a chance to succeed!

The parents should contact the special education arm of their public school district for specific help the district offers to home-schooling parents. This would happen, I'd think, after the medical consultation. In order to receive help from the school district, the child must have a formal diagnosis. There are certain federal mandates given to public schools, too, which decree that certain programs and counseling and so on be available to children diagnosed with learning disabilities. (I'm assuming they are home-schooling under the public school auspices, rather than a private group such as The Calvert School or a religious program. If either of these two latter, they would have to check with "their" district to find out what services are available to their daughter.)

Girls with ADD are less common than boys with it. The parents should press hard to get the specialized information they need for their daughter.

There is another possibility I feel I should mention. She might be having epileptic seizures. In your discussion, I recommend that you suggest the parents get the child a neurological work-up, which the doctor being sought for ADD probably will order anyway. But do mention it; perhaps suggest that the doc might refer them to a pediatric neurologist. A neurological workup might include such things as an MRI, EEG, and/or other tests to look at the brain's activity and physical configuration. Epilepsy is controllable through medication.

After 6 months of lessons, my student often cannot distinguish between B and D in notereading. She also confuses E and F in the treble clef and F and G in the bass. (We are using the Middle C method with both thumbs on Middle C.) How can I help her learn these basic concepts?

Let's talk about B and D confusion first. This is so very common.

I call this "mirror reading" and almost all beginner children have this difficulty to some degree. It lasts varying amounts of time. The youngest beginners seem to wrestle with mirror reading the longest, which makes sense, since their abstracting abilities are least well-developed and they have the least experience dealing with any kind of written symbols. Adults have the same problem, too, but they are sophisticated enough to recognize how they misread as soon as the teacher points out that they played an incorrect note ("Woops!" or "Wrong note" or "That's a B."). They accommodate instantly and rarely have the problem recur, at least so we teachers can tell this mental process is going on!

What to do?

Show no impatience.

Correct the child in a matter-of-fact manner. My first step is to encourage her to figure it out which note it is in a systematic way that she can use the next time she is stumped by this same problem. As a first step, I'll point out the clef: "This note is in treble clef. What note is it if it's in treble clef?" Seventy percent of the time this will be enough to "rearrange" the student's thinking.

If this doesn't work, I'll walk the student through the steps I think she ought to take when becoming confused over this matter. "Middle C is right here, yes?" I say, pointing on the page to the adjacent Middle C (or writing one in if Middle C is not the adjacent or next-adjacent note - - close enough that the student can compare placement visually). "Is this note above or below Middle C?" Sometimes I use a little ruler and place it on the Middle C leger line to help the student "line up" the two notes and see where the note in question falls relative to the Middle C. The student answers correctly, and if not, I say, "No, it's above Middle C." Then I pause a bit so the student can assimilate that statement and compare that idea to her previous one. "So, where is this note on the piano?" Sometimes I ask the student to show me Middle C and then the note in question.

Sometimes, after working through several ideas like this, I can see that the child is thoroughly muddled, so I will just say, "No, this is a D." We'll work on this again, as of course the same problem will arise shortly!

Do not communicate that the child should have "gotten" this concept before now. Be patient; it will come.

Now, as to the confusion between E and F in the treble and F and G in the bass, it could be several things. Maybe she needs more reinforcement with pieces that have all the notes she knows and only one of the "new" ones. You can easily write songs for her; they won't be great stuff, tune-wise, but this is reading practice and you need a -lot- more material than method books present. Let her choose the titles; encourage her to decorate the page at home the following week; you want her to feel that these are -her- songs!

On the other hand, if it's been a while, as you indicate it has been (6 months), she may still be struggling with distinguishing between line and space notes. You indicated that a vision exam turned up nothing. I speculated that perhaps learning disabilities were involved here and recommended that you suggest to the parents that she be evaluated. (This is the same student in the previous question.) Rather than respond to the extreme longevity of this problem as part of this answer, I have written a new file about teaching line and space differentiation to students who seem to be in a fog about this basic concept of notation or are slow to catch on. Please follow this link; the other link in this paragraph also may be of assistance about teaching students with learning and physical disabilities. Also see teaching notereading.

I'm a degreed teacher. What is your opinion of seminars or workshops given at the Learning Annex or park & rec centers, directed toward adults students and claiming in their promotional materials that "piano teachers are holding secret knowledge that they do not wish to tell you as a student" and that as an adult student, "you do not need not learn to play 'baby pieces' from children's books but instead can learn to play quickly and easily" if the prospective adult piano student will attend their seminar for $20 to $39 (and no doubt buy their tapes)? These workshop leaders purport to be piano teachers or former piano teachers. What's going on here? I tell my adult students that, as far as I know, there is no quick and easy way. I feel like they are leading these students on with false promises.

I have never heard of the Learning Annex, so I can't comment on what that is or anything about the services offered there. As to rec centers and seminars, I have heard of such. In fact, I followed up on an ad looking for "piano teachers who want to earn big money." What could this be? I wondered.

I got a brochure that told me the company would sell instructions (for me) and tapes (for me to sell to my "students"). As I recall the instructions were $200-$300, and then I paid extra for the tapes. $10 each, maybe? $5?

The basic premise of the system was that I was to book myself (!) into community centers and other places. I would have to scrounge up these venues and then sell myself to those doing the booking and then advertise and promote the seminar to fill it with students. No assistance was given in these areas. I would be on my own.

Ok, after I book the venue and find the students, then I teach seminars to adults on electronic keyboards. (I can't remember where the keyboards came from - - maybe I bought those and carted them from place to place. Or maybe the student fee was a couple hundred dollars and included the keyboard; don't recall from where these keyboards were to appear. Oh, well, a detail, yes?) After the seminar, I was to sell these "continue at home" tapes for a sizable sum and then go on to the next place I had booked.

No follow-up. No way for the student to get help if he got confused.

Now, I wouldn't go so far as to call this system a scam - - something on par with a Ponzi scheme or a pigeon drop, for example - - but I would say these "seminars" use terribly misleading advertising. And that they prey on students looking for cheap music instruction and instant results.

Naturally, I don't know exactly what it is I could teach all these crowds of eager adults because I didn't pony up the bucks, but I'm guessing course content is fake book style: playing a melody in the RH and chords in the LH. How a one-day seminar can teach notereading and complex counting such as you'd find in pop songs, I do not know. How it could teach the basics of fake book playing in one day, I also do not know, either.

As to "secret information," I don't know about you, but I don't have any "secret information" I'm withholding from students! The implication from the seminar promotional materials must be: we cagey teachers dole out that secret stuff in teeny-tiny doses to keep those students paying tuition! Boy! If we were ethical and just "told the whole story," then the student could save a whole lotta dough and just ride off into the sunset with the magic formula.

Ack. We both know this is impossible. There -is- no magic formula! And if there were, why wouldn't we share this with our students? We -want- them to feel successful as early as possible!

And learning from tapes? No way on earth. Even from CDs and videos.

As to a class situation, think back on your student days about the piano classes for music majors who are not piano majors. These people already read music superbly and are accomplished players on other instruments! That class format was just barely adequate for them to gain the skills they needed to pass the piano proficiency exam! I also think of all the elementary ed majors who had to learn to play just enough to pass their elementary music materials course. They -really- struggled! Again, a class situation.

Do you think a bunch of non-musicians (even those who might have had several years of study as children) could derive any benefit from a seminar set-up like this? About the only benefit I can see would be perhaps an improvement in their posture if their wallets were too heavy.

Should you worry about this seminar when it comes to town? No.

This whole business reminds me of the hoopla given The Miracle Piano System (fl. 1990-91 and now out of business) - - buy an electronic keyboard, which was pre-programmed with stuff, as I recall, and the student sort of "followed the bouncing ball." The ads showed the proud parents dripping joy while watching their beloved child 'learn a song in just minutes,' or some other such balderdash. Did Miracle Piano last? Nope!

This one won't either. It's a mosquito. Bat it away and turn your attention to people who are intelligent enough to understand that no personal skill worth having can be gained without expenditure of effort and time.

Bottom line: they're a rip-off, in my opinion. The company is making its money selling YOU the how-to "information" and the tapes/videos for you to resell. They don't care a hoot about you or about the people who take the "class." Their interest is only in their bottom line.

Lest I have insulted those of you who use class sessions in your studio, please let me clarify. As you have guessed, I don't use group sessions at all. That doesn't mean they aren't good things or that teachers who use these are not good teachers. Class sessions just aren't for me and for what and the way I teach. If class sessions work for you and your students, keep at it! Your teaching style and curriculum are a good match for this pedagogy. The class situation I am describing here is non-students who fall for a too-good-to-be-true scam.

Update, 2002: I was cleaning out my filing cabinet, a gargantuan task, and I came upon a brochure from just such a seminar, but aimed at a prospective teacher.

Note: Mention is made in the prospectus that this is a "pop system" for adults at the piano, not "classical music." That said, let's look at the details.

Here are some of the phrases and ideas that really stress what's important about this program: "wealth-building machine" - - "Don't worry. You don't need a music degree or any credentials." - - "leverage your time" - - "embody the absolute highest degree of integrity, quality, and service" (I really like that one!) - - get a "lifestyle you deserve".

I also read how my financial risk is not very great because I'm going to be able to find (how?) one of "dozens of Joint Venture Partners in [my] area" who will "happily supply all [my] advertising, equipment, and facilities." I split my take with my Parner, 50-50. (No guaranteed income to the Parner after she/he happily pays the start-up costs? Maybe I have to use my firstborn as collateral.)

Fortunately, "[my] income is safe." I don't have to worry about anyone encroaching on my turf because "certification" to teachers of this system is granted "on an exclusive [geographical] basis."

About the books and tapes, the prospectus states: "Here's where your investment starts to pay you back." (Sound familiar?) My start-up inventory costs $5000. (This is an old brochure - - I'm sure it costs a lot more now!) And, at $150 an hour or $500 a day, I can recoup that very quickly. I then buy further materials from the company when the initial supply runs out. Wait! There's more! If I can't afford the $5000, they'll give me some ideas for financing that cost. And, if I call within the next half-hour, for $175 I'm allowed to apply, receive a contract, and one copy of the materials. Whattadeal!

Guess who's making the money?

Now, then, what are the students learning? (I just found this outfit on the web, so presumably they're still in business!) Triad in the right hand and root (or doubled root) in the left. This way they can accompany singers, and if they have some sidemen to lay down the rhythm, they've got a band! Just like that! Students also are told that "professional piano players" don't read notes. (Irving Berlin is cited in the prospectus. True, Irving didn't read notes.) So, no, the student doesn't need to read notes, either! How is the melody communicated to the student without notereading if there's no singer to take care of that pesky detail? Why, the student just plays by ear! He/she uses "trial and error" to find the melody and then repeats a couple of times so it's cemented in the memory. Wow! Students teach themselves! Students are their own best teachers! Wow again!

Yup, this is true teaching, I think you must agree. As well as a way to leverage one's time so financing a deserved lifestyle is no problem!

PS. Students are allowed to order materials directly from the company, thus bypassing those teachers. These books range from $25-$100. Not including shipping, of course! Hot dog! This is going to be easy! Where do I pay to sign up?

Bottom line: Such a set-up is to squeeze money out of unsuspecting teachers (and "teachers") and students. Can you say "unethical"?

I am doing a paper on ear training in the private piano studio for my piano pedagogy class and would like your permission to use information from your web page. (1) Do you have any other sources recommend? I'm having difficulty finding information. (2) Where did you get your ideas about ear training, which you wrote about on your homepage? How did you come to your conclusions? They're all rational, but how did you decide what to do?

(1) Yes, this is a very under-researched and under-described problem, isn't it? I am sorry I cannot point you toward anything else on this topic. I've never read anything on it in texts or in professional journals. Not that it isn't there! It might be. It's just that I've never run across anything on this topic. This is why I put that file on my home page.

Ear training isn't all that difficult to quantify, but teachers get all tangled around in what they did at college and decide that their college curriculum constitutes proper ear-training activities for beginner students in the private studio. It does not!! Students in the private studio need information they can put to use right away. Identifying harmonic and melodic intervals by ear isn't what's needed right away. Later on, it's ok and a good piece of information to have at hand, but at first the student needs to figure out stuff like "Is this funny sound [dissonance] a mistake or is the music supposed to sound like this?" and "Which hand is making the error?"

(2) I arrived at these guidelines empirically; I've taught a long time. Also, I have a double Ph.D. (the other one is in instruction), so I've done a lot of reading and thinking about, as well as and doing studies on, how people learn. I also believe I have a gift for teaching. (Without wanting to toot my own horn - - and it's going to come out this way, no matter what! - - I think a gift for teaching means someone is able to take difficult or complex topics and put them into language that is understandable, as well as an ability to break down large masteries into small parts and describe those small parts so others can implement them.)

Bottom line: I trust my instincts.

You are welcome to use information (or quotes) in this letter along with information from the file on my homepage.

As to references, unless your professor (or the Music Department) has rules for bibliographic citations, here are the proper formats:

What is a dompe, as in "My Lady Careys Dompe?"

Please see the file in my Q&A about interpretation.

A father came to me wanting to study piano at the same time as his son. Literally. His son has been playing for two years, and they took together with another teacher. The father does not mind learning at the slower pace of his child, but what kind of music would be good for both of them to learn?

An interesting question!

I would recommend different "base" literature for the two of them so there is no competition and bring them together in duet literature. I would not try to teach both father and son from the same pieces of music, even though the father has stated that he doesn't mind learning at his son's slower pace. Down the road, in just a few months, the disparity between learning speeds will become quite pronounced, and the son will "notice." Better to start the way you want to continue; that is, give them each his own literature, exercises, etc.

Also I would have father and son have private lesson time as well as joint time. For example, if they take an hour lesson, each could have 20 minutes and leave 20 minutes for time together. Certainly better, though, would be an hour and a half, so each could have a half-hour and take a half-hour together.

If this is too costly, do it this way: let the boy have the half-hour three weeks out of the month, with the father observing and repeating his son's assignment at home. He will have no troule. On the fourth lesson of the month, give dad 15 minutes by himself and the two of them together for 15 minutes for duets.

You might think about alternating weeks between father and son. NO! This is a bad idea! The son will have to wait two weeks to have his questions answered. The son will have to wait two weeks to get feedback; he will develop all sorts of problems and bad habits, and these will be painful to un-do - - to the point that the child wants to call it quits. He won't practice "this week" because he knows he won't have a "call to accounting" until next week. His progress will be so slow that he loses interest. (All this will happen with the dad, too.) When the boy drops away, the father will, too. Don't alternate lessons!

I have a bachelor's degree in music and pursued public school teaching/accompanying for a while and found it unfulfilling. I went into another line of business, while teaching a few students. Now I'm looking to get back in, but in a more realistic way. I am interested in going back to school to get a master's in piano pedagogy. My question is: what jobs will there be with this degree that can offer monetary stability and peace of mind? I'd like to have some ideas before attempting 2 more years of education.

No guarantees! Sorry.

If you teach privately, you will be working "on commission only," which means your pay will depend on how well you can attract students and then keep them. Kind of scary, but I feel I should mention this because you are asking for assurances.

A master's is not a guarantee, either. True, consumers look at a person with a master's as "better prepared" than one with only a bachelor's (and this is the case 99% of the time), -but- in the private sector a master's may be a barrier to employment because a master's person commands more money and it's cheaper to pay for a bachelor's person, even if that person is not as good.

If being solely responsible for the money your business generates makes you uncomfortable - - many people feel this way, and it is not wrong to feel this way - - then you would be better off in another career with a stable cash flow and keep music as a side gig, teaching a few students as you choose. Of course, as a teacher, you still will have the responsibility of keeping current and putting your best efforts into your "side job" as though you were a teacher with a full-blown studio.

Do you have any suggestions on teaching lefties? I have a beginner 8 year-old student who played Jingle Bells for me, and I was quite impressed by her form in the LH. Her mom said that she plays songs by ear entirely with her left hand. Is there something I can do to introduce the RH correctly without pulling the rug out from under her? I praised her and told her that she has a special talent that some pianists could only dream of having. What do you suggest?

First, you were very diplomatic in the way you complimented her! How can she not want to learn from a person who instantly appreciates what she's done?!

Since she plays by ear, your solution is simple: start with notereading. Start with the RH. "You can hear music in your head and play it. Now we're going to learn how to -see- music and play it!"

I have a 14 year-old old that is reading piano music at the late beginner and early intermediate level. This typical teenager is starting high school and trying to fit in. She's a hard worker and learns fast, however, she's expressed to me how lately her piano music does not inspire her much any more to want to sit at the piano and practice. Considering her parents just purchased a brand new baby grand piano for her she wants to stick with it, but she feels "nerdy" about the music she's learning and wants to learn more in the style of rock. Besides her method book music, she has learned some short classical works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach, some popular, Broadway, and movie hits, and even some good simplified arrangements of some longer classical works. I've begun to focus her lessons with more boogie, blues, and rock styles which is more up her alley at this age. I'm also teaching her blues scales in all keys. I'm running out of ideas for this diversified student.

Sounds like this student is a teacher's dream! Lucky you! She's dedicated and she's also able to figure out how she feels and to articulate it. You must be a wonderful teacher to inspire her to be so honest. I like a lot of what you're doing. You have a lot of good ideas. Also, on the plus side is that she feels a sense of obligation because her parents just bought her the fancy piano. Your challenge, as we both see it, is to keep her interest piqued and continue to challenge her.

Upon re-reading your letter, what sticks out this time is "method books." Anyone able to play shorter/simpler "real" works does not need a method book. Especially for a teen, they say "baby stuff." Get rid of the method books, but make a big deal out of it: "Congratulations! You are ready to play from real books. We're going to dump these old things." I am sure she recognizes that the music in the methods is not very high quality - - and certainly not commensurate with the amount of work it takes to prepare them. (This is one of the main reasons I dislike method books: the songs take far longer to learn in order to play well than the musical content deserves.)

If you wish, use the method books for sight-reading material after a year or so when those songs are 1-2 levels below her current playing level. You may wish to explain this to the parents if they just shelled out for a new set. Actually, the parents should be exulted that she no longer needs the method books (they're crutches, really) and feel validated that they bought the lovely instrument for her.

In place of the method books, get an anthology. I like Lynn Freeman Olson's two (Alfred). There are also books of a single composer's music; look at the ones edited by Keith Snell (Kjos). I like Anson Introduces Chopin (Willis), but none of the other books in the Anson series. Instead, look at Maurice Hinson's series (Alfred).

Your teaching her blues scales is excellent. Now tell her about the 12-bar blues pattern and write a blues for her. Then have her make one up and write it down together (let her name it). Then she can transpose it (by ear) into other keys. Encourage her to improvise another melody on the notated LH part.

For my older teens (freshman year and up - - and with at least mid-intermediate status), I use Leo Alfassy's Blues Hanon (Amsco); the pieces are also very handy just to put up and use as a pre-prepared foundation (chord progression) for some improv. Later on, take a look at William Gillock's New Orleans Jazz Styles (Willis). I love these three books, and students do, too. Very idiomatic for the piano. Each book has various levels in it (I imagine because the original book was meant to be the only one; but it sparked such enthusiasm that he wrote another; and ditto with number three), so it's not a case of working through one book and then going on to the next. You must jump around from book to book to take them in order of difficulty. Therefore, I ask my students to buy all three at once. I start with "Dixieland Combo" in the first (blue) book.

Encourage her to make some of her own selections. Suggest she go to the music store and look for sheets. Tell her to get EZ Piano arrangements (as opposed to "standard" arrangements). Even so, you may have to edit and simplify even further for her now (such as clear up inner voices that have chords to mark time, change tricky rhythms to some more straight-forward notation, etc.). I also usually shorten these to ABA; that's usually enough for the student to play all she wants of it. These should be easier than her current lit under study so they are "pay-off music" pieces. I caution my students to select something with a tune; rap does not translate well.

You didn't mention technique. If she doesn't have a regimen of this, I think you should start one, but start slowly! And -don't- start with diatonic scales!! Other files on this subject on the pedagogy home page.

Besides the Broadway tunes and movie themes, which you're already doing, other ideas:

Do you suggest that music teacher have workshops?

As you have read in an earlier answer, I am not an advocate of group sessions ("workshops" or "studio classes," as they are sometimes called), but a lot depends on the teacher's general curriculum.

Suzuki teachers, for example, do a lot of ensemble stuff (especially the string teachers, as this is the venue in which most of their students will be playing - - in an orchestra, not alone on the middle of the stage as a soloist!). A workshop setting is ideal for this because the players already are gathered and ready to play.

Teachers who have students in particular sorts of adjudicated exams often have workshops for teaching of the music theory portions of this exam. It's more efficient to teach a class than one at a time.

Teachers who do competitions with their students also tend to have workshop sessions as a way to allow students to play before an audience numerous times before the competition. Sometimes the student's peers give feedback on the workshop class performance.

Still other teachers use workshops to deliver information for which there is not sufficient time in the lesson. Theory, mentioned above, is one area. Music history is another. Perhaps the teacher has several electronic keyboards, samplers, and so on and uses the workshop setting as a way to give students ensemble experience.

Just because I don't have workshops, though, doesn't mean -you- shouldn't. If the workshop format suits your curriculum and schedule, by all means, go ahead. You will not be alone, as many teachers use these.

Note: As to tuition for a group session, teachers who have workshops often let the workshop substitute for one of the private lessons of the month. Or, they charge an extra fee to cover the group session.

I want to start a monthly or bi-monthly piano club for my students. Where can I find information on doing this, and guidelines on what to do each meeting?

I do not know anyplace where you can get specific guidelines for this. (Anyone reading who does know, please e-mail me so I can post it here for everyone.)

My adult students have formed a piano "group." They meet monthly and play for each other (the idea being to reduce nervousness prior to recital both by performing the piece and "feeling no fear" of the particular group of people assembled). They play works in progress, too, not just completed pieces.

They rotate houses so everyone hosts. A side benefit is that everyone has an opportunity to play a variety of pianos. (One of the problems with being a performing pianist is that we are hostage to the piano at the location where we are to play.) They serve refreshments and talk pianos/music/etc. with one another. This has been highly successful, as it has been going on for years.

I am not part of this endeavor, though I was invited to join. It's best they do this themselves and not feel self-conscious because the Heavy is there listening!

If you go this route, I'd say you need someone who is willing to be the chair and shoulder responsibilities to schedule dates, secure meeting places, etc. unless you want to run it yourself. As I indicated above, I decided it was better if I were out of the loop, so my adult students run it themselves and do not feel any uneasiness because I am present.

Not only have they had many opportunities to play, but deep friendships have developed.

Do you have some tips on teaching pupils with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Do you have experience teaching such children?

Yes, my son has ADD (or ADHD, depending on which term you wish to use - - same thing). I have taught several students with this condition, too, including adults. I have a file on this. It also addresses physical disabilities.

Also read some of the other questions/answers on this page, as mention is made of ADD. See especially Question 37.

I have a student with weak finger joints. They collapse, especially the end-most one (and especially on fingers 2 and 5). Do you know some special exercises for such hands?

This is a problem that can be solved, but only if the student is aware of it. Naturally, this awareness will be easier with an older student. I'm guessing you are speaking of a young one.

Here's what I do with a pupil of such an age. I try to keep the problem uppermost in the child's attention as we play at the lesson. This also means that *I* must keep it uppermost, too, which is something that's not very easy to do with all that is going on in the lesson that I want to cover!

Second, to introduce what I want the student to be cognizant of, I take a water-soluble marker and make a little dot on the places on the fingers that I want to touch the keys. I call these the "pads of the fingers;" I hope you know what I'm trying to describe in words! In this exercise, I demonstrate what is needed versus what the child is now doing. Next, we play all the fingers (I leave out the thumb). The point of this exercise is to "leave tracks." My piano keys are plastic, and it's easy to wipe off the marker. If your keys are ivory, of course, you won't want to do it this way but maybe you could use a dinner plate from the kitchen. We identify which fingers are not leaving tracks (I know this, but the student "discovers" this). Then we play again and the student watches his hand and tries to get his fingers all to curve so they make tracks. Sometimes we need a fresh application of marker!

The next thing to is I have the child pick "an old song" and use it as a "curving fingers song" (pick whatever name for it you want to use). This must be a -very- old song - - one that has been passed off at least over a month ago. It should be played at whatever speed the child wants -as long as the fingers all curve.-

Each week, the student chooses the "curving fingers song" for the next week. It should be played at home 2-3 times daily.

If your student isn't at the place where a whole song could be attempted as a "curving fingers song," write out 1-, 2- and then 4-measure strings of notes (these don't necessarily have to be very melodic because child will not be "hearing" what he's playing because he'll be busy thinking about his fingers - - we hope!).

When things are pretty well mastered, drop the curving fingers song but keep a strong lookout all the time and keep the problem in the child's consciousness. Particularly be vigilant for proper finger curvature in technical studies.

Everyone has to learn to curve fingers, and we all do learn eventually, and this student will too!

Let me caution you about when to pursue this problem. At the very beginning of study, there is a lot for the child to process (primarily visual, cognitive, and physical acts), and I wouldn't worry too much about the curving fingers in the early stages or you'll overload him. Perhaps you could wait as long as 2 months before even mentioning it. Then just do it casually, without making a really big deal out of it. When the child has, say, 3 or 4 notes playable in each hand, then you drag out the "curving fingers song." It may be that much of the problem has solved itself as the child's fingers become stronger and he has greater control of them. (In the file above, there are further links to several other files here which may be of assistance.)

Technical studies appropriate for the beginner will help the child gain additional strength and control. There is a section of files listed on the general pedagogy page concerning technique and the teaching of it. These may offer some solutions for you for this student.

What is the exact problem with thinking in positions as in the Alfred Basic Piano Library and other methods? Is pure note reading more difficult in this way and why? For me the advantages of reading in positions is that it prevents pupils' reading note by note (note spelling). More Gestalt so to speak.

In my opinion the problem with thinking in positions is the student doesn't even bother to read the notes. He just says, Ok, F position. Where is the F key? Ok, right here. I start on finger 2. Yep. Here's my second finger.

The student gives absolutely no thought that this note is G or that G is above F. Or that G falls in the F 5-finger pattern and where it falls.

How do I know students do this? Because I've had a zillion transfer students who come with this problem. Half of them mumble out loud as they are casting about trying to find where to place their hands.

I believe that thinking "in F position" or whatever position it is is a shortcut that circumvents learning rather than a shortcut that -aids- learning. It is laziness. If you do not agree, you most certainly should do exactly as you think makes best sense for your students in your program. These are all variables!! We teachers have to improvise and tweak all the time for each student

As to note-by-note reading, I have no problem with it. Note-by-note is the way we -must- learn to identify notes. I think note-by-note reading is a -good- thing! Each note is identified separately and associated with a specific location on the keyboard.

As to Gestalt, this is a natural accumulation of knowledge somewhere along the line as the student matures as the result of playing music (and, to some extent, diatonic scales). The eye eventually perceives a certain key because of the number of sharps/flats in the signature and the accidentals in the score, and the hand "recognizes" the key because of the way it feels. The student acquires this in his own time and in his own way; it's a "wiring" thing of both eye and hand, I believe. In fact, I wouldn't even know how to go about telling a student how to acquire it! Just as eventually everyone comes to what I call "Gestalt reading," Gestalt hand position happens, too. ("Gestalt reading," the way I think of it, is, for example, perceiving a group of 4 adjacent ascending notes as 4 ascending notes stepwise, reading only the first note. Or perhaps not reading it at all but finding its location relative to the note before. A triad is another Gestalt reading pattern, as is an octave or a third.)

Do you consider it as harmful to tell a pupil that there are seven positions in each key? I tell my pupils, for example, that the D position in G Major is D E F# G A and that the D position in C major is D E F G A.

I have never thought of it in this way, but it sounds like a good method to use if you are using "positions" reading. It makes a bridge between note spelling, as you call it (I call it note reading!), and the X position, whatever it is.

This is also excellent if you want to teach modes. In fact, you might want to consider introducing mode names as "just another name" for the thing you've been doing all this time.

As to using it as a teaching device early on, I wouldn't. Too much input. And modes are confusing enough for music majors!

Again, use the method that best suits your students and your curriculum. Explore as much as you can. This way you can make a good decision about what to use as your "baseline" approach.

More at question 4 and the following question.

I have been using the Bastien method books and have found my students tend to rely on hand positions. I was hoping to find a better series of books but it seems there are none. You mention preparing special songs for students. (1) I am willing to write music for a 4-year-old beginning in the fall, but what do I do with the other 14 students of mine all at various stages of the Bastien books? I am a full-time university student and don't have the time during the school year to write songs for each student each week. What material is out there? How much am I going to have to create during my summer break? (2)How do you send your songs home with your students? Separate sheets of paper? (3) Do you use separate theory books or produce your own theory activities?

You sound as if you are going to be a dynamite teacher! Hats off to you!

(1) You can't do all of this in one sitting, ok? It's going to take you several years, but you can make a gigantic start. For the 4-year-old, start by jotting down the titles of all the 5-finger songs you can think of (5-note melodies), such a Jingle Bells, Mary Had a Little Lamb, When the Saints Go Marching In, etc. Arrange those. If you start in a Middle C position, arrange them "across the break" for both hands, but try to avoid sharps and flats in these early pieces. Save such pieces for later if you can't get them into an easy key. See this file for further ideas on arranging music for beginners. (Of course, you also want to jot down a list of songs which require fewer than 5 fingers, such as Hot Cross Buns.)

As you play your own music and hear stuff on the radio and in concert, you'll say, "Wow! That theme has only 4 notes! I can arrange that." And then you do. I've drawn staff lines on scraps of paper so I can "take dictation" on something I heard so I can write it out at home.

As to the intermediates, you can make arrangements for them, too. Who wouldn't want to play a simplified version of "Moonlight Sonata"? Also there are some sheets of stuff out there - - mostly old stuff ('30s and '40s) that is now out of favor because of the artwork and over-reliance on playing by finger numbers, but still these things musically valid in content. See what you can find in old method books; try garage sales, etc. See your sheet music dealer, too, and ask him to see what's available; some of that old stuff is still in print.

Paint out the garbage (excessive fingering, for example).

Also, look at the stuff by Dénes Agay (Yorktown). He has a bunch of books called "The Joy of......," which are good. He's a good musician and scholar, and his arrangements aren't garbled up with junk. Your intermediates could use these books, for sure. Then get them into sonatinas as soon as they are ready. Be sure to spend some time on sight-reading, in a concentrated program of weekly assignments. I use books by Allan Small (Alfred); they are too full of fingering, but that can be removed. It's acceptable (not great!) music (rather predictable arrangements!), but not too difficult for the musical content that's there.

(2) As to format: I write by hand or use a notation program and then photocopy. Students put pieces in a 3-ring binder. (For a few more remarks about Finale, see the answer to question #105.)

Be sure you watch copyright, though. Only public domain stuff should be used. See my section on that if you haven't already read it. Note, however, that PD stuff -in a specific edition- can be copyrighted, so work from an Urtext edition to make sure that you are not mistaking an editor's ideas for phrasing, etc. as the composer's.

(3) For theory, I make my own as I need them for that particular student and that particular problem. (And I keep a photocopy so I can pull out that page when another student has the same difficulty.)

ReSa Publications (California) has some good theory sheets. You might look at those.

I have an 8-year-old student, studying just over a year. She's very bright, caught on quickly, and her enthusiasm is such a joy! Her preparation for lessons was always excellent, and she made terrific progress. She started out on an electric keyboard, and, as promised, her parents bought her a piano about 6 months into her lessons. A few months ago, her parents separated and her progress made an immediate nose-dive. She missed several lessons when her mother had to go back to work, and her father forgot to bring her, etc. I helped her work out a plan for reaching her weekly assignment goals (the piano is at Dad's and she lives with Mom, in a small apartment where there is no room to put the piano), but she's now struggling. I know she's having difficulty practicing, and her mother was always available to give her direction if she needed it before but not now. I'm just not sure how to handle this with her parents. She's a talented young lady and should continue. I could never come down hard on the student, as it's not her fault and she's really trying. It breaks my heart to see this little one losing her spirit and getting so frustrated. How can I approach this subject with her parents?

My advice is to keep this child on. Clearly, she is upset, and she needs structure. You offer that. You also offer stability and a willing grown-up ear.

Come lesson day, if she hasn't practiced at home, practice with her at the lesson. ("Let's play together today, ok?" or "Let's work on a hard place together today. What's the hardest place in the hardest song?") I don't think you can evaluate her on a "normal" basis.

Do other fun activities, such as duets, improvisation, and games. Keep her interest up so when things settle down - - maybe 6-12 months - - she will still be interested in playing.

If regular practice doesn't improve in a couple of months, speak to the father and see what he can do to help regularity. Could he buy her an electronic keyboard with headphone setup? (It sounds as though the mom is in a financial pinch right now.) At least she could practice when she's at Mom's apartment. Maybe Mom and Dad could split the cost?

Now, you may not wish to do this - - that is, keep her with little actual forward progress - - and this is your decision, of course, as it is your business. Even if you eventually dismiss her, I'd encourage you to fight the good fight for a while for the child's sake. She needs you, as much as she needs music.

My kids don't like to play slow songs at all! But some songs just have to go slow! Can you give me some ideas of how to deal with this?

I know kids hate those slow ones. One reason is because they're so difficult. Yes, difficult. This is because there are so few sonic events to help the child keep time accurately.

Another reason is that slow songs have slow-moving melodies, by definition. There's not a lot there to tempt the brain. Kids easily lose track of the melody and the satisfaction of moving their fingers to the correct pitches.

And remember that a child has never been in love - - it takes maturity to really appreciate a piece of slow music!

I have a couple of suggestions:

Most beginners (adults and children) like a comfy tempo of Andante for everything. It isn't until after a little while that they can comfortably diverge from this speed. Don't sweat it. Completely normal.

You speak often about arranging music for your students. What do you use for the sources? Do you have all these pieces in your head and work from there?

No, I don't have all of these floating around in my head, but, yes, a good many are there. Even if I think I know the piece, I fear I may make errors in notes and rhythm, so I always work from a score (Urtext).

Your question then becomes where to get the scores. Your music store, music library, colleagues, etc.

When arranging, remember that you don't have to use the entire melody! Often the first 8-16 measures are plenty; or, if you have to augment the rhythm (that is, double values so you avoid eighth-notes), 4-8 measures will do it. It may be necessary to formulate a cadence, of course.

Knowing that you don't need the entire piece, look for literature:

Remember to respect copyright. Use only pieces in the public domain.

Note: -Editions- of pieces in the public domain are copyrighted, so don't take someone's arrangement of a Mozart sonata as the basis for your arrangement. Work instead from an Urtext edition so you are assured that everything on the page is Mozart's and you are safe in using it all. What is copyrighted on such editions are such things as fingering, dynamics, slurring, accents and articulation, and so on. The notes are unchanged (well, usually!). You can use an edition if you need just the notes. What you can't use are the editor's additions, and often you don't know what they are, which is why an Urtext is always best if you can get hold of one.

What do I do when a student arrives at the lesson in all agitated?

If it's a young child or an adult woman you have taught for many years (and -you- and the student feel comfortable doing this), you can offer a hug. "Could you use a hug?" If the student doesn't want one, the student will tell you ("Oh, I'm ok.")

Of course, if you are a female teacher, you would never do this to a man or to a male teen/pre-teen! And if you are a man, I wouldn't advise you do this to any student, no matter the age or sex. Sorry; that's just the way things are these days.

A second idea: Say, "You seem upset about something. Want to talk about it?"

A third idea: Pat the student on the upper arm and say something encouraging or welcoming: "I'm so glad it's Tuesday. I always look forward to Tuesday because it's when you come to see me!"

A fourth idea: Put your palm on the flat of the student's back, between the shoulder blades, and rub gently and slowly for about 2 seconds. A woman can get away with this (as described above), as long as it's not a teen/pre-teen or adult male student. I don't think a man should do this at all; men teachers, no matter how sympathetic, must be very careful about physical contact with students, as it might be misinterpreted, and this could cause a problem you certainly don't need! Your only option, as I see it, if you're a man, is #2 or #3 without the pat.

When my student plays, she moves her entire arm up and down with each note. How can I help solve this problem?

Show her what you want her to do. Use a 5-finger pattern (on C, for example, because there are no black keys to "change height" - something like "Mary Had a Little Lamb"). Have her do it slowly for you until you are convinced (and she is too) that she can do it at home. Have her do that for one week. Tell her many times a day she is to do it and set a metronome speed for her.

At the next lesson, if she can do that, tell her you are going to add "moving arms" song to her list. Call it something funny, though (Flapping Bat?). Go back to a piece that is old-old-old and have her play it in the same proper fashion as she did the 5-finger exercise. Each week, she chooses a new old song to use for this drill.

I find this use of old songs very effective, such as for legato playing or memory practice. Also, the child can see how far she has progressed since she played "those old baby songs."

Something else you can do is to ask the student to "do it wrong." This will cause giggles. "Oh, no! That's not wrong enough! Make it worse!" Even more giggles. Then: "Ok, now do it right. Good. Do you see the difference? Do you feel the difference? Tell me how it's different."

Another thing is for you to be the student. Let her help you with what you are "doing wrong."

On your recommendation of the piece "Mysterious Procession" by Dénes Agay, I bought the book The Joy of First Year Piano. I am very excited by the possibilities of using this piece with some of my students yet am unclear about exactly how I can do this. From my understanding of copyright laws, I cannot make a copy for my student. Yet it is financially impossible to request that this book be bought for only a few pages. How have you used this book in the past? In general, how do you handle asking parents to purchase a book from which not all material will not be used?

Yes, you are right about copyright: you may not photocopy songs from the book, or even one song (unless you contact the copyright holder -and- receive permission).

What I do in a case like this with a book that has a few things I want to use as actual study pieces, is to use those songs I want (such as "Mysterious Procession"). Later we come back the pieces that are -not- studied initially, using those parts of the book as sight-reading material. I explain to the parent how I'm going to use the book when I request the purchase. "We are going to do some songs from this book now, and the rest we will do later as sight-reading. We -will- use all these songs, just not all of them right now." Parents accept this and buy the book without complaint.

You are right that we must be careful about requesting purchases; the parent needs to see the item in use! This goes for asking parents to buy a metronome, too, as they are pretty darned expensive!

I'm having a terrible time getting students to observe rests! A good example is the Clementi Sonatina #1, as in the first movement. Please help!

Ah, yes! A perennial problem! And it doesn't matter the age of the student or which piece of music it is, either. See my file on this.

I was interested to know about the "20% fun" part of the daily home practice. Do you have some suggested games or ideas?

Fun: playing old songs in a different way, playing pop music or holiday music, improvising, fake book stuff, writing a poem to set to music (usually I write the music if they write the poem--it's quicker--especially for those who haven't done any composition); for the little, little ones it's games with the parents.

How do you teach key signature? My students can never remember the altered notes.

Another problem we all face. See my file on this.

Like you, I emphasize note reading and am appalled when I receive transfer students who cannot tell the treble clef from the bass clef, despite years of lessons. I now have a student who presents a problem that has never come up before: an 11-year-old boy who is so eager to take lessons that he works to pay for them. He began studying with me as a beginner about eight months ago. His note reading skills are outstanding, his counting pretty good (except for rushing through half notes in typical pre-teen fashion!). My students' music is sparsely fingered. The problem? He cannot remember which number corresponds to which finger. He can get it if he thinks about it for 20-30 seconds, but that's too long. I've tried saying the finger numbers and raising the appropriate finger. I've even reverted to some older music (like the John Thompson stuff) that has all the finger numbers penciled in or put them in myself, but he just ignores them because - - he says - - he can read the notes! In my opinion, he needs to know and use the finger numbers, and it has to be automatic, just like note reading. Any recommendations would be welcome.

I have never encountered this before. My first thought, as I began to read, was "learning disability." This may be what it is. There's something about the wiring in his brain that makes it difficult for him to associate a number (a symbol) with certain finger (a physical thing) without actually paying attention to it, which is why he must pause 20-30 seconds.

I'm wondering if perhaps just some emphasis on principles of fingering (like my Two Commandments of Fingering) would do the trick. Then just let him use whatever finger he likes that doesn't violate whatever your rules are, which fits his hand, and which does not have an adverse effect on the music. Forget trying to get him to think finger numbers. Plainly he is motivated and would do it to please you, if nothing else, if he could do so without great concentration. Since he can read well, and it's only been eight months, try this for a while and see if he doesn't learn the finger numbers subconsciously and by pure repetition.

Another option might be to present him with a new piece and ask him to figure out the fingering and write in the numbers himself. This needs to be a song that lies in a 5-finger position and (well, by necessity, I guess!) is composed mostly of steps and skips. If this works well with one song, introduce another. Make this a specific thing on the assignment and call it a "Finger Mystery Song" or something like that.

This may not be the solution, but the only other thing I can come up with is writing the numbers on his fingers with water-soluble marker!

I think this will work out in time, however. Don't be too distressed. He sounds like a wonderful young man! Lucky you!

Sometimes an advanced students brings in a piece of music he or she wants to learn, which is ok. But if it's something I've never played, then it's not ok! Help! What do I do when this happens? I don't object to the student's studying the piece. I just don't want to be embarrassed by my lack of familiarity with it.

Just say, "I don't know this one. We'll learn it together." Right up front, you admit you don't know it.

Don't feel bad you don't know every piece! Even every major piece! Even one piece by every major composer! Who could? (Have you sight-read all 12 of the Clementi sonatinas? Everyone who hasn't, please raise your hand. Oh! You didn't know there were 12 and not just 6?)

Get a score to study and play the piece yourself. Don't try to wing it at the lesson.

I am a relatively inexperienced piano teacher. I was wondering how it is that some teachers can have high expectations that students will always meet (i.e., learn this new piece and have it memorized by next week), while others, such as me, will try to push their students just to learn a new piece hands together for next week, and they come back with only, say the right hand part learnt. This is in view of students who are moderately above beginner, i.e., grade 2-3. Am I just not motivating enough or not strict enough?

A lot depends on the student. As you know, there is much variability. AND other teachers could be lying!

Maybe the pieces you are assigning are too difficult? Too difficult to expect hands together in one week? Maybe the music is boring (are you using method books?)? Maybe the music is too much one style (and thus boring)? Too many things on the assignment list (and thus no one piece gets the attention it should?)?

Do you and the student work out what will happen at home in the coming week? If so, then the student is more likely to do it because his word is riding on the outcome, too. If you're not doing this, you might try it.

On the other hand, maybe you need to dismiss some students because they are not trying. Tell them they have one month to straighten up and fly right. Tell them exactly what you expect out of them and what will happen if they don't meet your expectations. If they don't, dismiss them. There is no reason for you put up with students who do not want to learn. (Note: If you need the tuition fees, keep the students on and get an advertising program going so you can get some new students and get rid of the disinterested ones. Best place to advertise: elementary school "Pricipal's Bulletin" newsletters and school directories. Word of mouth is excellent: tell your present studio families that you are looking for new students.)

How do you teach a student to "polish up" a piece? I know from experience that polishing just means more practice to get everything smooth and musical, even if I know all the notes and fingering already. You know the point when a student can play a song decently, but just not smoothly? I find the problem with some students' inability to make an entire piece fluid is because they don't know how to look ahead to the next bar and prepare; they have to stop at the end of every line and figure out the notes, the fingering, etc.. I don't know what to say about this except "look ahead and think about where your fingers should be next".

You need to teach the student what the next steps are after the notes and counting and fingering are learned. Are you sure the student understands these three basic things?

It's not enough to say "read ahead." You have to teach the student to do it.

Suggestion: Write some stuff in 4-4 time (non-melodic is just fine - - these are not great pieces of music!) that has a whole note in one measure, followed by a measure with two half-notes. As the student is holding the whole note, slowly move your pencil toward the first half-note in the next measure and say, "Read ahead." [I might say, in this instance, "One - read ahead - 3 - 4," as I often count aloud for my students as I tap (and also sometimes point - - this is a mixed media production, for sure!).] The third measure is a whole note; then a measure with quarter notes in it, and so on. Give them one measure to get organized, so to speak, and read ahead and then a measure where they have to play what they just read ahead.

Dynamics and bringing out the melody are two other things that must occur to have a polished piece. Also, the piece should be played at the proper tempo; the student may be playing too fast or too slow.

Another thought: I don't believe that every single piece must be polished to recital perfection. If the student really dislikes the piece (and that's after learning the notes - - many times students say they dislike a new piece when what they really mean is that it's hard for them and therefore no fun), we drop it. No big deal. There's lots of music out there; why grind away on a piece the student hates? She won't ever make good music out of it, and trying to polish it will only foster dislike.

Where can I find a list of pieces suitable for a medium-to-advanced intermediate, especially one that includes the lesser-known composers?

Take a look at Jane McGrath's The Pianist's Guide To Standard Teaching And Performance Literature. This book should be in every teacher's library. Cathy Albergo has a book with a similar slant.

Sometimes, even though all the points are learnt, a student's pieces still sound rather hesitant and shaky. I think the student just doesn't know the notes well enough, but it's not enough for me to say "practice it until you're confident in playing all the notes correctly."

Agreed. You can't just say, "Work on this." You must work with the student at figuring out what is wrong, how to fix it, and exactly how to accomplish that at home the next week. That's what teaching is; it's not assigning pieces and leaving the student to figure it all out for himself. Ideas:

1. You and the student mark "boxes" (or brackets, if the problem skips to the next score) and identify the number of times that box must be played daily to have it learned by the next lesson.

2. Take all or part of a lesson to actually practice a problem (pick the worst one by asking the student which place in which song is most difficult). Two benefits: the student learns the material and you see how much the student actually can accomplish when he practices as you would like him to.

I have a beginner who is 7 years old and is always distracted. She's either playing her own little melodies by ear on the piano or staring at her shoes or something. It's hard to get her attention. Also, she doesn't really understand how to read notes on the staff. And, the parents don't seem to know much about music, plus they don't help her at home. I think she needs help practicing. Last, I wonder if I should just somehow pass her on to some other teacher. Her first teacher did not inspire her, and I'm afraid if I dismiss her, it will sour her forever on piano lessons.

(1) She may have ADD, is worried about something awful at home, need glasses, need hearing aid, etc. First talk to the parent. Then perhaps her school teacher.

(2) Try large body activities. Make a staff on the floor from yarn. Ask her to be "a line note," etc. Ask her to step up, step down, etc.

Then move to smaller body activities (arms). Use paper plates or black construction paper circles as notes. Ask her to place the 2nd "note" on the "staff" by stepping up, or whatever.

If stepping is too small a movement, just use generally up and down. You then could add "a lot higher" , etc.

(3) Ask the parent(s) to attend a lesson so you can show them how to help her. Certainly they must know she is not progressing very quickly. You could extend this invitation in the same call where you ask about any problems she's having in school, etc. On my student data form I make sure I know of any medical conditions that might affect study, such as ADD, poor vision/hearing, Tourette's, epilepsy, etc.

(4) I'd give it my best shot. Maybe the child is not musical (rare, but it happens - - I have a boy in my studio and have had for 9 years, and he's not musical but he loves it, so we just progress at the rate he can go!).

Yes, this is a worry, and we all feel guilty when we pass along a student we cannot reach, but perhaps piano is not her instrument. Or music is not her artistic endeavor.

Based only on what you have told me my experience, I believe the child has a learning disability. After you work with her for a couple of weeks, you might approach the child's parents about getting her evaluated.

I'm a piano/theory teacher at a private elementary school. The basis of our music program is to teach all the children keyboard. I have been encountering difficulties teaching a whole class of first graders piano all together because of the varied developmental stages the children are in and also because some students are more advanced due to their taking private piano instruction. I have this problem in all grades 1-5, and so now I have the kids in small groups of 2/3/4/6 students, depending on their levels, for 20 minutes (sometimes less!) during one recess per week. I have found that now I am making slow progress because I can get to the individual kids, whereas before it was practically impossible. However, I am still looking to improve this situation especially for next year when we will have more students starting at our school and more diversity in levels. I am looking for workshops or other schools around the country that may have such a program that I may visit. Or if you know of any Websites that can help me in this regard, I would appreciate it.

Oh, boy! This is a really knotty problem! I have never done anything like this, so I can't help from experience.

Some ideas: Do you have your keyboards all wired to one master console? This way you can tune in to any student you want (all students are on electronic keyboards with headphones) and go help anyone who's having terrible difficulty. Of course, you will "make the rounds" to everyone continuously during the period.

If you want my opinion (you didn't ask but I'll give it to you anyway!), I believe you would be better off giving the children a good foundation in vocal music. All pianists need to sing, no matter how good the vocal "instrument," as it helps in phrasing, etc. Rather than battle (alone, I'm assuming!) this complex problem of differing ability/training levels, level the playing field by switching to vocal music. Truly, I don't see how you or anyone can do a competent job with such a daunting situation. What makes it worse is that you want to do a good job. How frustrating for you. Do look into the vocal music option. I am sure if you explain to the board of directors that they're spending money on something that has very little chance of succeeding, they'll change course. (You are welcome to pass along my comments to them. In fact, it might be helpful.)

After using the same assignment sheet for the past 2 to 3 years as a teaching tool that will help my students keep track of what they need to be working on at home during their practice sessions, I feel I need to make a change. I am currently using a very generic assignment sheet that has a place to write out page numbers and practice tips for what to watch out for and to prepare for the next lesson. You may have seen this out of an assignment book pad (Alfred, I think). Anyway, I'm wanting to do away with this very boring, plain piece of paper they take home every week and try to give the student a more efficient way of listing specific problem spots I want them to work out; and/or musicianship concepts I want them to think about as they play, etc. Since I teach all ages, the overall assignment format varies from student to student. Before I used the assignment sheet, I used to just write out their assignment on a spiral notebook they brought to class, but I found myself writing so much during their class time. I also grew tired of writing the same things down over and over. So, I'm searching for something that they can go to daily as they practice on reaching certain goals. What do you suggest?

Re assignment pad: I just use a steno pad. Put date at top and number the items down the left side. I know you tried this, but it still seems to me to be the best way to customize. Remember that you can use abbreviations to shorten writing time. Also the same things, such as technical exercises, done the same way need only be listed as "Hanon #17" or whatever, and the student will know how you "do" Hanon.

Another thing I like about the notebook is that I can make a "custom" encyclopedia in the back which addresses specific questions the student has, such as circle of fifths, harmonic series, etc. If it's written down, the student can refer to it later; or we can revisit it together if there is confusion - - or just downright forgetfulness!

If you want to prepare a general sheet, that's fine. You know what you want. Drawbacks:
1. You have to figure out what you want and make it generic enough but also specific enough to be worth the effort.
2. You have to photocopy them.
3. They will be loose sheets of paper and thus easily lost, even if put in a 3-ring binder.

I suggest you just use a spiral-bound notebook. Ask the student to buy it, of course.

Another good thing about this notebook is that you can draw around children's hands at the first lesson in September (I also do it at the first lesson in January) and have them sign their entire name, with date, age, shoe size, and grade in school. It's fun to go back and look at the "old" handwriting, lay the hand atop the previous tracing, and see how the student has grown in other ways. For Asian students, I always ask for the full name and also ask them to write their name in characters. If I had Russian or students from the middle east, I'd have them do the same in Cyrillic letters or in Arabic letters. It's a honor to the culture.

On the other hand, since you've "been there," why not try your customized sheet and see how it works out?

What do you think of practice time sheets and practice time/most progress awards? I tried the time sheets and practice time awards, and they did not produce the result I had hoped to get. I'd like any suggestions that may help with ways to set up their weekly assignments and any reward ideas you have, too.

Tracking practice minutes, this is a waste of time, in my opinion. You can hear whether there's been a week's worth of progress, regardless of what's written down. Why give the child a busywork task? I'd rather have the time spent playing for fun!

I have a few courses in music and I'm studying with a teacher now, as I want to be a studio teacher. Can I teach beginners with what I have now?

Yes, of course, you can teach!

But you know what? I'd advise you to start with intermediates, not beginners. These folks have a foundation already partially-established, and if you make some errors they won't be "permanent."

I am of the opinion that beginners need the very best teachers possible, and as a newbie teacher (and one without a degree), you really aren't in that category - - yet! So do get some training. The better a pianist and overall musician you are, the better you will be able to teach.

I'm a piano teacher (and successful, I think), but my husband keeps saying, "Why don't you get a real job?" I feel I -do- have a real job. How can I answer him? He's a sales manager and works 40 hours a week. He tells me how the women in his sales force make so much money. I feel I am doing something important in teaching music. I am really angry about how he is treating me and feel that his remarks are completely un-called for and really pretty mean. Thanks in advance for your help.

First of all, your husband is flat-out wrong, and you're right. You do have a real job. Anything legal is a real job, especially if you are paid for it.

Second, my guess is he's comparing your teaching job with his sales managing job. This is apples to lawnmowers. Suppose you have 20 hours of students per week. That means 20 hours of "face time" per week. I am sure your husband doesn't spend 20 hours a week in this way (that is, face to face with members of his sales force, time spent face to face with clients when he accompanies his people on sales calls, etc.). He dawdles at his desk, he takes coffee breaks, he visits the men's room, he chats with colleagues, he makes phone calls he knows will be answered by a machine, he checks e-mail and his personalized webpages so he can check sports scores and the Dow Jones, he takes a lunch break, he does his expense reports, he writes sales reports, etc. What he -doesn't- do is spend 20 hours a week physically face-to-face with clients or members of his sales force.

You, on the other hand, spend not only 20 hours a week with students, but you -also- have all the paperwork for running your business (accounts, banking, taxes), the errands you must run (photocopying, ordering music), keeping current in your field (I'll bet he doesn't read sales managing journals!), not to mention practicing and further education (again, I doubt he goes to seminars about how to improve his skills)! This is all -over and above- the 20 hours!

Ask him to estimate the hours of "face time" he has per week. Do this at a non-confrontational time, perhaps when you're discussing what he has done that day at work. Then, when he skewers you the next time, point out that you spend x hours of face time with your clients, which is far more than he told you a couple of days ago that he spends with his clients and salespeople. And you also have all the paperwork and other responsibilities of the job. (Perhaps you also take care of the children and house, in addition to other family tasks.)

Have you considered raising your fee?

An aside: My guess is that he's needling you because he is dissatisfied with something about himself, and it makes him feel better to make you feel bad. His problem may have nothing whatsoever to do with your career or music or even with you. It is a problem that is his alone, and you are just a convenient target for his anger over it.

On the other hand, perhaps his dissatisfaction truly is related to your career. Perhaps he genuinely feels inadequate because he is not earning enough to support the family as he wishes to do it. He may be taking pot shots at you because your having a career at all implies that he is inadequate.

If he is the mean-spirited type, perhaps he's aggravated by your income level. If you made more money, he wouldn't have to work as hard at his job! Then he could "sit around" the way you do and take it easy all day. Obviously, this is not the way a grown-up acts.

Perhaps you should look into some marriage counseling? If he won't go, go by yourself. (Jeepers! I sound like Ann Landers!)

Suppose I were to teach my daughter the piano starting at age two. Are you saying, according to what I read on your homepage, that eighth-notes shouldn't be introduced until my daughter is nine?! That seems a bit old!

Yup; your daughter's brain will not be ready for the abstract idea of partiality. (In my opinion, one of the major causes of loss of interest in piano lesson - - other than diatonic scales presented too early in study!! - - is that the music is too hard to play and thus the student must revert to "made up systems," such as playing by finger number or writing in letter names. Imagining half a quarter-note is very difficult for someone so young. Yet, the method books blithely introduce eighth-notes very early - - some as early as the third song! The child can't keep all these concepts straight - - and don't forget which finger is which number, which is the right hand and which is the left, which way is "up" and which is "down," and all the other concepts and physical control which must coalesce when beginning to play the piano.)

Your question, of course, will be, "If I don't use eighth-note songs for seven years, what do I teach her?" That answer is anything you want that fits her hand; rewrite the music so the quarter-note is the smallest note value. A pain? Yes. Worth it for your daughter? Of course!

I question, at age 2, whether she is ready for lessons on a specific musical instrument. At this age she probably would be better off in large-muscle-use body movement. I have taught a child as young as 2.5 years, but this child was a real prodigy (she knew enough about infinity to ask what about the number that came after infinity, for example). Even with her gifts, it was slow going. I prefer to start at age 3 or 4, but if your daughter is ready, in your estimation, go for it. You'll know soon enough if she's not ready; back off and try something more general, such as marching to music or using rhythm instruments or singing or dancing.

Sometimes I want my students to repeat a section of the piece several times at the lesson (that is, practice with me). They balk. Do you have suggestions?

I know what you mean. The trick is to make it a game. Some ideas:

Sometimes there are a few minutes at the end of the lesson. I don't want to start something new because there isn't time, or the child seems fatigued or has been out of sorts today. I don't want to dismiss the child early. What can I do to fill the last 3 to 5 minutes of a lesson like this?

You are absolutely right not to cut the lesson short. Here are some ideas.

Play a card game. Play another game. Whatever ones you use in your studio.

For children, request "a concert." You go sit elsewhere in the studio to "be the audience." Ask the child to choose:

Ask the student to pick a very small problem. Work on this.

Keep an eye on the clock. Estimate whether what you are currently doing will take the rest of the lesson. If not, stretch out this activity a bit to take care of those last 3 minutes.

Write in the assignment pad, enlarging verbally or in written form on one or two points.

Ask how a piece is going that you didn't hear at the lesson but will hear the next week.

I'll begin teaching in the fall, and am struggling with which books my students should use. (1) I personally was taught with the Nelson and Neal piano study series, which worked very well for me. I notice that the majority of methods available today rely heavily on position playing and learning by rote. I want to stay away from position playing because I've heard horror stories about those students not really learning their notes well, etc. My question is: can you suggest other series besides Nelson and Neal that I may be interested in? What do you know about Frances Clark? (2) Do I need to get different levels of books for a beginner aged 5 vs. a beginner aged 7 or 8? If the series doesn't specify age groups, should I start the younger ones with the "prep" book and the older ones with a "level 1" book, for example?

(1) I have never found a method book that I thought was worth a darn. Which is why I prepared my own materials.

When I was starting, however, I used the Alfred d'Auberge series, but only book one. This series may not be in print any longer. I have not seen it in piano stores in years.

I also used (use but now only for sight-reading) Allan Small's (big ego!) VERY FIRST PIANO SOLO BOOK (Alfred).

I do not know the N&N, but if it's available and you like it, go with it. I don't know about the F. Clark, either. Sorry. I looked at it years ago and thought the art was silly, even for a child. Also I never looked much beyond the physical appearance of the books because it was one of those integrated methods where the student needed 3-4 books for each level.

You might also look at Dénes Agay's The Joy of First Year Piano (Yorktown). It's more of a literature/sight-reading book, however, in my estimation. Be sure to assign "Mysterious Procession," as it is a fabulous piece based on only 3 notes in the LH and 1 in the RH. All my students adore it and play it over and over for a review song, long after they've passed it off. And it's good music, too, in my estimation! I understand he has a method series out (fairly new) but haven't looked at it in depth.

Agay does a good job with his stuff, and I respect his editorial pedagogy. Allan Small's stuff if very repetitive, but his 3 books (Teacher's Choice, and Student's Choice) are about all I've found that are ok for sight-reading.

Some teachers use the Royal Conservatory books, but these are primarily literature anthologies.

Bastien seems to be out of favor at the moment; hardly any transfer students come to me with that series any more. Most of them come with Alfred.

A lot of teachers are switching from the Alfred method to Faber & Faber, but I don't know much about them, either, and have had no transfer students with this series.

A good way to "rate" a method series is how transfer students come to you. Can they read notes? is the foremost question. If the student can't, I feel it's a good indication that they were taught incorrectly, and my guess is that the method book's pedagogy, sequence, and underlying philosophy are wanting. Sometimes it's the teacher, but if the teacher follows the method (and the vast majority of teachers do this, either for lack of professional preparation or for fear they might do something wrong) the student should "come out the other end" able to read what he has played.

In general, if you use a method, my rec. is to get out of it as soon as you can. (I never used level 1 of the d'Auberge; only the prep book, for ex.)

I'm sorry I'm not a terrific help here. I receive this question many times, as you may have read.

I'm happy with what I have and so don't spend much time or energy on new method materials. It works for me, and so I stick with it and add to it all the time.

You're right: position playing and rote learning are mostly wastes of time. I think such methods are used by teachers to convince the parents that the teacher is doing a good job because the child can "play a tune" very soon. Same with the "pre-notation" books. Such systems do NOT serve the student.

(2) This is not a problem for me because my materials have no age-indicating art on them. Consequently I can use the same pieces for my adult beginners.

If level 1 seems too advanced, start with prep, as you mentioned. If you start with prep and it's too easy, that's still ok. The child will get off to a good start by feeling successful.

One of my older students came to me with Bastien and with Faber & Faber in her past, and she claims to play by ear, not being able to read the bass clef notes at all! I worry about how to teach her at this point.

1. Write songs in the c 5-finger pattern and make her read. You'll be surprised at how much lit there is that is only 5 notes. Otherwise, write your own. Next keep melody in LH and add RH part (very simple--single note).

2. Concentrate on songs with LH melodies. Rewrite method material and turn it upside down so melody is in the LH.

3. Have her play by ear with the melody in the LH. A lot of the "I can't read bass clef" is "I can't control my LH very well."

4. When doing technical material, blank out the treble clef notes and make her read the bass clef part (this assumes parallel parts, as in Hanon and Schmitt).

My 11-year-old daughter doesn't want to practice. She is so talented; she has played for 4 years. She has won two local competitions, and her teacher thinks her very talented in music. She has played the Haydn D major Sonata for the competition. She is very advanced in her math study, at grade 5; she has already done intermediate algebra program from Stanford University Educational program for Gifted Youth with an A+ grade. She still does not like to practise piano at all. She tends to rush through the piece without working on precision of the piece and says she is bored with the piece. She even considered giving up the piano. On the other hand, she can do her math for a very long time without complaining. I am wondering that if we are wasting our time and effort to force her to do something she is not naturally inclined to do. (Her piano teacher thinks otherwise.) Is it normal for a musical talented 11 years old still hate to practise after 4 years of hard work? When I sit with her for her practise, she seems to progress much, much faster than when I do not. We have tried let her practise on her own, but she does not seem to pay the same level attention as if I sit with her. Should I continue to sit with her for her practise? If so, when you think she will be able to practise and do it by herself? The main question is should she continue serious study of piano or should she quit?

Sit with her for practice, especially since you know she does better when you do this. She may be "lonely" to be in there all by herself. Or she may think that *you* have decided *she* will do this and then leave her on her own to accomplish it. By your sitting there with her, she knows that it's important because you are investing some of your own valuable time.

As to whether it's normal to balk at practicing, even after four years of lessons and achievements, yes. She's only 11. She doesn't see the big picture yet. Also, she's a pre-teen, and it's time for her to start rebelling and doing things the way she wants. (Which, incidentally, means you have done a good job bringing her up! You should be worried if she didn't want to break away and become her own person!)

She will practice by herself she comes to value it for itself. This may take a few years. Stick it out with her. She'll thank you later.

Another thing I would suggest is a discussion with her about how she feels about competitions and other "required" performances. She may really not like those and is "refusing" to participate in them by refusing to practice well so she is eligible. Then she puts the icing on the cake by saying she hates piano.

After this discussion with her, THEN discuss the matter with her teacher. If you decide your daughter needs to stop competition (altogether or only for a while), do not let the teacher sway you to keep doing it. YOU know what's best for your daughter.

You might try skipping a year of competition and see if the practice situation improves. Or if she decides she misses the competition. Or decides she does not like it. Better to eliminate the competition than allow her to quit. Note that sometimes teachers (and/or parents) insist on competitions because it's a way to showing the teacher is doing a good job and/or that the parent has done a good job choosing a good teacher. Examine why you (and the teacher) feel competitions are important.

My guess is if she keeps playing, as she matures she will appreciate what you are giving her the opportunity to do and how good she is at it already.

Give her chances to -use- her skills: giving concerts in the community or at her school, etc.

I have a student (11 years old) who is interested in competing for the first time. The requirements stipulate that the piece may be in any idiom by any composer, but not a sonatina or sonata movement. The time limit is 3-5 minutes. I have never entered a student in a competition before and am uncertain about what literature would fit these requirements.

Your first step is to contact the competition sponsor and ask for the guidelines, repertory as well as administrative. If you heard about it from a colleague, contact that colleague in the meantime for some temporary help.

As far as temporary help from me: look in anthology books; they are filled with non-sonatina/sonata movement material. I don't know what level the student is, but I really like the études by Stephen Heller.

I am a relatively new teacher with a small piano studio. Most of my students are elementary age and in their 1st (or early 2nd) year of study. That said, I will be taking 6 weeks of maternity leave starting in February. All of my students plan to return when I begin teaching again in April. I would like to give them some fun music-related "assignments" to do while they are out. I thought this might be a good time to do some composer- or music history-related "homework" sheets. Do you think this sounds like a good idea? I doubt if the majority of them will spend much time practicing without a lesson to motivate them. Or do you have any other suggestions? I have not really been able to locate any education books that look useable for this purpose.

I agree that your students probably will drift away from the piano without the call to accounting a lesson forces on them. I think "bookwork" will be ignored during the hiatus, however, but you know your students better than I! Although study of composers and other topics is laudable, I think there's about a 1% chance that your students will carry out the written assignments!

I'm not surprised you've been unable to find any books! As far as I know, there aren't any!!

Here's what I would do instead of assignment sheets.

1. Give your students some songs to prepare on their own; very easy. Maybe some holiday songs. Or songs with silly words.

Don't know any? Write some silly poetry to a public-domain tune, such as "Twinkle, Twinkle." Example: "Red sock, red sock, where are you? I need to wear you with my shoe. I put you on the floor last night. I don't see you in morning's light. Red sock, red sock, where are you? [spoken while piano continues to play:] If I don't find you, my mom is going to be real mad." (Permission granted to all readers to use this piece of doggerel.)

Back to the songs. No eighth-notes. No key signatures. 8 measures max. Maybe just a little hands together playing. Make the songs tremendously easy; one level down from where the students are. The idea here is to keep them at the piano and give them the immediate gratification of learning a song. And also the ego boost of learning it without help. They won't particularly notice that the songs aren't as hard as their "usual" songs.

2. I'd also give them some sight-reading things; 4 measures long, max. Make it a game by printing the lines, 3 on a page, and having the child cut them apart. Couple of ways to do this game: draw one from the stack, blindfolded. Or, making 6 sight-reading lines, have child roll a die and whatever # comes up, that # sight-rd line will be done. Direct the student to do 2 each day. You want the child at the piano for a short time, basically to "keep his hand in."

3. Ask child to memorize 2 or 3 songs. Their favorites. Their choices.

4. Ask child to play "2 old songs every day," again their choices.

5. Ask child to figure out a melody and be able to play it for you upon return. You'll write it down and maybe put some accompaniment to it, as needed and according to the child's age. This assignment might not work for everyone or even the majority.

6. Ask the child to write a silly poem for you two to set to music upon your return.

7. Make "games," like decks of cards. Kids love games. They'll play games, but they hate flashcards (at least in my experience!). Ask them to play a game or two every day. Not only does this keep at least some of the knowledge in the active part of the brain, but they'll remember they will play piano with you again soon. We don't want out-of-sight-out-of-mind!

I have a piano student who graduated from high school last year. He wants to get a jazz degree from a local university. Right now his ACT scores are not adequate to allow him into college. Also, he can play advanced music, but his note reading ability is not that great. He has a great "ear" for chords and progressions, understands scales, and, on the whole, understands more theory than most students. His ability to actually sit down and read the notes is not that great, however. He is working on the first movement to Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata and lacks just the two pages in the middle section, going into the recap at the end. I have asked him about his grades while in school, and they were good. He doesn't appear to have a learning disability like dyslexia (which is what I tend to think he has) because he says he made high grades in English. Music is not English, and I wonder if I need to enlarge his music so he can see it better. He doesn't wear glasses, and I was wondering if he needs to wear them. I fear, when he does get into college, he will struggle with not being able to read the notes fast enough. He does have a problem taking tests and doing well, so I suppose we are hanging on until he gets a good score on his ACT. Except for my telling him to sight read more, is there any other suggestion you have to help him read better?

An unusual predicament. I have some ideas:

1. He may need larger notes. Try this. May solve the problem.

2. Another option is piano glasses. My presbyopic students buy cheap reading glasses at the drugstore. My near-sighted students (myself included) have piano glasses prepared by their optometrists at a special distance (usu. 23") for music reading. Measure from bridge of nose to music when placed on the music desk with piano bench at correct location. Take a score with typical size notes to the doc's, at both exam and pick-up.

3. You may be right. He may be dyslexic. (And he may be embarrassed to tell you of his learning disability, if indeed he has one.) Good grades in English do not necessarily mean no dyslexia. He may have learned how to work around it. I think a professional evaluation would be a good thing for this young man if he has not had one. To wit, his difficulty with taking/doing well on standardized exams. In classes, it is possible to work slowly and thus get around a learning disability (in addition to learning other strategies to deal with it), but in tests such as the ACT, this is not possible because speed is factored in. (My son is learning-disabled, and he has a terrible time with timed tests, but if he can take all the time he needs, he does well on content scores.)

4. Prepare a specific program of sight-reading for him. Read my file on this. For his level, since he is struggling so with the Pathétique, back off to Clementi sonatinas. On to Burgmüller Op. 100. Go through the Kuhlau sonatinas. Then to Kabalevsky. There are plenty of anthologies, too. You get the idea. He should read, at minimum, one full movement a day. A full sonatina is even better. As we both know, the more he does it, better he will be; and the faster he will be better.

5. Cool it on the Pathétique. It sounds too hard for him (not physically, however). Have you done the "alla tedesca" sonata (Op. 79)? Try a couple of slower movements; is he doing II of the Pathétique? Also consider the sonatas in Op. 49 and the "La Molinara" variations. (And the Mozart "Twinkle" variations.) Also, being unable to conquer that middle section (ahem) must be frustrating to him. Better that he put his energies into reading, which is a major shortcoming - - it is, as we both know, debilitating. You have surmised correctly that he will be unable to keep up with college music studies given his current level of preparation in basics like note-reading and sight-reading.

6. He may have better luck if he memorizes his music as he learns it. This would be a short-term solution to the reading problem, however, but it is a skill he'll need as a music major. He must learn to read. Bottom line.

7. Having a good ear and understanding theory will not get him through a college level music program. He must read. There is no substitute, and there is no way to use other strategies. He must read. Without this skill, he's doomed at the college level. There is no way he can fake his way through. Period.

If he wants a college major in music, he must want it bad enough to learn how to read. If he is dyslexic, he will have to devise a workaround or other strategies to learn to cope. He can't be a professional musician and be unable to read (most rock bands excluded, of course).

Sometimes I have a child "running on fumes" when he comes to the lesson. He has been sick for part of the day, hasn't slept enough, and so on. How do I give an honest dollar's worth to a student who can't really concentrate and come anywhere close to his best work?

You are to be applauded for your ethics! It would be so easy to just sit and talk to pass the time until the lessons is out. It's much, much harder to use the lesson productively when the child is in such a compromised condition.

First, start with warm-ups, especially those which don't require high-level concentration. (This is not the lesson to introduce Hanon #2!)

Ask the child how you can help best; that is, which is the hardest part in the hardest song. Practice gently, pushing only as much as you think the student can take at that point in the lesson.

Have a couple of "evergreen topics" that you can pull out. These might be how scales are built (same sequence of half- and whole-steps). Circle of fifths. Fake book style playing, perhaps. These topics will not work for a young child, especially one who is not firing on all cylinders that day.

Convert a solo piece to a duet; you play the left-hand part, for example.

Make aleatory music together. Music for metronome (à la John Cage) and hand clapping or something of this ilk.

There's John Cage's famous Four Minutes and Thirty-Three Seconds, but that's a bit of a stretch for attention span. How about Fifteen Seconds? This exercise really brushes up the listening skills. Play it several times to see how listening improves. Also have the student be the teacher while you listen. (You probably have added coughs and whatnot to the environment in order to give him something to listen for, so he will naturally do the same for you.) Pretend you are afraid he will be able to "trick" you and ask him not to "make it too hard".

Write a silly poem (4 lines only; or even 2) and set it to music (this is an excellent way to divert attention from how the child is feeling).

If it is a young child, try a game to reinforce counting, note names, musical notation, and so on. Games are a very good choice here.

In the last few minutes, you might try a "concert." Let the child choose the pieces. "Anything you'd like to play. A Christmas song. A really easy song. A really old song. A song with two words in the title. A song that has an animal in the title. Whatever you like." (Or, narrow the choices and thus speed up the beginning of the concert by specifying one of the above types.) Make sure you clap after she plays the song.

If the parent comes in, say something like, "Faith isn't feeling too good right now. She tried really hard for me, though, and I wanted to let you know how proud I am of her. [We're just enjoying a concert! Will you join us, please?]"

I have a young student who is beginning to express artistry in his music. He recently asked if he could insert a ritardando at the end of a phrase, even though the composer had not written one. I told him that he could not change what the composer has written, but can express himself through rubato, which I explained and demonstrated. He then argued that both the ritardando and rubato change the written music, and that it feels natural for him to slow down at the end of this particular phrase. I don't want to stifle his burgeoning expression. What should I do, and how can I better explain rubato?

I think rubato and ritardando are basically the same thing. It's just a matter of how much, how it's notated, and whether the "robbed" time is made up. For rubato, the slowing is usually compensated by an acceleration somewhere else, so that the piece still takes x minutes to play, even though some portions of it were different speeds. For a ritard, the time is not made up. The piece is just extended however many seconds are expended in the ritard.

I wouldn't stifle his efforts. Let him do what his musical sense dictates and gently correct him if he's way off base.

You are to be commended for such good teaching that a student so young understands the need for minute tempo changes to increase communication by the music.

I am about to embark on a new opportunity in giving piano lessons to a seven-year old girl, a half-hour lesson once a week. I have never given piano lessons, and after scanning your site, I felt a bit overwhelmed and inadequate, however, I am very grateful for the information you provide; it is a real blessing. I think I can take a few baby steps now on this adventure. (A bit of my background. I have taken piano lessons at different periods of my life and have played for some of the churches I have attended. My playing is more from the heart than from technique, and I do not consider myself a professional.) What kinds of beginner piano music books to purchase for my student, do you have any recommendations of specific titles or publishers or authors that are like what you describe, simple and basic? Also, considering my background, could you recommend what things I can do to make myself a better teacher for the child? Also, may I have your permission to download your information and print it out for my own reference?

Easy one first: yes, you may print out whatever you like from my page for your personal use. (Thanks for asking!) If you want to distribute it to others (parents, other teachers, etc.), you need to get my permission first.

I wish I could say, "Purchase book X." As you may have read on this Q&A file, I feel there is nothing out there that I can put my whole-hearted stamp of approval on (for what it's worth!), although I think you can make a good start using Dénes Agay's The Joy of First Year Piano (Yorktown).

As for you, find a local music teachers' group and join; go to all the meetings. Seek music classes at your local junior college or university. Particularly at the junior college, there very well may be some classes specifically for brand-new teachers. Contact the chairperson of the piano faculty at the nearest college/university and ask for classes and other resources in your area (there may be an "extension" service of classes taught by university faculty in out-lying areas, rather than only on campus). Ask at music stores, too; you'll eventually turn up others just like you!

My young students do not want to take repeats. They don't want to observe first and second endings, either. What do you suggest?

Yours and every other teacher's students! Two ideas on why: immediate gratification (let's get on to something new) and moving backwards visually instead of forward is psychologically not fun.

Solutions: The first time you encounter a repeat sign, make a big deal out of it and give the student an opportunity to do some analysis: "Look at this! What have you seen that looks sort of like this?" When the student has identified it as a relative of the double barline, then "sell" it: "A repeat sign is a good thing to find. You can tell this song is really -four- lines long, not two, because there's a repeat sign. The composer has made it easy for us by using the repeat sign instead of writing out the music twice because we now know that the second two lines are exactly alike! There are no surprises. As soon as you know the first two lines, you know the whole song. Pretty cool, huh?"

Before discussing the repeat with your student, ask yourself whether this repeat is necessary. Just because it's there doesn't mean you must observe it. If it is the first repeat the child has encountered, you must observe it, otherwise, how will you teach it? We shouldn't get in the habit of allowing students ("teaching" students) that some pieces music notation may be ignored. If you decide to omit the repeat, discuss why. Is this AABA form? If so, then you can skip the repeat, you tell the student, because ABA form is still balanced.

Is the repeated section to round out an AABB' form? (Take the repeat.) To extend the length of the piece? (Repeat optional.)

Ditto with first and second endings.

I was reading your article on hand position and I have a game I play with my students to teach them to keep their wrists up. I place a coin on their wrist and if they can play an entire song without the coin falling, the get to keep it.

What an excellent idea! I also use a "wrists up song" to help fix this problem.

At what point do you recommend introducing time signatures and bar lines? Do you use them in the middle C songs? Do you wait until after all note values are introduced?

First, some general thoughts.

I think the idea of duple and triple and compound and all of that is really of very little use to beginners. I think maybe middle intermediate is the right place to talk about this because, before this level, it will go right over their heads. Yeah, we can see three or four counts per measure, but what is this you mean by "pulses per measure"?!

I do put barlines in the music for the Middle C songs. (Only the snake songs and worm songs have no clefs or barlines; they also have only black noteheads.) I start with songs containing only quarter-notes, and the very first half-dozen have only quarters with stems up or down, depending on which hand will play. I ask the child to figure out "the counting rule" for each song and write the number beside each clef; the counting rule is "the number of counts" in a measure. It's easy to count the quarter-notes. I make a variety of counting rules, such as 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 9. I want to show that all music doesn't have to be 3 or 4, even though most of it is. The kids won't remember specifically we did songs with nine counts to a measure, but when we come upon one later, it won't be an outrageous an idea because somewhere back in the dim past, the child will recall doing songs that were not three and four, or even two, and therefore nine is no big deal.

If we are writing songs I always ask how many counts the child wants to a measure and groan when the answer is, "One!" And then I write it just that way, of course. It's looooooooong, too! They get the picture!

Next is half-note songs, the first of which is only half-notes, so it's an opportunity to differentiate between "number of counts" and "number of notes" in a measure. I often have to hold up fingers. "How many counts on this note? [I hold up two fingers]. How many on this one? [I hold up two fingers on the other hand.] How many altogether?" From there, it's half-notes and quarter-notes, again emphasizing the difference between the number of counts and number of notes.

For the ensuing 15-20 songs (depending on how many the child needs to get the point) introduce the four major notes--and I also introduce accents and staccato and note clusters to add variety, the child writes in the counting rule on each one. These are all done on Middle C, mind you. The note never varies, so the child learns to look at all the other details because the note is so easy.

I also simplifying the time sig to the top number only. What do they know about the bottom one? They don't know eighth-notes yet!

So, yes, I use barlines right away because that's the only way to really show how a time signature is chosen.

I find my students have no trouble with these concepts, and I sincerely doubt yours will, either. You just have to clear away the chaff and get rid of things we, as trained musicians, expect to see on the page. The children have no preconceived expectations, so they'll accept as gospel whatever you tell them. I believe that each piece of notation should be noticed and observed; at some point, there is overload; the overload is the stuff that should be removed. We would find the score "funny looking" because it is so streamlined, but the beginner will be awfully busy paying attention to everything on the page.

Would you please comment on teaching composition: what materials you may have found successful for a Middle School age student, and what theoretical background you would teach with it, such as chords, question and answer, etc.?

I think I'd start with a thorough sight-reading program, emphasizing a lot of different styles. The student will "absorb" this material while thinking he is working on sight-reading! (And certainly, we can ALL improve our sight-reading skills!)

Ear-training, of course, so the child can define the ideas he/she will "hear" in the head.

I'd go over the basics of notation. Even the obvious stuff--kids "see" things in unusual ways. For ex., having seen scores for many years, they'll put time signatures after the clefs in each score. And, does one need an accidental repeated in a measure into which the accidental has been tied? Stuff like this.

then the child should begin to notate things. Have him/her sound out "Mary Had a Little Lamb" and other 5-finger melodies and notate them. As things progress, specify a starting note (or, better yet, a key) and have the child notate the melody in that key.

On to a melody plus a simple accompaniment.


Make sure the student is learning how to build the 48 triads, understands the three "kinds" of sevenths that can be added to a triad, ninths/etc., arpeggios. I also emphasize octaves and I-V-I patterns. These are all building blocks.

Next, set the child to make an arrangement of a simple song. I'd say a 5-finger melody again (J. Bells, When the Saints, etc.). Ask the child to make a set of variations, each displaying a specific idea (block triads, triads in 2nd inversion, arpeggiated triads, seventh chords, I-V-I in the bass, etc.).

If the child wants to write her/his own tunes, this will have happened naturally in the course of your setting up the groundwork. If not, introduce it now. Perhaps you'd like to work out the first melody together? I suggest something very straightforward, such as 16 measures with AABA form (@4 measures).

I think this is the time to talk about V-I cadences, secondary dominants, etc. Earlier, this information will fall on befuddled ears.

I have a 4-year-old student who is very bright. Just within a few months, he's learned to identify all the white keys on the piano, clap rhythms which include eighth notes, and read a little from a staff. Lately, though, it's been difficult getting him to focus during the lesson. I'm wondering if you know of any resources that could help me deal with someone so young and intelligent. I feel like he's getting bored with me.

Ask his parents how he does at home; what interests him most during home practice (call it "playing the piano" to him and his parents); what seems to be of less interest? What has happened just prior to your deciding he's tuned out? Remember, he's only 4! (We have such high expectations of intelligent kids.) Suggest you interleave the "heavy lifting" with some games. My guess is that he can't absorb so much so quickly, even though he's highly intelligent. He's still just 4! Because of this, he just shuts down by "being bored." Don't do anything about eighth-notes, I beg you, until he's in 4th grade!

A new student, a retired woman, has arthritis and a host of other physical ailments, as well. I read your articles about RSI, including the links, and they don't seem to address the problems of arthritis. Do you have any insight into this disability as it relates to playing the piano?

Several of my adult students have arthritis. It's a pretty common problem in adult students and may be aggravated by age and genetics. The first stop must be professional medical care: the student must consult a doc for advice and then follow that.

My guess is that the doc's advice will include pain relief. If the pain is not too bad now, maybe some OTC meds might help. The doc will tell the student how much, how often, and for how long.

Other ideas:

Pick literature she can play. Some will not need any changes, but some pieces will! Edit as needed (redistribute notes between the hands, remove notes within an octave stretch, even remove octaves, etc.). Don't be afraid to edit! Do whatever is needed to make the piece playable.

"Take her temperature" every week for a good little while:

She loves to play and she wants to keep playing, so the first stop is the doc. Then you tailor the lit specifically to her and monitor how she does with each type of piece and each type of change you make.

As to the "as well" disabilities, you didn't say what, so I can't comment on that, but, again, tailor the music to fit her capabilities. Ask her what her doc recommended as therapies for these conditions and see how you can adapt those to her piano study.

A teen boy student of mine is suddenly making errors on octaves. He knows these intervals well, as we have done exercises specifically for this, and he's played a lot of music with octaves. What gives?

Growth! His hands have grown, and he doesn't know what an octave feels like with his new reach. I suggest you go back to octave exercises for a month. Draw his attention to the problem and explain why you're doing this. Ask him to give special care to these exercises so the problem can be solved in the minimum amount of time and with the minimum amount of labor. He should see results within a week or two.

My question concerns memory. Sometimes a student will suddenly have a memory problem where one did not exist a week earlier. Can you help?

One type of memory is what I call "muscle memory." This is the weakest kind, in my estimation, because if a finger miscues, memory falters. Here is a good memory "test" which is based on a change in the way the piece is played: not a wrong note but a different speed. Ask the student to play at half speed (or less). He/she will see where the fingers falter and where the memory flat-out fails. Read more on this method and other memory methods in my file on memorization.

I'm 15 and working toward my grade 8 exam (RCM) I recently got excellent marks on my Grade 7 exam. I was thinking about taking students after my exam, the problem being my age and the fact that I can play but I have lots of trouble with memorization, scales, and intervals though my clap-back and play-back are excellent. Is there a way that in the next year or so I can start to understand my problem areas, or should I drop my hopes of a getting a student.

Yes, your age will impact your credibility as a meaningful teacher. If you do teach, I suggest that you take intermediate students, not beginners. A novice teacher - - in fact, you are even less trained for teaching inasmuch as you are not trained to do anything but play at level 7 - - can do great damage to a beginner. Remember you would be laying life-long foundations.

I do not recommend you teach now, based on what you have told me of your training.

I would recommend that you attach yourself to an established teacher, preferably one with group lessons, and be an aide. You would be able to observe teaching and student behavior and gradually take more responsibility - - perhaps for a big part of the group lesson.

I think what you want to do is admirable, of course, and I applaud your ambition. You are too young, sweetheart. Better to increase your own musical knowledge and work in an assistant capacity than teach independently now. I wish you the best. You are going to be a great teacher, based on your concern that you might not be ready yet. A hug to you.

I have a student who absolutely refuses to use a rounded hand position. Her knuckles collapse and she resists all my suggestions, saying it's too hard to play in the correct position. Do you have any suggestions for techniques that result in the proper hand shape, such as the technique Faber suggests wherein you "perch on the upper side of the thumb nail, thereby causing the wrist to rise into the correct position." I tried that, but her knuckles still collapsed. I've observed that she "clenches" her fingers towards her, rather than lifting. Any other tricks? She also holds a lot of tension in her shoulders. When I gently press on her shoulder to check for stress, she drops about 3 inches every time. I told her to feel the weight of her arms before playing by letting them hang down, and then picking them up without using her shoulders.

This is a common problem, especially with child beginners. Is she double-jointed, perhaps? I've had several students like this. How does she hold a pencil? Ask her to write her full name.

I have had good luck with having a "(fill in the blank) song," including a "curving fingers song." This is a piece that has been passed off long ago and in this piece the only thing the student must do is curve her fingers. Not much to ask; just one piece. Make it a short one; make it easy--maybe the first song in the book? Or first song in previous book? Notereading and deciding which finger to use and counting must be as simple as possible so student can concentrate on curving fingers and keeping them that way. You pick one the first week (or so - - until you see improvement, however slight), and then let the student choose.

You just have to keep at it; maybe 3-6 months. Eventually the student will grasp the idea and be able to do it without intense concentration. My guess is that she's having to pay attention to so many "new" things that she doesn't have any spare brain cells to think about relaxing her shoulders. She's concentrating really hard, and this translate to body rigidity. As her confidence in the basics improve, she'll be able to focus on subtleties, of which dropping the shoulders is one.

As to feeling arm weight and picking them up before playing without using shoulders, my guess is that this is too advanced a concept for her. Don't push it. In fact, I wouldn't even mention it. Concentrate on curving the fingers. I might not even worry about this concept for the first year of study. You didn't mention her age, but if she's a middle school or high school child, you might introduce this after 6 or 9 months, respectively, but, again, don't push it - - but just a little bit. We teachers forget there's a lot involved in learning to play because it's been so long since we were at the learning stage.

Be patient. Tackle one technical problem at a time. Don't stress about this yourself. You're not a less-skillful or -successful teacher because your student is having problems such as these. Try not to let her see your frustration to her. She'll pick up on it right away and feel even more inadequate. Stay upbeat and praise what you can (even if it's only in one finger and for a short amount of time).

(Concerning the student mentioned in the previous question.) I think your observation that she may be trying to absorb too many concepts at once, causing rigidity, is right on target. I really hadn't thought of it quite like that. Also, this students plays beautifully by ear and composes her own songs, but I've been holding a strict line while working on her note-reading and rhythm reading. I'm certain she is frustrated because her old tricks of showing me her latest composition or playing a piece from memory (or by ear) aren't working. I don't allow our lessons to get sidetracked any longer. I try to be gentle - - that is, I make deals ("Promise you'll be serious with this set of books, and we'll do some repertoire of your choice."). Any suggestions?

Ah! the plot thickens!

She needs confidence she can read notes well so she does not have to resort to obfuscations to divert your attention from her deficiency - - which she knows she has. Have you addressed this directly? "Amy, I am getting the idea you don't feel as though you read notes well." Wait for her answer. Repeat it back to her, paraphrased: "It's hard for you because you can't remember the letter names." She nods. "What if we put away regular songs and just worked on this? If you like, we can do some of your ompositions, too. Then, when you feel better about notereading, we'll go back to regular songs. We'll keep doing your compositions and by-ear songs, too, of course. How does this sound to you?" She'll doubtless say yes.

I'm not sure I would bargain with her. You will cement her impression that she can negotiate with you as regards notereading. Your goal is to teach her to read. (She already knows how to negotiate!!) I think I'd address the problem head-on. I use Allan Small's Very First Solo Piano Book (Alfred). Many of the arrangements are horrid (but this gives us an opportunity to laugh - - I tell the students that "Happy Bride" is not played at my house - - "But you are welcome to play it in the privacy of your own home!"), but it does the job. Paint out all but the most crucial fingering numbers. Embark on a program of sight-reading with this book. See my file on this. The Small book is also good for analysis. What is the form? Where are the repeated sections? What pattern is he using in the accompaniment? And so on.

I think if you don't beat around the bush, you'll get the result you want, and she'll get the confidence she needs.

Also, you should allow lesson time for her creative activities, in my opinion. Otherwise, she will think you don't approve of creativity and that to do these things is somehow "bad." This is a gift she has, so be sure to enhance it. If occasionally you spend an entire lesson with a composition, so what? Her playing and progress through repertory won't suffer. By "occasionally" I mean once every two months. In the meantime, she can "work on" her composition and play just bits and pieces of it for you every other week or so, knowing that in x weeks, she'll have a whole lesson devoted to her composition. I think this would be motivational for her and would save you from using this aspect of her musical life as a carrot to get her to do the other things she should do in order to grow into a well-rounded musician.

What do you look for when you're teaching duets? How do you know what 8va they should be playing? I've never taught duets before. They can get through the notes ok, but there is no emotion in the music. (They are doing Sonatina in G by Beethoven.)

If it's 8va, it's 8 notes (octave) above where it's written; if it's 15ma, it's 2 octaves. Similarly 8vb is one octave below. Also note that when the dotted bracket is above the notes, this means to play up; when it's below the notes, play down. The 8 and 15 (and 22) just tell you how many notes up or down. To decide where each student should place her hands, see what's written in the music. If there's nothing (which I doubt), see if there is a traffic jam if they put their hands in a particular place - - or if you can't figure out which octave each should use and just take a stab at it. Nearly all duets are written such that there are no shared notes at the same time, though each player may have the same note (piano key) at different times. Nearly all duets do not call for hand crossings: where one student must play notes located between the notes of the other student's two hands. (I'm speaking of one piano / four hands duets; not two pianos / four hands.)

Also see my file on duet tips. It's written for consumers, but you probably will find some helpful information in it.

I'd say off-hand that you're better off worrying about whether they can read the notes, find and play them on the keyboard, and count so they stay together way before you're worried about whether there is any emotion in the performance! My dear old dad would say, "A sculptor doesn't run in a chisel out the ear the first thing."

Do you have any suggestions on how to accompany?

See my file on this.

I have a problem with a student who suffers from nervousness (in the form of performance anxiety) at the lesson. This student is an adult professional who has been with me for a few years and is self-motivated and practices regularly and diligently. I couldn’t ask for a better student. Our teacher-student relationship is healthy. Frequently, at her lesson, when she begins to play her exercises, etudes or pieces, everything goes along smoothly until the first wrong note or fingering occurs. Then the performance begins to unravel: possibly another missed note; maybe a counting error; a hesitation here, a pause there; backup to correct; a stop; and finally, a failed attempt to resume. Although she seems to remain outwardly composed, I can sense and understand her frustration. Any ideas on what I can do to improve this situation?

I think your student suffers from perfectionism. And really needs "permission to be human." Read my file on special problems in teaching adults.

What do you do when a student arrives without his books?

Do what you can from memory (such as the exercises or any memory material).

Use your copies of the music ("Of course, this copy won't have your markings on it.")

Work on sight-reading.

Work on some "evergreen" topic such as deriving scales or triads. Use the search function on your browser to search on "evergreen." I discussed it in an earlier answer.

Pull out a piece you were going to start in the near future and begin work on it.

What do you do when a student has not practiced during the week?

Assuming this is not a chronic problem, use the lesson time to practice with the student. "Well, just work together today on your pieces. Which one can I help you with the most? Ok, which place is the hardest? Let's start there."

(1) Sight reading....I hear so many different things on sight reading I'm not sure what is the best way to sight read. I read your notes and what you wrote makes sense to me. I have also heard a couple of other ways that are different, and I'd like to hear your comments on one in particular. I have a friend (a fellow teacher) who has her students sight-read a piece for 15 minutes, playing along with a metronome (to get the piece right). She has them play without stopping, which, to her is the most important part. Then she checks it. She doesn't care whether there are mistakes or not. She just wants them to be able to play without stopping. What do you think about this method of teaching sight reading? (2) My other question....One of my main goals as a student myself is to be able to pick up a piece, at any level, and play it. Should I be able to sight-read it slowly, then be able to play through the piece quickly after a few tries? (Does my question relate mostly to sight reading, or note reading or a combination of both?) What is the skill required to be able to do this fluently? This is the part I am most nervous about as far as being able to teach: my being able to just accompany my students in lessons. Any suggestions?

First question: I don't think your colleague's method is necessarily -teaching- sight-reading. I think this method is just a -way- of sight-reading a piece.

In any event, my take is accuracy, not keeping going. Really, the main purpose of sight-reading is to "get into" a new piece; secondary importance: picking up pop sheets, etc. Sight-reading well helps you embark on a new piece more easily (and, with students, less trepidation). Therefore I think it's best to go slow and get it right rather than riff through it with the main focus being not slowing down.

How do you know what speed to play, anyway? Unless there is a metronome marking put there by the composer, you should be somewhat unsure until after you have studied the piece. What does andante mean in the context of this piece? Is it a one-in-a-bar andante? If an editor put in a metronome speed, how reliable is that? Should the editor's goal be the "at speed" sight-reading goal?

If you are accompanying a choir, then you do have to sight-read at whatever speed the director sets, so this is a different kettle of fish. For this situation, your colleague's approach might be better.

Presumably, though, such sight-reading would take place at rehearsals and -only- if the director has selected something to explore so late as to be unable to get the score to the accompanist ahead of time; it really is in the director's best interest to have the pianist as well-prepared as possible, as the rehearsal goes more smoothly and the accompanist can assist parts which are struggling by bringing out that line.

Second question: Should you be able to play the piece after sight-reading a couple of times? I don't think so! In fact, I think doing so will be a substantial detriment to ever learning the piece well.

I think you have a number of interlocking questions here. I think it is note-reading, rhythm-reading, speed choice, finding the correct notes on the keyboard, and (a distant contender) keeping going.

In order to "keep going," you play with excruciating slowness. You have time to think and therefore can get over the rough parts. How about 40 to the eighth-note? I know this is absolutely glacial, but you'll be able to observe everything and have time to think and read ahead. (Reading ahead is another skill one reinforces during sight-reading.)

As to your being able to sight-read with students at lessons, this depends on the level of music you want to play. Secondo to your students' primo? At beginning level you should be able to sight-read accurately on the first go.

More difficult? Play slowly; you'd tell your student to do the same, right? If the student already knows her part, still play slowly. You need to be able to mesh the parts; as a side benefit to you, you have a better chance of playing accurately on the first go.

Of course, it's -far- better to run through your part a couple of times and practice any tricky parts. Remember that you're going to have to support your student (rescue her if she gets lost!) and take charge of the ensemble aspects as well as play your own part. So, tricky parts might not necessarily be note places; could be tempo changes, key changes, a place where the student has a little filler while you hold a note, helping your student count through a number of measures of rests, etc. Any potential trouble spot you should go over in advance. Since you're running the show, don't assign a duet part (or get to that part of the lesson assignment) until you've had a chance to play through your part. If a student brings something in and "please, may we try it right now?", then go slowly. If necessary, play only one hand. Or the first part ("Let's take a look at the first line, shall we?"). Remember you are in charge!

As to teaching sight-reading, I guess it boils down to whether you like your colleague's approach or mine (or something else). Decide and then teach to that goal.

Now, as sight-reading relates to learning a new piece, the approach I take is to play through the piece slowly and, on the way, note the problem spots (I mark them if I don't think I can remember where they are). Then I go back and pick the worst three places (or less or more, depending on how long I have to practice at that session). I work on these spots.

I do -not- start at the beginning of the piece and zip through to the end, "sluffing over" [my dad's expression] the hard places and slowing down where necessary to get through an extra-difficult place. That accomplishes nothing at all, as everyone else has figured out, also!

The "three bad places system" allows me to measure whether I met my goal for that session: learning (or at least figuring out the fingering or the counting, or whatever!) those three places.

How do you become more proficient at reading ahead when you are sight-reading? Does it just happen?

As you have deduced, reading ahead is critical for sight-reading.

When you're teaching reading ahead, move the pencil point along to the next note so the student's eye follows, too. Start with whole notes, moving your pencil and saying, "One, two, read ahead." When the whole-note measure is at the end of the line, say the same thing, moving your pencil slowly to the next system when you say read. Then start doing it with longer-value notes. Remind the student oftento "read ahead."

When you are learning, see if you can get someone to move a pencil point for you! Or, failing that, just keep it in mind and try to read ahead on the long-value notes, the same as when you teach. As you do this, you will see you can "ignore" whole notes and concentrate only on the moving LH. As you become more proficient, you'll be able to read ahead on shorter-value notes. No quick fix; sorry. But hang in there, and it'll come. Remember that you didn't learn to sight-read in a week, either!

Are there any good fake books out there? I am lacking as far as being able to improvise at the piano. I thought fake books might help.

By improvise, do you mean make an arrangement (not necessarily spontaneously) of a melody, given the melody only plus the chords? If yes, then the fake book is what you want.

The way I teach this is to show the student a number of LH patterns, working from easiest (block triads; one-note LH using root of the triad; root octaves; root octaves alternating with the V between them; I V I; block triad arpeggiated; I V I arpeggiated; etc.) to trickiest (jump bass: I V V-an-octave-below, I). The next step is to derive a RH part that isn't only the melody line by looking at the RH note and the triad and then filling in the remaining triad notes below the melody note. Couple these first attempts with the root octaves plan. Next you can go to an 2-note octave pattern of the root; then IVI, and so on.

Yes, there are some good ones out there. They tend to be grouped as "kinds" of songs (Christmas, '80s pop) or by those songs to which a publisher owns copyright. I feel the former is the better kind because it's not so limiting. On the other hand, you might find a publisher fake book that contains just what you're looking for. You also might be able to find a fake book of material on which copyright protection has run out, and this might be ideal. Query your print music dealer.

If you mean improvise as taking a melody, analyzing which triads to use, and constructing your own arrangement, then a fake book isn't what you need. This is a more advanced skill, and I believe there are some books out there that address this. You might ask a colleague or your music dealer for a suggestion.

I have a 15-year-old student who asked me "how to compose nice pieces?" He has composed some simple pieces, mainly using only three notes for eight bars, such as do - re - mi, mi - re - re. And do - re - mi - mi and so on. He himself said that his pieces are really boring. I have trained him by playing a simple melody and then asking him to find the notes on the piano or sing the solfège names, but he doesn't know which ones I played. He only can sing lah lah lah, mainly on the wrong pitch. When learning to compose, we have to listen many pieces to get the ideas, right? That's what I did, and it worked because my teacher gave me good marks. But he can't do this because he doesn't know the notes. He really seems to want to compose nice pieces. What should I do? Your advice, please.

First have him sing a one-octave scale using numbers. Then use the syllables so he knows what they are and how they are placed in the scale. Make sure he understands that do is the same as one, and so on. If you prefer, have him use the numbers only. (This is how my teacher taught me, and it seemed to make a lot more sense to me than the solfège syllables. It was also, definition, the 'moveable do' approach. That is, where the tonic in the key is do, no matter what pitch it is. Also the Italian may be daunting unless he speaks Italian. This is one reason opera is not very popular in America - - the language is a stumbling block).

Then have him sing very simple songs, such as "Hot Cross Buns" and Offenbach's "Barcarolle." These are 3-note songs, and he can use do re mi on them. (Again, I'd use numbers.) Then go to five-note songs: Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" and "Jingle Bells" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb". Then start making the songs more complex, adding la; a song to sing for this is the Irish jig called "Irish Washerwoman." You'll have to poke around and see what other tunes you can find that have a specific range of pitches.

Meanwhile, have him compose a piece at home, play it for you, and you write it down for him. Maybe do this at the lesson.

If he can't do this, ask him to come in with the "question" and you two do the "answer" at the lesson. Then ask him to change his "question" a little bit (at the lesson) and discuss whether and how to change the "answer." These are 8-measure songs.

If he can't do this, work out the "question" together and work out the "answer" together.

Will these pieces be boring? Well, yes, but the tools he has so far are not sophisticated and neither are his listening skills. If he wants to study compostion seriously, he needs a teacher of composition. You can help him get started, though.

As to "nice," I think he means "with a good melody." Richard Strauss said that the most difficult thing he ever composed was a simple melody. What a surprise! We all think that a simple melody should come tripping out of the brain with ease! Your student wants to write pieces with simple melodies, but this is harder to do than he thinks if he wants a melody that he characterizes as "nice." He'll have to work at it. Composition is like playing the piano. You can't decide you want to do it and suddenly have the skills! You'll need to demonstrate this to him, and I think working the "question/answer" thing will help him with the skills as well as the reality.

Another idea: Not all things he dreams up will be ideas he'll want to use. Perhaps a sketch book of ideas? Tell him that even Beethoven, for example, kept a sketch book.

As I said, if he wants to study composition, he should get a teacher. Meanwhile, have him experiment and write down ideas until he gets one he wants to pursue. Encourage him and tell him that not all the stuff he comes up with will be good stuff and that skill in composition takes a long time to develop. He'll have to keep at it and experiment if this is something he really wants to do in a fashion that suits him.

See also question 105.

The balance between requiring thorough mastery of a piece of music and frustrating perfectionism is something I'm struggling with in my teaching. How "perfect" should a piece be played before it is passed? I frequently acknowledge that despite mistakes, the student has mastered certain objectives of the piece, which hopefully communicates that, though the highest ideal is a perfect performance, it is not necessary to pass on to the next piece. Most of my students are beginner to early intermediate.

I think we're singing from the same hymnal.

I very rarely require "perfection" and then only within the framework of what the student is able to do...or needs to do at this point in his or her development. I think it's so sad when teachers spend the entire year on two or three pieces (often for competitions or evaluations - - more info on competitions is listed on the pedagogy main page). They think they are helping their students by honing these pieces to perfection. Actually, they're boring their students to tears and also doing them a terrible disservice by using up time that ought to be spent broadening their horizons, exploring other literature, spending more time on theory or keyboard harmony, introducing social music techniques such as fake book playing, etc.

Occasionally I'll let a student "drop" a piece when I feel as though he has mastered the "kernel" within it. All students do not like all pieces, and sometimes the student just doesn't like a particular piece. For example, I have an adult student who is returning for a music degree (she already has a Ph.D. in physics), and we were working on the Beethoven "La Molinara" variations because it's such a useful piece for ornamentation study. I thought that she should be familiar with it because she'd probably use it in teaching. Though she likes Beethoven, she just didn't like the variations. So, after we ground on it for a while and looked at the questions about ornamentation, we put it aside without learning to play it very much. No guilt. It was our mutual decision. We got out of what we decided was useful and then put it on the shelf.

I think that's a key issue. The student should not feel he has "failed" if he shelves a piece. Nor should the teacher. You know what your goal is for each piece, and once you reach it - - or reach a revised goal, in light of new developments - - be happy with that.

As to perfect performance, a sage friend once told me that even the best ones have about 5% wrong notes and that we should not worry. "Just drop your 5% in the bucket by the door when you come in and then enjoy your performance, knowing you've already made your 'contribution.'"

My question is about stickers. I use them as a reward when my students pass a piece. (1) Should I give stickers to my teenage students? (2) Nobody wants the last sticker on the sheet! I'm not going to throw it away, but the student who "gets stuck" is unhappy because there was no choice. What should I do about this?

Last question first. Make the last sticker desirable. I tell my students that whoever gets the last sticker "gets the wish." Like the wishbone at Thanksgiving. Start the ball rolling with, "I see there are only two stickers left. If you can get the last one, you get the wish." The student will be somewhat perplexed, so you explain about the wish. "And if you get the wish, don't tell me, ok?, or it won't come true."

As to teens, if they've come up through the ranks with you and they suddenly think they're too old for stickers, they'll tell you. ("I don't want stickers anymore." Ok. We'll put a checkmark on your finished songs.) If it's a transfer student, at the completion of the first piece with you, say, "I give students a sticker for each completed piece. Would you like a sticker?"

I have a brilliant 14-year-old student who has been composing his own music for some time now. I want to help him to start writing down his compositions. How do I go about it?

Does your student know how to notate music at all? That is, if you tell him the time signature and key signature and ask him to write four measures of quarter notes (pitches not important), can he do this? Change the 2nd count of each measure to 2 eighths? If not, he needs to start working on the small muscle skills needed for this. How to draw clefs, where the time signature numbers go, etc. - - all the things that we know how to read but just don't think about (example: if I have an accidental note tied into the next measure, do I need another accidental on the same note in the second measure?). At a lesson, start one of his pieces together, getting it committed to staff paper. Ask him to work on it during the week and see if he can get a couple more measures down. The next week you play exactly what he has written - - warts and all, and he will say whether that is what he intended. If not, have him find the problem and figure out where the notation went stray, correcting his work.

Then move to having him write a short piece (4-8 measures) all on his own and check it at the lesson. You can help him get started, but he needs to take over the notation chores as soon as possible. Encourage him to stick to simpler notational needs until he builds his confidence.

There are also notation programs for computer. Coda Music has a freebie notation program called Notepad that probably will be all your student will need for a very long time. Coda's full program, Finale, has quite a steep learning curve (the first time I typed that last word I wrote "curse"--which isn't far wrong!!), but once he masters it (or masters portions of it he needs), he can play his song in a MIDI-equipped keyboard, and it will "come out the other end" as notation. He'll have to learn to play a certain way (most unmusical and therefore quite unnatural: no phrase lifts or staccato notes, for example) in order to minimize the notation errors which will have to be corrected.

Other notation programs abound. Finale's chief rival is Sibelius. One of my students is also a composition major (in fact, the student mentioned in question 103), and she prefers Sibelius to Finale. Her school uses Finale, however, so she's fluent in both (as I am not! and don't intend to take the time to be!). Sibelius has a demo version, not a working freebie. Anyway, suggest your student try one of these notation programs.

My students have a terrible time in Fur Elise where the hands play all those octave Es. The clef changes get them every time. You have such a store of knowledge I hope you will be able to help me with this problem.

A common problem! I use colored circles. See my answer to this question in my Q&A for students/parents.

I am interested in teaching online piano and guitar lessons, and my prospective students are all over the world. Can you recommend a platform for distance learning that is a good match for piano and guitar lesson content?

I know of nothing except a garden-variety website. Sorry! Maybe you can get an answer from a techie newsgroup! If you find out anything, please let me know so I can give this information here!

Recently, I bought a piano literature book for one of my students that has a CD of all the songs played in the book. Normally I don't buy books with CDs, but they did not have any more copies of only the book. What do you think about the student owning the CD to the pieces in the collection? I always thought it would be great for the student to listen to the pieces and develop "an ear" for good music. On the other hand, I don't want the student to simply mimic what she hears.

In general, I don't like to have students listen to CDs while learning a piece because this discourages them from thinking. I know they're all the rage now, but I think they're a bad idea. Of course, an advanced student might listen to a CD "just to see how __ does it" and you can't stop them, but if I am asked, even by an advanced student, I say I don't recommend it and say why.

As to no copy of the book without the CD, just ask the store to order one. You can temporize with other material at the lesson or extend polishing on other pieces while you are waiting for the book to come in.

What do you do when a student has body odor? Especially a young teen.

Say nothing to the student. Call the parent (of the same sex, if possible) and suggest that "I think Bill is ready for some deodorant."

The parent probably doesn't sit that close to the child for prolonged periods in the afternoon and evening after the student has been physically active all day, as you do during a lesson, and probably is not aware of the problem. Parents will welcome your kindness, as body odor (in the American culture, I hasten to say) is not socially welcomed. So, don't be afraid to say something. You're doing the child a favor. Don't act tongue-tied when you talk to the parent and don't say anything else ("I hope you don't mind that I said something," or "I really think you should do something right away.").

Aside: I hope that all parents greet this need as a welcome step in growing up. Take the teen out to lunch and make it a special opportunity to go the store and examine deodorant labels and fragrances and select one the teen likes. Maybe see a movie or buy some article of clothing. I wish I had thought of this when my boys started using deodorant!

Another "odor" comes from dirty hands, again, especially with young teens. Ask your student to wash up: "Your hands look pretty dirty. Run in and wash up." If it dawns on you later in the lesson that the hands are the source of the problem, it's still not too late to ask the student to wash his hands.

For an adult, you can't say anything. Arrange to sit on a stool, not on the bench. See also this file for suggestions about what to say.

Do you have a suggestion for lessening the difficulty of the transition between practice of hands alone to hands together, especially for children?

Pick a small place to put hands together, not the whole song. Maybe just a measure. Pick one that's easy. Maybe do another easy one. Then go to a measure that's a little tricky - - one that will be a stumbling block, compared to putting hands tog on the other measures. Depending on what you've chosen, you may end up with the students' having put together a whole line.

For the assignment, tell the student to do that line hands tog. "And toward the end of the week or whenever you feel comfortable with that line, pick another measure and put hands tog on that one, ok? " If you want, pre-select a couple of measures that will be sure successes.

Bottom line: little bits pre-programmed for success. Small chunks will not seem so forbidding. The fact that you've asked the child to practice this hands apart is a tip off to her that this song is going to be harder than others.

Some of my students' parents seem discontent with what their children - - beginners - - are able to do at an early point of study. They want their children to, well, you know, play! Can you help?

Explain what you're doing and why. Tell them when they should expect to see/hear X and Y. And when Z will happen and why it will be a while. I think if they have a sense of a time table, they'll be more at ease.

Be sure to invite them to contact you any time they have a question. Let them know that you're available and welcome their communication.

I'll also note I am a firm believer that the student not perform "parlor tricks" to amuse the parents rather than learning how to read and other basics they can't do without. A lot of times parents are influenced by what other folks' kids are doing - - rather, what other kids' parents -say- their kids are doing!

Please help me with how to play the horrible measures in Chopin's Prelude in A Major. There are just too many notes. My students can't reach them, and even I have trouble!

These are definitely the measures (11 and 12) with which teachers and students struggle most in this prelude (Op. 28 #7). Many folks (men, women with large hands) can reach all the left-hand notes. Few can manage to play the A# and C# with the right thumb (and the other four notes with the other four fingers), however. Even men have trouble with the RH part. Hurrah for those who can play it as Chopin wrote it, but there is no shame in making changes for those with less well-endowed hands!

The solution is to prune (or call in the Marines to take a couple of the "extra" notes).

I use the following.

In m. 11 on the second quarter-note, the LH plays A-E-A (fingered 5-2-1). This is a I-V-I pattern (root-fifth-root of the triad).

In m. 12, the LH plays F#-C#-F# (also fingered 5-2-1). This allows the LH to keep the same "hand position" as it moves from one I-V-I (m. 11) to another (m.12).

The RH, in m. 11 on the second quarter-note, plays C#-E-A-C# (as written), probably fingered 1-2-4-5 (maybe 1-2-3-5; so much depends on the individual musculature, shape, and flexibility of the student's hand).

In m. 12, the RH plays C#-E-A#-C#.

The "beauty" of this pruning is that in the right hand, the only change is from A (m. 11) to A# (m. 12).

"Seeing" this note movement, coupled with the I-V-I patterns in the LH makes this place accessible (not scary), even to small hands, although some really small ones may have trouble playing both the A# and high C# (m. 12) in the RH. In this case, clip off the low C#. You need the A# for color and the C# because it's the highest note.

You will find my thoughts about whether or not it's ok to make changes in music to fit the player's hands in this file in my consumer Q&A page (bet you can't guess!) and also some specific suggestions on how to revise and prune.

I stumbled across some of your articles on the internet. Can you please recommend a Piano Pedagogy text book for me. I took piano for several years and my college piano teacher thinks I should start teaching piano part-time. I would like a good reference manual for teaching techniques. Thanks, for any and all help you may give.

You will not be happy, but there really isn't one. I've read them all, and I find them falling short of the mark. (I know others will disagree with me!) Your best bet is to ask your teacher for guidance. You can look on the web, too (under piano pedagogy). Did you read all the Q&As here on my site (here on pedagogy and also on business and consumer)? You'll find a good deal of practical, in-the-trenches information there. Look for books on suggested student literature, such as the following:

You probably will profit from some reading in learning theory and general psychology. Particularly, you might be interested in the work of Myers and Briggs. I have an introduction and application for music teaching on my site here.

Some of my students have a terrible time keeping good hand position. Will you suggest something I can do?

First, they have to know what good hand position is. Wrist and thumbs. I explain that the wrist wants to be lazy, but its job is to hold up the arm ("The next time you're at the grocery store, weigh your arm. You'll be surprised at how heavy it is."). If you don't keep you wrist up, your poor little old fingers - - look at these dinky things! can you imagine how small the muscles in your fingers must be? - - not only have to play, but they have to support the weight of your arm. So, make those wrists do their job!

A technique I use all the time is to play "piranha," wherein I tickle the bottom side of their wrists when they drop them. I also usually assign a "Piranha Song," some very old song that's so easy the student can focus on the wrists. Passed-off technique exercises are fine, too.

Another technique, after they have managed to do it correctly, is to ask them to "do it wrong." Many times, they can't! Doing it wrong on purpose draws attention to what the hand position should -not- feel like.

Another common problem with beginners (perhaps 50% of them) is dropping the thumbs so they point to the floor. A first step is to play "alligator," wherein you grab their thumbs from underneath (or "shark" or whatever). After the student gets the idea, to burn it into their consciousness, assign an "Alligator Song" each week.

As above, another option is to ask the student to do it wrong; that means they must have control over doing it right well enough that they can countermand.

Another strategy is to tell them to keep their thumbs on the key (whatever it is for the hand position). This should be part of the instructions for the "Alligator Song."

Sometimes we have a "Piranha & Alligator Song," and sometimes we combine that with the memory song!

Try not to get hung-up on hand position. The beginner has so many balls in the air - - visual (looking at the music and tracking it while playing, translating the notation on the page and directing the body to accomplish it), physical (the literal motion of playing, internalizing the rhythm, etc.), aural (paying attention to what the tune is, listening for wrong notes or faulty duration, etc.) - - that hand position really is not high on their list of things to pay attention to!

Pick your battles. In my opinion, hand position is not the first one. I go for note reading and steady tempo (including proper duration of notes), but each teacher has his/her own particular take on what is the most important. If these are also your priorities, say nothing at first about hand position. Let the student become accustomed to things. After a few weeks you can mention hand position and play the piranha game at the lesson and mention how the wrists should be up (or thumbs should not dangle). Only after a month or so - - the student is well-established in how to read notation and seems to have control over his fingers - - do you address it in a concerted way. Try something like the piranha/alligator method. If you make it fun, the student will pay attention. (Sometimes he'll do it wrong purposely to see if -you- are paying attention!)

How can I find a good piano method? You wrote your own stuff, but I'm not sure I can do that. Also, I don't have a lot of time. I need something for beginner students (children) now!

You are perfectly capable of preparing your own material. Take a stab at it.

Don't try to write the entire program in a month! Do a couple of pieces. Add to them as you see fit/have time/have a student request.

Evaluate as you go along. What worked? What didn't?

After a couple of years you'll have a nice collection of pieces. You can use them to fill in or rectify shortcomings in the piano methods you are using. Perhaps eventually you may rely on them completely, after having expanded your library so all necessary pedigogical issues have been covered, of course!

Don't say you can't. You can. And, of course, if you use melodies from the masters, you can't go wrong! As you assign the pieces, you'll see where revisions are needed. Don't wait! Try it right away! You don't have to be a composer; just be a concerned teacher. Anything you arrange for a student will be cherished. I promise. Do try!

As to a method, think about what you used as a student. From your perspective then, what was good about those books? Bad? As a teacher, now, look back on those. Was anything damaging? Unclear? Not pursued at adequate length? Omitted entirely? Beaten to death?

What do you like to teach? Are you a process or a product teacher? How does a series you're considering mesh with this?

I really can't give you an answer that will be helpful to you at this point because I don't like method series and solved the dilemma by creating my own teaching materials, as you have mentioned. This took about six years to assemble in its a fully-developed state, and I'm still on the outlook for other things and students requests things that I don't have [yet!].

You need help now, though. I suggest you go with a series that does what you thought was good when you were a student, tempered by what you now know as a professional is needed by a beginner. You might end up taking a little of this from one series and a little of that from another. Don't feel as though you must "take the entire course" of pieces, technical drills, notespelling, sight-reading, and so on. Pick the best stuff from each series and integrate it. You may need to make some arrangements to help the transition. It's hard when you're first starting, but you have to start somewhere! So, make your best guess, be prepared to alter course and augment the material as needed, and then change series if you are not satisfied with the one you first chose.

Meanwhile start making arrangements of the standard repertoire. By arrangements, I mean pieces in the public domain, so you don't have to worry about copyright: Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Clementi, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorak, Chopin, and so on. Also, folk tunes are PD. If you are in doubt, don't use it until you can find out if it's still protected by copyright.

See also my pedagogy general page for more discussion of these topics. See also question 2 and question 15 on this page.

I have an 8-year-old beginner who has been taking lessons from me for about 7 weeks. We are using the Middle C method. She is having a lot of difficulty identifying notes. At lesson we go through the songs note by note with me asking her the name of the note. About 75% of the time she doesn't get it right the first time. I have sent her home with flash cards to help. I also make a page of notes on manuscript paper that she has to write the names of the notes on. I've resorted to trying to teach her the F-A-C-E, Every Good Boy Does Fine way of remembering to see if that would help. So far it hasn't because she can't remember which phrase is for which notes. I'm wondering if it's a learning disability or just trouble in memorizing. She told me that when she's playing it just "goes right out of my head," and she can't remember the notes. She said that's what happens during her spelling tests also. As we pick apart the phrases in the music and learn the notes she'll say "Ok, so it goes like this," and then look at her hands and try to play the keys in the order we just figured out. It's as though she's just trying to memorize the order her fingers play instead of reading notes. If I say, "OK, this time let's play it while you look at your music," she'll look at the music, but I can tell she's not reading the notes. She's just trying to play by memory again while gazing at the music. She seems to understand space notes vs. line notes and the concept of up and down the keyboard, but she can't seem to remember which note is on which line or space. Any suggestions?

I take it you want her to be able to read on the music "this is an F" and then play that particular one on the keyboard?

I think this is not the way to go about it. Solution: leave out the letter name! Instead: "This note on the music is this piano key." The letter names will come along as you teach her. Leave out this letter-name step. As you note, she has some difficulty in learning this concept and also in spelling. Try abandoning working with the letter names for now.

Therefore, I'd abandon flashcards, too. If you want enrichment, write her little 4-measure "sight-reading" exercises. They don't have to be tunes, though if they are a bit tuneful, that's a plus. Let her name each one.

You've hit the nail on the head with your description of how she must be using a workaround: she can't process the "letter" business, so she's using an alternate route. She so much wants to play the piano that she is trying to learn by inventing her own method (one many other children have invented to solve the same problem).

Since she understands about steps and skips, she'll be able to find a starting note (you may have to prompt her at the beginning and just say, "This is Middle C" and keep reminding her until you say, "Find Middle C" and she does it. She may already be able to do this; most children can find this note very promptly very early.) and step and skip around on the keyboard as the notes step and skip around on the lines and spaces. In your little songs, start on Middle C exclusively.

Confine her songs to steps and skips for a couple of months until she is secure in finding which notes on the printed music correspond with which notes on the keyboard . There are a lot of songs in the C 5-finger pattern you can use.

Also, keep her in the C 5-finger pattern. DON'T move her around to G, etc. It sounds as though you are keeping her in C. Wise. Don't trouble her with complex counting, either. Stick to quarter notes as the smallest unit.

Try this and see how she does. Also, have you read my files on pedagogy.html on notereading? Lots of info there on that subject and the problems about how to introduce eighth-notes.

Yes, I have been on your website repeatedly. It is a wonderful help to me! Thank you so much for providing it. I found some topics which I thought might relate but wanted to get an opinion on this particular student and her exact problem. I'll try what you suggest and hope I can get it to click for her. She seems so eager and I can tell she's starting to get discouraged. It makes me feel awful that I haven't been able to reach her yet.

I'm glad you wrote again. I have some other ideas.

You might tell her that you realize she's is "perhaps" getting discouraged and that that's entirely normal. You understand, and it's perfectly ok for her to feel that way.

You know she's working hard. You appreciate her efforts. You are proud of her for not giving up and for working with you with such good cooperation.

You and she both want her to learn to play piano, however, you tell her, and -you- will continue to hunt for ways to explain things in a way -she- understands. "This is my job! I will work as long as it takes to find the way I can explain it to you. Don't worry that you are dumb. You are not. The fault is mine! I haven't found the way to explain this in a way that makes sense to -you-. Will you continue to give me such good cooperation while I try to find the right way for you?"

I think if she knows she's not struggling through this on her own and that you're making specific attempts just for her, she'll be able to hang on long enough until you find the key for her.

It's hard for the teacher when she/he can't seem to get a breakthrough, especially for a student who wants to much to learn, so don't you give up, either!

Be sure to talk with the parents about this. They should know what's going on so they know how to deal with any acting out at home that's related to her frustration. Tell them exactly what you told her.

Also, they may have some insights. Ask about her schoolwork, what problems she has, and how she has devised ways to work around them. Ask their permission to contact her school teacher, too. I wonder if she has a processing learning disability? The teacher may be able to shed some light on this. Perhaps the teacher has been gearing up to ask the parents to have the child tested; your questions about her piano situation might be the final piece of the puzzle that sends the teacher to the parents.

Try some games (not flashcards). Even if you have to play the same games every lesson, that's ok. You're looking for a breakthrough. Also, send the games home for her parents to play with her during the week.

Meanwhile, work on other things on which she excells. Rhythm, perhaps. Or carrying a tune vocally. Or moving to music. Or making up songs (she plays or sings them; you write them down).

My students are either not practicing enough or maybe just not efficiently. Which is it, do you think?

Usually it's the latter. And because they are getting so little out of their piano time, they are reluctant to "invest" more because experience has shown that there's not a lot of "return" for the time they spend! Therefore, it's also a case of "not enough."

Of course, there are some students who don't practice enough to realize they're practicing inefficiently!

How do you teach four against three? My student is playing "Chariots of Fire." I have been using the phrase "percolated coffee."

I knew this problem would come up! Let's take a stab at it. I don't know how the text is going to line up, but I'll hope for the best!

I use a mnemonic, too, but first I do the "common denominator" method to show it mathematically. For 4 against 3, the common denominator is 12.

Draw two lines of 12 xes, right under each other:

x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x x

Now regroup each one so in one line there are 4 groups and in the other 3.

x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x x

Now look for points where they coincide. The beginning only. Rats.

Now look for points where one of them falls on the "and." Ah ha! The second group of 4.

x x x x x x x x x x x x
x x x x x x x x x x x x

So, if you're counting the triplets, you have 1 2& 3. (The same as two against three.) Have the student play only those select notes from the page. For a whole week!

The next week, plug in your mnemonic and use only those syllables. (I use "pass the doggoned butter" because that's what my teacher used; your coffee is fine, too!). Example: pass dog-goned but- [sorry!].

It helps to tap this, too: L LR L in my example where LH has the triplets.

Now you make the leap to the entire mnemonic. What I stress is that "the" is really "th'"--sort of short. And "-ter" is really "-r"--also short: Pass th'dog-goned butt'r.

Eventually this rhythm will come naturally; reassure the student. At the next lesson, listen first to make sure the triplets are even. Then listen to the quads. Tweak as necessary.

One of my students could actually keep track of the fours and threes separately and hear them as separate rhythms! I don't know how she did it!

As to "Chariots of Fire," are you sure this song is worth this agony? I don't! I'd save this complex technique (not only to play but to teach!) for when you need it, such as for our friend Chopin. For now, let the student just let the notes drop where they may, more or less correctly, with the proviso that he's not playing the rhythm "exactly as written," but are taking a "pop music approach" and will do "the real thing" when you need it for "classical/other/real/non-pop" music. You don't want him to get the idea that he can be loosy-goosy with counting in the standard repertory, but you're giving permission to do that here because it's a pop song.

I have not seen this question addressed. I've never even met anyone else who has encountered this situation. I have a 6-year-old male student who is incredibly rude to his mother. He almost treats her scornfully, as though she were dirt beneath his feet! He's 6!! The mother acts as though this is how she is normally treated and sees nothing unusual. I was speechless the first time it happened but decided perhaps I had heard incorrectly and should give the child the benefit of the doubt. Sure enough the next week, it happened again. What shall I do? I find this so upsetting! Not only is his behavior to her unacceptable (in my opinion), but I don't want him to think he can treat me that way, too. (I'm a woman.)

You have "met" me. It has happened several times in my studio.

Over the years, I have observed that in certain cultures women are treated with disdain, as you describe, even by their young sons. Obviously it is something the children learn "from the cradle." I personally find this offensive, too, but that is the way the children are brought up and we must respect this cultural more, even though it doesn't seem "morally right" to us.

Being respectful of another culture, however, does not mean you must accept in your studio behaviors that are offensive to you.

I, too, was speechless the first time a student spoke to his mother with disdain. The next time it happened, I said, softly but brooking no disagreement and looking directly into his eyes, "That is no way to speak to your mother. She is your mother is to be treated with respect. I never want to hear anything like that from you again." And I never did. I don't know what happened at home, but the child never repeated the behavior in front of me.

My approach was "this isn't the way we do it in my studio," rather than, "this isn't the way it's done in this culture."

Having read your previous answer, let me ask about a related problem. I sometimes have young boy students whose parents seem to worship the ground they walk on! The child takes advantage, of course, and gets away with the most incredible rudeness and sass! The parents don't help. They indicate they think this behavior is "cute." What do you say about this one?

We are on problem children today, I think!

I have encountered this one, too. I will say softly, "That is no way to talk to your mother. I never want to hear you speak so rudely again." This gets the child's attention, and I never have any more trouble. Because I have not "made an announcement," meaning that I intend for the parents to hear what I'm saying, everyone saves face; usually the parent can hear what I said, however, or at least pick up the gist. I have never had a parent take me to task for correcting this behavior in my studio.

In general a child like this is stunned to be taken to task, so I smile and add, "Now go give her a kiss and tell her you're sorry." The kid grins and bounds off the bench to make amends.

The other side of this coin is to treat such a student (all students) with respect and genuine interest ("Yes, I'd love to hear some of your really hard spelling words! I'm so glad you did well on your spelling test!"). This makes any correction from you have a greater impact because the child respects you, and he knows you are his friend and you respect him.

I think this problem boils down to "start the way you'll continue." The first time a child is rude to you, to his parents, or others, lay down the law promptly! Not: "Oh, my! Oh, I am soooo surprised to hear you talk that way to your mother!" but something firm, such as, "It is rude to talk to people the way you talked to your mother just now. I won't allow that in my studio."

The child must know that in your studio, you are the boss! If you don't tell him you are (by word and behavior), he'll take over! - - in the same way some parents will pay their tuition when it suits them, rather than when it's due.

Note: (In case I get this question next!) If there are certain words from popular culture that you find offensive, you don't need to hear them in your studio. (Caution! Approaching rant: I can't believe the horrible words that are common parlance - - even among elementary school girls! - - and are spoken without any awareness of their true meaning. In fact, I often will say, "Don't use that word. You don't know what it means," especially to a young girl.)

Back to the bad language.

I have generally found this speak-firmly-and-promptly-to-the-problem method works like a charm on the very first "dose." If I must repeat myself at another lesson, I will say something like, "I spoke to you before about using that word at your lesson, didn't I? You must stop using that word when you are in my studio. I don't allow that word." I have never had to mention a problem the third time.

Agan, start the way you will continue! Be firm, but don't show anger. Give the child a specific example of behavior you do not wish to be repeated. Having done this, go right back to the lesson with a smile. Don't continue to dwell on the matter during his lesson, and don't "remind" him as he leaves the lesson.

If you think you need to speak to the parent about this or think the child will complain to the parent about this, intervene in advance. Find the parent after the lesson (even if you must go out to the car) and say, "I wanted to let you know that I had to speak to your son about a certain bad word he was using. I have told him on two other occasions about the same word, and today I was quite firm. I just wanted to let you know what happened today in case you got any complaints this evening." (Note: When you must go out to the student's car, stop the lesson early to allow time for this. You should not take time from the next student's lesson.)

Another approach: When the child makes a mistake, say, "Oh, beans" (or some other inoffensive expletive). The student will pick up on that word and knows it will take the place of the words he has been using. If the situation is more dire than "beans" will defuse, use "beans and ham!" If the student is in extremity: "beans and ham and onions!!"

I am 16 years old. I have taken piano since I was 8 years old and feel I am accomplished enough to teach beginners. I am not currently teaching but am seriously looking into it. I would like to ask if you had any tips for me. I don't really have any idea how to begin. I recently moved across the country and do not have a piano teacher right now, so I don't have anyone I could ask for pointers. Basically, where do I begin?

Have you read the pedagogy files and the question/answer file on pedagogy? (You're here right now!) As to the business of teaching, start with the business section and then go to the business Q&A. There are a number of files there for new teachers. After you've read all this, please write back with any specific questions.

You didn't ask, but I want to tell you that you should go with intermediates. Beginners need the best teachers they can find to set a good foundation. I'm not saying you're not an excellent performer, but you are -not- qualified to teach beginners. You will do them great harm. Please start with intermediates.

This is a very common misperception: "I know enough to start teaching, so I'll start with beginners."

Absolutely not!!!!!! No beginners until you are familiar with teaching intermediate students. No beginners!!!!

Gradually (allow about 10 years - - no joke), you'll know what beginners need as a foundation. This can be learned through trial and error. I have lots of ideas on my site, but you have to learn how to mold them to the way you teach and the types of students you have. There's no magic bullet, though. If there were, I'd certainly tell you.

Even as a degreed teacher, when you start teaching, no advanced student will consider you because you've just started teaching and know nothing about the nuts and bolts of it, but intermediate students probably will. Especially if your fee is low.

I don't know where you live or what other [degreed, experienced] teachers are charging in your area, but I think $5 per hour ($2.50 per half) is what you ethically can command - - as an un-degreed, inexperienced 16-year-old. You will make more money dog-walking, baby-sitting, plant-watching, etc. than teaching piano. I advise that you begin your work experience with one of those.

Let me mention that teaching piano is NOT a lucrative profession, not matter how experienced and qualified you become, so don't expect to make a lot of money. Ever. In fact, teaching piano is not even a profession. It's a calling, and you have to be passionate about music, the piano, and students. That has to be your primary reward because the income is highly unlikely to be.

Because you are intelligent and ethical enough to inquire whether your credentials are ok, you demonstrate you are a principled young person, and I salute you. After you earn your degree, you will be a credit to all piano teachers!

PS. You need to find yourself a teacher post haste, too! Not only to continue your own piano study but to be a mentor. I am so glad you wrote. Best wishes.

Do you use the chord method for your beginner adults?

No. I don't use the chord method with any of my students. I feel a chord method does not foster fluent bass clef note-reading. Instead, the student plays by "Gestalt." (Let's see. This note is the same. The bottom one goes down a step and the top one goes up a skip.) Getalt reading is fine, and all of us do it. Students tend to pick it up by themselves.

But to start this way is wrong, in my opinion. Students need to read and read both clefs. (See the general pedagogy page for a number of files on teaching note-reading.)

I do use a "chord" method, however. Part of my technique regimen is to have students "build" and play all 48 triads. At some point in that process, I introduce them to fake book-style playing. At first, it's just block triads and the melody. Then we work on different patterns the left hand can play. Finally, we talk about "filling in" in the melody the triad tones not used in the bass line. So, I do use this technique, but not as a method technique.

A related question is: Do I use a different technique on my adults than I do with my children? The answer is no. Everyone needs to read. And since you can get to melodies much more quickly with adults, they don't feel as though they "aren't playing songs yet." As an aside, I wouldn't worry about being able "to play songs" within the first week or so with adult students. They know they're beginners and appreciate the fact that a foundation must be laid first and are very tolerant of a couple of weeks of basics (these will take longer to teach to a child, of course, in which case you still should guard against the urge to have the child play melodies quite early - - you don't need to impress the parents. They've chosen you and put their trust in you. You want the student to be a happy and successful pianist, and you know the right way to do that. Take your time and do it right.)

I have just started to teach an young adult beginner the piano. She has had no previous piano lessons but played the oboe for several years about 7 years ago. She is exceptionally musical. I was trying to find out what natural ability she had, and she was able to play, practically note-perfect, by ear, Beethoven's Ode to Joy. Indeed, in the same lesson, she managed to harmonise with simple C, F, and G triads in the left hand. With an earlier tune, however, she struggled to read the notes. I am a bit unsure of how to progress. I will try to get her to improvise, and I am also trying to get her to sing, but she seems a little shy. The progress we make whilst using her ear is astounding, and I don't want to complicate her natural ability by insisting on making her read the notes. Her ambition is to be able enjoy playing the piano, not necessarily playing classical music. Do you have any advice?

As to the singing, don't press. There's no hurry about this part of her training. Let her get more comfortable with the piano and with you if she seems a little reticent. Improvisation is an excellent way to put her ear-playing skills to work.

As to note reading, I think it would be an error not to insist that she learn to read. You say she wants to enjoy playing the piano. Unless she reads notes, she will be limited to what she can play by ear or can learn by some rote method (watch your hands and duplicate with hers, etc.). I think she must read to go anywhere but where she is now.

If, however, staying where she is is what she wants (I don't believe this is - - otherwise, why take lessons?), just guide her as she makes her selections of music to play. Some technical exercises (easily memorized) should be undertaken to ease the physical aspects of playing what she hears.

Have you queried her at all about her desire to play at her present level as opposed to another level? I think this is in order. I am not sure that your reluctance about insisting she learn to read isn't more a concern of yours rather than of hers. That is to say, she may be perfectly willing (and probably expecting!) to learn to read. Otherwise, why would she have started lessons? If she were my student, I'd teach her to read, while, as you are doing, continuing to nurture her ear-playing.

(1) As a piano teacher I find it difficult to explain the answer to, "Why do we have to have 3/8 and 6/8 time?" It's a little embarrassing to not know the exact answer. Can you help? (2) Also, I find it not helpful when certain lesson books throw these time signatures in with 2 songs and then just expect the student will know how to think in these times. How do you handle this? Do you ever skip over these concepts and come back later, or do you just trudge through it? Maybe I'm the only one who thinks this is a problem.

First Question: For 3/8: "The composer felt like using this signature. It makes no difference at all in the sound or speed. Speed is determined by how fast the speed is for the note that gets one count."

For 6/8: "Some composers who use 6/8 do it because they think it's easier to think of six eighth-notes in a measure than two quarter-notes, each divided into triplets." Demonstrate how one measure of eighths in 6/8 sounds the same as one measure of 2/4 written as two triplet groups. "Some other composers use 6/8 because they want six counts in a measure and think six eighth-notes is easier to read than six quarter notes." Demonstrate how these two sound the same. "For the same reason six-in-a-measure is a little difficult to read with six quarter-notes, 6/2 is an uncommon time signature."

Second Question: No, I feel sure we're not the only two who have noted this problem!

Remember that method books are written by accomplished musicians. We all handle notation pretty much the same: glance at time sig and key sig (and tempo/dynamics, if they're there), and we're off and flying. If we want something in three-eight, we just write it that way; so do other composers. We don't care whether the basic beat is a quarter- or a eighth-note. We just know there are three of them in a measure. (Beethoven's Fur Elise is in three-sixteen time! Now -there's- an unusual time sig for you!)

Method book writers doubtless feel that two songs in these time signatures are enough for students. Obviously not!

Solution: (1) Convert all 3/8 to 3/4 by removing flags. If there are any sixteen-note pairs, boil them down to a quarter-note (or two eighths, if your student is using eighth-notes at this time). (2) For students reading eighth-notes *fluently,* describe that this composer has chose an eighth as "one." Write the first phrase of something in triple time (such as "Irish Washerwoman" - - sometimes known as "The Irish Jig") in 3/8 and 3/4. Let the student noodle out (which you listen to what she says) why the two versions will sound the same. Often students will see the eighths and think the whole piece goes faster than it would if written in quarters. (3) Come back to these pieces. This would be my last choice.

I have a 12-year-old transfer student (from Suzuki) who has dyslexia. Both Suzuki students who do not read music and people with dyslexia tend to "learn by memorizing," I believe. I know that for these students it is not as difficult for notes as for words. Do you have any suggestions for techniques I could use for them?

Although I am not a particular fan of Suzuki, I think perhaps the Suzuki approach is a good choice for your students, as they learn best by memorization.

I'd not omit the reading, though. Just go at the pace they seem able to absorb it. As often as possible, make acquisition of reading skills into a game (as opposed to flashcards). Switch to "real reading" as soon as they have enough control over the visual aspect. Make these "baby songs" more palatable by making them their own compositions: (1) Have them call out the letter names they want. Then choose the "counting rule" [time signature] and assign durations to each note so the counting rule is observed properly. (2) Have them play songs using those pitches, while you write them down. You probably will have to go back and correct the time signature problem. (3) Make a set of draw-cards. Each has a pitch the child can read (put it in grand staff notation, not just one staff). Make another set of duration cards. After the pitches are chosen (even at random, by turning the cards face-down), match up each pitch with a duration card. You can either arrange that the duration cards exactly match the number of beats needed for the whole song, or, later perhaps, put in "extra" cards so the task is a little harder. Two-measure songs are good starters. Move to four when the child is ready. Keep the songs short so the child has immediate success.

Also see my file on teaching students with disabilities. (There is also a addresses file that addresses teaching of gifted students.)

What do you use for rewards for your students?

I give a sticker when the song is passed off, primarily.

I also give blue ribbons (poorly drawn! blue with a silver medallion) when a song is played particularly well .

If the student goes on in a song (or starts one) without my asking him to, I give him an "on your own award," which is my "highest award." It's a [poorly-drawn] blue ribbon with stars around it (in blue)and a yellow jagged border (that's "fireworks," you see). These are much coveted. One student had an "on your own" for 68 weeks straight. He wanted to set the record.

When the student finishes a book, she is allowed to choose an entire dinner for the family (with parents' prior permission, of course). One little guy always chooses Thai food, and another girl always asks for cheese souffle and broccoli with béarnaise sauce. Primarily, though, they'll ask for a family favorite that is reserved for holiday meals.

When all songs are passed in one week, it's a "clean sweep" award (a poorly-drawn broom with fireworks around it). For this, it's double dessert (again, parents have final say). For kids who don't like sweets or who don't get them at home, it's a sibling takes over one chore for the day.

Then there are fun games. When the date number is the same as the Hanon or Finger Builders number, it's double dessert (ditto, parents' ok). I also do other silly awards for things such as "playing well though the braces hurt a little" and things like that.

Some teachers award points (practice time, primarily, but sometimes for songs passed off or songs memorized or a certain score in theory or ear-training) and let the child choose a prize from the "treasure chest" when the point total reaches a certain number. Some award miniature busts of composers, give composer coloring books, trophies, and things like this.

I have considered giving a trophy when the child completes a book with me (they are long books). I figure if they can get sports trophies, why not music trophies, which certainly represent just as much time and effort (maybe more!). I will start doing this when I move again. It's too late to start now because some kids have already gone through all four books. They will feel cheated, even if they get a trophy for the last book, wishing they had gotten them all along the way. I wish I had thought of this many years ago when I moved to my current home town! I still may solve the problem by giving the little ones along the way, and, to phase in, give large ones to the students who would have missed the little ones in previous years. I must think on how to work this out!

I have just recently found out from the parent of a student with whom I have been struggling for the past 4 months that the child has "Turner Syndrome," a genetic disorder in which one leg of one X chromosome is missing. Have you heard of this disorder? It only affects girls, and a couple of manifestations of it is that physical growth is impaired, retention of learning is quite hampered, and coordination of RH with LH is very difficult. What do you suggest?

No, I have not heard of this disorder.

I'd say treat this as you would any other learning disability. Proceed at whatever pace the student indicates is good for her absorption rate. Do lots of review and recasting the same thing. Invent games to use that material you are choosing. Engage the parents at the lesson to play with you (you may have to ask them specifically to stay) and/or explain the game and ask that the family play it daily. You probably will want to do some composition for her. Maybe some with her. (There was a recent question about this on pedagogy_QA; look near the bottom of the file.)

Remember that the parents are delighted with whatever she can learn and enjoy. Your job is to adjust your expectations to what she can do now. And what you think she'll be able to do and work toward that.

As to RH and LH, I think some one-hand songs will be what she needs for quite a while (rather, tunes divided btw the hands - - although there are a fair number of songs with a 5-note compass). You don't say whether you're using a Middle C approach with her, but I'd advise that. Use only songs that fall within the compass of small F to one-line G. Don't ask her to move out of this position, either by extending a finger or moving her hand. Don't forget duets. Especially ones in C position. She plays the RH as written; you play the LH as written or ad lib. Be sure to work the LH, too. Take those songs in C position and write the melody in the key of G, so the LH has 4 notes (small G thru one-line D).

If you're not using Middle C and seem to be butting your head against a brick wall, which is what the situation sounds like to me (through no fault of yours or the student's), start over and use Middle C. Explain to the parent that you're going to "take a new approach to see if that works better." Believe me, the parents are so grateful to have found you that pretty much whatever you want to try, they'll agree to support.

As a follow-up question, how do I find out in advance about learning disabilties? It would have been so much easier with my student had I known in advance about the Turner Syndrome.

About the only way you can find this out, if it isn't mentioned at the telephone stage (more below about this), is to ask.

You might want to add questions to your in-studio interview about any learning disabilities or special learning concerns the student might have.

Let's walk through a possible scenario. The parent says, for example, "She is partially deaf." You do not show fear that you won't be able to teach her. You say, "I'm glad you told me. That will help me teach her more effectively." (Remember, if your best, well-researched efforts aren't working, you can dismiss her from your studio.) Asking up front shows the parent you want to know everything about the student that might impact piano study and learning/retention so you can do the best job you can.

If you prefer, however, you can stop things right there if you truly do not wish to or really feel you are not equipped to teach a student who is hearing impaired.

Note: I'd advise you to try, though. Tell the parent that you aren't very experienced with this condition, but that you'll be glad to try and see how it goes. And state that you'll want to work closely with the parents as you go along and find what works best. In all likelihood, the family has been rejected by other teachers when they found out about the child's disability. The parents will be thrilled that you have agreed to accept the student. They won't care that it's a "try," but you'll need to be up-front about the fact that you're inexperienced with whatever the disability and that you'll be relying on "working together" with them and the student to try to find what works well. As long as everyone knows where the others stand at the outset, things should progress just fine. Remember to readjust your own expectations. This child's progress may be completely normal - - or even above average - - and the disability has virtually no impact at all. If the disability does make progress slower, you already will have put yourself into the right frame of mind.

When you ask outright about learning disabilities, the family is relieved that it doesn't have to "hide" the student's condition from you or hope that you don't "discover" it and then be angry because they withheld the information. When parents do withhold pertinent information, it is because they are embarrassed that anyone should know ("Is it my genetic fault"? Of course, the answer is no, but if you have a learning disabled child, you can't help but think that there's something wrong in the gene pool.) Another reason the parent might not tell you about the learning situation is fear that if you know, you'll refuse to teach the child. As research is done and published, stigmas about learning disabilities are decreasing, and this makes the parents more at ease to tell you what you need to know.

Often, the parent will say something in the telephone query, however ("He has dyscalcula. Will this be a problem teaching him to count, do you think?"). This way you are not surprised, as when the information surfaces in the interview. The best thing to do in the future, though, is to ask at the interview stage.

I ask specifically about diabetes (I have a great hiccup cure that entails a spoonful of white sugar), epilepsy, and pet/food allergies. You'll want your own "laundry list," of course, but this is what I ask (beyond learning concerns).

How do you treat children who are very stubborn and obstinate and who, for example, refuse to practise with hands separately first or refuse to play stylistically correctly, ignore articulation etc. I`m a young teacher, and I think it's sometimes difficult for me to assert myself. Perhaps I`m too friendly or not strict enough. I tell them they would save a lot of work by practising their pieces meticulously from the beginning, but some students behave obstinately as soon as they have to exert themselves.

Perhaps. Two reasons I think of right away: (1) You need the money and don't want the students to quit, so you try not to make them angry by being too strict. Or so they gripe to their parents about quitting, and their parents let them. Money is a very valid reason not to be too hard on students. Not the most "pedagogical," but valid and not to be dismissed. (2) You are trying to be their friend first, rather than their teacher first and then their friend. You are the person in authority, not the students. You should expect the students to meet your expectations for cooperation and practice techniques.

During the interview do you tell the students what you expect? How you want them to practice at home. How you want them to treat you at the lesson. How you want them to follow your instructions at home. Students (and parents) need to know exactly what your requirements are, including for home practice.

On the other hand, perhaps you are expecting too much, too soon. As in stylistic correctness or articulation. You didn't say what age these students are, but I think ages 15+ is the time for this. You can try some elements of these things earlier than 15 and should do so when the student is mature enough musically and intellectually, but don't expect students below high school age to do everything and at a high level. We teachers sometimes forget our own learning process, such as how long it took us to remember every time to bring out the melody. Or how long it took us to learn how to practice efficiently. Our memories are foggy!


If the child is disrespectful, this is another matter. You must address this right away and tell the child what is wrong and what you expect. If it is not better the second week, inform the child that the next week you expect to see all the required changes. If not, you will call the parents that very evening. Then do it. Sometimes the parents do not know what is going on with the lesson. Most (all?) would be appalled to know of their childrens' misbehavior.

Once you institute these new policies, you must enforce them consistently. You don't say whether you have children, but children students are no different from offspring children! They'll note where the boundaries are, never stay short of them, and push to expand them. You're the grown-up. This is your business. Be in charge. Or expect your students (and their parents) to take charge in your "absense."

I have an eleven-year-old student who exhibits symptoms of dyslexia. Her mother, an elementary teacher, had noticed possible problems earlier, had the child tested, and the results were negative. However, she has consistent problems with left v. right, up v. down, fifth finger v. first finger. It applies to her actual negotiating of the keyboard, as well as reading. There is a distinct difficulty with applying direction on the staff to direction on the keyboard. Additionally, she has a great deal of difficulty in negotiating different rhythm patterns in each hand, when playing hands together. She is a lovely child, who really wants to play, works very hard, and truly loves music. Any suggestions?

I think this child definitely has pronounced reading/direction/coordination problems. It helps a great deal that her mother is a teacher.

Who tested her? School psychologist? Maybe she needs a more thorough evaluation by someone with more advanced credentials?

Has her vision been tested?

Does her large-muscle coordination seem to be problematic, too? If she marches, can she keep the tempo when there's a change? Does she know left to right with her whole body? (Metronome work might help. Also try the Copycat Game. I also have some more files on rhythm teaching; see the main pedagogy page.)

How is she doing in school? How is her reading and hand-writing? What does the classroom teacher experience? Ask the parents for permission to speak to her teacher. It may be that some of the teacher's strategies can be converted to studio strategies for you.

I agree that by age 11, she should know left from right and which finger has which number, though the other skills will develop at her own rate.

I hope you are able to get more help than I can offer you here since she truly wants to learn. I'm sorry I don't have much more help to give you.

How do you teach a fugue? In what order to you recommend study of Bach's inventions?

Please see my file on this topic.

I have a new student who is so shy she will barely look me in the eye! Questions are answered with a single word, if at all possible, and the barest minimum if not possible. How can I teach this child?! I feel as though I am barely able to communicate with her!

With such a shy child, I think you will have to be satisfied with a one-word answer or even just a nod. This is all the child can do for you at this point. Down the road, she probably will open up to you when she feels "safe" with you.

Meanwhile, be gentle and non-threatening. Ask her for feedback that she can give in just a few words. Later she will be able to give you a longer answer, but be satisfied with a couple of sentences for now. Delight when you get a smile or a chuckle from her! Or a statement about what happened in school today!

Extreme shyness is not the same as passive-agressive silence. It does not sounds as if your student has this problem. In a passive-agressive silence, the student purposely withholds communication as an act of control.

You can tell the difference by looking in the student's eyes. A student with a bad attitude will look you straight in the eye (is that a defiant spark there?!) while maintaining a surly silence, whereas a shy student will avert her eyes or even duck her head while being silent.

I had a passive-agressive student once (I taught her mother, too!), and finally I had to dismiss her. I told her mom, "I'm sorry. I just can't teach her if she won't communicate with me!" (The mother continued lessons.)

I'm a traveling teacher, and one of my students has bench cover. Some kind of needlepoint or something. It hampers my student's playing. I don't like bench covers for this very reason. How do I handle this? It's not my piano bench.

I don't like bench covers for "working pianos," either, and discussed this recently in the consumer question file. I am fairly sure the parent won't be willing to covert the cover to a pillow (though you could ask....). I think the best solution would be to ask for a piece of Saran Wrap for the student to sit on.

Naturally, you'll have explain why to the parent. If you're lucky the parent will look thoughtful, and you can hope that person is thinking how to solve the musical problem but not having to discard the artistic one. At this point you would have the opportunity to suggest that the parent approach the stitcher and say that the teacher suggested the beautiful piece be converted into a pillow (or even a picture to hang above the piano), pointing out that this also has the benefit of keeping the needlework clean. I'm a great lover of needlework, and I can appreciate the need to keep a finished piece clean. My guess is that your stitcher will feel the same way and after first gasping about not only removing the piece from "active service" and all that will entail but also perhaps cutting it down (thereby losing some of the background stitches), it will be apparent that permanently taking off the bench cover serves both the pianist and the art.

I am a relatively new piano teacher and have been teaching for about a year. A student, a 9-year-old boy, is given a written assignment weekly during his half hour lesson. He usually has one new song in his Bastien lesson book, a review song in the same book, a new page in his theory book, and works periodically in a note speller. I wanted his family to purchase all the Bastien primer level books (4 of them), but they did not have the money. The mother has some older books (non-Bastien), however, and has been allowing her child to play from the other books at home. Also, the boy plays "ahead" in his Bastien book without having received instruction from me on these new songs that have yet to be assigned. After 11 months of instruction the child is still not reading music well....this is partially because he does not like theory...and did not start early in the theory book because his mother said he did not like 'written work'. I later insisted he begin theory, but we're not at the same place in theory as we are in the lesson book. My main dilemma is this: It is my belief the student should play only those pieces for which he has received instruction. What is your opinion, and what would you do in this situation? Would you teach a child who was being self-taught with other materials, or semi-instructed by mom on other materials?

Several problems!

If the parents can't afford the books (or say they can't), lend the child yours. This will work only for the non-write-in books, of course. Whatever you do, don't photocopy!!

As to working ahead, I think it's a laudable thing for a student to do! This shows you are such a good teacher that the student has sufficient grounding to take a stab at it himself. (I am assuming the mother is not teaching him these songs in his Bastien books. If so, you need to stop this right away. You're the teacher. It's ok for the mom to help, but she shouldn't be introducing the songs. That's your responsibility.

I often give a student extra songs because I think the student might "need" some extra things to explore or because I just bring some extras since I'm at the filing cabinet anyway. I tell the student to go on if desired. If there is a tricky place in a song, a place I want to introduce so it isn't learned incorrectly, I write "no" at the top of the song and say, "There's something I want to help you with in this one, so please don't do this one on your own." This seems to work just fine. So, no, I would not discourage working ahead at all. I would praise the student.

As to teaching a child who is semi-instructed, as you so cleverly put it!, I think a lot depends on the mom. What are her credentials? Fifteen years of study as a child and teen? (She probably can help in a way that won't hurt.) Two years? (Dangerous for her to "help.")

Yes, I'd teach a child who was getting "instruction" at home, but I'd find out from the mom exactly what she was doing. And then I'd tell her exactly what I want her to do and not do.

Tell the mom *how* you'd like her to help her son. See my consumer file on how to help with home practice. You should communicate that you are so grateful not only for her interest in her son's piano study but also for her extra effort with him at home. Important! Enlist her as an ally rather than casting her as a competing power center. The child is naturally going to choose his mother, if only because she's with him more hours per week!

As to the note-reading and not liking "written work," I think the problem is need for more notes peller work, rather than lack theory pages' being done. Not many kids like theory pages. Not many like written pages. Put 'em together, and gee...!

Recast this written work for notereading drill as a game. I have a lot of files on my pedagogy page about how to teach notereading. Look also at the file on sightreading. Be sure to call it "games" and not "drill."

Tell the mom what you're doing: "You said that Rodney doesn't like homework pages, but he still needs to learn that information, particularly recognizing the notes and where they are on the piano. We'll use games instead of theory written work to do this. We'll play the game tomorrow at his lesson, and I'll have a copy of it for you to take home to play every day."

Here's an idea for a game about sigh-reading: Make a deck of cards with the notes he reads well (maybe the F below Middle C through the G above it?), one card for each of the four note values. Make separate cards for Middle C in the bass and in the treble clefs. You have 10 pitch cards, one each of the four note values: 40 cards.

If he doesn't read all those pitches well, remove those cards for now. You don't want to frustrate him. You want to **set him up for success**. When he's successful, he'll want to do more. Make it easy for him to succeed. Let him succeed several times at an easy level before you make it a little harder. Don't "reward" him for doing well by giving him something harder! In fact, you may want to make his assignment for the whole week to work with only cards you specify. (Specifically tell the mom not to add any cards!)

To play: have the child "draw four cards" and play whatever they turn out to be. (Set them up on the music rack.) If he can't do four, do two. If four is not a stretch, try five or six. What you're doing is randomizing notes but allowing the child to "pick" and thus be emotionally invested in his "song." If the child can't read the notes and the note values simultaneously, first address the counting by clapping the rhythms.

In this game, the mother will be a powerful help! The fact that she's doing it with her son tells him this is important stuff. And she'll be there to reinforce daily, which will speed and solidify his learning. Be sure to praise the mom for her assistance, as well as praise the boy for his improvement!

Also see my file about piano readiness games. There may be some ideas there you can transmute into games for this child.

Don't stress about the fact that you're "not in the same place" in all of the Bastien books that "go together." This is not a problem at all. Some students are strong in some areas and will naturally forge ahead in them. Just don't let the other areas be cast by the wayside - - that is, keep working on them, not eliminate them from his curriculum.

As an aside, I'm wondering if perhaps the child needs more than two songs. If I understand your letter correctly, he has one new and one review song weekly. How about two review songs? You assign one for daily work, and he picks a different one each day for the second one. How about one-and-one-half new songs? Or two? He may not be improving his notereading because he's bored - - doesn't have enough actual music to play.

What is fake book style you mention?

The printed music gives only melody line (sometimes words if it's a vocal) and chord names. You improve ("fake") the rest. This means you have to know your chords!

I have a student who just broke her arm which playing softball. What should I do for literature? What should I do if the parents think she should "take some time off"?

See my file on this.

What is the best way to correct a student's fingering once it has gotten off track?

First, make sure the student knows what fingering to use and isn't creating his own version! When he does that, more often than not, you get all kinds of unacceptable combinations which will eventually impede the accuracy, speed, and musicality of the piece. Consult this file on fingering that I wrote for students but ought to give some guidance on basics of fingering. Write in fingering as needed (usually stretches, tucks, and crosses), but don't go overboard! (Well, in Bach, it's ok to number every note!) You don't want the student playing by finger number rather than reading the notes.

Now, as to fixing fingering, I think the best way to "burn in" the new fingering is with rhythms. This is another consumer file.

If your student is reading finger numbers instead of notes, you need to fix this right away! I have several files on teaching note-reading on my pedagogy home page.

How does one perform the notes printed in small type in the last movement ("Rondo alla turca") of Mozart's piano Sonata in A Major (K. 331)?

I have written a file elsewhere on this.

I began teaching after I turned 16 and had just a few students from the neighborhood. I started those students in the Bastien books because that's what I had used and was familiar with them. I did experiment over the years with several other series of books but found that I really just prefer the Bastien books. I hadn't realized until the last couple of years, however, just how much my students struggle with note-naming and hand positions. When I was a younger teacher, I was somewhat naive and unaware about the dangers of teaching by position. I also didn't realize that this was a specific drawback of using the Bastien series. I've changed many of my methods over the years and have become more "strict" with the students I have, however the note-naming problem still exists and seems to get worse and worse all of the time. I know if I were to start any new students, I could prevent this problem from the beginning (different method books, ways of teaching note-naming, etc.), however, I have had the same 20-25 students now for about 5 or so years, and, unfortunately, they're struggling because of my ignorance in the past about this matter. I'm trying to correct the bad habits they've learned for years of thinking "I'm in C Position, therefore in my right hand, this note [G] is played with my 5th finger" and so on. I'm having an awful time trying to teach them to play a different way than they've been accustomed to for the entire course of their piano studies so far. I have used Finale created several exercises and even original compositions that give the students an opportunity to play "out of position" or give them practice moving from position to position. It's helped somewhat, but will take much more time. I've tried using the Bastien sight-reading books and I've also devoted an entire lesson for each student on the idea of playing in positions and why we can't think that way. I try to help them understand that the first line note on the treble staff is the E above Middle C (not just any E) and that it is that note regardless of which finger is used to play it. Some still have trouble naming it, let alone finding it on the piano. But, just when I think they're beginning to understand, they'll turn to a new song and immediately ask me "ok, what position is this in?" It's very frustrating and I wish I'd known better in the first place not to dwell too much on different positions. I strongly prefer the Bastien books and really don't want to change to another method. I'm hoping to adjust my teaching methods to work with the Bastien series but still help my students get out of the position mindset. I'm somewhat concerned, however, not only for my current students, but about the fact that this fall I will be starting several new students who have never had piano lessons. I want to be able to prevent position thinking before it even starts. Help! (Sorry this is so long!)

I'm happy to hear that you are writing stuff for your students. It helps them more than you can know - - especially in making them feel special, which helps them commit even more strongly to good practice at home and continued study.

Isn't it interesting that we tend to use as teachers what we used as students? Unless we see shortcomings and change to -avoid- what we used as students! I think this preference for stasis has perpetuated some questionable pedagogical practices, such as the ridiculous notion that a repeated note must be played by a different finger. (I'm not talking about quickly repeated notes, as in the later Hanon exercises, where a different finger makes clean articulation possible. I'm talking about student songs and sonatinas.) Or that diatonic scales should be begun immediately upon beginning piano study. (A stupid idea and the culprit for more students' quitting than anything else I can think of! Scales are stupefyingly boring unless the student sees a direct correlation with music currently under study. And, even then, scales will not be greeted with enthusiasm! Note: Try the chromatic scale first. Contrary motion - - finger numbers match - - and then parallel. Selling spiel: "You're going to love this! It will make your fingers smile!") Or that teaching eighth-notes should be addressed within the first months of study. (Yipes! No wonder our students can't read!)

As to position playing, let's face it: a lot of teachers like position playing because they don't have to work as hard as they would in making sure the child is href="teaching_notereading.html">notereading. It really isn't even "necessary" to worry about reading because the "song will come out" if the student uses position playing. Easier for the student, easier for the teacher. Hey! What could be better?!

Duh.......Well, true notereading would be better.

Unfortunately, true notereading takes a LOT of time and effort on the part of the teacher and student. Not an easy row to hoe! (See my pedagogy page for links to a number of files I've written on this topic.)

Here are some ideas you might want to try:

One of the biggest problems with "position playing" pedagogical methods, however, is that there is not enough depth (and breadth) of material before the books go to another "position." Therefore the student doesn't solidify notereading for those specific notes. Instead, the student is summarily upended and plopped down in another 'position.' Naturally, most students take the path of least resistance - - especially when the book promulgates this as the "way to do it" - - and play by finger number in the position. I think if the method writers weren't so focused on looking good to colleagues and really thought about how students learn, they would allow plenty of material for recapitulation.

I just went to my filing cabinet and counted how many songs my students play in Middle-C position: 82! And that doesn't count at least 30 more holiday songs (Christmas, Valentine's, Halloween, patriotic, Jewish, etc.). At about song number 50, I introduce Small C (octave below Middle C), first having had them play it using the "8vb" written notation. No other "C position" notes are used.

During those 82 songs, however, they also cover: sharps, flats, naturals, dynamics, accents/sfz/staccato, octave displacements (8-, 15-, 22-), pieces in 5 and 7 counts per measure, ornaments (mordent only), inégalité, repeat sign/da capo/dal segno/al coda/first and second endings, 12-bar blues form, minuet and trio da capos, metronome for speed, triplets, etc. As I have historic keyboards also, my students play music from appropriate periods on these instruments and see first-hand why the music of Bach, for instance, is written the way it is (no pedal, no dynamics), rudimentary imitative music, etc.

Because the notes are well-learned, it's easy for the student to concentrate on lots of other details - - but NOT eighth-notes!!

Technical skills include triad arpeggios, staccato in one hand and legato in the other, ditto forte and piano, hand position, metronome use, and other things.

Songs don't go to "C position" until "book II" (Middle-C position is then renamed "baby position"! - - "book I position" for adults). Even then, I don't call it "C position," but "book II position." The big challenge in moving to C position is recognizing that now left hand G, for example, is played with finger 1, not finger 4, as it was in baby position. There are also two new notes to learn (D and E, since the C was learned at the end of my book I). Anyway, learning a note in book II position is a thrill!

Another shortcoming of position books I find incredible is that these method books have kids playing in 4 sharps and outrageous keys like that! For petessake! No child in the first year should be reading in a key signature of more than one flat or sharp. The method book authors are not "better musicians" or "better teachers" because their students (and, hence, your students if you use their books) are "able to play in many keys." All this does is create confusion and foster the development of personal methods....such as "This is in F position, so I will use finger 2." As you know. By "reading in a key signature of more than one flat or sharp," I mean just that, however, this does NOT mean the students play only F-sharp and B-flat (those notes available in middle C position). The student should play all black keys within Middle C position, including all as enharmonic equivalents. Just write in the accidentals. The aim is for the students to locate these notes -on the keyboard-. For more on how to teach key signatures, see this file.

Rather than talk "position," perhaps you could say "built around a G triad" rather than "this is in G position". Are your students constructing triads? Think this would be helpful in turning their attention toward structure rather than path of least resistance. See the file on my technical program for a thorough discussion of this.

As to note names, I really wouldn't worry so much that they can point to a dot on the paper and say, "This is F." Note-naming by pointing to noteheads on paper adds an extra level of detail that doesn't improve playing. (It only helps you teach more easily because you can say, "Start on the F with the right hand.") In my studio, I aim for "this-dot-on-the-paper-on-this-particular-line/space-means-this-piano-key-no-matter-which-hand-or-finger-plays-it-use-your-nose-or-elbow-if-you-like-because-it's-the-same-piano-key". Later the letter names just happen naturally. You might consider dropping this component of notereading and focusing instead of making sure the printed note is accurately (and promptly) associated with a specific keyboard key.

I am almost finished completing my music degree requirements for classical guitar (not piano, sorry!) and my final assignment is to write a paper on a musical topic which has not had much, if any, coverage already. My teacher and I both feel that a paper about teaching adults (40+ years old) especially new to the instrument would be excellent material for classical guitar. Not much can be found on the subject. For now, or until we further refine the topic of the paper, we are interested in areas such as an adults' ability to learn music, any physical problems inherent simply because of being an older student, or any gifts such as a better ability to emote material due to life experiences. I am 45 years old myself, but have played classical guitar for many years. I decided I would like to teach and felt that obtaining a degree would definitely help me to be a much better teacher. With classical guitar, the majority of our students are adults (past the electric and steel string stage), who are ready for a more "mature" style, however, not much actual information is available concerning their special situation as an older student of guitar. I was hoping you could possibly lead me to some sources which I have not though of. I know you have taught piano for several years and have had many adult students. Anything you could offer me in the way of advice or direction to other sources of information will be greatly appreciated.

As to teaching guitar, I know nothing beyond "keep your nails short" and tune that puppy!!!

It doesn't matter what physical skill you're teaching, though: guitar, piano, or tennis. Good teaching is good teaching. (For that matter, in any "intellectual" subject - - math, history - - good teaching is good teaching.) I am assuming you have read my files about teaching in general and adult needs, linked from my pedagogy page If not, you probably will find a good deal of help there.

More specifically, I think you can just take my piano comments and recast them for guitar.

Also, I note that your question is really literature selection rather than age - - in that you state your older students want standard guitar repertoire (as opposed to pop, etc.). I think you might consider focusing on beginner "good" literature for guitar and let the fact that mostly older beginners want this type of music be part of the discussion rather than the focus of it. I think you'll be able to find more source material -and- have a generally more useful study because those teachers of younger students who want standard repertoire - - or those teachers, like me, who teach the standard repertoire as the foundation and then branch off into pop because "going the other direction" is burdenously frustrating for the student - - know where to get it and/or what to look for in general. Know, also, that you will have to do a lot of arranging to make the music appropriate for your beginner adults. Don't forget you can use just the first part. This is especially good for the very beginning students, no matter what instrument. Just stop at a tonic cadence. If you like, later, use that portion and add the next phrase or two, using DC to reinforce that it's a recap. The student already "knows 2/3s of the piece! Yea!"

I really do not know any other sources particular to your topic as stated. I'm sorry! But I think my comments will, at least, get you started.

As a teacher myself, my son (11 yrs.) and two daughters (6 and 8 years) take piano lessons with another teacher for some reasons that you probably can guess. My concern is with my son. During the summer, they aren't taking lessons from their usual teacher, so I am trying to help my son with his note reading. He is doing quite well in the areas of technique and using his ear, and he can play the first two sections of "Fur Elise" in the original. He loves Beethoven and wanted so much to learn to play "Moonlight Sonata" after hearing me play it, so I arranged a simpler arrangement for him and am now trying to make him read the notes and learn one measure a day. Now the problem: He has a horrible time with reading. He cannot read notes as well as his younger sisters. When I point to a note, he tries to guess what it is and then looks at my face for approval or disapproval. He avoids having to say the names of notes that I point to. He has been taught how to read and -can- name notes when forced to, but inevitably ends up in tears, slouching in his seat with his hands in his lap acting as though he hasn't even the physical strength to put his hands back on the keyboard. He literally acts as though I had just told him he had to give away all his favorite toys in the world or something like that. I am being exceedingly patient and kind, re-teaching notes to him and waiting long periods of time for him to answer, "What note is that? Can you say its name?" I am convinced of some level of learning disability (I know, it's the buzz-word of teaching nowadays), but I don't know what to do. He can't seem to decipher whether a note that he is looking at is higher or lower than the previous one. Do I just start over with "Book One" and have him sight read the simplest songs, and go ahead and teach him the stuff that he is capable of playing technique-wise by showing him where to put his hands. This is how I taught him" Fur Elise," and he loves it and can play it with a surprisingly mature touch and feeling. It's not just me. His school-year piano teacher is impressed with his talent as well. Is this something that some kids just need more time to mature into the ability to tackle, or do you think that he has a learning disorder?

Praise him for his special musical talents. Reassure him he can learn to read, too. And to be patient if it takes him a while. You'll promist to work at whatever speed he can work, provided he truly tries. My guess is that he will really work hard for you because he knows he has a problem and feels dejected when he can't do as you ask. He wants to please you, obviously.

Going at the speed he can go will give a feeling of accomplishment from that, as well as feel that you are standing by him, wanting to help him, and not being judgmental or making him feel less than accomplished because he's having trouble with this skill. (And of course, don't compare him with his sisters. From your letter, I see you are not doing this, but I add that here for other readers.)

Making the special arrangement for "Moonlight" for him was a wonderful gift. He knows he's special since you took time to do this just for him. Rather than one complete measure a day, you might try a phrase (or part of one), hands apart. Learn the accompaniment hand first. This technique also will help him hear the melody) since it's usually more difficult.

Some other ideas:

1. Start him with a book 1 of something and use it for sigh-treading. Tell him that you'll work together to bring his note-reading up to the high level of his playing. Praise him for his by-ear work and his love of music but emphasize that he has to learn to read better if he wants to play Beethoven.

2. Don't worry that he can't say the letter names for the notes on the page. Concentrate instead that he knows that the dot X on the page means key X on the piano. Letter names will come naturally in due time; perhaps longer for him than for other students. This requires a different mind-set from you. You probably were taught the same way I was: you have to know the letter names! This requires drill unless you have a photographic memory!

3. Don't teach him songs by rote (looking at your hands). Make him read.

4. Make letter names into a card game. I think there is an explanation on my site about these. Please search around on this page and also on the general pedagogy page (particularly for a file about teaching note-reading or games or teaching your children; don't remember where the info is!).

5. Have his eyes checked. He may need glasses. You also may want to have him evaluated by a neurologist or psychologist. As you say, there may be a learning disability of some kind.

6. Does he have trouble reading text? You might want to talk to his teacher and see what observations he/she has in this area.

I came across a notation I've never seen before. It looked like two half notes connected by three lines (like thirty-second-notes would be connected), but not touching the stems. There are two sets of them in the measure! The piece is in 4/4 time, so it looks like there are too many counts!

This is tremolo. What it means is to go back and forth between the two notes for the duration of a half-note, using thirty-second-note values for each note. (You will have 16 of each note.) Do the same for the second set. You'll have the equivalent of two half-notes, which is perfect for 4/4 time. This method is easier to read that a bunch of thirty-second-notes!

[This is a reader response to question #142, above, with more information that you may find helpful.]

The 8-year-old girl sounds very much like my 8-year-old son. In spite of the fact that he has an above average IQ, seemingly simple concepts go right over his head. He has had difficulty learning to read notes and made it through his first set of piano books by memorizing the songs. Unfortunately, I was unable to convince his piano teacher of this problem until I sent him to lessons without practicing all week, and she had to work with him "cold". He played so beautifully after I had struggled with him all week, that she was stunned when she realized he couldn't read the music (he picks out songs by ear and makes up his own songs). He has trouble distinguishing between line and space notes on the staff and seems to have trouble tracking along the line visually. He often uses his finger to follow the line when he reads print, but it's a little hard to do that and play the piano. My son has some visual motor difficulties. His vision is fine, but his eyes don't always work well together (sort of an eye/brain/muscle problem). Because of this, he had a hard time distinguishing between line notes and space notes. I think I also mentioned that he had trouble visually tracking along a line. He would also lose his place easily, causing him to skip things. One exercise he has done with his occupational therapist is called the Infinity Walk. He walks a figure 8 while he reads a series of letters or numbers posted on the wall at eye level without losing his place or changing the direction he's walking. This requires him to turn his head while he walks in order to keep his eyes on the letter chart. It doesn't sound too difficult, but it was very hard for him at first. He's much better now. Anyway, he cannot play the notes and say the names of the notes at the same time, but he can play and sing the words of the song. Like the little girl, he shuts down with too much input. He was tested by a neurologist who specializes in children with ADD/ADHD and was found not to have either of those conditions. Instead he has Sensory Integration Disorder. This condition can affect fine and gross motor skills, vision, hearing, etc. There is abundant information on the Internet about this condition, and there is an excellent book called "The Out of Sync Child" by Carol Stock Kranowitz. My son is doing very well with the help of an Occupational Therapist. We will start piano lessons the end of August with a teacher who is more willing to listen to a mom!

Is there a point at which a student is "safely innoculated" about playing piano and won't quit?

I find that if they last until 10th grade, they won't quit. They'll be mature enough to see that this would be a bad decision.

See also the consumer Q&A page for more information, as directed to parents. Search on "quit".

My students, when learning Bach, can't play fluently. I ask them to learn the music by phrases hands separately, 4-8 bars per week, depending on the difficulty of the piece. Then I get them to play hands together for the same bars for the following week, but this is where I run into a problem. They don't play in a flowing manner hands together, but they can play fine one hand at a time. Can you tell me what to do?

I'd say that they're not ready to put hands together yet!

Also, how old are these students? How many years have they been playing? Maybe not ready for Bach yet! (I wait quite a while - - until students have notes two octaves above and below Middle C readily read, which avoids wrestling with notes as well as the peculiarities of imitative music.) Maybe some Telemann pieces instead as a starter?

In studying Bach, all the time spent playing hands apart is time well spent! If they need to play hands apart for 4 weeks, let them! When when it's time to put hands together (you have previously told them to try hands together whenever they feel they are ready), you work together, starting in the hardest place. Work one measure (or one phrase) at a time. Let them spend a week on that one, if it's necessary; you tell them to go ahead to measure __ if they feel they are ready.

Remember that they are just starting with Bach and are not like you, who have studied him for many years. They are learning the structure and Bach's idiosyncratic style, in addition to learning the notes. Learning Bach is unlike learning any other composer. He presents so many difficulties, not the least of which is that the music looks so "simple" and is such a bear to play that the player is immediately distressed, thinking he has suddenly "gone stupid."

Read the file on how to teach Bach fugues. Perhaps your students should start with simpler imitative pieces, such as the "little preludes" discussed in that file. The inventions are by no means the easiest of Bach's imitative music! (The file also discusses how to teach imitative music.)

Is there good reason for refraining from using the thumb when playing black keys?

Not that I can see! I do it all the time, and I always put that out as the first option for my students when we're working on fingering. Sometimes they use the gyrations required to put 1 on a white note so they cross over (with 2 or 3, usually), but most often, they see 1 on the black note as most efficient, while not doing any musical harm. Men are the ones who most often do not use 1 on a black note; this is because of the size of their hands (usually the width of the fingers).

How do I obtain my records and exams for Royal Conservatory of Piano. I an now interested in teaching piano lessons.....where do I start?

I live in the States and am not familiar at all with Royal Conservatory processes. I suggest you call the Royal Conservatory directly.

My students have a terrible time with Hanon #2! What insights do you have on teaching this?

This is certainly not everyone's favorite Hanon to teach! (I tell my students, "After you learn this one, the rest are easy.")

Obviously the fingering is the problem: 2 in the RH and 3 in the LH. This is preparation for 4-note arpeggios (ex.: C-E-G-C'), where the LH must play 3 on the E while the RH must play 2 on the E. After Hanon #1, where the third is played by the next finger, this wrinkle in #2 throws the student into confusion.

The best way I've found to teach this is to use "dots." With a water-soluble marker, place a dot on the student's first finger joint: finger 2 in the RH and 3 in the LH. This gives him a visual landmark - - he knows he must "match up" these two fingers on the second note of the pattern.

I have a student who contradicts what is on the assignment for the previous week: "But you didn't assign that." I don't want to argue with him, but I don't want him to think he is in control. Help, please.

Let him know his protestations do not cut the mustard with you and then move on, either to review the item that was disregarded or to something else: "I am not going to argue with you. Now, let's take a look at ... " Do not let yourself be drawn into a defense of whether or not you did or did not make clear what you expected the student to have prepared for the lesson.

Or, "It is written right here in your assignment pad. I'm not going to argue with you." (You do write down a detailed assignment, right? It's legible, right?!)

Kids are argumentative. Some just like to do it, but most are trying to wriggle out of having forgotten some element of the assignment.

My students have difficulty starting in any place other than the beginning. How can I help them solve this problem?

This is a common problem, never fear! To solve, it's a matter of practicing starting other than at the beginning. Therefore, it's a learned skill, just as reading ahead and counting out loud are.

If the student is unable to start anywhere except the beginning, two things will happen. (1) The beginning will get a whole lot of work and the rest of not much because there's always a mistake somewhere along the line that puts up a roadblock. (2) The student practices stopping and starting over, so that at the first problem point, the student is used to playing the notes of the beginning rather than getting used to the hand position required to play the notes following the trouble.

One way to solve this problem is to tell the student, "Try to start here [you point to a place] right now." At first, pick the beginning of a phrase. Later, you can choose other places, until the point a student can start on the second eighth-note of a pair or start on the sixteenth-rest of a group of four sixteenths.

You may want to make a game out of it. Call it "Stump the Student" or something else silly.

A good technique is to ask the student to "play it in your head." Starting a little ways before the problem (or at the beginning, if necessary, at first), have the student "play" that section mentally, adding the fingers at the point where you want him to start. This gets the song "going" so the fingers can just fall in place.

Another thing I do after a difficult place is mastered also helps students "start anywhere." Perhaps this will be helpful to you in this situation, even though it related to the problem indirectly. We play "Choose a Spot," as in, "Choose some spot before this point [I put my finger on the score right at the point of the difficulty]." Ok, now my turn. Etc. In this game, the student must start in a different place each time. Of course, this allows for some good-natured teasing ("Darn! You picked the spot I was going to pick. No fair!" The student just smiles and thinks, Too bad!). This game has the benefit of extra practice on the trouble spot, too. When you think the point is driven home, say, "Ok, you get the last pick." Getting the last turn in a game is always favored because it's an extra chance to win!

Encourage your student to start different places at home when a stop is made. Write this down on the assignment tablet as a reminder.

If you have sight-reading assignments for your students, when you're checking these (I ask my students to play a measure or two - - I pick a tricky place, of course!), don't start at the beginning! Or let the student decide to start there.

In your opinion is there a need for piano instructors who can teach primarily less "traditional" music concepts such as transposition, composition, improvisation, voicings, methods, ear training, the use of keyboards and other devices for performance, etc? I am well trained classically, so it is not a question of being unable to teach the standard repertory. I live in a "retirement area." If so, what specific thoughts and instructions would you suggest?

Yes, I think there is a need, especially in the "retirement area" in which you now find yourself - - lots of folks who like Big Band music (this type of music is especially tuneful and also lends itself beautifully to playing fake book style).

Folks in your area also may be thinking of piano study as "something I've always wanted to do and now I've got time."

I'd go fake book style first. You can teach theory along with this (circle of 5ths, voicing, etc.) and then move into transposition. As to that, I'd start with simple 5-finger tunes and transpose them. Focus on the "starting note" by finding out what degree of the scale it is and then figuring out what note that same degree is in the new key. At first, you probably will have to write out the scales with letters ("from" key and "to" key) and have the student match up the proper scale degree in the new scale. At first, this needs to be written down. Don't ask the student to do it in his head right at the beginning. In fact, you might act as though everyone does it on paper this way and let the student wean himself when he's ready ("You don't need to write that down anymore. I can do it in my head now." Oh. Ok.)

Then move on to 12-bar blues (start, again, with 5-finger RHs). Use the same "what degree of the scale?" approach.

You probably will want to address improvisation. You could use a basic 12-bar blues RH pattern for the first measure or two (or four, since they're related, esp measures 1, 2, and 3, as a start. In fact measures 1 and 3 are often identical, with the ends of measures 2 and 4 slightly different as a "lead in" to the change in key.

I have a transfer student who came to me not reading music well at all. (I attribute this to her previous teacher's choice of method books - - Bastien - - which teach "position" playing rather than real note-reading.) I kept her in these books even though my other students do not use them (I primarily use Faber and supplement a great deal with other material). She can figure out the notes if she spends time on them, but she is very slow. I think the reason is that some of the notes are "outside the 5-finger hand position" and, therefore, she's not able to use the skills from the Bastien books because they no longer work. It is taking her so long to learn a piece! I suggested more note naming exercises to the mom, who plays piano, but she thinks that would be counterproductive. (I don't know why she feels this way.) I may or may not be able to slip in some computer games for drill, however. To make matters worse, her younger brother seems quite gifted and is progressing rapidly. And he plays her pieces virtually at sight. He learns his own pieces in two weeks. The girl takes over a month. The mom is worried about her daughter's reading ability, and, I feel, rightly so. I have assigned her sight-reading exercises (folk songs, also) but have not been consistent with it as part of her weekly assignment. (I know what you're going to say!) She's working on an easy Mozart minuet (in F), and it seems as though she's struggling for each note. I'm about to assign the popular Minuet in G from the Anna Magdalena Bach book. Her Mom wants her doing classical, which I normally do too - - it's my first love - - but I'm just trying to keep her interested. The Mom and I agreed that I would not look for a high level of mastery on most of her pieces at this point but move through them more quickly (I will choose one or two "lessons" from each to reinforce and then move on). This goes against my desire to have quality music played well when I think it's within the capability of the student! She loves Christian pop music, so I'm trying to incorporate that as much as possible. I'm sorry this is so long! Please help me help her.

I agree that hand-position learning is not the way to learn to read notes.

And - - as you guessed! - - sight-reading is one way to correct the deficiency in a transfer student. Folks songs, etc. are the way to go for sight-reading literature. You note she likes Christian pop, so you might also try some hymns and other sacred literature as sight-reading material.

I think some drills would be helpful. Do them as games, not as flashcards - - unless this child is ok with flashcards (a few don't mind them). Computer drill is good, too, and you've already initiated this.

Now, then, the brother. I know this is contributing to the problem. He absolutely must -not- play from his sister's books. The mom should impress upon him that those are "her songs" and that he may not play them from her books, nor may he play them by ear. When she passes them off, then he may play them by ear. But he still may -not- play them from her books. He only may play the melodies by ear. We want to keep the brother away from his sister's books entirely. Obviously, she feels she cannot compete with her brother's ability, and since she can't read very well and takes so long to learn a new song, she's just closing down (no joy, either).

As to not requiring superb mastery for this child now, I agree with you. Have her learn the notes and make a stab at dynamics or whatever other "big" feature there is in the piece. We don't "pick" at it, requiring all the details.

I would advise you right now not to introduce the Anna Magdalena minuet. Instead, focus on music you know she likes (Christian pop + whatever else seems to be met with enthusiasm). I think you need to confine lesson goals right now to improving her reading and improving her self-confidence. Forget everything except the sight-reading (from music types she enjoys) and preparing songs of the types she enjoys. After a few months, I'm betting she'll be ready to have some of the standard repertory re-introduced. So what if this takes six months? Our goal here is to give her note-reading facility and shore up her estimation of herself!

You'll have to get the mom to sign on. (Also ask her why she thinks note-name drills would be counterproductive. It seems to me that they are just what's needed here.) I think it won't take very much explanation for her to buy in to your program to get her daughter back on track.

How do you get a student to practice the way you want him to during the coming week? When the progress I expect to be there if the student practiced as I request isn't there, how do I handle this problem?

As the teacher, you know much more about practice methods than the student does, but I think you'll have little luck with a recalcitrant one if you are Moses on the Mount. Try demonstrating the effect that your method of practice has.

You've probably read of my "drill" of specifying a certain number of times each day. I demonstrate by doing exactly the assignment for "days" at the lesson, and the student can see when he actually has learned what I asked - - it's a lot sooner than a week 90% of the time, too! "All right, this is Monday. Let's do line two 5 times....Now we'll do 5 times on page 1...[etc.] Ok, now it's Tuesday....." and so on. Usually by "Wednesday" the material is learned. The student see exactly how long it actually takes (not as long as expected!) to do the assignment on that piece as I requested.

Try this and see what happens!

I am a student studying the euphonium, and in my undergraduate degree program as a performance major, I am required to take secondary piano classes. I am doing a research paper on the importance of piano as a secondary instrument to wind instrumentalists, and I came upon your site this afternoon. I was wondering what you would have to say about this topic, if you could recommend any pedagogy books that address this issue, and how you feel about the situation. I know that I struggle every day in piano class and have trouble seeing the practical application of piano to my career path, but I still do it. Thank you very much for your reply in advance. This would help me greatly in my research.

I can't think of any references that specifically address your question. There's not a lot out there (if anything!), as you have discovered! Here's my take on your question.

I think the piano requirement is aimed at those who will be (or might be) teaching in K-12 schools.

You don't say what your career path is, but even if you plan to make your living as an orchestral/band player, I'm willing to bet that at some point you do some teaching.

It's necessary to be able to play the other parts on the piano as the, say, euphoniums play their part alone. Or, when the entire flute section is home with the flu, but the flutes have the melody.

You also should be able to play a simple accompaniment - - suppose a student qualifies for a district solo contest and you couldn't find a student or other person to accompany.

By having familiarity with the piano, the world of piano literature is opened to you - - a fertile ground for your own arrangements.

It's a quick-and-dirty way to check your part-writing for brass arrangements. Though you can do the same with a notation software program with a play-back feature. Sometimes, however, writing at the instrument is the thing to do. Do you often find yourself writing with your horn in your hands? ("Pick-it-up-play-put-it-down-to-write-darn!-I forgot-what-I-just-thought-of....")

As to those not on a teaching track, it's just a good thing to know to make you a well-rounded musician. The same as piano majors must take a brass skills class. They may never play a brass instrument again, but they know what the range and transposition are, should this be needed. If there is any writing to be done for a less-proficient player, the pianist would know what to avoid and what is [relatively] easy for each instrument to do.

Probably this requirement is a (dare I say it? you probably shouldn't put this in your paper, however) relic of earlier days. It's a tradition that no one has bothered to examine recently for its relevance. Or, it is something a professor did as a student and feels: "I did this as a student, so my students will do it, too. If nothing else, it's good discipline." An excellent example or two from piano pedagogy: (1) Playing a repeated note with a different finger. (2) Playing scales at the onset of study instead of studying technique that is applicable to beginning literature.

You are welcome to quote any of the above you wish.

For your paper, biblio thus:
Lewis, Martha Beth. Private correspondence. May 3, 2004.

Keep at the piano study! It will pay off, I promise, though you may not see any direct application now. It's good for discipline, too, as the graybeards have noted. And gives you a goal to shoot for. No one expects you to play as well as a piano major (just ask me about my own brass and woodwind skills- - then again, you'd probably be frightened by the story!), but you should have some experience with the instrument. All good musicians do. Best wishes! You can do it!

This is a quote from your Teaching Hand Position file: "Some students have the habit of dropping their thumbs toward the floor when these fingers are not in use. I call this "drilling for oil." (This happens in a piece because usually a technical exercise will need all fingers nearly continuously)." Is this a bad thing? How do I stop students from doing this? Is it worth nagging the child about, or will they grow out of it if I wait long enough?

I'm not a real stickler about hand position in the first two months of study because the student has enough to think of, but after two months, it's time to look at hand position. Specifically that the thumb be held over the keyboard and the wrists be straight. Yes, it's worth nagging about because students will take the path of least resistance, and if you don't do something about it they'll think it's ok. In fact, 99% don't even notice they're doing it. If you don't point out that it's a problem and ask them to correct it, they won't even be aware that what they're doing is wrong.

Play "Alligator." Pick a song that is easy to play (passed off several weeks ago) and tell the student that you will be an alligator. If the thumbs drop, you will "bite" them. Meanwhile you hold your hands like this, approximately under the student's wrist:

Put all the fingertips together and put your hand under the child's with your fingertips pointing up. It's easy to close your fingertips around the student's unsuspecting thumb. "If the alligator bites you, I win!" And then be ruthless about winning. Don't give any quarter! They'll laugh and think this is great fun. Assign an "Alligator Song" to be played each day. Contact the parents and show them how to "be an alligator." Within four weeks, max, the problem should be cleared up.

So, yes, address this problem right away.

Use this same technique to teach how to keep the wrists up. This is called a "Piranha Song," and you wiggle your fingertips and tickle the student on the undersides of the wrists. I have written something about piranha songs elsewhere. I think it's in this file.

I have two mothers who spend the whole lesson times chewing out their other children in the next room. I just hate hearing it, mainly for the children's sakes. One mother is especially vituperative. It really gets on my nerves. What is your experience with this? Do you have a solution?

Your solution is to protest the "noise." No, you really can't say anything about the content. Say, "Mrs. X, when you and Bobby are talking in the other room, it is loud enough that Clara notices it and is distracted from her lesson. I wonder if it would be possible for you and Bobby to go to the park during her lesson or to run errands? This will really help her concentration and help me give you your money's worth."

Note how you would be telling her how her actions are impacting the student and you are putting it in terms she'll readily understand: dollars.

Try this approach. Write me back if it doesn't work. I'm guessing you may have to say it twice and then perhaps a couple of "touch-ups" in a few weeks.

Now, as to the effect on the other children, I don't know what you can do other than greeting the child warmly and with respect when he does come to the lesson. "What was the most fun thing you did today?" is a good, quick question that the child can answer in a moment or two. Your genuine interest in the child -might- offset the browbeating.

I have read that you do not believe in rote learning but in learning to read the music right away. I have read elsewhere (in my university course) that music needs to be internalized before learning to read it. Music is paralleled with language. The lecturer stresses that since language is first understood, then spoken, then read, then written is that we should teach music that way too. I think you probably won't agree with my lecturer, but what I want to know is: What are your reasons?

What does it mean to have "internalized" music? That the music is appreciated and has made an aesthetic impact on the hearer? That the listener is able to coordinate body movements to what he or she hears? Then music is internalized? How could hearing or moving to music be anything other than internalized?!

I think what your teacher is alluding to is the idea that the child should not be "bogged down" with a visual burden (reading notation) but should reproduce what is transferred to him by another method (rote, either by ear - - Suzuki - - or a "watch my hands" method). Playing the music learned by the rote method is more immediately satisfying than learning how to read, according to the premise of the Suzuki system ("Mother Tongue" approach).

Yes, true enough. That's primarily how reading language happens in hearing people.

I want to point out, though, that language is processed in the left hemisphere of the brain, whereas music is handled in both. This fact alone suggests to me that one cannot take the language-acquisition paradigm and overlay it with enough success on music learning to indicate that the language-learning model should be adopted in teaching music to beginners.

I've been down many educational roads and by-ways and re-inventions of the wheel in my many years of teaching (almost 50), and I stand by my opinion that reading should be taught at the outset - - and that if the child can count to 20, say the alphabet, and have a 2" width across the knuckles, that the child is ready for piano study and thus for learning to read music.

I draw from my own experience with hundreds of beginners and my synthesis of learning theory, psychology, and other reading and research.

You don't say whether your instructor is an active on-the-bench teacher or a part-time studio teacher, in addition to being a lecturer. (I'm also guessing that the title "lecturer" indicates a part-time college teacher, someone who teaches a course or two. That is how I am familiar with the term. A "lecturer" is several rungs below an assistant professor, adjunct professor, and associate professor. And, of course, far below a full professor. Graybeards are frightfully territorial about their titles!)

Remember, saying something and theorizing about it and holding forth in a lecture about it is far different than doing it! In one sense it's easier to talk and theorize and pontificate because there is no way - - other than imagination and guesstimation - - to quantify, and thus measure, the efficacy of the results of doing whatever it is.

Not so with doing it. The student learns it (with varying levels of completeness, ease, depth, whathaveyou, of course), or he doesn't. Very clear. Very measurable by the ability of the student to demonstrate what he has learned.

This divide between theory and practice is why the valid axiom is: "Those who can, teach. Those who can't are forced to do something else," rather than the condescending pejorative phrase directed at teachers by philistines who don't have a clue about the importance transmitting culture - - the same culture that is surrounding and nurturing them.

I also would be interested in whether your instructor has taken classes in Suzuki or Pace or other of the rote-learning methods and thus is of his/her opinion because of his/her own training. Or, he or she is of the rote-first school of thought because of having chosen to teach his/her own students in a rote method.

Nearly always, the background of the person with the opinion very much influences what the person says or does. This is one reason so many teachers introduce diatonic scales to beginners - - this is what their teachers did with them.

In short, those of us in the trenches (whether or not we spent time in the ivory tower, which, incidentally, I did) know what works best for us in transmitting the love of and the making of music. For myself, it's via reading, not rote. It's more efficient in the long run and it's definitely longer-lasting because if the student forgets, she knows how to derive the information for herself.

In fact, I believe that's what true learning is: knowing how to figure it out for yourself and where to find the answer.

Thus, that's what real teaching is: teaching the student how to learn.

If it's ear-playing that's needed in the curriculum, how about having the child pick out a simple nursery tune by ear? Or, play an "answer" to your four-note "question"? I don't think it's a good idea to confuse this one relatively-small aspect of learning to play the piano (or any other instrument) with the over-arching approach to introducing the study of it.

Also see several articles under the teaching children and teaching notereading headings (links on my pedagogy front door) for some more detailed files on this topic.

In the end, it's your decision. Why not try several approaches and base your decision on that? And you can always change horses if you find your initial decision is not working out for your students.

How long should it take an elementary school student (about 18 months of lessons) to learn a song?

I assume you're asking because you think one of your students is taking too long.

First of all, students progress at different paces (and even different paces on different songs), so you shouldn't measure one student against another's progress.

Ok, I know you want to pin me down, so I'll give you a generality: If the song takes longer than four weeks to learn, it's too difficult or the student bit off too big a bite of the piece.

Do you have any information on teaching blind students how to play the piano? I have no clue where to begin. Just wondered if you had any experience in this area!

I have never taught any blind students nor known anyone who has, but Sigma Alpha Iota (SAI), a national professional organization for women in music, has a program for sight-impaired students. The link currently to that program is at the bottom of the SAI page, in a red box. You might start there. (I don't know whether these resources are available to non-members, but surely they must be.) Also contact your local school districts to see if there are any specialists on staff that can either help or point you to someone. Also local junior colleges and universities. And state and county agencies.

Let me know what you find so I can put it on my site!

Addendum: I have heard from a blind student, and she says: "I use the Braille music with the Library of Congress system of Braille music." There's another search term.

Would you recommend teaching a program like Kindermusik to attract students to your studio?

I think you should teach whatever you think it beneficial. If whatever this is puts kids in the pipeline for private study and you feel you are competent to teach these programs, then why not? But I would caution you that "filling the pipeline" is not sufficient (or ethical) reason if the program is not sound and valuable and if you cannot teach it effectively.

I have one student that is ADHD (though with the over-diagnosing of this particular learning disability, and with his behaviour, I sometimes wonder if it's actually a lack of discipline at home, more than ADHD - but as I don't know enough about ADHD to know for sure, I assume he has it). Anyway, there are a few issues with him. First of all, when he fidgets (or starts playing glissandos up and down the keyboard, random notes, etc) and I ask him to stop - he doesn't listen. Sometimes I physically move his hand to the correct place on the keyboard - but he'll still purposely play an incorrect note. Part of the problem I think is that the father stays in the kitchen while I teach him in the living room - and will occasionally pipe up with "Nicholas - stop that!" which the child sometimes listens to and sometimes not. So, I will ask the father to stop coming to lessons. I guess I just don't know what to do when the boy simply doesn't listen. Stopping the lesson as "punishment" won't help - in fact that would probably be more of a reward than punishment! Also, he often simply doesn't try. He'll play the piece quite horribly, and ask for a sticker. When he obviously doesn't get one, he'll play it again, this time with very few mistakes. Also - he seems to only be able to handle one piece at a time and that's it! He simply does not seem to be improving at all. He took 3 years of Music for Young Children's group lessons - which probably did him no good. When I started with him in private lessons less than 2 years ago, I had to put him in Level 1 (I use Piano Adventures by Faber) - and he is still in Level 1. I know he rarely practices, which obviously doesn't help at all. I'm seriously beginning to think this a complete waste of my time and their money. Should I encourage the parents to let him try a different instrument (he's expressed interest in learning guitar)? Do you think this situation is hopeless?

I agree that it sounds as though there is a lack of discipline - - or at least a lack of structure - - in the home. Therefore, since adults at home are not shown any respect, he will not (or does not make the connection to) give you respect.

Another possibility may be that he really doesn't understand and is using the ADHD distractability as a cover-up. Yet you say he can produce the song well if he decides to.

If it is the latter case and he really isn't cooperating, take specific steps to improve the boy's effort or drop him.

Ask if there is something he doesn't understand or whether he's afraid to try. Sometimes folks (adults and children, with and without learning disabilities) shut down even when they have just had a success at something difficult. It's "safer" not to try [again] because if no effort is put forth, the person knows for sure what the outcome will be. If effort is expended, the outcome is unknown. Will it be success again (many - - most? - - kids with ADHD are so "beaten down" with schoolwork that they really do not expect to succeed)? Or will it be failure?

Structure the lesson firmly. Announce, "Now we are going to ___." Make it a small amount (two measures; 4 minutes) for a short time. Eventually you'll expect him to do more and for a longer duration. Alternate this with something different. "OK, now let's play the letter game."

As to wandering off mentally and goofing around, try the "look at my eyeballs" technique and tell him what you want him to do - - a small something, as noted above - - and that you expect his attention and cooperation. You are in charge here, after all.

If you decide he is, indeed, yanking your chain, tell him that you cannot teach him if he doesn't cooperate. "Should I tell your dad you don't want to take lessons?" If he says yes, call his bluff and tell his dad. (This would be the scenario if you actually will dismiss him. It sounds as though you are pretty much at this point with this child.)

I think you are spinning your wheels here, as you suspect. The child thinks he can twist you around his little finger - - he obviously has his parents buffaloed - - and zones out when he discovers you're not a pushover. Unless you want to apply for sainthood, I'd give serious thought to dismissing him.

When you do it, make sure the child knows why: "I am sorry you don't want to do what you need to do in order to play the piano. I cannot teach you - - in fact, I will not teach you - - unless you cooperate with me. You have shown me that you do not want to cooperate. I know you have the ability to cooperate. You have chosen not to. So, I won't teach you anymore. This is your last lesson, and it's time for you to take your books and go home." Pack up his books. Don't let him do it. You continue to be in charge. Plus, he'll likely dawdle with it just because kids dawdle! You want to end this unpleasant situation as quickly as possible. Call the parent in from the other room. "Casey's ready to go. I explained to him why I am not going to teach him anymore, as we discussed the other day I would do."

As to one song at a time, fine. For a student with a learning disability or one without, if one song at a time is all the traffic will bear, go with one song and don't worry. Sometimes that's all the student thinks he can do, and after a time will discover that he can handle two songs. If not, he'll continue at his own pace.

I'm fairly sure this child, however, is using "I can only do one song!!! No, no, nooooo! No more! Only one song!!!!!" to demonstrate his power over his parents (and, he hopes, over you).

I found your site while searching for information on group piano methods for my Masters in Piano Pedagogy paper at Boise State University. I thought I saw a blurb about group piano teaching but have not found the magic words in the various topic areas yet. Do you know where I should look? Maybe I missed it in the Q&A section (which is truly a collection of interesting experiences). I have been looking online and in stores for methods to teach to the elementary student that are not franchised or have extensive teacher training. Or methods with training by video/DVD I could buy. Last spring, I taught four groups of 3rd and 4th graders with four different methods: Hal Leonard's, Alfred's Group Piano, Mayron Cole's Piano Method, and Mrs. Stewart's Piano Lessons (which has a video I found online).

I think you are making the best choice. Choose the best aspects out of each of these method series and around them craft your own program. I do not know of any materials specifically written for group experiences (other than the Cole; as I recall there was a fairly inflexible teacher training and curriculum plan - - but my memory may not be correct or there's been a change). Ask yourself what you want your children to take away from lessons and build your curriculum around that.

Not a lot of help, I know, and I'm sorry I can't do better with this answer, but I simply don't know any more than I've just written!

I am trying to create a contract to hand out to my students. I was wondering if I could trouble you for an example or two of a written contract agreement between private music teacher and students that I could use as a basis for my own contract.

I wish I had a contract that I could pop in an email to you, but, unfortunately, for your need right at this moment, I can't help you because I don't use them! Look at the book from Nolo Press, which has a lot of contracts for the consumer. Stuff like rental agreements, promissory notes, etc. I'm hoping some model will be there that you can use as a basis for crafting your own.

But are you sure you want a contract? What are you trying to accomplish with it? Disability waiver? (I'm told these really don't hold water in court, if it comes to that.) Proof that the parent has read the studio policies? (Make a simple paper that says "I have read the studio policies and agree to abide by them." You don't need anything fancier than that.) Something the student signs to show that he understands what he is expected to do at home?

I want my students to use their metronomes at home. I tell them that using a metronome is the way to measure progress (that is, when they can play their pieces faster). This does not good! How can I get them to use the metronome when they practice?

What you need to do is find a criterion the child values. "Measuring progress" may not be something that is important to them at all, although it is to you!

You'll have to poke around a while with each student, but try this one on all of them as a starter: "Have the metronome do some of the work for you!" Huh? "Well, sure. That's why I had your dad buy it - - to make your life easier. Make the metronome do part of the work for you by letting it do the counting." I find that this approach works 98% of the time.

How do I deal with a student who is 7 and wet her pants at her lesson? Mainly the question is how to handle situations like this. In this instance, I went out to the parent waiting in the vehicle and the parent asked if I could just have her continue the lesson sitting on her coat. It was gross and of course had an odor.

You needn't have asked the mother if this was ok, in my opinion. I would have popped the child on the coat.

As to how I handle situations like this (thankfully, there have been very few), I have a piece of plastic that I put on the bench, originally on hand for wet bathing suits, but after a child has an accident, I use it every lesson with him/her.

In your case, I'd do the same for future + make the child sit on a "pad" of paper towels that you could take immediately to your trashcan outside after the lesson.

Another thing you could do - - many preschools do this - - is to ask the mom to give you a pair of underwear and shorts for in a plastic bag for you to keep on hand. Send the wet stuff out with the child in the bag.

Don't forget to ask the child to visit the bathroom before sitting down at the lesson.

I can't believe the mother is not addressing this problem. You probably should call her after the second time. You can chalk the first time up to "an accident."

Note: A colleague had a student throw up all in the keyboard. We are lucky that it's only urine on our benches, no?!

I have another student (5 years old) who always needs help whenever she goes to the bathroom (her mom drops off). I'm forced to help with that. When I ask her to wash her hands, she refuses and then wants to play the piano. Should I really be responsible for taking kids to the bathroom?


Do not help this child, or any child, with the toilet! To do so leaves you wide open to charges of molestation, etc.

Now, to the solutions.

Speak with the mother, in person, if you can catch her. If not, ask her to come in 10 minutes before the end of the lesson so you can talk. (If there is time left, return to the lesson.) Otherwise, call her.

"I need to talk to you about Sarah and the toilet. Every week [whatever frequency it is] she needs to go during her lesson. I hate to lose lesson time to this, but the real problem is that she wants me to help her. I cannot do this. It is highly inappropriate. I need your assistance with this right away. Please make sure she uses the toilet before coming to the studio. If you prefer, come in with her before the lesson and help her. Just know that I cannot help her with this."

Suppose all this doesn't work, and the child needs to use the toilet during her lesson. "I have to go. Come help me." You know where the bathroom is. You go, and I'll wait for you here. "I need help!" No, you must do it by yourself. "But I caaaaaaaaan't!" You should try. [not: "I'm sure you can." That's editorial. Be matter-of-fact.] I'll wait here for you. "I need help!!!!!!!!" You can do this yourself. "Noicaaaaaan't!!!!!!" Perhaps you can't do a very good job yet, but you need to try. Do the best you can, and your mom can help you finish at home if you need more help. Running out of steam: "I don't think I can do it right." Is that the real problem? Well, that is easily solved. I have some special things for you. Here are some steps so you can climb onto the toilet. [Do you have little stool somewhere? If not, buy a plastic one at Target.] Here are some special toilet paper squares for you to use. They are wet just like a washcloth you use in the bathtub, and they do a very good job. When you're done, pop right down the special princess steps [or whatever you want to call them for her] and then flush. We'll wash our hands together.

An alternate: "Noicaaaaaan't!!!!!!" If you don't want to go by yourself here, that's ok. You can go at home. Then, get right back to the lesson material so she's not thinking about the situation.

With this alternative, there is a chance of soiled underwear, but I'm guessing this won't happen. If there is soiled underwear late during the lesson, continue with the lesson the best you can, and, 3-4 minutes before the lesson time ends, walk her out to where her mother picks her up. "We had a potty problem. She said she didn't go at home." Let the mother put two and two together. If the problem occurs early, contact the mother. I suggest making up the lesson, too.

Hand-washing note: Don't say, "Let's wash our hands together." This phraseology implies that a choice is possible. Put soap in one of your hands, grab both of hers, and wash her hands with yours. Finish by washing your own hands. If she resists, tell her that "this is my rule" and that she must do it before she plays the piano. Period.

Have you talked to the mom about this? A second resistance rates a phone call.

I have a student who is home-schooled. I know sometimes home-schooling families have certain things they don't allow their children to do, for example listening to the radio or watching television. This appears to be the case with this student. She doesn't enjoy the mainly classical songs in her lesson book, but she took off with "Linus and Lucy" from the Charlie Brown cartoons, when I loaned her the book. I've tried to see about other types of music, but she usually says she doesn't want to play it because she is "picky" about music. She is only 11, and I think she would really enjoy popular songs, but she refuses because of whatever rules are at home (she hasn't come right out and said it). Listening to the radio is totally different than playing popular songs. She even was "afraid" of looking at the Disney songbook I had. Should I have to be forced into only teaching certain songs to kids with these home-rules? I feel like what they do at home can't be demanded at music lessons, when she could equally learn a lot from all different kinds of music. If it is the lyrics, we could white them out. I just didn't know what to do. What do you advise?

My guess is that the reason the child is home-schooled is religious. The parents want to keep her from something(s) that are pervasive in our culture (and certainly there are a lot of negative things from which to choose these days!). I think you should be aware of any strictures the family has and do your best to work within those. For example, I had sesveral families (devoutly Christian) that did not allow their children to play Halloween songs. This was not a very big problem at all. I just didn't mention Halloween at all during lessons.

Even if it is not a religious consideration, you need to ask parents whether they object to your giving the student certain types of music. A non-religious family probably will want you to skip sacred Christmas music - - even secular Christmas music might be prohibited. You have to ask. A Muslim family will have different needs.

Sometimes you can guess, based on the cultural heritage of the student. An Persian student, for example, might be Muslim, but she also might be Southern Baptist.

Sometimes you won't recognize there might be special needs, so whenever there is the slightest possibility there might be a cultural or religious conflict (Christmas and Easter come to mind right away), ask the parent before you do anything. "Is it all right with you if your child plays Easter songs? I don't want to give your child music of which you disapprove.")

Have you spoken with the parents to see just what is and what is not allowed at home? Don't go by what the student implies.

Her implication may be a cover for "I don't want to" or "I don't like this song" or (most likely) "I am afraid I can't do it". As you know, many times a student will say, "I don't like this song," when he means, "This song is hard for me."

After finding out the parameters set by the parents, ask the child what sorts of music she likes and dislikes. Ask her to tell you the reasons she has for each thing. ("I want to help you find music you like.") Look for literature that is a good match for her preferences, bearing in mind, always, that you must give her a firm foundation of skills.

In answer to your question, yes, I think you should follow her family's preferences for music (assuming they are as the student describes them to you). If you feel you cannot provide her instruction using the "approved" material, your only alternative is to dismiss the student, suggesting that the parents find a teacher who use material that more in line with the types of music they want their daughter to study.

I'm back with another home-school question! I have an advanced 11-year-old student who outright refuses to play any music other than her lesson book series (she recently came to me from another teacher who is known to be very strict). I was willing to lend her a copy of a song from The Sound Of Music, but she refused and said she just wanted to play from the lesson book. This isn't the first time this has happened. She refuses to play most any music that isn't in the lesson book. I feel like she tries to dictate the lesson. I haven't talked to her parents, but I feel as if I need to. This child comes from a home-school family with rules about TV, music, etc., but I checked with a sibling of hers, whom I also teach, and asked if they had seen The Sound Of Music, and she said that it was a favorite and their family owned a copy of the movie. So, I know it isn't against "family rules." How can I get this child to try music that's not in the lesson book?

As to not wanting to leave the book, just assign her material from the book Don't worry that she's "dictating the lesson."

She may be uneasy around you. You say she's a recent transfer. She still may be sizing you up to see how strict you are, so she can compare you with the previous teacher and know how that impacts her as far as effort and time spent practicing.

As to how to get her to "break out":

What is the family situation? Does the other child from the family display any of the same characteristics? Have you met the parents - - do they seem to be ultra-organized and detail-oriented?

Remember, it will take some time. Don't rush her. Maybe she'll need a month or three in her "safe" book before trying something new. Appeal to her by making something "all her own." With this music, she can control how long it is and how difficult it is (composing, converting a solo piece to a duet). This way, she can match it carefully with the type and difficulty of the songs in the book to which she clings so tenaciously.

And don't feel as though her reluctance to leave her lesson book is a poor reflection on you. A poor reflection would be if you threw up your hands and refused to teach her unless you just put your foot down and said, "You'll do it my way. Period."

If your efforts don't yield the desired results (remember - - this will take time!), talk to the parents. Ask if the child is similarly disposed about her schoolwork. Ask the parents if they have experienced this inflexibility from her and ask what they do about it.

I was looking on your website, but I didn't find anything on ear training. I have many students who have problems with ear training on their exams. I was wondering whether you could suggest some tips on how to improve my student's sensitivity. Which books or methods would you suggest?

See my file on this.

As to books, I haven't looked for any, but there may be some out there. Try Google or your local music dealer. Also check with your colleagues to see what they use or any they might know of.

What is the real name of "Mozart's Lullabye"? I've never heard of this piece!

I've never heard of it, either, but my guess is that some record producer gave that name to the first couple of phrases of the first movement of the A Major Sonata (the theme to the set of variations).

I have four students right now in my studio who have problems reading notes in their pieces. They can name notes using flashcards, can find them on the piano, and can draw them in their theory worksheets, but when they have several notes in a row in their pieces, they can't do it: they cannot seem to recognize the notes that they just did for me with flashcards five minutes earlier! So far to help them, I have encouraged reading ahead and preparing their fingers and practicing over and over in very small, manageable sections of 1 or 2 measures. I have to work very hard to keep their mothers from showing their frustration over this problem. Any other advice? The kids range in age from 5-9.

It sounds as if you are doing a lot of right things, but have you also considered a specific program in sight-reading?

Also, are you teaching "step, skip, and empty-triad" patterns? Usually, if they can recognize these patterns in their music they can figure out the rest of the notes. (I don't bother with 4ths, 7ths, and 6th and octaves because these are "too far apart" for beginners to grasp as a set pattern [called a "Gestalt"].) A good example of reading a Gestalt pattern is reading a die. When you see two rows of dots and note that they cover the entire face of the die, you know it's a six without looking in greater detail.

I think the combination of sight-reading and Gestalt patterns might be a combination that would help.

Also, make sure that the music you are giving them doesn't have too many different pitches. Or tricky counting. Or other complicating factors (such as dynamics or staccato/accents). I'd say these kids should not be using music with teaching_eighth-notes since they're precarious in their note-reading ability.

Go backwards and simplify the music and work slowly back to the place where the kids were, making sure that the rudiments of note-reading are well-established. (See this file for related material. Look near the end of it. Also check the pedagogy main page for other files about note-reading.) Augment with a lot of material from other sources, too.

You are very wise to keep in close contact with the parents on this matter, in particular asking them to continue to be upbeat and supportive at home when frustration sets in. You don't want them to think their children are stupid or incapable of learning to play the piano.

I have been playing the piano since I was 5 years old.  I am now 48.  I have not gone to college to get a formal degree, but I was taught private lessons by a "knuckle-hitter-with-ruler" teacher and then by a good teacher. I was 19 when I stopped lessons. I have always possessed excellent sight-reading skills, but my memorization skills are almost nil. When I have time to play at home, I usually play about 2-3 hours. My family says I play well, but I have played publicly only a few times and always with my music in front of me.   I enjoy all genres of music, particularly the classics, movie themes, and 40s tunes.  I don't care for jazz or boogie woogie. I have overcome my stage fright but not the memory trouble.  Still use the music. So, do I have what it takes to teach? I have taught a couple of my children's friends when they were young children around 6 to 9 years old. I taught each one a month or two here or there, but I don't really think their hearts were in it.  They would rather go out and play.  Or, perhaps it is because I didn't know what I was doing.  I know the piano. It is the teaching skills that need touching up, I think. It has always been my heart's desire to teach. I just don't know how to get started. I looked at a nearby college's music department website, and the memorization part scares the pants right off of me! Then I ask myself if I am too old to pursue a music degree, and do I really have what it takes to pursue a music degree? Where do I begin?

First of all, don't compare yourself with your brother. Period.

Second, you are never too old to learn something new. Period.

Several more thoughts.

You already see some roadblocks to a degree.

What to do?

More roadblocks.

Now what?

I think the answer is in your letter: teach what you love. You love Broadway tunes, 40s songs, movie music. Teach that! You don't have to have a degree to teach this kind of music. You don't have to memorize.

Promote yourself as a "casual-music-focused" teacher who teaches pop-type music. Make it clear that you do not teach rock, "light rock," and other genres people these days identify as "pop." Be sure to list the three types you mentioned.

Look for students who have grown up in a musical milieu similar to yours. They're probably going to be middle-aged and older. Where are people who like this kind of music, too? Find them at senior centers, community centers, retirement homes (You'll have to go to them to give lessons. Does the center have a piano? Do you have a portable keyboard on a stand?), rec centers of retirement communities, etc. If the latter, which churches are nearby? Place ads in those bulletins (usually Catholic churches have ads in their bulletins) or in the churches' newsletters. Post on bulletin boards. Advertise in "shoppers" tabloids. Post ads on any community bulletin boards. Sometimes these are even found outside grocery stores and other commercial locations. You'll have to hunt for options and then try them to see what works for you in your community. Also try the best teacher the parent(s) can find because a beginner needs the best foundation possible. With your background, this isn't you, alas, as you suspect.)

  • Teach what you are able to teach without a degree: Broadway, movie, 40s.

    Best wishes! And congratulations on your perspicacity that you might not be qualified to teach. There are many teachers out there who are clueless in this regard, and they do much damage.

    I've been playing the piano since I was 3 and just started my own studio.  I was extremely nervous, but I have found that I love teaching piano.  Your site has given me so many ideas and has answered a multitude of questions.  I especially love the section on how to teach different age groups according to their development.  I've had a couple of parents who would like for me to teach their preschoolers, but I didn't feel comfortable doing so.  After reading your advice on how to teach pre-schoolers, I feel more prepared to accept this type of student.  Do you recommend a particular lesson book that is geared more towards pre-readers?  Right now, I teach out of the Alfred series for my older kids.  I believe that they have a book for pre-schoolers, but I haven't taken a look at it yet. 

    Your future students and their parents will appreciate your consideration and careful planning of how best to teach pre-schoolers!

    I know you are not going to be happy that I do not have a magic bullet for you:  "The Method MB Recommends for Pre-Schoolers."  As you probably have read in other answers, I do not use a method book for any of my students.

    I do not know anything about the Alfred pre-schooler book(s). If their other methods work for you, I would look over the pre-schooler one in depth. Maybe try it on one pre-schooler. I'd pick the student with the highest likelihood of success with an unknown method series. Some attributes I'd look for are: most outgoing; most intelligent; most word-reading ability; most cooperative; most supportive parents; etc. A child like this would be most resilient in recovering from any missteps and short-comings of the book and how you use it. You will realize right away (immediately or at the next lesson) if something is awry and can fix it, so no harm would be done.

    Some ideas to consider:

    Note: My students play from plain music notation on white paper - - no pix or embellishments - - and don't seem to care one way or another. Though I do give out stickers for finished songs, and we never hesitate to draw goofy stuff on the songs. I'm not anti-art! I just focus on the music rather than the window-dressing. My pre-schoolers accept their music that way because that’s what they've always used!

    Further note: My file on beginner technique addresses this question, and I would simplify it further for pre-schoolers:

    In the end, you have to find the material from what your students if this age benefit most. What works best for them, given your "teaching personality"? Follow your intuition and always be ready to modify, expand, experiment, and take off in new directions!

    If you don't have a music degree, please begin work on one without delay. Beginners deserve only the best teachers, and being good requires training, as well as passion!

    I thought your theory regarding when to begin scales is interesting.  I was debating on when to start scales with my younger pupils.  I thought if I started with just one octave, it wouldn't be too overwhelming.  In your experience, did you find that students did better/worse/average when they started scales later?  Are there any studies that I can use to back up this case for starting scales later?  I think that if I suggested this to my piano teacher friends, they would have an aneurism. I know that if I still hate doing scales (I do them anyway because I realize their importance), then how in the world can I expect my students to be interested in them (or at least not hate them)?

    You have hit the nail right on the head! Congratulations!! (And you're also right about your colleagues.)

    I am so glad that you hate scales, too! I still hate 'em! Knowing how stultifying boring they [still] are, I don't ask my students to do them until they truly need them. The above-highlighted file will give you the down-and-dirty!

    Why are scales helpful? (1) They allow the pianist to develop the "feel" of a key: where finger x must extend to reach a black note, etc. (2) They give practice in thumb tucks and cross-overs.

    Beginners of any age, and certainly pre-schoolers, don't need to think about how the key of E-flat feels under the hand, as opposed to B. Forget (1).

    Beginner music doesn't (or shouldn't!) have complex fingerings such as tucks and crosses. Most children have their plates full getting those small muscles playing the keys with relative accuracy and elision!

    Note: The farther the small muscle is away from the body trunk, the later it falls under control. The muscles of the fingers are the last to fall under control! Forget (2).

    Many teachers teach what they were taught and in that same sequence. Why not stop and ask, "Is this skill useful to the student at this level? Or am I just doing it because that's what I was taught?" And "Does it matter if I don't do it the way I was taught? Will the student be damaged if I put it off until later?" And, "Why the heck was I taught the way I was taught?" And, "Just because my colleagues do something, does that make it pedagogically sound?"

    Don't burden students with skills they don't need in the music they're playing. If the music has no scales, don't teach scales. Teach other techniques - - techniques needed in the literature under study - - instead. Can the student do a smooth crescendo and decrescendo? Play softly? Play one note accented and the next without accent? Ditto, staccato notes? This file will give you some ideas. Also, see other files on this topic, linked from my pedagogy front door.

    No, I have found no differences in final product (in, say, a sonatina) for students who started scales early and students who started scales when they actually need them. I don't know of any studies. Sorry! I may be the only teacher on the face of the earth who does this! I'm a big believer in what works (and what doesn't harm the student, of course!), not in filtering for the academic establishment or basing my curriculum around "tradition" or "what other teachers do."

    As to teachers, do not tell them! (As you say, your remarks might have grave medical consequences for them!) If they ask and you want to tell them, then do discuss it, but you are under no obligation to tell them what and how you teach and invite them to critique you!

    Of course, you may decide I'm full of baloney! In which case, ignore me!

    I have a young teen student who sometimes takes an hour lesson to make up a missed half-hour lesson. I get the idea he isn't very thrilled with a lesson this long. How can I make a double-length lesson [seem] like a positive situation?

    Head it off. As you sit down with the student, say, "This is great! We get a whole hour today! [Rub your hands together in collusion and waggle your eyebrows, if desired.] We're going to be able to get through everything! [especially if you always run out of time] and probably have some time to shop!" (Or whatever you call choosing new pieces. Most everyone likes to "shop," so this a a positive spin and assists to head off "uh-oh; I have to work hard again."

    Incidentally, I think the idea of a double-length lesson is a good one for teens. And one fewer trip for the chauffeur. Younger ones are better off taking two lessons in one week.

    I came across some notation I have never seen. It's a Baroque piece in 9/8. The right hand has a triplet, but the left hand has a dotted eighth-note and a sixteenth-note beamed together. This isn't enough to match the triplet in the right hand. Is this a misprint?

    No, it's not a misprint. This is a rhythmic notation practice used in the Baroque (and the rococo period and sometimes in early classical music). At that point, the modern notation that is directly equivalent to a triplet did not "exist." Today, we use a quarter-note and an eighth, grouped with a bracket and the number three (or only one or the other). In these earlier periods, I guess nobody thought of that! In any case, the eighth is held for the duration of two of the eighths in the triplet, and the sixteenth is played with the last eighth of the triplet. Sometimes you see this notation as a dotted eighth beamed with a sixteenth. Same thing. It's called "Baroque accommodation."

    I'm not sure what to do about this and hope you can help. About a week before my annual spring recital, I discovered that a student had let errors creep into her piece. Should I have brought the errors to her attention and had her fix them or let them slide?

    It depends on the severity of the error and how exposed it is. I suggest you not say anything about the problem unless the error is of vital importance (raised leading tone in a minor key in the melody) or horribly exposed (wrong note in m. 36 of Mozart's D-Minor Fantasy [K 397]). The student will become stressed over corrections this late in the process.

    In general, if the error doesn't materially affect the piece, say nothing. You want the child to have a positive recital experience.

    Maybe you should have re-looked at the piece in detail at least a month (two is better) before to check for "new" errors.

    What do you recommend for a theory book (or workbook)?

    Teachers ask me frequently which theory book to use with students. I have to answer I don't know because I've never seen one that wasn't either a college-(level text dry, arcane) or a ridiculous "note speller" that was primarily pictures (not all "note spellers" are primarily pictures, of course, but most of them are). I hope that someone, somewhere will have a suggestion for us!

    Note: The following four questions are from one teacher. I have broken up her email into separate topics.

    I'm currently starting to teach piano to a 5 year old. I've studied piano for a while so I'm very versed in piano method. What ways do I need to go about teaching this child? What should I teach on the first lesson?! Any help would be appreciated!

    There's a whole section on beginners, including 1st lesson in my pedagogy file. Also tons of pedagogy there. You don't say how long you've played piano, but I hope you are currently studying if you don't have a degree. I also suggest that when you seek more students you seek intermediates if you do not have a piano degree. Lots of answers and discussion of this very question several places above in this QA file. Also see this file directed at parents.

    I have taken piano for about 17 years, played violin for 10, taught piano and violin when I was 18 for about a year, sung since I was 3 (solos, groups, choirs), accompanied multiple soloists/groups/etc., taken an accelerated college theory class that squeezed about 3 years into two months, composed, arranged, orchestrated, etc.  But I don't have a degree.  And right now the money I'm earning from teaching is the only thing keeping us out of the red.  I can't even get my piano tuned we're so tight.  I'm kind of embarrassed about this reason for teaching.

    Don't be. This is a perfectly valid reason to teach! Have you read the stuff under "new teachers" on the business page? Talks about this topic and many others.

    I'm dying to take lessons and classes, but it's impossible at this point.  Do you have any suggestions (aside from reading through the rest of your site!) for me that will help me be a better, more qualified teacher?

    I think you will find a lot of info there. And I'm here as a resource.

    Further, I suggest is that you find your local music teachers' group (another piano teacher if you know one - - such as a violin teacher or choral conductor if you don’t know any piano teachers, music store, instrument store, piano store, university/junior college, etc.). Attend meetings and take advantage of any resources there. One of the experienced teachers might let you sit in on one or more of him lessons to learn from him/her. There shouldn't be any fee (don't mention it yourself), as the "fee" would be complimenting the teacher's skill and experience.

    I have 8 students. I have been teaching them for the past year, and, yes, they are beginners.  I have used method books because that's what was used on me with great results and because I had no idea that it was not a good idea.  I have felt that they went very fast and have composed a *few* songs to avoid learning 3 new things in one week, but obviously I didn't know what else to use.  I feel inspired to write out songs for my students, but I can't write enough to make up their entire lessons, aside from not having enough time.  I'm a stay-at-home mom with two little girlies under the age of 2!! Do you suggest I keep them in the method books but try to incorporate as many of my own 'arrangements' as possible?  As of now, almost all of them have finished the first books of the methods (J. Thompson, Schaum, etc.) and are doing very well (these students also sing and play violin, so they're very musical).  I feel at a loss, knowing that the method books are not recommended, but having nothing else (short of writing songs out myself) to turn to. 

    First of all, it is perfectly ok to think method books are fine to use. I don't like them (for reasons I have stated frequently on my site - - as well as ways to teach without them), but that doesn't mean you must shun them! Most teachers (98% maybe? I'm the only one I've heard of who doesn't use a series, though I am sure I am not alone in the universe on this!) use methods. If you use them, don't feel you need to apologize for using them or justify your decision to anyone.

    And you certainly don't have to justify yourself to me!

    Second, method books may be perfectly suited to what and how you teach! Why fix the wheel if it ain't broke?

    If now you are re-thinking use of method books, rather than abandoning them altogether, supplement them [at first]. Interleave the method materials with these extra songs, just as you are doing. Many other teachers do this, too, though often they use published material for this.

    Having students study songs not printed in the method series allows greater breadth of style and content and allows students who need more repetition in one concept (99% do!) to have access to understanding. (You also can use supplemental songs as sight-reading pieces.)

    Have students purchase sheet music. Use the "method" part of another series for other songs. Make sure the supplemental series is consonant with the one you're using. For example, if you use the "position" method, make sure you supplement with position songs, not Middle C songs). Also check that the note range is appropriate. (Of course, you also can skip songs that aren't a good match for your primary series.)

    Write songs as you have time. They don't have to be long: 8 measures or 16 measures in length! 4 measures for very beginning students.

    Another option is to have your students "compose" a song for themselves. You help smooth off the rough edges. If they don't have any ideas (you'll get a lot of "Spinning Spiders" once they know a C triad), ask them to bring in a poem they like or to write one of their own. Now start composing. Ask the student how many counts he wants in the measure. Suggest 3 or 4, though 2 or 5 would work - - more than 5 makes the measure too long - - students need the barlines to help them divide the printed music visually. (Don't we all? Satie's first Gnoisienne, for example, is disconcerting on first view!) One count per measure will work, of course, and might even be a fun thing to do (once!).

    Or you write a little tune (C 5-finger position). Maybe you could put words to it, making them up together? I find it's easier to have the poem first, however, because then the rhythm of the words helps dictate placement of downbeats, suggests duration of notes, etc.

    In other words, write something just for a particular student. Obviously, you'll take lesson time do to this, but don't worry. The student will be thrilled and will likely run home to show her family "her" composition. You wouldn't do this every week, of course, but once every two months or so is fine. If your student wants to compose something the more frequently, transfer some responsibility to the student. Ask her to write/find a poem, think of some melodies, etc. "If you write a melody, play it over and over so you don't forget it. We'll write it down next time."

    In writing these songs, add accents and staccatos (and tone clusters). Pedal is good, too, but it will have to be holding it down for the whole song, not pedaling in the normal sense of the word. Actually, expect to have some "Bells" songs with pedal! Pedal is also good for spooky Halloween songs.

    These compositions are one of the ways I generate new songs! I polish up the melody or expand 8 bars into 16. Or I use a part of the melody and write the rest of it myself. Kids like words to their songs, so I try to make up words if there aren't any. Or I take the poem and write my own tune.

    Another option is to write out a "current" song. "I don't know that one. If you'll hum [sing] it for me or have your mom get the printed music, we can do it."

    Of course, you have to keep the notes within range (I advise you not to introduce a new note in these songs!) and simplify counting. (I often write in double values; this solves the problem of what to do with eighth-notes and dotted quarter-notes.)

    You'll learn as you do songs whether they're too hard for the level to which you are aiming them. Or whether you shouldn't share them (in whatever form) with your other students because the students to whom you have given the new song don't like it.

    See my file on composing for students, as well as what kind of music beginners need, in general what beginners need, and links to many other topics about beginners and children.

    I can't imagine teaching lessons that don't involve 3-4 different books.  If I don't use books, how can I ensure that the student is learning everything they need to?  How does one change the whole mindset of 'just go through the books', to doing everything without a 'guide' of sorts?  It makes me nervous and overwhelmed to think of taking away the books, and therefore having to completely make everything up myself. 

    Having a guide for content and chronology is one reason many teachers use method books.

    The main book is songs. A second book is usually technique. I guess the 3rd book is the "recital book." (No need for that! Just add more regular songs, as noted above!)

    Is the 4th book a note speller? Make your own pages, based on the songs you're using. Keep a copy for your files, as you'll probably want to use it for another student. And, you guessed it! You'll build your own theory/note speller!

    Here is what I do to ensure all the bases are covered. Perhaps it will work for you or parts of it will.


    Everyone needs technical exercises, and that includes beginners.

    I give technical exercises that dovetail with the student's current songs. As the student progresses, I add theory stuff that I think the child can understand and also can see applied in his songs. Ex. This is an octave [write and draw a line between oct- and –ave]. What does oct- mean? (Student doesn't know.) Oct means 8. What do you know that has 8 of something? Right! An octopus. In music, an octave means 8 notes. Play a C, call it one, and count up 8 notes. Here's a really cool thing! Do you see that note is also a C? An octave is a distance of 8 notes, and lucky for us [gotta sell it!] at the other end is a note with the same letter name! So, when you see two notes are an octave apart, you don't even have to read the second note! Octaves make it easier to learn songs, so we'll start looking for octaves in our songs. (Then play another note and have student find the octave above and below. I use this explanation when we discuss 8va and 8vb.)

    By the time the child is playing sonatinas, we discuss form, mechanisms for moving from key to key (relative major and minor, too), why minor keys have an accidental in them and what is and why it is, why certain scales have sharps and flats, circle of fifths, secondary and tertiary dominants, and all that stuff. For exceptional students, I ask them to analyze. Otherwise, I hold form and analysis off until Mozart and Beethoven sonatas.

    Check this file for more details.

    To judge what is germane, not only do I examine the songs I assign, but I am guided by the student's questions. A question indicates that the student perceives a need for this piece of information. I answer the question and then supplement. (Having students do workbook pages and memorize stuff is, I think, basically a waste of time. The student will dutifully memorize and regurgitate the material, but the knowledge is not retained and the student has no idea how to derive the information once he has forgotten it.)

    Music History and Performance Practices

    As to music history and performance practices, I again wait until the information is needed. Usually, a student needs hardy any music history at all. A lot of the music history is tied to performance practices, anyway.

    Such things as "Bach, Scarlatti, Handel and Vivaldi were composing at the same time so there are a lot of common things in their styles" is sufficient. (There is not a lot of Vivaldi keyboard stuff; mostly organ concerti. Handel's keyboard pieces tend to be difficult - - such as "The Harmonious Blacksmith" - - and/or hard to come by.) Having the student remember Bach and Scarlatti is plenty, unless your student is also studying some of the French clavecin composers. Rameau's "Tamourin" is an excellent piece! And also a good piece to learn about rondo form. Even so, your student doesn't need to remember Lully's or Daquin's names. Bach and Scarlatti are just fine.

    As to details.

    I teach the mordent early on (I have a nice piece of Baroque French harpsichord that I use first), but I don't discuss trills until later (Scarlatti sonatas, Clementi sonatinas).

    What about grace notes? Ah, yes! Grace notes! Hmmm. These are either true grace notes or one of three things written incorrectly. We have to "try on" all four of these options and see what works best. Here is a rule that can help us: "There are no grace notes in Mozart." If Mozart wants the equivalent of a grace note, he writes it in with specific value. What about those things that look like grace notes (small note with slash through the stem)? They look like grace notes! Nope, not grace notes if this is Mozart but might be grace notes if it's mid- to late Beethoven and certainly if Schumann. Chopin? That's another topic. Could be either. Chopin wasn't careful in his manuscripts (are or aren't tr and the "wiggle" symbol the same?), and his first publisher got in there and mucked about, so we really don't know what is "original Chopin" and what is not. Which is why there isn't a definitive edition of Chopin's works. And….Chopin's trills start on the upper note, like Bach's, except….. Phew! Ok, how do I play these? Slowly, I develop these ideas. Let's take a look at Beethoven's variations on "La Molinara." Now, there's a bunch of different things if there ever was a mixed bag! (Grace began as a general term for ornament; French.)

    (I need to write a file all about this, but this will be a start, at least. Come back later. Meantime, here's some more on the topic of Mozart and grace notes.)

    No pedal in Bach. Why? Because he wrote for the harpsichord and organ (and didn't like the piano at all - - yes! true!), and those instruments didn't have a sustain pedal. How do you make Bach's music legato? Only with your fingers!

    No crescendos in Bach. Why? The organ and harpsichord can't do a crescendo. All they can do is add sets of strings or pipes to make the music louder.

    Now is a perfect time to describe why and how the piano came into being and what it can do that the others couldn't. Why hammers make this possible.

    How do I make the melody louder? You can't. You have to help the listener tell the voices apart by playing legato sometimes and detached other times.

    No accents in Bach. What???! Attention is drawn to notes with ornaments, arpeggiating if it's a chord, doubling notes in the chord, and with slight silences before the notes (as before a trill, for example).

    Why does the book show all these things? Does the front page [or cover] indicate an editor's name? (Discussion of editing follows and why editors' markings are just that - - the editors' ideas. Which may or may be right. Which may be partially right. Or partially right in specific situations.) How fast do I play this piece of Bach? Why are there tempo designations? (The closer we come to modern days, the more detail composers put in the score. Can you give me an example of a piece that has a lot of information in it? Even fingering is printed? Right! Kabalevsky! And Clementi, too; look at this sonatina. It's an Urtext edition [What's that and why is it important?], so we know these finger numbers are Clementi's. Wait! Here's the same piece in another book, and the fingering is missing or different! That's because Clementi had several editions of his sonatinas. (Maybe he changed his mind. Maybe the fingering is different because one time he wrote it in for a student with exceptionally small hands.)

    Here is a version of a Bach piece. It says Allegro. Did Bach write Allegro in the music? No. The editor added it. (How reliable is this editor's scholarship? Yes, we can trust Maurice Hinson, but we need to look at it for ourselves, anyway. We might not agree, and it's ok not to agree unless our decision does damage to the musical product.)

    What does alla breve mean? (You should have a music dictionary near the piano.)

    Why are there staccato half-notes in the first movement of Beethoven's "Pathétique" sonata? What the heck is this?!

    Twelve-tone music? (What's a tone? Time to learn about keys. Another opportunity to find out how the I-V-I pattern gets its name. Oh! How does this relate to the way triads are built?) Back to 12-tone music. Let's write some. Is it ok to use F-sharp and G-flat? Yes. You have used a different letter. Uh-oh! G-flat, A-sharp, and D-flat are going to sound like an F-sharp Major triad! Not spelled like a triad but it sounds like one. Nope. Gotta rearrange the notes. Can't have anything that suggests a key [tone]. If you're lucky, the student will remember one composer's name for this type of music, but she undoubtedly will have to go back and find the page where you wrote down four names!

    Classical? Usually the music is in 4-measure phrases….but…..sometimes it's two phrases of two measures plus one phrase of 4 measures. Or 4 + 4 + 2 + 2 + 4. Sometimes (not often, thank goodness!), it's 2 + 6 (Chopin; Mozart). This period's name comes from Greek temples; they had rows of columns in the front. Everything was nice and even. (Do you have a picture of a Greek temple? If not, draw one. Alternative: show a picture/drawing and ask student to describe the temple. How many pillars? How are they spaced?)

    Mozart and Haydn are the names you should remember. Actually, truly remember, as with Bach and Scarlatti.

    How do I play the places where Mozart doesn't have any phrase slurs? How come some of the measures show a slur and others don't? Does he mean something different? He's got a slur in each measure. Could that possibly mean he wants each measure to be considered as a separate phrase?

    How come this music is sort like the stuff that came at the beginning of the song but doesn't have staccato dots? Do I play it differently? This sure doesn't make much sense. Why would Mozart leave out the staccato dots if he wanted this part of the song staccato, too?

    Why is this turn symbol printed upside down? In Bach, each of those means a separate ornament. So, this Mozart turn goes like this (plays)? The symbol is different than the way we played the same symbol in Bach. Why is that?

    And what are a turn and a trill symbol doing above one note? How can I play these ornaments at the same time? Was Rameau nuts? Oh. I play one and then the other. Ok, which one do I play first? Wait a minute! Bach did this, but it was a different symbol. (Remember about the turn symbols that are flipped over?)

    Beethoven lived while Mozart and Haydn were writing, but they died before he did. This is important to remember. (And Chopin lived after Beethoven. Debussy and Ravel are after Chopin. These kinds of minimal "signposts" are all your student really needs.)

    Haydn was Beethoven's first composition teacher but kicked him out when he refused to "follow the rules." (Haydn was pretty spotty in showing up for lessons, too, to be honest to Herr Beethoven!) Let's look at the first movement of Beethoven's first piano sonata and find examples where he did follow, did not, and sort of did follow the rules.

    Etc. Etc.

    As you become experienced, you'll become sensitive to when you can introduce a supplemental topic. Also, you'll be able to assign specific pieces so you have a perfect opportunity to introduce something.

    As a piano teacher, I'm embarrassed to ask you this, but you're the only "safe" person I can ask. In Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 32 #1, how do I count the end? There are no barlines! The counts don't add up, either. Does this mean I have my choice as to how I count it? If this is too dumb a question, I'll understand if you don't want to answer! But I hope you will because I'm so afraid a student will put the question to me and I'll be sunk!

    You have the right idea: it's "free." And, yes, the counts don't seem to "add up." They actually do, but it's pretty convoluted. Grab some chocolate and let's have a go.

    We're in the key of B Major.

    Measure 62 is "standard" in its counting. (The little notes in the RH are an arpeggiation. The whole-note chord goes on the downbeat.)

    That takes us to "measure" 63, which is where the fun and ambiguity begin.

    The first thing in the "measure" is a dotted-half G7 chord. The 32nd-note figure following it is the 4th "count."

    The RH G-natural begins the "next measure." Note that the quarter-note G Major triad (this is on the 2nd count) that is played beneath the G natural single RH note is played softly; it is not part of the melody; note the stem downward. The rest with fermata is the 3rd count of this measure, and the 32nd-note figure is the 4th. Note that the previous "measure" has the 32nd-note figure as the 4th count.

    The next "measure" begins on the B natural in the RH. The stem-down RH notes (soft, again) fall on the 2nd count, just as in the previous "measure." The third count of this "measure" is the rest with the fermata. All those eighth-notes (hands are playing in unison) comprise the 4th count.

    Now we're at a Q G natural in both hands as the first count in the next "measure." The second count starts on the G in the RH - - the 8th beamed with a 16th rest and a 16th note. The third and fourth counts of this "measure" are covered by the half-note F# in the RH. Note that the stem-downward RH notes fall on the & of three and directly on four.

    Next we have a H rest. = 2 counts. The other two counts of this "measure" are covered by the C# in the RH. Note that on the fourth count, the "LH" has three stem-down notes (F#, G#, B). Plus a low F#. No way you can play all those with your LH. So you take the low F# with the LH and play the three-note group with your RH.

    The half-note C is tied into the next "measure" as the first note of the triplet. The following triplet is the second count. Then there's a Q, which is the third count, and a D natural, which is the fourth count.

    This D natural is "tied" into the final "measure" because of its value - - there is no tie slur. The downbeat of this final "measure" is the low F# and the three-note group, all written in bass clef. This is the place where the low F# notes are marked staccato. Those two are counts one and two. Count three is the Q rest. Four is the Q note As.

    Hurrah! We're at the last two "real" measures.

    Now we have it all sorted out mathematically.

    I suggest that you consider the G7 at the start of m. 63 as a downbeat and the 32nd-note figure following (4th count) as a pickup to the G natural in RH (followed by the G triad, stem down). Take a breath and play the second 32nd-note figure (fourth count in this "measure") as a pickup to the half-note B. Then there's a big hole before you commence on the fourth count of this "measure" - - all those 8ths.

    The rests foul up the feeling of pulse there, alas, so just be free and approximate the idea of long-note-plus-32nd-note figure-pickup-on-four as a measure.

    The G naturals in both hands are the downbeat. This is followed by the beamed figure (beat two) and the half-note (beats three and four). Attempt to keep these mathematical relationships pretty strict so that the arpeggiation before beat two stands out (as fast, free notes).

    That big half rest is just an alternate notation for a rest with a fermata (as we've seen earlier), but it's worth two counts. The C# half-notes are the other half of this measure. Keep this measure strict in speed.

    Where the RH C# is tied into the triplet, keep these counts strict, too. Where the D natural occurs, slow down in the Q notes (LH). Note that the next measure (last 2) are marked adagio. These notes are a prelude to that idea.

    Note: No questions are dumb. Don't be embarrassed to ask me!

    My students have difficulty playing two triplets in a row without a pause between them. Any ideas?

    I have had that problem, too. I'm a big fan of mnemonics, and I found that "Mex-i-can tor-ti-llas" works well.

    When first encountering adjacent triplets, I give the student the mnemonic right away. They never play it incorrectly and thus never hear it played that way.

    I am an established piano instructor and have had my own studio for many years. What are you feelings on group lessons? I have always told myself that it is not beneficial for the student - but maybe I might need to reconsider. Any websites, instructional material, etc., that you could recommend?

    Since you asked, and even at the risk of offending some readers here (sorry!), my opinion is not to bother with group lessons.

    Some teachers use a group class as a makeup vehicle (put all those who missed into one group lesson per month; if several lessons in a month were missed, either carry over into future months or have the group session count for all missed lessons for the month). A group session as an efficient make-up mechanism is a good use of a group meeting, in my opinion. Although you still will have the same problems, the upside is that you save time and effort in individual make-up lessons.

    Some people have group classes because they think they must since other teachers have them.

    As to materials, ask your colleagues who use group classes to tell you about the materials they use. It could be that some of them write their own. Search on Google under "group piano" and words like this. I confess that I haven't paid any attention to group materials since I don't have group lessons as part of my curriculum.

    I am interested in finding out some information about your teaching lessons for beginning students. I saw the layout online, and I was wondering if you could be more specific and tell me what sources to use for each area of concentration. I saw the idea with the finger drill. Can you tell me exactly what colors you use when you color them? I am a teacher, and I am wanting to gain some more ideas for my students. If you could be specific and e-mail me from start to finish with what materials you use for beginning students I would be grateful and appreciate your help. Do you teach a variety of different ages or is it just beginning students? I like the ideas but what about the materials? If you could do that for me, I really would appreciate it.

    Happy to oblige! What you seek is right here on my site. Go to the pegagogy area and start reading!! There is other information in this QA file, too, of course. Read all the questions and answers. If you have further questions after reading my materials here, please do write again. (I teach all ages and levels.) Best wishes!

    My goal for sight reading is to take at least one hymn a day and phrase it. (1) Do you phrase a song by breathing before and after each phrase? I would like to know your correct teaching methods on breathing and phrasing. Could you send me at least one example of a correct phrasing sentence? Something perhaps from Silent Night? (2) The concepts of breathing means to breathe through your diaphragm by not sucking in your stomach. Do you breathe air through both your nose and mouth when you inhale? (3) Also, the term "range" is it a melody, tonic or key signature? What do you listen to in order to sing a song in the correct range? These are just a few of the questions that I have come up with since I have been studying your questions in Music Pedagogy. I understand incorrect phrasing, but I would like to learn how to do it correctly. If you could send me something, I would appreciate it.

    (1) The pianist phrases with the choir. The choir breathes every time there is a punctuation mark. Unless it's something like, "O, Come, O, Come, Emanuel, and ransom captive Israel." To breathe at every comma would be ridiculous, as well as difficult. In this case, the choir (my choir, at least) would not breathe at all but would sing all as one phrase. Often choirs breathe after "Emanuel."

    In general, follow printed punctuation.

    Take into account the sense of the words, however: "Silent night [br] Holy Night [br] All is calm [br] all is bright round yon Virgin Mother and child [br]" and so on. There would NOT be a breath (again, my choir) after "bright," although most everyone sings it this way. Note that by taking three breaths earlier, there is "plenty of air" to make it all the way through to "child." Also note that "round yon Virgin" followed by "Mother and Child" doesn't even make sense. Calmness is around the Virgin Mother and her Child.

    And, yes, you take a breath before beginning to sing.

    (2) I am not a singer, as my students will tell you readily, but here is how I understand how to use the diaphragm in breathing. You sort of pull your "front" muscles inward. Put your hand on your "front" above your waistband (and below the lower band on your bra - - sorry, guys). Take a breath and see if you can feel those muscles tense. By contrast, take a breath and fill your lungs in the "normal" way. You feel your chest expand and your shoulders go up a little. When you use your diaphragm, your shoulders don't move. As you need to use the breath to sing the phrase, you relax the muscles. I think this is what singers mean by "support the tone." As I said, this is my understanding of how to use the diaphragm. It may not be correct or described correctly. I welcome input from a singer!

    (3) Range is the distance between the highest and lowest notes. Mary Had a Little Lamb has a range of five notes. Range is not open to question; it is what it is, according to what the composer wrote!

    As a piano teacher, I'm embarrassed to say this, but why does the key of E-flat have three flats in the scale? How come it's three and not four, for example, or five? I'm too embarrassed to ask anyone!

    Get paper and a pencil for this answer. Do the work yourself.

    Any major scale is made up of a particular pattern of whole and half steps. Here it is:


    All major scales have that pattern. Always. All of them.

    Let's start with a C scale (all white notes) so you can see how it works. You also know that the key of C has no sharps and flats. You need these letters:

    C D E F G A B C

    When you write out a scale, you must use every letter and in the exact sequence. You may not use the same letter twice. Sometimes when using the pattern, on the keyboard it looks like something different. For example an E# looks like an F. You may need to spell the note as E#.

    There is another oddity, but related. When you fill in the pattern with letters, you might have G and G#. You can't do this. You can't have two Gs in a scale. You have to call one G and the other Ab. Or F double-sharp (symbol is an x) and G#.

    So, write down the string of letters above. Now we'll put the W/H pattern to work on them.

    Between C and D is a whole step
    Between D and E is a whole step
    Between E and F is a half-step
    Between F and G is a whole step
    Between G and A is a whole step
    Between A and B is a whole step
    Between B and [the return to] C is a half-step

    Let's do an example: the Eb Major scale.

    E F G A B C D E are the letters we need.

    Now we're going to find out if any of them needs flats or sharps, by using the W/H pattern given above.

    The first letter is Eb because that's the scale name
    Between Eb and F is a whole step; therefore F is just plain F
    Between F and G is a whole step; ditto
    Between G and A is a HALF step, per the W/H pattern, so A is Ab in the Eb Major scale
    Between Ab and B is a whole step; therefore B is Bb in the Eb Major scale
    Between Bb and C is a whole step; therefore C is plain C
    Between C and D is a whole step; ditto
    Between D and E is a HALF step; therefore E is Eb in the Eb Major scale (you'd know this, anyway, because the scale name is Eb and you used an Eb for the first degree of the Eb scale).

    A side benefit: This is how you know the Eb Major scale has 3 flats. And that, in turn, is why the key signature for Eb is 3 flats.

    Try this in the key of, say, A Major. Then try Ab Major. For a challenge, try F# Major. Remember to use all the letters in the exact sequence, no matter how far-fetched the letter name in the scale might be.

    If you forget the pattern, use a C scale (all white notes) to derive it.

    The minor harmonic scale - - this is the one with the raised leading tone, which is always shown as an accidental, either a natural sign or a sharp sign - - has a different series of W/H steps. Use the a minor scale (all white notes) to derive this pattern.

    Try e minor for an example and see what sharps or flats appear. Then try c# minor.

    That you were embarrassed with this basic question suggests to me that you need to study music theory. You don't say anything about your preparation to teach, but it sounds as though you do not have a music degree. Find theory instruction and don't wait! Every teacher needs a firm foundation in theory! Start looking for classes at your local junior college.

    I have been teaching piano for over a year now, and I am constantly touching my students' backs, arms, and hands in order to position them quickly into the posture I want them to be in.  I do this so often that I am not even aware of it, anymore.  My studio is in a local music store.  It has a large window in the door and is in a high traffic area where people are constantly passing by and are able to look in.  The mother of one of my 11-year-old girls takes great offense to my having my hand on her daughter's back.  I tried to explain to her that what I was doing, and she told me not to touch her again.  I said ok.  She ended up switching to another teacher.  Am I out of line with this?  If so how do you get the kids into the proper position without touching them?  My youngest students have a parent in the studio during the lesson, as I use kind of a modified Suzuki approach in which I involve the parent in the daily training of the student.  The parents have never commented before to me one way or another about my positioning their children with my hands. Should I have the parent sit closer during the lesson and have them position the student under my guidance?  I can see an advantage to doing this as it would make them more aware of what to look for during the week.  For the older kids, should all direction be given orally with a visual example of my hands, arms, and back as to what they should be doing?  I can do this but it just seems to be less efficient as to just positioning them.  This situation really caught me by surprise, and I would value your guidance how to proceed with this.

    I feel sure the fact that you are a man is what precipitated the mom's remarks. Either ask the mom to touch the student or (better) ask if you may "put my hand on Esther's back to show her how I want her to sit." I agree a direct "positioning" is far better than your demonstrating or giving a verbal instruction. Maybe you could position your fingertips between the shoulder blades (no lower!) on the child's back and say that if the child touches the fingertips, she has gone out of position. (Or, ask the mother to position her own fingertips.) Can you position the student with back to the wall? You should stress that you want a parent to sit in on the lessons, if the parent possibly can do this.

    Another option is to have the parent sit in on early lessons. Before you do so, ask, "May I place my hands on Jillian's back to show her how her back is rounding?" When you need to use your hands again, turn to the parent with a questioning look and wait for the nod of permission. Afer a while of asking at several lessons, ask the parent if she is satisfied that you have no ill intent. The answer may be no, but it may be yes. Doesn't hurt to try!

    Note - It could be that the child or the mother had a bad experience with inappropriate touching and is hyper-sensitive to the slightest thing that might be misconstrued.

    This is a very thorny problem, and I am sorry you are being "punished" for the couple of bad apples out there. I hope at least one idea will work.

    I have a teen student with severe recital fear. What do you suggest?

    Well, for starters, don't make her play. Is there any reason why she must (as in, planning to major in piano at college, qualify for a scholarship in another field)? If not, let her skip the recital - - unless she wants to come just listen. And if that this is ok with you. You might think you are "setting a bad precedent" with other students who are jittery at the prospect of playing in a recital because this one is "excused." I'd offer that option to the girl, but my guess is that she won't attend because she'd be "embarrased" or "guilty" she's not playing and you allowed her to skip it but the other students would know (especially if you have group classes and students know each other).

    Second, don't make her play without music. Let memory-playing be optional.

    In fact, I think this is a good policy for everyone! Not every student memorizes with equal ease, and some cannot do it at all. Unless you have a college-music-major-bound student, I recommend recitals always be music-optional.

    Another thing is to choose a song that is well-lived-in, which may mean choosing one for the spring recital that she played the previous fall - - or even last summer. Keep it warm after it's completed so she continues to live in it.

    What do you mean by "keep warm"?

    Keeping the song "fresh" for a spring performance between that time and the time when she completed it. I think entirely putting away the song until a month before the recital is not the thing to do, especially with this student. Instead, keep sections on the "active" list. Assign one section - a short section, please - per week for the student to work on: (1) use rhythms; (2) play very slowly; (3) play one hand legato and other staccato; (4) reverse dynamics (piece is marked p; play it f) (5) melody soft and accompaniment loud, etc.) And so on. You want her to do things that "disrupt" previously-learned aspects and physical movements of the piece and, thus, require the student's full attention.

    Ask her to play the entire piece SLOWLY (set a metronome speed!) one time per day, or (better, I think), one time every other day. SLOWLY!! She is -not- performing the piece!

    At her lesson, hear the section she worked on. Again, this should be a small section, such as a phrase or two, not the entire exposition.

    I am having one terrible time getting my students -not- to play on the flats of their hands. I have about five I am working with. Some came from other teachers, and some are mine. I have used "holding the ball" approach and showing them where to be on the white and black keys. I am becoming a nag, but I know hand position is so important. Do you have any ideas for me? I don't want to be real angry with them. I underline reminders on their pages to play on their tips and curve there fingers, etc. When they come back the next week they are no better. Is this a common problem? I would appreciate any advice you can give me.

    This is a very common problem. You don't say how old these children are or how advanced they are. I'm going to assume they're beginners age 12 and under (though this idea is perfectly fine for older students, including adults; you just have to rename it). I have what I call a "piranha song." Also look elsewhere in this file for other questions regarding hand position.

    And, last, never be angry, even if you think they are not trying. "Stern" is ok ("Randy, I don't think you are trying. Or, at least, not trying hard enough. Can you do better?"), but not angry. I think what you are really saying about anger is that you're frustrated!

    I have two questions. (1) After reading through your comprehensive Q&A section on your website, I was unable to find info about repertoire. I have two students who are playing at early advanced (Fur Elise) level. They came from other teachers playing out of the Bastien series. They don't have any standard repertoire behind them, and I'm trying to figure out where to place them. Czerny, Gurlitt, Schumann for the Young? Could you please advise? 2) I also have some transfer students that have been using these series that can play only in position and can't note read. I have gone back to notespellers and flashcards with them. Are there other methods I could try that you know of?

    (1) I think Burgmüller's Op. 100 would be good. Also the Clementi sonatinas. Gurlitt is fine, too, though my students like only a couple of these. Similarly with the Schumann. I find my students have limited interest in the Scenes, but yours might like them just fine!

    (2) I recommend sight-reading. A lot. You probably read my file on teaching sight-reading and which books I use for this.

    You might also use some method books that are not "position"-based. Preface your assigning the students the books by saying that you feel they need "some more experience" (not practice!) reading notes in non-position ways, and you've decided that going back to easier materials will "be much easier" for them to learn because they'll be focusing on only one thing: learning where to put their hands, rather than that in more difficult literature. They know they can't read very well, anyway, and will thank you for doing this.

    I also have a number of articles on teaching notereading listed on my page. I assume this is the material to which you are referring. If not, give this a look.

    I am a piano teacher and I have always taught notation from the beginning. You say that you believe that pre-staff notation can be damaging to children, but you didn't say why. Could you please explain further? (I really cannot believe that Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Bach learned pre-staff notation before note reading - that's what I tell anyone who will listen!).

    When I speak of "pre-notation," I lump together all of it, such notation by pictures of black piano keys, etc., as well as esoteric systems (such as Lo-No-Pla).

    Pre-notation learning is damaging for several reasons.

    1. The kids get used to pictures and then "feel cheated" when they have to go to some other system. And this one is a lot more difficult!
    2. The abstract series of symbols that is music notation is not addressed at the beginning of study, so habits are set which then must be broken later.
    3. What they can play is severely limited by using pictures/etc.

    No, those composers did not! Actually, if you look at some of the early piano "methods" (I'm thinking Czerny, Op. 823, for ex), the "first" pieces are frightfully difficult for a beginner! Notes on leger lines above the treble staff! Both hands in treble clef. Starting with #11, eighth-notes are introduced and things go downhill from there! Ack!

    I have a student who came to me from another teacher and studied exclusively in the Alfred series.  Despite almost four years of study she is unable (or possibly unwilling)to read music note by  note and instead really only functions in the world of "positional playing."  If a piece doesn't have "C position" "G position" etc. written on it she doesn't know how to play it. Obviously, this was a habit a long time in the making and not something we can break in a few weeks of study. I spoke with a couple of piano teachers and they seemed to think the only way to get her to learn was to go back to the basics of note reading, give her simple music and have her learn it note by note without explaining positions. I also used flash cards to help; the result is she can generally tell me the note name but cannot easily find the corresponding note on the keyboard (despite us practicing that with the flash cards).  Unfortunately, when we worked this way she became very discouraged, stopped practicing and pretty much shut down. Well, I gave in and went back to the Alfred to get her interest back, which worked.  She is also very interested in Beethoven, so I have been arranging Fur Elise for her using quarter notes and leaving out all the dynamics, markings, etc.  I have been giving her sections of the piece at a time instead of the entire piece at once; this makes it less overwhelming. I've now got her interest and enthusiasm back because she's dying each week to see the next part of the song, however, I appear to be making very little progress with her general note reading. Do you have suggestions on how I can get her back on track with note reading without boring us both to death?

    Use the flashcards but have her PLAY the note, rather than say the letter name. Knowing the letter name actually isn't all that important - - knowing where the printed  note on the page is on the keyboard is the crux of the matter. In fact, I don't sweat my students' knowing the letter names of the notes on the printed page. This will come as a matter of course. I believe in concentrating on getting the student to know that this particular dot on the page means this particular piano key and no other. One of the wonderful things about playing piano is that the notation is completely "location specific." This dot is this note and no other (let us not talk about octave displacements).

    Mix up the flashcards into a "draw" game. Have her pick 4 from a pile (set up as for Go Fish) and stand them up on the music stand. Have her play the "song" she just picked out. Use cards only for one hand at a time. Use treble clef for RH and bass clef for LH. After she's proficient with 4, go to 6 or 8 (let her choose which). You might also have her play every other card with her nose or her elbow. Or the whole song with her elbow. Or hold a pencil and play with the eraser end. Or hold your hand a play with your extended index finger. Whatever you can do to induce giggles and make it seem like a game. Ask her when she'd like to do hands together (this is several weeks down the road; "Would you like to try hands together?" If yes, she picks four each treble and bass cards. Set up the bass cards on the stand, and you hold the treble ones just above the bass ones so it looks like grand staff notation.

    I agree on the notereading advice your colleagues have given you. You probably have ready my files on how to teach sight-reading. Also a lot of note-reading files, also linked from pedagogy front door.

    You are doing exactly the right thing in writing music in Q notes and making her read – hurrah!

    With new parts of Fur Elise, make her "earn" them. Don't show her where the notes (not even one note!) are on the keyboard. She is motivated to learn this piece, so make her "work" for it. In the end not only will she have learned a wonderful piece of music, but she will have learned that she can play by non-position notation if she tries hard. Follow up immediately with something else cool, such as a boiled-down version of Moonlight Sonata – first theme, say.

    I also think that she's resisting note-reading because she's afraid she might fail. Read my file on teaching gifted kids. There may be some ideas there that you could apply to this problem.

    As to maintaining her interest, ask her what she wants to play (other than Fur Elise) and work on these pieces. Christmas is a great time for this sort of thing, too. Also other holidays (especially Halloween and Valentine's).

    Try some composition. She plays, and you write it down. The next week or so, she plays and SHE writes it down, as much as she can, having your help when she gets stuck. Try to make her find all the notes and you just help with the counting. If it's way too complex, work on a "one hand song," which will require her to make it easier.

    A variant: She writes something simple for you, the "student." You play and she "checks your work" to make sure you are playing the correct notes. Have her write in all quarter-notes so counting is not part of the equation.

    Praise, praise, praise – but make sure she deserves it. It's easy for her to tell when you're just saying "yippee skippee" as a sop.

    Being specific in the praise has more value. Rather than say, "That sounds much better," say something specific, such as "Your wrists looked great just now" or "You sailed right through line 2. You must be reading those notes much better," etc.

    Under no circumstances should you give any indication to her that you are bored or feel this part of re-teaching her is tedious! You already see the dangers of this!

    I have been teaching piano lessons using the Alfred method for about 11 years now. I have many times referred to your website, and in fact, used many of your ideas as models for my studio when I first began teaching years ago. I ran across your site again today while googling for information on how to teach students with cerebral palsey and am wondering if you have any sources that would be helpful to me. My student is 8 years old, very bright, and is gradually progressing. We're using Alfred Prep A and have gone through the black keys, into middle C and C position in 4/4 time. She has not yet approached the next level of learning to read notes on the staff. Currently I'm having her play from the beginning of Alfred 1A in hopes of gaining more on muscle control. I have never taught a student with cerebral palsy and am feeling like there must be more I can do, exercises to suggest, etc. Here's a bit of what's going on. POSITIVES: She has beautiful hand position when using fingers 1, 2, and 3. Her fingers. They lie nicely on all keys when using only those in a song. Also, she understands and executes all musical roadsigns extremely well. Finger 2 used to point upward on both hands, but that isn't happening as much now, as she's really worked hard there. Her rhythm is excellent, and she can sing and play the songs as well. This child has an "I can do it" attitude, practices almost every day for at least 30 minutes, and has a dedicated, excellent coach at home (mom). I know she and her mom would be willing to try any techniqes to improve. CURRENT CHALLENGES ARE: When using 4th and/or 5th finger, the pinky wants to lie next to the 4th finger. She can play a note with 5, but right away it goes back to touching 4. She can play the piece in the correct rhythm, but the 5 hangs out by the 4. I'm also concerned about what we'll do when it comes to playing 2 or more notes simultaneously in one hand. Her physical therapist here has not been supportive, which I find rather disturbing. Since I've never had a student with CP, I'm not sure what issues will arise in the future and how I can help her to the best of my ability. I'd appreciate any advice you might have, as I'm having a tough time finding a mentor in this area and I'm feeling as though I could be doing so much more to help my student.

    First of all, hats off to you. I can think of very few teachers who would take on a student with CP. There are so many physical challenges to overcome. Congratulations! You're a special person.

    As to the finger problem, I wouldn't worry about finger 4 snuggling up with finger 5. She knows what the goal is and she made progress with finger 2, so I see no reason why she can't make progress with this, too. It may never be perfect. Who cares?! Also remember that 4/5 are the last fingers to gain control.

    As to 2-note groups in one hand, don't attempt anything that requires 4/5 plus another finger; edit as needed. Let 2-fingered material be restricted to fingers 1/2/3. Don't worry about multiple-fingers-in-RH music for now.

    You may have to make special material for her. Go on to reading notation. Revise and rewrite and compose as needed. Don't worry about being JS Bach - - who wrote new stuff every week for his choir(s). One piece will need work for 2 or 3 weeks, which is plenty of time to rework or devise something new.

    I am sorry the PT isn't supportive. One would think he/she would be since piano expertise would make the PT job easier! Have you consulted an occupational therapist? These folks are sensitive about how to integrate disabilities and physical skills into "real life" situations, whereas a PT is usually concerned with the physical aspect of muscle movement and cooroination. You are so lucky to have the mom so thoroughly on board. She's a great resource! (Be sure to convey my regards to her.)

    As to a mentor, did you check with local universities? Specifically, talk to OTs and also music therapists. You may need to contact the med school. Try the special education office of your local school district(s) to locate someone who might help you.

    Sounds as though you're doing everything right! Rock on! Follow your instincts to teach this special child! How lucky she is to have you!

    Did Debussy and Ravel use the sostenuto pedal? What about Chopin? Some of their music seems to need it.

    The sostenuto pedal was developed (invented?) by the Steinway company, with the patent granted in 1874. It seems to have been available on American-made pianos. Although European composers probably did not play American-made pianos, it is unlikely they intended the sostenuto pedal to be used. I agree that use of the sostenuto pedal makes things easier (and less muddy) than damper pedal alone, so I use it and teach it this way, giving students the history along with it so they can make the decision themselves.

    What is a Pralltrill?

    Here's what a Pralltrill (plural: Pralltriller) is NOT: an "inverted mordent." An "inverted mordent" is a spurious ornament! (A mordent, which is a true ornament, goes down from the printed note and back up, so the thinking is that an "inverted mordent" goes up and back down to the printed note.)

    Here's what a Pralltrill IS: a normal trill with the preparatory note elongated. That's all! Same as for a trill except that the preparatory note lasts longer.

    As long as we're here, let's discuss a regular trill and compare it to a Pralltrill. First some trill basics.

    A trill is preceded by a preparatory note (sometimes called auxilliary note, but preparatory note is more descriptive). The preparatory note, which is never printed, is a step or a half-step above the note that has the trill sign printed above it (the main note).

    Let us say the main note is C. The preparatory note is D.

    Important: The preparatory note falls ON the beat. That is, it is played in the rhythmic position in which the main note is printed. The preparatory note(s) of ALL trills start on the beat. (So do appoggiaturas, quick appoggiaturas, and acciaccaturas. Those ornaments are topics for another day. As to preparatory note(s), some trills have multiple preparatory notes, and this, too, is a topic for another day.)

    The reason the preparatory note is played on the beat is probably to create a dissonance with the other voices. The dissonance gets the listener's attention and sets up expectations for what comes after. The following resolution sets the listener at ease. Thus the trill serves not only as a decoration, but an "accent" to call the listener's attention to subsequent notes.

    Therefore, a trill is played thus: preparatory note > main note > preparatory note > main note. Repeat the repercussion (preparatory note > main note) as many times as desired and come to rest on the main note. The repercussions, including the preparatory note, usually are played as very quick notes.

    To continue our example: D > C > D > C > D > C.

    A trill may be finished with Nachschläge, if desired and/or if written. (Note: Often Mozart does not write out the Nachschläge but expects the player to know to insert them. Same with Beethoven.)

    Nachschläge are two quick notes that follow the trill ["after hits;" singular: Nachschlag]. They are the same speed as the repercussions of the trill. Note: If you have come to rest on the main note sometime before the duration of the main note has elapsed, the Nachschläge are more obvious.

    Nachschläge usually are played thus: [trill with its preparatory note goes first] > note below the main note > main note > next printed note.

    Normally, the next printed note is below the main note. (Sometimes the Nachschläge lead to an upper note - see the second movement of Clementi's C Major Sonatina, Op. 12 #1, for example; it's clumsy to play, isn't it? - but very seldom.) The note below is commonly a step below.

    To continue our example: D > C > D > C > D > C > B > C > B [probably]. A Pralltrill contains a preparatory and a main note and is played thus: preparatory note > main note > preparatory note > main note. Same as for a regular trill. Normally there no further repercussions, but these may be added, if desired. Nachschläge also may be added; that's what B > C is, above.

    Here's where a Pralltrill is different from a regular trill: the preparatory note is longer. The Pralltrill is played thus: preparatory note elongated > main note > preparatory note > main note, and so on for however many repercussions you want.

    And now the source of the confusion and the origin of the "inverted mordent": the elongation of the preparatory note creates the aural effect of a "main note" and thus not part of the trill. This is because the durations of the notes that form trill repercussions are much quicker. We know that when we hear quick notes moving back and forth between two pitches, we're hearing a trill.

    What we're not used to hearing is the preparatory note's being a longer duration than those of the repercussion notes. The ear hears: main note > preparatory note > main note. This is how the "inverted mordent" was born.

    To play a Pralltrill, give the preparatory note more value and then play the rest of the notes of the trill.

    I discovered a strange ornament today and would like to know what it is. It looks like a trill and a mordent put together: there are several "points," but there is also the vertical stroke like for a mordent. This stroke is printed near the beginning of the trill symbol. What is this, please?

    It must be open season on ornaments!

    Context will determine, but it's doubtless a "long mordent." This means it's a mordent with some extra repercussions.

    Let's say it's a mordent on C (that is, C is the printed note). You'd play: C > B > C.

    If it's a long mordent, you'd play C > B > C > B > C > etc., for however long you'd like. You must end on C, however, as that's the printed note.

    Note that this extended mordent is not the same as a trill, even though it sounds like one. For a trill on C, you'd start on D because it's the note directly above C ("preparatory note"), and trills always start on the upper note.

    Unless it's a mordent - regular or long - in which case it starts on the printed note.

    Remember, there is no such thing as an "inverted mordent." See previous question.

    I have heard of handedness, footedness, and "eye-edness," but I've never seen any tests to determine what a student has. Can you help me?

    Handedness. The first association is which hand the person uses to write. Remember that some people are actually left-handed but write with their right hands, usually because they were forced to a "covert" because it's a right-handed world. Some of the "real lefties" may cut paper or draw with their left hands, even if they write with their right hands. (1) Ask the person to draw or color in a curved shape (such as a heart or circle) about 5" high. (2) Then ask the student to cut out that shape. (3) Ask the student to hold out his arms, palms facing each other. You hold something the size of a ping-pong ball (small enough that it can be held in one hand) halfway between the student's hands. Then you step backwards about 2 steps. Ask the student to take the ping-pong ball from you. In each of these, which hand is used?

    Footedness. (1) Ask the student to climb a couple of stairs or step up on a footstool. (2) Using something larger than the ping-pong ball (such as a tennis ball), roll the ball toward the student and ask her to stop it using only one foot. (3) Ask the student to kick the ball (gently!) toward you. In each of these, which foot did she use?

    Eye-edness. (Love this word!) If the student wears glasses, ask him to put them on, even if he doesn't wearing them while looking at the music desk. (1) Ask the student to make a "spyglass" by cupping his hands into a "tube." Ask him to look through it, as he would a telescope. Which eye did he use? (2) Now ask him to make a circle with thumbs and index fingers of both hands, like a porthole. Ask him to find something and look at it through the circle. Without moving his head or his hands, ask the student to close one eye. Then switch eyes. At either time, did the object "move"? If so, when only one eye was open and the item didn't move, that is the dominant eye. When only the non-dominant eye is open, the object will "move."

    What is the difference between a lute and a buff stop on a harpsichord?

    They're two different things, though some people use them interchangeably, which is incorrect.

    At lute stop refers to an unusual plucking point. Most strings are plucked near the tuning pin. These are where the strings wrap around so pitch can be adjusted. The pins are turned clockwise (to raise the pitch) or counter-clockwise (to lower it). For a lute stop, the plucking point is at a distance from the pin. In fact, it's near the place where the string is attached at the far end of the instrument. This produces a twang-y sound.

    The virginal, contemporaneous with the harpsichord, produces the same sort of raucous sound in the lower notes because the plucking point of strings producing lower pitches is so near the point where the string is attached. Moreover, the row of jacks is placed at a slant so that the lower the note, the twangy-er the sound. The upper notes sound almost exactly like a harpsichord. The lower ones are do not. And this change in timbre occurs gradually as the notes get lower.

    By contrast, the buff stop makes the notes sound gauzy-er, sort of like the una corda pedal. Little pieces of sueded hide are placed on a movable piece of wood that can be shifted so the pieces of hide are in contact with the strings or not in contact. Not in contact produces the usual harpsichord sound.

    So, a lute stop is a plucking point that results in a twang-y sound, and a buff stop is an alteration of the strings' timber by a piece of suede that results in a "dampened" sound.

    I have recently begun teaching piano and have a 10-year-old beginner pupil who I will be teaching for the summer only and who is partially sighted. At present, he is able to read music of the "bigger than usual" size normally used in beginner books, however, in later years it is likely he may have great difficulty in reading any music at all as his eyesight deteriorates. I think it would be very useful to give him a good grounding in notereading but I would also like to focus on ear training and listening skills more than I would normally intend to, in order to give him a good grounding for continuing music in the future. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions regarding ear training exercises that would help build up his "playing by ear" and other listenning skills that would not disadvantage his note reading too much? Having read through the literature on your site I know that you do not normally approve of method books but is there a particular book that you would recommend?

    Since you are teaching only for the summer, yes, I would focus solely on playing by ear. Start with 5-finger songs (such as "Ode to Joy" - by this I mean the Beethoven theme from the Ninth Symphony). There may be some other 5-finger British folk tunes with which, regretably, I amnot familiar. There are some American ones that you might know (but he might not, in which case they're useless as far as playing by ear): "Go, Tell Aunt Rhody," Jingle Bells," "When the Saints Go Marching In," and "Mary Had a Little Lamb."

    Also "Olympic Fanfare" (Arnaud). "Old Woman, Old Woman, Do You Want to Marry Me?" is a folk song (may be English; may be American - don't know) that also fits 5 fingers.

    Then there are many belltower tunes that fit, such as what we Yanks call "Chimes of Westminster." There's another one my students especially like, from the tower of St. Clement Danes (London). My students play these with pedal. There are many other change-ringing pieces, and I'll bet some of them are 5-finger pattern songs.

    Then expand the range with "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," and so on. "God Save the Queen" will extend it a little more. And so on.

    See what you can find from movies. You may be able to find part of movie themes that are simple enough. Sometimes advertisement jingles are sufficiently interesting or engaging.

    As to method books, many people in the States use the Alfred set. You might look at Dénes Agay's "Joy of First Year Piano." This would be my choice if I had to use one.

    I just took on a new piano student, a young man who will be a senior in high school next year and wants to be a music major. He wants to major in Music Education, with his voice as his instrument. He very rightly knew he needed to get a start on the piano ahead of time in order to survive college level piano classes (those classroom piano classes can be brutal!). What I found out after his first lesson is that (1) he knows bits and pieces of music theory (major/minor/diminished/augmented, how to find the key of a piece, triad inversions, and other random things); (2)can sort of play some piano stuff by ear (I had him demonstrate what he could do - sounded a bit like something Yanni would do. With bad fingering of course); (3)reads only treble clef - with hesitation - and very little bass clef; and (4) has shaky rhythm. Everything he knows about music he learned at school - no previous private lessons on anything. Where on earth does one start this boy?! I don't feel he is ready to be a music major. I would never discourage him, but I fear his preparation is so scant that he won't be able to handle it. I want to fill in the theory gaps, get him started on piano techniques he will encounter as an Ed major (classroom piano accompaniment and harmony, etc.), and have him playing simple pieces (which is his main desire, also). How do I go about getting him started??!! (Some info about me: I was a Music Education major, studying piano privately for 20 years now, and have been teaching privately for a few years, but I have never had a case like this!) Thanks for any help you can give!

    The most important thing is attitude. He has to know you have faith in his ability to bring himself up to qualifying for music major status, and you salute him for his goal. "Not many kids" would want to focus on music in this way and be willing to start working at it with such a small amount of time until college study begins.

    He has to devote himself to piano study, perhaps at the expense of hanging out with friends as much as he has, etc. He has to understand that since he is starting at "a great deficit" (not "so far behind" = otherwise seems like such a mountain to climb that it will discourage him). You focus on your sure knowledge that he can meet his challenge.

    Keep close tabs (maybe even thru email during the week) to see how he is doing as far as complete understanding, too many/few pieces, etc. You want to keep him challenged but not overwhelmed.

    You have to tell him that you're going to teach him with an eye toward his proposed voice major (music ed). Tell him that you understand what's going to be needed to pass piano proficiency and want to address his study with you in that way. It may seem out of order compared to what he envisions piano study to be, but you two must be as efficient as possible to get him to his goal.

    Have him bring you the college class schedule book that lists requirements for the degree. Talk about where you think he is, relative to these criteria. Talk about how much of the curriculum is going to consist of hard-core piano study and what will be required of him out of his piano classes. (Group, I'm guessing, so it's a good thing he's coming to you now!)

    Make a list (to show to him and also to organize your teaching plan) to show general areas and then broken into smaller pieces. Go over this list with him and fill in what he's competent in; or his level of competence, as you see it now.


    music reading
    -treble clef
    -bass clef
    -rhythm [try some clapping etc; you know the kind of stuff he will likely encounter in class, as well as in the elementary school music literature]
    -articulation (altho accents don't figure very prominently in vocal music!!) [and so on]

    music theory
    -triads; 7th chords << focus a LOT here
    - I IV V I cadences
    [and so on]

    sight-reading << focus a LOT here
    [fill in]
    [you won't have time to address sight-singing; let his college teacher take care of this; he may not even have any trouble with this]

    music history and vocal styles
    [fill in]

    -basics of fingering (you may want to point him toward my Two Commandments of Fingering
    - if you agree with the philosophy, that is!)
    -scales (alas, he's going to have to present these tho it's a stupid requirement.......)
    [fill in]
    [I'd also give him some dexterity stuff, such as Hanon or Schmitt; he doesn't need the full-on piano major routine; just enough to get him by to warm up his hands when he practices]

    The reason you want to focus on sight-reading and triads is to he can take stuff he'll encounter in the classroom and know how to convert it to something he can play ("fake it") with minimum effort and as little reliance on reading the printed arrangement as possible. As you know, a lot of classroom music is written as melody + chords, anyway, so he'll have to address how to translate this to something he can do in the classroom.

    I looked on your website to see if I could find anything about slurs.....but must have missed it. I have a request to talk about teaching the different kinds of slurs. How many are there? Only ones I can think of are the regular phrase slurs, the 2-note slurs (with empasis on the first or second note, depending on music), and the slurs over staccati. Do you know of any other kinds?

    You've pretty much covered the waterfront, I think.

    1. Two-note slurs

    These are what I call "grannies" - second to be played softer than the first, as you note: accented and unaccented endings (in my day called masculine and feminine). I tell my students not to "kick granny" (who would go up and kick his/her grandmother, for petessake?) when they play the second one louder. In fact, the word granny exemplifies in itself the accent/non-accent concept.

    2. Regular slurs meant to elide multiple notes into a phrase

    Note: Mozart sometimes slurs in one-measure groups. Does he mean one-measure phrases (such as Chopin does in his "Funeral" prelude)? No. He means legato but with the last notes softer than the first (rather like a small accent or a prolonged granny). In general, a musical interpretation of this oddity in Mozart's notation will occur naturally as a matter of course because of the performer's musicianship. Sometimes these three- and four-note slurs indicate finger pedal of the first note, though I find this not a satisfactory musical effect so I never use it.

    3. Slurs over staccato dots

    This indicates portato; it's not a slur, per-se. I teach portato as half sound/half rest. If it's a group of four quarter-notes under a portato slur, it's performed as four eighth-notes, each followed by an eighth-note rest; sort of like stepping in gum on a hot day and lifting your foot, only to find the gum stringing from your shoesole to the pavement.

    Beethoven sometimes uses this notation for portato, but sometimes he indicates it with staccato dots on the notes [tearing out hair!]. See middle movement of "Pathétique".

    4. And then there's Chopin (and Clementi and Kuhlau), who sometimes (too often for my taste!) shows a phrase both beginning and ending on the same note [bald by this time!].

    What (if any) tempi do you have students use when they begin using Schmitt's Preparatory Exercises? How fast should students eventually be able to play these exercises?

    It depends on the age of the student. In my studio, there is seldom a student who is younger than 5th grade who embarks on these exercises, and that is a rare case. Usually, they are in middle school. Older children have better small-muscle coordination. Also, it depends on general dexterity. My older adult students (or even younger ones or children) sometimes reach a "wall." We just drop that one and go on to the next without guilt. The exercises generally end up about 152, but I don't worry about speed. I'm looking for finger control. I want to look at the student's hands and see that they "look confident."

    I have been studying piano privately for many years, and have reached a fairly respectable level of ability (I'm still taking lessons). When I went to college, I did not major in music, and instead went down another path that led to a master's degree in a scientific field. Almost 2 years ago, when I was 25, I realized my mistake, and decided that I should instead pursue a career in music. Piano teaching seemed a logical goal, given my skill in the instrument, my interest in piano practice technique, and my experience teaching (college students) in my other field. At that point, observing that my general musical background was somewhat limited, I talked to some music professors and obtained a reading list of music theory, history, and ear training textbooks, and worked diligently through those on my own. I have also been reading on piano pedagogy. I have a couple questions. (1) You say that beginning teachers should not teach beginners. It seems plausible that beginning teachers would not know enough to be ideal teachers for beginners, but how can you say they will cause damage? I would guess that an inexperienced but dedicated teacher would be better than an experienced but lousy teacher. Also, does the prohibition against teaching beginners apply to teaching adult beginners as well? (2) How much of a better teacher would getting an undergraduate degree in music make me? I'm pretty sure I have studied an undergraduate degree's worth of academic material. As far as performance, I take lessons, sing in choirs, accompany choirs and soloists, and play chamber music. I find it hard to justify the expense and time of another college degree. (3) Is there any other advice you could offer me?

    (1) Because they haven't encountered the recurring problems that beset beginning students and will be fumbling around to find solutions, inadvertently but inevitably using these students as guinea pigs as they learn how to teach. We all start at this point!

    For example, what's the best way to teach notereading? This is a biggie! Eighth-notes? Another biggie.

    The student's first piano teacher is the most lasting influence. Even if a terrible first teacher's errors are overcome later with good/great teachers, there is still that lasting foundation laid by the first teacher. You are quite correct that an experienced lousy teacher is easily eclipsed by a good but inexperienced teacher. Still and all, I advise you to start with intermediates.

    (2) I definitely would not fiddle around with a pedagogy degree! My advice is to offer yourself as a degreed teacher in ___ with a wide variety of music activities over the course of many years. Here's also what you must do: study with someone. You then can present yourself as continuing to perfect preparation and credentials. Is there a local music teachers' group? Join it. You'll pick up some teaching tips that are unique to piano pedagogy. And kids. (I am assuming you have taught young adults and older adults.) You also can point to this professional activity.

    (3) There's a lot of info here on this site. I suppose you have read the pedagogy articles, already. And there's a lot more info in this QA file. It sounds as though you have read through this pretty thoroughly, however.

    I think what you want to know is: (1) Is it ok for me to teach without a degree? Yes, it is. (2) Is it ok for me to teach beginners? I would advise you to start with intermediates, but if beginners present themselves, teach them and do your very best to keep innovating until you find what works. Don't rely on plugging in your students to a method series. It sounds as though you are not the type to do this, however! (You have probably read my files about beginning adults. There are fragile ego problems there, as well as fear their lack of consistent practice means they are wasting your time.)

    One of my students forgets his assignment book. Sometimes it is several weeks between times I see it. One of the reasons I have my students use assignment pads (as opposed to writing the date in the piece of music) is for me to remember what he is studying, plus what specifics I asked him to address in the coming week (so I can check how he's doing on those). I'm very embarrassed about saying, "What did I assign last week?" Is there a more subtle way of getting this information when he shows up (again) without the book?

    I come across this, too. I keep a little tablet in the piano bench and use it when the assignment book is under the sofa, behind the piano, etc. I had my printer make them for me. There's a Wagnerian opera singer at the top, and it says "If you forget your assignment book next week, I'll sing." This is sufficient motivation most of the time....)

    If the assignment book and the sheet from the tablet both have gone wandering, the next week, I say, "What did you focus on this week?"

    At the third consecutive absence, call the parents and ask if they have seen it and would they kindly make sure Joey brings it next time?

    How does one play portamento on the piano?

    Portamento (from Latin: portare = "to carry") is a "carrying of a note smoothly" from one pitch to another. This "slide" is possible to a limited extent on brass (trombone, in particular) and wind instruments (the opening clarinet run in Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" is an example). String instruments, electric guitars (using the bender bar), and the voice are particularly suited to portamento articulation.

    Portamento is not possible on a piano. Using the word portamento for piano music is an error.

    The piano term is portato and is a different thing. Portato and portamento share only the first three letters of their names. Otherwise, they differ not only in execution, but in instruments (as noted above).

    Portato is an articulation halfway between staccato and legato. As a starting point, give each note under the slur half its value and insert a rest of the other half-value. The movement of the hand is rather the same effect as lifting your foot after having stepped in gum stuck to a hot sidewalk.

    Mozart, Hayden, Clementi, and Chopin use a slur mark over notes that have staccato dots, which is the common convention.

    Beethoven indicates portato with staccato dots only (wedges are his indication for staccato, a point of confusion).

    Do not use portato in the keyboard music of Bach. Bach did not write for the piano. Portato in Bach's works is restricted to strings.

    Why are bi-weekly lessons a bad idea?

    Financially, you will be adversely affected. See this file.

    Pedagogically, your students will be. See the answer to a question about having a father and son studying at the same lesson. When your students are affected pedagogically, then you'll be affected again, financially.

    I am a private piano teacher, teaching lessons from my home. My problem that has been happening quite a lot is the fact that the parents insist on sitting behind me at the lesson and watching everything we do. Their theory is that they can learn along with their child and therefore help them practice. My theory is that the parent should not be present at the piano lesson and it should be just me and the student. I took piano lessons for 17 years and every lesson, my mother either dropped me off and picked me up in a half hour, or she sat out in the car and read a book. I even have a place on the other side of my living room where the parents can sit, but I don’t even like doing that. Can you help me find a way to persuade the parent to stay out of the lesson?

    Bottom line (and then I'll discuss). (1) I think it is a mistake to not allow parental presence at the lesson. The parent is a great asset at home. (2) You put in the studio policy that only you and the student are to be present during the lesson.

    Let me comment first on why I think the parent wants to stay and observe. It's not because the parent fears what might happen to the child if he were left alone with you!

    The parent wants to maximize learning for his child to justify the tuition he is paying. In order to help the child at home, the parent realizes - - and rightly so - - that he will be able to help the child better if he understands exactly what the teacher wants and can repeat the techniques the teacher used to introduce the song. (This makes your life easier!)

    I encourage parental attendance! I want that parent at the lesson to see how we are working on a new song; hear what sections need extra attention and how I want the student to do that at home; be a party to any smart-mouth or other unacceptable behavior; see how to play the games - - most kids want their parents to join us on the floor, too!

    I have had several parents who wanted to attend lessons specifically to "learn, too," and this has presented no problems. In fact, in a number of cases, the parents became students, too! That meant I also could write duets for them! Fun!

    Seeing the parent practice helps the student to understand the importance of playing the piano daily at home. It also reinforces that piano playing is cool thing to do.

    As to inducing the parent to leave, if this is a student who has been with you since before you would add this plank to your policy, you can get the result you want by "selling" the idea as something that will benefit the parent and/or the child. "Mrs. Jones, Raleigh concentrates better when it's just the two of us" or "Feel free to take advantage of this half-hour to run an errand or go for a walk. Raleigh and I will be perfectly fine here, so use this time to do something for you!"

    I have a parent who sits in on the lesson but can't keep quiet. He always has something to say to the child - - usually a correction. This not only breaks the child's concentration, but it annoys him. I feel as though the parent is disrespecting me and indicating that he does not feel I am doing a good job.

    You are right to be aggravated by this parent's rude behavior. It may or may not have negative intent. The likelihood, however, is that the parent wants to have the child play as well as possible and thus feels a need to "help" him. Remember: if the parent were unhappy with you, he would withdraw his child from your studio.

    The obvious solution is to disallow parental attendance at lessons (see previous question). As noted in the previous answer, I encourage parental attendance.

    Only a couple of times have I had a parent who observes the lesson intrude on it with comments that I have not solicited - - the situation you have.

    I handle it by presenting the behavior I want as a benefit to the parent. I say something like, "Mr. Suggs, it would be better for Amy's concentration if you would withhold your comments during the lesson. I do want to hear what you have to say, however, so may I call you this evening so we can discuss your concerns?" Notice how I did not brush aside what he had to say or even that he wanted to say something.

    Try this the next time the parent begins to insert comments.

    I have been teaching piano for 15 years and have taken students through piano exams in theory and practical. All my students have received A's (only 1 received a B but thought she knew better than I did). I do not have a music degree, however, I have studied piano and theory privately over the years with some excellent teachers and attended seminars and professional development workshops with the local teaching and examining bodies here in Australia. Do you think I need to study for a music degree – either general or pedagogy? I did try a certificate course with a teacher, but I got very frustrated as it was too rigid and I have been used to teaching to the student and never use lesson plans. Sometimes questions come up or problems arise that need to be addressed straight away rather than sticking to a rigid plan, i.e. "we are now going to introduce G Major scale," despite the fact that they neglected to practice C Major as assigned.

    You will be surprised to hear that I think you probably don't need to! (I know. Peel yourself off the floor!)

    Nevertheless, I advise you to continue an active participation in teacher development: seminars, conventions, workshops, etc. What you are doing now.

    Should you "be more organized" and use lesson plans? I don’t because I have found, in my experience, that it has been a waste of time. The lesson nearly always departs from my original idea when I sit down with the student. Also I don’t always use books to teach a concept, sometimes I use ‘manipulatives’. For example, a grand staff puzzle board which the child (young beginner) has to put together, or I use a game on the floor for rhythms.

    As noted, I do not make lesson plans, either. I have in my mind what's needed next for all my students, and if I forget a detail, I have written it down in my student's assignment pad. I write what the student needs to do in such a way as to remind me if it's something unusual. If I need to make a specific aide-memoire to myself, I write it in the corner and put a star by it, telling the student to ignore this and that it's just a note to me.

    I like manipulatives and games, too, especially in lieu of flashcards! The puzzle sounds perfect for little ones who are still learning small muscle control. Clever of you!

    Note: If you haven't raised your rates recently, consider it. You sound like a fabulous teacher!

    An advanced student is about to start lessons. She is technically skilled; notes/counting/dynamics/etc. all fine, of course; musical in all aspects of playing. I took her on because I desperately need the income, but now I'm having second thoughts! Maybe I bit off more than I can chew! What do I teach this woman? Thanks!

    Lucky you to have a student with whom you can explore difficult literature! (I am assuming –you- have the chops to play the music you and she would be playing.)

    Reassess her technical skills.

    Look at the breadth of her literature.

    Theory, Form, and Analysis

    Improvisation, Jazz, and Blues


    A crucial note: Do NOT try to teach this student if you cannot play the literature yourself!

    I seem to have a management issue with students who do not want to learn note reading and correct technique. I have a hard time making them do things they don't want to do. These students are in their gifted programs at school. Their parents tell me they don't act out at school or at home, but these kids constantly act out and challenge me! I make the activities into games, reward them for success, change the activity, have parents sit in on lessons, etc. "Rule charts" sometimes help, but it seems students always find a loophole! In the end, their technique is sloppy, and I am offended by their rude behaviors. Do I simply need to "toughen up"? I am an enthusiastic and creative teacher, but I am being beaten down by these students who "blame" me when I ask them to do something they don't want to do. Please help!

    Oh, boy! I feel your pain! Some gifted kids can be so arrogant! I am not surprised about searching for loopholes, either. Their creativity and analytical skills are two of the reasons why they're in the gifted program!

    How do rule charts work with students who have not been identified by the schools as "gifted"? Do other children respond in the way you hope? Maybe having a rule chart is seen by these gifted kids as a puzzle to be solved, as well as a philosophical disagreement!

    My guess is these kids act out in other ways than at their piano lessons, but the parent (1) is oblivious; (2) doesn't want to acknowledge to themselves - - much less mention to you - - anything about bad conduct or bad manners because this behavior condemns them as "bad parents." By relegating this acting out only to the piano takes the responsibility off them!

    As you know, gifted children can be very stubborn. It could be that the parents are just tired of the hassle and constant combativeness and opposition. Or, they never took charge of the household in the first place, acting like friends rather than parents because being friends is easier: let the child decide.

    Your current strategies of games, parental attendance, etc. are all good choices and should pay off in the long term.

    As to technique:

    Now, the rudeness disturbs me.

    The next time: In a very stern voice and not smiling or in any way having your body language indicate anything but great displeasure, say, "That is rude. I will not let you speak to me that way. I am your teacher, and I am a grown-up. Children do not treat teachers and grown-ups rudely. I expect an apology." Then wait. Look the kid in the eye this whole time. After 30 seconds of silence (they will test you by refusing to respond in any fashion): "I am waiting." After another 30, during which the child has undoubtedly averted his eyes if he didn't initially: "Look at me in the eyeballs and tell me what I said to you." They summarize. "I am waiting for an apology from you." Eventually, they will come across. Don't give in or you lose the war; this is a new technique you are going to use; you are not going to be your wishy-washy old self and let them walk all over you. Keep looking at their eyeballs - - straight at their eyeballs, not somewhere in the vicinity of them. After the apology is issued, move on in a cheerful voice to something else. Don't rub it in. The child has bowed to your demand; let him save some face.

    How does the child interact with the parent when the parent is there? It's been my experience that children who are rude to me are also rude to their parents. Mothers seem to receive a disproportionate amount of disrespect, particularly in some cultures where women are not held in equal esteem. Sons mirror behavior of other males in the family, especially the father, older siblings, uncles, etc.

    I never miss a chance to acquaint a child with his or her rude behavior to parents, particularly rote disrespect to a mother by a boy. (In some cultures, I have noticed in my students, this disregard for women is common or even standard behavior by the men in the family; thus is seeps down to the boys, who do not question it.) To the child, I say: "I never want to hear you speak to your mother that way again! That is a terrible thing to do! I am really surprised by your behavior! Your mother loves you more than any person in the whole, wide world! No one will ever love you the way she does. You are NOT to treat her like that. I won't let you behave that way in my studio. Do you understand?" The child is flabbergasted but manages to nod. "Good. Go give your mother a hug and tell her you're sorry and that you love her." Meanwhile, the mother's eyes are as wide as dinner plates, showing her incredulity that anyone would come to her defense! "I'm proud of you for saying you are sorry. Good job! Now, let's try that new game."

    One of my students (age 8) has a younger sister (age 3 1/2). His mother approached me to say the little girl has her heart set on playing on the spring recital. She has "written" a song "already." In fact, I heard "part" of it at her brother's last lesson. Her "song" was a meandering concoction of random notes. I am sure you can imagine what it sounded like! After 90 seconds, to cut her off, I put my hand on her shoulder and thanked her for playing for me. I want to encourage her to play, of course, but her "song" would be a radical departure in quality from my other students' playing. And I dread that it might go on and on and on at the recital! How do I solve this problem? Understandably, the brother is not too fond of the idea of his sister playing on "his" recital. I want to encourage the girl, and, it seems, I need to humor the mother. I hope the girl will become my student soon, so I have to be delicate about all this. Help!

    First of all, you did the perfect thing when you stopped her performance with a compliment.

    Second, you obviously have done such a good job with the brother that the mother is seems to be considering lessons for the girl. AND the girl sees her brother having such fun that she wants to play piano, too!

    Yay, you!

    Now to the problem. I think rather than having her play her "Sleeping Beauty Song," offer a structured piece instead. A duet is perfect! A couple of ideas.

    A marvelous gem I pull out often and recast in many ways is Dénes Agay's "Mysterious Procession" (from The Joy of First Year Piano). In your situation, the boy would play the left hand part (melody), and the girl would play the right hand part (nothing but quarter-note E).

    First, you must "sell" this idea to your student. What's in it for him to have his bratty sister trying to horn in on his performance and chance to bask in adulation? This is a wonderful opportunity to "be the big brother." He "will have to be in charge" because his sister "will need a lot of help." (It is an appealing idea to be the boss!) He will have to pay attention to his sister, however, and "help her if she gets lost. That's what being a big brother means." His parents (and grandparents?) sand you will be so proud of him for helping his sister play. And so forth.

    Then, you sell it to the little girl. Instead of her beautiful song, you have decided that playing a duet with her brother will be even more fun! Mommy and Daddy will be so happy and proud to see them playing a song together. You have chosen a song that everybody loves, and she will, too! It will be "so fun" to play it with her brother. And, has she chosen a recital dress?

    Presumably, the mother has already bought in to the idea of a structured piece. (Who knows? She might have been secretly worrying over what would happen if the little girl played and played and played - - how could she get the child to stop? - - and thus falls upon your idea as a gift.) Mention brother/sister cooperation. Say how proud you are that the son is willing to mentor his sister. Mainly, however, it will be a new and sizeable challenge for him: to play his part, shepherd his sister, and keep the entire piece together musically. And, are the grandparents coming?

    In general, a duet is the way to go when there is minimal skill to work with at recital time. I am also a big fan of Diabelli's duets, Op. 149. You might be able to find my edition of my favorites - - chosen for ease and impact - - in your music store.

    Now, then, as to "Mysterious Procession":

    Note: This piece is wonderful if you have a student with only one or two lessons under the belt before recital time. Imagine how thrilled the student will be to be able to perform - and hands together! - after such a few number of lessons. (Parents, too. And they'll marvel at your ability to bring their child to recital readiness in a matter of days!)

    Another option is "Mary Had a Little Lamb," with the melody consisting of only three notes. Not the usual five, as the little girl probably will not have the coordination yet to use her 4th and 5th fingers.

    I have used both of these songs successfully with a number of younger siblings who want to play. (Sometimes I suggest it to the parents, demonstrating that their younger one is ready to play and wants to play!)

    Another time I used this technique was with a student whose sister had Down Syndrome; it was such a blessing to see them playing the duet and witness the caring attitude the brother had for his older sister. He sometimes had to stabilize her finger at the joint so she was able to press down the note. Or actually press her finger down. It brought out something very special and tender in him. The girl was thrilled beyond telling to be in the limelight. (The parents were in tears.)

    Incidentally, if you want to encourage a family to consider (or take action on) another child's beginning study, suggesting a recital performance can be a very effective promotional tool.

    I have a transfer student who came to me not reading well at all. Her previous teacher taught her using the "position" method. (Don't get me started on this!) It just drives me crazy every time she automatically slaps her hands in Middle C position for every single piece of music I give her. She then asks me if she is in the correct place on the keyboard - knowing well that none of what I give her is in a "position" and that she must figure out the starting note by reading, not playing in a position. We have worked and worked and worked on this. Please help!

    Maybe make a game out of it: finding the starting note of a lot of pieces she isn't going to play. Just finding the starting note on the keyboard. You could use any piece of music (Bach, etc.), as long as it's a starting note she should know how to read. Be sure to cover treble and bass clefs equally.

    I have a problem student. Don't we all?! This child's mother e-mailed yesterday, saying she was playing at the neighbor's over the weekend and fractured her arm. (I don't know whether it's in a cast or not.) Two problems: I don't want her to get behind because she is a problem, anyway. I also need to keep her tuition flow in place. Trying schedule a whole bunch of make-up lessons is a very unpleasant prospect, as is waiting for payment until the lesson is taken. What do you suggest?

    I have had this happen several times. You call the mother and have a conversation that goes roughtly like this:

    "Oh, I am so sorry to hear about Jenny's wrist. How is she doing?....I see. Yes, that cast will have an impact on her piano playing, but we can work around it. I have had this problem several times over the years I've been teaching, as you can imagine, and there is a silver lining in her situation....Yes, truly, there is. One is that we can work with her other hand; I like duets for this: she plays with one hand and I fill in the other part. This will really let her focus on note-reading in one clef. When her other hand is better, we will give equal attention to the other hand. Dividing focus will really help her reading. Of course, this is also an ideal time for working on things we don't have time for in a normal lesson, such as theory and composition. She expressed interest to me several weeks ago about making up her own song. Are her fingers sticking out of the end of the cast?....That's a plus. What does the doctor say about using her fingers?....Fine, then. We can start playing a few notes with that hand in two weeks. Playing will keep her fingers flexible and help minimize loss of muscle tone, even though she will not have normal mobility. I will touch base with you every week after her lesson, if you like....Absolutely. It's no trouble. I care about her and her progress. She will lose so much ground if she stops piano for six weeks."

    Have you considered requiring payment for the month at the beginning of the month?

    I have some students (one family) who refuse to learn anything outside of the method book. They find the supplemental music harder than the method book songs. They practice very little, if at all. Their parents have told them they are allowed to quit taking lessons when they can sight-read hymns from their church hymn book. The parents don't realize how long it can take to achieve this. (The parents don't monitor their child's practice, so how can they know of any improvement? Sigh.) I want so much for them to learn something they are excited about. I occasionally give them a "required piece" that I think they will enjoy, but it is usually not practiced and we will struggle through it for months until I relent and allow them to "put it away for a while." Argh!! I am pulling out my hair! Kids don't decide when to quit piano study!! It's clear these parents do not want to step up to the plate and announce what's going to happen. So, they force their kids to decide. Argh….. It's getting so that I dread their lessons!

    Ah…lazy kids who know how to browbeat their parents and lazy parents! Charming combination!

    As to the hymns: As we both know, hymns are difficult to play. Very detailed. Sometimes tenths in the left hand, which requires some juggling of notes. Sometimes in more advanced keys. I'm thinking these parents are thinking praise songs, rather than traditioanl hymns from a real hymnal. Could this be? (In praise songs, the organist or pianist will have the "big book" of full arrangements with written-out left hand/accompaniment. The congregation sings from a condensed volume giving melody and text only.)

    Let’s try this.

    Instead of giving them a song from the supplemental book, present them with a piece of "sheet music." Write out a song (perhaps from a supplemental book?!) in your own hand notation so they won't know where it came from. When you write out the piece, you have the option of making revisions (simplifying, adding, revising so something learned in a previous song can be plugged into this one, etc.).

    I suggest that you enlist the parents' help. "I am giving them a song that isn't in any of their books. I just wanted to let you know that, in case you hear them playing something unfamiliar." You might ask them to "check in" with each child to look at the song "that's not in the method book." Add, "If they have questions, will you please help them [to the best of your ability - assuming they are minimally-competent musicians]?"

    You might also consider setting the song with notation software so it "looks pretty." I use and curse at Finale. I have students who like Sibelius. I understand there are some free notation programs available on the Internet, where you work in the cloud. I don't know anything about them, however, they might be worth investigating. I understand one is free; others seem to be subscription-based. Also look at "less powerful" versions of Finale (and maybe Sibelius; I'm not very familiar with it). If you don't need notation elements that you create but only want to do a piano score in standard notation, one of these cheaper versions might be all you need. Finale even has a free program called NotePad, and this might take care of your needs. If you decide to buy Finale, Sibelius, or some other "professional-level" notation software, be sure to ask for the educator's discount, even if you are buying a scaled-back version! Back in the days of Finale 1.0 (1988 - I date myself!), I paid over $900 for the program - - and that was with my educator's discount!

    Another idea might be to write a duet for the kids. Let them pick the song. Maybe a hymn/praise song. Choose one with a tessitura you know will be accessible. You might get only a couple of measures written at each lesson, but use the time to help them learn the piece. Save the scratch copy for yourself and hand-write a clean copy for them at the lesson. (Yes, use lesson time for this.) By keeping the original, you retain a copy and don't have to rely on their not losing it! If you are going to use notation software, I suggest that you make a good copy of the past week's venture in time for the next lesson. This you will have to do outside the lesson, of course.

    In this case, you say to the parents, "We're going to do some duets. They will choose the song, and I will write it specifically for them. I'd like for you and your wife to ask them to play it for you at home each week. The attention and praise will really inspire them."

    Also consider resetting easier songs in supplemental books as duets. Maybe a level below their method book? This might solve the "too hard" problem.

    Perhaps the kids would like to write their own songs. They might be reluctant, initially. You can address this by asking them to recite a poem; you will make up the tune. Another way is to make "flash cards" of single notes on a staff. Have the child pick a time signature. The child then chooses (or picks one from a pile that are turned face-down) the card. To this note, the child assigns a value; or the child draws a card from a second deck that has note values on the cards; if the value is "too big," the child must draw again until a useable value appears. As you can see, the child will have to keep track of the math in each measure. After you have the song written down, you play it for the child. (If you keep it very simple, the child can sight-read it himself.) Engage the student in polishing the piece. "Are there any changes you'd like? Maybe change some notes? Or some counts? Maybe add staccato notes or accents?"

    Maybe there is a reading difficulty? I'm wondering if that might be part of the problem of not practicing. Kids are pretty reluctant to admit they're having problems reading, especially if they've been playing for several years. They will say they hate that song or act bored or be uncooperative as a cover for note-reading difficulties. See my pedagogy page for a number of files concerning teaching notereading.

    Speaking of which, have you considered doing a dedicated sight-reading component to their study? The beauty here is that they "are allowed" to play the "only one time a day." Assign, say, 4 songs per week. The benefit for them is that you can make sure there are no reading difficulties. Choose music that is at least two levels below their method book level. (Perhaps out of the supplemental books?!) Again, alert the parents to what you're doing. Maybe telling them in detail about facets of the assignmnet will create more involvement in the children's lessons.

    If none of this works, schlog along until you can't take it anymore. Then dismiss the students. You needn't punish yourself by letting guilt and doubt mire you! Sometimes laziness can triumph over all we efforts we make to "save" the student...but we keep trying, don't we? That's what teachers do.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    copyright 1996-2014 Martha Beth Lewis, Ph.D.
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    Last updated July 31, 2014.

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