Students practice when they feel successful and they are engaged by the music they play.
There are three elements to successful piano playing:
Reading We start using note flashcards in C position from the very first lesson. The method books we use give students long enough time on a single hand position so that they develop finger memory- the same way that typing is taught- with home keys. Only after a student is secure in one position do we move to the next. A typical 7 year old beginner learns 29 notes with a 3 second response time in 4 months. If students come to us without this background, we review it before proceeding on. Instant note recognition greatly improves learning speed of new pieces
Technique: Physical comfort is something that is trickier to develop, and not all teachers have the background to understand it. I developed a great deal of discomfort in my early years of playing and had to go through extensive retraining of my body. In my efforts to solve my own problems I was exposed to some of the greatest piano teachers in the North America. I can now build a students ability step-by-step from the ground up and greatly increase their learning speed. I recently had a student come to me who had taken two years of lessons. He played at a grade 1.5 level, and was 10 years old. In two years, by focusing on correct finger usage and relaxed arms, he was able to prepare a complete grade 5 program for festival, including a piano concerto. I had another student who was 11 years old, and played at a grade 2 level. Again by teaching him how to use his hands easily he rocketed forward 2 grades in one year, without stress or pressure.
We do still do some scales- but in a mindful way. Because scales are simple patterns which provides an opportunity to think carefully about how the fingers strike the keys, how the arm moves behind the hand, and how the thumb works. A small amount of thoughtful work pays big dividends when those ideas are then applied to pieces.
Practice process is also important. We teach students to find the various patterns , and repeating sections of a piece. These are carefully learnt before the student is sent home so that they are largely responsible for only reinforcing what has been taught . After one part of a piece is learnt, we ten analyse and learn the next section. This is a much more efficient approach that a mindless 30 minutes of practicing with a kitchen timer!! Then when the work comes back, we analyse the challenges and using what we know about the hand, eliminate the tricky technical challenges. This may involve some drill, but again this is done at the lesson so that home work is reinforcement. In this way students can progress easily and home practice is enjoyable.
What else do we do?
Does everyone have to take exams or play in recitals?
No. While students are encouraged to take exams (or recitals) , they are not requires to. Most students benefit from exam, but occasionally they are not appropriate for a given student. This is respected. Many students receive marks in the First Class Honors range, and a few First Class Honors with Distinction. A few have taken the top mark in the province (RCM Silver Medals), and VCM provincial awards. Music Festival presents other performing opportunities and each year several students take part. In 2019, one (online) student was a finalist in the Manitoba Provincial Finals. RCM exams provide a solid, independant measure of student progress and respected internationally and also by post-secondary institutions. The demands are real, but we thoroughly prepare students. RCM exams are accepted for school credit which is helpful in keeping busy high school students in music. Having said that, there are other elements to piano that they do not cover: Concertos (piano and orchestra ot two piano works) duets,keyboard ensembles, popular music, improvisation and composition. These activities are great fun, and valid musical learnong so we believe students should have the opportunity to experience then, so we recommend exams only every second year.
We use Royal Conservatory theory workbooks, but also theory board games and computer games. We teach both preliminary and advanced theory, with our students consistently scoring high marks on their exams.
Our students currently have access to online subscriptions and we are adding more for senior students.
As students mature they sometimes want to play more popular styles. We use Connections, Conservatory Canada, and WunderKeys Rock and Celtic repertoire books which teach different styles, but also improvisation and working with lead sheets. In the Fall of 2019 we are also adding the option of the Play Piano Chords Today program which teaches jazz improvisation. Younger students can play from Hal Leonard, Alfred or Christopher Norton books of popular music which have inspiring back tracks Students are also encouraged to bring in their own music.
Computer Assisted Learning NEW
We are also adding Piano Maestro and Piano Marvel to our list of online subscriptions. These programs are like having your our practice assistant at home. Students can connect their keyboards- or in the case of acoustic instruments have the computer listen to practicing and receive real time feedback with their practicing. THIS IS VERY HELPFUL FOR BUSY PARENTS.
Feel free to enjoy the various videos on the website, and contact me for a free lesson.