Ear training

As known, piano study requires an integrated development of skills. One of the very important elements of this development is ear training/playing by ear. Ideally piano lessons should begin with ear training activities and take main place in curriculum up until note staff is introduced later on. Unfortunately ear training is often being neglected by many piano teachers in favor of note reading.

Dear teachers, please don’t present music notation to your students on the first piano lesson. There is a better way to introduce a student to music – though singing simple songs with words. Remember, voice is our first instrument, use it! Here is how it can be done.

Piano teacher chooses a very simple, familiar to every child song and sings it together with the student. They can sing it a few times, just add a rhythm clapping to it.

Tip: Once names of the notes have been introduced (solfege, not ABC!), a student can sing a song with solfege instead of words. Solfege syllables are known to help ears to connect with a pitch more easily. In the result of this approach a student will have a very good perception of a pitch, even before he learns to read notes as written symbols!

Afterward, they need to discuss how sounds in the song were acting – moving up or down, taking steps or skips, etc.

Tip: At this point the Kodaly method of hand signs (showing a pitch height) can be introduced and used while singing in solfege. In this way full body is involved in “feeling” the melody – so effective in training the ear!

Lastly, a student can try to pick out the song on the piano with teacher’s guidance. If a difficulty occur-all of the above steps can be repeated again.

Teaching rhythm

Teaching rhythm to students is a great challenge for piano teachers. It all starts pretty innocent with an introduction of whole, half, quarter and even eight notes, but the problem starts when all of the above time values are being mixed. Unless you are a suzuki student that already knows how rhythm feels and sounds (because they learn rhythms by ear before even any theory terminology is introduced), it is hard to comprehend (and, mainly feel) why there are two eight notes in one quarter note!

Here is a simple and quick way of demonstrating eight notes at a piano lesson. It is called “Musical Pizza”.

Step 1: Draw a circle – a pizza, tell a student it is a WHOLE pizza (like a whole note), pick a sound and make student play it and hold on the piano for four counts (slowly, steadily, counting out loud). Then “cut” pizza in HALF (like a half note), pick two notes and make student play and count it. “Cut” pizza in QUARTERS (like quarter notes) and do as the above, and so on with eight notes – eight “slices” of the pizza. After that ask your student how many “slices” are in whole pizza? half? quarter? You can also clap the pizza (of course with counting out loud), just don`t forget to show where the main beats are. When it comes to eight notes, count out loud – one and, two and, three and, four and, while pointing at each “slice” of the  pizza clockwise.  Do this a few times until well understood (at this point your student most likely gets why an eight note is a half of a quarter!)

Step 2: Write down a rhythmical pattern with quarters and eight notes. Pick a note (practice rhythm outside of a music content so no articulation, dynamics or even note reading gets on the way, only pure rhythm!) and make sure your student plays it without skipping a “slice” when playing quarter notes (while counting out loud, can`t stress enough of that!). Do the same with all time values. Keep the pizza drawing in front of your student even when he is learning new pieces. Use these tips and piano lessons will become more fun and engaging!

Articulation for beginners

Articulation for piano beginners. Non-legato:

Normally I start by introducing  my beginners to a non-legato touch. I make them play the same sound on the piano (use a 3rd finger for the best support!) in a moving motion from one octave to the other, higher and higher on the keyboard. This, sort of say “diving” into the very “bottoms” of the keys with the relaxed hand (using full weight of your arm!) is free of any tension, and therefore, highly preferred over legato touch. While “diving”into the keys, a piano teacher needs to teach a student to listen/control to the sound he is making and make sure the touch/contact with the keys is soft, deep and flexible. The next step is to learn to play short simple melodies (shared between two hands, 3rd fingers only preferred) using non-legato articulation. Only after perfecting non-legato touch, a student can attempt to learn playing legato.

A few tips on staccato:

Staccato-(staccare) from Italian – means to separate. Piano teachers would agree – it is a bit hard to teach children to play staccato articulation on the piano. They do seem to grasp an idea of “spaces” between sounds and separation, but their staccato would come out quite flat and lack crispness. I believe the reason is simple. Students need to be taught to play/take the sound “out” of the piano, not “in”. A short exercise of a quick “take off” from one key, flying and “landing” (diving) on the other key, may help. Teachers should make it simple-use the same fingers, go up and down the keyboard, right hand, left hand – as long as they get the touch right! Staccato touch can be compared to a trampoline, ping pong or a super rocket rapidly launching upwards. And of course, sometimes staccato demonstration from a teacher is always the best!

Piano Lesson Myths (continue)

Piano Lesson Myths 

 Myth 1 “I am just a beginner, I don`t need an experienced piano teacher”

Reality: Wrong! You definitely need your piano teacher to be piano lesson mythsexperienced. Piano instructors with multiple years of teaching experience are more likely to have a worked out approach that has proven to be great for students. This will help you to develop a strong foundation and even more. With experienced piano instructors your piano lesson will run smoothly as they know how to break down the complexity, to be patient and explain the material clearly.


Piano Lesson Myth #2

I cannot play piano without learning to read music”

Reality: Actually it is more beneficial for you to start playing piano by ear rather than read notes out of a music score right away. We call it “hear (in your head or from singing)-play” process. It is important to improvise on the early stages as ear training will develop your ability to recognize tones naturally and will gradually guide your fingers to the keys. So please, don`t dismiss the ear – sing, pick some famous tunes on the piano and ask your piano teacher to show your how to do accompaniment to back it up! Only after a few piano lessons of improvising note reading can be introduced. Then the formula will become ideal: “hear-see-play”.


Piano Lesson Myths #1

“I have to learn to play classical music before I can play pop and jazz”

Reality: don`t think you must start your piano lessons with classical pieces if your ultimate goal is to learn pop music, you don`t have to! If your goal is to learn to play classical music-it is very important to incorporate improvisation and pop pieces into your repertoire.

Piano Lesson Myth #2

“Children learn faster than adults”

Reality: There is almost no difference! Children are not as busy as adults with juggling multiple things in life, like work and family. They don`t experience that sort of stress, normally their thoughts are more structured allowing them to concentrate better. This creates an illusion that children absorb new material better than adults. Whereas an adult student consciously decided to take piano lessons to learn and that great desire to study diminishes their variance in concentration ultimately bringing the same or even a better result.

Piano Lesson Myth #3

“I have to practice every day”

Reality: Practicing 3-4 hours a week may bring you better results as if you would practice every day – our brain, just like our body, sometimes needs a timeout to take in the new material.



The advantages of taking summer piano lessons:

1. Summertime is a time when students can really focus on practice without the pressures from school.

2. Piano practice is a better pastime, than television and video games.

3. Children actually have the time to practice more and add new music to the repertoire list, learn new skills or try a new piano method.

The disadvantages of not taking summer piano lessons:

1. Taking summer off results in students failing to move forward with their playing.

2. Piano practice is a better pastime, than television and video games.

3. The teacher will try very hard to bring the student back to their previous level of proficiency, but the experience will be frustrating for students.  The teacher has to help the student stumble through things that they used to play with ease, having to re-teach old things without demoralizing the student.

and finally the big one!!!

4. “Use it or Lose it”. You have made a substantial investment in your child’s education. Many parents figure they will “save money” by stopping music lessons for the summer. This is actually quite a big short-sighted decision – because it is not taking into account the “attrition” of skills and techniques, and having to re-learn these things come Fall “Back to School” time. If you have to learn something TWICE you have wasted your money. Your child (and you!) have worked hard on their instrument all school year, and if they take all summer off from lessons they will LOSE IT because they didn’t USE IT all summer long.


Please take summer lessons as much as you can. Even a few odd lessons here and there throughout the summer will make a big difference!


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piano lessonsThere is  another very important reason for children to take piano lessons:

Recent study showed that after almost a year of weekly piano lessons, students’ IQs rose nearly three points more than their untrained classmates!

The study supports the idea that piano lessons exercise parts of the brain useful in mathematics, language, spatial intelligence and other intellectual pursuits. Piano lessons, because there are so many different activities involved–such as memorizing, expressing emotion, learning about musical interval and chords–may be motivating the IQ effect.

Here is more about the study itself:

Researchers grouped together a few 6-year-olds for weekly piano lessons. Then another group was created to take weekly drama lessons. Last group of children was going to receive no classes during the period of the study.

All children went through a long intelligence test that assessed them in ten different areas. Following that children went off to first grade at school and to their assigned piano lesson, drama and no lessons at all groups. After the first year of study all children were retested.

At the time of retesting, all students displayed increases in IQ of at least 4.3 points, on average, which is a common result from attending a school. Drama class children`s IQs didn`t differ from those who did not take any lessons at all. Testing the piano lessons children researchers found a  slightly larger increases in IQ than the other groups, averaging 7-point gains in their IQ scores–2.7 points higher than children placed in either drama or no-lessons group.

The bottom line:

sing up your children for piano lessons, it will make them smarter and will support all learning!



PRACTICE TIPS. Guitar can be an interesting instrument to get started on.  The way we use our hands when we play guitar is unlike anything we’ve ever done before.  This can make it challenging when first starting, but rest assured, the hurdle is very jumpable and you will be happy you did when you’ve cleared it.

Here are three tips for beginners that I feel are vital to think about when approaching the instrument.

1) Always be sure to warm up before you play.

Doing a simple scale like the chromatic scale or a major scale will not only warm up your hands, but it also:

-Makes your fingers stronger, which, in turn, makes it easier to push down the strings, and play chords.

-Coordinates your two hands to work together.  Most people don’t think of guitar as a coordination instrument, but it absolutely is!  The timing between the right hand picking the string and the left hand pushing down on the fret has to be spot on.  This takes time to develop, and scales are a great way to speed up that time.

2) Practice slow!

You will undoubtedly gain more from slow steady practice than fast and choppy practice.  Find a tempo where you can be smooth and tension free in your hands, arms, shoulders, and neck, and stay there until you’re ready to speed up.  I usually don’t speed up more than 5 BPM’s at a time.  Remember, if you are tensing up, you are playing too fast.

3) Break your chords up.

If your chords aren’t ringing clearly, then try playing three strings of the chord.  Practice that until you get comfortable with it, then add a fourth string.  Keep adding strings until you’ve got the whole chord under your hand.

Stay patient, practice slow, and practice with your whole mind and body and you will see results!  Best of luck, and most importantly…have fun!!

Jon Paul, guitar teacher