10 Helpful Recital Day Tips for Music Students

With Piano Power recitals right around the corner, you may be wondering how you can best prepare your child for the big day. Their music is rehearsed and recital-ready, but is there anything else left to do?

Here’s some tips for recital day success that you may not be aware of.

1. Get a good night’s sleep.

It may seem like common sense, but we can’t stress it enough. A good night of rest makes it easier to stay focused, lowers stress levels and increases creativity – all important factors for a successful performance.

2. Eat breakfast.

Recital days can become very busy, very quickly. A healthy breakfast will fuel you with energy for the big day.

Try eating food with protein and fiber to keep you fuller longer. Nothing’s more distracting to a performance than a growling tummy.

Tip for vocalists: Avoid consuming dairy products the day of your recital. Dairy tends build up phlegm in the throat, which can become a struggle to sing through.

3. Keep it mellow.

Recital day is not the time to have a fight with your best friend. Do your best to avoid stress and drama on the day of the recital.

A clear headspace will help you focus on rocking your performance, and help you fully enjoy the experience of dressing up nicely, listening to your peers perform, and maybe getting a treat afterward!

4. Do a warm-up.

Even if it’s just a scale or two, warm-ups are a great way to get your mind and body in the groove of working together again.

Tip for piano players: If possible, do a quick run through of your song on the piano at the recital venue. Every piano feels just the slightest bit different from the next, so playing a brief run through will eliminate any surprises regarding that particular instrument.

5. Don’t practice excessively.

You’ve already put in the work, so there’s no need to spend much more time (if any) on your recital piece. Feel free to do a run through, but leave it at that. Obsessing over little details in a piece can just add to nerves.

On the contrary, a quick run through can leave you feeling confident and excited to perform!

6. Play with passion.

Focus on emotion over perfection. Rather than striving to play every note perfectly, try to express the feeling of the song.

You can do this by focusing on details like dynamics, phrasing, and musical color. This way, you’ll feel less pressure while playing and you’ll enjoy a much more fulfilling performance experience.

“To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” – Ludwig Van Beethoven

7. Visualize success.

You’ve put in the practice time. You know the part. All that’s left to do is show off your skills – you can do this!

Feeling some pre-performance nerves? Nervous energy can be a positive thing. The adrenaline rushing through your body actually has the potential to boost your performance.

Take a few minutes to breathe deeply and feel your body relax. When those nerves start to kick in, just remember that you play music because you love it. This is your moment to share that magic with others!

8. Put on blinders.

Try not to worry about how others are doing. Easier said than done, I know! But simply be happy that they are getting their time to shine on stage and soon enough it’ll be your turn to do the same.

9. Don’t forget your lucky charms.

For some, bringing a good luck charm to the recital evokes a feeling of support and positivity. A favorite stuffed animal or other token of comfort can soothe a young child. For older students, a special piece of jewelry or other sentimental object may do the trick.

“When I was a teenager, I wore the same special necklace to every recital. It served as a comfort to me and reminded me to reflect on why I love performing in the first place.” –Marilyn, piano & voice instructor.

10. Celebrate!

So much hard work was put into preparing for recital day. Once it’s over, it’s time to kick back, relax, and eat some celebratory ice cream!

Feeling skeptical about recitals? Check out why Piano Power founder Abraham Levitan loves them.

Adult Student Profile: Julie Bromley

“It’s great to be able to do something just because you love it.”

After student Julie Bromley and her husband inherited a beautiful piano from a relative, she knew the moment had come. It was time for music again.

Julie took lessons from childhood throughout college. Later she worked at a church where she accompanied soloists, and took voice lessons for a dozen years.

But eventually her life and career took her in another direction; for a long while there were no lessons or practice.

Now retired- and with a Steinway studio piano in her living room- Julie has no excuses, and a lot of excitement about bringing music back into her life. She’s been taking lessons with Andrew Doney for the past year.

“I always thought that when I retired it would be fun [to take piano lessons], Julie says. “It’s just for me– I have no performance goals or anything. I just wanted to get back what I had lost from not playing for a while.”

Julie was kind enough to answer a few questions about her experience below.

Why choose in-home lessons over studio?

Primarily it was a convenience issue, and wanting to use the piano I have. I didn’t want to be running around to do it. I knew I would be more likely to stick to it if it was of ultimate convenience to me. Everything else I’m doing I have to go somewhere to do! (laughs)

What’s your favorite thing about lessons?

My early training lacked a number of things, so I’m working more on technique than I ever did before. [Andrew and I] have talked about getting into different kinds of music, some improvisation eventually, which is something I never learned how to do.

Thus far, I don’t feel like I’ve had to really start over, and yet I feel like I’m gaining skills that were not emphasized to me previously.

I’m working on music I’ve worked on before, yet it’s a completely different focus on how to excel.

What are you learning now?

All classical things. I’m classically trained and that’s still what my focus is and probably will remain.

It’s interesting because classical isn’t Andrew’s primary focus in his personal playing, but what he has to offer me still makes sense. He’s more jazz/improv. Since I told Abraham I would like to expand into more improvisation, Andrew is a good fit for me.

What’s your favorite thing to play so far?

I’m working on a Debussy Suite, and I’m working on some Bach just for the technique portion. I really like those two things. Debussy I’ve worked on before but never completed, so I’m enjoying digging into that further.

What’s challenging about taking music lessons as an adult?

We’re working on some rhythm patterns that I’ve never seen before in my life– polyrhythms. It’s a huge challenge right now, more technical. You don’t see it a lot in classical music.

It’s a real challenge, but I like that. I wanted to be challenged or I wouldn’t be getting anything out of lessons.

Do you think there are any special advantages to taking lessons at this stage in your life?

Oh, yeah! I wanted to get back to some kind of creative outlet in my retirement. I’m kind of going back to my roots, and I think that’s a good thing to do now that I have the time.

It’s great to be able to do something just because you love it.

My husband’s a potter, and he’s not focused on selling his work. He does some commission, but he does it because he loves it. I’ve always admired his ability to do that.

Before with music, I thought it was kind of a means to an end. I couldn’t just do it because I liked it. Now it’s just a wonderful thing to do; it fulfills a part of me that needs fulfilling.

Have your expectations for yourself or about lessons changed at all?

No. I knew what holes I needed to fill in my ability and I think they’re being filled.

Any advice for other adults considering lessons?

It’s kind of a personal thing. I think you have to be honest with yourself about your motivations and expectations. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you’re not going to have to work at it. Maybe that’s more cautionary than encouraging (laughs)! But too often people think, I’ll do this and I’ll be great in a month.

I don’t practice as much as I should! The ideal of course is daily, but that’s the other difference when you’re an adult– there are a lot of other draws on your time. We travel often, so if I can get 3-4 days in the week when I can get an hour or two in, that’s a fabulous week!

Want to learn about more of our amazing adult students? Read Stories of Piano Power Parents Who Play in Recitals.

6 Strategies for Convincing Your Kid Not To Quit Music Lessons

Your student loves to sing and dance around the house, and she’s just getting the hang of piano. Suddenly she announces, “I quit!”

Especially if you’ve invested many years and dollars in your student’s music lessons, hearing those words can be devastating. You know how beneficial music lessons are for children, but try making that argument with a fed-up ten-year-old.

So how can you keep your student in music lessons without resentment? The following suggestions may help.

1. Turn to your teacher.

When Jennie Schott’s son Nolan wanted to quit lessons, she quickly turned to his instructor for guidance. “Lucky for us, Nolan’s teacher has a great knack for finding music that is a perfect mix, where Nolan is challenged but still enjoying the music he produces,” Jennie says.

Your teacher may have some simple, incentive-based tricks up her sleeve. If the issue is more complex, she may completely revise her approach to teaching your student based on your collective observations.

2. Or find a different teacher.

Could the problem be that your teacher isn’t the right fit? Sometimes a teacher’s personality or teaching style just doesn’t work for a student. Or maybe you’ve worked with the teacher for a long time, and your kid’s interests are moving in a different direction. Both of these scenarios are common– and okay.

If your kid seems excited by the prospect of finding a new teacher, or is simply willing to try, it’s probably time to make the switch.

3. Release the pressure.

After Rebecca Nathanson’s son Ari said he wanted to quit piano, Rebecca made a deal with him. “We told him that he couldn’t quit, but we wouldn’t put any pressure on him to practice or make progress at any set rate,” she says.

Telling your kid it’s okay not to practice may sound like contradictory advice. After all, isn’t practice the most important part of learning music?

Use your judgment. For an older student with a foundation in their instrument, reduced pressure to practice might redeem their interest in lessons, and be worth it in the long run.

Ari’s teacher Audie Lomboy allowed him to practice less and lead the lessons, and as a result they began exploring music theory and composition, adding voice when it interested Ari.

“The goal was just to keep him in music lessons, and all these years later it’s his favorite thing,” Rebecca says.

The pressure to excel and be disciplined can zap the fun out of any activity. Students can benefit from having room to take ownership of their music lessons.

“My most engaged students seem to have parents who leave the students enough space to make mistakes, solve problems, or just mess around on their own,” former Piano Power teacher Brian Stark says.

4. Make sure she likes what she’s playing.

The classics are important, but when it comes to stoking a passion for music, encourage your student to learn what’s playing in her earbuds. When she’s learning her favorite Taylor Swift song, your daughter may not even realize she’s practicing.

“Playing Katy Perry on piano might not seem as beneficial as Bach, but it’s a gateway to real musical progress,” says teacher Andrew Doney. “Consider the progress of a young child reading Clifford the Big Red Dog in first grade and then Dostoevsky in college. It’s all the same.”

5. Be a practice partner.

If your child is younger than ten, he may just need a boost of support and encouragement during practice to keep him going. Jennie found that Nolan responded well when she or her husband sat next to him while he practiced and allowed no other distractions—no phone, other kids, or TV.

“He was so thrilled to have all our attention on him, and even happier when we looked amazed at how much progress he made,” Jennie says. “[It’s a] perfect way to give our youngest child attention, and it’s relaxing for us.”

6. Let the music play!

If you think of interest in music as a fire, then playing music at home is one way to add kindling. The more songs a student hears, the more chances she has to be captivated by music.

Play music at home during appropriate times, and not just as background music. Take a moment to ask your student what she thinks about what’s playing, or even dance and sing along with her.

“Make a list of what songs the kids respond to, then help them to find new songs that are similar,” Andrew says. “Love of music is the spark that keeps musicians everywhere practicing, and children are no different. Once that spark is there, love of the instrument will develop, and their musical progress will soar.”

If all else fails, it’s okay to quit.

Again, use your judgment. Maybe you require your kids take lessons until a certain age. In that case, stand by your decision.

But in some situations– especially when older, experienced students begin to dread playing and practicing, or music in general– it’s okay to loosen the grip and let your kid make the call.

In her article Why I’m Glad We Let Our Daughter Quit Music Lessons, Annie Reneau details the decision to allow her daughter, a gifted violinist, to quit after six years of lessons. She and her husband tried everything to persuade her otherwise, and felt self-doubt galore when they finally abdicated.

Annie’s daughter picked up her violin again years later. But she made the decision herself, and that made all the difference in the world.

Some kids will never pick up the instrument again, and that’s okay, too. Rest assured that even if your kid doesn’t play their instrument for life, their lessons will have always been worth it.

Interested in reading more about the psychology of of practice and art-making? Check out How to Inspire a Bored Music Student.

Teachers now paid for all in-between-lessons time, effective September 1!

Piano Power staff & teachers

We are thrilled to announce that, beginning September 1, 2019, Piano Power is compensating our teachers for all in-between-lesson time at City of Chicago minimum wage: $13/hr as of this summer. This will be a huge change in our current teachers’ day-to-day work experience. It will also cement Piano Power’s status as Chicago’s best workplace for great music teachers.

Previously we supplied a flat $5/day gas subsidy. Now our teachers’ downtime will be worth three to five times that amount, based on their routes. Teachers can rest easy knowing that when, for example, they have a last-minute cancellation or a regular gap in their schedule, they will always be paid for that time. (Hanging out in a suburban Starbucks just got a little sweeter!)

We were inspired by the recent news that Logan Square restaurant Fat Rice was adding “a 4 percent surcharge to all customer checks to help pay for employee health insurance and boost the wages of kitchen staff.” Like the owners of Fat Rice, we think it makes a lot of sense to take care of the folks who are out in the field, doing the important work.

“I always think back to where I was in my twenties,” says Piano Power founder and director Abraham Levitan. “How can we make Piano Power into the work environment I would have been thrilled to find when I first moved to Chicago? Paid downtime makes that vision a reality.”

Teachers are the heart, soul, and engine of our company (and, we just really love our teachers!), so we strive to do everything we can to support them. We’re heartened to see other restaurants across the nation adopting the healthcare surcharge. With our move toward paid between-lessons-time, we hope to inspire other small businesses to look for ways to make their teams’ lives a little bit easier.

Interesting in applying? Check out our hiring page for more!

Why I Love Piano Power Recitals

Joe Maddon quote

by Abraham Levitan

I’ve been hosting recitals since before Piano Power existed, when I was a twenty-something independent teacher whose primary focus was not screwing up. (In a way, that hasn’t changed.)

But even then, as now, I’ve always tried to make the recitals a place where it’s okay to “screw up,”
a low-stress venue where effort and celebration are more important than perfection. (And where delicious, post-recital treats are enthusiastically devoured.)

One of my favorite recital stories centers around a student named Sally. While performing she froze up, only making it halfway through her song. Clearly upset, she ran back to her parents. As always our audience was supportive, applauding her effort, but I don’t think anyone expected her to try again.

The recital carried on, and toward the end Sally’s teacher whispered in my ear, “Sally wants to give it another try.” As you can imagine, I happily obliged.

This time Sally played the entire song beautifully. The crowd went nuts. Sally was beaming— not to mention her parents and teacher.

To me, that’s what recitals are all about: preparation, not perfection. And trusting that the audience is on your side and wants to see you succeed. Sally froze up, but because she’d prepared, she knew that she could play the whole song. So she got back on the bench.

I’m a Cubs fanatic, and I often find myself quoting– or in this case paraphrasing– the sage Cubs manager Joe Maddon: Focus on results, and there’s lots of stress. Focus on the process, and there’s none.

So let’s teach our students to prepare as well as they can, to focus on the process, and to understand that they’re going to make mistakes. No one plays at recitals without botching at least one thing— and usually the performer is the only one who notices.

On recital day, remind your student that we show up knowing anything can happen, and we roll with it. This is a life skill that transcends music recitals.

Good luck to all students performing this month!

Can I Take Piano Lessons Without a Piano?

digital piano

Photo by Jaclyn Clark on Unsplash

Yes, you can take piano lessons without a piano!

1. Digital pianos are a great alternative to acoustic pianos. Unlike keyboards, they have fully weighted keys that provide a full range of expression, from soft to loud. They provide a smooth transition to acoustic pianos when the student is ready.

2. Keyboards, on the other hand, are not ideal for piano lessons. The lack of depth can’t compare to a digital or acoustic piano, and may deter a student’s enthusiasm and willingness to practice.

2. Yamaha, Roland, and Casio brands all make excellent digital pianos, although Yamaha remains the gold standard.

3. Expect to spend $350-$700 on a good digital piano. They’re not cheap, but the quality is worth it. They’re also a much wiser investment if you’re unsure about buying an acoustic piano.

4. You can enjoy a digital pianos for years, and they are a wonderful option for students who are just getting started.

Check out the video!

Have more questions about Piano Power? Check out our FAQ section, send us a message, or call Abraham at 773-547-2426.

16 Benefits of Playing an Instrument

Today we have a guest post from Mike Levitsky of DrumsandGuitar.com, a site that offers guitar and drum lessons, gear reviews, and other helpful music info. Written with the help of one of his high school students, the article serves as a great reminder of the myriad benefits of playing an instrument. Important to remember when you just don’t feel like practicing! We hope you enjoy it.

Photo by 童 彤 on Unsplash

by Mike Levitsky

Choosing to play an instrument is the beginning of a journey. One that is exciting, but often filled with struggle and hard work. It will require you to take in new information and master new skills.

Listed below are some of the many benefits of playing an instrument. When you feel yourself getting discouraged, I hope that remembering these benefits will encourage you to keep practicing. I promise, playing a musical instrument is worthwhile!

In no particular order, learning to play an instrument:

Reduces Stress

The National Center for Biotechnology Information published a study on the effectiveness of music to lower stress. The test involved putting volunteers into three groups. Before being exposed to a stressor, each group was exposed to a different stimulus. Group 1 – Relaxing music, Group 2 – the sound of rippling water, and Group 3 – resting with no sound present. After, their stress indicators were measured. The study showed that those who listened to relaxing music before the stressor had significantly lower cortisol (the stress hormone) levels than those in the other two groups.

If you are like me and find it easy to get stressed out, listing to music could help lower your stress levels. Listening to your own instrument gives the benefit of taking your mind off of your day.

Produces Patience and Perseverance

The process of learning to play an instrument is not always easy. It involves not only your mind but also your body. You will have to learn fingerings and/or chord shapes, develop technique, and memorize new information.

Slowly, with consistent practice, you will find yourself getting better. With each new milestone, you gain a small reward for your efforts and this will keep you motivated. Making music requires patience. Instead of getting immediate results, you will have to persevere.

Keep at it! you will achieve the results you desire.

Develops Music Appreciation

You don’t have to become a virtuoso to reap the benefits of music. You can gain many of these benefits by just learning the basics. You will develop a taste for the different composers, styles, and genres of music. Not only does this cause you to be more well-versed in music, but it also leads to a higher appreciation of the skill.

According to Aristotle in his Politics Book 8, unless you have taken part in music education, or in learning an instrument, you have no real basis for assessing the quality of a piece of music. Interestingly, he also says that you should not dedicate yourself to learning a difficult instrument because it is a waste of time. Just learn enough to enjoy playing a bit, and to judge the quality of music.

Aristotle on the Flute: “the flute is not an instrument which is expressive of moral character; it is too exciting”. Of course, I disagree with his position on dedication but agree with his first point…

…and the flute thing.

Cultivates Creativity

At its core, music is art.

Music is a language, and the more “words” you learn the more you will be able to say. You will soon find yourself wanting to apply the information you’ve learned to create music of your own and express your own voice. Music is not just about knowing how to play specific songs, it is about expressing emotion through sound. Whether it is just playing your own version of a song, or creating an entirely new one, learning how to play an instrument enables you to use your creativity to say something original.

Uses Almost Every Part Of The Brain

Check out this great video from TedEd about how music benefits your brain.

Strengthens Your Immune System

While investigating the effects of music, physiologists Daniel J. Levitin and Mona Lisa Chanda found that listening to music and playing an instrument increased the immune system. These activities lead to the manufacturing of the antibody immunoglobulin-A. Immunoglobulin-A is a natural killer cell, which kills viruses. If you start to feel under the weather, just pick up that guitar and start playing!

Increases Time-Management Skills

Adding learning an instrument into an already busy schedule can be challenging, especially if you want to become an advanced player. The desire to get better will help you to schedule in practice during your already busy day. You also learn the life skill of how to waste less time and to use your time wisely. Instead of watching the Dodgers lose (again), you will soon focus on learning how to play “Clair de Lune” or “Stairway to Heaven”.

Increases Memory Capability

Way back in 2003, ABC Science included a study conducted among school students, half of whom had been musically trained, and half who had not. The test involved reading a list of words to the students and asking them to recall the words after a space of time had elapsed. The study found that the boys who had been musically trained had a significantly better verbal memory than the boys who had not. In addition, the more musical training they had, the more words they were able to remember.

If you can’t remember where you left your keys, maybe it is because you forgot to practice your instrument!

Allows You To Share With Others

Once people know you can play an instrument well, they want to hear you play. Often, when I am at family gatherings or hanging out with friends of the family, I am asked to play some music for them. At first I didn’t like it, because instead of just hanging out with people I knew I had to try and think of the songs I could play, but in reality, it is a great opportunity to share the gift of music.

Once you learn how to effectively play an instrument, not only do you have the ability to share your gift with family and friends, you can bless those at nursing homes, church, banquets and more. You might even get paid for your work!

Increases Emotional Perception

In 2009, the European Journal of Science investigated the relationship between musical training and the processing of vocal emotion. They found that those who were musically trained better detected vocal emotions. This makes sense because there are many “emotions” conveyed through music. For example, excitement is produced through dynamics that get progressively louder and higher pitched. Apparently, being exposed to this tonal variance in music can help you to not just detect the emotions of music, but the emotions behind people’s words.

Increases Personal Discipline

No one (unless you are insanely gifted) can effectively learn to play an instrument overnight. Making music requires work and a consistent investment of time and effort. As they say, practice makes perfect. Discipline is necessary to go through the process of consistent, focused practice, especially when you would rather watch that new movie. This discipline can carry over into other aspects of your life, elevating the quality of the life you live.

Enlarges The Brain

Another study in 2003 from the Journal of Neuroscience compared the brains of professional musicians, amateur musicians, and non-musicians. The study found an increase in gray matter in many areas of the brain of professional musicians. The amateur musicians had less grey matter in those areas, and the non-musicians had the least gray matter. According to Via Radiology, gray matter provides us with information processing power. The more advanced you are in music the larger volume of gray matter you have in your brain.

Breeds Confidence

The process of learning music leads to you playing in front of other people. This could include playing in front of your teacher, playing at a seasonal recital, or playing for curious family and friends. This fosters the valuable expertise and grit necessary to confidently hold it together when other people are watching.

Benefits Spelling and IQ In Children

The National Center for Biotechnology Information directed a study involving a group of German elementary students to study the effects of musical training. They compared three groups: those who played an instrument, those who didn’t play an instrument, and those who didn’t play an instrument but had a member of the family did. They found that the non-verbal IQ of those who played an instrument was the highest. In addition, those who played an instrument had the fewest spelling mistakes. Perhaps playing an instrument is the perfect solution for a child who is struggling in school!

Decreases Age-Related Hearing Loss

In a study performed by the then doctoral student Benjamin Zendel and Dr. Claude Alain, participants were instructed to attentively listen to complex sounds. It was found that the older musicians auditory cortices responded the same as the younger participants and at a higher functionality than the older non-musicians, who had age-related hindrances. This is ironic because many musicians experience hearing loss from the loud music they are a part of, but if you protect your ears from the “loudness” of the music, music actually benefits your hearing!

Benefits The Brains Of Babies

McMaster University performed a study in which one-year-old babies participated in interactive music classes. These classes entailed activities such as learning to sing specific songs and playing percussion instruments with their parents. They found that the babies who participated in the interactive music classes smiled more often, could communicate better, were less distressed, responded more favorably to music that was tonal and consonant (as opposed to atonal and dissonant music) and had more advanced brain responses to tones of music.

Speeds Up Reaction Times

At the Université de Montréal in Canada, Dr. Simon Landry led a study comparing the reaction times of musicians who had at least 7 years of training with non-musicians. Dr. Simon had the participating students place one hand on a mouse, the other on a vibrotactile device, and placed a speaker in front of them. If the students felt a vibration from the vibrotactile device, or heard a sound from the speaker, or sensed both happening at the same time, they were instructed to click the mouse. The results demonstrated that the musicians had significantly faster reaction times in all three ways they were stimulated.

There you have it! 16 benefits to remind yourself of so you can accomplish your goal of learning to play an instrument.

Inspired To Play?

Check out more articles on DrumsandGuitar.com on the best electric guitars for beginners or the best acoustic guitars for beginners. Each article will give you all you need to know to pick out the perfect guitar for your needs.

8 Reasons You’ll Never Regret Taking Adult Music Lessons

Many folks take adult music lessons because they’re retired and have more time on their hands. That’s a great reason, but you don’t need all the time in the world to invest in something that’s just so good for you.

For your consideration, here are eight great reasons to take adult music lessons.

1. It will make you younger.

Well, not really. But sort of! Research from the University of Texas at Dallas shows “evidence that mentally challenging leisure activities…can restore levels of brain activity to a more youth-like state.”

Learning music is so good for your brain at any age, but for adults it can mean improvements in working memory, resilience to age-related hearing loss, and lower levels of stress and depression. Plus, it’s proven to be more effective than brain-training games.

Kids’ brains may be sponges that make learning new things like languages–including music–a piece of cake. But piano teacher Andrew Lawrence finds adult students better at processing complex concepts, and a New York oboist observes that adults often have a greater capacity for self-diagnosis and problem-solving.

Take that, kiddos.

Little girl smiling at piano keyboard

Music lessons keep your brain feeling like this.

2. Playing music is fun!

If it ever stops being fun, you can stop taking lessons. And you won’t get grounded.

3. You can play what you want, when you want.

Saxophone, banjo, keytar– the possibilities are endless!

Our lives are restricted by circumstances, but one of the great joys of being an adult is having the freedom to make our own decisions. There’s no band teacher forcing you to play clarinet because the saxophone spots are full. There’s no family pressure to play french horn like cousin Becky.

Your goals are yours and yours alone. Would you like to learn basic technique? Play your favorite song? Study a classical or jazz approach?

As a child, Jay Dembsky lost interest in the piano lessons his mother required. Now as a piano student in his fifties, he plays The Eagles and Elton John.

“One of my goals is just to enjoy playing,” Jay said.

Man taking piano lessons

Jay Dembsky enjoys a lesson with teacher Andrew Lawrence

4. It helps to be retired, but it’s not required.

Retirees or empty-nesters may find themselves with plenty of extra time for music lessons.

But even those of us swamped with children and and/or work can probably carve out 10 or 20 minutes daily for practice.

“I’m not stressing out about finding time to practice, but at the same time I’m using ten minutes when dinner is cooking or ten minutes before we have to go somewhere to play a little bit,” said guitar student Mindy Ingersoll. “Instead of checking Facebook I’m playing the guitar — it’s definitely a better use of my time.”

family at piano

Embrace the chaos. Take lessons anyway.

The key to making time? You have to really want it.

What’s motivating you? Really figure it out. Write it on a piece of paper and hang it over your piano. Will that motivation carry you through those nights you’d really prefer to binge-watch Better Call Saul?

5. You can de-stress, if you let yourself.

We humans– children and adults alike– can be hard on ourselves. When you can’t immediately play that Beethoven sonata like your teacher, it’s easy to beat yourself up and lose perspective.

Remember that learning a new skill is hard and time-consuming. But the more you practice and sharpen those skills, the more fun you’ll have playing.

6. You won’t get in trouble if you don’t practice.

And your teacher will probably appreciate your honesty.

scolding teacher

She exists only in your dreams!

“I love that my adult students tend to be more open with me about whether or not they practice, have nerves, or have interest in a certain song,” piano teacher Leah Rockweit said.

On the other hand, practice is necessary for all ages. Don’t abuse your “I’m gonna be honest” pass. If you find yourself skipping practice, get back on the horse.

7. You can make new friends– if you want.

Group music lessons are a great way to meet like-minded musical newbies. But even private music lessons can open doors to new friendship with teachers, or with other students you may meet at recitals.

On the other hand, music practice is a great way to escape into solo creative bliss.

man playing guitar in desert

Desert and cowboy hat are optional.

8. You’ll set a good example for your kids and grandkids.

And not just the ones who are also taking music lessons.

kids giving thumbs up sign

It’s a consensus: you’re the best.

It’s healthy for kids to see their parents or grandparents taking on new challenges and working toward a goal. They’ll witness first-hand that skills don’t come knocking on our door, that they require consistency and practice.

“Our kids don’t often see us in that role,” said parent Cristina Lasko, who took music lessons simultaneously with her daughter. “Typically we’re expected to just know how to do everything.”

Adults may lose touch with how new the world is to a child. How enlightening to be on the same level as our kids, and to put ourselves in the “growing” position for a change.

For our brave adult beginners, some words of advice:

  • Reconsider if you won’t have at least 20 minutes a day to practice. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment.
  • Find a musician, a band, a song– anything that motivates you to practice. Listen broadly and frequently. Be inspired!
  • Keep your instrument visible and at-the-ready. (Out of sight, out of mind!) If you have one piano in the basement, consider purchasing a portable keyboard to keep in your most lived-in room.
  • Don’t settle on a so-so teacher. Work with someone you will look forward to seeing regularly, whom you connect with, and who understands your goals.
  • Like life, learning a new instrument is a constant cycle of work, fun, frustration, and joy. Jump right in!
  • Find out why taking music lessons with your kids is awesome, or peruse our roster of excellent teachers.

    Special thanks to Debby Dubow, Michelle Hirsch, Jay Dembsky, Jonathan Messinger, Emily Volz, Leah Rockweit, and Andrew Lawrence for contributing to this article.

    How to Encourage your Kid to Play in a Recital

    Photo by Caleb Woods

    For most kids, learning to work with performance anxiety under the guidance of a great teacher can be a wonderful life lesson. But “learning life lessons” isn’t exactly on the top of every kid’s list of priorities– especially when that requires leaving their comfort zone. So how do you encourage your kid to play in a recital if they refuse?

    First, it might help to understand why recitals are such a valuable opportunity.

    Recitals motivate.

    If you want your student to be motivated and focused during lessons, sign them up for a recital. When students have a goal, a deadline, and the knowledge that others will be listening, their accountability increases.

    But beyond the motivational benefits…

    Recitals increase confidence and self-esteem.

    If we allow our students to skip recitals simply because they’re anxious and afraid, then we allow that fear and anxiety to go unchallenged. In a sense, the fear and anxiety wins. If repeated, this pattern can reinforce the student’s belief that they “just can’t do it”.

    On the other hand, if a student “feels the fear and does it anyway” (as coined by author and psychologist Susan Jeffers), their self-image gets a confidence boost.

    Read Susan Jeffers’ five truths about fear.

    Recitals teach students how to cope with nerves.

    Recitals are a supportive, positive place to learn what it’s like to be nervous, how to persevere even when you’re nervous, and how good it feels to do something that initially scared you.

    As parents, it can be difficult to see your kid feeling anxious. Witnessing their insecurities might even activate some of your own. But know that, by encouraging them to play in a recital, you’re demonstrating to your child your belief that they can do it. You help them build resilience and the power to deal with tough situations.

    As Trevor Dow writes in this great blog post on Teach Piano Today, “The confidence she stands to gain from proving to herself that she can do this is more valuable than momentarily protecting her from feelings of discomfort.”

    Read how to persuade a reluctant piano performer… and her parents, on Teach Piano Today.

    6 ways to encourage your kid to play:

    1. Talk to your teacher about performing a duet. This takes some of the pressure off the student while allowing them to feel the thrill of performing.

    2. See if your student can initially attend a recital just as a spectator. Seeing their peers perform, make mistakes, and still get a generous round of applause can be really inspiring!

    3. Ask your student if they would prefer to sit next to their teacher during the recital, or make the suggestion. Sometimes kids will feed off of their parent’s nerves, so a little distance on recital day may help.

    4. Ask if your student could play alone for their teacher on recital day. Doing this may help “break the ice” of playing on recital day. See if you can meet up at the venue in advance. (But otherwise no practicing on recital day! Your student must trust they know the piece.)

    5. Get them “warmed up” by letting them play regularly in front of small, non-intimidating groups of family members or friends.

    6. Suggest they choose a song, practice it, and sign up for the recital “just in case.” As the recital date nears, the student can remove their name from the list if they still aren’t ready.

    7. Remind your kid that the recital will be full of other kids who are just as nervous as she is. It’s probably safe to say that no one will be paying as much attention to her playing as she herself, so why not give it a try?

    8. If you’re also taking music lessons, play in the recital with them. What a great role model you’ll continue to be!

    9. When they’re nervous, avoid saying things like “don’t worry about it” or “you’ll be fine”. Though well-meaning, phrases like this can communicate to the child that they’re wrong to feel what they’re feeling.

    Child psychologist Carla Fry says in Today’s Parent that it’s more helpful to “[start] with an expression of empathy, followed by a statement or question that implies the child will be forging ahead anyway, combined with coping strategies. An example of this could be, ‘Yes, that’s a tricky situation that you’re in. Do you want some help to figure out how you’re going to cope with it?’”

    Remember that the more a student performs for others – be it in a recital or in the living room with family – the less of a big deal it will be. Keep on being positive and encouraging when it comes to recitals, and your student will be on the road to performance ease!

    Want more recital advice? Read Seven creative music recital tips for easing nerves & nailing it.

    How Music Improves the Life of Student with Alzheimer’s

    Young piano teacher and older piano student with Alzheimer's at piano

    Adrienne and Gitta

    Brigitte Matsoukas was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease ten years ago. Earlier this year she suffered multiple strokes that left her aphasic — unable to talk. But that hasn’t stopped her from taking piano lessons.

    “My mom [is a] strong woman,” said her daughter Yvonne Matsoukas-Falk. After the stroke, Yvonne had to push for her mother to be treated at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab because she was over the age limit. “They don’t take anyone over 80,” said Yvonne, “but [my mom] was doing things they didn’t think she could do.”

    A Musical Past, A Musical Future

    Born in Berlin in 1926, “Gitta” grew up in a musical household with a classical record collection and a love for Edith Piaf. She took violin lessons as a child and piano lessons as an adult in the 1970s. After her Alzheimer’s diagnosis, her neurologist suggested doing activities that use the left and right hand to stimulate both brain hemispheres.

    When violin lessons didn’t pan out, Gitta’s son-in-law, John Falk, called Piano Power about piano lessons. In 2017 the family connected with teacher Adrienne Schroeder. Adrienne had played music for her own grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s. Adrienne also had some experience playing music in nursing homes. She wasn’t surprised that Gitta had difficulty retaining what she learned the week before; lessons were fairly similar from week to week.

    “But you could see in her eyes and her smile that she got so much joy out of it,” Adrienne said.

    Focusing on Joy

    During lessons, Adrienne focused on doing what was necessary to evoke Gitta’s joy, whether teaching her simple octaves, or working with her on Schubert’s “The Trout”. The two quickly developed a friendly rapport.

    “Gitta was going to quit piano a couple of times, but Adrienne was so nice and calm with her. She made her look forward to it,” John said. “[Gitta] stopped being self-conscious.”

    Before her first stroke in March 2018, Gitta could play three or four songs she had memorized, which was unusual for an Alzheimer’s patient. But after the stroke, Gitta was unable to move her hands or speak.

    After the Stroke

    Musical engagement, which was already helping Gitta slow her dementia, became even more central to her stroke recovery. Yvonne and John recalled how, post-stroke, the nurses at Shirley Ryan used sing-song phrases and simple melodies (“Happy Birthday”, “Row Row Row Your Boat”) to communicate with Gitta about eating and other everyday functions.

    “For strokes and other kinds of brain injuries, music is key to getting people to start talking, and to get them out of a catatonic state,” Yvonne said. John added that musical abilities and understanding reside in a part of the brain that is unaffected by stroke.

    A New Approach to Lessons

    Because of Gitta’s new physical limitations, piano “lessons” evolved into Adrienne simply playing for her.

    “She would bounce around a little in her chair, and she seemed like she would really enjoy it,” Adrienne said. “Gradually she started using her hands more.”

    Now, Adrienne works with helping Gitta move her fingers up and down the keys. Because the stroke left her paralyzed on the right side, she has a harder time picking her right arm up off her lap and putting it on the keys.

    “She could still get her right side back,” Yvonne said. “The more she moves it, the better it will be.”

    Music and Alzheimer’s

    Playing music can be extremely therapeutic for people with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. In addition to the benefit of physical movement and the social boost of working with a teacher, music supports cognitive brain function. Consequently, music “is an excellent way to reach beyond the disease and reach the person.” (Alzheimers.net)

    By creating a “safe space” where Gitta can try things on her own and delight in the music she loves, Adrienne has reached Gitta the person, not just Gitta the patient.

    What’s Good for the Student is Good for the Teacher

    The positive effects flow in both directions. Because Gitta loves Chopin, Adrienne said she challenges herself to practice the composer’s difficult pieces. Adrienne cited as inspiration a part of a welcome address given to Boston Conservatory students by Karl Paulnack: Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.

    “It makes me really happy to give Gitta joy,” Adrienne said. “I teach her about piano, but by just being who she is she’s taught me a lot about resilience and positivity. Whenever I’m having a bad day and I go there, it puts everything in perspective.”

    Want to read more about special relationships forged through music lessons? Check out Music Lessons and Cerebral Palsy: Sophia and Audie’s Story.