Moms Share the Benefits, Challenges of Taking Music Lessons

Mom and daughter at piano

Music teacher Jacqueline enjoys musical quality time with her daughter.

Gaea Gomez Fidler loved music as a kid, but found lessons boring. Her more musically experienced siblings, some of them classically trained, pressured Gaea to level up.

And so, like so many kids who don’t get what they need from lessons, Gaea gave up rather than level up.

But now as an adult, enrolling her son Jamie in piano lessons led her to “making friends” with the piano again.

Initially, she took lessons as a way to help Jamie develop and stay motivated. But as his lessons progressed, she recognized her own relationship to music was improving.

Through more positive, engaging lessons– and less external pressure– Gaea has rediscovered the joy of music.

Whether inspired by their own children, redefining their relationship to lessons, or enjoying precious solo time, Piano Power moms find so many benefits to studying an instrument.

A meditative state of mind

Gaea finds that along with the mental challenge of learning music theory, relearning the piano has a meditative effect. Playing piano, she says, relaxes her brain.

“For a little while during the day, I tune out external distractions and focus on what is in front of me presently,” Gaea says. “Maybe it’s a stretch, but playing piano is like an active meditation for me with similar benefits.”

It’s not a stretch.

As Melissa Venditti writes in The Mindful Word: “When I play, I can feel the sensation of my fingers pressing against the keys or strings. I can become actively aware of my own emotional reaction to the music on a beat-by-beat basis.”

Others have noted the meditative, relaxing effect playing music has on their consciousness, a benefit of music study that may be particularly valuable to busy moms.

A connection to the past

Parent Alyse Gamson’s story is similar to Gaea’s. She signed up for lessons after becoming “completely entranced” while witnessing her son’s lessons. Now she enjoys the peace she’s found in playing.

“When I’m in a good practice rhythm and playing a song that I love, it immediately puts me in a wonderful, meditative state of mind,” Alyse says. “If it’s a classical piece, I’m completely enchanted and feel a connection with the past.”

Making time for learning

Unlike Gaea, Alyse had no experience with studying music before taking adult lessons. Initially her goal was to sight-read easy music. She then moved on to intermediate songs.

But life can easily get in the way of goals. With three kids under nine and a business to run, Alyse’s biggest challenge is universal: making time for practice.

“It’s important to practice regularly, ideally at least five times a week,” says Piano Power founder and director Abraham Levitan. “But the length of practice doesn’t matter nearly as much as regularity. So if all you can manage is five minutes a day, you can still progress if it’s a daily habit.”

For parent Mindy Ingersoll, knowing she’s investing money into lessons motivates regular 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 to play a little bit,” Mindy says. “Instead of checking Facebook I’m playing the guitar. It’s definitely a better use of my time.”

Reconnecting with songs you love

Choosing to learn favorite songs with a personal connection can help motivate practice. Learning the classics is wonderful. But like working out to a good mix, it’s the songs we really love that move us.

Learning easy versions of songs by her favorites (like Jason Mraz, Imagine Dragons, and Elvis Presley) was the jolt Alyse needed to make time for practice.

The accessibility of at-home lessons

Taking private lessons at home has been key for Gaea. She describes her son as “pokey” when it comes to leaving the house. Add that to the time-sucks of getting dressed, gathering supplies, and hustling in and out of buildings, lessons can quickly devolve into another chore.

With lessons at home, Gaea says, “It’s no longer an event. It’s just another thing we do, like eating our dinner or brushing our teeth.”

The most important thing to know about practice

Sometimes, you’re just not going to do it.

That doesn’t mean you should give up, or not take lessons at all. Parent Taryn Fisher says that flexibility is key to balancing work, family, and personal time.

“I am not going to pretend that I’m a poster-child for the ‘mom who does everything,’” Taryn says. “Accepting that this is something I am doing for myself– a treat, something to look forward to– is important. Which means not squeezing it into an already stressful day. But I’m also not putting it last after everyone else’s needs are met.”

Learning to learn again

Buddhist teacher and monk Suzuki Roshi said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

Kids are masters of “beginner’s mind”. Constantly learning new things, they’re well-acquainted with being new to something. But adults? Our egos cringe at the sound of our own amateur playing.

“I do feel a little vulnerable as an adult not feeling like I’m entirely competent as I’m learning a new piece,” says parent Lindsey Harrington, who is also a middle-school teacher.

But rather than letting that feeling of incompetence stop her, Lindsey lets it deepen her compassion for herself and her students.

“It’s always good to remind myself of the various learning styles and give everyone, myself included, a bit of grace during the learning process,” says Lindsey. “It takes different people different lengths of time and a variety of methods to figure things out. It’s good to be reminded of that.”

Jacqueline Arrigo, a Piano Power teacher who also cares for her infant daughter, has played, taught, and performed piano for years. She recently started guitar lessons to challenge herself with a new instrument.

“[As a music student in college], I just never had the motivation to practice guitar, especially with my shiny piano sitting right there,” Jacqueline says. “But as a student now, it’s fun, challenging, and empowering to learn. In the end the goal is the same for me– to always be learning.”

As Taryn puts it, why do only what comes easily?

Creating community with family

As a new mom, Jacqueline struggles with “mom-guilt” and falling behind on chores. But she loves the ways music enriches her relationship to her daughter. It’s a benefit worth delaying the laundry for.

“Livvy loves music and always hangs out with me in our music room while I’m playing,” Jacqueline says. “She has her own mini-piano and other percussion instruments that keep her busy while I practice. I want her to be surrounded by music, and this is a perfect way to do it.”

Several moms mentioned playing with their kids, including songs their kids wrote for them. They report being delightfully surpassed in skill by their children. And they let lessons drive what the family listens to together.

Rekindling sparks with your spouse

After helping her husband find a guitar teacher, Mindy realized she wanted lessons, too. They’ve now found that playing together helps connect them as a couple.

“It’s hard to find time to practice at the same time, but when we do, we start laughing or smiling because we messed up,” Mindy says. “And it’s fun when my son walks in and wants to take out his guitar. He’s not taking lessons yet but it’s getting him interested.”

It goes to show that once someone in the family starts lessons, a passion for music begins to catch.

“My husband started taking piano lessons this year, and our youngest can’t wait for lessons,” Alyse says. “Music is such a gift. We hope to inspire our children so that they’ll want to learn instruments at a young age.”

Taryn grew up in a musical family. Her brother went to a music conservatory, her sister is a professional performer, and her parents play together as a duo. She easily envisions a family band in her future. Once the least confident musician in the family, now that prospect excites her.

Feeling like yourself again

Momhood is equal parts joy and pain, euphoria and exhaustion. What time we may have once had for soul-searching, creative expression, or intellectual pursuits, is replaced with caring for our kids.

“The creative part of me had been missing for almost a decade, and that can be a sad loss,” Taryn says. “Tapping back into making music has been so refreshing, like, ‘Oh, it’s nice to see creative Taryn again’.”

Before we become parents, we understand that parenting involves sacrifice. But when the sacrifice becomes real, seeping into our daily lives, we can begin to feel starved. Music lessons — with the social and introspective opportunities they offer– can be a marvelous antidote.

Want to learn more about adults in music lessons? Check out 8 reasons why you’ll never regret taking adult music lessons.

How to Find the Right Music Teacher

Smiling teacher and students

First, the Golden Rule: Amazing musicians don’t necessarily make amazing teachers.

Some incredible pianists make lackluster teachers, while some less-than-amazing pianists make incredible teachers. I have hired for talent and been let down, and I have hired for personality and attitude and been absolutely delighted.

So, if you only remember one piece of advice when choosing a music teacher, remember this: More than degrees, titles, or awards, a teacher’s level of emotional intelligence(EQ) — the awareness of their own emotions and the emotions of others–will determine their effectiveness as a teacher.

Is your candidate responsive to your messages, questions, and input? Are they flexible and spontaneous? Can they balance structure and fun, and do they seem to genuinely love what they do? These are the characteristics that truly matter, and that keep a student engaged, challenged, and committed to music lessons.

You’ll sense the level of a potential teacher’s EQ in a phone or in-person meeting, which I recommend setting up if you’re not working with a studio (like mine) that finds a teacher match for you.

At the initial meeting, here are some important questions to ask:

  • Do you have recitals? If not, are there goals for myself or my kid to work towards? Without goals — even if music lessons are meant purely for enjoyment — a student won’t reach their full potential.
  • What is your method of tracking weekly practice? An organized teacher will stay on top of student progress by helping them keep track of their own practicing.
  • What is your method of presenting an assignment and ensuring it’s carried out? Accountability is massively important for learning in general, so make sure your teacher has a plan.
  • Do you have experience incorporating student song requests into lessons, whether through arranging the piece yourself or sourcing arrangements through other means? One of the best things a teacher can do to keep their student engaged is to teach them to play songs they love. Before finding a teacher, ask yourself or your kid what type of music or specific songs they want to play.
  • Do you have experience helping a student develop an original composition? If you don’t consider songwriting an important facet of your or your kid’s music education, here is my plea to reconsider.
  • How has your teaching style evolved since you started, or, what’s one mistake you made when you started that you’ve learned from? Your candidate’s answer will reveal their capacity for self-reflection and improvement.
  • What makes this job rewarding for you? It goes without saying that a teacher must have passion for their leadership to be effective.

You’ve asked all the right questions, liked what you’ve heard, and decided to work with a teacher.

Is there a way to test for chemistry before signing on the dotted line?

Many teachers will offer a no-strings-attached “trial lesson” or introductory meeting.

No matter what you call the first session, it should be okay for both parties to walk away afterward. An in-person meeting, incorporating conversation and instruction, will reveal much more than thousands of vetting questions.

If you’re a parent, avoid being in the same room, which could make both teacher and student nervous or disingenuous. Follow along from an adjacent room instead.

Feeling insecure about interviewing a teacher because you have no musical background or experience?

It doesn’t matter.

Everything I’ve listed above requires no musical background to assess.

Your goal in finding a teacher is to understand their pedagogical strategy, learn how they will use it to make their students excited about setting and reaching goals, and determine if that strategy will work for you and your family.

Don’t worry about sounding like you know anything about music. Any teacher who devalues your opinion because you don’t know musical terminology isn’t a good fit for you, and certainly won’t be a good match for your kid.

If you’ve had past lesson experience.

In this situation, tell the new teacher all about your last teacher, the progress you did or didn’t make, what worked and didn’t work for you. Listen closely to their response. Do you believe they could genuinely correct the course, or will they offer more of the same?

Trust your instincts!

When it’s time to find a new teacher.

Students who stick with music lessons over the course of many years change in more ways than just their age. When I was in seventh grade, I quit the piano lessons I’d been taking since first grade. Not because I didn’t love playing, but because I needed to find a new perspective as musician.

I really liked my teacher, but she was traditional. She couldn’t relate to my request to learn the pop and rock songs I loved. It took a year of musical soul-searching, and finding a new teacher– who not only played in a gigging jazz band, but knew I needed to learn jazz piano to reach my performing and songwriting goals– before I found my stride.

The journey of music education is full of equal parts challenge and reward. Teachers are guideposts. Spending some time thinking about what kind of teacher you want and need– and asking lots of well-thought-out questions– makes all the difference in finding the right one.

Want to learn about teacher EQ and why it’s important? Find out what I look for in a music teacher.

How to Prepare for Your Kid’s First Music Lesson

8 Tips for Getting Off to a Good Start with Your New Music Teacher

Piano student and teacher

by Lara Levitan

First and foremost, what an exciting time! First lessons mark the beginning of a new era in your kid’s life, whether they’re completely new to music lessons, or resuming their study with a new teacher. Get More Info about the best set of experts who have been the best in the field of teaching music for a long time

Talking with your teacher or lesson provider before the first lesson is a great way to be prepared (and to establish great communication), but following these suggestions will ensure your student is ready to shine on first-lesson day!

1. Make sure the instrument fits.

For young piano students, this means having a small foot stool or ottoman to place their feet on for balance and posture. If they’re using a keyboard, make sure it is adjusted for height.

Similarly, guitars and drum sets should be the appropriate size and fit for the student.

2. Have practice area set up and well-equipped.

Have all supplies at the ready, such as (if applicable and available):

–Tuner


–Metronome

–Blank notebook (for notes and assignments)

–At least one pencil with a good eraser

–Music stand

–A recording device so you can review lessons later

–A chair for your teacher, who will certainly appreciate it!

3. Have books from previous teacher(s) readily available.

For students with previous experience, it may be helpful to the teacher for the student to perform at the first lesson what they learned most recently, whether it be a few measures or an entire song.

4. Remove pets from the practice area.

If your furry friend really needs to scope out the new person in the house, it’s best to sequester them to a different spot once the lesson starts; focus is important for having the best lesson possible. (On that note, it’s also important for pet owners to know their teacher’s allergy status!)

5. Be present in the practice area when the teacher arrives.

Don’t waste valuable lesson time searching for your student!

6. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes, and minimal accessories on the arms or hands for instrumentalists.

In addition, all instrumentalists– namely pianists and guitarists– are encouraged to cut their nails regularly, especially before a lesson.

7. Prepare to talk about yourself!

A good teacher will want to know more about their student– their musical likes and dislikes, and their hobbies and interests in general. Especially for young students, it may be helpful to talk this out in advance so they’re ready to communicate with their teacher.

8. Be patient and have fun!

Nothing quells nerves and anxiety like preparation. Following these recommendations will help you or your student relax, leaving more time for the joy of learning music!

Want to get that practice space realllly ready? Check out 12 Tips for Creating Ideal Music Practice.

The Best Travel Mug for Traveling Music Teachers

An entire blog post on the thermos that will protect your beverage, because you must have hot caffeine

by Lara Levitan

When work requires you to spend lots of time in a car, a few things are essential: a respectable stream of music and/or podcasts, functional heating and cooling, and perhaps most importantly, a damn good travel mug.

Piano Power teacher Andrew Doney has discovered a mug so great that his girlfriend is going to “get rid” of him if he mentions it again, a thermos so impressive we had to let you know about it.

From Andrew:

“I literally can’t talk about this thermos enough. It’s amazing.

A few months back, I emailed the number one worldwide authority on drinking tea while driving to music lessons: Abraham Levitan. My question was this: How do I drive around in the dead of winter, for eight hours, and have hot tea the whole night without going to Starbucks?

He was stumped, but I did some research and found the answer: The Thermos Stainless Steel King 40 Ounce Beverage Bottle.

The first test was a Saturday, when I filled up my 40 oz. thermos at 7:30 a.m. This thing sat in my car all day, in 20 degree weather. I poured my last cup at 5 p.m. and… steaming hot tea. STEAMING.

Buying this thermos should literally be part of the Piano Power onboarding process. I have a lot of days where I don’t have time to stop for hot caffeine, and those days used to be a bummer.”

There you have it, folks. The travel mug that puts all other travel mugs to shame.

Teachers, what other survival tips can you offer for long hours spent in cars?

Looking for more practical teaching advice? Check out Adrienne Schroeder’s step-by-step plan for teaching music students to practice.

Teaching Music Students How to Practice: A Step-by-Step Guide for Teachers

Use this precise method to resolve problem areas, plus advice for parents!

girl playing piano

Photo by Smith Pereira

by Adrienne Schroeder

In my 5 years of teaching piano and horn, I’ve noticed a trend among students: many of them have no idea how to practice.

If you’re a teacher, you may discover poor practice habits when you start to experience “same lesson syndrome”: needing to address the same “problem area” in your student’s music week after week, with no change from lesson to lesson.

These problem areas are usually exacerbated by students falling back on poor practice habits, often without their even realizing it.

So how do we eliminate these habits and teach our students to be better practicers?

First, let’s define what practice is not.

Namely, practicing–or at least effective practicing– is not playing a piece over and over from beginning to end, though that seems to be the default for many students.

In most cases, repeatedly playing a song from beginning to end only glosses over and re-enforces problems like unsteady beat, incorrect fingerings, ignoring dynamic/style markings, wrong notes and rhythms, flat fingers, etc.

Here’s the effective practice method I teach my students. It’s a step-by-step process I’ve found to be very successful because ultimately, it empowers students to teach themselves.

I hope that using it helps your students become better practicers!

Ask questions.

One of my very naturally talented students always got the notes quickly, but would race through her music and miss tons of details.

So I asked her these questions:

  • What does a typical practice session look like for you?
  • What parts of the piece could be better?
  • What would you do to make it better if I wasn’t here?
  • My student said that during practice she usually plays her piece from beginning to end, and that she didn’t know what she would do to make the song better if I wasn’t there.

    I walked her through the following problem-solving process, and helped her identify a few key areas that needed to be isolated.

    Note: It’s important to go through the whole process together during a lesson so you can be sure the student gets it, and you can practice it together.

    Follow this problem-solving process with your student.

    1. The first step in solving a problem is knowing a problem exists! So first, help your student to recognize there is a problem that needs fixing.

    This requires awareness from both the student and the teacher, who can help shed light on the problem(s) they see. (Younger students usually need extra help with this.)

    2. Once it’s identified, isolate the problem area.

    Take it out of the context of the piece to zero in on what’s happening.

    3. Begin taking away variables.

    I tell my students to think of it as a science experiment, and we are trying to discover the source of the problem.

    Usually the first variable to take away is tempo, which means slow it down. My parents–who are both musicians– used to say, “Slow practice for fast results.” As much as I hated it as a kid, it’s true!

    If it’s not fixed by tempo, then we know it must be something else. Test other variables by playing each hand separately, simplifying the rhythm, double checking the notes, etc.

    4. Once the source of the issue is identified, fix it slowly.

    This could mean figuring out the correct rhythm, fingering, or note(s). Next we “lock it in” by playing it correctly multiple times on its own.

    5. Gradually add back in variables like the original rhythm, tempo, and all components of what the composer wrote.

    Execute it multiple times correctly this way, but continue to isolate it from the rest of the piece.

    6. Finally, add the former “problem area” back into the original context of the piece.

    You may still need to slow it down, but that’s usually just to get the flow of transitions. Isolating has already addressed the root of the issues in that specific spot.

    This process is second nature to me, but I realized that I learned this at some point in my musical training. If my students don’t also learn this tool, how can I expect them to use it and be smart, efficient practicers?

    The awesome results!

    After going through this process with my naturally talented student and devising a new practice plan, she became a completely different player. The following lesson showed that chronic issues had mostly vanished, and she started playing much more freely and confidently.

    As time has passed and she has built the skill, she can now easily identify a spot that needs isolation and say, “I should probably do this by itself, shouldn’t I?”

    This is the end goal – to provide students with the tools and skills to be their own teachers!

    With this method, practice and lessons become more productive. Students get through more repertoire because they’ve become efficient problem-solvers.

    Not only do they play more repertoire, but they play it at a higher level. Because students are solving technical issues during their own practice time, we can use lessons to work on more advanced elements like expression and storytelling.

    Essentially, they learn to improve at a faster rate and get a lot more out of their music making!

    Advice for parents.

    My advice to parents who want to take an active role in helping their students improve at practicing: know that quantity of practice is secondary to quality.

    If a student is following these steps during practice for 10 minutes daily and addressing issues in their playing, or at least trying to address issues, that is much more valuable than running a piece over and over for 30 minutes.

    Two chunks of 5-10 minutes each might work better for some kids as well.

    What to do if your student is not engaged.

    Students who are not engaged or are not enjoying piano usually will not put the effort into practicing effectively.

    Teachers and parents should be aware if a student isn’t enjoying their music. Often, a teacher just needs to get creative and tailor an arrangement to teach a particular concept.

    I personally have arranged pieces for students that highlight a skill that needs work. And I often use one of their favorite tunes so they don’t mind putting in the time!

    The bonus for using this method? Awareness and problem-solving are lifelong skills that can help students be successful in anything they do. The results and benefits only begin at the piano.

    About Piano Power Teacher Adrienne Schroeder

    Adrienne Schroeder

    Adrienne Schroeder is a musician excited about all genres of music and the lasting impact it has on the lives of others. She is an active freelancer in the Chicago area as a performer and music educator. Adrienne completed her master’s degree in horn performance at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and she earned her bachelor’s in performance from Central Michigan University. Raised in a musical family, Adrienne received a solid foundation that fostered a passion for creating and sharing music.

    Adrienne’s teaching philosophy is all about making the most expressive, artistic music possible in the most efficient way possible. She focuses on mental preparation and explores how attitudes affect the quality of performances. She meets each student where they are, creating effective habits in their playing and having plenty of fun along the way. Mastering an instrument takes courage, responsibility, and consistent practice. Adrienne works to instill those values and work ethic in her students. Her goal is for them to learn valuable life skills and develop a lifelong appreciation for music and the arts.

    To read more great practice tips, check out 12 Tips for Creating Ideal Music Practice

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    How (and why) I Run a Teacher-Focused Company


    by Abraham Levitan

    In my former life, I was an aspiring rock star who taught piano on the side. Driving house to house on Chicago’s North Shore, I happily delivered lessons until my client waiting list grew so long I considered hiring another teacher.

    In 2007 I did just that, and Piano Power was born. Now some ten years later, we are 25 teachers, four admins (including me), and 400 students strong.

    As I hired teachers over the years, I assumed all music studios used my strategy: carefully match student and teacher, and focus intently on streamlining the teacher’s schedule. We provide in-home lessons to mostly children–a great way to appeal to parents seeking convenience– so I’m careful to minimize driving time while maximizing teaching time.

    But the more I interviewed candidates, the more I realized they were also interviewing at places that held a very different philosophy: what I call the “client-focused approach.”

    Beware the Client Approach, Even if You’re the Client

    Take this scenario. A client calls a music education provider and requests guitar lessons on Tuesdays at 4pm. The client-focused business may respond with, “No problem! Read the bios of the plentiful teachers we have available at that exact time, decide who you want, and they’ll show up at your door.”

    To have teachers “at the ready” like this, the business must overhire– or as I like to put it, they must grow a teacher farm. The abundance of the farm allows them to serve new clients immediately, which might seem great for the client…

    But it’s not so great for teachers. As one of dozens or even hundreds of contractors, a teacher in this situation is typically sitting on their talented hands, waiting for their schedule to fill.

    It’s easy to to see where this leads: low job satisfaction for teachers and high turnover.

    Music students want to work with happy, motivated teachers who will be there for them– not jaded “jobbers”. Which is why a client-focused approach is ultimately bad for the client. The relationship between teacher and student is so symbiotic that if a teacher is unhappy, chances are the student is, too.

    Focus on Teachers to Keep Everyone Happy

    Conversely, a teacher-focused business prioritizes overall job satisfaction and happiness for the teacher. This is the only way I know how to take care of not only teachers, but clients.

    How do I do this?

    As I said earlier, accommodating my teachers’ desired schedules is top priority. Melding those schedules with clients’ desired lesson time is no easy feat. If you’re interested in starting a small, in-home lessons studio, a passion for logistics and spreadsheets certainly helps–it may even be a requirement. I happen to be just that kind of nerd, so mapping efficient driving routes and matching schedules was always fun for me.

    However, the volume of teachers and students eventually grew too high for me to do it on my own. A few years ago I hired a logistics manager who carefully matches times and locations. She sends a list of proposed schedules to me, and ultimately I decide what works.

    This way, rather than worrying about logistics, a teacher is handed a well-planned schedule, a roster of eager students, and a minimized amount of driving in their future.

    Many of our teachers are young, working musicians who string together teaching, gigging, and other side jobs, so working with a company that grabs the scheduling reins is a huge relief.

    Creating a Positive, Connected Culture

    Since our teachers work remotely, we have no centralized location for them to meet between lessons, share experiences and advice, and build rapport.

    Consequently, I strive to create an espirit de corps among the teachers. Face time has always been important; I observe and give feedback on lessons regularly. But my wife and I also throw parties for the gang. Twice a year we eat pizza, drink beer, listen to records, and nerd out on music talk.

    Teachers Emily Volz, Matt Gold, and Peter Groch at our backyard BBQ

    Teachers Emily Volz, Matt Gold, and Peter Groch at our backyard BBQ

    We recently started performing for each other at “Piano Power Hour”, a live, monthly showcase that is open to the public at a local venue. It’s one thing to witness your teacher nailing it during a lesson, and a whole other to applaud them performing beautifully on stage.

    I really do see the teachers as our team. I’m a big baseball fan, so I really like that we have roughly as many instructors as players on a major league baseball roster. I enjoy the feeling that this is my crew and i’m looking out for them, deploying their talents as skillfully as I can.

    Be a Musical Matchmaker

    On the client side, I get to know the student before they begin lessons. Most of our students are children, so I speak to their parents on the phone about experience levels, how they engage with music, personality characteristics, and learning styles.

    From there, I hand-pick each student-teacher pair. If I can’t come back to the family and specifically explain why I think a teacher is a good fit based on our conversation, then I don’t do it.

    When matching, I’m also considering the teacher’s preferences, like instrument, age range, and student experience level.

    Granted, there are limits to how much you can learn about a student by simply taking with their parents. I do my best based on the initial consultation, but sometimes after a few lessons the parents decide it’s not a good fit. I always defer to parental instinct in cases like that, never trying to “hard sell” a teacher.

    If the parents think it doesn’t work, we make another match.

    The Pros Outweighs the Cons

    If you’re interested in running a small, boutique operation, I see only one drawback to the teacher-focused approach.

    Namely, when a new client calls to request those guitar lessons on Tuesdays at 4pm, I’m much less likely to have an immediate solution for them. Typically, they spend a small amount of time on a waiting list before we find a match, and that can be initially frustrating.

    But I’ve always felt it was an indicator of health that our teachers are working full schedules, our families are happy and sticking around, and our teachers are doing the same. It makes us feel confident that because our reputation is strong, a new client is willing to wait a bit up-front to get matched with a great teacher.

    At 400 students, Piano Power is bigger than I ever thought it would be, but that’s happened over ten years. Our growth does not mimic the “hockey stick model”, shooting up from the base at a steep incline.

    Rather, our emphasis on quality over quantity has helped us achieve a slow, steady growth. And at the heart of that growth is a happy, satisfied group of teachers who know they’re my top priority.

    This article originally appeared on Tim Topham’s piano teaching blog.

    Read more about Abraham’s hiring process in What I Look for in a Music Teacher.

    The Best Strategy for Motivating Bored Music Students

    bored girl at piano

    by Abraham Levitan

    No one is good at something all of the time.

    Writers, artists, athletes, business owners and employees all go through dry spells– we’re uninspired, our work stinks, our performance suffers, we dread practicing. In short, we’re just not feeling it.

    This is “The Dip” as characterized by Seth Godin in his popular 2007 book “The Dip: A Little Book that Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick)”, and anyone who pursues an art, hobby, even a job, goes through it.

    Including music students.

    Including your music student.

    It may manifest in any or all of the following ways. Student:

  • puts up a fight about practice or refuses to practice
  • stops looking forward to showing teacher their progress
  • stops looking forward to lessons period
  • is less interested in music overall
  • complains to parents or teacher that playing the instrument “isn’t fun anymore” or lessons “are too hard”
  • claims they don’t have time for lessons or practice
  • As parents and teachers, we know that music lessons are well worth the challenge of slumps like these, because the impact playing music has on our brains, bodies, and souls is tremendous, whether we intend to become professional musicians or not. (For further reading on the subject, this article from the Music Instrument Center outlines the plentiful benefits of both listening to and playing music.)

    So how do we help our students rise above The Dip?

    1. Help your student recognize The Dip.

    Even young kids can understand this. Normalize what they’re going through, because it is normal. Tell them about your own dips and how you got through them. Reassure them they’re not alone.

    When you’re an adult in a dip, you can get through it by sheer endurance. You recognize that it’s okay not to be gushing with enthusiasm over your activity all the time. But kids might not have that kind of perspective, and they’re probably going to need some help.

    In that case…

    2. Focus on process over content.

    Take martial arts as an example. I guarantee you not every karate student is passionate about kicking and sparring, but every karate kid can tell you what color belt they are, and when they get to move to the next color or level.

    The system is brilliant, because even if a kid feels a dip, there is something cool, colorful, and public to mark their progress.

    Same goes for musicals. I’ve seen many students get really jazzed about moving from the chorus to a supporting role to (maybe!) a lead role.

    In these examples, the process, structure, or levels behind the activity become more important or exciting than the activity itself. What a way to pull through a dip!

    With private music lessons, sometimes it seems to a kid like they’re looking at a vast terrain of
    “I’m going to do this once a week for years without any way to mark my progress.”

    Well then, it’s time to make some levels. Or goals. Or a reward system. However you want to frame it is fine, as long as you think, plan, enact, and track.

    Here are some ideas to consider:

    Personality type

    A type-A kid get might get really into keeping a practice chart, and beating his average practice time each week. (Think about the motivational power of wearing a steps-tracking device like the Fitbit.)

    Hobbies or interests

    You could customize an approach to your student’s own passions. A visual artist or learner may enjoy earning points toward decorating a practice notebook each week. A poetry writer could set poems to music, and work toward creating an album.

    Sports!

    Sports present a really obvious way of keeping a sometimes boring event engaging. We’ve all sat through uneventful or low-scoring games because the culture, competition, players, and strategy keep us watching. How can this idea be applied to music lessons? Could each song represent a different level of the playoffs? Can you work toward making a song ready for the World Series?

    For one soccer-loving student, former Piano Power teacher Jackie Arrigo drew a soccer field on a piece of paper. The rule was, for every flashcard the student got right, he earned a pass toward the goal, with five passes equaling one goal. Every flashcard he got wrong, Jackie got the pass.

    (A game like this could be used for any kid, even if they’re not particularly interested in soccer!)

    Apps

    Speaking of games, phone apps are brilliant at taking “veggies” activities– good for you but not always thrilling– and game-ifiying. Here are some suggestions.

    Competition

    Piano Power teacher Andrew Doney once had five students (who didn’t know each other) poised to graduate from the same book at the same time. He told the students about each other and made an informal, friendly competition of it– a race to the end of the book. His students got really into it!

    Recitals or open mics

    Instant goal! For many kids, knowing they’re going to play a song in front of actual live human beings is enough to get them trotting through a dip.

    Parents have an advantage.

    Unlike teachers, parents have the advantage seeing their kid in a multitude of learning environments. They witness firsthand which activities connect and which don’t. So much of whether an activity connects has to do with the way the kid perceives the “rules”, format, and presentation.

    Does the experience makes the kid feel like a superstar, or does it cause them to bang their head against the wall? Can you determine why?

    Parental input is priceless if it extrapolates beyond “my kid likes soccer” to “my kid likes soccer because…” Give that information to a teacher and they will thank you for it.

    As a teacher or parent, here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • After coming up with goals or systems, are you revisiting them to evaluate how your student is doing, and whether those goals are still exciting?

  • Are you actively encouraging them to explore music on their own — by asking them to write down songs they’ve been excited by recently, etc.?

  • Are you providing visual reminders of how much (or how little) they’ve improved over a period of time?
    Does the fun part relate to the progress/motivation part? i.e., when they achieve a goal (or make lots of progress towards it), do you do something extra-fun in the lesson to celebrate? Or do they feel like working on goals is taking away from their “fun time”?

  • Ideally, “the dip” is nothing but a natural reminder that it’s time to reconnect a student to their material in a more compelling way. Aim for robust teacher-parent communication, and a deep understanding of what motivates each individual student.

    Read more about motivating music students, this time by changing expectations.

    Tuning Into Your Child’s Musical Journey

    Finding the Right Level of Involvement in Your Child’s Music Lessons

    mother and son walking

    Photo by Boris Smokrovic

    by Lara Levitan




    A few months ago, we published Why Taking Music Lessons with Your Kid is Awesome. Our colleague Brendan Bosworth, owner of of Meter Music School in Seattle, countered with this assertion: Leaving your kids alone during lessons is awesome, too.

    This may be harder for some of us than others. Music lessons are a big investment of time and money, so naturally we want to make sure everything is going smoothly. And we want to support our children by keeping tabs on how to help.

    But at what point does our support become stifling? And at the other end of the spectrum, how might our lack of involvement in music lessons negatively affect our student’s progress?

    We asked a few seasoned music teachers for their advice on the right blend of parental involvement and detachment, and they were consistent across the board.

    Their advice: involvement during music lessons should be minimal to none, depending on the student. But music practice is most effective–and productive– when a parent or caregiver takes an active role.

    Be a Fly on the Wall

    Imagine you’re in a piano lesson, nervous because you haven’t practiced since your last lesson, and not only is your teacher evaluating your performance, but your mother is sitting behind you, eager to check on your progress.

    “Learning an instrument is intimidating, and a new teacher is intimidating,” said Brendan, who also teaches guitar and ukulele. “Having the audience of your teacher and your parent watching you try to play in a small music studio can be a lot to handle.”

    If your student and teacher are okay with it, sitting in on a first lesson can show support and provide an extra source of background information. But for future lessons, occasionally popping in for the last few minutes of a lesson is a milder, more helpful approach.

    “By the end of the lesson, often the student and I are into the groove of playing something together, and it’s fun to let a parent be a fly on the wall.” Brendan said. “Many parents I work with will do this every couple of months, as they are able.”

    By making an occasional, brief appearance at the end of a lesson, you can get more insight on how to be helpful.

    “Usually it helps parents gain perspective and know when to be involved,” said Piano Power teacher Alex Rowney.

    If you are sitting in on a portion of your child’s lesson, though, always stay positive and be mindful of your comments or body language.

    “I once had a very well-meaning parent who would literally cringe any time she heard a wrong note or rhythm,” said Piano Power teacher Lucas Gillan. “While I appreciated that the mom cared so much about her son’s performance in his lessons, she took it so far that it discouraged him.”

    An overbearing parental presence might also distract the teacher, who could feel the need to put on a “teacher show” rather than focus on the student and build rapport.

    Ultimately, music students need time and space to discover their instrument on their own terms and at their own pace, and to develop their relationship with their instructor as a mentor.

    You’ve already given the child the gift of music lessons– once they’ve gotten started, it’s time to let them unwrap it and discover its possibilities.

    When You Can’t Be A Fly on the Wall

    Oftentimes, work or other responsibilities keep parents from being around during music lessons. If students are dropped off at a studio, or at home when a particular parent isn’t present, months can go by without any in-person teacher/parent interaction.

    Staying in touch by any means — emails, texts, or phone calls– becomes crucial to getting the scoop on progress, successes, and challenges.

    Students might keep a notebook that travels between home and lessons, which can be extra helpful in these situations. Teachers can write a brief summary of the lesson, and suggestions for helping the student practice, for the parent to read.

    However, while a student can still progress during music lessons with little to no parental involvement, practice time is a different story.

    A “Practice Coach” Is Essential

    Students who don’t practice will not progress– or they’ll at least progress at a much slower rate.
    Most students–especially if they’re young or having a difficult time getting motivated or staying focused– won’t practice on their own.

    And any student in this day and age has many activities vying for their attention. Left without a “practice coach”–be it a parent or another caregiver– they’re much more likely to lose interest in lessons.

    “Especially with young beginners, parent support can be crucial during practice time,” Brendan said. “By checking in regularly with an instructor, parents can learn very basic ways to support at home with technique, understanding notes on a staff, shaping a practice routine that works for their family, etc.”

    Other recommendations include:

  • Scheduled, consistent practice times
  • Persistent, gentle reminders
  • Incentives
  • Guiding the student to their instrument
  • Actually sitting down with young or struggling students to help keep them on track



  • (For more on the importance of practice, check out this great advice from The Playful Piano).

    Typically, students can expect to follow through with lessons on their own by around late elementary, middle school, or junior high– but even then they’ll probably need a little push!

    The Musical Journey

    Of course, all students are different. You may have a junior high kid who loves you to watch her lessons and doesn’t need a single reminder to practice. (We should be so lucky!)

    The most important thing is to “tune in” to your student’s musical journey. In other words, be sensitive and responsive to what works–and doesn’t work– for your unique child.

    And remember that a journey is full of ups, downs, and forks in the road.

    “Making errors, recognizing them, and dealing with or accepting them is a deeply personal experience,” Alex said. “Parents must allow their children to make mistakes and learn from them on their own without too much intervention.”

    Want to read more about the role parents play in music lessons? Check out this article on managing expectations for your child’s music lessons.

    How Learning Jazz Can Give You Musical Superpowers

    Louie Armstrong




    As a music student, learning jazz may not be at the top of your list, especially if the only time you hear jazz is when you pop into Starbucks (on a good day).

    But if you want to get really good on your instrument– be it piano, drums, or guitar–consider this: learning jazz theory can take you to another level, advancing your overall understanding of music theory, and giving you the ability to play multiple genres.

    Or, in the words of our multi-instrument teacher Lucas Gillan, jazz can give you musical superpowers.

    What is jazz piano?

    To put it simply, jazz involves playing melodies over an existing set of chord changes. In jazz piano solo improvisation, the musician creates new melodies within the harmonic frameworks of jazz songs.

    What will jazz teach me about music theory?

    Did your eyes just glaze over?

    Music theory has a bad rep, maybe because it’s associated with complex language and old music that young people don’t connect with, the crotchety grandfather we’re forced to visit during music lessons.

    But simply put, music theory is a way to talk about the sound of music. (JazzAdvice.com – click for more) Think of it as the science behind music; it explains how music is structured, and why we hear it the way we do. (Jazzstandards.com – click for more).

    Jazz theory does all this, and prepares you for improvisation — composing in the moment. By adding improvisation to theory, jazz creates room for openness, malleability, and your own personal expression.

    How will jazz make me a master of my instrument?

    Here comes that word again: improvisation!

    When you sit down to play from sheet music, everything is printed there for you: the note combinations, scales, articulations, inflections, etc. Sheet music is a map though a song.

    When you improvise, you have no map– except for your own skills, tastes, and choices.

    Hence, learning to improvise requires you to become more physically and mentally engaged with your instrument. Naturally, your understanding of elements like theory, rhythm, and idiomatic inflection deepens.

    “If all you ever do is read notes on a page, you’ll never quite know what your instrument is capable of,” Lucas said.

    And improvisation proves that your instrument–and you– are capable of a lot. Creativity, originality, composition: improvisation fosters all of these.

    If it sounds intimidating, remember that improvisation, like anything, is a skill. That develops. Over time. And as it does, you’ll find yourself growing into a more powerful musician.

    “With jazz improvisation, instead of playing Beethoven, you are Beethoven,” said jazz musician and educator Dave Frank. “The fantastic thing about playing jazz is that once you learn how–and anyone can learn this– you can create new music spontaneously for the rest of your life.”

    How will learning jazz improvisation improve my competence in other genres?

    Jazz is a mother genre. From its fruitful, American soil springs blues, pop, rock, hip-hop, and probably more. (Read more about its history here.)

    “Jazz is a more elevated, advanced version of pop and rock theory,” said Piano Power founder and director Abraham Levitan. “It seemed almost like cheating to play pop and rock after I learned jazz theory, because pop and rock is a simpler version of jazz.”

    In other words, learning jazz teaches you other genres by default. If you’re more interested in learning pop and rock styles of playing (as a young Abraham certainly was), then jazz theory–which translates easily to pop and rock–may be a more helpful guide than classical music theory.

    Do I have to listen to jazz before I learn jazz?

    ( I can see all the jazz-heads rolling their eyes). Their advice would be yes, of course! Listening is the only way to learn, they might say. (To start, here’s a Village Voice article that recommends ten essential jazz albums.)

    But it is worthy to consider this question: Which comes first, the learning or the love? Couldn’t it go either way?

    “If a student digs deep into it and gives it a chance, I think they’ll find that they actually will fall in love with the music,” Lucas said.

    It doesn’t matter if you come to learning jazz simply as a means to end. You just might achieve your original goal, develop a whole new set of related skills, and maybe, just maybe, develop a lifelong passion along the way.

    Want to hear Lucas’s jazz superpowers in action? Watch this video of his band Many Blessings playing live at Constellation in Chicago last year.

    10 Great Exercise Routines for Musicians

    How to Tune Your Most Valuable Instrument: Your Body

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    photo © https://myfitstation.com

    posted by Lara Levitan




    Musicians, you know how important it is to practice, practice, and practice some more. But with all that focus on your musical skills, it’s easy to forget about your health. Your body plays a role in your technique, whether you’re conscious of it or not. For example, good posture helps singers produce a strong, full sound. Strong arms allow violinists to play with stamina and endurance. This is why exercising regularly and staying in shape is so important for musicians.

    If you’re looking for some fitness strategies to enhance your music-making, take a look at the infographic below, compiled by TakeLessons. Their article on fitness exercises for musicians offers more details on each form of exercise and how to get started.

    10-essential-fitness-exercises-for-musicians

    Now that you’re warmed up, check out this article on creating a supportive practice space.