Category - Practice Strategies

Technique Fundamentals According to the Taubman Approach

Do you find your students suffering from an ongoing case of “knuckle buckle?” Do their wrists sag and creep into the “snake pit?” My students suffer from the same issues, too.

Playing the piano with a healthy technique is a prerequisite to becoming a capable (and of course, creative and tech-savvy!) pianist but, it’s not always an easy topic to explain to youngsters. I’m always looking for ways to communicate technical tips that will connect with and motivate students to play with ease and efficiency.

Today’s guest blogger, Doug Hanvey, has been immersed in Dorothy Taubman’s approach–a highly respected legend in the field of technique. In fact, The Golandsky Institute continues to share Taubman’s insight and brilliance with musicians from all over the world looking to improve their technique or heal from injuries resulting from poor technique.

Doug’s article explains what technique really is and the fundamentals for you to share with your students. Ms Taubman’s approach is golden so make sure to build the foundation of your technical approach around it.

Look for a followup article from me on how to model and explain these principles with concrete tips and tools very soon! You’ll gain ideas for implementing the fundamentals below and gather remedies for knuckle buckle, sagging wrists and ways to encourage the use of weight vs force.

Thank you, Doug, for your clear and thorough explanation of the fundamentals!

-Leila


What is Piano Technique?

Many piano students, and some piano teachers, think of technique as a tedious, even grim, subject. We all want to focus on music-making. Yet to the extent that the mechanics of how we make music go unexplored and undiscussed, we risk allowing our students (and ourselves) to develop poor and potentially injurious habits.

Many teachers think that Hanon and similar exercises are “technique.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Hanon exercises are just that – exercises.

Technique is how we position ourselves and move to play, and it should be taught prior to exercises. (Of course there are other important aspects of technique such as breathing and listening.) Playing piano without understanding good technique is no different than playing golf without knowing how to grip and swing the club. Good luck!

Fortunately, unlike Hanon (sorry, Hanon), technique needn’t be tedious or grim. I’ve found that technique can be an absorbing subject, especially when you experience how it helps you to play better and with greater ease.

While as teachers we often have the opportunity to teach good technique from the beginning, sometimes we must also “fix” students’ technique. Whether we are starting or “fixing,” good technique begins with knowing how to optimally position your body at your instrument.

The rest of this article will explore this topic from the viewpoint of the famous pedagogue Dorothy Taubman. Read More

Practice Notes…Dispensable? Rethinking Practice Notes

When students finish a lesson, there’s no guarantee what kind of practice will happen at home. Although we’d love to be in control of every practice minute, that’s not reality. Instead of focusing on what’s impossible, it’s important that we teachers focus on what we CAN do to encourage the right kind of practice at home that will ignite progress between lessons. When students see themselves make progress, they want to come back for more. Read more about the impact of progress on motivation in this past post.

Below is a guest post by Roberta Wolff that offers spot-on tips and practical maxims for teacher practice notes and student practice. Roberta includes detailed information on her excellent resources that reinforce successful practice habits and is offering a special coupon for all 88PianoKeys.me readers.

Ms. Wolff has brilliant advice and I’m so thankful that she took the time to share it with us!

-Leila


To me, practice, or assignment, sheets are a vital tool in helping students sustain effort between lessons. Not because we expect a student’s work to be under par but rather in acknowledgement of the fact that practice can be a challenge, and one that requires a healthy dose of zeal and determination.

I am a UK-based piano teacher and for the last four years I have been researching how students learn and practice with particular emphasis on developing resources and ideas to support students and teachers.

My priorities have been:

  1. Teaching students how to be more efficient during their practice, including motivating students to practice regularly, musically and creatively with a healthy dose of fun.
  2. Creating resources which streamline the teachers work, including making notes clearer and easier to write, reducing planning time between lessons and educating parents and students on the art of practice.

This article will be useful to you if you are looking for:

  1. Tips to help your students practice.
  2. Ideas which you can incorporate in your own assignment sheets.
  3. New downloadable resources, be sure to use the coupon code below.
  4. Free downloads.

This article is written in two halves:

  1. A summary of my research
  2. A summary of the resources I have developed as a result.

Read More

Do Simple Better

As teachers, it’s our job to make things clear. This often requires introducing new concepts by breaking them up into bite-sized nuggets that can be quickly understood. We must make the seemingly difficult appear simple.

I recently stumbled upon this quote by Joe Maddon, the manager who led the Cubs to their first World Series title in over 100 years:

“Do simple better.”

It got me asking: what would Maddon’s challenge look like on the piano bench?

I came up with four examples of doing SIMPLE better and labelled them:

  • Expand then extract
  • Play then say
  • Explore then explain
  • Lead then let go

The video below (click here if you can’t see it) expands on these four items. Read the article found here and then watch the video.

Make sure to READ MORE so you can learn about a fantastic idea for your next piano party or studio event…

Read More

What does GRIT look like in the music studio?

Believe it or not, talent has little to do with success. The extensive research by professor Angela Duckworth has found that those with grit will have more success.

Watch the video (found on the Facebook page of Illumeably.com ) to hear more.

After watching Duckworth’s video, it got me wondering what grit would look like in the music studio and made me want to dig deeper into the topic.

“Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance.”

According to Duckworth, “grit has a more significant correlation to high school graduation rates than things like family income and social status do.” Read More

The ONE thing that holds the power to motivate

Stickers, charts, money, candy, points, and prizes are frequently used to motivate students but, do they really work?  Is it our job as teachers to motivate our students? From what I’ve experienced, incentives and even teachers do NOT hold the power to motivate.

I believe progress holds the power to motivate.

Let me explain with a personal experience.

unspecified

Joe, my cool cycle instructor, is on the far left. Tap on the picture to learn more about my cycle class that motivates.

In a Friday morning cycle class, we were challenged to pedal one mile in three minutes. Joe, the instructor, set the large timer in front of the room for the three-minute countdown, cranked up the music and even the disco lights to charge us up for the “road” ahead.

The small computer on my cycle showed me the time, how fast I was pedaling and gradually added one tenth of a mile as my feet went round and round. I thought I was not that competitive, but, it turns out that I was extremely driven to reach the mile mark by the end of three minutes. Joe strategically included the one-mile challenge not just once but, three times within the hour to build up endurance. Even though the last mile 3-minute mile was the hardest, I did not let myself slip. I was determined to beat the clock and improve my stamina.

I discovered that this challenge wasn’t about beating anybody else, it was all about successfully reaching the goal set before me. Clocking the time, adjusting my speed and pushing myself kept me moving forward to earn the “prize.” The fact that I met the goal in the first three-minute round empowered me to carry on and push forward and do it again and then again. I was motivated!

Progress has a magnetic pull. Once we experience progress and see the success that it brings, we want more. It entices us because it makes us feel good. The more progress we make, the better we feel so we try for it again and again.

Progress = The advancement or development towards a better state.

Joe’s calorie-burner choreography uses objective-based skills and measurements to help cyclers reach their anaerobic threshold. In other words, the class promises to burn calories, strengthen muscles and build endurance. The result: cyclers make progress towards maintaining or achieving fitness for a lifetime. I went home from class high on endorphins, ready for a shower and also feeling successful because I beat the clock. (Learn more about this format in this video which features Joe on a local TV station.) 

This fitness class scenario is not that much different from those who are learning an instrument. If students are given a challenge and succeed, it’s addicting. The rush that success brings triggers the desire for more challenges to conquer. That’s called motivation or specifically intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation comes naturally from within and does not come from outside rewards like stickers or bribery, which are extrinsic motivators.

Motivation =  The general desire or willingness of someone to do something.

Is it the teacher’s job to motivate? From my cycle-class experience, I’d say we teachers need to modify that description. Our job is to set challenges for our students and to equip them to succeed and progress. Joe didn’t have to bribe me with coffee and a scone to succeed, he just provided the objective and set the clock. In the same way, the promise and thrill of progress is what will drive budding musicians to their instrument on a daily basis. Stickers, candy and bribes don’t hold the promise of progress and won’t cut it in the long run.

Teachers = equip students with skills to succeed.

Progress = holds the power to motivate.

The essential “equipment” students need to see progress are practice strategies guaranteed to conquer challenges between lessons. Science has shown that the six strategies listed below will do just that. These are a critical part of any curriculum and should be put into action at every lesson.

Six Scientifically Proven Practice Strategies that Promise Progress

Read More

A Look Back at Trendsetting Piano Teaching Resources in 2016

Grab a cup of coffee–here’s 40 resources worth your time!

My friend and colleague Marie Lee and I compiled a list of winning resources that worked for us in 2016, and we can’t wait to share them with you. They are organized according to topic.

What did we forget? We didn’t include everything we intended–we had to stop some where.

What would you add to the list?

Professional and Creative Development

1.

Piano Teacher Planning Center is a brand new component of  88pianokeys.me. I’m so excited to piano teacherplanning centerhave a store–no, a center–where teachers will find a growing collection of free and for-purchase teaching aids, some created by me but others created by fellow teachers who have great ideas.

In celebration of the new year, there’s a store-wide sale until January 15, 2017. By the way, if you have a cool game or product that you want to sell, contact me at lviss@me.com and let’s plan to make it part of the PTPC in 2017. -Leila

2.

I attended my first 88 Creative Keys Workshop in Denver this past summer. I waited almost an entire year and 88 CK was well worth it! It was one of the best things I could do for my continuing education as a teacher.  You can read reviews from 2016 attendees here and learn more about 2017’s workshop here. -Marie
Here’s a video of Leila leading a body beat activity with teachers.

3.

Tim Topham’s podcasts keep me happily occupied on my Sunday afternoon walks. I look forward to them each week. Tim finds the best guests who discuss–you guessed it–trendsetting topics! Here are seven of my favorite podcasts because they deal with creativity at the keys. -Leila

4.

I look forward to Amy Chaplin’s Piano Pantry Friday Finds. Amy is one of my new, favorite bloggers. -Marie

5.

Even though I didn’t practice like I should have, I learned so much from Bradley’s online lesson session that I can use with my students. Bradley Sowash is encouraging and informative. It has opened up a whole new world of piano playing for me. -Marie

6.

ForScore, Turbo Scan, the Air Turn Pedal and the iPad Pro is a combo I’ve used every Sunday since writing my December 2015 blog post. I’m not sure how I survived without this set up. In the post you’ll learn how I move hard copy sheet music to ForScore so I can enjoy hands-free page turns. This is the wave of the future for reading scores. -Leila Read More

The ONE Thing that Guarantees a Top Performance

As much as we’d love to promise ourselves, our students and our audience a perfect performance, it really is impossible thanks to all the great unknowns:

The unknown of nerves: they pop up in odd ways like sweaty palms, a shaking leg, heart palpitations.

The unknown of the audience: they cough, cry, chat or make sudden movements that distract.

The unknown of being human: we cannot control our environment when performing in real-time.

The one and only thing we can control which will guarantee a top performance is how to respond to these unknowns.

Just this past Sunday, my bluetooth page-turning pedal turned two pages on my iPad Pro (learn more this set up here) instead of one. Wouldn’t you know this occurred in a tricky spot where I was already focused on specific, pre-planned mental cues and was not counting on a faulty page turn. It interrupted my focus but…I recovered.

Here’s what I’d recommend (after years of trial and plenty of errors!) for you and your students:to-live-a-creative-life-we-must-lose-our-fear-of-being-wrong

Prepare your performance with diligence.

Prepare yourself for the unknowns.

Prepare your ego for the recovery process.

and, perhaps, the most difficult and yet most important…

Prepare to forgive yourself when things don’t go as planned.

Below is a list of ten tips for a top performance–the first step in the preparations listed above. Notice, I didn’t use the word “perfect” but I did use the word “top” as that is what we can aspire to with proper preparation.  I’ve designed a printable of this list and the Five P’s of Performing in a free printable. You’ll see where to sign up, below. Read More

Turn Practice into Progress with Power Tools

NEW: Get your free Practice Printable HERE!

Practice habits can dwindle in the summer and right now is the perfect time to give them a boost. In reality, we as teachers have little control over what happens between lessons. Because of this, it’s essential that we make time to teach purposeful practice strategies and use powerful tools that work at lessons and empower students’ practice between lessons.

Four years ago I wrote a post about practice pouches that my students assembled at their lessons. It is one of my most popular posts and now many students around the world(!) carry a practice pouch in their piano book bags.

Practice Pouches of the Past

img_2417

It is hard to keep a firm knuckle while squeezing a clothespin but it shows how knuckle buckle can happen so easily.

If this is the first time you’ve heard about them, here’s a summary of how practice pouches were first designed. (Follow this link for ALL the details.)

During lab time, which I now call Off Bench time (tap here to learn more) at the first lesson of the fall session students chose a bag and decorated it with fabric pens. The bags were cosmetic bags found at the Dollar Store. Students passed through an assembly line of tools choosing one of each of the following:

  • Clothespin to cure “knuckle buckle” syndrome.

    img_2416

    Dumping an eraser off the wrist demonstrates the required motion for the ends of slurs.

  • Notebook to record new musical terms, repertoire, metronome markings and tallies for 20x perfect.
  • Mechanical Pencil so students “practice with a pencil” and write in counting or fingering where necessary, circle that one note that always comes out sour, etc.
  • Eraser: Wrist rolls and a lift at the ends of slurs allow for a natural tapering of sound/volume and immediately provides a more musical technique. The eraser balanced on top of the pianist’s hand is dumped off as the wrist rolls upward toward the fall board which helps students feel the correct motion required.
  • Stickers A small row of stickers are provided for students to place on a page they are
    img_2419

    Reserve ONE color for dynamics so they always stand out.

    particularly proud of.

  • Yellow Highlighter to highlight all dynamics to add and listen for each one in their practicing.
  • Rubber Snake to keep wrists parallel to the floor, a small snake is placed on the keyboard ledge and students are advised to avoid droopy wrists and stay out of the snake pit!
  • Dice so the student can divide a piece up into 6 sections. The die is rolled, if the number is 4, the student finds section 4. The student rolls again and that new number is how many times section 4 will be played. The LAST time the section is played, ZERO errors is the goal.

    13977913_10208963953828823_1574694148_o

    Heather’s assembly line of practice tools.

Heather’s Practice Pouches of 2016

As I revisit the list, there are some things I’ll bag (pun intended) and others to add. Help with this updated list comes from Heather Nanney who recently adopted the practice pouch idea in her studio.

Take time to teach purposeful strategies and tactile tools that work at lessons and empower your students’ practice between lessons.

Heather included the following in her pencil pouches turned practice pouch.  You can find pencil pouches at Amazon and other stores. (I believe they are more sturdy than the bags I purchased at the Dollar Store.)

  • Mechanical pencil

    Plot out scales with erasers first so fingers know where to go.

    Plot out scales with erasers first so fingers know where to go.

  • Eraser
  • Clothespin
  • Ziplock bag to hold “Fast Fingers” for warm-ups and composing, etc.
  • Sticky notepad (instead of notebook.)
  • Tootsie Roll for when they practice every day of the week and they are “On a Roll.”
  • Eight pencil topper erasers to help mark scale degrees. This is inspired by a past post. Follow this link.
  • Music bookmarks (because they were hanging around the studio waiting to be used.)
  • Colored pen (because they were hanging around the studio anyway.)

Leila’s Practice Pouches with Traveling Power Tools

Read More

PRACTICIA: An app that guarantees progress between lessons

Fellow teacher Lou Ann Pope graciously offered to share her experience with an app called PRACTICIA.

The highly respected and successful teacher weaves her story as a  fairy tale because of her passion for Irina Gorin’s method Tales of a Musical Journey.

Take it away, Lou Ann…


Let me tell you A Tale of Transformation…
Read More

How to Prepare Performers for Adjudicator Comments and Decisions

A number of my students enjoy the challenge of entering adjudicated events. Many are quite competitive–much more than me! It takes strategic planning to prep them and that’s why I’ve posted past blogs about the process. You can find them here.

In recent a newsletter, I featured a popular download with all kinds of details and suggestions for students, parents and teachers in preparation for performance readiness.

Over the years, I’ve discovered strategies to help students play their best. Some have earned high praise and even prizes. Of course, this makes me beam with pride and more importantly, extremely happy for the student.

But, there’s usually a downside to this experience.

Please, don’t misunderstand me.

I’m not saying that I believe all my students deserve to earn top scores or receive Top Performer when they participate in festivals and competitions. It would be great if they did, but I don’t expect it.

What I find the most disheartening about adjudicated events after MONTHS of preparation is reading through the judge’s evaluation sheets with my students, and at times questioning their final decisions after the events. Read More