Category - Teaching Tips

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

Is it cheating to teach a piece by rote?

Some may say that teaching a piece by rote cheats a student out of developing reading skills. I say teaching by rote is anything but cheating!

Keep reading and watch a recent Facebook live video to learn why and how I do it. 

Can you teach a Baroque piece by rote?

Since many 88pianokeys.me readers are Going Baroque this fall, I recently made a Facebook live video of how I like to teach “Musette” by rote. In the video you’ll learn why I believe teaching pattern pieces like “Musette” by rote is so important to developing student skills. I’ve added a few more reasons below.

What are the benefits of teaching a piece by rote?

The process…

Builds students’ confidence which leads to success which leads to progress which leads to pianists who stick to the bench.

Boosts confidence in playing skills because the “middle man” or the page is removed and students aren’t trapped in the middle of the piano reading from a limited amount of notes in the grand staff. They can explore the entire range of the piano which provides an exciting and more satisfying sound–especially when the pedal is added!

Elevates playing skills as a rote piece is usually more difficult and sounds more complex than what students can read.

Connects the theory students learn and puts it into action which reinforces and solidifies concepts.

Aids in memorization skills as students are required to remember the feel and the sound of patterns instead of relying on visual cues.

Develops ear skills. If you want to balance eye ear skills, teaching by rote is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Acknowledges the learning styles of students who may find reading a music score much more difficult than learning by ear. This may be the key to unlocking success for those usually stumped by the grand staff.

Enhances reading skills. YES! I firmly believe this is true if you teach by rote and IF you also refer to the score as students learn the piece. They’ll see the shapes and patterns on the grand staff. In addition, this is a great time to master locations of favorite notes like Deep Blue C, Cow C, Middle C, Face C and Cloud C. Watch the video to see what I mean.

Highlights from the video

An easy way to incorporate rote teaching is by assigning everyone in the studio to learn a pattern piece every year–one that is easy to learn because of repetition and patterns based on chords.

Relate patterns in the rote piece to patterns the students already know–like five-finger patterns and chords.

Use words to master rhythms. For the first line of Musette:

Mom, what’s for dinner?

Mom, what’s for dinner?

can be answered with :

Chicken soup and a grilled cheese sandwich

BBQ chicken with some coleslaw

Meatball, spaghetti with some red sauce

Tacos with cheese and guacamole.

For line three, use these words to match the rhythm:

Hurry up , hurry up, it’s so late

I just want some dinner and some ice cream!

Record yourself or students playing the piece correctly so they can listen to it at home.

There will be rhythmic gaps between sections. To eliminate gaps:

Learn the notes without leaps, then add the leap.

Use sticky notes to isolate large hand shifts and repeat over and over

Learn the pattern in the RH and then teach the LH the same pattern.

Lock in a steady beat and eliminate all gaps between measures with a rockin’ beat from a device or Clavinova.

To catch all the other tricks I use to teach Musette, check out the video!

Books I like to use for Baroque and Classical literature:

Keith Snell’s Essential Keyboard Repertoire

Faber’s The Developing Artist Series

If you do like hanging out on Facebook and enjoy talking all things pedagogy, join my group Piano Pedagogy On and Off the Bench. It’s where I house all my Facebook live videos and offer an environment of discussion and encouragement (no venting, whining or feuding here!)

-Leila

PS If you cannot see the video below, please email me at lviss@me.com and I’ll send you the file.

What are your favorite pieces to teach by rote?

-Leila


PS! Check out Andrea West’s spectacular graphic designs for Fall events in your studio! I cannot pick a favorite.

Check out all the designs and GET yours HERE.

-Leila

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

Group Piano: What it IS and What it ISN’T

On the fence about whether group instruction is right for you? Not sure what format you should use? Good friend and colleague, Marie Lee has some strong opinions on this topic as she should. I consider her an expert in group piano instruction–check out the programs at her Musicality Schools. You can learn more about her experience here or just keep reading and hear what is and what isn’t group piano class.

-Leila


As piano teachers realize that YES, they can make a good living teaching piano, the subject of group classes comes up as a way of increasing studio size and income. But what exactly IS a group class? And what is it NOT? Read More

Feeling the BEET with Edwin Gordon’s Music Learning Theory

Edwin Gordon’s highly recognized and esteemed research leading to the Music Learning Theory (MLT) is defined as

“An explanation and description of appropriate ways students learn one or more styles of music.” p5 of Quick and Easy Introductions by Edwin Gordon

It is not a teaching method that you purchase and follow exclusively. YOU can apply and integrate MLT into your current teaching method, NOW. This is great news! You don’t need to reinvent your approach to enhance it with the MLT philosophy. Keep reading and I’ll explain how. Read More

Two Big Changes for Me and The Benefits for You

Opportunity knocked two times this spring.

#1

The first opportunity that will make a significant impact in my work week is a position banner-192-20130306132137I recently accepted at the University of Denver, Lamont School of Music. I’m pleased and honored to be heading up their Piano Preparatory program. I’ll be collaborating with Chee-Hwa Tan, colleague, good friend and brilliant pedagogy professor at the university. I’ll also be working with and mentoring graduate students as we provide group and private lesson instruction to youngsters around the ages of 6-11. I’ll be working in this beautiful building on the lovely DU campus.

How does this change for me benefit you? Read More

Marie’s Secret Sauce for Getting New Students

NEWSFLASH! Marie Lee (good friend and featured here at 88pianokeys.me) is writing a happy-music-camp-01group teaching resource for the Piano Teacher Planning Center! I, along with many others, can’t wait to learn from this long-time expert in group teaching.

In this post, Marie gives us a taste of what’s to come.

Even if you are not interested in teaching piano in groups, you will want to read Marie’s article for great tips on how to grow your studio during the summer. She shares her “secret sauce” –a brilliant way of getting more students in the door during the summer months. Also, keep reading so you learn how to market this “secret sauce.”

Take it away, Marie… Read More

Let’s Meet Up at MTNA!

Are you heading to Baltimore next week? It’s too late to register for the annual MTNA conference held March 18-22, but, you can do so at the hotel. Here’s all the info.

If you are registered and ready to go, let’s get together!

I fly in Saturday and leave Wednesday. In between, I’ll be part of the Music Teachers Helper Showcase on Sunday morning at 8:00AM. Come join me and we can get coffee afterwards.

If you’re not crazy about your scheduling and book-keeping system, attend the showcase and learn about the ten things I can’t teach without thanks to ten years of being addicted to Music Teachers Helper. Learn more about the service and sign up for it here.

Tuesday at 11:00AM, I’ll be presenting a session called “Set Your Studio Apart On and Off the Bench.”

For those who attend and stay ’til the bitter end, I have a REALLY cool gift that you can use with your students to build strong practice strategies. Have you been using the six scientifically proven strategies in your studio? Read about them here and get a free printable to use with your students. These work and my students and their parents agree. The gift you’ll receive at my session will definitely enhance your student’s use of these practice strategies and will guarantee progress.

After the session, I’d like to get together with you! Bradley Sowash has agreed to join me and the plan is to “brown-bag” it. We’ll connect after the session is finished which is lunch time and we can plan to meet in the hotel lobby…where you can bring your own lunch or stay for a bit, bring your iPad and teaching questions and then head off to a favorite restaurant. This is definitely an informal gathering. If it grows into something bigger I’ll let you know. If you are interested, please leave a comment in the comment section below.

A couple of other housekeeping items.

We are hearing terrific feedback about our latest 88 Creative Keys Webinar: “Keys to Colorful Harmonization.” If you missed the live stream, you can purchase the replay here.

“You threw out several VERY HELPFUL hints that were worth my attendance in the first 30 paint-tubes-with-infominutes! “

“I thoroughly enjoyed listening to your ways of composition. This summer I am looking at doing a composition/harmonization series for both my piano and vocal students. Thank you for putting together this webinar.”

“I have taken all the theory of this before, but wasn’t sure how to apply it.  You’ve given me extra tools in my tool box.  You’ve also given me lots of ideas as to how to teach this to my students.”

During my portion, I use my original arrangements as examples of how I incorporated my favorite Groups and Campsharmonization tools. All of the sheet music is on sale–here.

Looking ahead

There are some exceptional resources coming your way in the near future at 88pianokeys.me. If there is a topic that you’d like to see addressed, please let me know in the comment section and I’ll add it to the list.

As always, thanks for tuning in, your support and most of all for sharing a passion for teaching music with me!

-Leila

 

Have a ball at group lessons!

Starting a composition and naming it can be tough. To charge up the creative juices, we played a game called “Would You Rather” with the help of a groove and a beach ball at this week’s group lessons.

When I rang the bell, they had to stop and whoever was holding the ball had to answer the question under his/her right hand.

“Would you rather eat dinner in a castle or breakfast in a hot air balloon?”

“Would you rather eat three live worms or a tunafish and peanut butter sandwich?”

They didn’t want to quit…

The video explains it best. Click here if you can’t see it.

Sometimes it’s just hard to get to know your students when they’re sitting on the bench next to you. They may feel a little shy about sharing their thoughts, their likes, their dislikes, etc. In a group setting and with an icebreaker like “Would You Rather,” all those inhibitions get tossed aside–yes, pun intended!

How will this contribute to an upcoming composition project?

After a student answered the question, most everyone else chimed in with their answer and we discussed why they chose what they did. They were eager to start making connections with what they like to what they will be creating at the keys.

Bonus: did you notice that this is a great activity to get them moving to the beat?

WARNING: Stock up on beach balls…more ideas to come. Here’s a screamin’ deal on them if you can’t find beach balls in your local stores right now. Remember to look for them on sale at the end of summer!

What questions to include on your “Would You Rather” beach ball?

Here’s a start. Begin each statement with the words Would you rather

  • Run a mile or swim a mile?
  • Go to a movie theatre or watch Netflix?
  • Stay up late or wake up early?
  • Have a robot or a monkey in the house?
  • Sleep on a hard pillow or a soft pillow?
  • Eat pepperoni pizza or sausage pizza?
  • Eat breakfast in a hot air balloon or dinner in a castle?
  • Eat a hamburger or a hotdog?
  • Paint a picture or take a picture?
  • Do word finds or crossword puzzles?
  • Do math homework or science homework?
  • Have ten brothers or ten sisters?
  • Go to school on Saturdays or go to the dentist every week?
  • Ride a bike or a skateboard?
  • Color a picture or draw a portrait?
  • Drive a self-driving car or a spaceship?
  • Become a famous singer or a famous actor?
  • Shop at the mall or play at the park?
  • Snowboard or ice skate?
  • Have a fish or a bird?
  • Eat mac ‘n cheese or spaghetti?
  • Play at the beach or in the snow?
  • Live on the beach or on a mountain top?
  • Have a cat or a dog?
  • Live without music or without TV and movies?
  • Talk on the phone or go out for ice cream?
  • Be a super hero or a villain in a movie?
  • Wear running shoes or flip flops?
  • Eat a bug or get stung by a bee?
  • Cook dinner or clean up?
  • Take a walk or a bike ride?
  • Go out for Mexican or Italian?leila3d
  • Read the book or watch the movie?
  • Eat 3 live worms or a peanut butter and tuna sandwich?
  • Take a vacation or $1,000 in cash?
  • Eat chocolate chips or gummy bears?
  • Take a road trip or a stay-cation?
  • Ride in a plane or a train?

For more “Would You Rather” questions, checkout my Pinterest board.

Need a fresh way to determine who performs first at the group class?

To review the sound and look of intervals, students were asked to read my e-book Understanding Intervals last week during Off-Bench Time. During the group lesson, everyone spun to see who would play first. I created three wheels in the Decide Now app, with level-appropriate intervals.img_3645

  • Wheel #1: Intervals Repeat-5
  • Wheel #2: Intervals Prime-8
  • Wheel #3: Major 2nd, 3rd, Perfect 4th, 5th, Major 6th, 7th, Perfect 8va.

After the student spun, he/she was asked to play the interval on the piano and try to recall the tune that is associated with that interval in Understanding Intervals. For example, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” begins with a 2nd. The student was then asked to sound out more of the tune. Naturally, everyone sang along!

The student who landed on the smallest interval performed first and others followed according to the size of their interval.

Need to build up knowledge of key signatures?img_6027

In preparation for upcoming theory tests at the local Federation Festival, students identified specific key signatures within the Challenge Mode of the app called Tenuto. They took turns naming the key as the key signatures flashed before them. After each drill was completed, they were challenged to reach a new high score. Music Money awarded to the whole group for beating the prior score. I’m never above bribery!

Note: you don’t need to hook your iPad to an HDTV in order to play this game. I like to reflect my iPad during groups lessons to show videos or to explain theory concepts with an app called Octavian.

Need one more winner for your next group lesson?

Make sure to get Rhythm on a Roll.

This game was developed for my group lesson week last December. I brought it out for group lessons this week and everyone was excited to play it again.copy-of-rhythm-on-a-roll-3 That was good news to me because you know how some can moan about doing anything more than once.

My students also enjoyed the new score cards with the rests and playing the variations I mention in the resource.

Tip: we played this as students were performing for each other. It works well as the audience is quiet, listening and thinking at the same time. This keeps them from getting restless.

It’s still on sale until March 11th. Get it now and your activities for group lessons will be set!

-Leila