Robin Steinweg

“It’s Too Hard!”

January 28th, 2015 by

5 ways to Help a Student Get Past Overwhelmed

By Robin Steinweg

 

“It’s too hard!”

 

“I can’t do it!” “I won’t do it!” “It’s too hard!”

 

 

 

 

Have you ever heard this from a student? One minute you have a sunny, happy child sitting at their instrument. The next, storm clouds and even threat of waterworks. And all you did was to place a new piece of music in front of them. Or remind them of a technique on which they’ve been working.

  You want me to do WHAT?

If distraction doesn’t work , and neither do our words of reassurance or encouragement, how can we help them get past the tunnel vision that comes with feeling overwhelmed? How can we empower them to see solutions instead of the pessimism of believing they are bound to fail? (try this iPad tool for a distraction technique: Piano Maestro)

Dane shows how he’d look if he felt overwhelmed

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are 5 ways to help a student get past “It’s too hard!”

1. Pull out a piece you know the student will love. Maybe it’s a little beyond her level, but she has a passion for this piece.

2. Wait—don’t show the new song to her yet. Copy the piece. Cut apart the treble and bass lines. Start with either one. Place Post-its over every measure but one. Reveal only one measure at a time. If necessary, re-cover the ones she’s already done.

 

 

 

 

3. Stay low-key. Be blasé. Act as if it doesn’t really matter to you—she can play it or not, it’s up to her. The reward is the look on her face when she recognizes the song.

4. If the problem is the stress students feel when they hear themselves flubbing up, have them try out a measure on their lap. Then they’ll have gotten through it pain-free before trying it on their instrument.

5. Use humor. Example: a piano student got stressed about lightening up a heavy hand. I’d tried images of a bird lighting, a feather floating down on the keys… those only caused frustration. But when I said to imagine a hippo plummeting to the keys, he found it hilarious, and the problem was solved! Now all I have to do is sketch a hippo head on the page (or use hippo stickers) and his hands are balanced and light.

 

Next time you hear “It’s too hard!” give one (or all) of these a try.

 

 

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Teaching Tips

This post is about the effectiveness of positive vs negative teaching.

What exactly do I want to get across to this student?  Where do I want to take him/her, and what’s going to be the most effective way to get there?   Any engaged teacher will regularly consider these questions.  And one way to sharpen our awareness of these questions is to think about positive vs negative communication.

The first thing I do on a positive note with a student is to listen to them play.  Even if they are playing badly, I like for them to play long enough for me to have time to catalog in my mind all the basics that are being done WELL.  For example, the music may sound awful because of being all out of tune, but their timing might be good, or the sequence of phrases correct, and hand position may be good.  I can start with this list as a foundation of good things to build upon.  It’s certainly preferable to build than to tear down.

Try an experiment:  Take note of each time you say “no” to a student.  Notice each time you tell them they did something wrong.

It’s easy to say “no, don’t do that.”  It’s easy to point out a mistake or problem.  Why?  Because teaching is all about getting a student from Point A to Point B, and identifying the obstacles is the first step to overcoming them.  The big question is whether we focus on the obstacles or on the solutions.

When I tried the “no” experiment, I found Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Can you relate to this?

Do you have students who constantly feel ‘the need to look’ at their hands when sight reading and learning music on the piano?  Perhaps they try to memorise the music quickly before they have learnt it sufficiently, then make many mistakes when playing it because they have forgotten what is actually in the music?

Do these students also regularly lose their place in the music and therefore get annoyed with their playing?  The answer would be “Oh yes they do” in my experience.

I needed a solution that works well for me and my students in order to stop ‘the need to look’ at their hands.

Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Teaching Tips

I must have driven my music teacher crazy!

When I look at my first music book from when I was seven, scrawled across each page are my teacher’s increasingly frustrated exclamations of, “fingering, fingering, FINGERING!”

We’ve all been there though as music teachers! Why do our pupils always ignore our reminders we write on their music for them? No amount of pencil annotations seem to help!

However, in a moment of frustration, I accidentally stumbled on a very useful solution which I now use all the time in lessons with good success!

Tip 1: “Follow the Yellow Brick” Post-it® !
• Cut up pieces of brightly coloured Post-it® notes to the appropriate sizes
• Carefully attach the sticky Post-it® note at the exact position over or under the problem area on the sheet music
• Write a helpful reminder with a marker pen (e.g. “LOUD,” “QUIETER,” “PAUSE,” “FINGER 2,” etc.)
• Sit back and watch the instant improvement. Magic!
• When the issue is finally resolved, simply lift the Post-it® note without marking the music

Students find it hard to ignore such bright and bold messages and therefore bad habits are quickly fixed.

Tip 2: Mission Impossible!
Do you sometimes give pupils a time restricted challenge? For example, how quickly can they get their hands into the correct position before sight-reading a new piece of music? Instead of using a conventional timer, try playing Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Carols of Christmas

December 28th, 2014 by

Carols of Christmas (Master Class)

By Robin Steinweg

 

 

 

 

Each year I’ve observed that students are increasingly unfamiliar with the carols of Christmas. It’s important to me to introduce them to as many as possible, and to enable them to entertain or accompany their families and friends with songs of the season.

Many of them start practicing Christmas songs as early as October. I decided to make Carols of Christmas the subject of our December group master classes.

I chose a Christmas instrumental CD to play as they arrived, and we gathered around my kitchen table for snacks. Food makes everything friendlier! I decided to treat them to sparkling grape juice, which most had never tasted. There was also lemonade and apple cider, grapes, cookies, candies, chocolate-covered pretzels…

 

 

 

 

While they snacked, I read them stories of several carols’ origins.

 

 

I found a number of activities about the carols of Christmas at brownielocks–scroll to the bottom for more.

My biggest challenge was to find those that could apply to a wide range of ages.

I tapped the beginning rhythm of a number of carols. Even the youngest students were able to participate and guess song titles. Of course, I knew what they’d been practicing, so made sure to use those pieces to give them a good chance.

I also sang the first few notes of a carol, without the rhythm, just to see if they could guess—they did pretty well. For more mature students, I had a Carols of Christmas fill-in-the-notes game. I’d give them a few measures of a carol, leaving out a few notes or a measure or two. They could fill in the missing parts.

 

 

 

 

There were activity pages concerning lyrics of Christmas carols. “Where would you go to hear silver bells?” “Who danced with a silk hat on his head?” Some questions read more like jokes, but all of it got them thinking more deeply about songs they may hear while shopping, but haven’t focused on. Talking about lyrics brought up the meaning and history of words or phrases usually heard only once a year: deck the hall/don we now/noel/gloria/yuletide…

For a final touch, I had bent some sparkly pipe cleaners into treble clef shapes, and set out a variety of beads that they could thread onto the pipe cleaners, and either keep or give away as tree ornaments.

 

 

 

 

I’ve had reports from various parents how fun it is to hear their children sharing the carols of Christmas with their families.

How do you introduce Christmas songs to your students?

 

 

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Posted in Music History & Facts, Music Theory, Practicing, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

 

The issue of internal or external motivation is a debate that is sure to continue as long as there are music students and music teachers. One reason for this is the uniqueness of each student and each teacher. There is no one right answer.

Everyone seems to agree that an internally motivated child is the ideal. But what do we mean by “internally” motivated? Is it the child that seems to practice every week without wanting or needing stickers or prizes? Is it internal motivation to want to please your teacher or parents, or must it involve some level of personal enjoyment of the activity? 

Dan Pink, in his TED Talk, describes three elements of internal motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We can we strive to incorporate these three elements into our lessons. Certainly teaching students to be good readers and helping them to understand the fundamentals of music and harmony will promote a sense of autonomy. Training a student carefully in the elements involved in high-quality playing and taking pieces to completion, should develop a sense of mastery. A sense of purpose might come from discovering how their musical abilities can be used to serve and bless other people. Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

The UK composer Elena Cobb has been busy recently!

Hot off the press is her latest book for complete beginner pianists entitled “My Piano Trip to London.”

London Calling!

Printed in full colour landscape, the first thing you notice is a sticker page that children will love using when they complete each song.

Each of the 17 songs represents a different London landmark or icon, giving a nice opportunity to engage the pupil in conversation outside music and then to relate it back to the lesson at hand. It’s quite an adventure to embark on with the pupil as you work your way through the book, from the Royal Albert Hall, to the London Eye, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben to mention but a few.

Presentation

Over the years I’ve seen piano methods that contain lots of detailed instructions and exhaustive advice that quite frankly nobody bothers to read. Elena Cobb has really struck the balance I think in keeping each page clean and simple so that the teacher can do their job but also providing concise facts and tips that will be useful and enjoyable. I laughed to myself when reading Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Practicing, Product Reviews, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Piano Marvel drastically improves practice quality by using gaming technology to keep students focused on goal oriented practicing. It allows teachers to track daily practice and more easily involve parents with learning through weekly automated emails of students practice and progress reports. Your students will have fun perfecting a piece while accelerating their rhythm accuracy and sight reading skills.
 
Music Teacher’s Helper and Piano Marvel are friends, so right now you can receive a 30-day free trial and 20% discount by using the following code when signing up: 3EEED31A 
 
Interested in learning more or signing up? Start by taking a tour on their website.

 
Piano Marvel has been around since 2009 and their newest version has just been released with many improvements. Here are some notable updates: 
 
  • A better way for your students to try it out – free access for the initial Level 1. When your students reach Level 2 they can choose to upgrade to premium to access those songs. All the premium features will be open access for the first 30 days of their account.
And if you do choose to signup for a free trial, don’t forget to enter the 20% discount code in the promotional code box when signing up. Here’s that code again:3EEED31A
 

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Product Reviews

Robin Steinweg

Prepare to Perform

November 28th, 2014 by

By Robin Steinweg

With a recital looming on the horizon, some of my students asked how they could prepare to perform before an audience. So I made it the subject of a master class.

Snacks came first—the best-ever ice breaker. I found out some of their favorite cookies ahead of time, and did a little baking. It’s surprising how food warms the student heart and softens the attitude.  Apple cider and some new flavors of candy corn brought a fall flavor to the table. Some gourds for décor, and we were all set.

I got out my white board and asked the group a few questions about how they would prepare to perform. They recorded their answers on the board in their favorite colors. Let me share some of them. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s this group’s list, and I applauded them for it:

 WHY perform for an audience?

It’s fun

Gives others pleasure

Gives you experience and confidence

Lets you share something you love with others

You can show off how hard you’ve been working

Things to do to prepare to perform: Read more…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Sandy Lundberg

Teaching Arm Weight

November 26th, 2014 by

Keeping the arm behind each finger is a concept that should be taught early on in the piano teaching process. Here are some of the steps I use to help the students understand what I am asking of them.

  1. I start by asking the students to stand up tall; like a dancer, or a graceful tree.
  2. Then I have them try to feel their shoulders in different positions; way back, curled forward, hunched up toward their ears. The final position is the arms handing freely from the sockets, with shoulders relaxed and open-feeling. I also have them try breathing in each position and notice how much easier it is to breathe standing tall.
  3. To reinforce the relaxation of the shoulders I have them bend slightly forward from the waist and let their arms sway freely. I try to give them an image, such as wet spaghetti noodles, or willow tree branches—anything limp.
  4. Next they turn their palms down and lift their forearms a 90º angle and try to keep the relaxed feeling in their shoulders.
  5. Now we move to the piano and I talk to them about three firm joints and three relaxed joints. The three firm joints are in the fingers. The three relaxed joints are the shoulder, elbow, and wrist (the wrist being more “flexible” than loose).
  6. To get the feeling of strong fingers under a heavy relaxed arm, we practice holding a pencil with the eraser-end down, and dropping it onto a table or closed piano keyboard cover. When this feeling is mastered we move to dropping it on to the actual piano keys. Playing with a pencil may be a very crude approach to touch, but I would argue that it is a good beginning point with young students because it is so difficult for them to execute the feeling of a relaxed arm and strong finger joints at the same time.
  7. I have a “trick” pencil that is bendable, so at this point I bring it out and point out that we can’t make the same nice sound at the piano when the pencil collapses, and it is the same with our fingers.
  8. Now we look at the three finger joints and talk about how they should be shaped and held, and how they need to feel strong for holding up a heavy arm. At some point in here we also talk about the strong arch needed in the hand shape, formed by a concave palm.
  9. We work on strengthening the finger joints, preparing them to feel the weight of the arm, by making circles with the thumb, pressing each finger on an eraser tip, making “dog houses” on a flat surface, etc.
  10.  I have found that playing with just the third finger for awhile gives the student a chance to succeed and internalize this feeling. I then branch out to the second and fourth fingers, and finally the fifth finger and thumb—which need their own special lessons. Working with just one finger at a time also seems to help the student play with the non-playing fingers more relaxed, instead of sticking out all over the place.
  11.  I ask students to play non-legato until they master arm weight. Later, when we start legato playing, I go slowly and teaching them that the “walking arm” is still behind each finger.
  12.  Another tool I use is five-finger rhythms that have the student get a lot of height between notes so they can have the feeling of falling down on to the keys. It is hard to feel the weight of gravity if you are only a half inch over the landing.
  13.  Students might start to add an extra “push” behind the arm weight which results in a harsh sound. It can help to have them play the finger in the palm of their hand or on their own arm so they can “feel what the piano feels.”
  14.  When we get a firm foundation with the hand and fingers, I go back to work on the arm weight. I tell the students that each finger should feel like the arm “belongs to it” and is always right behind it. I use various tools to help them feel this weight, such as a length of fleece that creates a sling on their wrist. I work with them until I feel a completely relaxed arm as I hold up the sling. I also use girls’ hairbands on the wrist for this exercise. Having the students drop their arms freely onto their lap can help to regain the feeling of looseness during a lesson.
  15.  I point out to the student the better tonal quality they produce when their technique is good. I ask them to listen for the differences and describe them to me. Good technique can make your fourth grade song sound like you are a professional, and bad technique can make it sound like you are still in kindergarten.
  16.  In the beginning I go through all or part of this sequence every week until I feel like it is engrained in their muscle memory. After that I only make small corrections as needed during a lesson.
  17.  I have much better success with this process if the student has had no previous piano experience and there is no unlearning to do. To be honest, unless an older student makes a conscious decision to make the requested changes, you can have years of less-than-ideal results.
  18.  It is good to give students exercises to practice these skills that are played by ear, so there is no distraction of a printed page taking their focus off of the physical experience.
  19. Finally, I visit the student’s home once a year to see if they have proper sitting posture at home. After all, this is where most of their time at the piano is spent, and habits are ingrained. I often have to ask the parents to get booster cushions, and sometimes a footstool, to get the right position. This website has the best cushions at the best price: http://www.young-musicians.com/product-p/psc1.htm. They also sell reasonably priced footstools.

I realize there are many ways to teach the concept of arm weight, and much more detail that could be covered, but this is just an overview of how I approach the subject. I would love to hear back from you with more ideas so we can all keep improving.

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips