Music Teacher's Helper Blog

What do you do when a student shows up for the lesson with a friend in tow, and says (with wide, hopeful eyes and a big smile), “Can _____ stay for the lesson?”

It’s smart to prepare for these times. In fact, it can be a huge plus for your business to schedule a friend week or allow students to bring one friend per school year (or semester, if you like). This helps limit potentially disruptive visits and turn them into a positive.

If you need ideas for what to do with a friend at piano lessons, I have some here!

Get Acquainted

This may be the first time you’ve met this friend. To help both of you feel more comfortable, try this.

Ask a few questions from a list of possibilities:

  • what is your name (or age or grade)?
  • do you have a pet?
  • do you play an instrument?
  • are you married (ha!)?
  • what is your favorite (or most despised) food or restaurant, and why?
  • where would you like to visit?
  • what’s your favorite book?
  • what kind of music do you enjoy most/least?

Piano Bring-a-Friend Ideas

Your student could teach the friend a rote piece or a pentascale.

If the friend plays piano, choose an easy piece for them to play together, one reading treble staff, one reading bass staff. Switch parts.

If the friend plays piano, invite him/her to play a piece by heart.

Play a game together:

Give the friend a choice of rhythm instruments to accompany your student’s playing. Have him/her keep a steady beat, play only on beats two and four, only on the rest, etc.

Teach the friend an easy ostinato. Your student can improvise with it. Add a small stuffed critter to keep on the tops of their heads as they play, to illustrate posture. Now add a coin to the backs of their hands. Can they do this with a straight face?

Two improv pieces for the friends to try:

“Game On” by Robin Steinweg

The lower hand plays four 8th notes on each of these: A down to F, down to D, up to E.

The upper hand improvs on an A minor pentascale to create a video game sound.

“Mandarin Oranges” by Alyssa Hawkins

The lower hand plays a pentatonic scale repeatedly up and down (3 black keys, then the 2 black keys, up and back down). The upper hand plunks black keys to improvise a melody. Use the damper pedal.

Improvise a trio!

“Triumvirate” Put the friend on a repeating bass pattern in A minor and the student on an upper A minor pentascale. You, the teacher, improvise in the middle. Make sure the students know what triumvirate means. From the Cambridge English Dictionary: “a group of three people who are in control of an activity or organization.”

If improvisation seems scary, read this.

To make a week-long event of friend visits, check out Teach Piano Today’s “Bring a Buddy Day” package.

You can make this a Promo Opportunity for your Studio!

Photograph the visit. Post pictures on your Music Teachers Helper website. Consider videoing or audio-recording the friends making music or playing a game together. Send it to your student’s parents, and ask them to pass it along to the friend. Let them decide whether to post it on social media, but be sure to ask them to tag you and/or your studio if they do!

If something the friends tried sounded pretty good, you might want to invite them to perform together in your next recital.

Create buzz for your studio, and give your students even more fun– making music with their friends.

If you need ideas for bring-a-friend to guitar or voice lessons, see my article from August 21st at Music Teachers Helper.

 

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Dear readers,

Throughout my teaching career, I have been blessed with many different kinds of students: the young, the old, the good, the bad, the amazing, the astonishing, the talented, the hardworking, the lazy, the slow, the ones that practice and the ones that don’t… Each has made me a better teacher and I am the teacher today because of every single student I have ever taught. Today I am writing about a very special student whom I have had the pleasure and privilege to work with for the last two years. His name is Kodi.

Kodi is a 22 year old student. He is blind and autistic. He is a musical savant. Before Kodi came into my studio, I had not even heard of the word “savant.” It means he has exceptional ability and memory. He can hear a piece of music once, and basically play it back to you.

Prior to Kodi, I did not have any experience teaching blind students. I had very limited experience teaching students on the autism spectrum, although none as severe as Kodi. Kodi can not carry a conversation. He understands everything I say, but he can not communicate with words. His speaking vocabulary is very limited. However, he is a great singer, and he is basically a human jukebox, he knows the music and lyrics to just about every song under the sun. 

Not surprisingly, like many autistic students, Kodi has perfect pitch. His piano technique is unique. It is a combination of years of self exploration around the keyboard and limited formal instruction. Because he can not see, he has basically memorized exactly where each key is in relation to one another. The black key groups are his “landmarks.” It still amazes me how he can go from one register to another with extreme accuracy. He can play many of the classics, for example Beethoven’s Fur Elise, because he has heard them from somewhere. His versions may not be perfect, not because he can not play them perfectly, but mostly because the versions he heard were imperfect to begin with.

People who know about Kodi often ask me how he learns the materials to begin with, since he can not see the score. I do not teach Braille music. Everything Kodi learns with me he learns by ear. I play absolutely everything for him at first, and he copies. Because of his extraordinary ears and memory, he can learn very complicated pieces relatively quickly and easily, much quicker than if he had to learn it through Braille. (That’s an entirely different topic, and since I am no expert in Braille, I will not attempt to go into that further.)

I am writing about Kodi, because there must be other teachers like me who teach blind students, autistic students, or students with other differences, that we can share our experiences. I belong to the amazing Facebook page The Art of Piano Pedagogy, and every so often, someone would ask how to go about teaching such students. Every autistic student is different, not all blind students are autistic, and certainly not all autistic students are musical savants. I want to share what I have found from my experience with Kodi, and hopefully this post will find others with similar experiences. 

Last November, Kodi performed at Carnegie Hall. He is going again this November, as a First Prize Winner of The Golden Classical International Music Awards Competition. Last year his winning piece was Schubert’s Impromptu in E flat major, this year he won with Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu. These are advanced scores for any student, and for Kodi they were major accomplishments, since he did not come to me with the usual classical training and foundation one would need in order to play these pieces. Because of Kodi’s prodigious ability, memorizing was the easiest part! Here were some of the challenges:

  1. Fingering – Because Kodi had been largely self taught, his fingerings were all over the place. He did not like to use his thumbs! I think it’s because the thumbs are shorter fingers than the rest, so subconsciously he avoids them, especially on black keys! He still does not trust his thumbs, and often will use other fingers first, but whenever I say “I love my thumbs” he will know what I mean. Kodi is also an expert in redistributing. He will sometimes play certain notes with the other hand than what the composer intended, because for him it is easier to find that note with that hand. Sometimes this is ok, but sometimes the resulting sound is different. 
  2. Unnecessary stretching – Because he can not see, he often stretches to find the next note. He has amazing span between every finger. He can play very large intervals between any adjacent fingers. This causes tension to my eyes! I am not sure if it causes physical tension for him, probably not, because he is so used to it. I do remind him not to stretch when there is another solution. 
  3. Arm and Wrist movements – vertical movement involving the wrists going up and down are very difficult for Kodi. He keeps his hands and fingers on the keyboard, he changes registers by moving horizontally and the idea of lifting your hand in the air is hard for him. I guess if I could not see, I would not want to leave the piano keys, either. This is the most challenging aspect. 

Every time I see Kodi, I am in awe. We often record our lessons live, so he can go home and listen to them again. Recently I shared one such clip on the Art of Piano Pedagogy, and the response was phenomenal. If you have a moment, take a look. If you have any experience teaching students like Kodi, please comment below!

https://www.facebook.com/Yiyikupiano/videos/1859466117502748/

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Playing drums looks so easy until you start learning it. Yes, the beats are easy to catch when you listen to a song, but when you actually learn how to hit the other instruments to a song, it turns out to be difficult.

 

Like other musical instruments, playing with beats is easy to learn when you are a child. If you have a child that wants to learn this, then encourage them to learn it now than later. In that way, they can master the skills needed for playing with beats over time.

 

Techniques In Learning Drums

 

When it comes to kids, it’s important that they learn kid-friendly techniques so that they can learn a musical instrument easily. Here are some of the tips and reminders you should remember if you or your child is starting to learn how to play with beats.

 

  1. Pick a set your size.

 

Except for pianos, you can find a size that fits you or your child. Since children have shorter arms and a shorter height, buying a set that will accommodate their height is a must. This will help them move better because all the pieces of the set will be within their reach as compared to if they learned from an adult set.

 

You can buy sets for kids in department stores or on online websites of the brand of your choice. However, it is highly recommended that you view the set in person so that your child can check if it’s the right fit for them.

 

  1. Know how to grip the drumsticks properly.

 

One of the first lessons they will learn is how to hold the drumsticks properly. The right way to hold it is to start placing the stick on your palm when your palm is facing up. The stick should be in a 45-degree angle so a side of it should touch your thumb and the rest of the stick is slanted towards your chest. Then, curl your thumb and your other fingers to the stick and face your hand downward. This way, your child will have a firm grip on the sticks and they won’t be flying around when they start hitting the set.

 

  1. Take note of your posture.

 

Before your child even starts spending so much time practicing, make sure that they got their posture right. The right posture in playing percussion instruments is to sit up straight, without your back curling or slouching. Your neck should also follow and your shoulders. Even if you will be reaching out to different pieces of the set, your shoulders should be thrown back and not crouched forward.

 

Why is posture important? It may not be obvious but bad posture can affect the quality of your practice and your health in the long run. Bad posture can lead to back and neck pains which will make it uncomfortable to practice. At the same time, some joint problems can occur if you continue practicing with bad posture. These things might just discourage your child from practice.

 

  1. Develop a listening ear.

 

Some people claim that they don’t have an ear for music, but this does not mean that it remains like that. Yes, there are kids who are born to play with beats or are considered natural in playing this musical instrument. However, this should not be a reason for those who aren’t “a natural” should give up.

 

If you notice your child having a problem, encourage them to learn how to listen to the beats carefully and to apply it step-by-step. Since they are children, it is only natural that they think they have followed a certain pattern of beats even if in reality, they haven’t. What you or their teacher should teach them is to learn how to listen carefully and to pick up the beat in every song.

 

  1. Familiarize themselves with musical notes and symbols.

 

Last but not the least is that they should familiarize (or better yet, memorize!) musical notes and notations when it comes to playing with this musical instrument. This is a must because it will be hard for your kid to keep up if they can’t read notes and musical sheets. This can also be a cause of delay for when your child is learning a song.

 

 

About Darren (the author):

Darren Perkins is a drummer, teacher, and the owner of Red Drum Music Studio, a studio in Melbourne that teaches kids – and kids at heart – how to play drums. His fascination of everything related to drums, music, and education has led him to share his own experiences and ideas online through guest blogging.

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