Music Teacher's Helper Blog

The piano is one of the most popular instruments in the world for many reasons, from its sound to its welcoming nature to beginners, however there are a lot of exercises to be done before fully learning the instrument.

While it can be easy to play at first, there is a lot to learn and a very high skill ceiling when it comes to the piano.

In order to continue developing piano skills, teachers need to remind their students the importance of practice and exercises.

Warm Up Exercises

Just like any sport, you need to be in control of your body and muscles by having warm ups and exercises to avoid injuries and improve your performance.

This applies to a pianist’s fingers, so remember to stretch your fingers, your arms and get ready to start playing piano.

The Hanon Exercises

The Hanon exercises for piano were created by French piano pedagogue and composer Charles Louis-Hanon, these exercises consist of independent finger practice. The main goal consists of training the pianist in speed, agility, strength and precision of fingers, as well as training wrist flexibility and endurance. There are 60 finger exercises that were made into a book called The Virtuoso Pianist which was first published in 1873. The exercises include beginner level, moderate and advanced level of training.

There are three main areas that you can improve with the hanon exercises, these are:

  • Finger strength and independence
  • Overall endurance
  • Strength in the wrist and the forearm

These are two of the most effective exercises:

This one improves finger strength and independence, as well as wrist and forearm strength.

This one helps with wrist and forearm strength and endurance.

There are many many more but this is just a taste of what these wonderful exercises offer.

Exercises for Children

Exercises may not be as fun as playing a complete piece, this is specially true to younger piano players.

The idea is that exercises should be fun for children, it needs to feel like a game, for example, teachpianotoday.com has a few good ideas like:

Have your student place their hand on a table top with their wrist resting on the surface and their fingers nicely curved.  This is the “spider”.  He needs to stretch each of his legs.  Have your student reach one finger at a time starting with their thumb and reaching in an upward motion while keeping their other fingertips touching the table top and without allowing their knuckles to collapse.  You can hold something for the spider legs to reach  up to touch, giving them something to aim for.

Once your student has mastered this, this you can give the spider specific exercises for his legs.  Write out finger numbers in random order and have the spider’s legs lift accordingly (ie. 1-3-5-2-4).

So the main thing should be to find fun little twists in order to make it feel like a game.

Mikael Pettersson Tips

Exercises

Mikael Petterson is Swedish concert pianist. He obtained a B Mus (Hons) degree at Birmingham Conservatoire the year 2000 and also attended  Masterclasses with Prof. Hans Leygraf and Prof. Peter Feuchtwanger.

After that he became inspired during his time at the Birmingham Conservatoire, he began teaching piano at various levels which eventually took him to become the Head of Keyboard Studies for Undergraduate and Postgraduate students completing a Music Degree at the University of Wolverhampton.

In an interview with crosseyedpianist.com he talks

I wanted to pass on my ideas on the physical approach to piano playing.  Following my studies with Peter Feuchtwanger, I teach my students various exercises where the focus is on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’.  So the movements, relaxation of certain muscles and tension of others are all important, while the notes in this case are almost incidental. I therefore  encourage the students not to be overly concerned with accuracy but instead to learn a new movement and degree of relaxation that can then be incorporated into the repertoire.  There is a great advantage to having this one aspect in isolation since when performing a piano work there are so many musical elements to consider.  Technique and teaching of movements at the keyboard is often neglected until the teaching becomes quite involved, by which stage bad habits have often set in and are hard to correct.  The DVD may be used to learn the exercises from scratch in which case it is paramount to try copying the movements demonstrated as closely as possible.  In the case of my own students the DVD is used as a reminder of the exercises and to support the information I give in the lessons.  Closely related to these exercises are fingerings which are chosen to encourage a particular movement when working on repertoire.  The traditional ‘five finger position’ is not present; in fact there is rarely a position but always a movement which gives much more suppleness and freedom at the keyboard.

There are always new techniques and discoveries in order to make learning piano a lot easier so be on the lookout for new ideas to improve your piano lessons.

 

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Just like any instrument, a singer needs to take care of the voice, this includes good and efficient vocal warm-ups.

When it comes to music education, most teachers will make use of their students’ voice, so singing is an important part of learning music, even if being a professional singer is not your students’ main focus.

Of course, if you are teaching how to sing, you have to take your time with warm ups, not just so they can imitate the teacher and do it well in class, but help them learn to make it part of their routine.

Why Warm-Ups Are Important

Most students just assume that everything the teacher says is ok, but there are some things that should be justified, not because they are that cuestionable but because a singer should know what every warm up is for.

There are several ways to do vocal warm ups, each for a different function, for example, some improve your breathing, help you relax and others improve your range.

Explaining what every warm up is to your students will improve the exercise and make them take it more seriously.

Monitor Warm-Ups

A teacher should be very present during these warm ups, so that he can correct them and make sure that they will do it the right way when nobody’s watching.

Many students can get very dependent on their vocal coaches and teachers when it comes to warming up their voice, and this is not ideal at all, mostly because singers also have to warm up their voice hours or even days before a performance.

Breathing

This is maybe one of the most important and most overlooked aspects of singing for beginners but it should be made very clear that it can do a lot of damage to your voice if not done properly.

It is very clear that there is a specific way your students should learn how to breath instead of just breathing as they would normally.

You can show them the importance of breathing by telling them to sing while breathing normally and then try again after teaching them how to breath with their diaphragm.

The difference will be very obvious, and of course they will want to do it after that, but as a teacher you have to check once in a while that your students are breathing properly in order to avoid

Cooling Down After Singing

This may seem strange but it’s actually very important and recommended to cool down your voice in order to avoid vocal fatigue.

However, it’s also something that it’s very easy to forget for your students, first because it’s not a common thing you hear, second because all you want to do when you stop singing is to rest and that’s it, but if you take 15 minutes to do some exercises to cool down your voice, resting will be more effective.

According to Francisca M. these are some of the best exercises to do to cool down your voice after singing.

  • The Siren Wail – move from your highest (comfortable) note on an “ahh sound,” sliding down to the octave below
  • Chords – move from your highest note down 5 steps
  • Bubble Trill – Similar to your vocal warm-up exercises, incorporate lip trills into your cool-down

Warm-ups

The most important thing to have in mind as a singing teacher when it comes to breathing and vocal warm-ups is to be constantly on the lookout for lack of warm-ups, bad breathing techniques or anything that can put strain on the voice and eventually contributing to not learning how to sing properly.

Remember, your students can only reach their full potential if they take care of their voice.

Did you know it’s easy to add vocal exercises as an assignment in your students’ lesson notes within Music Teacher’s Helper software? MTH likes to make things easy for you and your student to remember what was assigned each week and lesson notes are a great feature for this!

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The evolution of technology has brought upon us an illusion that it has no bounds.The possibilities seem endless and our lives as musicians change with each new breakthrough, and it’s no different for the future of education.

Today, machine learning is starting to become that new breakthrough not just in music in general but in music education as well.

Machine learning is a process in which a computer learns over time and manages to create, modify and understand music composition.

This allows for quite a few applications in the area of music education as a way to enrich the traditional methods and teach in new creative ways.

2020

Last year was a big step towards discovering the potential of all these new tools and technologies that can be used for music education in the future.

More than just being a substitute for a normal class, this last year was about exploring new options and different ways to approach music education.

This brought many teachers closer to the idea of experimenting with apps, social networks, A.I. and even VR (Virtual Reality).

The Nature Of Music

Music is a very open ended discipline that involves a lot of influences and different contexts of learning. Which is why it would be a good idea to make the most out of the tools that we have in order to prepare students for the things that they will actually be more exposed to which is of course, outside the classroom and without a pen and paper.

Music Sharing and Social Network

The idea is to keep your students engaged in music and what better way to encourage music composition than using platforms such as SoundCloud, YouTube and even Google Classroom.

Sharing music with both classmates and teachers can be a great way to improve their skills as musicians while also making a bond with those that share the same interests.

A.I. and VR

While these are less explored areas in music education, there are some ways these tools can be used properly, and being on the lookout for any more breakthroughs is an important part of keeping the learning experience fresh and exciting.

DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation)

While we know these tools have been around for quite some time, music schools and teachers haven’t made the most of them.

In today’s world, music production is a big part of music in general, this means that performing is not everything.

All that comes after the actual playing is a whole world on its own that deserves attention not only because it matters to the music industry but because it can help your students learn more about how music works.

The Future of Music Teaching Tools

Future

According to William Bauer, UF online Master of Music in Music Education Program Director:

“Making technology available to teachers and students, and helping them understand its functionality, is necessary, but not sufficient. Technology is merely a tool, and a tool is not useful if one does not comprehend the various ways it can be employed to achieve a given outcome in a specific context. If music educators are to effectively integrate technology into teaching, learning and assessment, more is required than an understanding of specific technological tools. As a result, when exploring the use of technology with students, it’s critical that music teachers account for the curricular objectives being targeted, the benefits and limitations of the technology under consideration, the teaching and learning strategies to be used, and the context of a specific music class and school”.

Paul Shimmons

In an interview with StageRight Paul Shimmons shared some interesting experience on the use of technology as a music educator.

When grading students, Paul likes to use Seesaw or Class Dojo because they allow for multimedia presentation such as videos or recordings so that he can easily see and hear performances and refer to them for later reference. It’s also beneficial for students and parents because they can hear it, unlink with a traditional gradebook which can only show a simple number grade. It gives him the ability to share the progress of the student with parents so that they can be connected to the work their child is doing in the classroom every week.

By using this technology, students will also have a digital portfolio that they can refer to so they can see just how much they’ve improved and provide the positive feedback to encourage further development. This is tangible evidence that they’re learning.

The future of music education is as uncertain as the next technological breakthroughs, however as teachers, you need to be prepared by adapting to the most recent tools at your disposal., Iit can be surprising how much good it’ll do once you get to use them properly.

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