Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Future of Piano Playing

There seems to be a movement toward closing stores that sell pianos and supplies. There may be many reasons for it in the United States. Whenever someone contacts me about piano lessons, undoubtedly they have a keyboard or digital piano at home, rather than an acoustic piano. The main reason is that it is expensive to move a used piano from one location to another. The other reason is because of the relatively inexpensive price of a digital piano, as opposed to a brand new acoustic piano, grand piano, or baby grand piano, even though an acoustic piano sounds better.

There has also been a resurgence in piano craftsmanship. Piano craftsmen are building or repairing pianos, for those who have a limited budget for a piano or some who desire a superior product. Some piano dealers blame their reduced sales on the depressed housing market. Others say there is still a vivacious market for pianos and are still successfully selling pianos. It would depend on the demographics of the area where the pianos are being sold. If there are many school aged children in the area, then the possibility of a thriving market for pianos exists. If not, there may not be enough interest in purchasing pianos and the sales would diminish.

Additionally, there are numerous, and I want to emphasize, numerous tutorial videos on You Tube for anyone who wants to learn how to play the piano or at least listen to someone playing it. There apparently is a demand for hearing and seeing piano players. This could lead one to believe that there is still a vital interest in the piano.

However, funding for music programs in the public schools has declined, again. Some schools are not encouraging children to learn how to play the piano and others have reduced their music programs. There is an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) instead of music programs. Many girls are enrolling in these programs instead of music programs. As a result, parents who want their children to play the piano are involving their children in private lessons. But, not all parents can afford the private lessons.

Many educators have observed that children who are exposed to music education score better on standardized tests and have better reading and math skills. It would appear that these students whose parents desire them to pursue the STEM subjects, would perform better with the music instruction, but many schools are not including music programs in their curriculum.

For this reason, the After School Alliance Program has indicated there is a need for after school programs, as “for every child enrolled in a program, two are waiting to get in.” More music programs after school would enable more children to pursue a music program.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Preparing for Performances

Since I have had so many students in the past, we are planning to bring some of them together to do a performance somewhere in the community. This means my most advanced student has three months to learn the easy version of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata." We are arranging for the students to play on a grand piano.

This should be a very rewarding experience for the students because of the opportunity to play on a grand piano, rather than a keyboard, which many of them have at home. Additionally, the songs which we select will be on a higher level that they are currently performing. For many of the students, this will be the first time they will be playing for an unknown audience. I am opening up the opportunity for new students, who will have plenty of time to learn a new song between now and then. My former students learned six or seven songs in seven weeks. If you happen to reside in Rhode Island or Southeastern Massachusetts and would like to enroll your child in my program, please contact me through the website contact form. It is imperative that you contact me before the end of the year to allow a sufficient amount of time to learn how to play the song. Beginners and intermediate students are welcomed to apply.

When I was running an after school program at one of the local community centers about ten years ago, we held a formal dinner for the students and donors of the community center to raise money for the center. The dinner was held at a major hotel chain. I had some very talented children in my program and I wanted to give them an opportunity to let the donors know that their donations had served a purpose.

Having attended various functions at hotels during my employment in the insurance industry, I became cognizant that there is usually a grand piano around in one of the rooms for wedding ceremonies. When the waitress cam to serve us, I asked if it was possible to bring a grand piano into the room for two of the students to play. The waitress joyfully replied that she would ask to have one brought in. Upon informing the director of what I had just done, she told me she did not think they would accommodate us at such late notice. However, to her surprise, they wheeled in a grand piano, and the children played, joyfully.

The two students happened to be brother and sister. The sister played "The Entertainer" by Scott Joplin and the other played a Walt Disney song from the "Lion King." Needless to say, it was a nice surprise, the children played skillfully and joyfully, and received a booming applause. In the future, we will plan for the students to play at events like this on a grand piano.

Monday, December 8, 2014

New Music Books, New Skills

It is amazing what we can do with social media. I had the opportunity to meet an award winning, neoclassical composer, Stephan Beneking, from Berlin, Germany. Under ordinary circumstances, our paths would never have crossed. He has composed over three hundred songs. After listening to them and studying the music sheets, I became cognizant that I could use several of them form his “Zita in Wonderland,” for one of my students.

My student is learning an easy version of Moonlight Sonata, by Beethoven. She has a real passion for playing the piano, swiftly. Her only challenge is in being able to read the music as quickly as she plays. These selections available in the books I ordered are perfect for improving her sight reading skills. I was able to show her the correct notes and upon my return, she had memorized them well enough to play the first stanza with accuracy.

It is very rewarding to work with someone who takes her piano playing as seriously as she does. Tim Noble, a fifteen year old gospel pianist, is another child who has passion for playing the piano. He is already creating his own arrangements and background tracks.

Music education is considered a learning style and many of the STEM schools, (science, technology, engineering, and math) are including music in their curriculum. Scientists and philosophers have long recognized music as an important factor in education. As a piano teacher, I am looking forward to hearing more about this.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Starting a Music School

Over the last three years, I have been attempting to start a music school. I have witnessed multiple talents in the children that teach. Because of their enthusiasm and the benefits of enrichment, I would like to give them an opportunity to develop more talent within them. Therefore, I have posted a project on the Kickstarter website to raise money to publish and market a book about my experiences in teaching these students.

Whenever budgets are cut in education, the arts and music programs are usually curtailed first. This is unfortunate because art and music activities help the students to express their emotions. Music is considered a learning style and students can learn very valuable skills while partaking in a music education. Christopher Johnson of the University of Kansas “revealed that students in elementary schools with superior music education programs scored around 22 percent higher in English and 20 percent higher in math scores on standardized tests, compared to schools with low-quality music programs regardless of socioeconomic disparities…..”

However Christopher Johnson is not the only one who believes this theory that music helps to increase a child’s education. Merri Williams, a music educator and owner of Masterworks Studio in Decatur, Georgia noted Catherine Applefeld Olson’s findings in her report, “Music Testing Success Crosses Ethnic Lines” (p 20), that “first-of-its-kind standardized test in Florida which reveals that among music, reading, writing, and math, music is the only subject in which students have an equal chance to succeed regardless of ethnicity.”

Jennifer Ward, a best-selling children's book writer says, "Literacy is the key that opens the door to a life of learning, "Literacy comes in many forms: verbal, cognitive, written, visual, numerical, reading, technological. The higher the literacy level one can achieve, the higher the probability for one to fulfill personal potential."

From these findings, it is clear that the arts and music programs, but particularly the music programs, can benefit children immensely by helping them to acquire the skills necessary to succeed in college and in the workplace. Unfortunately, it is costly to offer a music program in the schools. Today, the construction costs in building and equipping a music room totals well over $350,000.00. Many of the public schools in the major cities cannot afford to provide updated books, computers, and other school supplies, let alone a music room. As a result, gifted and talented children may not have access to music instruction, particularly if their families cannot afford private instruction.

It is for this reason that I would like to establish a music school where children can participate in after school enrichment programs which will supplement their learning in the schools. My first step will be to get the book published and then to begin fundraising to purchase a building for the school. I would appreciate your support in this effort.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Too Old to Play Piano?

For those of you who feel it is too late to develop a talent, think again. Perhaps you believe this because it is all you hear in a world which seems to favor youthfulness.

There is no doubt that the world is changing, as mankind strives to prolong his/her life through healthy dieting and exercise. Now that we have longer life spans, we have to plan our lives accordingly. Many of us have had to change careers in midlife because of downsizing or for failure to plan for retirement. Because of this, some have decided to pursue a lifelong dream, for which now they have the time to devote to nurturing that dream.

As talented women grow older, they become “determined, committed, assertive, and are able to control their own lives.” This video of an older woman composing music on the streets is an example of such a woman. Natalie clearly is confident about her ability to compose music and has no qualms about sharing her talent with others. The composition is a beautiful representation of her talent and skill which she acquired over a number of years. It’s a great way for someone of her age to spend their time and talent.

As a piano teacher, I have had a seventy year old couple approach me about giving them piano lessons. The woman had observed her grandchild showing an interest in the piano and wanted to be able to play songs for her. The couple took the lessons together, practiced at home, and were able to play a few songs at the end of eight weeks. Their determination to play was admirable.
In conclusion, if you have a passion for the piano, or any other instrument at midlife or older, now may be the time to pursue it. Stay away from those who would frown upon this, but rather pursue it and gain some sense of self-fulfillment.

I am starting an art and music school in Rhode Island and currently have this project listed on Kickstarter. Please share this post and blog with friends and family. I am writing a book and would appreciate your support.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Amazing Child Prodigies - Encouragement for Piano Students

As I was reading this article about eleven year old Ethan Bortnick, a child prodigy from the age of nine, I wondered when and how his parents discovered that he had this unique gift.
From time to time, I try to encourage children by showing them performances by children their own age to let them know it is possible to do something great at a young age. I also caution them that this kind of talent is rare. Ironically, whenever I have shown children these performances, they have used it to become inspired to play better.

Although I have never encountered a child prodigy in my classes, I have met several who had, what I call exceptional talent. They were able to learn at a more rapid pace than the other children. All of the exceptional children had problems with their behavior until they discovered that they had a passion for playing the piano. One child bullied the other children, while the others were very disruptive in class.
Consequently, whenever I meet a disruptive child in my classes, I give them time to settle down and get serious about piano. They are the ones who will lead the class during recitals.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Motivating a New Student

I had the honor of meeting with a new student and her mother yesterday. I was impressed that the daughter was learning how to play two instruments at the same time, piano and violin. It was apparent to me that the child had a passion for the piano. She eagerly played for me the songs that she had learned. But, sadly, I became well aware that she had not made much progress in developing her style, as she made many mistakes.

My job will be to encourage her to spend more time in sustained practice and not to accept mediocrity in herself. Mediocrity should not be acceptable under any circumstances. This will help the child to take much more pride in what they do anywhere they go, whether it be in school or at work. I gave her an assignment to practice playing a new song and to play it perfectly for the next lesson. She should be prepared to play the song with no mistakes. If she does well, I will award her with two metallic music stickers which she can stick to her notebook.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Elements of Sustained Practice

If children want to play the piano well, they have to practice each and every day. It does not matter if they have talent or not, they still have to practice. When children truly enjoy playing the piano, they will play it as much as they can. They will discover that when they do not practice, they will have difficulty playing a song.

Therefore, it is important for children, or anyone who wants to become an accomplished piano player, or any type of musician, to engage in long hours of practice. E. Paul Torrance, a creative researcher, has said, “One of the most powerful wellsprings of creative energy, outstanding accomplishment, and self-fulfillment seems to be falling in love with something— your dream, your image of the future.” Therefore, having a vision of how the child wants to be in the future, relative to playing the piano, will determine how much time he/she spends practicing. The child who truly loves the piano will spend the required time developing their skill.

In order for children to spend the time in the required skill, they have to be focused. If they are easily distracted by what is going on around them, they will not be able to keep their attention on playing the piano. This will also help them to retain what they learn. Children also have to learn to learn not to give up if they are having difficulty learning a song. They must endure if they are to become great piano players.

With the proper mentor, children can learn to develop the habits that it will take for them to become accomplished in the field of music. They will not know what will make them great without a good teacher or mentor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Finding One's Passion

One of the most fascinating observations of my experiences with teaching piano to children is that most of the students which I have taught were gifted.

One of my first student was a child who engaged in bullying some of the other children with her friends. However, once she started learning how to play the piano, she stopped bullying, ended her activities with the friends, and became impassioned with learning new songs. She spent more time than most of the students, and as a result, learned more songs.

Another child was a problem child in classrooms in that he was disruptive. He had a friend who was the same way and the two of them together were difficult to manage. Since they did practically everything together, the two of them enrolled in piano lessons after school. The first student became very serious about playing piano and became disciplined, while the other just continued to be a disruption in the class, eventually dropping out because he had no interest in playing piano.

Children who develop their talents are happier than those who do not. While some of the other children who did not take an interest in piano may have been gifted in other areas, piano would not have been the medium for them to pursue. Some of the children who enrolled in the class were noticeably unhappy. One child related that it was not his decision to enroll in the class.

Therefore, if children are not doing well with music classes, it could be that this is not their area where they exhibit talent. I am in the process of writing a book which will explore this issue more in depth.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Benefits of Music

Music is a way for people to relax, especially with all of the struggles mankind is forced to experience. No matter what style of music we listen to, we can always find a song which seems to speak to our hearts at a time when we need it.

This blog is written for those who are passionate about playing the piano or those who are inspiring to be. Through teaching children, I discovered how music can change people. There are other benefits to having a music education in that it will help children to perform better on standardized tests, to develop better reading and math skills, and to develop their character.

Some people are born with natural musical ability, and may not realize it until later in life. When they discover this ability and begin to pursue it, they may realize that this was something that they may have been trying to express, but never had an opportunity. They will know this because of the new found joy that they feel.

It is for this reason that I am writing a book on my experiences in teaching to share with others. The proceeds from the sale of the book will be used to fund a music school. I am raising funds now to publish the book, entitled, Beyond My Imagination. Any support that I receive will be appreciated. Supporters will receive a free copy of the book.