As much as I have missed teaching piano in-studio during this crazy pandemic, there have been some benefits from taking my piano teaching on-line. For one, it has given me a glimpse into where my students are practicing. It also brought back memories of when I used to teach piano in student’s homes.
I’ve seen digital pianos in offices and spare rooms covered with piles of paper (not music!), uprights in bright and welcoming living rooms, keyboards in bedrooms and cold, dark basements, and gorgeous grands in dining rooms covered with clothing and homework.
Seeing the array of practice areas, has really influenced the way I now approach the topic of home practice with my parents, especially as we return to in-person lessons in the Fall. Say goodbye to piles of books on chairs or benches, using the kitchen chair to sit on, or a booster seat to boost that bottom. Instead, follow these recommendations below, and you’ll be sure to start off on the right foot before the first piano lesson.
CREATE A PRACTICE GYM!
Those who know me well will tell you that I am into health and fitness as much as I am into music. They have both been a part of my life since early childhood. As I developed my skills at the piano, I realized how much athletes and musicians have in common when it comes to practice and mindset. Keeping this in mind, I decided to combine the two activities I love most into one idea!
I like to use the term “practice gym” to help students and parents think of playing the piano akin to playing a sport. You need the right equipment, an ideal environment, tools for knowing how to “work out” at home, and finally a little encouragement along the way!
First things first…you need a PIANO! You wouldn’t send your child to hockey practice without skates, would you?
Choosing a piano is an investment. If you are truly committed to learning to play the piano, you need a proper instrument. There are three types of instruments people tend to look at when in the market for a piano. An acoustic piano, a digital piano, or an electronic keyboard. (For more details on each, see my blog on “How Do I Choose a Piano?”) In short, there really are only two options – an acoustic or a digital piano, as an electronic keyboard is NOT a piano. If you really want to learn to play the piano the way it is intended to be played, then an acoustic piano is the best option as the resonance, pedal action, and dynamic response are all part of learning to play the piano. However, if your budget does not allow for an acoustic, then a digital piano is the next best option. Keep in mind, there are some digitals on the market that are quite expensive as well, running close to the cost of an upright piano.
Next, you can’t have a piano without a piano bench. Purchase an adjustable piano bench so as your child grows, they can adjust the height. Proper piano posture is one of the most important factors of learning to play the piano well. More importantly, it prevents injuries from occurring.
You will notice that your child’s legs do not reach the floor quite yet once they are seated on the bench. They will need a small foot stool to prop their feet on and help balance their weight when shifting their body left to right, and playing those forte notes!
When deciding where to put your piano, choose a space that is welcoming and well lit, away from high-traffic areas. Your child is more likely to go to the piano if it is put in a central place in the home, close to others but not in the middle of the action. Avoid putting it in closed off areas such as basements and bedrooms as it gives a feeling of being cut-off from the rest of the family during practice, likely leading to less time at the piano.
Another factor to consider is the noise level in the house from day to day activities. You want your child close by, playing with minimal distractions and noise, from things like the television or washing machine.
Try finding a place that has natural light and think about what you can add to make it more cheerful and inviting, such as a photo, a piece of art, or a plant. In addition, since it is a gym after all, we want the space to feel inviting so others may stop in and listen quietly, and enjoy the music your child is playing, or maybe even join in! Adding beanbag chairs or large floor pillows is a great way to encourage family members to come in, making piano practice an activity for the whole family.
Playing the piano is a very physical endeavour. Pianists use their whole body, not just their fingers. They will need various items for warming up and developing technique, as well as pencils, highlighters and post-it notes for their music, which will all become a part of their practice routine. Having a basket next to the piano is a great way to keep these items organized and easily accessible. Your child will also need adequate lighting to see their music if the room lighting is not sufficient. A standing lamp or lamp on the piano would be suitable. Use shelving or a magazine holder to organize sheet music and books. Avoid placing distractions such as toys, décor, or other clutter on the top of the piano. After each piano lesson, have your child place their books in the same place close to the piano so they are ready for practice time. Some students keep them in a book bag, on a shelf or hook nearby.
It is of upmost importance for teachers and parents to give their budding musician consistent encouragement, emotional support, and feedback, especially in the beginning stages. This will help them develop self-esteem and a sense of competence.
Though these tasks may seem like a lot to accomplish, it will serve your child better in the long run and save you time, headaches, and dollars. It will prepare your child properly for a more enjoyable home practice, and bring music into the family home!
Best of luck on your musical journey!