Category: Music Teaching

How to teach piano beginners (I)

As piano students and performers, you all know the importance of piano lessons and practice, and how a great teacher can inspire you to the next new level. But as piano teachers, do you know what you have to do in order to be successful in teaching piano students?

In this series of articles , I’d like to share with you some useful ideas on how you as piano teachers to prepare yourselves on taking up this wonderful career of piano teaching.

Teaching piano beginners is a challenging task. Many might think it’s easier than teaching students of more intermediate levels. It’s crucial for piano teachers to nurture their beginner students carefully so that students start well on the merry way of music learning and enjoyment for many years to come.

The following tips are applicable for teaching piano beginners in general.

1. Use piano instruction books effectively

There are a lot of piano method books out there and many of them are quite excellent and fun. But not all of them are suitable for teaching purpose. Piano teachers should identify the books they find that are in line with their own teaching approach and choose wisely. More importantly, the piano method books out there do not teach teachers how to teach their books. So it’s up to the teachers to use the books accordingly. Even if the teachers are professionally trained musically, it doesn’t mean unfortunately that they are trained to teach music, and I know a lot of times they are frustrated with how to communicate in a way that students can understand and learn effectively.

This leads me to the second point..


2. Learn how to teach

I for a while did not understand the importance of learning how to teach. It was not until I took classes in piano pedagogy in graduate school and first-handedly received high-quality piano lessons from master piano teachers, that I understood the surprisingly distinct difference between the old-school mediocre piano teaching and the great piano teaching, which could immensely inspire a student to a great new level in piano playing and music understanding.

After finishing my master’s degree, I continued to learn and dig deeper in the subject of “teaching”. In piano teaching (or instrumental teaching for that matter), there are two main aspects one needs to learn as a teacher: teaching music and teaching in general. And in music teaching, there are piano playing (technique and repertoire) and music rudiments (theory, reading and aural ability, history). To be a successful and well-rounded piano teacher, one must not only acquire knowledge in music and piano but also learn how to teach.

Teaching is not to feed information into students’ brains- it’s rather to inform and guide the students, so that they are well-equipped with data they need to form their own judgment and apply their knowledge accordingly.

High-quality piano teaching does not have to be reserved to music students in prestige graduate schools only. As a matter of fact, children needs great teachers to learn from and be inspired by at early ages, right from the start of their music education journey.

3. Teach students how to practice

It’s important to teach students how to practice. A lot of teachers think the students automatically know that how to practice on their own, and hope that the parents would somehow take that responsibility to teach them or show them how. That cannot be more wrong.

First thing students should know is that practice is crucial for successful piano playing and repetition is important in their piano practice. And repetition does not mean playing a piece twice or the whole piece all the time. There should be guidance on how to practice and what to practice, what goals they set in each practice session and how to achieve those goals accordingly.

In our piano beginner books, we write out step-by-step instructions for students and parents to follow at home during their practice, so that they know what to do and what to pay attention to. In piano lessons, teachers should also spend time to explain to students how to practice certain phrases and what they themselves should pay attention to during their practice at home. Students need to know what they are looking for in their own practice and playing, instead of teachers pointing out their mistakes and them rectifying them afterwards. A lot of self-awareness and attention to details are required in students in their own practice (and playing) to make that practice session effective and productive.

When students know how to practice and what to look for during practice, it’s time to be creative in their practice. Teachers can demonstrate different ways of tackling a problem, whether it be a rhythmic, harmonic or coordination aspect. Teaching students to understand the components and make-up of a music piece would tremendously help them practice more effectively. No one gets far with practice or playing without understanding the musical content of a piece they are learning.

Must I learn to read music to play piano?

Some new piano students ask me this when we first meet, “Do I really have to read music? I just want to play the piano.” My answer is, “yes and no”. It depends on what you want to learn and play. There are a lot of great musicians who never learn to read music and yet they play marvellously. And then there are a lot of other great musicians who learn to read music and they play spectacularly. The first group of musicians is usually in the jazz/blues/pop/world music genre. They play by ear, they understand music differently the way those who read music. They usually improvise and create music more freely. The second group of musicians is the classically trained ones. These musicians learnt to read since they were young. They went through all the strict and traditional training. They understand music deeply and through various means. It is not just the reading that they need to learn, but they also know the theory, form and structure behind those notes. All these help them listen and play better. So, if you want to just play pop music and never care to bother with the classical pieces, then “no” I say you probably don’t really need to read music at all, and find someone who can teach you just like that (not the strictly classical piano teachers because they probably don’t know what to do with you!). But, if you ever want to learn something more complicated like a prelude and fugue by Bach or a nocturne by Chopin, then “yes” you would want to learn how to read. I always compare music learning to language learning. It’s really quite similar. Did you learn to read English? I am sure you did because you are now reading my article :) Did you ever wonder, “can I learn to speak English without learning to read English?” It sounds absurd. But the truth is, I bet you learnt to speak before you actually read it – you would probably know more words in your speech way ahead of your reading. It’s the chicken and egg theory. For me, I love to read (I’m an absolute bookworm). So I love to read music as well. I devoured a lot of new music just by playing through them the first second I see them. It’s an amazing feeling to have the ability to be able to sight-read in no time. It’s a lot of fun. But at the same time I like how some jazz and blues musicians who can improvise like mad – that’s really amazing to watch and listen to as well. In fact, I started improvising (and composing) a few years ago. At first, I found it hard to play random things because I was so used to read everything from the score and play exactly that. I was a bit “confused” (a popular word commonly used by my students). I was feeling that I couldn’t make mistake or “ugly sound” like that as I improvised, “that’s embarrassing!”. But I got over it, that’s the only way to learn to play differently. And it got better and was a lot of fun since then. Now I learn to play some blues because it’s just fun to learn something new, and I get to teach students that. For me, it’s not about just strictly “how you must read!” or “it doesn’t matter whether you read or not”, it’s rather what benefits that student the most. After all, music is about enjoyment (not so much for professional musicians all the time! Just like anyone in their field doing it professionally). It’s about people expressing themselves and sharing it with others. Of course there are times it’s challenging in the process of learning – there are obstacles and hurdles, there are setbacks and disappointment. But most important of all, we make progress by making mistakes, getting over them and moving onward and forward. With the new students, I combine listening and reading. Learning by rote is important for any beginners. With listening, memorizing patterns by sight and sound, as well as remembering notes one or two at a time, students make progress very quickly. It’s important for students to gain confidence by being able to play something simply successfully at the beginning, that sense of enjoyment and satisfaction, knowing that they can actually play the piano and make music, is the motive that moves them forward and keep learning. I could go on and on about music learning and piano playing, but I shall stop here and continue with another post on how teachers can motivate students in a positive direction with very simple cues in their piano journey. Teresa Wong

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Successful Music Teaching Course (Cantonese)

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Do you want to teach music?

“You should give up now – it doesn’t pay well.”

“You should get a real job.”

“You can’t make money being a musician/music teacher.”

“You should just get a teaching job at school or a government job.”

“You can’t make stable income teaching (enter any music instrument name).”

“You should study something else than music.”

 

Have you heard these questions – or insult – before?

I have, many times, directed towards me or towards my teaching staff and music friends.

At one point I thought that’s not working for me either. So I thought of doing something else or doing it differently. But I always came back to it.

I don’t give up easily. When I want something, I make it happen.

So I started playing piano, I studied abroad in piano performance, I worked as a pianist, I taught piano, I started my piano studio, and then piano school. I wrote books about piano teaching and playing. I consulted piano performers and piano teachers and music teaching studio owners online. I ran an online music teacher training platform, etc., etc. The list was endless.

And I made money teaching music and piano while enjoying my work. I love teaching, I have immense passion in helping people, I do.

When I get exciting and joyful feedback from piano students/parents/piano teachers about how much they’ve enjoyed my lessons/courses and how I’ve changed their lives for the better, I become so touched sometimes I would even cry with joy.

But hey, this is not about me, this is about YOU.

Being successful in music teaching requires hard work, in some ways more than having a regular job. Especially when you are teaching freelance or on your own. You don’t have the benefits that most people do: you don’t have the paid holidays, the health benefits, the regular time off (because you perform/teach piano on weekends/holidays). People think it’s so great to have your own work! Yes but they don’t see how hard it is for you to maintain your own students, plan your own work schedule, annual student concerts, piano exams, competitions, lessons, fees, parents, the list goes on and on. Wait, did I say no paid holidays so every time you take a vacation you cringe on how much money you didn’t earn on your trip to Japan/Thailand/Italy? And you can never take the same days off to hang out with your family and friends who have a regular job schedule? Heck, you sometimes even forget it’s public holiday because you are working on that day! And if the weather’s bad and everyone gets to stay in and cheer for the extra time off, you are upset because you don’t get to work and get paid?

Ok, that may have gone a bit too far and too much details – I personally had thought about all of the above and that’s why I can write them out easily in one minute.

But still, I love teaching, whether I am teaching piano students or piano teachers or other music instrument teachers. I simply love sharing knowledge and helping others, from teaching piano students how to play better, to teaching piano teachers how to teach better, then to teaching other music instrument teachers on how to build their music teaching career. It is important for the piano students and piano teachers and other music instrument teachers know how they too can be successful in their piano playing and piano/violin/flute/cello/erhu/singing/guitar teaching.  

When I teach a piano student, I influence one person (and perhaps a little on the family too). But when I teach a piano teacher or double bass teacher, I influence someone who can influence many students of their own. I really like the idea of that.

So if you are out there still thinking about my training program “How to Build a Successful Music Teaching Studio”, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me today. I am giving away a very special offer with some freebies on my online training program. Contact me now and get the gifts already!

Teresa Wong

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Our first round of students taking the course has already gone through over half of the course, and they all show great enthusiasm and responses towards the course.

We are now accepting enrolment for the second round of students!

To enrol in our course, you can either contact us directly at twsomusic@gmail.com or go to our online training platform @ teresa-wong-music.teachable.com

Please note that in order to receive the discount shown below, you must enrol directly with us via local bank transfer payment method.

Whole course fee:

Sign up before Dec 31 2018: HKD$4500 /USD$650

Sign up between Jan 1 and Jan 7 2019: HKD$5000/USD$660

Sign up between Jan 8 and Jan 15 2019: HKD$6000/USD$863

The next course commences on February 1, 2019.

Enrolment form: https://goo.gl/forms/Fwa1bVBTDChCBSQS2

For more course info:
http://www.mowcreative.info/teacher-business-training