Adapting to a New Reality
As a kid, my piano teachers always said you must learn to read sheet music to play the piano. As I grew up, I met more and more pianists who could not read music notation well or at all. Some were good pianists and some were not (just like those who could read music notation).
After teaching for many years, I realized that the requirement of learning to read sheet music in order to play the piano actually doesn't make any sense. I found that both children and adults can learn to play well without learning music notation - and they learn more quickly.
It's like having to memorize a map to a place before you're allowed to go there. Imagine having to memorize the map of Middle Earth before you were allowed to go there and have adventures. Froto would never have gone for that. Music is aural. Music notation is only the map that helps you to recreate the music you hear. It's not the actual music.
This is why I mostly teach my own method which gets beginners playing immediately and we learn music notation along the way. And, as you may have guessed, this is exactly how we learn our language. Makes sense.
It's sad that this is such a radical departure from conventional piano instruction when it's actually the natural way to learn. I invite you to be revolutionary and try it out with my sample Level 1 course. It's FREE and you can access it HERE.
Benefits of Teaching Online
How to Start
This may be something you've thought about for a while or something you're just now considering. Regardless, the big question is "What do you really want to accomplish?" Various teachers could teach online with different goals in mind. Here are a few possibilities.
As an example, my long-term goal is to establish something similar to an online academy where I offer piano, recorder, and native American flute courses with videos, audio files, printable components, and a messaging forum where they could video their assignments and submit to me for feedback. Students could also schedule regular live, virtual sessions with me or just occasionally when they need help. I'm not there yet but on my way. And, possibly, I could contract with other instrumental teachers to join me.
What tools would help you achieve your teaching goals?
There are several directions to take in achieving the goals you have. They can range from a simple video conferencing tool to a learning management system where you can create self-paced online courses.
The good news is that I don't think one has to be a "techie" nowadays to accomplish these goals. The tools are more intuitive and automated than ever before. Here are some essentials and "nice to have" items you will want to consider.
The Essentials for Online Teaching
Video Conferencing Tools
Though it's essential, I left it to the last because, well, it's the big one. You can have the best equipment but if you don't have a good software tool to connect - no one cares.
Not sure why but I love researching technology tools in the learning and educational areas. I also enjoy experimenting with various learning management systems software to the point of near confusion. We'll call it "quirky." Video conferencing apps/services, of course, do different things and have various pricing, including free. My current favorite is zoom.us. It offers better audio/video quality than most and is - so far - free. Here are some others.
Tonara: A practice and student management app has really improved over the years. I can do lesson notes, send videos, printed music (of course, it’s studio-licensed), and they can record their assignments.
Manycam: This enables me to overlay two (or more) cameras on the screen. I have two web cams with one pointed to me and one hanging from a mic stand pointed to the keyboard. You can make different configurations.
Tips and Tricks
Things to remember when teaching live online:
I hope this information helps. Please let me know how your experiences go with online teaching.
This is the third installment in my series of great ways to learn to play piano.
Wolfie for Piano
These days, you don't have to worry about carrying lots of books to your piano lesson - just your iPad. Wolfie for Piano is a valuable app that I'm beginning to use in my teaching studio. It's designed to help students practice more efficiently at home and comes loaded with many powerful features and several thousand musical scores. From Alfred Music Piano Methods, the world’s largest educational music publisher, to classical pieces, popular and rock scores, there’s no shortage of ways to enjoy the benefits Wolfie has to offer. It's suitable for piano students of all ages and levels.
Summary of Features
With Wolfie's interactive scores, you'll notice vast improvements in sight-reading and your sense of tempo and rhythm. You'll practice more, and get better faster.
You can download Wolfie for free and enjoy the Catalog’s Free Zone, a special collection of free scores. To get full access, the monthly subscription is $8.99 monthly. As usual, for best results, find a Wolfie teacher.
This is the second of three posts exploring innovative music technology for learning to play the piano.
If you don't have an iPad, don't despair. Piano Marvel works on your Windows or Mac computer. I've been using this software for several years with many students. It becomes a great practice assistant and features several thousand songs and exercises designed to challenge all ages and ability levels. It also saves your practice information to the cloud so you can practice using almost any computer, any time. Just connect a digital piano to your computer with a MIDI cable connection to get the full benefit of Piano Marvel.
The result is that learning to play the piano is much faster and more fun than with books alone. My students using Piano Marvel (and other apps) learn several times faster largely because there's no time spent practicing wrong notes or rhythm for six days until your next lesson. Also, both you and your teacher can access your playing accuracy scores along with your practice times. I know - difficult to cheat.
Summary of Features
You can access everything Piano Marvel has to offer for a nominal subscription of $15 monthly and they are currently offering all Level 1 exercises and songs for free. You can also use my distributor code, "applegate," to get a discount on the premium subscription ($12, instead of $15 monthly). Try it out at www.pianomarvel.com.
Even though many piano teachers use this great learning system with their students, you can also learn a lot working on your own.
This is the first of three posts about award-winning technology that's now available (and inexpensive) for children, teens, and adults to learn to play piano easily and quickly. These apps enable you to interact with music notation in real-time and see the music "in action." Since I've incorporated them into my teaching, I've seen a significant increase in student success.
This post deals with an iPad app called, Piano Maestro.
Though, Piano Maestro is currently only for iPad, I'm hearing about the possibility that it may be available for Android sometime in the future. This app is great for learning piano with a teacher or on your own. And it works for young students as well as adults.
All you have to do is download the FREE app in the apple app store and place your iPad on your piano and register. It doesn't even have to be an electronic piano and it's wireless- no cables needed. Piano Maestro hosts a "gaming" atmosphere that listens to your playing and gives you immediate feedback on the accuracy of your notes and rhythm.
Summary of Features
Adults and older children may find the backgrounds to a bit "juvenile." At some point, users will have a choice of backgrounds. The functionality, however, works for learners from age 3 to 103 - which means it's a good fir for YOU. Find out more
Language teachers know that songs are really useful to learn languages. Simply they help to practise listening and to learn new words. Furthermore it is motivating for the students as it is an easier and FUN way to learn grammatical concepts. Songs can be easily played over and over and often contain repeated grammatical structures accompanied by melody. This combination helps the student to achieve quick and easy memorisation.
Whatever is your taste in music you might agree that some of greatest music in the world comes from Italy. As an Italian language learner nothing is better than choosing Italian songs to practise the language. Here is a list of some of the most popular Italian songs, perfect to improve your skills. The Language Class has compiled this list from Italian pop songs and it encompasses different levels.
Vieni Via Con Me.
If you are a beginner a song that you should listen and work on is “Vieni via con me” of Paolo Conte. The song is a collection of love moments, full of solitude, irony and future projects. It tells the story of a man and his love for his beloved. He asks her to come away with him, promising that he will protect her and give her a future together. Conte’s songs are full of feelings and emotions and this song could be useful to practice the simple present and all the prepositions.
Una Su Un milione.
If you have reached an intermediate level often referred as B1 level, you can try something more difficult such as Alex Britti’s “Una su un milione”. Another modern Italian canzone about pure and sweet love. The song using simple words and similitudes will help you to learn a new vocabulary and useful wordplays. The songs uses various Italian tenses and it could be a good way to revise them all, making it ideal for more advanced learners.
Tutto l’amore che ho.
From beginner to B2 level students some of Jovanotti’s repertoire is highly recommended. Almost always Jovannotti songs have very simple lyrics often repeated in rhymes making them the best way to learn Italian with songs. For example the song titled “Tutto l’amore che ho” is useful to revise the implicit forms and the hypothetical period.
Come si cambia.
If you have reached the C1 level it means that at this point you know the Italian language quite well, and you are ready to deal with more complex song, like “Come si cambia” of Fiorella Mannoia. It is a very introspective song: a woman is analysing her life and she does not know if she wants to believe in love again. Listening to this song you will revise all the tenses and several adjectives. You also will put yourself at test in interpreting the meaning of the song...according to your personal opinion.
Una donna per amico.
Lucio Battisti’s “Una donna per amico” is an evergreen song that will not only help you to learn Italian but also will help to understand Italian culture better. So if you are heading toward near native fluency (C2 level) you are ready to work on it. You will practice verbs, prepositions and even pronouns all at once The song is nice and catchy and talks about a strange mix of friendship and jealousy between a man and a woman.
One last recommendation.
If you are looking for an innovative and funny way to practice Italian you can resort to songs and do like teachers and students all over the world who use music to improve their skills. For this reason, why not add the book “Canta che ti passa” to your library: it is divided in 14 units based on 14 Italian songs, it comes with the songs on a CD.
Along with music, I have an interest in a language Learning (a hobby). In reading several articles about best practices in learning a new language, I was struck by the similarities in the way I teach piano to my students.
I didn't used to think that music was a language. Now I not only think it is but I think the best way to learn a musical instrument is to follow the structure of language learning.
So how did you learn language? Probably, as a child, you learned to "mimic" your parents and family members as they spoke. You learned a few individual words at first, later graduating to putting them together in phrases and short sentences. You made lots of mistakes in pronouncing things and probably the adults thought it was cute and knew that eventually you would get it right.
And you did. Later, In school, you learned what words looked like, and how they were constructed. You also learned how to put together more complex sentences into paragraphs. Perhaps most importantly, you learned how to express yourself in your speaking and writing.
So the journey of language began with speaking only, then later learning to read words and sentences. No one would expect a toddler to learn to write words and sentences before they learned to speak. That would be ludicrous.
Can this compare to learning a musical instrument? You bet it can. I've found that when I follow the same mindset of learning to play first and learn to read music later, my students find it easier and more motivating because they get to play great stuff right away. We begin looking at music reading exercises about 6 months in. It's rather easy for them as they're so used to playing the notes and rhythms they’re learning.
We would call this type of piano method a "playing based" method. These methods are fairly new on the music education scene. The only two I know of are Suzuki and the one I teach, called Simply Music. All other piano methods are "reading based" (you must learn to read music notation as you learn to play) and have been around in the same basic form for about 200 years. Here are some of the reasons I choose to teach the Simply Music method:
There are many more benefits but these are the most prominent.
I do know that I'm glad to be able to provide great learning and motivation for children and adults who want to learn piano but may have had challenges with other methods. For many people, learning to play the piano is really a dream come true.
Last year I got a call from a principal at a charter school in Philadelphia, PA. She asked if I could do a pilot program teaching music theory remotely to K-8 at their school (I was already teaching private piano online). I was nervous about it but very intrigued. I did a proposal pushing including some general music topics along with theory and started in their Fall term. Here's how it went.
This is a charter school where all students of all levels physically come into the school but have a laptop where they get much of their instruction. A teacher is assigned to every two levels. We worked out the sessions where I would do all classes one day a week with two grade levels per session (6-8 took together). K-1 went for 20 minutes and the other levels would be 45 min each. I used the wiziq.com learning platform to run everything.
Though I had a microphone and two webcams (one pointed to me, one pointed to my piano keyboard), they did not have webcams or microphones. Therefore, they could see and hear me but I couldn't see or hear them. We used instant chat for feedback, which was okay except for K-1. Their teacher would chat me for a few things and I "winged" it the rest of the time.
I was able to explore a varied menu of musical topics. I found that the Philadelphia Orchestra was doing Beethoven's 9th Symphony soon so we explored the composer's life and background of "Ode to Joy." I made a plug for the upcoming orchestra's performances. Other topics included Native American Music, The Nutcracker Suite, and the Music and Musicians on the Titanic. Here are some typical lessons I used:
Typical lesson , Grade Levels K-1, 20 min
Typical lesson, grade levels 2-8, 45 min
I think most everything went well. The lack of good feedback was an issue as well as technical issues on their end. I have to say that the older students LOVED the chat. I laid down ground rules that they only chat when I ask for feedback and all messages display to everyone including me and their classroom teacher. It never really got out of control. Once, as my 4-5 level session was getting started and logged-in, nature called so I left the camera for about 30 seconds. When I returned, one of the students chatted, "Where did you go?" Though I wanted to say none of your business, I just ignored the question.
It was a great experience even without a wealth of feedback that we all like in the classroom. I still teach one-on-one piano lessons online with great success. It's a great way for homeschoolers, adults, and those in rural areas to get quality music education into their life.
Terry Smith teaches piano and voice privately in the Phoenix, AZ area and online anywhere using an innovative approach called "PLAY NOW!"
Website Copyright 2020, Terry Smith
"Terry Smith is an excellent piano teacher. He is very knowledgeable in technique and the history of music. He was always on time and ended on time for his next student. He always made lessons enjoyable."