Should I Give My Student A Piece He Doesn’t Like?

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I’d always been a student who was really passionate about the music I liked.

And I liked drama. Fast. Loud. Minor keys, plush chords, extravagant bass octaves, quadruple fortissimos, sweeping arpeggios. I loved Beethoven, Liszt, Debussy.

I was also really passionate about the music I didn’t like.

And I didn’t like Bach. I mean, he was okay… too busy, too frilly, too cold. Not enough emotion. Chopin was monotonous. Too slow. Too many “oom-cha-cha“s.

But Mozart? He was the worst. OH. I HATED HIM. What a horrid jumble of frilly, trilly, bouncy, sissy nonsense! yuck. Where was the passion? I couldn’t stand to listen to him, much less play him.

That was 8 years ago. Today I love Bach. Chopin is glorious. And Mozart? I adore him.

So what happened?

MY TEACHER MADE ME PLAY THREE PIECES I DIDN’T LIKE.

 

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Should I Give My Student A Piece He Doesn’t Really Like?

As music teachers, we’ve all labored over this question. And there are times when the answer is no. Very much no. We’ll talk about those further down.

But I think there are also times when the answer is yes. Very much yes.

Not to be cruel, not to be insensitive, not to make our students hate music.

Then why?

 

Why It’s Important to Give Your Students Pieces They Don’t Necessarily Like

BROADENING MUSICAL TASTE.

Our students aren’t going to love everything. And you know what? That’s okay. No one person is going to like every style or composer, and everyone will have a one or two that they love more than all the rest. It’s called personality, and it’s a good thing. Loving everything isn’t necessary, and it’s not the goal.

But a well-rounded appreciation for a variety of musical styles is important. Very important. And it is the goal.

Every once in a while, we’ll get a student who loves everything they hear. But much more often we find ourselves with a student who only likes one or two styles – fast, slow, soft, loud, major, minor, showy, waltz-y, Baroque, Romantic, Beethoven, Scarlatti, or Cage

Okay. Maybe not Cage.

Still.

When a student does have one or two favorite styles, it often means they don’t like all the rest. Or worse, they just plain detest the rest. Fiercely.

So when we do find ourselves with a student who has narrow musical taste, it’s up to us to nurture an appreciation for a broader range of style. Sometimes that means just listening to new composers with them and explaining what makes them unique from others. Other times it actually means giving them new styles to learn, even if they don’t like them up-front.

Sometimes students like new styles as soon as they hear them; other times it takes a while to see fruit. But even if it does, don’t get discouraged.

It took me two years of actively studying Bach’s music and style to learn to love him. I learned his Italian Concerto and disliked it every bit as much when I was done as when I started. So I left it. Then I came back to it a year and a half later, and you know? I loved it! And once I did, the whole world of Bach was opened up to me. Now he is the single composer into whom I have invested the most time. And, you know, it was well worth the countless hours of practice when I “didn’t like that bothersome piece.”

WELL-ROUNDED MUSICAL EXPERIENCE.

Musical taste, musical experience… they go hand-in-hand. Why? Because only by experiencing new music can our student’s taste be broadened.

Experiencing a variety of composers is important because it gives musicians a better understanding and appreciation for music context, stylization, and history. Our students need exposure to a lot of music… Baroque, Romantic, Classical, Impressionistic, Renaissance, and even a little modern. Sometimes exposure all that’s needed for a formerly “picky” student to discover that he loves other styles, after all.

Every single one of us has to be stretched before we can grown, and as teachers, it’s up to us to make sure our students enjoy the richness of that experience.

LEARNING NECESSARY TECHNIQUE.

It’s also up to us to make sure our students have well-rounded technique. And let’s face it… some kids just don’t like certain techniques. Arpeggios, left hand melodies, octaves, rubato, runs, triplets, various key signatures and chords… They’re all challenging in their own unique way, and some students want nothing to do with them.

But if we’re wise, we will make sure our students can play all of these things and play them well, whether it’s in a waltz, etude, programmatic piece, fugue, sonata, polonaise, minuet, scherzo, or even an occasional rag-time tune.

 

Is It Always Necessary?

No. Some students just love music and are literally ecstatic to play anything in sight.

Remember, the goal is to help our students experience and appreciate a variety of good music. If they already do, then the goal is already accomplished. Don’t go scouring for a piece they don’t like just for the sake of it.

 

When NOT to Give Your Student a Piece He Doesn’t Like

There are definitely situations when we shouldn’t give our students less-than-loved pieces. Here are a few of those times to keep in mind:

FOR A PERFORMANCE.

Performances are your student’s chance to share his musical passions, technical strengths, and artistic maturity with his audience. If he is emotionally disconnected with his piece – or worse, emotionally hostile toward his piece – he will struggle to do all of these. (Even more so for competitions.) Instead, give your student a performance piece he will be excited about, will enjoy practicing, and can perform with an enthusiasm that’s contagious.

IF IT’S ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT PIECES HE’S PLAYED.

Launching into your most difficult piece takes an extra measure of stamina, even if you love it.  Giving a student a really hard piece that he doesn’t like is asking for trouble. Slump Alert!

IF HE’S ALREADY IN A SLUMP. 

Goodness me, if your student is already struggling to hang in there, please don’t give him a piece he doesn’t like. It will seal his doom. Instead, give him lots of encouragement and a piece or two he really, really loves.

 

When, What, & How to Do it Right


WHEN TO DO IT

Between performances is usually the best time to give students a less-than-loved piece. It gives them the opportunity to focus on mastering it without distracting them from more pressing performance repertoire.

Immediately after a successful performance is ideal because the student is on a high note and ready to take on anything. When unlocking new music to our more skeptical students, timing is definitely key.

WHAT TO GIVE THEM

When introducing a composer or style your student doesn’t like, keep it a level or two below his current repertoire capabilities. Start with something short and sweet, especially for young students. Remember, the goal is to stretch them musically, not to make them panic!

HOW TO DO IT RIGHT

My teacher made me play stuff I didn’t like, but she was never mean about it. She never spoke harshly to me or ignored my thoughts or told me that I was ignorant and didn’t know what was good for me. She was kind. She respected my struggles. She was even sympathetic. But she was firm. And by firm, I mean SHE DIDN’T BUDGE. And I benefited because she didn’t.

Remember, we’re doing this to help our students. We are their music teachers. It’s our responsibility and privilege to help them cultivate a well-rounded appreciation for good music, and hopefully, they will learn to know and love music better in the process.

So how do we do this well?

To start, here are a few things NOT to do:

– Never be forceful.

– Never disregard their feelings.

– Never treat them like they are ignorant or need to be enlightened.

Instead,

– Be gentle. Be patient. Be sensitive. Be kind.

– Listen to their woes. Be understanding. Make sure they know you aren’t ignoring their feelings or don’t care what they think.

– Explain to them why it’s important. Help them understand the goal. Keep communication open and work with them as a team, not a taskmaster.

If we can do all of these things, we’re well on the road to doing it well.

 

SUMMARY: WHAT’S THE GOAL?


We’ve got to keep this question at the forefront. Remember, the goal isn’t to get them to love every piece ever written or every composers who ever lived.

THE GOALS ARE THESE:

1) A Well-Rounded Musical Experience
2) A Well-Rounded Musical Appreciation

I still don’t love Prokofiev. And I’m not that crazy about Haydn or Brahms. It’s just personality. But you know what? I recognize the significance of their lives and work, and when I do play them I want to play them well.

Once our students are willing to try and appreciate composers who aren’t their favorites they’ll really start to grow. Why? Because they’ll better understand musical context, style, and history. They’ll have the complete musical picture instead of just their favorite fragments.

So, if we can do it well, then yes – let’s give our students pieces that will stretch their taste. Their musical experience will be far richer and deeper than it ever could be if we don’t.

 

Have any thoughts? Share them in the comments below!
 

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How to Prepare Your Child for Music Lessons

 

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Nurturing a love and appreciation for music in your child is an important and beautiful preparation for formal music lessons. Someone has to invest time into developing their interest in music, and there is no better person than their own Mommy or Daddy!

When preparing your little people for music lessons, keep these three goals in mind: 

  1. Nurturing their interest in music.
  2. Giving them a head-start on understanding foundational musical concepts.
  3. Helping them develop the hand/body coordination they will need to handle the physical requirements of their instrument.

There are so many great exercises and activities you can do with your little ones at home to prepare their minds, fingers, and hearts for music lessons. Let’s look a few practical ways you can do that.

 

Nurturing Musical Interest 

Play Classical Music Around the House.  

Children aren’t likely to develop an interest in music if they rarely hear it, so make music a part of your daily life.  It doesn’t have to be at the forefront – play a variety of composers in the background during playtime, and your little ones will be influenced by the atmosphere.

Attend Real Concerts…

…and make a big deal about it! Talk about it ahead of time, get dressed up, take pictures — show excitement! When it’s over, talk about it some more. Concerts are an invaluable learning opportunity for you and your children and can be a memory they will always treasure, if you make it one.

Make the Most of The Internet.  

Thanks to Youtube, we can give our children musical experiences on the days, weeks, and months we can’t attend concerts. Pull up some chairs, huddle around, listen, watch, and talk about what you’ve heard. Oh, and don’t forget… Popcorn!

Read Stories of Great Composers, Hymn Writers, and Musicians.  

Few things will bring music to life for your children like the fascinating stories of the real men and women who spent their life studying it. Plus, kids love story time. So grab a blanket, snuggle up, and read, read, read, read, read…

Teach Them to Respect Instruments.  

Children won’t have a lasting interest in something they think is just another toy. Teach them how to approach instruments with care, gentleness and respect. It will intrigue their little minds more than you think. (And save your instrument much heartache in the future. ;)

Sing, Sing, Sing!

What child doesn’t like songs? Even my 10-week-old would crack up when I started singing to him! Kids can usually handle simple tunes long before the complexities of an instrument, so when your kids are infants sing to them. When they’re toddlers sing with them. Your voice doesn’t have to be great… just sing – they’ll love you for it!

Celebrate Music

Pick a composer’s birthday to celebrate each month, and have a party! Spend the morning or afternoon listening to that composer’s music, reading stories about his life, enjoying a meal or treat from his culture, studying his time period, and anything else you can think of. If you’re really into it, some birthday cupcakes will be a hit, too! This one is more elaborate than the others, but if you’re up for it, you’ll have a blast!

 

Fostering Musical Understanding

Teach Them Basic Music Terms & Symbols.  

If a child can learn to recognize ball, chair, and cookie, he can learn to recognize note, staff, and “twebble clef”.  Give him a jumpstart on the stuff he’ll need to know when he begins music lessons – it will help him feel less overwhelmed at the first lesson.  Start with helping him to recognize these, and he’ll have a great head start:

  • Staff, Treble Clef, Bass Clef, Measure, Barline, Time Signature
  • Quarter Note, Half Note, Dotted Half Note, Whole Note
  • Quarter Rest, Half Rest, Whole Rest

Ear Training

You can never start training a child’s ear too early. Even the most basic ear training will make a tremendous difference. I’ll be sharing some beginner ear training activities soon, but in the meantime, try starting with simple exercises like these:

  • Loud/Soft, Long/Short, High/Low, Same Note/Different Note, Notes Going Up/Notes Going Down

Help them Learn the Names and Sounds of Instruments.  

This one might just be the most fun of all! Look at pictures and illustrations of instruments online or in a music book together.  Help your children recognize different instruments and instrument families. Watch solo and orchestral videos on youtube to help them learn the sounds of each instrument, then switch to recordings where they can only hear the instrument sounds. This can be a super fun and educational guessing game!

Teach Them the Names of Basic Instrument Parts…

…and what they do!  Kids are fascinated by how things work, and instruments are no exception. If you’re not sure what’s what, do a wink or two of research and then let them learn with you! (Online is an excellent resource.) Keep it interactive and try to get around as many instruments as possible. Your kids will have a blast, and you know what?  You will too.

Names of Keys

They’ll need to know how the music alphabet works, and the piano is a great place to learn.  The keyboard is arguably the easiest instrument to learn how the music alphabet works – partly because of its simple visual patter (it is straightforward and repetitive, unlike the violin or trumpet), and partly because it’s right in front of your face instead of left, right, up, or down, like the violin, flute, trombone, or cello.

 

 

Developing Physical Coordination

Clapping their Hands to the Beat in Music

This one is important! Clapping their hands to the beat will not only help them recognize where the beat is, it will also help them learn to coordinate their body movements with the beat, which is a crucial part of understanding and executing rhythm on an instrument.  You can do this one with classical music, or your favorite hymns, folk, or pop tunes. P.S. …it’s lots of fun!

Holding a Ball

If your child is starting with piano lessons, holding a small ball will help to prepare his hand for the correct playing position.  The ball should be small enough for him to wrap his fingers around in a curved position, but large enough that his fingers aren’t touching. (A $1 bouncy ball from Dollar Tree will do the trick!)

Learning Good Posture and, um… Sitting Still

Help your child understand what it means to sit with his back straight and his legs not twisted into a knot.  His teacher will be thoroughly impressed if you get this one down.  ;)

 

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And last, but not least… Remember that Your Attitude is Key.

You don’t have to be an expert in music to encourage a love of music in your child; you do have to have a love of music yourself. Your attitude and actions alone will make a difference. Your children learn what it important by watching what you get excited about. Watching you approach music with enthusiasm will show them that it is something to be valued. 

 

“Make delighting in music a part of your daily life,
and your children will learn to delight in it too.”

 

Have any question or additional ideas? I’d love to hear them. Comment below or send me an email through my contact page. 

16 ways to prepare you child's mind, fingers, and heart for music lessons. www.sfzMusicBlog.com, Lacie Bowman Music #music #musiclessons #musiclessontip #musictips #musiceducation #musiced #piano #teaching #homeschooling #homeeducation

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Choosing the Right Piece for the Right Student

Choosing the Right Piece for the Right Student | Tips for Music Teachers on The Music Blog

As recital season comes to a close, most of us find ourselves in the middle of one of the most exciting and challenging parts of teaching: choosing new repertoire for our students.

Choosing the right piece for the right student is one of the most crucial parts of productive, successful teaching. Getting this part right can be the difference in making our students average musicians or winners.

But it doesn’t have to be daunting, and it doesn’t have to be excessively time-consuming.   It can actually be really fun when you have an effective, organized way to approach it. Here are four practical steps that help me keep choosing repertoire simple and the approximate amount of time it takes me to get each step done.

 

1. Evaluate Your Student.  

Approx. 10-15 MINUTES

This is definitely the first step and may even be the most vital for choosing the right piece for your student!   Before you can even start to pick the right piece, you have to know the things that most important for your student to learn right now.  Here’s a good place to start:

♦  List the biggest technical weaknesses he needs to master.
♦  List the technical strengths you want to help him develop further.
♦  List the music styles/forms he has played most & the ones he’s not played at all.

Our goal is to develop our student into a well-rounded musician, and that means having the ability to play a variety of musical forms, styles [Romantic, Baroque, etc.], and techniques.  Students, and even teachers, naturally drift towards pieces that exhibit their musical strengths, so make sure you’re not consistently neglecting composers and styles that aren’t your student’s strengths.

Balance is key!

[box style=”white” ]TIMING TIP:  Recitals are the ideal times to give our students pieces that really showcase their musical and technical strengths.   Pieces that focus primarily on their weaknesses are best to work on in between recitals.[/box]

 

2. Gather 3-4 Potential Pieces. 

Time Varies*

There are countless wonderful compositions to choose from.  But most of them simply will not be beneficial for your student right now.  As teachers, our job is to eliminate all of the good pieces and find the right piece.

So, as you look through your repertoire books, only set aside pieces that emphasize the specific techniques and styles you listed earlier.  This will help you quickly narrow your options to three or four of the best potential pieces.

[box style=”white” ]KEEP in MIND…  You may find a variety of pieces that match the specifics on your list – for example, a Classical Sonatina, a Baroque Minuet, and a Romantic Waltz that are all in minor keys and full of trills.   That’s fine!   You don’t have to find three of the exact same kinds of pieces to find the musical elements you are looking for.  Many composers will teach the same techniques with their own unique flair, so look through a lot of repertoire books and try a variety of pieces.[/box]

*The timing on this one really varies depending on the level of your student.   I can usually find repertoire for beginner-intermediate students in about 20 minutes, but music for an advanced student may take me an hour or more…  Simply because it takes longer to play through Beethoven Sonatas than Bach Minuets.

 

3. Analyze the Potential Pieces.  

Goal: 20 MINUTES

ALWAYS play through the piece.

Finding a piece is a hands-on project, and flipping through the pages simply won’t get the job done.  Pieces are often harder (or easier!) than they look on paper and have a lot of hidden details tucked away that only your fingers can catch.  You need to be acquainted with the intricate details of the piece, including its difficult passages and musical nuances, and playing through the piece is the only way you will be able to evaluate it accurately.

A few things to consider when analyzing a piece:

♦  What new skills will this piece teach?  Our students need to be learning new physical skills and musical concepts constantly, so they will never have a moment when they’re not growing musically.  Shoot for each new piece to introduce 2-4 new techniques.  (More than 4 new skills at once will be overwhelming for most students.)

♦  What old skills will this piece reinforce?  This is vital.  If we don’t make sure our students are reviewing recently-acquired skills, they will lose them!  Always try to give your student pieces that are well-balanced between introducing new skills and reinforcing old ones.

♦  How does the difficulty of this piece compare with his last piece?  Is it too hard?  Too easy?  The difficulty of a piece is dependent on a lot more than just the amount of black on the page!  Here are some of the basic elements to took for when evaluating a piece’s difficulty:

      • New Rhythms
      • New Key Signatures / More Accidentals
      • New Articulations (staccatos, slurs, leggiero, pulling, etc.)
      • Complex Dynamics (crescendos, sforzandos, etc.)
      • Complex Musical Phrasings (multiple voices, LH melody, etc.)
      • Faster or More Interpretive Tempos (rubato, ritardandos, etc.)
      • Ornaments (trills, turns, grace notes, etc.)
      • Pedaling Techniques
      • Difficult Finger Passages
      • Bigger Stretches & Interval Jumps Between Notes
      • More Interaction Between Hands
      • Length of Piece
      • Estimated Time it Will Take to Learn the Piece

Choosing the Right Piece for the Right Student | Tips for Music Teachers on The Music Blog

4. Select the Best Piece

Goal: 10 MINUTES

As you’re analyzing those 3-4 pieces, one of them will probably match more of the qualifications on your list and stand out as the obvious choice above the others.   If so, you’re done!

But if more than one of the potential pieces will be equally beneficial to the student, don’t stress – have fun!  When this is the case, I usually play the remaining 2-3 options for my student and let him choose his favorite.  This can be a great way to involve your student in the process musically and emotionally without sacrificing his technique or quality.

The right pieces can work wonders in a child, because it’s through their pieces that students are stretched and developed into mature musicians.  So have fun!

[box style=”white” ]REMEMBER…  Once you settle on a piece, keep playing it!   Familiarize yourself with the phrases, develop the musical nuances, and work through fingerings, before you give the piece to your student.[/box]

 

Any tips you’d like to add on choosing pieces for students?  Leave them in the comments!