5 reasons to take piano exams

Many people love to sit and play the piano for fun, but without a structure to their learning it is often very difficult to sustain progress over the long term. Children often take music lessons as part of their overall education and parents who are paying for expensive tuition usually like to see definite evidence of their kids progress.

This is where exams come in, and they are a useful part of the process of learning to play a musical instrument.

ONE: Exams are often a great way to motivate students to work harder and a good mark provides public proof of the level of playing that they have attained.

TWO: The tunes that have to be played in an exam are usually great pieces that will enrich the musical experience of the student.

THREE: The sense of achievement from having worked hard to produce an exam performance is huge (and justifiably so, as the pieces are generally quite challenging to play well).

FOUR: The examiner will write a report, giving feedback on the exam performance. As examiners are usually very perceptive and skilled musicians in their own right, this feedback often provides invaluable insight into what the students strengths and weaknesses are, and will give pointers for future study.

FIVE: The live exams give the student a deadline to work to. This gives a focus to practice and generally encourages students to practice more regularly.

Piano grades start with a “Prep test” or an Initial grade and then progress through grades 1 to 8. Very advanced musicians can continue after grade 8 by taking Associate or Licentiate exams set by the various music colleges.

Since the COVID lockdown it has been possible to take grades as live exams or as digital exams (where a video of the exam performance is submitted).

PIANO SONGS FOR KIDS – a great first piano book for young kids

Fantastic piano songs that kids will enjoy!

  • When they first start to play the piano, it is important that young kids learn to use all of their fingers correctly and to accurately read each note in the music.
  • Don’t drop your kids into the deep end with music that is too hard!
  • Give them simple, short tunes with colorful illustrations and they will love playing.
  • The more they play, the quicker they learn.

It has lots of explanations so no-one gets stuck!

This music is so easy that children will love it and will make fast progress without getting frustrated.

The whole book is carefully graded and works as a complete MINI PIANO COURSE for kids!

  • 45 songs, including nursery rhymes, English and Scottish folk songs, solos and duets.
  • Really useful introduction, covering basic music theory such as how to find the notes on the keyboard and how to count the beats.
  • Fun quizzes and challenges to make learning more interesting.
  • Quirky, full colour, illustrations brighten up the pages and keep kids interested.

The songs are organised to be inviting to young pianists, starting with just a few different notes and gradually introducing new notes and more difficult tunes. Children are guided through new information and easily progress onto more complex music. By the time they finish this book kids will know how to read sheet music!

What do the hammers on a piano look like when someone is playing?

Have you ever wondered what is going on inside a piano when someone is playing it? The mechanism used to convert a strike of the key into an actual note that you can hear is actually quite complex. It was invented in Italy at around 1700 by the Italian musician Bartolomeo Cristofori.
The fore-runner to the piano was the harpsichord – an instrument with strings and a keyboard, just like the piano. On a harpsichord, the strings are plucked by a quill which passes across them when the player presses a key. Every note is the same volume. Cristofori was frustrated by the lack of variation in the volume level so he created a mechanism which would hammer the strings, instead of plucking them. The harder the pianist presses the key, the harder the hammer hits the string and the louder the note.
Critofori named his new instrument the “clavicembalo col piano e forte” (literally, a harpsichord that can play soft and loud noises). These days we shorten that to piano.

This video demonstrates how the internal action of the piano moves when the piano is played – I hope you enjoy it!

Comptine d’un autre été by Yann Tiersen

7 Rules for Learning to Play Piano

1. Have a routine
Learning to play the piano well is a marathon, not a sprint! To get good you need to practice regularly and consistently. The best way to achieve this is to set a regular time for practice – ideally at the same time every day. (It’s the days off that should be individually scheduled – not practice days).
Morning types could aim to always practice before breakfast (assuming that everyone else in the household is up by then). Alternatively, I find that sitting down to play immediately after my evening meal works well. In theory, this time is a time when you can justifiably devote time to hobbies and relaxing activities. So, as for most people, learning to play the piano is a hobby, not a job, this would be a good time. This is also a time when many teens and young people sit down to text friends on their phones. So, put off the texting for 30 minutes, and do some practice before sitting down with a phone. That 30 minutes out of the day will not be missed.

Continue reading “7 Rules for Learning to Play Piano”

Five ways to make piano practice fun for young pianists

Young children are usually VERY enthusiastic when they first start piano lessons. They have a new book, maybe a new piano or keyboard and as they approach the world of piano music they feel as if they are entering a magical place.

They are! The world of piano IS magical and can be such a wonderful and amazing place. It is also, sometimes, a slightly confusing and difficult place. Children often forget what they have been told during their weekly lesson and can then feel frustrated, leading to a loss of interest.

So, how can we make it easier for them?

Here are five ideas:

    1. Give them very small, easy tasks. Typically teachers may suggest that a piece should be practiced  hands separately or hands together, or that a student should just keep playing a piece until they can do it faster or without mistakes.  Whilst doing this would result in improvement many children will get bored with this type of instruction. Much better is to focus on one small section of a piece. Maybe to get the ending really good, and maybe to add a few notes of their own to the written ending. It often works to repeat the last note one octave higher.
    2. Link practice time with another regular and enjoyable event in their schedule. For example, if they always do a bit of practice just before they have breakfast they will eventually begin to feel that practice leads to a reward, even if breakfast isn’t actually the reward for practice.
    3. Use pictures to aid memory. If they are finding it difficult to read the music or to remember the names of  the notes on the keyboard it may help to put some stickers on the keys. These ones are great as each one has a picture of how the note appears when it is appears in written music. Once on the keys they look really colourful and the smiley faces in each letter will really encourage
      children to go to AND stay at the piano.
      Click here to buy your own set of stickers from Amazon 
    4. Continue reading “Five ways to make piano practice fun for young pianists”

How to improve sight reading

It is undoubtably true that sight reading on the piano is much harder than on any other instrument – there are so many notes to read, often 2, 3 or 4 in each hand. So it is little surprise that it is most piano students’ least favourite activity.

However, the ability to sight read well is THE key to becoming a successful pianist. If pieces can be played pretty well on the first read through then more music can be learnt. Very hard music can be learnt much more quickly and the frustrating initial stages of learning new pieces are much briefer. Continue reading “How to improve sight reading”

How to find a good piano teacher

What makes a good teacher?

We all have our own ideas about what makes the perfect teacher. Maybe you had a favourite teacher when you were younger and that model has become your ideal. For some reason we all seem to click better with some people than with others whether it be in personal social relationships, professional relationships or teacher-pupil relationships. It will ultimately be the quality of the relationship between the teacher and pupil which will make the learning experience enjoyable and successful. Continue reading “How to find a good piano teacher”

Exactly how hard is it to learn to play the piano?

Getting started is easy

Of all instruments, piano is both the easiest and the most difficult to learn. Learning the first few notes is very straight-forward and the beginner will quickly be able to play some easy, tuneful pieces. Making progress after the first couple of years can be more of a problem, and as the student moves onto more challenging repertoire the piano becomes a very difficult instrument. The main reason for this is simply that piano music contains so many notes. The pianist has to read from the treble clef and the bass clef simultaneously and often has to read 4, 5 or 6 notes at the same time. Continue reading “Exactly how hard is it to learn to play the piano?”