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).

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 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?”

How to choose a good tutor book for a child

First steps are so important. The first piano lesson that a child has will have a huge influence on how he or she progresses and feels about playing the piano over the next few months and years. If they are to do well they need to leave the lesson feeling happy and confident that they will succeed.

Obviously, the way the teacher handles the lesson is a big part. Many teachers use a tutor book and the quality of this book will determine how easily the child learns and whether they find lessons fun and interesting or difficult and (dare I say it) boring.

So, here are my thoughts on some of the most popular tutor books out there today: Continue reading “How to choose a good tutor book for a child”

What is the best age to start piano lessons?

As a piano teacher, I am often asked to teach children who are very young. It is not unusual for parents to feel that they must start as early as possible in order that their child gets a good head start. Sometimes very young children are able to learn to play but as a general rule, it is better to wait until children are at least 6 years old. It won’t do any harm at all to start a year or two after the child is ready but it can do much harm to start before they are ready. Children who start too young make slow progress and often get frustrated or bored. A pattern can settle in where the child feels pressured to do something they find too hard and they soon associated the piano with bad feelings. Children who start a little later immediately make great progress and like practicing because they get the reward of being able to easily play well. Continue reading “What is the best age to start piano lessons?”