Creating a Practice Nest!

practice nest

All last week on the Facebook book, I shared 5 tips courtesy of Teach Piano Today on how to create a special place for your child to practice….so they will want to practice over the summer!  If you missed the posts, or do not use Facebook, here they all are together for you!  Thank you so much to Andrea Dow of Teach Piano Today for compiling these wonderful ideas!

1. When choosing a location for your piano, select a space that is lived-in, welcoming, and well-lit. Keep it close to “the action” but not in the action. Your children will gravitate to the piano more often if it is in a central place in your home. Avoid bedrooms, basements and other “put away” places. Feeling shut-off from the family while practicing will inevitably lead to a reluctance to spend time on the piano.

While choosing an appropriate space, also consider the noise factor; not only from the piano, but also from your family’s day-to-day activities. Your children want to be close by, but not competing with noise from TV’s, dishwashers and washing machines.

2. Make the space warm and welcoming. Your children will be encouraged to spend upwards of 30 minutes every day in this space. Is it a happy place to be for this amount of time? Small adjustments to lighting and heating can make a world of difference. Seek out places with natural light and ensure it is a cheerful and welcoming space that will encourage your child to visit the piano often for their own enjoyment.

3. Ensure your children have all required materials at hand. Help your children put together a small basket or bin of everything they may need for home practice. Pens, pencils, highlighters, and post-it notes will give your children a sense of organization that will then spill over into their practice habits. Your children will also need adequate lighting to see their music, and a comfortable bench at the correct height to practice comfortably and correctly.

4. Make the “Practice Nest” a communal space.  Children of any age appreciate company while they practice. Having a chair, couch, beanbag chair or pillows nearby where family members will be inclined to sit, listen and enjoy the music immediately sets the tone for happy time on the piano. Encourage siblings to stop by and listen quietly, and allow yourself even just 10 minutes to sit and listen with undivided attention each time your children practice. A set-up that is conducive to including the family in home practice will encourage everyone involved to make piano practice an activity the entire family can be a part of.

5. Set the stage for organization. Ensure your children’s practice space is uncluttered and organized. Clear out old sheet music and books from the piano bench, use a magazine organizer to hold current and favorite materials, and minimize knickknacks and other distractions from the top of the piano. If you can, avoid having the piano room do “double-duty” for laundry, toys and other clutter. Having the books your children need at their fingertips reliably ensures that no time is spent searching for lost or crumpled music. Get into the habit of placing the piano books in their appropriate space immediately after each piano lesson so they are ready and waiting.

Plus one more! Adding small surprises to your children’s practice nest (fresh flowers, a hand-written note of encouragement, a small treat, a new sticker pad, a special pen etc.) helps to show that you value the time they are spending on the piano and that you appreciate their efforts and dedication. Preserving the “specialness” of their practice space encourages positive feelings towards their home music time.

 

Aren’t those just fabulous tips!!  Enjoy creating a special place for your child to enjoy their piano practice!

 

May News and Year End Dates

Hello, Everyone!

It seems like just yesterday we had our lovely April recital and now we are in the second week of May with only 5 weeks of lessons left!

Our recital went so well and I cannot thank everyone enough for the help you gave and the many ways you all contributed!  It was our earliest ever Spring recital this year (one week earlier than last year) and because I was away for all of Spring Break, it felt like a short time to get organized, but with your help I think it came off better than ever AND I think the early time ended up working out really well as it kind of pumped us all up and has given us extra enthusiasm and a renewed energy for the remaining weeks of lessons! Something that will be especially great for those doing Conservatory exams in June…and for those that aren’t doing exams there is a renewed enthusiasm for getting some extra pieces learned before June! Some students have challenged themselves with learning 30 pieces this year! Phew!

A couple of you have shared a picture of the recital, but I would just love to see more–pictures or video.  I was not able to get pictures or videos taken myself as I have in the past and I missed getting a picture of all the MYC grads.  So please feel free to share!!

YEAR END DATES AND FINAL MASTERCLASS
The kids have all been asking when the next master class is.  Normally I have done a master class as the very last class of the year because I am often away during the May long Weekend week.  However, this year I am not going to be away!  So, I am changing up the schedule just slightly this year.  We will have our last master class of the year during the week of May 24th, immediately following the long weekend.  Then we will have two more regular lessons/classes before finishing up for the year on June 9th.

I will send out the master class times for May 25, 26, 27 in the very next email…expect that in the next day or so.  And you will be able to indicate the time you wish your student to attend, but putting it in the subject line of your reply to that email.

PRACTICE CHALLENGE
Also starting next week will be our final practice challenge of the year.  It’s going to be a lot of fun and offer some more creative ways to look at your piano practice to keep the energy going right to the end of the year…when I issue this year’s Summer Practice Challenge!  A handout will be coming home with each student next week and the summer practice challenge will go home with them at the last lesson of the year, so be sure to continue checking those music bags regularly over the next few weeks!

In the meantime, have a lovely day!  Looks like we’ve got some sunshine again!

Forcing my child to practice…and other true confessions

As I write this post, we are now plummeting through August and back to school/piano lessons is just around the corner. Way back in June, I challenged my students to “practice for their breakfast” this summer to ensure they got a little practice in each day. I’m wondering…how’s it been going?  Did that question just make you spit out your coffee and laugh hysterically?  I can relate.

It’s an age old struggle: Piano Practice.  Believe or not, even I struggle with this with my own children….more so with my son than my daughter now as she has approached the wise old age of 16 and realizes she really actually loves having the ability to play the piano and it has opened so many opportunities she might never have had.  My 12 year old son, on the other hand, has not come to this very wise discovery and so I soldier on nurturing the love of music in him (or as he calls it “forcing him to practice”). So, in full disclosure, it hasn’t gone quite as I had hoped this summer. There has been practice, but not as much as I would’ve liked to have seen…and not always with the most enthusiastic of attitudes.

So, if you’ve been struggling this summer (and possibly this past year) with piano practice and your child has either subtly or outright accused you forcing them to do music…this video is for you.  You are not alone. Hang in there. They really will thank you one day!

Perspective: Making Practice More Like Play

Practice. It can be the most dreaded word for young–or not so young–pianists. However, it is often just a matter of perspective. And we parents are the absolute biggest influence as to what that perspective will be. If we look at piano practice as one more stressful or annoying chore to fit into our day, then how can we be surprised when our children resist it. I saw this excellent quote by Thomas Edison just the other day:

thomasedisonfun

It was such a good reminder to me on a day that seemed overwhelmingly filled with chores and errands and work to do. I looked at this quote and thought, “I’d really like to be able to look back on my life and say this!” And then it got me to thinking that it could also apply to piano practice. Let’s change our perspective, rather than making practice one more chore to do in a day filled with chores, let’s make it so much more. I’m not going to lie, piano practice will still technically be work, but with a little enthusiasm and support, we can help make this work much more enjoyable, rewarding and fulfilling. How?

MAKE IT ROUTINE
Routine doesn’t have to be boring. Routine can actually be something you really enjoy. I have a much loved routine in my morning cup of coffee. I really look forward to that hot cup of steaming coffee first thing in the morning. It’s soothing and comforting, sometimes I even start looking forward to it the evening the before! 😉 In our family, practice is just part of our day. It happens first thing in the morning before school and both my husband and I often make a point of telling our children how much we enjoy hearing their beautiful music first thing in the morning and how it just sets the tone for our day and makes it that much better.

TIME IT RIGHT!
We’ve made sure we’ve scheduled piano practice at a time of day that can’t conflict with playdates or appointments or sports practices. When I was growing up, I started out always practicing after school and oh, how I dreaded it. I could hear the neighborhood kids playing outside, or ringing my doorbell and asking if I could come play….and I felt bitter! Many times I’d complain or cry or even sneak off when my mom was busy with something else. It was work and it got in the way of what I thought was real play! Changing my practice time to before school made a huge difference…but so did something else…

MAKE IT ENJOYABLE
When I was practicing after school my piano was in the basement. Not only was I isolated from my friends outside but I was isolated from the rest of the house! When we moved to another house, we moved the piano into the upstairs living room and my practice time to before school and it changed my life…well, it felt like it did anyway! 😉 And I’ve learned a little bit from all of this to share with my own children. I keep the piano in the heart of our house. When I wake my kids up to practice, I make sure the living room is warmly lit. I put the coffee on and get breakfast ready. Not only does it seem warm and cozy and smell nice, but they have breakfast to look forward to after. This helps make the experience so much more enjoyable for them.

BE ENTHUSIASTIC
I’ll admit, running my kiddos out to lacrosse, youth group , Pathfinders, etc, etc, etc almost every night of the week can dampen my enthusiasm. It’s exhausting, but I’ve chosen to put my kids in these activities because I think they are valuable and important. Piano lessons are a choice. If you’ve made that choice, it must mean they have value to you. Let your child know this. Be enthusiastic about it all, tell them how wonderful it is that they can play an instrument. Beg them to give you concerts. Praise them. Make all that practice seem worthwhile. Here’s another inspiring Thomas Edison quote:

thomasedisonparents

Need more concrete ideas on how to make practice more like play? Back in October I shared some pretty cool ideas from fellow piano teacher, ANDREA DOW, about FILLING THAT PRACTICE TANK and creating a more playful piano experience. I’ve been working through them slowly over the year with my own two kiddos and thought I would re-share them with you!

“15 WAYS TO FILL THE PIANO PRACTICE TANK…
1. Surprise with Piano Pancakes – On a Saturday morning, surprise your child with Piano Pancakes topped with chocolate chip “quarter notes”. For each pancake on the plate have your child perform a piece for your family while you all watch in your PJ’s.

2. Balloon Surprise – Fill your kitchen cupboard with balloons that will spill out as soon as it’s opened. On each balloon, write something you love about your child’s piano playing (i.e. “I love hearing your music when I’m making dinner” or “You play your piece with so much expression”.). Ask your child to help you with dinner and wait for the cupboard to open. Read each balloon message aloud together.

3. Monday Morning Mirror Message – Use a white board marker to leave a surprise message on the bathroom mirror for your child on a Monday morning before he or she wakes up. Write “It makes me so HAPPY to hear you play the piano!” or something to that effect.

4. Sneak a Practice – Leave your child a note on his or her pillow on a weekend night that says “Tonight you get to stay up late! When everyone else is sleeping you and I are going to sneak downstairs so I can listen to you play the piano.” Serve warm milk and cookies in the piano room and light it by candle light only. This will be a memory not soon forgotten.

5. Take it to the Highway – Kids who are involved in sports get a lot of glory. Piano kids.. not so much. Make your child smile by writing a message on the back window of your car that says “My Kid Rocks on the Piano! Honk if you love music!”. Roll the windows down and let your child wave to the honking fans.

6. Build Excitement – Before recitals or performances, build excitement with a countdown. Use a blackboard or white board (or a piece of paper on the fridge) that says “___ More Days Until Max’s Piano Performance!” Showing you value involvement in performances ensures participation well into the teen years.

7. Surprise Sheet Music Shopping – Pick your child up from school and head out on a surprise trip to your local music store, offering the chance to choose any music book or piece of sheet music. The key is in looking with your child… spend enjoyable time browsing the books and finding just the right thing to take home.

8. Exclaim with Pleasure – You don’t always need to be fancy. Sometimes a genuine, enthusiastic and unexpected “Holy smokes that was AMAZING!” mid-way through his or her practice is all it takes!

9. Buddy Practice! – Piano practice can be lonely, but if there’s a buddy on the bench it can be a lot of fun. Even if you don’t have an ounce of musical knowledge you and your child can easily complete the activities found in this book which are designed to make piano practice fun, motivating and unique.

10. Make Piano Practice Time “Tech Free” – Whenever your child sits down to practice, turn off the TV, the cell phones, the computer, the Nintendo… everything. Allow your home to be filled solely with the music they are creating and allow yourself to be fully present.

11. Start a Warm Fuzzies Bag – Hang a pillowcase from the top of your piano. Each time your child practices during the week, handwrite a note about something you noticed was done well, a favourite song he or she played, how it improved your day to hear music etc. At the end of the week your child can open the bag and read your notes.

12. It’s UnBEARable – Find some Teddy Bear stickers and, using post-it notes, attach a bear sticker to 10 post-its. Write “It’s UnBEARable without your piano music! Play for us!” and hide them around your house in unexpected places. Your child will delight in finding these in the oddest places.

13. Host a Piano Picnic – Invite the entire family to a Piano Picnic Dinner. Spread out a blanket on the floor beside the piano. Serve cheese and grapes, yummy crackers, and tea and cookies. Have your child provide the dinnertime music in between bites. Drink your tea with your pinkies raised and speak in a very dignified manner (“Ohhhh… that piece was simply splendid my dahling… simply splended I say.”).

14. Check In – When you’re on your way home, call your child from your car (using hands-free of course!) and make a special and heart-felt request for some driving music as you make your way home.

15. Post-Office Piano Package – Create a small package of treats and a note about how proud you are of your child’s piano accomplishments. Mail it to your child and allow it to be discovered it in the mail box.

Full Tanks = Happy Piano Kids

Do these take a little bit of effort? Yes. Does it take a whole lot of effort on the part of your child to master an instrument like the piano? Absolutely! By demonstrating just how much you care about their involvement in piano you lay a very strong foundation for years of musical enjoyment. Beyond that, you also help to strengthen self-esteem and self-image. So pick a “tank filler” and give it a try!” (by Andrea Dow, Wildflower Music Studio, Shawnigan Lake, BC)

Elf on the Shelf, Meet the Piano Practice Elf!

What an absolutely terrific week we have had! The days and weeks are flying by and I cannot believe this is the last week of November already! Not to mention we have just under three weeks left to our annual Christmas recital…or about 20 days left to practice!

I think our students have been doing a pretty outstanding job of practicing this year so far and I am so proud of the enthusiasm they shared over the Pennies for Practice idea that was presented last week! HOWEVER, I thought it might be nice to add a little something silly and fun, too! And so, we are going to incorporate the “Elf on the Shelf” idea at our studio and introduce a little Christmas magic into our daily piano practice. For those of you unfamiliar with the “Elf on the Shelf” idea, here it is in a nutshell: “The Elf on the Shelf is a special scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. When a family adopts an elf and gives it a name, the elf receives its Christmas magic and can fly to the North Pole each night to tell Santa Claus about all of the day’s adventures. Each morning, the elf returns to its family and perches in a different place to watch the fun. Children love to wake up and race around the house looking for their elf each morning.” For more info:http://www.elfontheshelf.com/content/about-us

So here’s how we are going to take this idea and work it in to our piano practice, I have printed off and laminated little elves to send home with each student this week–one per student. PARENTS, here is what you need to do: Each night after your child has gone to bed, the Piano Practice Elf will need your help choosing a new page in their piano book on which to hide. The next day, your child will need to hunt for the elf in their book and then begin their practice with the piece or concept where the Elf was hiding. You can be as creative as you want and have the elf leave little messages of encouragement, special instructions (play this piece over the phone for Nana) or tell a silly piano or Christmas joke OR as simple as you want. PARENTS: This is an absolutely OPTIONAL practice idea, but in order for it to work and to be a success, it will require your help and participation. All I hope for is that this will simply be a way of incorporating some extra Christmas fun into our practicing and be a way for our students to look forward to each day of practice! I will be sending the elves home with the students this week. Feel free to name your elf together and incorporate him/her into your practice immediately OR coordinate his/her appearance with your own elf on the shelf OR wait until December 1st to begin….it really is up to you!! Remember, once you have decided on a name together, his magic begins!! 😉 If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to email me! I would LOVE to hear what you name your Elf and about any of his antics, crazy or otherwise….you can even post pictures of his activities to our studio facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/mmmusicstudio

practice elf