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What to Expect in Piano Lessons


The goal and philosophy of music lessons

     Personally, my goal is to develop competent, independent musicians.  So exams, recitals and any other such activities are means to that end, they are not the end in themselves.  It’s important to do well on an exam or in a recital, but that should not be the sum total of one’s musical education. 

     I believe that to learn, we must be outside our comfort zone.  Not so much that a student feels overwhelmed but enough to be stretched.  This will of course vary from student to student and this is where communication is very important.  If the student is not being challenged, or if they are feeling overwhelmed, and I am not aware of it, the student or parent should let me know and I will adjust.

     Finally, it is important to be clear about one’s personal goals for their music lessons and to follow the appropriate means to that goal.  If the goal is simply to enjoy a hobby, then a more relaxed approach can be taken.  However if the goal is a musical education then regular, disciplined practice is essential.  I’m fine with either goal, but don’t want to mislead anyone into following the wrong means to their goal. 


Practice expectations:

Students up to Level 3 should expect to practice about 30 minutes per day.  From Levels 4 to 6 they should expect to practice about 45 minutes per day.  I have found that if students do this regularly and attentively, following instructions carefully, they can make very good progress with just 4 days per week.  Like a lot of other things, it’s sometimes more about quality than quantity – although a certain amount of quantity is obviously necessary as well J


The normal practice regime will include:

  • Some sort of finger exercises – I use A Dozen and Day and then move on to Hanon exercises

  • Daily ear and sight reading practice – I use 4 Star

  • The technical requirements for their grade, which we cover at least twice before moving on to the next level

  • 3-4 pieces at a time and a total of at least 10 pieces covered before moving on to the next level.  Not all pieces are polished because I believe it’s more important to experience a lot of music and leave polishing for exams, recitals, etc. 

  • Students are also encouraged to learn supplementary music according to their taste: popular, sacred, ensemble, improvisation, etc.


The general outline for learning a piece of music:

  1. Learn the piece hands separately, often beginning with the right hand for the first week, and then doing both hands separately, the following week.  This must be done slowly, reading and counting carefully so that notes, rhythm, articulation and fingering are learned correctly.  The tempo may not be entirely steady, but the rhythm and note values should be correct.

  2. Learn to play the piece hands together, again slowly, reading and counting carefully so that notes, rhythm, articulation and fingering are learned correctly.  Again the tempo may not be entirely steady but rhythm should be correct. 

  3. Often at this next stage, depending upon the style of the piece, the metronome will be incorporated to establish a steady tempo.  It is important to continue to count to ensure that rhythm remains correct.  Next we will add dynamics, pedal (if applicable) and any other musical details.

  4. Once a steady tempo is established we will use the metronome to gradually increase the tempo in a controlled manner, being careful to maintain the accuracy that has already been developed.

  5. Memory work would come next if the piece is to be memorized.


Additional points in effective practice:

  • The goal at each stage is accuracy so there is a continual building process, with minimal correction of errors.

  • A piece will not always be practiced ‘from beginning to end’.  Instead, as areas of difficulty are identified, extra practice will be assigned with methods appropriate to their challenges.  Also, at each stage a student should be prepared to do temporary ‘spot practice’ on anything that trips them up.  This means stopping and drilling that spot until it no longer presents a challenge. 

Being able to make music is one of life's most satisfying experiences.   However it does not come without the investment of both time and energy.  But, many people believe it is entirely worth it!

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