Fall 2016 Piano Recital

So much progress this year! Congratulations to all the students and parents who made all of this possible.

Images photographed by Jordan Mirrer.

Location: Santa Monica Public Library


Tips on Staying Motivated During the Summer


If you’re not planning on spending time away from home (and a piano) during the long summer months, here are some tips on keeping you or your student motivated to keep up their piano chops!

  • Enroll in a music camp or class outside of the normal private lessons. My best memories were at the Aspen Music Festival and School, a summer-long classical music program. I was lucky to earn scholarships to go twice when I was 15 and 20. I loved the nature-y atmosphere, the free concerts performed by both students and the world’s best, the friends I made, and how much I learned by simply being surrounded by music day and night. The practice rooms were right off a bumbling brook, and you could hear the water rushing by as you played.
  • Go to summer concerts! Sometimes you need to see and hear someone inspiring to get inspired. The Hollywood Bowl, The Greek Theatre, and your local community orchestra – even free street music – can offer experiences that stay with you (I remember the awesome time we picnicked to the music of Andrew Bird when we won free tickets). Check out this summer guide for the latest concert highlights in Los Angeles.
  • Enroll in more than one private lesson per week. Summer can be a time of catching up, as the school months are hectic and filled to the brim with after-school activities. When there is the pressure of having two lessons per week, students are more likely to amp up their practicing in order to be ready for the next lesson.
  • Observe or participate in a master class. It’s sometimes a rewarding opportunity to have another musician or pedagogue critique your work in front of a live audience. Masterclasses are held throughout the year and usually are a part of summer music programs.
  • Form a chamber music group. What better way to learn to listen than to play with others? There are so many possibilities: piano duos and duets; multi-instrument trios, quartets, quintets, sextets; and collaborating with another instrumentalist or singer. Grab a few friends and play!
  • Organize a recital. This can be an informal event held at a local school or church, including friends, family, and the local community. You could even share the program with another musician (and your chamber music group!). Sometimes having a deadline is the best motivator.

Happy practicing!

Why Kids Hate Practicing

Practicing the PianoIt is highly probable that 99.8% of the entire population of children hates to practice.  It is also the most common complaint of parents who worry why their kids refuse to leave their friends and Xboxes behind for a couple hours with scales, metronome counting, and Beethoven.  After all, who really prefers work over fun?  It’s not just coincidence that those two words are hardly ever synonymous.

There are actually reasons why kids detest practicing.  Some resist more than others, but few ever elect to practice on their own free will.  Here are the reasons:

1. It’s too boring. Your child goes to a piano lesson and learns the same things every, single week.  She isn’t practicing, and in turn, the teacher doesn’t move forward.  It becomes a vicious cycle of boring, boring, boring and your child loses interest.  What’s the point in practicing if it’s never any better?  Besides, she could just  score some serious points on Wii Tennis and feel like a superstar.

2. It’s not challenging enough. Oftentimes, kids lose interest when they’ve solved a puzzle or if they learn faster than their classmates in school.  Grades drop, your child becomes cranky, and you wonder what you did wrong since he’s so smart.

3. It’s too hard.  Ever notice your child refuse to do her math homework simply because she didn’t get it?  Kids feel discouraged when they don’t understand something, and besides, not understanding something they’re supposed to learn makes them feel stupid, even if they’re clearly not.

4. There are no real goals.  If your child goes to his lesson every week with the expectation of doing the same darn thing again, interest will wane and he will get antsy – to get out of there, really fast!  Kids are dynamic and need smaller goals to reach a bigger goal.  The same goes for why kids enjoy playing video games – they see they are progressing and reach “check points,” eventually conquering the game.

5. Parents push too hard.  No one really likes being told what to do.  When kids emerge into their own sense of independence, they will fight as hard as they can against those who preach, push, and provoke.  An argument can be made that children must be pushed since they’ll usually never do anything challenging on their own, and while this is mostly true, there is a degree of moderation which must be exercised here.

6. They simply don’t want to do it.  Now, I left this reason for last since it’s easy to make this the go-to reason.  In reality, it’s the least common reason why kids hate practicing.  But when all else fails and your child has an undying passion for basketball, by all means, it really means they’d rather play basketball!

The real question lies in how to encourage your child to practice.  Here are some ways to create healthy habits of practicing:

1. Ask your child’s instructor how they could incorporate new things into the lessons that both help and engage the student.  They can try short games, quizzes, pop music, new concepts, etc.  Another great way to draw inspiration is to go to concerts with your child.  And they don’t have to be a specific type of concert, but rather anything that your child can really sink their teeth into.

2. Tell your child’s instructor that he doesn’t feel challenged enough.  Hopefully, the instructor can assign pieces that are just slightly above your child’s capabilities, motivating her to work harder to master the given assignment for the week.

3.  Ask your child what he finds especially difficult and ask his teacher how they can work together to better understand a concept or technically handle a difficult passage.  Breaking it down into much smaller chunks, slow practice, and even backtracking is a very productive way of getting to the root of understanding something new.

4. Set up smaller goals for the end of every week.  You can set up a chart, give points, or assign fun pieces as rewards for mastering a particular goal, such as rounding the hand position or playing a G Major scale.  Your child may get lost in the bigger picture, so it’s important to emphasize the small but important achievements that she can see at the moment.

5. Ask yourself if your child isn’t playing because of you.  If their reasons are, “I don’t want to do what you say,” or if your answer is “Because I said so,” chances are that you are indeed enforcing practice in unhealthy ways.  The reasons for practice should never be because of your wishes as a parent, but because of the fact that they enjoy it and there’s a some work involved in achieving anything, including sports and video games.  Relax a little bit and see how your child approaches practicing when not told to do so.  If you child still refuses to practice, talk to him about how playing, not practicing the instrument makes him feel.  If he enjoys playing, then create a chart with daily and weekly goals to indirectly enforce his practicing habits while giving him some level of independence.

6. Be understanding about this one, but also really dig deeply into the situation. “I hate violin” is usually an easy complaint, and though it isn’t always the reason why your child hates practicing, it truly can be if your child has other interests which she’d like to pursue.  Lots of times, children will come back to music later in life, but even if they don’t, never take it as a personal failure as a parent or as a rejection of you.  After all, the world would be pretty dull if we all shared the same interests, wouldn’t it?

It’s important to be patient, persistent, and adaptable as your child grows and learns.  Think about how you responded to homework, football practice, tests, and lessons as a child…depending on the kind of kid you were, you hated at least one of those on the list.  Practicing is very important, but it is also can be a very slippery slope on the path to musical growth.  Above all, listen to your child and really hear what he or she needs.

Age is just a number!

Too old, too young…I’ve heard this response before when asking people to do something outside their comfort zone. True, a mom may be too old to be wearing her teenage daughter’s outfits, and a two-year-old may be too young to understand algebra (well, maybe with a few exceptions!).  But I hardly see age as a reason for not doing something.  In fact, no one is ever the incorrect age to achieve anything – even if they are retirees over sixty competing in a world-class piano competition!

Often, prospective students and parents ask me when the “right” time would be to begin lessons for their youngster.  My answer is that not every child is truly ready to sit near a piano for half-an-hour at the same age.  Typically, children begin learning the piano around the age of 5, but given a child’s ability to focus for chunks of time and aptitude with counting, this age can vary between the ages of 4-8.  Most children are ready by 6 with the help of loving parents and supportive teachers.  Although not every child can begin learning the piano at this age, it is important for a child to begin learning a musical instrument during these early years when the brain is rapidly developing and absorbing new material, more so than during later childhood.  There are many parallels to why very young children can also naturally and quickly learn second languages.

Adults can begin learning at any time.  Don’t believe me?  I once taught a fifty-year-old mom how to read music within a month (she also learned how to play Schumann shortly thereafter).  Yes, this student was quite determined, and no, this student had never played the piano before.  This does not prove that anyone will or wants to set the same goals, but it does suggest that anyone can achieve whatever they set their mind to.  Young tots may not have this kind of drive to learn, but older children and certainly adults do.  It just comes down to setting reasonable goals and sticking to them.

So, if your question is, “Is my age too…,” I will say, “Yes, you can do it.”  You can run a marathon, make a quilt, or learn art history, too.  Age is just a number!