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

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The Truth About Being Really Good at Something: A Recipe

There is a recipe to high achievement. This recipe can apply to any practice: sports, music, medicine, artisanship, meditation…you get the idea.

  1. Interest
  2. Talent
  3. Consistent hard work for a long period of time
  4. Backing or support

You need all four on the road to mastery. If one ingredient is missing from the recipe, then the dish falters. It’s edible, but it’s not amazing. The other ingredients need to compensate to make up for the lack of the one. But the dish is incredible with all four.

I can speak from my personal experience as a serious piano student and teacher. As a student, I had all four ingredients for a very long time until ingredient #1 wavered. I was burnt out from years of pressure and personal baggage that had no direct relationship to piano. So, I relied on #’s 2-4 to keep me going. #3 started to stagger. In the end, it all came back to that missing #1. I crumbled. So, I took a break to refresh my stores of inspiration. I went through a lot of personal reflection and therapy to figure out why I lost #1. But that’s my own unique story.

Most of my students begin with a strong #1 and #4. Talent, our infamous ingredient, is usually harder to come by, but it’s not so important when you’re just curious. However, even rarer to find in students than #2 is #3, interestingly. Perhaps the beginning student’s expectations are high and optimistic. Perhaps the student-parent team underestimates how much work it’ll really require because it’s supposed to be a fun extracurricular. In reality, you have to get your hands dirty to knead that dough. It’s messy a lot of times, it’s tiring, and it takes a lot of patience. But like the other ingredients, you need it to make that delicious dish. You need more of it than you realize.

The fourth ingredient, a strong network of support, is also essential. It’s like a chef relying on farmers and food producers to provide the fresh ingredients, as well as the kitchen and waitstaff, cleaning crew, food haulers, and restaurant owners to run the whole ship. Like a chef, a student cannot go at it alone. A young piano student will rely on his or her parent or family member to not only pay for expenses and get to the lesson every week, but also to reinforce a solid practicing routine, get exposure to the arts, and be a sounding board. There is also the teacher, who serves as a mentor, source of wisdom, and psychologist for the student. You really need a strong team effort, day in and day out. In short, it takes a lot of resources to succeed.

Most people obsess about ingredient #2. Most people believe that talent, above all, is what carries one through. This cannot be further from the truth. Oftentimes, those with a strong talent fail to recognize the importance of hard work and ultimately lose interest. They lean on their talent like a crutch. Talent is the initial boost and the final ingredient that allows one to soar in ability. Talent isn’t crucial to making a good dish, but it adds that extra special something. However, without any of the other ingredients, the dish is only half-baked. It’s a soggy apple pie with nice cinnamon on top.

I placed #1, pure interest, at the top of the recipe because it’s the ignition to the whole thing. You can’t start a fire without it. How do you make your children interested in piano lessons? You don’t. You expose them to music and anything that you think is wonderful, and you hope for the best. But you don’t shove interest down their throats. It’s difficult to explain where interest comes from in the first place. Perhaps it’s the product of a culmination of things, or perhaps it’s genetic. Perhaps they’re motivated by Grandpa’s piano playing or by that kid on 60 Minutes. It doesn’t really matter in the end. You either have it, or you don’t.

You don’t need to have all four ingredients to merely dabble at something. But you need three to be okay, and definitely all four to be astounding. Think about anyone who is known for something truly remarkable. I can guarantee you that nothing was missing in that recipe.

 

 

Tips on Staying Motivated During the Summer

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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 Does My Child Not Want to Practice? Part II

Practicing piano

This is another FAQ-type of question I’d like to address based on my observation and experience as a teacher (and student!).

Practicing is work. It’s lots of hard, grueling, often intense, and always consistent work. The most difficult aspect about practicing is how much consistency it requires, and this means WILL POWER.

I liken practicing to exercising.  If you want to get into shape and stay in shape, what do you think that it will take?  Of course, you’ll have to exercise every (or nearly) every day while you make healthy food choices.  Practicing requires daily devotion in order to see results.

Like exercising, sometimes you hit plateaus or pitfalls and get frustrated.  Your will power wanes and you sometimes question why you do it.  That’s normal.  That’s healthy.  These feelings are part of the ups and downs of trying to get better at anything, including learning a musical instrument.  Try looking at your frustrations from different angles and attempt to re-think and re-work out the kinks.

Quality practice is key, just like quality exercise.  Just going through the motions will only get you so far in your progress.  You must be consciously aware of what you’re doing at the moment and what you need to do to improve.  BE PRESENT.  How you practice is vastly more important than how many hours you log in front of the keyboard.

With that being said, it’s still important to be consistent because that’s what will ultimately give you results. Our brains (most of ours, anyway) can’t handle what I call “binge-practicing.”  Knowledge and physical ability can’t be stuffed into our craniums all at once.  Give it time.  Let it sink in and become a part of you.  You’ll remember things better this way.  DON’T “binge-learn” something last-minute and expect to be awesome at it (been there, done that – never worked!).

Going back to the question of why someone, young or old, may not want to practice, the answer is quite simple but yet we make it complicated.  It’s hard to push yourself to work.  It’s easier to tell someone that they’re not doing enough of this or that, but it requires sheer drive and dedication to push yourself to improve each day.  Children often need that extra support to get into the daily habit of practicing, and adults need to do that for themselves.  It’s always easier said than done.  As someone who has practiced since the age of five, it’s always been a sort of challenge to push myself to enter into a session since there are often things I’d rather be doing instead, whether it’s finishing a certain task, watching a movie, seeing a friend, reading a book…the list can include an infinite number of things.  But often, when I get past that initial “bump” and get into the groove of what I need to do, I feel better.  It’s a gratifying feeling to have achieved something, and it’s these smaller rewards that pay off big time when it all comes together.

So, stick with it.  Get into a habit of practicing at the same time and place, every day.  If you brush your teeth daily, you must practice daily.  Simplifying your outlook on the whole matter will help you re-generate your stores of will power so you can give that extra push when the tank seems empty.  I also find that practicing in thorough, bite-sized sessions is the most effective way to get motivated and get stuff done.

Now, what do you do when your child WANTS to learn but puts up a fight every time they need to practice?  This is a tough question to answer.  I’m not a child psychologist by any means, but I can say that if your child resists each and every time, it’s time to look at deeper issues that may not even be related to piano.  I find that inconsistent parenting and a lack of limits often causes children to act this way.  When parents don’t initially set ground rules about practicing, children treat it as a “secondary” or “optional” activity that is not essential in the same way that doing homework is.   It’s important that your child learns that daily practice is an expected part of their routine, not an extraneous one.  They won’t improve if there is no practice, and this can lead to a deeper spiral of disappointment.  You, as a parent, need to teach this to your child.  We all don’t come into the world with a strong, inherent sense of self-discipline and a work ethic that doesn’t require parental encouragement and reinforcement.

On the flip side, what do you do when your child DOESN’T want to learn and therefore hates practicing?  You can’t force anyone to do anything.  You’re a parent, not a dictator.  So many parents like to blame the teacher for not kick-starting their child’s love for the piano (imagine if all people suddenly loved math because their teacher did the right song and dance – some of us just don’t favor numbers!).  Everyone has different interests and talents, so it’s important to listen to your child and try different things out.  Some kids are drawn to so many activities (I have a few students like this) and others would rather sit in front of the TV all day.  We all have different personalities here.  Inspire and enrich your child, but don’t force an activity into their system if it’s clear that they have zero interest.  Move on and try something else.

Any comments or thoughts related to this subject are welcome below.

Happy practicing!

My First Piano Recital

West Los Angeles Piano TeacherI was five years old and dressed in a flouncy dress covered with rose prints.  People around me clapped, my mom nudged me toward the stage, and I marched directly to the shiny black piano.  Then I flopped down and spewed out Hot Cross Buns.  It was over before I knew it.

I don’t remember much more about that piano recital, but I do remember that I wasn’t shy or self-conscious.  Maybe one could say I was puzzled, rather.  All in all, that little performance led to many, many more, and I have to say that despite all the fuss, stress, and jitters I felt before each one of them (lacking the unabashed qualities of a five-year-old), they have rewarded me with more inner strength, resolve, and motivation to push myself to learn challenging pieces and to improve upon my mistakes.  It really takes a lot out of someone to want to partake in such a self-revealing event on stage that also requires a lot of focus and preparation.  But more importantly, this entire process sticks with you, showing you what it takes to fulfill a pretty big achievement.

I’ve had all kinds of performances: good, bad, nerve-numbing, nerve-wracking…you name it, I’ve done it.  But all of these varying experiences come with the territory, whatever that may be for anyone.  What matters is constantly moving forward, being inspired by what is not yet within your grasp, and sharing what you already have with those trodding along the same path.  This is why I teach, even though I’m still moving along a path connected to that piano recital when I was five years old.

Share some of your “first recital” experiences, whether they be a performance on stage or Little League game.  We’ve all had that first shot at something in front of other people, whatever that first experience was.