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Of Robots and Clones

  "Motivating students to practice and developing students who know how to use their practice time wisely is our biggest single challenge as teachers." – Frances Clark It seems quite simple: We teachers give our students excellent practice guidelines, our students practice in precisely the way we have painstakingly communicated via assignment ...
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Purple Moments

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  ​Plant a Purple Moment in every lesson. Call it what you will – every lesson needs at least one. Perhaps it came in the duet you played with the student. The ritardando and diminuendo in the last two measures left both you and the student momentarily speechless. It might have been with a piece that had been practiced slowly for several weeks...
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Ease and Excitement

"Never send students home with a piece without capturing their interest and excitement in the piece, and giving them a sense that they can master it easily." – Frances Clark One part of this quote particularly permeated Frances Clark's lectures: "A sense that they can master it easily." If the students feel they "can" and they are also are excited ...
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Create and Motivate

​One fun and important area of teaching music that sometimes gets overlooked is creativity. While most of us would agree that improvising, composing, arranging, and playing by ear are necessary ingredients for developing comprehensive musicianship, somehow we may not get around to teaching these skills often enough in our lessons. One thing is for ...
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Still on fire or burning out?

W​hat type of music teacher burns out? Often she is an idealistic, "on fire" individual who does not have a firm pedagogic sense of what is real and what is fantasy. Someone who believes that all children can achieve a high level of mastery at the instrument, regardless of their level of intelligence, talent, discipline, and parental support. He ma...
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Tackling a twelve-year old's slump

Katherine, one of my more talented students, recently gave me this honest description of a typical practice session. She is twelve.  "It takes me forever to get myself to stop what I am doing and go to the piano. When and if I do get there, I usually begin my practice by playing a chromatic scale the entire length of the keyboard— first with m...
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What matters more: talent or effort?

Recently I saw a cartoon that showed two smiling parents watching their child as he brushed his teeth. A banner was posted over the top of the bathroom mirror that said, "Congratulations on brushing your teeth!" One parent was looking adoringly at the child, hands clasped, while the other stated, "I just feel like we're setting him up to be disappo...
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Thoughts on the Tiger Mom debate

To say that Amy Chua has touched a nerve with parents is an understatement akin to saying that Franz Liszt had an influence on piano performance and teaching. Since the publication of her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in January, and the subsequent Wall Street Journal article "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior," a firestorm of discussion and ...
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How do you assign repertoire to the "overstretched" student who has little time to practice?

In recent  conversations with piano teachers, several have expressed some discouragement in their teaching because  students frequently come to lessons too exhausted to play, or even think, and have had little time to practice. After reflecting on this, I believe as piano teachers, we are music educators first. Being professional musician...
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Culture of caution

Our culture is saturated with slogans, advertising and otherwise, encouraging people to be bold and brave and fearless. No fear.  You go, girl!  Go for it!  Just do it!  Yes  you can! Given the sheer volume and intensity of these and other slogans, one would think that we all would have assimilated the message by now and ou...
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Praise for nothing means nothing

My six-year-old granddaughter plays soccer in a league where the coaches and parents refuse to keep score, because they want the children to "feel good about them- selves and their performance." One afternoon my husband made the mistake of cheering on Corinne's team as it made a goal. Within earshot of our granddaughter, the coach took him aside an...
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What motivates adults to continue piano lessons?

from the series: ​It's Never Too Late: Adult Piano Study Brenda Dillon, Editor A walk down memory lane ... It has been said that inside the body of every seventy-year-old is a thirty-five-year-old saying, "What happened to me?" When one of the writers for this issue backed out near the deadline, I suggested to Elvina that I answer this questio...
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The Other Teacher: Home Practice

Elvina Pearce, nationally recognized pianist, teacher, lecturer, author, and composer, studied piano with Isabelle Vengerova and pedagogy with Frances Clark. For 14 years, she taught pedagogy and directed the Preparatory Piano Division at Northwestern University. She currently teaches at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois where she also ...
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How Do You Motivate the MTV Lover to Be a Serious Piano Student?

The two contributors to this issue were asked to answer the same question- How do you motivate the MTV lover to be a serious piano student? However, having spent some time with their responses, it seems clear that they have answered two different questions. Thus, before you read what they have written, I invite you to consider the nature of this ki...
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How Do You Motivate Your Students to Practice Technique?

I am often touched by the sincere desire of music teachers to improve themselves and the lives of their students. It's ironic that so many large international corporations have only recently discovered the virtues of continuous improvement (one of the buzzwords of business in the '90s), for indeed we music teachers have known its benefits all along...
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How Do You Balance Your Emphasis on Accuracy and Interpretation?

In the last issue, students and parents responded to the question, What makes piano study a positive experience for you or your child? , and I invited readers to read the comments and to form their own conceptualization of recurrent theme(s). As I searched for common themes, it seemed to me that the major one was that the teachers of these children...
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How Do You Decide What to Say After Your Student Finishes Playing? Part II

Piano teachers have to make dozens, perhaps hundreds, of decisions during each teaching day. But, have you ever really thought about how you make all of those decisions? Do you just say the first thing that comes to mind? Do you have a particular procedure for deciding? In the Autumn 1993 issue of KEYBOARD COMPANION, Alana and Richard Kennell ...
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How Do You Use Improvisation to Motivate Your Students?

Improvisation, in the sense of the simultaneous composition and performance of music, or in the sense of using available musical materials to fulfill an immediate need, has been a part of keyboard music making for centuries. Yet, many current piano students have not had the opportunity to explore this dimension of music making. ...
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What Makes Piano Study a Positive Experience for You/for Your Child

​ ​by Joyce Cameron with the help of seven students and parents Imagine. You have engaged in some activity for a number of weeks- or months- or years. Now you sit back and think about what you have been doing. How do you go about evaluating your participation in this activity?​ It is likely that you find yourself grouping qualities o...
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From the Inside Out: Motivation

How Do You Decide What to Say After Your Student Finishes Playing? In any teaching/learning situation, a teacher's behavior is the result of decisions made before, during, and after a particular teaching/learning transaction. The difficulty for piano teachers who would like to improve their teaching is that rarely do we get an opportunity to observ...
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