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Resources for Parents, Students and Teachers in Music Education

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Participate in Recitals
Attend Concerts
Listen to Music and History
Auditions, Competitions, Examinations
Other Supplementary Education

Participate in Recitals

It is wonderful to be able to share your music with other people. Performing at recitals is a great way to express your musical skills as well as sharpen your performance skills. It is also an opportunity to showcase your hard work, build your self-confidence, and prepare for any upcoming auditions, tests, or competitions. Every teacher should offer at least two recitals a year - preferably around mid-Winter and at the end of the school year.

§My Thoughts I strongly urge students to attend as many recitals as possible. Not only can recitals be enjoyable, they can also benefit your piano training. I believe there are two equally important skills a performer should master for any recital: Presentation Skill and Performance Skill. In other words, performing a well-prepared repertoire is not enough if you don't have a proper posture at the piano or show no emotion for the music you are playing. Your body language and your facial expression can tell the audience a lot about not only the music but also about you.

So first, before you step out of the house, check the appropriateness of your attire! I use the following rules for my children -

Attire: No matter how big or small a recital is, proper attire shows respect for your teacher and your audience. The same rules also apply for auditions, competitions and piano examinations.

  • Boys - no jeans, sneakers, shorts, t-shirts; should wear dress shirt and pants
  • Girls - no mini-skirts, jeans, shorts, t-shirts, sneaker, or platform shoes; no rings, bracelets, or colored nail polish; hair should be pushed or tied back from the face; should wear a dress or skirt that covers the knees when you seat down (okay for younger girls with shorter length)

Presentation Skills: There is nothing more distressing for an audience than to see how uneasy a performer is when they have their shoulders up to their ears. Relax!

  • Walk to the piano swiftly, don't rush
  • Check the height and distance of the bench, and adjust it if necessary, don't feel awkward even if you have to fuss with it for a while
  • Take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands, sit up tall
  • Make sure to count to the end of the last measure before lifting your hands away from the keyboard (rests do count as part of the piece)
  • If you are playing multiple pieces, you need to take a deep breath between pieces; if the audience is clapping after a piece, wait until the hall is quiet before starting the next one
  • Look at the audience, smile then bow
  • Never start playing before you sit down or get up before your fingers leave the keys

Performance Skills: Even if you have the piece memorized but feel more comfortable with the score, just make sure your eyes are not completely focused on the score. Concentrate on your performance and don't worry so much about the notes. Music is not just about playing notes but your ability to transfer those notes to something beautiful and interesting to listen to.

  • Memorize the piece if at all possible
  • Think about playing your piece as if it's the greatest piece of music anyone has ever heard
  • Feel the keys, be expressive, feel the music
  • Don't panic when you play the wrong notes, everybody makes mistakes, it's knowing how to recover that shows your confidence and preparedness
  • If you have a memory lapse in the middle of a long piece, try to restart at the beginning of that phrase or skip to the next phrase, try to keep your composure and pick up right away (see practice)

Attend Concerts

To become a true musician, you must also learn how to listen to other musicians perform. Whether it's the melody, the dynamics or the structure you are interested in, these are all integral parts of your own piano study. By listening to other performers, you will begin to understand the many intricate parts of a piece of music, and this will help you mature your own playing.

Attending piano recitals is an excellent start, but it is just as important to familiarize yourself with the sound of other musical instruments and assembling of these instruments. Examples of solo instruments would be: cello, harp, clarinet, or voice. Examples of ensemble would be: choral, jazz, strings, or brass. It's more crucial to choose an appropriate program for the age level than the type of music being offered. Metronome has an extensive Calendar of Events covering a wide variety of performing events in your area.

§My Thoughts This is not to say you should attend concerts every weekend or every month. I think at least 3 to 4 times a year is ideal. Some concerts are very expensive, especially for a large family, so I would choose the program carefully.

These are my recommendations:
Beginner: I would suggest listening to orchestral music first (with or without any instrumental solo), because there are more musical variations in orchestral music. This keeps younger listeners more engaged. Also start with some of the more familiar pieces (e.g. Beethoven's 5th Symphony or the Nutcracker Suite) so children can easily respond to the music. This is an exciting way to accustom children to the sound of classical music.

Intermediate: Now you might want to add chamber music or a quartet, preferably including a pianist, to your list. Chamber music and small ensemble groups are a little more sophisticated than orchestral music in that each instrument depends solely on another instrument to make the music complete. As practice, students should try to find different ways to analyze the music - either listen for the melody played by each instrument or figure out how each instrument complements each other.

Advanced: I would only recommend a piano solo after the student has reached a very mature level, musically. You want the experience to have a positive effect on the student. Forcing music on students who are not ready will make no impact on them later on. Most piano programs can be very lengthy and children who are not ready to absorb all that music will lose interest within a short time.

I brought my 10-year old daughter to an Ashkenazy concert about four years ago at Richardson Auditorium. She was an intermediate student at the time. I was mesmerized by the performance but my daughter was checking her watch every five minutes. I was hoping the experience would inspire her to practice more, and it did for about a week. However, the most disappointing part of it was she could not remember anything about the concert. There were a few high school students following along with their own score in hand. I was so moved and thought that was the greatest gift any parent could give to their child!

Listen to Classical Music and History

Exposure to any form of classical media is a fun way to introduce composers and listen to different musical styles. Classical music can be enjoyed throughout a busy day even if your kids prefer rock-and-roll music. I have found those hectic afternoons chauffeuring kids around for different activities is a perfect time to tune into a classical radio station or put on a Classical CD. The soothing music helps everyone unwind after a busy day and calms everyone's mind.

Besides reading storybooks, I have also found stories on CDs are a wonderful way to keep everyone entertained while traveling in the car. There are also videos on a variety of topics for all ages, including operas, ballet, orchestra, and well-known pianists.

§My Thoughts I am constantly discovering new ways to enjoy classical music. Below is a sample from our collection that I highly recommend for families. For a complete listing, go to My Recommendations for Families.


Music History and Composer Biography

  • My family enjoys stories on CDs by Classical Kids with titles such as Tchaikovsky Discovers America , and Beethoven Lives Upstairs , and Mozart's Magic Fantasy: A Journey... . The story is usually set during the composer's time period and serves as a backdrop for the music. The theme of the story ties together the music bringing the history alive. This collection is perfect for younger students.
  • Another composer story on CD is the Music Masters Series by VOX, (such as The Story of Beethoven ). There is little or no drama in these CDs, just simple narration on the history of the composer. However these CDs offer a lot more music and history than the ones above. This 18-CD collection includes stories on all of the famous composers plus Dvorak, Wagner, Sousa and Berlioz.

Auditions, Competitions, Examinations

Once your child has reached a point in their piano study, you may want them to take the next step to promote further progress by participating in organized programs outside regular piano lessons. Most piano teachers are members of different music organizations and should be able to make recommendations for programs that are the best suited for your child.

There are several programs available for any age or level of study:

Auditions: This is a non-competitive program where children are judged based on their performance. The audition encourages students to grow in their piano study and provides an opportunity for students to perform at a recital. Many organizations in New Jersey offer auditions every year. The most popular one is offered by the New Jersey Music Teachers Association (NJMTA). Their annual audition takes place in the Spring and students who receive the highest marks (i.e. High Honors, and Honors for higher level students) are requested to perform at a recital. Students are also required to audition in order to participate in master classes.

Competitions: The degree of competitiveness depends on the program and the organization sponsoring it. Many programs require submission of a tape-recorded repertoire from which the initial round of candidates are chosen. The finalists perform before a handful of judges before the winners are selected. Not all programs offer monetary rewards but they all culminate in a grand recital. There are local up to international programs available for students who like challenge and that competitive edge. See our Music Organizations for more information.

Tests: This is a non-competitive program for anyone who either desires to follow a path in piano education or use it as a supplemental way of measuring progress. The only program available in our area that administers such tests is the The Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM), which offers two testing sessions a year. Students work at their own pace without time, grade, or age pressure to move up.

There are two different tests available for piano students - Piano Examinations and Music Theory Examinations, from Grades 1 to 8. Tests are graded on a point system and a passing grade is required to move to the next level. The program is open to all ages and of all piano levels. You can start at any grade level you feel comfortable with.

§My Thoughts I highly recommend enrolling your child in auditions and also taking Piano and Music Theory tests annually. Not only do these two programs keep your children on an upward progression; they also set well-defined goals for your child. I've found that my children work much harder when they know there is a deadline. I reward my children only when they receive the highest marks, whether it's a beanie baby or a choice of place to eat, they need to know all the hard work is being recognized. Check our MarketPlace for reward ideas.

Even though I set my standards very high for my children, you must also remember that all judges are not equal. Sometimes your child may be assigned a judge who is very demanding or has very high expectations. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it may be a big disappointment for your child if they don't receive a high mark. You'll need to make your own judgement based on your child's overall effort.


Other Supplementary Education

There are many exciting ways for students to explore piano training beyond playing alone at home.

Ensemble Group: Metronome has a section for you to find a Music Mate. Whether you are looking for a piano duet mate or interested in forming a quartet with other string players, we hope we can help you make that connection. Ensemble or chamber music group usually consists of two or more musicians. There can be many combinations of instruments depending on the score you choose.

Master Class: Never miss an opportunity to participate in a Master Class. Master Classes are often conducted by acclaimed pianists or piano maestros who bring their insights to the repertoire you are playing. Auditions are usually required to participate in master classes. A master class is a combination of performing at a piano recital and having a piano lesson at the same time, like a 'working recital'. The student first performs for an audience then receives coaching from the maestro. I think the effort is truly worth the opportunity, even if it's only for 15 minutes!

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