Friday, 12 July 2013

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How to Encourage Your Preschooler to Practise the Piano & Writing Musical Notes?


Here are 10 tips based on our experience with J for the last 5 months since J started learning to play the piano:

1. Find a good piano teacher

Our efforts of finding a Suzuki teacher was in vain. We started the search before J turned 2 years old. The first was very kind and patience, but she had a long waiting list and is soon retiring. J had been on the waiting list since he was 2 years old. The second Suzuki teacher also had long waiting list. The third was the daughter of the second one, and she too had a long waiting list. There aren't any other Suzuki teachers left in Copenhagen (which explained the long waiting list). When J turned almost 4 years old, we dropped the idea of Suzuki, as he was getting old enough to learn to follow musical notes. We were very fortunate to meet a teacher from his music school called Kati, who was recommended to us from his preschool music classes. She is very kind, patience, smiling and encouraging, making the lesson very systematic, and yet fun. To teach the right touch for the piano, for example, she would ask J to imagine stroking the keyboard like stroking a pet cat. To bring out the different effect of the keys, she would ask J to imagine playing a piece of weather - making certain sounds on the keys that sound like the drizzling rain, thunder, rain stopping, etc. She would play a tune, and asked J what story he thought of, when listening to the melody, whether it was a happy or sad tune. J named one of the tune as "Little Rabbit Passed Away". She would play a tune and told J that this is a frog jumping. It was fantastic how she could come down to young children's level, making concept comes alive for children. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise that we did not manage to find any Suzuki teacher.

2. Attend children recital concert

Before starting piano classes, familiarize your child with playing the piano by bringing him to children concerts. The Suzuki concept requires that children performs regularly in front of audience. There are many music schools in Denmark (and I believe Singapore too), where the students regularly perform. I had the chance to bring J to the Suzuki concerts for 4 times before J started formal classes.

This should continue after your child starts formal classes. It would be good to find a music school where the children perform regularly once a month to sharpen what they have learned and train their public skills.

3. Stick to regular but short practise - and make it consistent

J usually complains when he has to practise the piano. He finds it very boring to play scales, but not melody. But he is not skillful yet enough at his age to play that many melodies. But I am fortunate that he does not rebel. He will still dutifully practise playing the scales.

When he just started piano classes, I set my target very low - just 5 minutes but everyday. Slowly I increased it to 10 minutes and then 15 minutes. He could now on go for 30 minutes.

After more than 5 months of beginning piano lessons, he has now started to practise scales using two hands at one go, and he is begining to find it a little more fun to play the piano.

It always take hard work to learn something new, be it for a little child or an adult, as it is not fun until one reaches a certain level of competency. So don't give up, just because your child complains. Be firm, but do it with love and tenderness. Set the time short and don't be over-ambitious nor overtire your child.

4. Find opportunities for your child to perform

Find opportunities for your child to perform in an non-threatening and friendly environment. Although the all-too-relaxed-Danish-Daddy could not understand why the tiger-leaning-Chinese mom should insist that J should learn the piano, he is very supportive nonetheless, which I am very grateful. When Daddy comes back work, J will perform for Daddy to show what he has learned, and Daddy will look very impressed with his progress. And when grandpa and grandma visit us, it is an opportunity for J to perform for them. When J feels that what he learned is useful, he is more motivated to continue with the lessons and practising his piano. The key is, encourage, but don't force your child to perform.

5. Let him teach others

When one teaches to others, it is the best way to internalize what one learns. Daddy does not know much about piano, and this is actually a strength. I will say to J, "Let's practise the piano so that you will be able to teach it to Daddy this evening." Daddy will be the "student" and J will be the "teacher". This is another way to encourage J to practise the piano and at the same time for him to teach it to others - in this case Daddy.

6. Find a good role model

We reached a time when J lost all motivation to play. Just then, by coincidence, a friend of ours, Tue Mantoni, teamed up with a Chinese classical pianist, Li Yundi, to co-brand B&O products and got us to "like" the Facebook page. We were just watching his video and J was mesmerized. I took the opportunity to let him watch the video. I told J that the pianist did not reach this level of playing such beautiful music overnight, but it was all through years of hard work and practise. After that we went straight to practise the piano. And J went through the 30 minutes session with much passion and motivation. This Asian pianist has inspired J to practise the piano again. As a pre-practise exercise, I will let J watch his video.



Here is one of Li Yundi's videos if you could use to inspire your child with practising the piano:


Here is Li Yundi's Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/YundiMusic

You can read more about Li Yundi here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Yundi

7. Use highlighters for practising writing musical notes

In the case of J, the highlighters serve as magic. Suddenly he was very passionate about practising writing those musical notes homework that his teacher gave.

In order not to go out of line, he drew the guiding boxes himself. He first draw the musical notes in pencil and then go over them with the highlighters. Doing piano homework has never been easier :-)

It didn't just stop there, he was a lot more motivated to play the piece of "music" that he "composed" too, when he wrote those musical notes.



8. Video record your child's playing

I accidentally stumble into this idea, which I find to be working very well on J. I take videos of J to keep for memories, and unknowing I notice that when I am recording him, he is much more serious, focus and motivated to play a good piece. After that, he also looks forward to listening to himself playing back. So J and I will listen to the video after recording. We would laugh and he would also notice where he has played well and where he hasn't play well. Often times, he will at his own initiative request to play the piece again and request me to video record him again. In this manner, he practises the piano pieces several times.
 
As an example, below is one of J's recording:




9. Set a good parental example

Very often, J may not go to the piano voluntarily when requested to practise. Since I am very interested in playing the piano myself, I would go to the piano and start playing, and almost without fail in less than 5 minutes, J will himself come to the piano, see and listen to me playing the piano. He would then be willing to play and practise his piano. This teaches me that in everything (be it piano, studies, exercises, cooking, practical life, etc.), it is very important for parents to set a good example. Lead the way. Do it yourself first, and wait patiently for a moment, and you may be surprised that your child will just follow suit.

10. Press on and don't give up

Here is a great post on pressing on:

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