The Real Reason Teens Are Quitting Your Studio – Part 3: Technology

piano teaching technology

Teens and Technology

The last in my 3-part series about motivating teenage piano students has just gone live at Jennifer Foxx’s great piano teaching blog: FPS Resources.

This week, in the final part of the series, we’ll discuss how keeping up with technology can help you motivate and retain teenagers in your studio.

Here’s a taster:

If you’re trying to get students to choose between 30 mins of Bach practice hands separately with a metronome and 30 minutes on their Xbox, you’re going to lose every time!

But what if they got to learn their favourite pop songs by playing along to the full band and vocals on their iPad for 30 minutes? Or if they got to practice their jazz improv by playing along with a bass and drums? How much more engaged could they be?

For more, you can read the original article here.

7 Ways Technology Has Revolutionised The Way I Arrange Music | Midnight Music

piano teaching blog

Music Arranging Technology

In this great post, one of Australia’s most respected presenters about technology and music education, Katie Wardrobe, sums up how we can all use technology to help us perform, compose, arrange and print music.

Excellent summary of some of the best iPad apps and online resources. Make sure you check out her website and online training courses too!

7 Ways Technology Has Revolutionised The Way I Arrange Music | Midnight Music.

Crotchets, Quavers, and Minims…Piano Worksheets With UK Vocabulary | Susan Paradis

piano teaching tips

As many of the best piano teaching blogs on the internet are US-based, the terminology used can sometimes get lost on Aussie and British students.

While I understand that a quarter note is a crotchet (and don’t get me started on how much more relevant and useful the US terminology is when teaching time signatures!), students using US-based worksheets might be a little confused.

This is why it’s great that a teacher as well-respected as Susan Paradis in the USA has updated a number of her over 300 worksheets with Aussie/British terminology.

Best of all, her resources are all free. Check it out via the link below.

Crotchets, Quavers, and Minims…Oh, My! Worksheets With UK Vocabulary | Susan Paradis Piano Teaching Resources

Looking for the best interval training app? Auralia now available on iPad and iPhone

best aural training appAural Training Software

Auralia is an Australian-based software company that has designed and built exceptional aural training software for many years. Its software and newer cloud-based service is used by school students all over the country and it has a growing international reputation.

Given that achievement in Australian exams can be affected significantly by a student’s performance in the “supplementary tests” like sight-reading, aural and general knowledge, it pays for teachers to be aware of ways to make practising aural skills more effective and more fun.

Bringing tech to ‘boring’ aural work

There’s no doubt that teaching, practising and testing aural skills is not regarded highly by most instrumental music teachers. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the Aural Test book to be pulled out just a week or two before an exam.

Given this is both unfair and unproductive for the student involved (not to mention all the other ways in which this is pedagogically unsound), wouldn’t it be better to provide a graduated, student-driven opportunity for practice throughout the school year?

Enter two brand-new fully-featured iPad and iPhone apps:

As far as aural training goes, these are the best interval training apps around.

How they work

Both apps are intuitive, logical and fun to use. They feature lessons in sequence, building a students understanding from easier to more complex intervals. The lessons explain how best to approach each new interval challenge and tricks like remembering the intervals through the first notes of famous tunes.

The apps also have a “custom” feature where teachers or students can select exactly what they’d like to be test on. Intervals can be ascending or descending and set in a particular vocal or instrumental range.

Best of all, the app listens to a student’s singing or playing and tells them whether they’ve played/sung the right note.

Check it out here:

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary download of this app for review purposes. I was not required to write a favourable review, nor was I compensated in any other way. All opinions expressed are my own.

A Practical Theory Lesson « Practising The Piano with Graham Fitch

I’ve been teaching scales, chords and the Circle of 5ths for years, but I’ve never realised the connection between tetrachords, adding sharps/flats and moving around the Circle as described in this article by Graham. Love learning new things :)

Definitely worth reading!

A Practical Theory Lesson « Practising The Piano with Graham Fitch Practising The Piano with Graham Fitch.

Who teaches like this already? How have you found students responding to it? Does it make more sense?

The Real Reason Teens Are Quitting Your Studio – Part 2

teen piano teachingWhy write about teens?

I decided to write a short series about teaching teens because there seems to be a lot of teachers out there for whom teaching teens is becoming a bit of a struggle. You might have read their posts on piano teaching groups, wondering aloud why teenagers don’t want to have lessons any more:

“I let them learn ‘The Entertainer’ but they still want to quit. I don’t get it – isn’t that a ‘cool’ piece? All my students start with Alfred’s Primer Book A – why should teenagers be any different? Who doesn’t get their students to learn “Dozen a Day” every week? What’s wrong with Baroque music – that’s all I learnt when I was a student! Why can’t they spend 30 minutes a day practising scales? Why do they want to play this video game rubbish? I can’t possibly teach pop music! Playing jazz isn’t as important as classical music anyway…”

Thankfully, it only takes a few simple ideas and resources to change your thinking about teens and to keep them motivated in their studies and your studio.

Part 1: Teaching students the music they want to playpiano teaching teens

In the first part of the series, which you can read at Wendy Stevens’ fantastic Compose Create blog, I discussed that teachers of teenagers have to be open to teaching the music their students want to play.

I gave readers three tips in Part 1 that they could immediately try in their studio:

  1. Ask your student what he/she would like to play and be open to teaching it – even if it’s outside your comfort zone.
  2. Make sure you have LOTS of cool repertoire up your sleeve.
  3. Admit that you don’t know everything when it comes to music!

In this part of the series, I’ll be talking about the second reason that teens quit piano: You aren’t making music relevant.

Part 2: Keeping things relevant

Teenagers need to see the relevance in what they are doing and they need to be working towards goals that they set themselves (with your help, of course!).

If all they do when they come to lessons is show you something they’ve composed, then teach them more about composing. If they always come to lessons having learnt something by ear, encourage it and give them a deeper understanding of harmony and form to enable them to make their own arrangements of melodies they can play by ear.

Andrea Dow, in her article, “How to rescue the unmotivated teenage piano student“, calls these kinds of piano lessons “functional piano lessons”:

What are “functional piano lessons”? They are lessons based on meeting the interests of your student; giving them the specific skills they need to use the piano in a way that motivates them.

I’m not saying that just because Billy likes playing by ear that we should drop all attempts to teach him anything else; rather, use his natural style of learning to motivate and engage him in other aspects of music: eg. reading, composing, improvising, etc., while you work on the thing that motivates him each week to play the piano.

teaching teens pianoTeens are much more open to doing the “boring” stuff like learning to read music, if it’s part of a lesson that’s based predominantly on their intrinsic motivation and musical passion.

How do you find out what motivates your teens?

If he/she is a new student, just ask. Not all teens will know what they like and some will say, “I don’t know – I’ll just let you choose”, but soon enough you’ll get a feeling for what they like to practice versus what turns them off.

If the student has been with you for a while and is starting to fade, you might have missed the signals: what are they listening to on their iPod when they wait for their lessons? What do they teach themselves when they are “mucking around” at the piano? What YouTube tutorials have they been watching without telling you? What concert did they most recently go to? Are they in the school band/orchestra/choir/play?

A little research will go a long way!

Here are my top 3 tips for keeping things relevant for your teens this week:

  1. Be “functional” in your approach to lessons. Keep activities short. Teen attention spans are generally pretty short (excepting anything with a screen). Beginner teens in particular are impatient and don’t often know how much work learning piano will take. While they are learning things like music reading and theory, use other techniques to keep them interested: playing pop by ear, using backing tracks (see my article about iPad apps for Piano Teachers), learning pieces from YouTube tutorials, etc. Even 5 minutes on these activities at the start of a lesson will boost their motivation for the week. Try mixing up your lesson content this week and encourage one activity that you don’t normally support.
  2. Teach more than just the notes. Give teens the tools they need to understand music as well as just read it. Teach them about form, harmony, chords, structure, improvising. Listen with them to the music they like and work out how to play it together. Experiment with how to arrange music they like for piano solo. In my opinion, students who really understand music, know how it’s constructed and are able to compose/improvise, are far more likely to play for life. Use every opportunity during music reading to explain the chords underlying the musical structure. Discuss what key the piece is in and what chords form the basis of the composition (refer to the Circle of 5ths). Ready my article: Strategies for Teaching Improvisation to Beginners for more info.
  3. Use metaphors to make connections. Ever wondered how the hours kids spend at sport practice can improve their piano playing? My students in particular seem to understand practice better when it’s related to sport. Questions like, “How was David Beckham able to ‘bend’ the ball into the net? Did he just play games or did he stand in front of the goal and kick 1000s of balls into (and past) the net?”. Of course, the answer is obvious – he isolated the technique before putting it into practice in a game – and that’s directly related to piano practice. Students who need to work on their ability to play fast runs might need to practice scales rather than playing pieces. Need to work on your trills? It’s just like hitting 100 backhand tennis shots in a row before playing your game on Saturday. The opportunity for metaphor goes well beyond sport, of course (actors reciting lines, artists blending colours, pilots using simulators), but in all cases, using metaphors enables teachers to make connections to students’ ‘real worlds’. Try using a sporting metaphor to encourage one of your teens to practice more this week.

I understand that if you’ve never taught students to compose before, this could seem like a daunting challenge. Similarly, perhaps you don’t refer to chords, harmony or the Circle of 5ths when teaching reading. Don’t stress! Just take it in small steps. Set aside perhaps 1 hour per week to research teaching ideas on blogs/Google and try them out in your studio the following week. Click here for a list of what a search for “chords” uncovered on my blog, for example.

Good luck and I look forward to hearing how it goes!

In Part 3 of this series next week, I’ll be talking about the final piece in the teen motivation puzzle: why it’s important for teachers to keep up with technology.

We’ll discuss:

  • Using technology to enhance lessons, not waste time
  • How my favourite app can be a real teen pupil-saver
  • How to make use of a student’s own technology to help with their practice

To ensure you don’t miss the final Part 3, make sure you subscribe to blog updates. If you’re looking for more ideas on motivating teenage students and can’t wait for Part 3, you can also check out my free eBook: Teen Teaching Toolkit – there’s a link to it in the menu at the top.

“Coffee with Ray” – a remarkable new piano teaching textbook/novella by Nick Ambrosino

piano teaching bookA piano teaching textbook that reads like a novel!

I really wasn’t sure what to expect when I started reading Nick Ambrosino’s new book: Coffee with Ray.

The title certainly caught my attention (“coffee” tends to have that effect!) but how could a book about having coffee with someone called Ray possibly help me with my piano teaching?

In an industry saturated with book titles as exciting as: The Piano Teacher, Piano Lessons, Mastering Piano Technique, Professional Piano Teaching, The Art of Teaching Piano, etc. etc. I found Nick’s title, and indeed, the whole approach of this book, incredibly refreshing.

Put simply, Coffee with Ray is a motivating resource about reigniting your passion for teaching, re-engaging your piano students and improving your communication strategies. As the Amazon synopsis explains, it’s an “engaging, thought-provoking parable” about piano teaching:

Through the eyes of a simple piano teacher, learn the strategies to remove any self made learning obstacles so that you can achieve all you put your mind too. After ten years of teaching piano, Matt had become completely disillusioned with his career choice. Teaching was increasingly more frustrating, students were more difficult to motivate and coping with the stress had become much more challenging. He was on the verge of quitting and looking for a new career, until he decided to have a cup of coffee at a café suggested by his GPS. That’s where he met Ray and that’s when everything started to change. An engaging, funny and thought provoking parable, written, as creative non-fiction, Coffee With Ray will introduce readers to revolutionary ways of communicating that will help make students become more accountable and teachers more skilled at facilitating learning. Whether you’re a teacher, student or parent, after reading Coffee With Ray, your understanding of and your approach to learning and success will never be the same.

Immediately engaging, Nick’s book will appeal to any teacher who has had moments of thinking: “Why on earth do I do this job?” (and we’ve all been there, haven’t we!?). It actually reminded me somewhat of Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist – another great story of personal development, experience and mentoring that is sure to change your thinking about life, goals and journeys, just as Nick’s will change your thinking about teaching.

Just make sure you have a notepad and pen handy – you’ll be surprised at just how many great little ideas are hidden in the story!

More reviews, hardcopy and Kindle editions are available via Amazon:

Have you already read Nick’s book? What did you think?

Got any other great books you’d recommend? Please leave your thoughts below.

The Real Reason Teens are Quitting Your Studio – Part 1

teen piano teachingIs it just me or is it getting harder to keep teenagers interested in piano these days?

No one has any time, every after-school minute is jam-packed with activities, and despite the costs and logistics of piano lessons, practice always takes a back seat to everything else that’s going on.

But, is that the real reason that teens are losing motivation?

Head to Wendy Stevens’ fantastic blog: to read my latest guest post. In Part 1 of this new 3-part series, I share some thoughts and advice about teaching teens that you can use in your studio right away!

Don’t Lose Another Teen » Head to ComposeCreate and read the article now:

The REAL Reasons Teens Are Quitting Your Studio.

Motivating teenage piano students | Teen Teaching Toolkit

piano teaching tim topham

I’ve recently had lots of people ask me about where they can get their copy of my new eBook: The Teen Teaching Toolkit.

It’s a totally free resource devoted to helping you engage and motivate your teenage piano students more effectively.

Here is what a couple of teachers have recently said about the Teen Teaching Toolkit:

Thank you so much!! I have a lot of students in this age group & always looking for new ideas & inspirations!! Appreciate this!Sonja, Telluride, Colorado.

I would just like to thank you for your amazing resources and for making them freely available. I am a reasonably new piano teacher, so I have found so much of use, for example, the Ireal b app, the piano teachers facebook group, and hints for teaching teenagersGrant, Brisbane, Australia.

Get your copy now and share your ideas!

To get your free copy emailed immediately, please head to my download page and enter your details.

If you’ve already got your copy, I look forward to hearing what you think.

Please share a comment below about your own teen teaching tips:

  • Cool repertoire ideas
  • Creative lesson plans
  • How to teach composing/improving
  • How you deal with video game and film music
  • Ways to make technical work exciting again
  • Good technology/apps to engage teens


Here’s an Easy Way to Help Your Brain Learn Faster | Bulletproof Musician

piano teaching tips tim tophamHave you ever gone to bed after struggling all day with a particular passage only to find out that the next morning, you could play it perfectly?

Read this great article from the Bulletproof Musician blog about the effect of sleep on practice effectiveness to find out why.

Here’s an Easy Way to Help Your Brain Learn Faster.