Teaching Music to Children

by adminKFS on · 4 comments

Recently, I had the experience of teaching piano to children. I was filling in for their regular teacher. Most were in their first year of lessons. For the most part, they were learning primarily from piano books. This is how I was taught piano as a child and how a lot people I know were taught piano. The teachers mostly rely on the books and use very little ear training and outside sources. When I first started teaching piano a number of years ago, this is how I also taught. But this recent experience has me questioning the effectiveness of this method of teaching, especially within the first year of lessons.

The first thing that caught my attention was how the book ruled over the instrument and learning music in general. Sometimes I felt like the kids were punching the keys on a computer keyboard and the book was the computer screen telling them what to do. Even in the pieces that they had practiced, their playing felt very mechanical. Most of them had never learned anything by ear before and never had the chance to express what was inside them. Their only experience was just to punch out what was on the written page. For the most part, the songs contained in these piano books were composed for the book, and didn’t represent anything that was recognizable. This can be frustrating for some children since they can’t relate to any of the music they are playing.

In the first book of many piano methods, the fingering patterns used for the songs tend to be very similar, usually always playing the thumb on middle C. I understand the value of consistency, but the kids did not know any other way of playing. I diverted from the book sometimes to teach a simple tune by ear and would use fingering appropriate for that tune, but so many of the kids would exclaim “but you have to play C with your thumb!”

What also struck me was how much the kids did not understand what they were playing. Many of the songs in the book use chords. But many of the kids did not know they were playing a chord. They would just read the notes, C-E-G but not understand they were playing a C major chord. Many had not even heard of the word ‘chord’.

One of the most interesting experiences occurred when one of the students was learning Row Row Row Your Boat, a song that everyone knows. The student had been working on it for a week. When the student played it from the book, the notes were there but the rhythms did not resemble the song at all. He would hold the the first three “Row”s for a long 3 beats but when it came to “Row your Boat”, the rhythm was twice as fast. I knew he understood how many beats each note is supposed to receive because he counted as he played. But he did not understand the concept of the ratio between the notes. He would count 1, 2, 3, but each beat would not receive the same amount of time. After he played the song through with the book, I took the book away and we learned the song by ear. I had him sing it first and then we played it. His sense of rhythm was perfect when he played the song by ear. But when we went back to the book, that sense of musicality had disappeared.

This post is not to discredit books entirely, although some methods are better than others in my opinion. Learning to read early on is important, but it should not be the only way we learn an instrument. Ultimately, I believe it is the teacher’s responsibility to not rely on the books entirely to give beginning piano students a good foundation in music. When I look back on my experience learning piano as a child, some teachers relied entirely on the books. I was lucky enough as a teenager to have a piano teacher that used a variety of different methods to teach piano technique. As teachers, we cannot assume that the students knows what a C chord is just because they play it from the book. Also, many of the books do not teach any technique exercises, not even scales. So it is up to the teacher to provide these supplements. It is the teacher’s responsibility to make learning the piano not just about learning how to read music, but to make the experience about learning music, alongside the technique required to play the instrument well.

Some Tips for Bow Shopping and Bow Maintenance

by adminKFS on · 2 comments

This post is inspired from a student’s question.

How do I pick a bow?

I’m not a bow expert but can offer these basic tips. At the end of the post you will find some links to resources that offer good information about bows and what to look for.

The one thing to remember is that a high price does not necessarily mean a better bow. One of the main things that determines price is the quality of the stick. The quality of the stick can be determined by some of the following:

Balance – A good bow will be fairly balanced, meaning that the frog won’t feel too heavy compared to the tip. Imbalances like this can make the bow more difficult to control.

Camber and Strength – The bow has a natural curve in the middle of the stick. This curve is called the camber. The bow should not have to lose much of this curve in order to make the horse hair taught and playable. If the hair becomes taught only when the stick becomes straight, the stick is too weak.

The sticks tend to come from the following sources:

Pernambuco wood – tends to make for better sticks

Carbon Fiber– seen as a good substitution for Pernambuco

Brazilwood – used a lot by students

Fiber glass – used mostly by beginners.

Should I find a bow with real horse hair? Do I need to rehair my bow?

There is synthetic material available instead of real horse hair, but white horse hair is said to be the best. As to how often you should rehair your bow, it depends on the amount that you play. A good sign is when you see that the hair is thinning, meaning that you have broken a few! Since the hair is organic, it shrinks and stretches with changes of temperature and humidity. When it is getting worn out, you may notice that it takes a lot more rosin to get a good ‘bite’. If you do not play that much, getting your bow rehaired once a year should be sufficient. For those who play more, twice or more times a year is normal.
Always remember to loosen your bow hair when you put your instrument away. Constant tension when not in use will weaken the stick and may cause it to warp.

Again, I am not an expert on bows, but these are some important things to consider. I have listed some other resources that give more detailed advice and other considerations.
But the bottom line – you do not need to spend a fortune to get a decent bow. Every player likes different things in a bow and ultimately a good bow is one that makes you feel good playing it. But playing experience is necessary to understand what you as a player want and need. It will be difficult to understand what good balance feels like if you have not developed good bowing skills. So for students I recommend trying to find a decent quality stick that helps facilitate good skills.

Further resources:


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