Marika Meshkuna - Piano Tuition - Concert Pianist - Harpsichordist. Specialist muscial and piano tution and assessment in the North East of England, Newcastle, Northumberland, UK.
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Is it true that piano lessons can increase academic achievement?

How do piano lessons improve overall development?

What is the best age to start?

What is specialist tuition?

Is specialist tuition only for the very talented?

So is specialist tuition the best option for everyone?

How to choose a tutor?

Which instrument is the best to play?

Is it essential to have an acoustic piano at home?

Is it okay to have a good electric instrument?

Is it true that the first piano does not have to be very good?

Do we have to buy a new instrument?

What should we be looking for in the piano?

How much time is required for practicing?

What else is there to keep in mind?

How to ensure that the child practises regularly?

What is the role of the parents?

"It's not that we want our child to become a concert pianist"

What about the examinations?

Taking the examinations

 

Is it true that piano lessons can increase academic achievement?

Yes. It is well known and scientifically proven that instrumental, and especially piano, lessons are beneficial for the development of the human brain. There is a strong connection between music and academic achievement as playing develops the hardware of thinking and reasoning and maintains it in a mint condition. The American pianist and educator Don Campbell, the author of the famous ‘Mozart Effect’, has even subtitled one of his books ‘Awakening Your Child’s Mind, Health and Creativity with Music’. In the 11 th Variation of the Paganini Etude by Liszt, the pianist has to play 1,800 notes a minute – no wonder that playing the piano is like taking your brain to a gym!

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How do piano lessons improve overall development?

Just some examples:

Memory: it is exercised constantly, with the difficulty of tasks gradually increasing

Co-ordination: arms and feet are often required to make complex, precise and entirely different movements simultaneously

Concentration: required at all times. The process of playing can be similar to driving a very fast car, involving anticipation, evaluation, action, reaction, compensation – all almost at the same time

Self-discipline: the habit of working regularly and efficiently is required at early stages and has to be maintained

Confidence: it comes almost as a by-product because it is part of playing well and is gradually developed during the process of work

Psychological self-control: as important and necessary as in sport

General knowledge: musicians need to learn about the times and circumstances surrounding the pieces they play

Awareness and control of the body: the whole body is engaged in the process of playing and has to be fully under control

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What is the best age to start?

While it is perfectly possible to start playing the piano at any age, the period between
four to six years is acknowledged in professional circles as ideal.

On the Continent, especially Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, and in countries such as Russia, America, Japan, Korea, China and Hong Kong, there is a strongly established culture of instrumental tuition. There, it is very common to begin piano lessons at the age of four or five, and a child of eight is regarded as a late starter.

Teaching the very young requires highly developed and specialised teaching skills and attention to detail. It is essential to get the many complex elements of positioning the hands and the posture exactly right, as the smallest mistake quickly multiplies and can lead to significant problems later. From the tutor’s point of view it is often safer and easier to start tuition at an older age but the invaluable best time for implementing the kinetic and musical skills is lost.

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What is specialist tuition?

It is the most advanced form of the art of instrumental tuition. It aims to develop the potential of the student to the full at each stage of the tuition process, also building a reliable base for further progress. If a student receives specialist tuition there should be no significant imperfections in their playing, caused by the teacher’s mistakes, lack of knowledge or
inability to teach a particular element. Also please see ‘How do we choose a tutor?’.

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Is specialist tuition only for the very talented?

Not at all. Any student at any age can greatly benefit from it. However, because the numbers of specialist tutors are limited and their private fees can be very high, this type of tuition is mostly available in specialist schools, conservatoires and academies of music where the costs are partly subsidised. The number of applicants always exceeds the number of places, and the most talented students are selected through auditions.

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So is specialist tuition the best option for everyone?

No, it all depends on one’s interests and needs. Similarly, not all people would want and need to do A level Spanish; some are happy just to attend a short course before going on holiday. To make sure that students get exactly what they are looking for, the Piano Kids Studio offers free of charge assessment, consultation sessions and an interview.

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How to choose a tutor?

There are three types of instrumental tutors, depending on their education: amateur tutors; professional non-specialist tutors; professional specialist tutors.

Amateur tutors usually play the instrument they are teaching but they do not have professional qualifications in playing or teaching, or both. Often their strength is their enthusiasm for music, however, they may pass the imperfections of their own playing on to their students.

Professional non-specialist tutors have qualifications in instrumental teaching that are
available from various institutions.

Professional specialist tutors normally are, or have been, professional concert performers and for up to 20-25 years have received specialist tuition themselves. To become a successful specialist tutor one needs personal, relevant experience as a student, a talent for teaching and the experience of working as a specialist tutor. The best performers are not always the best teachers, and vice versa. There are no degrees and courses providing such qualification because it takes much more than a few years of training to obtain the necessary knowledge and skills. Specialist tuition is usually available in specialist music schools, conservatoires, academies of music and some departments of music in universities.

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Which instrument is the best to play?

There is no answer to this question, however, after assessing musical, physical and psychological characteristics of the child it is usually possible to suggest the most suitable instrument. The Piano Kids Studio offers free assessments and consultations to help with these decisions.

These are some of the advantages of the piano:

  • it is a harmonic instrument, in other words, one can play chords and enjoy harmonic colours. This is not possible on the wind, brass and, to a degree, string instruments
  • pianists never require accompanists
  • the piano is suitable for people with a less developed sense of pitch who
    may find playing, for instance, a string instrument difficult
  • music for the piano, including arrangements, covers all periods and styles.
    In volume, it by far supersedes music available for any other instrument
  • you never need to carry your own piano around!

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Is it essential to have an acoustic piano at home?

Yes, though you can delay getting it for some period of time. As soon as your
child starts making good progress it is essential that they can practice at home.

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Is it okay to have a good electric instrument?

No. ‘Touch sensitive’ is a misleading definition. Electric keyboards are only sensitive to pressure, producing a louder or quieter sound. An acoustic piano in reaction to touch (not the level of pressure!) produces the tone of different colours. The variety of touch, and therefore the variety of the colour of the sound, is one of the most important pianistic skills. Work on it starts from the first lesson. Electric keyboards and pianos exclude the development of this and other skills and have negative impact on pianistic development.

However, you always can choose to learn to play the keyboard, not the piano.

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Is it true that the first piano does not have to be very good?

No. It does not have to look good and can be old but it must be a good instrument and in an excellent playing order. Raising a musician is like growing a tree: things that are missed in the first years of tuition often can never be regained. Early mistakes may eliminate the possibility of future achievements even with a significant talent present.

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Do we have to buy a new instrument?

No. There are other alternatives: 1. buy a second hand instrument – but not through an advert! Buy a reconditioned piano from a competent dealer, with prices starting at £1,500. Omega Pianos in Blaydon offer a good choice of second-hand instruments. 2. Rent it. Ask for a hire-purchase that allows you to put your rent against the price of the purchase if you decide to buy the instrument. 3. Maybe a friend or a relative will loan their instrument to you? Ask your teacher to check it first.

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What should we be looking for in the piano?

The general condition and action of the instrument should be checked by a tuner or someone who has the necessary knowledge. They have to look for splits, check the pegs, the dampers, the pedals etc. From the pianist’s point of view, it should have pleasant, warm, “cultured” tone; the keys should not be too light, too deep or too shallow – often an issue!; the middle, bass and top registers should be well balanced and even. It should respond to half and quarter pedal; produce good quality piano (quiet) sound; retain the roundness of the tone when playing forte.

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How much time is required for practicing?

It depends on the age and the level of playing, ask your teacher for guidance. My youngest students start with five minutes, then the length of time gradually increases. Someone who is seven years old and is working on the grade one pieces should practise for around 30-40 minutes daily, except the day of the piano lesson. I also give my students ‘practicing holidays’ when they are asked not even to approach the piano!

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What else is there to keep in mind?

The sitting arrangements are very important. They should be thoroughly explained
in the first lesson. It is important that you follow the instructions. Adjust the lighting.

Hands must be clean, preferably washed just before playing. Nails have to be cut short. No food, drink and chewing gum near the piano. It is a good idea to keep a simple medium size clock on the piano to monitor the duration of practicing sessions.

At the age of six they should not be shorter than 20 minutes as it takes about five minutes to start focusing on the task. Ideally, there should be no movement around the room during the practicing and no other distractions. No conversations, no noise from the television or radio, no visits to the loo, having a drink or popping around to the kitchen to ask a question. Practicing is serious work but fully within the capability of a young child, and has to be approached as such.

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How to ensure that the child practises regularly?

Practising should be an enjoyable and rewarding activity. After all, it is the contact with the chosen instrument, bringing pleasure and fun! Consistent practising will result in good lessons, praise from the teacher, family and friends and bring a real taste of improvement and success. You can secretly record your child’s early (or any) practising sessions and play them back a few months later – this really puts things in perspective and shows the progress made!

Regular practising is absolutely essential. Slow or no progress brings boredom and lack of motivation of the child’s part, and it may be difficult to revive the interest once this happens. Like other issues with children’s behaviour, the appropriate attitude from adults can eliminate the potential problem before it arises. As with all duties (like going to work, for example) there is an element of a chore that can be successfully tackled applying discipline and treating practicing as a task that is not debatable. Establish the routine in the first weeks of taking lessons. Find a suitable time for it, plan it and follow it through. It is very dangerous to step on the slippery slope of “ok, tomorrow you will make it up for today”, “you will practice more when it rains” or “ just play for 15 minutes as we have to rush”. This sends messages that will be lovingly stored in the memory of the budding pianist and will not get forgotten!

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What is the role of the parents?

At the Piano Kids Studio all teams consist of three equal partners: the pupil, their parents and the tutor. The more progress children make, the more support they need, and the role of the parents becomes more demanding. However, the first tangible signs of success always turn parents into devoted and ardent fans: it is very exciting to witness, and support, the blossoming of a talent.

The early stages of having lessons may be difficult. Parents may not have the vision of the achievements that are within the reach of their child, and may not see why they should tolerate the inconveniences or even make sacrifices. There was an occasion when parents stopped lessons not fully realising the potential of their child and the extent of her exceptional progress. Ironically, while wanting the best for their child, they had taken away the chance
of developing what perhaps was their daughter’s most outstanding talent.

Each tutor will discuss with parents their role because it is so important, and will make suggestions about the support they can provide.

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"It's not that we want our child to become a concert pianist"

So many parents have introduced their kids to me, saying these words with a slightly guilty
and embarrassed look, that I am almost yearning to meet a family saying "We want him
to be a concert pianist!".

However, people do not become concert soloists just because they want to; mostly it happens because they can't help it and they cannot imagine their life without it.

It seems that people who are born musical need larger 'injections' of music than the rest,
but it doesn't always have to become a profession. On the other hand, there is a huge and very lucrative market for those with a musical background: the entertainment industry, recordings, theatres, shows, bands, television and radio programmes and all satellite businesses and services offer a sea of opportunities.

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What about the examinations?

Exams and assessments that are set in specialist schools and colleges follow their own curriculum which is normally based around internationally acknowledged stages of
development of a young musician. They monitor and confirm that the student is
reaching certain benchmarks.

The concept behind the exams by examination boards, such as the ABRSM, was born out of
the British system of instrumental education, mainly based on private tuition. Boards provide the opportunity to take exams at a suitable time and to measure each individual performance against unified standards. They also play another very important role: helping motivate children, providing certain deadlines for preparing programmes and offering rewards in the
form of certificates and exam grades.

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Taking the examinations

Assessing performances, examination boards do not, and cannot, provide thorough assessments of pianistic and musical development of each candidate. Passing the exam confirms that the student was able to play the three required pieces to a certain standard. Examiner’s comments offer advice for further development, based on the performance of these pieces and some other tasks.

Normal progress allows a piano student to move one grade up each year. However, by this we mean increasing the level of difficulty but not necessarily playing the grade pieces and taking annual examinations. There are many other aspects of development that are not covered by the grade pieces but need time and attention.

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Marika Meshkuna - Piano Kids - All Rights Reserved 2006 info@pianokids.co.uk