Sydney Piano Lessons
Practice Guide and FAQs:
A list of frequently asked questions that students and parents often have in regards to piano practice.
When is the right time to start learning?
At CPS, we prefer students who are aged 4 or over, who are familiar with the alphabet (familiarity with letters and numbers is essential for early music reading). For parents who are concerned that their child may be too young to begin formal lessons, we do offer a trial period, where teacher and parent can decide whether or not the student has the ability to maintain concentration, understand the basic music concepts and agree to practice at home.
How long is a trial period?
3-5 lessons is adequate time to determine whether or not a student enjoys the piano lessons and is willing to undertake practice. However, some parents choose to trial lessons for the whole school term (10 weeks).
Do I, as a parent, need to attend the lessons?
For very young students (4-6), parent's presence in the lessons and during practice is very helpful. This is to ensure that the student is partaking in the right kind of practice at home. It is also often a very enjoyable experience for parents to watch their young child partake in their music lessons.
Do I need a piano?
Beginner students do not need a piano to successfully move through beginner and preliminary levels. In cases where a piano is too expensive, too large, etc., a keyboard proves as an adequate substitute. Keyboards with weighted keys and a full length keyboard will last you longer than a smaller keyboard. Weighted keys are a significant contributor to the development of finger technique and strong fingers. From Second grade upwards, it is ideal for students to have a piano. By this stage, pieces start to require knowledge of the different tone colours and sounds the piano creates, which is not achievable on a keyboard. It is useful to note that many good pianos are available second hand (often for a very cheap price), and piano’s can also be rented. For more information, please ask us.
How much is enough practice?
When first starting, small practices of 10-15 minutes, 3-4 x per week is suitable for all age groups. These practices serve to reinforce material that is covered in the first lessons, including hand positioning, rhythm and fingerings. This frequency of practice is appropriate for students covering beginner books (such as the Hal Leonard and Bastien Series); the length of the practices ideally being extended to 20 minutes upon the completion of the first book. For young students (up to the age of 7) practice is more successful when the content of each practice is supervised by a parent or guardian, to ensure the student is practising what is required each week (as set out by the teacher).
Preliminary and First grade AMEB exam students require consistent practice, upwards of 20 minutes in length. 3-4 times per week at 20 minutes (total 1 hr per week) is adequate when starting exam material. As exams get closer, students will gain the best results by completing min. 30 minutes of practice every day, with one day off in the week. With busy schedules, it is often helpful to break the practice up, e.g.: 15 minutes before school, 15 minutes after school.
Second – Fourth grade students require 30 minutes of practice most days, as there is a significant jump in the difficulty, length and number of pieces required for exams.
“I can get all my practice done in 5 minutes...”
It is true that during early levels, each student may only have one or a few tasks to complete each week, depending on the piece’s length and difficulty. In these cases, repetitive practice is the key to filling out this practice time, and is the best way to progress quickly. For example, a beginner piece may only take 30 seconds to play from start to finish. If the piece is repeated 10 times in 5 minutes, the student will be undoubtedly more confident and more prepared.
Or, “I don’t have enough time to practice everything!”
As grades progress, especially from Second grade upwards, the weekly requirements also increase. In these instances, it is best not to attempt to achieve every set task every practice but diving time accordingly. (30 minutes spent on one task is more effective than 30 minutes spent on 3 tasks!)
Why do exams?
Exams (AMEB or otherwise) are optional, but something I encourage in students who are eager to excel at the piano. Exams provide an opportunity for students to prepare pieces to the best of their ability, and get feedback and a written report from an experienced musician. Sitting exams also provides great experience for high school music. Students also have the option of working through graded material without sitting exams. This is a favoured option by some, as it alleviates some of the stress that comes with grade preparation.
Exams are scheduled twice a year: May and August (although the later exams often extend right up until November). Careful and consistent preparation for exams is important as school commitments and other important events can often interfere with the amount of time available for practice. It is also ideal for lengthy time away from the piano (such as what happens when on a holiday) to be avoided around exam time, as it can be detrimental when taken in the weeks close to exams.
Are weekly or fortnightly lessons better?
For young students, weekly lessons are ideal as a lot is often forgotten within a 2 week period. Likewise, weekly lessons are extremely beneficial for exam students (especially Second grade upwards), as there is much more material to cover here than in the earlier grades.
Why is practice important?
Practice is important to ensure that a student is:
a) Progressing to the best of their ability
b) Making the most of their lessons
c) Making the most of their music experience in general!
It is always important to remember that your teacher, like a teacher at school or University, is a guide, a planner and a corrector of mistakes. A teacher cannot do the learning (or the exam work) for you! The more you practice, the more your teacher can help you. Also, remember to never be afraid, embarrassed or otherwise hesitant to ask for help. Any question is a good question!