Playing with Practice Pads and External Speaker
Nita P., Utah
“Another thing I remember Jy saying was that if they don’t do it in your studio, they won’t do it at home. So I incorporated greater use of the keypad before going to the piano with both private and group lesson students. I gently but firmly insist that they use their “external speakers” (vocalize) with the keypad (another point made at the Symposium). To say this makes a difference is an understatement!”
Would you be willing to elaborate on use of the keypad in lessons & what is meant by using the “external speakers” for those of us who missed the symposium and are newer teachers?
Victoria S., California
The external speaker is their voice and calling it the external speaker changes the way they seem to feel about talking or singing out loud.
Before a new song, I do what Neil tells us to do, but doesn’t really show us on the videos. I have them put the patterns in their fingers, then onto the keypads while saying the learning strategies out loud. Then, and only then, do they go to the piano. Saves gobs of time.
If they are having trouble with a previously learned song, then I take them away from the piano and restart the whole process and assign them to watch the video again at home. I let them know that Neil and all the other experienced teachers have made it quite clear that there is absolutely no use in pouring on new information if they are not solid with the old information because it is not about learning the songs, it is about learning the learning strategies behind the songs and self-generating with them in the long run. The long playlist is just a bonus!
Sheri R., California
Just to add a bit more to what Victoria wrote–I try to regularly ask students if they are using keypad at home and tell them after we have processed something in lesson that that is exactly how I want them to
work at home. The repetition, the external speaker, the controlling the events, the keypad. Really help them to see that delaying going to the piano where the ear gets involved will help them learn easier and
quicker and retain their playlist more easily. With little kids maybe place keypads around the room so they can move from one to another.
To make sure they are learning on keypad at home the beginning of most lessons is playlist review on keypad. Either round-robins with keypad with students not playing guessing the song being played based on the way it looks. Also I might have someone play a song while everyone else plays along on keypad. Good way to review in shared lessons and see where holes are with everyone at the same time.
When I first started teaching I didn’t do this and I found when we got to reading notes it was very difficult for them to play their songs away from piano and say intervals at same time. Also, they are not learning the tools as deeply if they can’t play their songs on keypad.
One more thing–I find that I have to remember to be sure there is plenty of observatory learning going on at lesson. So when passing out keypads have two people sharing one so as one processes the other
watches and mentors if need be and then trade who plays and who watches. Tell students to check each other and help if necessary. The following week, if everyone learned the song, each person can have a keypad as they play through while you check or again have students check each other.
Bernie A., California
In light of what Sheri says about playing on the piano pads, I also REQUIRE my students to play on their laps all the time while a person is at the piano. They reinforce and practice what they are seeing. To train them, I say, “Where do eyes go? A: On the Piano” (watching the person’s fingers) “Where do feet go? A: On the ground” (this is for your squirrelly 7-8 year old boys), “Where do hands/fingers go? A: On your lap!” Then I laugh so as not to point out that they are being squirrelly. It’s indirect but the point gets across.
It takes a little while before they get that they should always be playing w/the person at the piano and you will need to remind them during the training time to always do it but the results are worth it. The other day I was talking to a mom while her daughter was on the piano. She proceeded to play the Fur Elise Jazz Arrangement on the piano but without hitting the notes. I was surprised for a moment but then I realized this is what I have been teaching her all along.
Also, so that students don’t get too bored at student concerts, I encourage them to play along w/the person who is performing. That’s it for now.
Susan J., South Carolina
I loved your ideas about “Where do eyes, feet, and hands go?” I plan to use that tomorrow for all of the “make-up” lessons that I am teaching to catch up for the two days of teaching that I missed last week to go to the SM Symposium. It was well worth the extra time I am spending in make-ups this week!
Next year, I am putting a “NO MAKE-UPS for PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT DAYS” into my studio policies, as I feel that time spent away from the studio is just so important for my own development as an SM teacher! I will only take a couple of days off for that, but since I am a year-round studio, I really need that time to renew and refresh and “recharge my batteries!”
THANKS again to Bernie, Cathy, Lynn, Robin, Sherrie, Janetta, Gordon, and many other SM teachers I did not list, who took part in the event, and to Neil, Mary Kay and so many others who encouraged them to plan and execute the SM Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (spelling?!) Symposium we had in San Jose, CA!!!!! I can hardly wait for our SM seminar in Nashville, TN this summer.
I agree about the paper keyboards! Long before I knew of Simply Music, I had group classes in another method, where every student had their own full-sized keyboard, and while one student was “in the spotlight” playing their piece, the others were required to turn off their volume on their keyboard, and “ghost-along” and for some reason, they loved the concept of a ghost playing the keyboard. Of course, we really played that up at Halloween time! I even had a child who came to his lesson the week of Halloween, all dressed up in his GHOST costume to “ghost-along”.
I still use those words with my SM students, and even though I only have a couple of shared lesson groups now (all future students are going to be REQUIRED to go into shared or group lessons) they really love to play on the extra paper keyboards that I bought from SM, had laminated and mounted on foam board, so they sit on their laps much better! I even have parents that ask for one to put on their own laps! If a student wants one for their home practice, I just ask them to give me their paper keyboards, which I take to ASP and just charge the parents for the cost of the lamination/printing plus a couple of dollars for my time and efforts to do that for them.
With love and Music, which is all we really need in life, outside of basic, food, water, clothing and shelter!
Bernie A., California
I do not have any chairs around my piano b/c there is just no room. They stand at all times and remain active – no down time. I always have them on – playing on their laps, working in each others fingers, round robin, singing, playing games, or something as simple as the exercise of touching their toes or turning around. When they sit to work on the piano pad, they are on the floor. It becomes very active and they are engaged with me at all times. I always have control and there is no room for them to take territory.
I’m not saying that I don’t have any chatty time, because I do love to sit and chat w/them and their parents; however, I try to avoid any situations the kids can make trouble. When a kid does make trouble, then you are taking the time out of piano to correct them and it becomes a distraction – sometimes I pull the parent in, and then it takes out even more time. If an issue does need to be addressed, I don’t mind taking piano time in front of everyone to address it. When I do this, I make it a big deal (that means I literally stop everyone in their tracks, including parents) so that everyone understands what is expected of them.
Over the years, I’ve learned to manage pretty well but I remember my first few years when alot more time was spent in having to correct my students’ behavior. I’ve come to the realization that when you set up the expectations of how things are to be, they are more apt to live up to it because it is the standard. I think what you are going through is a normal process in the growth of a teacher so keep plugging away at it and don’t give up or give in. It’s tiring at first but your students will get it.
I know this is just my way of running my studio. It takes a lot of energy on my part. But I think my parents like it b/c they see that piano lessons is not a time to mess around but that we are all there to work. They feel they are getting their money’s worth. This is the kind of reputation I want my studio to be known for – word gets around and you get more referrals. It works for me. Hope it helps somebody else.