Piano Lessons Beginning of Term Newsletter 2020

The Mobile Piano Geek
Fresh Piano Lessons Delivered to Your Door Or Through Your Computer
http://www.alisonmaira.com
Beginning of Term Newsletter 2020

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
It’s great to be back in the saddle of learning, studying, and growing! I’m excited to see you all again, to work and study with you as we immerse ourselves in that amazing, beautiful mystery that is music. Whether you are a beginner just learning how to read notes or an advanced student studying for exams, there is much to learn – the mechanics of music yes, but more than that too. How to persevere, how to try hard, how to bravely explore new ideas, how to not be afraid of mistakes or let them stop you from learning and succeeding.

Covid-19 Safety Protocols:
I will be wearing a cloth mask during in-person lessons. I will bring hand sanitizer and clean my hands before each lesson and during the lesson too, if necessary. I will also clean the piano keys before each lesson. How you can help: make sure your children wash their hands before their lesson, and ask them to wear a mask.

Teacher and Student Illness Policy:
This is where online piano lessons can really come in handy. From now on, I will not be coming to work if I or anyone in my household has cold or flu symptoms. We can have lessons online that day if I’m well enough. You must cancel our in-person piano lessons if your child or anyone in your household has cold or flu symptoms. We can move that lesson to online delivery if the student is feeling well enough. I reserve the right to cancel in-person lessons and reschedule them as online sessions if the student or their family members have cold and flu symptoms when I arrive for an in-person lesson.

Cancellations: each student receives two free cancellations per school year. Please let me know when you would like to use them and I will apply a cancellation credit to your invoice. Any subsequent cancellations will not be refunded or credited, but you can arrange a make-up lesson with me if you wish. I have availability for make-up lessons on Saturday afternoons.

In Other News:
I’ve just started classes at the M.Ed Counselling Psychology program at SFU. I’ll be immersed in child development, education, and counselling for the next two years. YAY! My favorite topics on earth. I wanted to make sure all my students know that I too am in school. I have teachers that assign me hard things, and I have to time-manage my butt off to get my homework done. I love to learn, and I’m proud of myself for gaining all this new knowledge that I can use to help people in my community. End of life lesson lecture;)

Things to do to prepare for a wonderful year of music study:
– Establish a practice routine, input into family calendar. Set aside time for 4 piano practice sessions every week.
– Get a timer to measure practice sessions. A basic kitchen timer or stopwatch is fine. This timer stays on top of your piano or in your piano box.
– Get a container for your piano materials. Something big enough to put metronome, piano books, piano binder, timer, pencil, eraser, current sheet music. Keep this container on top of the piano or somewhere very close by.
– Start a “Songs I Like” list. Put a copy on your devices and a paper copy in your piano materials box. This list will be helpful when considering what repertoire to study next.
– Arrange for piano or keyboard maintenance if it has been longer than a year since last tuning or there are ongoing issues needing repair.

Playing For Fun:
Music is a glorious thing and it is an amazing gift to give your children or yourself. Usually your child’s piano assignment will not touch on the great emotional journey that music can be. It will be about sustained effort, delayed gratification, intellectual challenge, discipline, and if everything goes well, slow and steady progress. Sometimes practicing will feel like kind of a drag. It is very important to round out your or your child’s musical education by giving them the fun, easy side of music as well. Go see live concerts, have a dance party at home, try karaoke, play Rock Band (the video game), and encourage your children to mess around at the piano, with no pressure. Try to figure out some notes of a song you like. Write your own songs. At my house my daughter plays absolutely crazy “music” on the piano and I have to do an interpretive dance. This brings her great joy, and that is the point. Although I must admit my dancing skills are not coming along as well as I would like.

Available Lesson Times:
I have two lesson times available on Saturday afternoons for adult or experienced piano students who are too busy to have weekly lessons but would like to maintain their piano skills with a teacher’s guidance. These would be once-a-month, 60 minute lessons. If you know of anyone (or yourself?!) who would be interested in this format, please feel free to pass along this newsletter to them.

Attached is my Studio Policies 2020, and Practice Tips for Beginners/Intermediate Students.

Thank you for reading! Please contact me with any questions or comments you may have.

See you all this week,
Cheerio,
Alison

The Adult Beginner’s Piano Journey

I feel as if I have stumbled onto a great secret of satisfying and rewarding teaching. That secret is, adult students, especially beginners. There is something wonderful about these people. It’s fun to teach music to a child, because children are fantastically curious, full of energy and innocence. The adults though, I really feel like I’m helping in a tangible way. Sure they get better at playing the piano – if they commit to regular practice and following their assignments they can become surprisingly solid and expressive players at any stage of life. But they also get better at knowing themselves, facing challenges, and handling victories. You would be shocked to know how many accomplished, professional adult people have a total blind spot about their own intelligence and ability to grow. They cannot and do not see their own progress, all the ways in which they are improving, the skills they have mastered, the increase in fluency, the steady buildup of knowledge. Helping my adult students handle their victories and acknowledge them is probably the biggest part of my work with adult beginners. I’m not sure why this is so and why I see it so often. There’s probably a great paper or study waiting to be written about it.
I have found that another great secret of good teaching is love and encouragement. People of any age learn more effectively when they are loved and encouraged; when they feel safe enough to take their world-mask off and allow the new information to be absorbed and they do not fear looking stupid or making a mistake. That’s “flow state”, the relaxed concentration that allows endless repetitions and true practicing/improvement from a place of fascination and curiosity (not from a place of boredom/being forced to – that is NOT flow state).
I help my adult students get into that flow state through the most effective tools in my teaching bag of tricks: love and encouragement. Simple. But complicated and delicate too. It’s engrossing work that I will practice and research and try to get better at for the rest of my life. It requires sensitivity and subtlety. Love and encouragement from a teacher has to be gentle and unobtrusive, something you can only see out of the corner of your eye. The small, vulnerable flame of learning has to be nurtured, not blown out with overzealous trampling of false praise.
I would love to meet some new adult piano students this year, especially beginners. If you or someone you know has always wanted to unlock the secrets of the piano and dive deep into the endless world of music; push themselves to achieve (and accept) new victories, and work on an amazing new skill, feel free to get in touch. I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about.

Desiree

2019

The lovely and multi-talented Desiree! An accomplished lady who has a great ear for music and enjoys playing piano and taking lessons, lucky me! Adult students are so great.

 

2015

Much respect to this lady! Desiree is a full time lawyer, wife, mother of two and piano student. She has a strong natural musical talent that I love to see unfold and deepen every week. You just never know what you might be good at until you give it a try.

 

2011

Shirley

Here’s Shirley! I hope to be as happy and busy and wise as she when I am in my 80’s. Shirley loves Elvis Presley and Michael Buble, and you cannot be in a bad mood when teaching or playing their songs it’s just impossible (I have tried), which means I am always happy when I am teaching Shirley.

 

2018

 

2017

 

2016

This lady just turned 80. Yes she did. Still going strong with her diligent practice routine, careful adherence to instructions, and great ideas for repertoire to study.

2015

 

Shirley has been taking piano lessons with me for about the last 9 years or so. She was not a complete beginner. She had taken piano lessons on and off with several teachers as an adult. I love this about her. She was a very busy person with a full time nursing career and a single mother to two daughters but she still never gave up on learning how to play the piano. I met her when she was retired and I was teaching her grandson, another very wonderful individual who deserves a separate blog post. For several years I taught Shirley, her grandson and her grandaughter. I got to know her daughter and son in law, her grandchildren, and Shirley herself through my weekly visits. I am still grateful for the time I shared with this family.
Shirley is my idea of a model student. She is retired, so she has time to practice. She diligently applies a strong effort to all of my assignments. She keeps an open mind and is willing to try new things. She persists when the material is complicated and unfamiliar, and we are both so pleased when once again she comes out the other side of it and can play something that seemed impossible a few weeks ago. She is kind, and wise. A few times I have stayed an extra half hour (when I don’t have another lesson right away, I am not a complete unprofessional moron) talking her ear off about my life and its problems at her back door with my shoes and jacket on while she listens and advises. When I was young I never thought about anyone over 40. Now in the last gasps of my fading youth I have a deepening appreciation for everyone over 70. I never expected as a piano teacher I would teach older adults in their retirement years, and I certainly never expected to love it. Many times I have said to my older adult students that I am learning as much from them as they are from me, and I definitely feel this way about Shirley. I tease her that she is the busiest retired person I know, with her travelling and going to the gym, helping out with her grandchildren, home renovations projects and busy social life. I’m glad she makes time for piano practice and lessons. My week would be far less bright without her.

Winter Piano Recital 2017!

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Happy New Year! I hope you all had a wonderful relaxing break. Now we are all back in our various saddles of work and school and it is that special time once again when all my delightful piano students enthusiastically prepare two pieces, one solo and one duet, for our semi-annual performances.This week I will be asking all my students to choose their two songs for a performance video, to be filmed the week of the concert (2 weeks from now) which will be posted on my Mobile Piano Geek twitter and facebook page, website and youtube channel. In addition I encourage all my students to attend or participate in the upcoming live concert!

The Details:
Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Hwy, North Vancouver
Saturday January 21
2:00-3:00pm

Grandparents, extended family, and friends are invited too.
Please let me know if you or your child will be participating. If you don’t feel comfortable with performing, you are still more than welcome to attend and enjoy.
I will send out a program as soon as I know how many will be performing.

Looking forward to seeing you all there!
Cheerio,
Alison

Perfect Practice

I know, I know. Practice makes perfect, not the other way around. Here are (more) of my thoughts on how to maximize your investment in piano lessons, for you or your child.
The Perfect Practice Session: By Alison Maira

You need a digital keyboard with full size weighted keys, or acoustic piano that has been tuned and maintained within the last year.

You need a comfortable bench at the correct height for your size. When resting your curved fingers and slightly rounded wrists on the white keys in the middle of the piano your arms should come out at slightly less than 90 degree angle. Your shoulders should be relaxed but your back is tall and straight (but not straining to be so) Exaggerated wrist bend or straight arms = too close or too far away from the piano.

You need a footrest if your feet cannot rest comfortably flat on the floor. Additionally, it is very difficult for a child to maintain focus during their piano practice if their feet are dangling in the air. Feet resting flat and still increases focus and creates what I call your “dance space” – a solid unit of good posture, healthy finger, wrist and hand position, feet grounded and comfortable. This consistent and solid foundation allows for a lot of expressive body movement while playing, which many good piano players engage in BUT their dance space remains a solid unit from which the movement flows. The arm, hand, wrist, finger, elbows, shoulders, back, and feet move as one beautiful unit. Motion is typically generated from from the hips while seated on the bench. The dance space can move to the right or left and real power comes straight down from the shoulders and a slight lean forward from the trunk.

You need a good light on or near your piano. It is not fun and too difficult to practice when you can’t really see the keys or your sheet music. Just sayin’.

You need to follow your teacher’s instructions for every practice session. I have yet to meet a student who has memorized my practice instructions perfectly and has no need to refer to their assignment sheet or notes I have written on their sheet music. I have met plenty who take a glance, get it wrong, practice the wrong thing for a week or two, or three – and have to painfully un-learn the wrong thing and re-learn the correct one. Tremendously frustrating and completely preventable. One of those things that makes people think piano lessons are a drag and really stupid.

You need a reasonably quiet environment while practicing. Not church-like reverent silence, but a time and place when it is possible to carefully read the instructions, go though the assignment one item at a time, experiment without feeling self-conscious, and hopefully fall into the flow of relaxed concentration and the deep satisfaction of hearing yourself improve as you apply your best effort.

You need to gather your materials and have them ready when you begin. Metronome, assignment sheet, songbooks, tablet/phone/laptop for online ear training exercises, a sense of curiosity about what musical puzzles you will solve today, and a pleasant attitude. Like really there are worse things than learning how to practice and play a musical instrument, yes teenagers I am talking to you. I love you but sometimes your determination to be cool is not cool with me as it effectively torpedoes your potential to stretch out and truly achieve something better. Learning requires vulnerability and risk taking. I can promise you as your teacher that your sincere efforts will never be mocked or belittled by me. So have your damn metronome ready when you practice so there is no need for weak excuses about why you still can’t come in on the and of 2.

And that’s it. Good instrument, bench, footrest, light, some quiet, posture, hand position, follow the instructions, have all your stuff ready and be uncool enough to sincerely try. Voila, the prefect practice session. Repeat at least 4 times a week between lessons to see encouraging results and grow as a human being.

Winter 2016 Concert Details

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,

Here are the details for our upcoming Piano Recital Winter 2016

Saturday January 9, 1:00-1:45pm
Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 1700 Mountain Hwy North Vancouver
Church appropriate attire please.

This is a performance opportunity, not a performance obligation. If you or your child change their mind about performing after arriving at the concert it’s not a problem. Please let me know and I will adjust the program accordingly. I encourage all of my students whether they are performing or not to attend the concert.

Family and friends are invited too. All are welcome.

Please practice your recital pieces over the holidays:)

I will email a program a couple of days before the concert. And hopefully remember how to spell everyone’s last names.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Looking forward to seeing you all there.

Cheerio,
Alison

Alison Maira

The Mobile Piano Geek
http://www.alisonmaira.com

Beginning Of Term Piano Lessons Newsletter Sept. 2015

The Mobile Piano Geek

Piano Lessons Newsletter
Beginning Of Term
September 2015

Hello Lovely Parents and Students,
Here we are, at the beginning of another year of music study. For some of you, the first year of piano lessons. (How exciting!) I for one am refreshed and full of energy, ready to teach and learn with you all year long. Well, at least until December and winter break. Here is some information from the wonderful world of piano lessons I would like to share with you.

Practicing:
Piano lessons without consistent, effective practice results in a painful experience for student, teacher, and parents. A painful lesson experience leads to associating music study with frustration, boredom and resentment. This is the opposite of our intentions as teacher and parents, as music provides so many amazing benefits to a person’s physical, mental, and social health. I recommend building piano practice time into your family or personal calendar. This will address the problems of procrastination, ‘not enough time’ and negotiating every practice session with your child. Try building in at least 4 practice sessions every week. Some general guidelines I use are:
6 – 7 year olds 15 minute sessions
8 – 9 year olds 20 minute sessions
10 – 12 year olds 30 minute sessions
Teens and adults – 45 minute sessions with at least one longer session of 60 min + every week.
It’s also important to consider your practice set-up at home. A room at a reasonable temperature, a footstool for young children whose feet don’t yet reach the floor, a chair or bench at the right height, and a quiet environment free of distractions all go a long way in making a practice session feel comfortable and not something to be endured.
For more information, please see “Practice Tips For Beginners” at http://www.alisonmaira.com

Piano Maintenance:
Acoustic pianos should be tuned and inspected once a year. If it’s been longer than one year since your piano has been serviced, now is a good time to get it done. Electric keyboards do not need yearly maintenance but sometimes need to be cleaned by a technician when dust and dirt builds up inside them.

Cancellations:
Each student receives two free cancellations per school year. Subsequent cancellations will not be credited or refunded. All cancellations can be rescheduled for a make-up lesson if the student desires. Contact me for availability.

New:
This year I am adding ear training exercises and flashcard drills on a rotating basis throughout the month. Ear training is the skill of identifying specific pitches aurally, and flashcards reinforce music vocabulary.

Accepting New Students:
I have a time slot available for one new student. If you know of anyone who is interested in piano lessons please feel free to pass along my contact info.

Music Enrichment Activities:
Practicing a piano assignment for a weekly lesson is one part of a musical education. Here are some suggestions for additional activities:
– play for fun, just mess around at the piano.
– try to figure out familiar songs
– buy some sheet music and learn songs you like.
– go to concerts. Seeing music performed live can be so inspiring.
– listen to recordings
– watch videos of live performances on you tube
– research composers or songs you are studying. Youtube is a good option here as well.

Website:
I have posted more student performance videos on my website. You can find them by going to Current Students, and searching by student name. I started a Featured Student series this summer and will be posting another Duet Series soon.

Follow Me
Please join me on facebook, twitter, and Instagram.
https://www.facebook.com/alisonmaira
https://www.facebook.com/themobilepianogeek
https://twitter.com/alisonmaira1
https://instagram.com/okmaira/

You can follow my blog too at http://www.alisonmaira.com

Thanks for reading!
Cheerio,
Alison

Here We Go Again

It’s the first day of school. After a lovely, relatively lazy summer of teaching some casual lessons here and there it’s time to get back in the saddle. I’ll see all my students this week and many of them will not have touched their piano since June. Which I am okay with, by the way. If it works for your kid to have summers off and go outside and generally go crazy I support you 100%. I will have those little whippersnappers set up with a new practice routine and review assignments before they can say “Why you gotta be so strict and yet hilarious at the same time?!” I had a busy day yesterday – a busy week, actually, getting ready.

work table

My work space. All the essentials, netflix controller included.

stickers

New stickers. Got some new littles starting this year and I want them to enjoy collecting shiny things for a job well done.

new student binders

New student introductory packages. Everything you need to get started in the wonderful world of piano lessons, provided by your guide The Mobile Piano Geek.

new binders

Oh I am not messing around this year. The dollar store sells binders now and I have a deep need to organize. Technique worksheets, Duets, and Ear Training exercises are in the house. BAM. We’re gonna work on this stuff on a rotating basis every week and you’re gonna love it.

And there you have it. Happy New Year. I have two more duets binders and a transcription binder to make, I’m out. *drops mic*

Saturday Flex Lesson Packages

Car Sign!

Are you (or your child) interested in beginning or continuing piano study but can’t commit to weekly lessons? Fear not, good people! Here is your solution. I am offering flexible lesson packages on Saturday afternoons.
I have three lesson times available on Saturdays. 3:30-4:15pm, 4:30-5:15pm, and 5:30-6:15pm. They are offered on a first come first served basis. Students can book one lesson at a time or as many as they like. No refunds for cancellations, but you can use your prepaid lesson as a credit for a future Saturday lesson. Lesson times might need to be adjusted depending on where you live, travel time, traffic, etc.
I teach in-home lessons in North Vancouver, West Vancouver, north Burnaby and Vancouver. For more details or to book your flex lessons please contact me at alisonmaira@live.com or 778 318 3916.

Thinking About Practicing.

Sometimes I wonder what I have spent more hours on, thinking about practicing or actually practicing. As a seasoned list-maker I have made plenty of mental and written lists organizing all the elements a musician needs to address. There’s a lot to consider. There are broad categories such as fully notated music, reading lead sheets, improvisation, scales chords and arpeggios, and transcription. There are temporary, specific projects like pieces to be learned for other people i.e. as an accompanist.  A conscientious musician will also be aware of the specific weaknesses in their playing and practice remedies to smooth out these rough spots. There’s also different feels and genres to master, playing uptempo, transposition, and the weird little bugaboos about your particular instrument that need your attention. Jeez, it’s so hard to not go off on all these things separately. Stay tuned for like a hundred future blog posts on practicing.

I’ve had a lot of great teachers over the past 20 years of studying music and each one has offered something different about how to approach practicing.  Now I am into my second decade of teaching and I spend year after year trying to guide my students into good practice habits. The advice I offer my students is a combination of what my teachers told me to do, things I accidentally discovered, research, careful observation of successes, and experiments that worked. I should add, teaching beginners how to practice is a critical, sometimes maddening task and how a beginner practices is completely different than how a self-directed musician practices.  But if I do my job right, the solid foundation of good practice habits can take a student from beginner to advanced and then to professional musician if they so desire (and may the lord have mercy on them if that is the case). Here are some of the tips I offer my beginners and their parents:

1. Make sure you have a quiet place to practice where no one will interrupt you.

2. Gather your materials ( practice assignment binder, songbooks, lesson books, metronome, pencil) and have them ready at the piano.

3. Open your piano binder and turn to this week’s assignment sheet that I have written for you.

4. Follow your practice instructions carefully. Ask your parents or teacher for help if you need it.

5. Practice slowly. Go slow enough to keep a steady beat, play the correct notes, and use the correct fingers. If you make mistakes, you are playing too fast. Slow down and try again. The speed of your playing will gradually increase as your fingers become more confident.

6. Be kind to yourself. Learning how to play music takes a lot of effort and there will be many mistakes along the way. Don’t give up! You can do it. You will feel so proud of yourself every time you master a new song. Share the songs you have learned with your family and friends. Sharing music with others can help spread happiness.

7. Build practice time into your family or personal calendar.   Set aside at least four 30 minute sessions every week, and make it part of your weekly routine. This eliminates the problem of ‘not enough time’ and procrastination.

8.  It is not a waste of time to practice for ‘only’ 5 minutes. Small frequent sessions work very well for many people, especially young children. Do not fall into the trap of avoiding practice because you don’t have 3 uninterrupted hours to devote to that piece that really needs work.

9. Take breaks if necessary.  If you are becoming filled with rage or frustration, STEP AWAY FROM THE PIANO.  Come back later with a clear head and renewed optimism. It’s just piano.  No one is going to die.  It’s supposed to be fun and fascinating.

10.  Patience, young padawan, patience. There is no way to know how many times it will take before you master it. 99% of the time it will be more than you think it should be. Every repetition takes you closer to your goal. You will get there. And it will be worth it.

 

 

 

Why Adult Students Are The Bomb

I teach little kids, teens and adults. I like it all. But today I want to talk about why adult students are special and inspiring. There is something very brave about a grownup who is willing to be a beginner at something. Adults invest so much of their identity and self worth in being competent or an expert in their chosen field, whatever that is. As adults we get used to being pretty good at most things in life and managing careers, friends and family with casual proficiency. This is completely different than how most children function. They are used to struggling for mastery in all aspects of daily life. Adults leave that struggle far behind at the earliest opportunity and most of us stick to the things we are best at so we don’t have to feel that icky uncertainty of trying and failing, IN FRONT OF PEOPLE.
Beginner adult piano students have my unqualified respect and admiration. They take action to realize a dream that is usually decades in the making. They have wanted to learn piano for years and years and finally they decide, today is the day. I’m going to find a teacher and get started. Enter, me. I bring them a stack of beginner lesson and repertoire books, a metronome, and a binder full of blank assignment sheets which I proceed to fill up every week with detailed instructions. For the first time in many years they have regular homework and a teacher’s expectations to fulfill, in a subject that is basically a foreign language to them. It’s humbling. Add to that the fact that I am younger and less experienced in life than they are. It’s kind of amazing they get past the first lesson really.
I want them to succeed very much. They deserve that exquisite feeling of pride mingled with delight that comes from gaining understanding and competency at something once impenetrable. Nothing is more life affirming than knowing you are becoming more intelligent and continuing to grow, no matter what your age number is.
My adult students have taught me that opening oneself to trying (and failing sometimes) at something new, struggling, and investing hours of practice to get better has benefits that spin off into all areas of life. It makes you more patient, less arrogant, and more compassionate towards yourself which in turn helps you become more compassionate to others. From them I have learned that it is very healthy to always have at least one new thing in my life to be a beginner at.
The picture above is me with one of my students. Agnes started lessons as a beginner at 81. She took lessons for 10 years, and I still go to see her every week to visit. Her relationship with my 3 year old daughter is a priceless thing to behold, another spin off benefit of our professional relationship that deserves its own blog post. It is never too late to start doing something your heart has longed for. The best time to begin is always, now. Find a good teacher who you can understand and makes you feel good about striving to become a more intelligent human being. Block out the haters – they’re always there, jealous that you have taken action to fulfill yourself while they are too scared to. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t look stupid while making mistakes. There is no other way to learn. You just look human.