Advice for teaching 8-yr old beginner : LUSENET : Everything About Teaching and Learning the Piano : One Thread

I'm a new teacher needing help with my student. Thanks in adv for anyone who ploughs thru my long msg:

I've been teaching a 8-year old boy for about 8 mths (since i started) now. He's always well behaved in class though his mom did tell me a couple of mths back that he seldom practises at home.

At the beginning, progress was normal and he wasn't having much difficulty with assigned work. Ever since hands together work was introduced however, progress has slowed down a lot (prob in part due to lack of practice). We've just completed the Primer Level from the Bastien series but I'm not sure he's ready to move on as he still struggles with anything remotely requiring both hands to be used at the same time.

I've also noticed recently that he doesn't really read the notes on the score when he plays. Instead he more or less memorizes the music and my hand position when I play it and then stares intently down at the keyboard to find the notes using his ear to guide him. (incidentally, he has a good ear, aural memory, and excellent sense of rhythm and enjoys aural exercises/games when we do them.)

Ever since i realized that, I stopped playing the pieces to force him to look at the notes and figure them out. This frustrates him further however and because it takes up more time, we end up with less or no time at all for aural work which is actually the 'fun' part for him. (In any case, it doesn't seem to help note-reading much coz when he's figured out the notes, he memorizes the tune and stares down again.)

With all the factors combined together, his interest in piano seems to be waning. It would be a pity to lose him though as he's a good kid and an intelligent boy. Hence I would appreciate any advice at all on one or more of the following:

1) What to continue with now that we've finished Bastien Primer Level. (At the moment we're also using technical ex. from A Dozen a Day and doing a little theory each week)

2) How to improve sight-reading skills

3) How to motivate him to practice at home.

4) How to make lessons fun while incorporating all the above and how to fit it all in a 1/2 hr class.


-- Winnie (, May 21, 2001



Your problemhas no "easy solution",but everyone has the right to an opinion, so, here's mine:

As far as I can see, your student suffers from what I call "agudis preguicitis" (the overwhelming desire to play things the easier way). I myself have dealt with the problem more than once (can't say I won the war, managed to win some of the battles,lost others...). It is indeed a grave problem, good thing you noticed it right away- when reaching hand-position-changing repertoire, you (and the student) would probably despair with the suffering! As a general answer, try to develop sight-reading by presenting something new every lesson. That way, you'll force him to develop the sense of step and skip,up and down. As a detailed answer:

1) Try the Piano Adventures Series(it's full of interesting material for children...) 2) The Piano Adventures really helps with this 3) You can always attribute a score at the end of each lesson and give prizes according to the total score at the end of the term. This,although, is THE most discussed issue in piano teacher forums, as it is the FUNDAMENTAL aspect of sucess for the student- NO PAIN,NO GAIN- YOU CAN'T HELP BUILD A GOOD PIANO STUDENT WITHOUT HOME PRACTICE. I'm sure you'll find many suggestions about this... 4) No possibleanswer!It's up to you to make choices on how you manage your time...

Hope this helps

-- Nuno Maulide (, May 21, 2001.

You are fortunate to have a student with a good ear. You can use this to your (and his) advantage.

When a student has become locked into positional reading, it is much easier for them to rely exclusively on their ear instead of developing the reading skill. Instead of Piano Adventures, which I think will not help with particular problem (the entire Level 1 is in the key of C even though the hand position is not, thus compounding your student's reliance on the ear), I would choose something that does a lot more moving around and offers some sounds that aren't so traditional. Try Music Tree Part 1 (not Time to Begin). Your student will get lots of practice in interval recognition and be required to move around the landmark notes freely. I would not focus right away on note-naming but on building an eye-hand relationship based on intervals. When that is secure, note naming will make more sense.

To encourage him, though, you will still need to affirm his aural skill. Have him create his own pieces using an "Interval of the Week." That way you are reinforcing the interval skill and allowing him to use his ear. You can also assign "challenge pieces" by choosing a familiar folk song, giving him a starting pitch and telling him to work it out by ear by the next lesson. Giving the starting pitch is important so that he doesn't get too wigged out by being in a complex key.

You can also reinforce the ear/interval relationship through singing games. Use your imagination!

Good luck, and let us know how things go.

-- Arlene Steffen (, May 21, 2001.

#1) Get him out of a positional method. Try Piano Adventures. The repertoire pieces are much more appealing than any other method series I know, there are lots of creative/discovery activities in the theory books, & the technique books are outstanding. I used to have such a time motivating my students to practice. None of my students liked Bastien. Guess what? Since switching everyone over to Piano Adventures, that problem vanished! Parents brag to me that they no longer have to nag their kids to go to the piano & practice. The kids tell me they love the songs. And the pieces aren't always written in set hand positions. I think you'll find that Piano Adventures will solve some, if not all, of the problems you're having with this boy.

#2) Don't move him out of primer level until he can play the pieces with confidence. If you're not sure he's ready to move on, then DON'T pass him to the next level! Find some supplementary books or whatever for him to work out of until you feel confident that he's ready for the next level. I've had to do that with a few students. Let me tell you that it's worth spending a few extra months in primer so that the basics are thoroughly covered. Some students just need more time.

Hope this helps!

-- Music Educator (, May 22, 2001.

I've had the exact response when I moved some of my kids to Piano Adventures. I got even less response from their practice than I had before and I found much like Arlene did that they were locked into C position.

I agree, don't move him out of the Primer until he is ready and comfortable with the material.

I use the Alfred Piano Library series with children the age of your student, but because I chose not to stick with just the theory, lesson and technic books, my students are better rounded. We Ear Train with the ear-training books, all my students have the alfred composition book (forces them to write notes, not read positions), we work out of the notespellers, and before I give them any of their books, I white out the position things written at the top and ask that they figure out where their hands should be by the note name and finger number written there.

All my students in this level have 10 books they work out of and many bring in extra music that we work on as well.

All my kids also have a music writing book that they write note names in while I call them out, they write them on the staff. We make a game out of it during less. I also have a magnetic board with a staff on it (it comes in the Music for Little Mozarts beginners pack) and we use that to identify notes as well.

Again, I am a true believer that it is not the method that teaches kids, it's the teacher. I have to admit to using several of the supplemental books from Faber and had disaster after disaster with kids using them as their method book. I may try again later, but right now I figure if it ain't broke don't fix it. I have 45 students total, group lessons this summer with another 45 students and a waiting list of 32.

Whatever you decide will work for you if you are committed to it, though don't be afraid to change if it doesn't work, I did!

-- tomuch2do (, May 23, 2001.

I meant that first line to say "I had the exact opposite response", not the exact response. Brain works faster than the fingers.!!! *S*

-- tomuch2do (, May 23, 2001.

I never use supplemental books as lesson books. They're not meant to be method books. The Faber supplemental books are easier than the lesson books, even though the levels indicated on the covers would lead you to believe that they're the same. My daughter, who is now in PA3B, can't stand the Faber supplemental books because she says they're way too easy, so we don't use them except to learn an occasional song or two. I prefer to supplement with classical music (not all from the same publisher), which offers a greater challenge & gives students a sense of accomplishment.

Whatever other supplemental books I use is based on the STUDENT'S choice, not mine. I just make sure that whatever is used, it's at or below their present level of study (i.e., the level of their lesson bk.). I base my decision on whether the student wants a challenge (like my daughter) or needs additional work at an easier level before moving on. In this way, they're learning songs to reinforce the concepts learned in the lessons bk. & to improve their sight-reading skills.

I previously used Alfred, Bastien & Glover. I also tried the famous Music Tree books & CDs on some of my students. None of my students were enthused with any of these books.

The key is to find what works with your students. When I taught in Costa Rica, I used Glover & Schaum. My students loved those books, & many of them practiced 1-2 hrs./day. Here in the States, it's a whole different ball game. I use a totally different teaching approach & different method books here than I did in Costa Rica because my present students are not like the students I had before. They have different musical tates, for one thing. Also, they have working mothers & much less free time to spend practicing piano. Lastly, learning to play the piano is not a priority. I have to compete with baseball, soccer, dance, & many other extracurricular activities that were simply not offered in Costa Rica. It makes a BIG difference!

So use what works with your students. Just don't be reluctant to change if what you're doing stops working. Remember that students are different. They have different musical tastes, different musical abilities, different priorities. What motivates one student will not necessarily motive the next student that walks through your studio door.

-- Music Educator (, May 24, 2001.

I don't use the supplemental books as method books either, I totally agree with Music Educator, they are not meant for method books. I've just found that with the majority of my students around 8 years old, they like the variety they can get with the Faber showtime, pretime, partytime, etc.

I laid them all out on the table at our recitals in May and let kids sign up for books they would like to work from as supplemental, totally the kids choice. (I too Music Educator, wish that more kids would go classical, but whatever keeps them interested right?)

And I am in agreement with Music Educator on you have to work differently with each student. My base method books are Alfred, but we sight read from all sorts, and kids bring in all kinds of things that we work out of.

-- tomuch2do (, May 24, 2001.

Hi Winnie Some 8 yr. olds have difficulty with hand-eye coordination which makes the whole process of learning to read more difficult-especially when they are reading and playing hands together. I suspect that with his good ear he has been playing by ear all along but this was not evident until the music assignment became more complex. Refusing to play the music for him will only serve to frustrate him and possibly cause him to lose interest. The Frances Clark Music Tree Series are excellent for reading and musicianship skills. You could also try musicwriting some of his music on larger staff paper as sometimes small children simply have difficulty seeing the music on a staff when the lines are too close together. Try varying your lesson routine and give him some music to read and otherpieces that he simply learns by heart so that he alwys has something which he can play and enjoy. Games which incorporate music reading skills might also to help develop his reading skills and add some fun to the lesson routine.

-- Sandra (, July 06, 2001.


I remember when I first started, your situation is one that I experienced too, many times, mainly due to my inexperience and the assumption that the students were actually "getting" everything. Not! I was so eager to forge ahead and at a good clip too unfortunately for them. Anyway, a few suggestions... in terms of new materials, I'd vote for the Music Tree series at this point for the same reasons Arlene voiced. The approach to reading is totally different from the standard multiple key/positional methods, and will truly demand that the student "read" without falling into the trap of playing the same keys with the same fingers and hearing the same "C" sound and depending on ear. Secondly, I would take a "side door" approach so to speak to lessons & practice from this to him and his mom, and explain that since a practice routine has not yet been firmly established (maybe your expectations were not expressed clearly at the get go??) and that he's hit a few stumbling blocks, you'd like to gradually work into a more regular practice routine. You can do this by assigning only a few short (4-8 meas. pieces) for him to prepare at home along with some rhythm and writing and warm-up/reading activities too. The Music Tree Activity books have terrific stuff for this kind of thing that could keep him busy all week. Then take the bulk of the lesson time to carefully "prepare" these few pieces with him by having him... 1. Look at the music. How many measures? How many meas. will sound the same? What's different? How will you expect it to sound (loud/soft, smooth/bumpy, fast/slow, etc.). Point to the time signature. How many pulses will you feel and count in each measure? Let's say the words in rhythm...Let's step the beat and say the words...Let's put the rhythm of the words in our hands (clap). Can you put the rhythm on your lap (and pat with alternating hands as called for in the music)as we say the words? Now let's finger play it on your lap and say the words (using the fingers called for), finger play it on my arm, etc. When the rhythm and hands are secure & coordinated... 2. Id the starting note and finger number for each hand (outloud) "RH finger 3 treble G. LH finger 2 middle C". 3. Then set a pulse and sight read the piece. If there are major interval reading problems, you'll know you'll need to do some creative drill on simple intervals (steps, skips, etc.). 4. Repeat play several times increasing the tempo if needed and add any dynamic and articulative nuances.

Do this with every piece, every time, but in between pieces, get him off the bench for some floor games that drill rhythms, intervals, signs, whatever.

For some creative touches, after a little piece is firmly "in his fingers", suggest that he play the first part as written, but come up with a new ending any way he'd like. Or think of ways he can change the mood of the piece. Or make a 2 or 3 part piece by adding to it. So many possibilities.

Now, this may seem tedious at first, but it doesn't have to be if handled with enthusiasm. I mean, make a fake magnifying glass to have him hold up to the music when he's "looking" at it for playing clues. Get out 2 nerf balls and have him hold them as he rhythmically "plays" the piece HT on the keyboard lid. Get a big (really big) plastic bouncy ball and have him sit on it, bounce the steady beat and clap & say the words at the same time (book open on floor infront of him). Make a staff dictation board with bingo chip markers and have him dictate the piece interval by interval to you (you're placing the markers on the staff board), then clear the board and switch roles. All the while reinforcing the simple beginning steps to success. Drills CAN be fun. When he goes home, he'll only have to keep the pieces in his fingers. If he struggles, say with HT playing, encourage him to apply the preparation techniques he's learning at home. Gradually, you can begin to increase practice demands as you increase his assignments. After a while, you'll only need to "prepare" 1 or 2 pieces (or sections of pieces) like this at the lesson. It'll be his job eventually, to take these same steps with some "unprepared" pieces on his own at home.

Just remember to take your time the first few months with any beginning student. Setting the ground work is so important and will save you and the student remedial work later.

If you'd like any other suggestions, please ask. I'm happy to help anyway I can. Good luck.

-- Gee Tee (, July 08, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ