Musical Marination

My dream of a manicure

Posted in music,Piano Lessons by Rivki Silver on 10/10/2010
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I’ve been a bit preoccupied with having a baby, so I haven’t kept up with trimming my nails.

What’s that all about, you may ask.  Well, with playing and teaching piano, it’s important that I keep my nails short.  As a performer, keeping my nails short is key for playing.  Once those nails get long, it’s click-click-click, and sometimes a nail will get caught in between two keys (ouch!).  As a teacher, it’s important to keep my nails short to be a good example to my students.  I can’t very well tell them to keep their nails short if I’m not doing it myself.

But these past couple weeks I haven’t had time to think about my nails and they have grown long.  Yesterday I was admiring them and fantasizing about french manicures.  Today they are just annoying me, and I remember why I don’t like them long.  I feel encumbered and awkward.

They will most likely get clipped today, and my dreams of elegantly manicured hands will remain just that:  dreams.

summer scheduling stress

Posted in Piano Lessons by Rivki Silver on 08/03/2010
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During the school year all my piano lessons are scheduled for Sunday afternoon and evening.  I try to line them up as close to back-to-back as possible, students’ schedules allowing.  This way I can hire a babysitter for my toddler if my husband is not available to watch the little man during my lessons.

The summertime, however, has proven much more challenging.  While the bulk of my students are still on Sunday, the scheduling is much more spread out.  Additionally, I have one student who cannot do Sundays, one whose lesson is Sunday morning, and various reschedules during the week.

This means that for about a half-hour prior to each lesson, I have panic-stricken moments where I envision my toddler having screaming meltdowns during the lesson.  Where I have to leave my student stranded at the piano while I take care of my child.  Where I offer to refund money for the lesson since I was so distracted.  Where my professionalism and credibility land in the diaper pail.  It’s really, really stressful.

Thankfully, so far, before each lesson, my toddler mercifully takes a nap or plays quietly and nicely in his crib.  This is a major blessing and act of compassion from above, I’m telling you.

I’m looking forward to the school year when my schedule is once more conducive to having someone watch the little one, and I can focus on preparing for the upcoming lesson sans panic attacks.

the student who doesn’t want to learn

Posted in Piano Lessons by Rivki Silver on 07/28/2010
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Last week a parent confessed to me that her child didn’t want to take lessons, but that she didn’t want her to quit, and though it wasn’t something she would normally do, she was going to force her child to continue.

Hmmmm.  I didn’t like the sound of that.

This child had taken lessons for a few years previously (with a different teacher), but had either not learned or not retained many basic skills.  She needed a beginner-level book, but since she is a ‘tween, I wanted something which didn’t contain pictures which she would find “babyish.”

I had already tried several approaches with this student.  I selected an adult-beginner book for lessons, but it was proclaimed “too hard.”  On the mother’s request, I provided several folk/traditional songs, but the student “hated” them.  Also on parental request, I attempted to teach, by rote, a popular song the student had expressed an interest in learning, but it was also “too hard.”  I then switched to a different set of books (Piano Discoveries by Vogt & Bates) which came highly recommended to me from another teacher.  Immediately after this switch, the student went to camp for a month.

It was the week preceding our first lesson after this hiatus that the mother confirmed my suspicions.  The child was uninterested in lessons.  And I was uninterested in teaching a child against her will.  So, yesterday, before the scheduled lesson, I called the mother to discuss the matter.

In the conversation, the mother (again) expressed the feeling that if the daughter could “just do songs she loved,” then all would be well.  However this is not a viable option (nor a teaching style with which I am comfortable).  This child is not yet able to read notes with any fluency, and songs which require hand movement out of fixed positions have been too frustrating for her.  Also, her rhythm reading ability is weak, and she is uncomfortable with playing hands-together.

Thankfully, the mother did say that after returning from camp, this child sat down at the piano and opened the lesson book, wanting to play a bit.  The mother also agreed to talk to the child before the next lesson.  With these two factors, I felt it was possible that the child’s interest could be built back up.

Things which may help:

  • Give her more choices, the kind where it makes her feel good about choosing, but the result, no matter what her choice,  is still something with which I am happy.
  • As always, encourage encourage encourage!  Focus on positive language.  Instead of saying, “No, that’s not the right note,” say, “Almost.  Look again at that third note.”  When she plays a line correctly, give her praise.  A lot.


  • Give a choice between three performance pieces (from Grand Solos for Piano by Bober)
  • Give her a choice in the lesson book between reviewing the piece from before break or going forward
  • With new pieces, give her a choice if she wants to stay with hands separately or to try for hands together
  • Continue with Theory (also the Vogt & Bates series).  No choice there – sorry!
  • In between these items, shmooze a little about how I also would gain and lose interest in lessons when I was a student, about when I would play publicly at galas and receptions someone would always come up to me and express regret over quitting lessons, etc.  Throw in a few heart-to-heart kind of comments.


Thankfully, the lesson went well.  I felt that she was much more receptive than she had been before the break.  She even smiled a couple of times.  Though I felt a little awkward throwing in my anecdotes during the lesson, I did it, and hope that some part of the messages were received.  Her mother said that the only complaint the girl had was that she had a stomachache during the lesson (which she did not tell me).  Time will tell if this is a psychosomatic response.

For this student it will be more important than usual to keep my finger on the pulse and see if we can continue to keep the interest level up.