hear it. feel it. play it.

hear it. feel it. play it.

Pian Key Lessons logo


Welcome to the Piano Key Lessons blog.


Here you can find articles about the Suzuki method, the benefits of music lessons, studio updates and much more!

By pianokeylessons, Sep 20 2017 05:58PM

Is your Suzuki Student Progressing Slowly? More Listening Could be the Answer!

Occasionally, I will have a student that progresses through the Suzuki repertoire very quickly. Each piece comes easily, almost effortlessly. Are these students just more talented? Did they practice more than the others?

My hypothesis is, while these students did practice consistently, they did not practice much more than other consistent practicers (who didn’t progress as quickly.) Nor were these students more inherently gifted at the piano. The main thing that set them apart from the other students was that they actually did their listening.

I totally get that life is crazy. We are busier and more distracted than ever before. But seriously, listening to the Suzuki recordings is the EASIEST part of practicing. All you have to do is turn it on and then go about your regular business.

So why am I nagging about listening so much?

There are so many benefits to listening to the Suzuki recordings. Here are ten perks you can expect when you and your child start listening regularly:

1. Their tone improves. When first learning an instrument, it is good to know what is possible. If children only hear their own tone, which may be weak, they may not know the richness of tone that is available to piano players. Listening to pianists with beautiful tone opens up the possibility to play with beautiful tone themselves. Again, this improves self-listening and evaluation. Of course, the student will hear their teacher play with good tone, but that’s only once a week! If your child heard you speak only once a week, do you think they would learn to talk very quickly or fluently? Probably not.

2. They will learn their pieces more quickly and easily. In the Suzuki method, did you know that teachers are encouraged not to tell their students what the notes to the new pieces are at all? If children are doing lots of listening, they usually can pick out the notes on their own! It’s kind of incredible. Even if they aren’t doing enough listening to pick out the melody themselves, listening can fill in the blanks so that you don’t need to spoon feed every single note of a new song.

3. They will memorize their pieces faster and with more security. Even once students are proficient note readers, listening to the recordings will help with memorization. After listening to a piece several times, the form of the piece becomes clear. You know which sections repeat, and which are different. Massive amounts of listening can prevent those memory slips that are so frustrating in performance.

4. Learning a piece isn’t just about learning the notes and fingering on the page! There are many more details to consider. Dynamics, articulations, tempo changes, all of these things can be heard on the recording and then imitated by the child. No directions necessary. No need to remind your child about one more thing? Yes, please.

5. One of the most helpful benefits of listening to the Suzuki recordings is that it helps you avoid making mistakes that are difficult to fix. Have you ever learned notes or a rhythm wrong? It is so hard to change those things in your brain and muscle memory. It is so much better to avoid those altogether. If the student is very clear about how things are supposed to sound, they are much less likely to repeatedly make mistakes that become permanent.

6. Listening to upcoming pieces builds anticipation and excitement. If you listen to the repertoire ahead, the student can become acquainted with pieces that they like and are excited to play. These goals can get you through a practicing rut. “Maybe if we work really hard and practice every day, we can pass off this piece next month and start Minuet in G Minor!”

7. Listening is not the only important component of good Suzuki practice, review is also essential. Listening to review pieces helps students keep them fresh and easily accessible. If students keep up on their review, not only do they have their newest piece polished and ready to perform at a moments notice, but many others as well. What a confidence boost!

8. Have you ever read a new word in a book but had no idea how to say it? It is the same with music! If children are listening they become acquainted with advanced techniques like staccato, trills, legato, accents, etc.. If they have already heard these techniques executed well on their recordings, they are more likely to execute them easily and well themselves.

9. It makes your teacher happy. Your teacher wants your child to be successful. Your teacher wants their students to have a great time, and progress on the instrument. When progress stagnates, motivation and enjoyment diminishes for the student, and that makes your teacher sad.

The Suzuki Method is built on the philosophy that children can learn music just like they learn to speak. Children listen to their parents and others speaking even before birth, and then spend the rest of their childhood listening and imitating everything they hear. If you want your child to learn an instrument the same way, they need to be immersed in that language too. How many hours a day do they hear their native tongue? How often do they listen to their Suzuki repertoire? If you are not seeing the progress you want, it’s something to consider!

By pianokeylessons, Sep 20 2017 05:42PM

How Pro Suzuki Parents Get Their Kids to Practice Part III

The question of whether or not to “bribe” children to practice is a controversial one. Those against a “bribe,” or as I prefer, a reward system, argue that we should encourage intrinsic motivation, helping our children to be self-motivated. Inspired and moved to practice merely by the goal of playing the piano with ease, accuracy, and beauty.

Most kids are not motivated to do ANYTHING that doesn’t have immediate and concrete positive results. Activities change as children grow older, but even children who love the piano and love to perform are not going to be motivated to practice on their own steam every single day. (Some days, maybe.)

Adults aren’t always intrinsically motivated either, their brains are more developed so they can see the extrinsic rewards coming in the future. I doubt most adults go to work merely because of the satisfaction of

a job well done, I think we go because we want a paycheck and want to be able to pay our bills, etc.

The expert Suzuki parents had these things to say about motivating children to practice by using rewards:

First, you need to adapt your methods to suit your child. One method may work wonderfully for one and

not at all for another. A rewards system may work beautifully for a while, but then get stale after a while and need to be changed.

Norene Smith says,

“As my children started lessons, they were very excited and loved to practice their little assignments from

the teacher. After a few months and as the assignments became more difficult, they decided it wasn’t all fun and games. At that point rewards became helpful to get us through the resistance phase of practicing. One daughter started hiding when I announced it was practice time. We sat down together and made a list of things she would like to do, outings with a parent usually, and she earned a sticker for each time she came

to practice quickly and happily. After earning a predetermined number of stickers she received her reward outing. Parents can cater these rewards for individual children as they know what their child enjoys.”

Alan Duncan, of The Suzuki Experience, says this,

“The other bit about motivation is keying into the unique personality of your children—being what they need you to be to make practice work. In our case, my daughter is a list-maker. She likes things written out, checklisted and systematized. I’m sure some would balk at that. And every kid enjoys games. We make up so many games. Some of them make no sense with really bendable rules, but we have fun. We have a 12 sided die. For shifting exercises, we divide the result by 4 to decide what key to do the exercise on, etc. etc. We’ve used puppets and stuffed animals. She invites her dolls or the dog to listen in.”

(I’m the same way, I love checklists and crossing things off.)

Julia Margaret Nichols says,

“For my oldest at that time (age 6-7), we had to switch to my husband doing practices with him so that they would run more smoothly. For my middle one, I remember there being a few months where we had a reward for each song he played (1 m’n’m per song) which got him over that hump, and he also did some practicing with my husband. For my youngest, she refuses to play with her father, so we have gone through a variety of things to keep her going. Most recently, we had her do a 100 day challenge (for which she will get a medal at the next recital). We still had some bad days with all of them, but once we got over that first big hump around age 7 (they started at age 5), things went a lot more smoothly with more self-motivation.“

Kadre Sneddon, parent of five pianists, says,

“They always get a treat for practicing (a cookie or something they pick.) It’s a bribe, but it keeps the peace. I do lots of stickers or games with little ones, and they eventually outgrow it. My oldest (11) is practicing on his own (his teacher’s choice) and it’s going very well this year. I spent the last couple of years really teaching him how to practice, and he asks for help if he needs it. I”m starting to work on teaching independent practice skills to my next kid (9) because, of necessity, she will need to spend some of her time alone as the time increases over the next year. I try to follow the same routine for each practice-first favorite song, scales, studies, new stuff, review, and last favorite song for each practice.“

I love this idea of beginning and ending the practice session with one of the child’s favorite pieces. It is so important to end the piano lesson on a positive note, like a game, I imagine it is even more crucial in practice at home.

Emily Harkey, mom of four Suzuki kids, uses a few different reward systems.

“Listening I just have it on all the time. For actual practices and repetitions: beans, m&m’s, checklists, etc. each of our Suzuki teachers are so different, but I like that as we pull from all over their expertise to pour into our home. I have liked one teacher’s practice challenge: for forty or so days of school they have to practice everyday and that doesn’t include lessons or group.”

Phankao Wan uses a sticker reward system with her seven-year-old, she also uses stickers to encourage focused practicing and discourage tantrums.

“He breaks up his practices into 3 sessions. he gets stickers for his practice sessions as well as some others—eg. homework or revision done. Actually—we have less problem getting to practice (practicing is like part of life for him)… What is more of a concern is the QUALITY of practices. So if it was a careful practice, I’d give him an extra bonus sticker. If he throws tantrums during practices or while doing schoolwork, I “deduct” (penalty!). He can use these stickers to redeem for certain activities like TV Time, Video Time, etc. There are activities like free play, book readings that I don’t require him to have “stickers” bc I’d be happy to have him playing or reading! So far, this method has been working well in teaching him responsibility and planning his time so that he can have lots of playtime!”

Dividing up the practice time into separate sessions over the day can be very helpful. It’s hard for little brains to focus for very long, so more frequent but shorter practice sessions is a great way to deal with shorter attention spans.

Kayleen Hall, uses the marble jar idea. Here’s how she does it,

“We have a quart jar and she earns marbles. For example, bows games – one marble, review song 3 Times- one marble, new song drill spots- one marble, etc. Because I am trying to encourage morning practicing she earns double marbles when she practices in the morning. She also earns a marble for happy, focused practicing. She earns a reward when the jar is full. I also approach practicing with positive comments. Not, we have to practice but, I’m so excited I get to hear your piano songs and I have so much fun practicing with you.“

I think that changing up the language you use about practicing can be powerful. Positive comments about practicing (on the parents’ side), or even replacing words like “practice” with “play” can make a huge difference.

“We have to practice now.” vs. “We get to play piano together now.”

Even if it only helps our attitude about practicing with our children, that’s still huge!

Most parents say that eventually their children no longer require the reward systems.

Norene Smith says,

“We found that after a while, our children didn’t need the external motivators as much. We tried to show how much we admired their efforts and accomplishments. We tried to provide opportunities for reinforcement by having the children play for grandparents, extended family, and friends. Our children enjoyed the positive attention from everyone. Over time, they felt satisfaction in their accomplishment and that became the motivation.“

After a time, many children will come to understand the correlation between effective practicing and successful performance. While we want to rescue our children from potentially embarrassing or difficult experiences, sometimes natural consequences (like a poor performance) are the only way to make that connection in a young brain.

I loved this story that Suzuki parent and teacher, Holly Blackwelder Carpenter, shared,

“My children are 4 and 5, and about 4 months ago, I was cooking and they came into the kitchen, clearly with an agenda. The oldest was the spokeswoman:

‘Mommy, you know we really don’t LIKE to practice,’ she said.

I replied, “No, I don’t suppose you do, not many people do.”

She was surprised I agreed with her!

I asked her “do you like to perform? “

“YES!” she said.

“Then we’d better practice, hadn’t we?”

They agreed. So I guess I don’t really motivate, I expect, and I remind them that practice=mastery of the piece and the opportunity to share it with others.”

You don’t need to try all of these ideas. Just pick one, and make it your own. I think Julia Margaret Nichols said it best,

“I think the important thing for Suzuki parents to remember is that there is no right way to go about this – you have to be patient and try to make it fun, it helps a lot if you are not pressed for time. Also, every child is different, so what works for one child may not work at all for yours – you know your child best, and you can come up with a solution that will get you through each phase with them!”

To sum up, here are the bare bones of these parents’ suggestions:

- Consider the temperament and preferences of your child

- Try rewards like stickers, treats, or outings

- Change things up by switching practice partners

- Play favorite pieces every day

- Adjust your language so it is more positive (and be complimentary and positive during the practice session, in a genuine, honest way.)

- Practice multiple times a day, but in shorter durations.

- Keep instruments handy so they can be played if the child suddenly is in the mood

- Frequent performances for friends and family

By pianokeylessons, Sep 19 2017 07:17PM

How Pro Suzuki Parents Get Their Kids to Practice: Part II

This post is the second in a series of posts where I share the results of my research into how some parents actually make practicing happen. Part I was all about making practicing with your Suzuki student a part of your daily routine.

The most common suggestion was to make it a part of the daily routine, and the next was this:


The number of parents who said that this was the key to their success was astonishing to me. Why is practicing in the morning so effective? Here it is, in the words of the experts:

Lindsay Kemeny, says,

“We have started practicing first thing in the morning, and its amazing how much better it works for us! We used to do it in the afternoons, after school. But there were always so many distractions…after school activities, homework, tired from a long day, my other kids needing things, etc. It was so hard to be consistent! But practicing in the morning eliminates all that. I love it!”

I don’t know about you, but I hit a wall about 3pm. After a long day at school, those little brains need a rest…and they still have homework! Practicing first thing in the morning catches your Suzuki student when they are fresh, and you don’t have to worry about conflicts with after-school activities or play-dates.

My own Mom always had us practice in the morning. She says,

“As a parent it was easier for me to practice early in the day when both my child and I were fresh. If we didn’t get practicing done early, it felt like it was ‘hanging over my head’ all day. When we were finished, we both felt great knowing we had accomplished something.”

If you get it done early, it’s done, you can feel good about accomplishing something tough, and you can move on with your day!

Claire Allen, shared this tip,

“A friend of mine does “Piano Breakfast” with her daughter – they do 20-30 minutes of scales, exercises, and etudes before breakfast!”

While I don’t know if most kids (or myself) could handle practicing before breakfast, having some breakfast and then practicing while the rest of family eats might be just the way to start the day.

Holly Carpenter, a Suzuki teacher AND a Suzuki parent says this,

“It is hard to find time, especially when I’ve been teaching all day long. My goal is before school, but that is hard to do sometimes. I just make sure we do it and I have learned to know when I have to adapt the practice and choose 10 good minutes over 30 minutes of “junk” practice. Frankly, I don’t worry about motivation, there is a requirement in our house that we practice, even when we don’t want to, just like we always brush our teeth and everything else that has to be done in our home.”

Some days are crazy, and it doesn’t get done. That’s ok! As long as you are trying to be consistently consistent (which is totally different from perfectly perfect), your child is going to make progress. The more consistency you have, the less resistance you will have from your child.

While mornings seem to be the power hour for many Suzuki students and their parents, it’s not one size fits all! If you really can’t add practicing to your morning routine, don’t despair. Find a time that works for your family. Every child is different, and you know yours!

Emily Harkey says,

“We have four Suzuki kids. Two violinists, a cellist and a pianist. My 12 year old practices before school, my eight year old practices after school and the other two …well, we fit them in when possible…in between making dinner and homework in the evenings.”

Obviously, all four children can’t practice before school, that would be crazy. But they’ve found a way to make it work and to be consistent. If they know that practice time is coming, if you don’t just spring it on them, “We need to practice right…now!” You will probably have less of a fight.

By pianokeylessons, Sep 19 2017 07:04PM

To get the most out of the Suzuki Violin Method, check out what these parents are doing…

The Suzuki Piano Method requires a huge commitment from parents, students, and teachers. We teachers are always struggling to get our students to practice, and to teach them how to practice properly. Parents are always struggling to fit it in, to remove the obstacles, and to make it not such a fight with their kids. This hands on approach to practicing sometimes drives some parents away from the Suzuki Piano Method. Some parents are doing it though. They’re defying the odds, and making it work. I wondered how on earth they did it.

How do they get their kids to practice consistently and make progress?

I have been hesitant to suggest much about practicing to parents in my studio. Practice falls on the parents’ shoulders in the Suzuki Piano Method, it is a lot of work!

In my research for this blog post I heard from almost twenty parents who use the Suzuki Piano Method. I asked them for their top tips on motivating their kids to practice, and how they find time to help their kids to practice. Their answers all seemed to fall into pretty neatly organized categories. Even so, there was so much material, and so many amazing ideas, that I had to break it up. So it’s going to be a series! Part I of the “How Pro Suzuki Parents get their Kids to Practice” Series is all about routines. Almost every single parent talked about making music practice part of your family routine.

We all hear about the importance of routines. Everyone spouts how vital they are for productivity, focus, and happiness as adults. Every baby book talks in some way about getting your baby on a routine. Every toddler thrives on routines, and balks when they are changed, even if only slightly. It shouldn’t be surprising that one of the most effective ways to ensure music practice is to make it a part of your daily routine.

I want to share these ideas with you in their own words. It’s kind of a long post, so if you are short on time, just read the parts in bold!

Julia Margaret Nichols says, “I never really thought about it as “finding” time for practice – it was just always a part of our everyday routine. When my kids were younger, I always tried to choose a time that I knew would work for them (often after a meal or snack because I know my kids get cranky with no food!). As they grew older and our routines changed, we allowed the time to change, as needed.”

I thought that making sure that the kids were always fed beforehand was an especially good idea! It helps me to have a snack too.

Kadre Sneddon says, “Finding time is a constant challenge (5 young pianists), and so piano has been made a priority. My husband jokes that nothing else may happen, but the piano gets done! If I can’t practice with the kids, my husband does a “review concert” with them, which they enjoy. We practice every day except Sunday, and it just gets done, even if it is quick and a bit of review. They are happy with the routine.”

I think many of us have a tendency of thinking of things in all or nothing terms. It’s only worth doing if we can do a full hour, or get to every practice assignment. This isn’t true at all! (Nor is it helpful.) It is much more effective to be consistent than to practice everything on one day and then be too burnt out to get to the piano for the next few days. Practicing a little bit every day is much better than a two hours once a week. If you are limited on time, focusing on review is especially fantastic. The review pieces are where the progress is really happening, and it is so encouraging and fun to play pieces you already have polished. If you are pressed for time, practicing something that will be easily successful will bring a sense of accomplishment, rather than struggling for ten minutes on a new piece, only to finish feeling unfulfilled.

Norene Smith says, “The best way to find time to practice is to make it an everyday part of the routine. We get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, practice, etc. It is easier to be consistent if we make practicing part of a routine. Children do better with a familiar routine where they know what to expect.”

Angela Yantorno has a similar view, she says, “In our house it’s just what we do.. We practice, we read, we clean.. It’s a choice we have made and our kids are in the routine with it.” If it doesn’t happen every day, children will balk. Why does it have to happen today when we didn’t do it yesterday or the day before?

Alan Duncan, a Suzuki dad who has been practicing with his seven-year-old for four years says this, “In a way, I feel like you have to pay your dues up-front. By being 100% committed to do whatever it takes to make sure practice happens every day, you take a lot of flack early-on; but you have an easier time later once the habit is established. We also decided to make practice an every day affair. I know that some families have schedules that are too busy or chaotic to make that work—this is just our experience. There’s a point in early childhood where kids become very focused on fairness and doing things properly. If you set up a daily practice habit, then the idea of missing a day seems out of the question. They sense something wrong about it.”

Practicing is that million dollar question. As a parent, you struggle to make it happen. You have so much on your plate. As teachers, we struggle to know how we can help. We know life is crazy, but want to encourage our students and parents to keep trying. I hope that you come away from this post with a renewed energy and commitment to try to make practicing a priority and part of the daily routine. Even if it is only ten minutes, and mostly review, that’s great! It adds up.

By pianokeylessons, Aug 16 2017 06:36PM

Our piano concert dates for our upcoming school year has been set.

Winter Piano Recital

Sunday, December 17, 2017 at 2:30pm

Spring Piano Recital

Saturday, April 28, 2018 at 2:30pm

I look forward to all of the beautiful musical performances!