Why Do We Explore in Piano Lessons?

Why do we explore in piano lessons?

One of the things that makes Must Love Music unique is that we use every moment in lesson as an opportunity to explore. But, why do we explore in piano lessons?

Some people think lessons are about learning to read notes on a page.

And, that is part of it. But, it only covers a small portion of what lessons are really about.

How We Learn

There is a fabulous book by Benedict Carey called “How We Learn” that covers the research into learning from the last 60 years. While a book on learning research may sound incredibly boring, I assure you this one is not.

The biggest thing we can take away from this research is that having students sit at the piano learning one song after another is not the best option. Especially if students are left to figure out what the commonalities are between the pieces on their own.

I still remember a summer psychology class I took in university (which at this point is nearly 20 years ago). Why do I remember one particular class out of all the other classes the teacher taught?

She started class by telling us how much fun it had been to drive the winding road from her home to the university. The sun on her face, wind in her hair, & trees lining both sides of the road. Considering I had experienced the same thing while on the bus (no wind in my hair sadly), I absolutely could relate to her enthusiasm.

Then, my professor told us we were going to learn the parts of the brain. It was if a record came to a screeching halt. To say we were not looking forward to this “snorefest” was a bit of an understatement.

At least right up until our teacher dimmed the lights & showed us Pinkie & the Brain singing about the different parts of the brain.

I am quite sure most of us ended up using that video to study for our midterm! Not a single person forgot the brain stem. Not only was it catchy & fun to sing along with, but it was also something to bounce along with in our seats.

Think back to what you remember the most. Chances are it engaged multiple senses. Whether it was touch, smell, sight, sound or the emotions, they create a vibrant, multi-sensory memory.

In piano lessons, we work to create strong connections between what has been learnt & what is new.

And the best way to keep that from becoming a “snorefest”, is through exploration. Especially when that exploration is student-centered!

P.S. To read a synopsis of “How We Learn” with specific comparisons between learning research & piano lessons, click here.

Explore at the Piano

The biggest composers in classical music all have one thing in common, regardless of which era they lived.

They all explored & pushed the boundaries of what could be done on their instrument or available notation (how we write out music).

Almost all of those composers also taught to supplement their income. And, guess what they taught their students?

To question musical conventions & create their own interpretation of the written music.

Having students explore at the piano, both in lesson & during the week, is integral to students creating their own voice.

“But, my child is just playing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star! You can not be telling me that there are different versions of this simple little piece.”


In fact the original is a French folk song called “Ah vous dirai-je, maman“.

But, did you know that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (yes, that Mozart) decided to put his own voice to this incredibly simple song. And, I think we can all agree that he certainly succeeded in making it his own interpretation in these 12 variations of “Ah vous dirai-je maman”.

Notice how Mozart moved from just playing in the middle range of the piano, but also moved quite low for his left hand in some variations. Meanwhile the right hand explored as well in different ranges to create different moods.

If Mozart had not explored the full potential of what this piece could become chances are we in the western world may have never been introduced to this common childhood song!

Another famous pianist, Franz Liszt has had a lasting impact on music as well. He is the reason pianos are turned so the audience can see the pianist playing & why festivals/exams typically expect students to memorize music. Liszt was an incredible performer & showman that people flocked to see.

What you may not known is Liszt is also famous for saying he would perform a piece however he felt the audience would respond best to it. Regardless of what the composer had written or the musical norms from when the piece was written.

Liszt was all about putting his own voice & expression into every single piece he played. In order to do this, Liszt would have spent hours, if not days or weeks, exploring all the options available to him in order to figure out the absolute best way to play each piece for a concert.

Exploring Away from the Piano

We know that we all learn a little differently from one another. And, piano lessons are no different.

What makes off-the-bench activities so useful in piano lessons is they allow us to explore how different gestures & concepts feel in our bodies.

Piano playing is based on both the physical & artistry.

In order to play in a healthy manner, pianist use their whole bodies to create the exact sounds they want. Otherwise, our poor fingers overwork themselves & we run the risk of serious injuries over time.

For example, most music nowadays is written in a 4/4 time signature. It has a marching feel (left, right, left, right) & we naturally feel the correct emphasis since it is so common.

But, 3/4 time signature has a circular feel that is often best explored off the bench. Students need to feel how the body responds differently to this time signature to play it correctly at the piano.

Otherwise, you run the risk of putting the emPHASis on the wrong syLLABle. It just sounds wrong to the ear.

There are so many ways in which isolating a particular group of muscles helps students play piano.

A few examples are:

  • Tone production: the quality of the sound
  • Dynamics: the louder the notes, the more the arm & back muscles are used
  • Articulation: the physical way we change how to play the keys
  • Phrases: musical sentences vs. the Shatner school of acting approach

Exploration Each Lesson

In piano lessons, we want to “boldly go where no man (or woman) has gone before”. Or, at the very least where our student has gone musically.

Having students explore away from the piano is integral to learning what makes good music & what is just sounds.

It is integral to giving students a voice, rather than copying what others have done before them.

And, exploring at the piano is what keeps students excited to learn & making music for the long term.

For 5 ideas that can be used each & every day, click below.

5 Ways to Become More Musical


Why Piano Teachers Keep Learning

Did you know that many piano teachers pursue different types of professional development each year? It could be their piano lessons that specialize on a specific style of music, online workshops throughout the year or multi-day conferences.

Part of a being a master teacher is understanding this, “We never really stop learning.”

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How to Create a Piano Practice Routine (and Still Get Everything Done)

How to Create a Piano Practice Routine (And Still Get Everything Done)

Learning an instrument is unique in that much of the practice takes places in between lessons. But, some parents wonder how to go about creating a piano practice routine and still get everything done.

Why You Need a Routine

As a parent, it can feel overwhelming trying to keep your family organized. Appointments, homework, extra-curricular activities and the list goes on.

You and your child are excited about the start of piano lessons. But, then you find out that practice is expected in between lessons.

In sports and dance it is common for a child to go to class multiple times a week (especially as the child moves up in level) where teaching and practice are all rolled into one.

What IS the difference between music lessons, sports & dance?

However, this is not typically the case when your child is learning an instrument. Lessons are 30 – 60 minutes long once a week with the teacher.

One of the first things that must happen when starting piano lessons is creating a piano practice routine. This is the only way consistent, marked progress will be made.

The Easy Way or the Hard Way

I’ve learnt the hard way with my own children that not making the time to set up a routine takes the joy out of many activities. Why?

It is a normal part of a child’s development to question everything and is not a sign that an activity needs to be discontinued.

Of course my children would rather play video games than spend time reading a novel. Even though this is an activity that they enjoy and could spend hours doing once they start.

The easy way tends to be easy in the moment. Not in the long run.

When you choose not to set up a regular practice routine with your child, you are teaching your child to ask “Why?” every time they are expected to go to the piano to practice.

And, that is no fun for anyone.

But when you set up a regular practice routine, I promise it is worth it in the long run.

5 Steps to a Piano Practice Routine

We need balance. Especially with the sheer number of activities that clamor for attention.

Below is an exercise I did with all my students when I was an academic strategist at a college. It is also an activity that I do with my pre-teen and teen piano students when the week starts becoming overwhelming.

  1. Write out a basic weekly schedule.
    • If your family schedule changes drastically from week to week, be sure to do this activity weekly as a family meeting.
  2. Look at the spaces in between school, work, extra-curricular activities, appointments, etc.
  3. Write in time for your child to wind down after school and before bed.
  4. Write in when your child will practice piano. Divide this time into 2 daily sessions if there are days when practice time is very short.
    • Make use of time in the car to practice rhythms or listening to versions of pieces your child is learning. Yes! This counts as practice as well.
  5. Give your child a 5-10 minute heads up before piano practice.
    • This lets your child finish what they are doing and prepare to switch their focus.

The easiest way to find these pockets of time is to link it to something your child already is doing. For example, right before brushing teeth or after having an after-school snack.

Creating a piano practice routine is all about making a new habit.

Bonus Strategy

At first, your child will probably ask quite a few questions about why it is piano practice time.

Remember this is completely normal.

Just keep directing your child back to the routine and giving a “heads up” that piano practice time is coming up.

One of my “secret” strategies is to set the stopwatch on my cell. Letting my children know they have 5 minutes before we are moving onto something else has worked wonders. Especially when I let them hear the alert on the phone. This worked with our twins even as young as 2 years old.

No longer are you arbitrarily making your child switch activities (at least in your child’s mind). The 5-minute heads up has ended and it is time for the piano practice routine.

Supporting Your Child

You are amazing. (As parents, we don’t always get to hear that.) I know that you have a lot of roles and responsibilities. The fact that you are reading this article shows you want to best support your child as they learn piano.

While learning piano (or any instrument) does mean you will be setting up and guiding the practice routine during the week, it is well worth it.

Before you know it, you will be listening to your child happily create music and exploring the piano. Even if he or she did ask why it was practice time initially.

To help support you further, below are 5 ways you can support your child during their piano practice routine this week!

How to Support Your Child During Practice

5 Tips to Get Ready for Piano Lessons in the New Year!

5 Tips to Get Ready For a New Year of Piano Lessons

The kids have been out of school for a few weeks. And, extra curricular activities probably went on hiatus as well. So, how do you get your child ready for a new year of piano lessons?

The result of a break in playing

Anytime we take a break from something, there will be some regression.

This is not to make anyone feel guilty. We all need breaks at times.

But, that does mean that your child will feel a little (or a lot) hesitant about playing pieces “at level” those first lessons back. Especially if they did not play piano at all over the break.

5 tips for piano parent

To help your child feel excited and ready to go back to lessons, follow these 5 tips!

  • Ask them to play some of their all-time favourite pieces.
  • Do a countdown until lessons begin!
  • Talk about what your child is really proud of accomplishing or doing before the holidays.
  • Follow up by asking what your child is really excited about or hoping to do in the lessons coming up.
  • Listen to lots of music together. What did you like? What did you think should have been changed?

When you ask your child to play their all-time favourite pieces, you are doing two things.

  • Keeping a set of pieces ready for performance.
  • Your child is “practicing” without realizing it. And, the important review needed happens with a smile on his or her face.

Much like helping our children learn to read, keep the review experience as positive as possible.

Play music in your home

Growing up, the radio was always playing in our home. And, if it was not the radio it was a record/tape/CD. I loved having this music playing in the background. And, it also helped me when I was ready to practice since I could emulate the “Greats” in whichever genre I had been listening to.

One of the most important things you can do as a piano parent is surround your child with great music.

Ms. Rosemarie

When your child consistently hears and interacts with music, they develop a sense of what sounds good and what they like to listen to. It also gives your child an auditory vocabulary (or lexicon) that will inspire their own playing!

The fun consequences

In our home, this exposure to a wide variety of music has led to some fun consequences.

Our twins will often sing different lyrics to songs. “I am having cer-eal. Yes! I’m going to have cereal. For my break-fast. This morning!” All sung to the tune of “We’re Not Gonna Take It (Anymore)” by Twisted Sister.

Or, we have impromptu dance parties which can start for the strangest reasons. One of the boys will do something that reminds him of a song, like “Fly Like an Eagle” by the Steve Miller Band and this ends up to a full out dance party by the time we get to “Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. (Though the Marvin Gaye version holds a special place in my heart.)

Plus, it just is not a true road trip until we have changed the chorus of “Sweet Home Alabama” to “sweet home Alberta”. Bonus points if we are driving past the border at the time.

These are the memories that our twins will remember when they get older. Not the chores or doing homework. Even though all those things need to get done as well.

Music brings families together and creates a special space unique to them.

What musical memories are you making with your child this week?

Ms. Rosemarie

First days back at lessons

At Must Love Music, students are asked at various points during the year (including after a break in lessons) for a personal musical goal they have. It could be a particular song to learn, mastering a set number of songs, or improve in a particular skill set.

While your child’s teacher will probably spend a short portion of time discussing this with your child, a little time at home really helps.

“What is ONE thing you like to accomplish in piano lessons?”

“Umm. I’m not sure?”

Your child’s teacher and you are on the same side. You both want your child to have the best possible piano lesson experience possible!

Encouraging students to take ownership of their learning through personal goal setting is part of this process.

When your child really talks up a particular song, ask them if it is something they are hoping to learn at some point in piano lessons. If the answer is yes, contact your child’s teacher to let him or her know. Perhaps they have music or can begin teaching it to your child at the next lesson!

Getting Ready For a New Year of Piano Lessons

A little preparation both at and away from the piano can make a world of difference in how your child sees going back to piano lessons.

Keep it fun and light. Let your child know their opinion is valued.

And just like Christmas, perhaps an excited countdown to first day of piano lessons.

If you would like to learn more about being a piano parent, click below.

Learn about the role of piano parents

Merry Christmas to You and Yours!

May your home be filled with music, laughter and love this holiday season.

From Must Love Music, we wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas!

What Piano Parents Need to Know About Group Lessons

What Piano Parents Need to Know about Group Lessons

Oftentimes, we think of piano lessons as one student at the piano with a teacher sitting next to them. However, today’s teachers have realized that group lessons meet unique needs for their students.

At Must Love Music, we offer programming based on the needs of each child. But, all student programming has group lessons built in throughout the year. This ensure that each student gets one-on-one time while also spending time and building relationship with other students within the studio.

It also means that our students our eager to see what activities group lesson weeks hold!

What are Group Lessons?

Some studios offer weekly group lessons while others hold group lessons at set points throughout the year.

The other thing that may confuse some piano parents is that there are multiple terms to describe the same thing.

  • Group lesson
  • Master class
  • Piano party

However group lessons, by any name, have a few things in common.

  • Multiple students gather together at a common time and place.
  • Focus on a particular set of skills or concepts.

Common times for studios to hold group lesson weeks are:

  • Halloween
  • Christmas
  • End of year

Typically, these group lesson weeks mix seasonal activities with the current studio focus.

At Halloween, perhaps students may explore pulse & rhythm with whole body activities to burn off the pre-candy energy.

At Christmas, students typically perform music they have prepared to play over the holidays. But, they will also participate in activities that tie together musical terms or ideas from the previous months.

Weather willing, Must Love Music students spend their last group lesson outdoors doing music theory in fun ways. (But, keep that our secret please.) Rather than fighting their natural desire to be outside, we move group lesson!

Why Have Group Lessons?

If your child regularly has private weekly lessons, the idea of changing the schedule may seem strange. But, I promise there are very good reasons why piano teachers have opted to include these activities.

Piano can be a lonely activity.

While other instruments are portable, pianos are more stationary.

Imagine trying to carry your acoustic piano to a friend’s house. Perhaps you have a great case that zips up to protect it from the weather. Maybe little wheels to make it easier to transport.

I think we will both agree that scenario is highly unlikely. Especially if you have ever seen adults attempting to move a full sized piano into a home.

Moving away from this tongue-in-cheek imagining, think about where the piano is placed in your home.

Is it tucked away in a corner or even worse in the basement?

When your child plays are they alone? Or, is a member of the family close by to encourage and occasionally sing along?

When I was much younger, I remember an instant where someone in my family decided the radio was going to be turned on while I was practicing. Except the radio made it hard for me to hear what I was playing. What resulted was a hilarious (in hindsight) game of who could be louder. Me on the piano or the stereo speakers.

Another time, I was playing “The Rose” which happened to be one of my dad’s favourite songs. What I remember was finding out how much it meant to him every time I played that song. And while it was not my favourite song at the time (life experience has made the lyrics much more poignant), both did I play it a lot when he was around. Consequently, “The Rose” became a song that I mastered very well.

Yes, your child needs to do the practice. But, this does not mean they need to feel alone.

Being with other students helps students:

  • See how far they have come.
  • Get inspired by where they can go.
  • Realize that the ups and downs of piano are ones other students have experienced as well.
Learn about the role of piano parents

Chance to Focus on Specific Concepts

As piano teachers, we do our best to give your child a diverse and interesting learning experience each lesson.

And while this does create an environment of exploration and fun, it does mean that some concepts are a little more difficult to cover.

Group lessons give students the opportunity to delve into topics that we may only get to superficially in lesson.

Music history happens to be one of these topics. Understanding what makes each musical era unique helps students create their own interpretation of their repertoire. Making time to go into these details during lesson or assigning this during the week is more difficult to implement.

Group lessons give students the opportunity to explore music history in a new way.

For example, one year we “Traveled Through Time” in our studio. At the December group lesson we all learnt the basic steps for the minuet because we had focused on the Baroque era.

Not only was it fun to try something new as a studio, but individual lessons make group activities like this either difficult or impossible.

Change in Routine

Why do we love holidays so much? Because they are a break in the routine.

As a former classroom teacher, I can tell you that there are certain times of the year when our students resemble swarming ants more than focused children. In fact, I would venture to guess that you see many of the same behaviours at home.

While routine is important and creates a foundation for learning, shaking up the routine is just as important.

Group lessons can ensure that deep learning happens at a time when your child is just ready to be done.

Rather than fighting the natural desire to take a break from the routine, changing the location and timing can bring a whole new energy to lessons!

Professional Development

On a side note, piano teachers often will take time for professional development throughout the year.

Whether this is conferences or workshops or pursuing higher education certification, a teacher that is continually learning is a teacher that has an amazing toolbox to help your child learn!

Rather than cancel lessons completely in order to attend training, teachers can use group lessons as a win-win situation.

The teacher continues to learn. Your child still has a piano lesson albeit in a different form.

What to Expect

Each teacher will handle group lessons a little differently, so be sure to ask your child’s teacher.


There are two options that teachers use to set up group lesson days & times. Neither is better or worse. They just reflect the goals or comfort level of your child’s teacher.

The schedule may be set up by the teacher. You will receive an email telling you which group lesson your child is expected to attend.

At Must Love Music, piano parents get a registration link in the monthly newsletter. This link shows a couple options of days/times for group lessons. Piano parents that register quickly get the spots that work best for their family. Piano parents who wait take the spots that are left.

The second option gives more flexibility to the family, but more planning to the teacher. A teacher must be very comfortable having students of all ages at the same time to successfully use this scheduling option.

Day of the Group Lesson

Each group lesson will have a specific drop-off time and pick-up time.

Think about the expectations when your child attends a birthday party at a rented facility (for example, laser tag). There are certain social norms that apply in both situations.

You are expected to drop off your child on time. Arriving 15 minutes early is not acceptable, unless you are supervising your child in your vehicle. This is because your child’s teacher is prepping for the group lesson.

You are expected to pick up your child on time. Children will often worry if their parent is late for pick-up. It also means that your child’s teacher is unable to shift to other prior commitments because they are still caring for your child.

Your child’s teacher will tell you and your child what they are required to bring to group lesson.

This can include your child’s:

  • Binder
  • Practice pouch (with pencil & eraser)
  • Points card
  • Music that will be performed

If you are not sure what your child needs to bring to group lesson, ask your child’s teacher. They want your child to have a successful group lesson as well!

What Happens During Group Lesson

Again the activities within group lesson will vary from teacher to teacher. And, to a certain extent from group lesson to group lesson.

Intro Activity

Often there is an intro activity. This is something that allows students to settle into group lesson and transition from whichever activity they may have add before arriving.

This intro activity could be a worksheet or invitation to warm-up at the piano before performances begin.

The Main Event

Typically, piano teachers switch activities often within the group lesson.

This ensures a few things:

  • Students do not have a chance to get bored.
  • Group lesson seems to “fly by” with students wondering why it is already over.
  • Students can explore concepts in several different ways to facilitate deeper learning.

Activities can range from:

  • Playing the piano (individually or as a group)
  • Worksheets
  • Listening activities
  • Whole body movement
  • Games
  • Videos with discussion

The goal is for your child to have fun while learning. Or as I jokingly say, “Trick them into learning.”

Closing Activity

Your teacher may or may not have a closing activity.

At Must Love Music, students get a healthy snack while music that matches the group lesson theme plays in the background. We may talk about the music or activities within the group lesson lesson. Or, students may visit with one another.

Either way, students have created closer relationships with other students in the studio and started the transition for their next activity.

Helping Your Child Prepare For Group Lesson

Most teachers give information to their clients before group lesson. They may talk with the student beforehand to answer any questions.

But, some children can be nervous going into a new situation. And as parents, we want to know how to help our child.

Click below to access your FREE copy of “5 Ways to Prepare Your Child for Group Lessons”.

Am I ready for my child to take piano lessons?

Am I Ready For My Child To Take Piano Lessons?

A lot of articles focus on whether a young child is ready for piano lessons.  But, did you know that it isn’t just the child that needs to be ready for the lessons?

As parents, we are busy.  Between work, managing kids homework & extra-curricular activities for the kids & ourselves, it can be a surprise when it comes to piano lessons.

“What do you mean I have to be involved?  Don’t they go to lessons & you take care of the rest?”

When your children are very young, your involvement is what helps make lessons a success.

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Becoming a Piano Parent!

Congratulations! You Have Joined the Piano Parents Club!

Congratulations!  You have joined the ranks of piano parents!  You may not be standing on the sidelines yelling, but you play just as much of a role in how successful your child will be in lesson.

What do piano parents do?

Being a piano parent is a pretty awesome role!

You are the parent that:

  • Cheers when your child completes a song or has a breakthrough.
  • Helps your child learn time management through a practice routine.
  • Supports your child as he (or she) learns how to verbally and musically express ideas, emotions, stories, etc.
  • Guides your child through navigating the practice page.
  • Encourages your child to ask questions when he or she is unsure.
  • Steps in as the ‘student’ when your child needs to talk something out.
  • Lets your child know how proud you are of them.

Notice that some of this happens during lesson.  But, most of it happens during the week.

In between lessons

Piano parents play a huge role in success between lessons.  Because your child’s teacher is not involved in what happens in between lessons, that responsibility falls to you and your child.  The younger your child, the more that responsibility falls to you, as the parent.

What IS the difference between music lessons, sports & dance?

Why do they forget?

My children are growing up fast, but there are still many thing they need to be reminded of.  “Did you brush your teeth?” “Did you pack your lunch?” 

Even if my children have been doing something on their own for years, there are times they forget. 

And, anything new needs continual reminders by us, as parents, to ensure our children follow through on their responsibilities.  Even though there are moments we would just like to take a break from ‘adulting’. 

The short explanation for these memory lapses is that our children’s bodies and minds are going through so much growth, it can be hard to remember it all.

Thankfully the older our children get, the more responsibility we can give them.  But, that does not change the fact that they still need encouragement, a listening ear, and the occasional reminder.  After all, we all forget sometimes.

A Team Effort

Piano lessons are not just a relationship between student & teacher. It is a team effort between student, teacher & parent.

Piano parents play such a large part of this team effort because you:

  • Have lots of experience helping your child through different stages of life
  • Control, to a much great extent than anyone else, the weekly schedule
  • Are the adult who supports your child during the week (the piano teacher does not have this option)
  • Can be the ‘go-between’ when there is a miscommunication between your child & their teacher.
  • Know your child better than anyone else

Perhaps you do not consider yourself a musical person. “I have never played piano. How am I supposed to support my child?”

Neither of my parents learnt how to play a musical instrument. And, yet they had a daughter who was determined to learn how to play piano.

Supporting my piano learning became more natural for them over time. But, there was a learning curve that they went through.

While my parents were not able to help me read the music, what I remember the most about their support was:

  • Praise & comments on my hard work
  • Ensuring the piano was regularly tuned so I had a great instrument to play on
  • Making it possible for me to share my piano playing with others

They even one summer enrolled me in a weekly long immersive organ course. Turns out that I was not interested in pursuing organ afterward. But, I did have a much great understanding of keyboard instruments afterwards that had a positive impact on my piano playing.

Much like becoming a parent for the first time, piano parents go through the same highs & lows as they figure out how this “piano practice thing” works.

To learn how to support your child during week, click below!

How to Support Your Chld During Practice