Piano Lessons Without Practice

Maxes at DPS


Week by week. Year after year. Students arrive at their piano lesson without practicing their assigned pieces.

Week by week. Year after year. Piano teachers try to find ways to entice students to practice.

Piano students are “let go” from piano studios because they do not practice.

Households are stressed because piano students do not practice.

Piano teachers are loosing students because parents are tired of weekly messages saying “Johnny needs to practice .”

On the other hand…

Playing sports is so much fun! Put on your t-shirt, join your team, play the game together, go home.

Next week? Repeat!

How many of these players will be drafted by a major league team? less than 2.9%.

How many will have a career in sports? Probably a few more.

How many will love the game for life and dabble in it when gathering with friends? I bet 99% of them will at least still enjoy the game.

What does this have to do with piano lessons?

Learning to play the piano has a tradition of discipline, repetition and loneliness. Students may love to come to their lesson every week, it may even be fun; but the daily practice at home… that’s another story.

Is there another way to learn to play the piano and love it?

Here is my vision.

Piano lessons are so much fun! Grab your music bag, join your team, play the piano, go home!

Next week? Repeat!

How many of these pianists will pursue the career of a concert pianist? Probably none.

How many will have a career in music? Maybe quite a few.

How many will love the game for life and dabble in it when gathering with friends?I bet 99% of them will at least still enjoy music the rest of their lives.

Do you see what I see? It’s a beautiful vision of my students  making music at the piano with others. For life.

Will you join me?

Music and the Brain


It has been said that music is healthy for the brain, happiness for the soul and pleasure to the heart.

Many of us have experienced how music affects our soul and heart but how does music affect the brain?

Does classical music really help encourage infant development?

How does musical training affect the brain and does music really improve the quality of life?

Wanting to understand exactly how music affected me, I did some research.

Have a good read and explore the effect of music on the brain!

Does classical music really help encourage infant development? 

I’m sure many of you have seen albums such as “Baroque for Babies” which encourage classical music exposure to infants. In 1998, a study was conducted to determine if music truly affected the mind of a young child. The belief of the time was that listening to classical music in the crib would improve skills in math and engineering. What came of this experiment is known as the ‘Mozart Effect’.  Music also relaxes your baby. Studies show that babies exposed to classical music relax, move less and sleep more comfortably at night.

How does musical training affect the brain? 

As corny as it sounds, musicians have bigger, better brains! This isn’t something made up, science proves it. Looking at a CT scan of a brain, musicians tend to have bigger, more connected brains. If you hadn’t noticed, musicians tend to have exceptional memory, auditory skills, and cognitive ability. Not all of us a professional level musicians but if you listen to music half as much as I do in a week, music is influencing your brain too! 

Does music really improve the quality of life?

Well music has been proven to improve your mood and reduce stress! Don’t believe me? Find a quiet country road, go out on a sunny day, roll down your windows and turn on your favorite song. I guarantee you’ll start smiling and your body will physically and mentally relax. Listening to upbeat music can give you energy and positive attitude. Music increases our dopamine levels (dopamine is our “happy” hormone!) and that’s why listening to your favorite song makes you so happy!

Music is a key factor in my life – I believe that I am a more loving and compassionate person because I have music in my life. Above all else, music is a sensation, it has the power to raise feelings you didn’t know you had before. Music makes you happier, healthier and enhances everything of the human experience.

You can read more about music and the brain here.

written by piano pedagogy student Lindsey Johnson, Southwestern Adventist University.

KiddyKeys for Special Needs

Isabel Pryce, at age 5

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy the KiddyKeys curriculum as a Pre-piano course for preschoolers. Little did I know that I would also be successful using it for my precious niece, Isabel, in private piano lessons. Isabel has Down Syndrome and this is her first semester fully integrated into a regular Kindergarten classroom.

I’ll be honest.  When her parents approached me about teaching her I scurried all over the Internet looking for what to do. Everything seemed so vague. Plus, even though the idea of coming up with a plan is exactly what I like to do, I knew I would probably be strapped for time.

I actually sat down with a piano method book and made a plan, found the appropriate CD’s and promised myself that I would follow up on the plan each week.  And then I looked up on the shelf and saw the KiddyKeys Star looking down on me!

I was so relieved!

Two days later we had our first lesson.  It was challenging.  Isabel (age 6) has a strong personality and she will tell you exactly what she wants.  Her favorite word at the time was “NO!”.

The first thing I did was show her  Isabels schedule so she would know what to expect next and especially when it would be time to go.  It gave me control over the activities and not have to spend a lot of time redirecting her.

There are 18 lesson plans per  KiddyKeys semester and I followed the order diligently so that we would have continuity, review and the introduction of new material each week. The goals I set for Isabel were to get to know the piano keyboard, follow directions, keep a steady beat and love music.

For the first 5 weeks Isabel showed absolutely no interest in singing, fingerplays, marches or piano.  She would not even look at me while I sang or introduced the new concept for the week. When it was time to move to the sofa and read our book, she looked away as I read. But instead of coaxing her to participate I just kept having a good time with rhythm and song.

And then everything changed. She started to join me in song, enjoying the finger plays, allowing me to help her with the worksheets, marching with the instruments and playing our games at the piano.

There is very little that I have modified for Isabel. Mainly, not covering all the songs listed on the lesson plan or skipping one of the games. She knows her numbers, colors and letters, so following the KiddyKeys plan was easy.

Isabel’s favorite thing to do at the piano is play “LOUD” sounds, she loves using the chips and keyboard cloth and even played the piano (loud, soft, high, low, short, long, black keys, white keys) at our monthly Nursing Home Recital.

The KiddyKeys curriculum was perfect because I only had to spend a few minutes gathering my materials and reviewing the plan and I did not have to worry about what to do next. This gave me the freedom to tailor the lesson to Isabel’s needs.

Isabel is a KiddyKeys star!

Piano Camp: Put on a Show!


Planning, preparing and executing a piano camp takes time but with careful planning it turns out to be a satisfying endeavor for the teacher and an exciting experience for the students!

Beginning in January, I polled the parents to find out the interest level and available dates. Shortly after I began browsing the many resources available. The model for piano camp has traditionally been group games, crafts, worksheets and rhythm play. I decided to follow a different path in order to challenge myself and inspire the students.  The two major changes I made, were:

  1. Piano Camp for a wide range of ages.
  2. Put on a Show!

Offering a piano camp for ages 5-11 seems like a disaster. However, by mixing the age groups and musicianship levels, I did not have to worry about having enough children enrolled in various groups.  My goal was to have 12 children participate in the piano camp. Why did I stop at age eleven? Two reasons. The 12-year-old students that I know would probably not have enrolled in the same class as the 5-year-old students, so I went ahead and offered a different camp for them.

Usually at the end of the week the students would go home with crafts and worksheets completed with a little verbal summary from me.  Sometimes each student would perform solos or we would prepare a piece to play as a group.  But I took a risk  and instead prepared them to perform an “operetta” . Students had to sing, dance, act out the story and make music together.  By the end of the week they had experienced music in a whole different way, worked as a group and shared their talents and skills with an audience.


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How does an operetta become a piano camp? Each day the twelve students shared six keyboards and learned different parts of the songs.  Students were of all different levels and it was great to see how they helped each and worked together.  However, during the performance only two students played the piano while the others had different parts to play on stage.


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Interested in doing this next summer? I ordered my operetta here.  Jack and the Beanstalk became “Jackie”, the Con Man became the Con Lady, the Giant was not tall at all – adaptations we made to fit our group and add to the fun.

Did you have a piano camp last summer? What new things did you do?

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Group Piano Q & A

group piano boys
Over the years parents have wonderered about group piano lessons. Here is a short FAQ page that may answer these questions.
1. When is the best age to enroll in group piano?
For preschoolers group piano is a magical and playful way to discover the world of music. Likewise, elementary school age beginners and even those who’ve had previous experience, benefit from the structure, friendship and growth that group piano offers!

2.  Do you finish the book in one semester?
 Each student in class works at his/her own pace in technique and application to the songs being learned. One book is normally completeted in one school year. 

3.  Aren’t private lessons better than group?
 If you’re child enjoys making memories with friends and meeting them in a safe friendly environment, group piano lessons are ideal. At the same time the group environment lends itself to the opportunity to include additional musical activities such as “piano band” and piano games.
Private piano lessons are recommended for those students who are willing to commit to 5 -10 hours of practice each week.

4.  How are the students grouped?
At Dorla’s Piano Studio preschoolers are grouped by age, then starting at age 8 students join a Mixed Age Class that most fits their needs. In the Mixed Age class each student works at his/her own keyboard to complete the assignments under the teacher’s guidance.

5.  What do you do if the pace of one student varies greatly from the rest? 
That’s the beauty of the Mixed Age class! Each student in class works at his/her own pace in technique and application to the songs being learned at his/her own level.

6.  Do parents watch, or are kids dropped off?
 Parents are always welcome to stay during class, however I ask that they do not interrupt, interact or talk while in the classroom.  Normally parents stayed outdoors and created their own social gathering.  
What are your concerns about group piano?