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!

Music. Experience it. Live it. Make it.


This is what Dorla’s Piano Studio is all about.  Music.

Sometimes we get bogged down by recital deadlines, practice requirements and performances, but when it comes down to the last line in the score, it’s all about the music.

Experience it.  Of the many ways available to experience music, participating in a group is at the top of the list.  This is one of the many reasons DPS offers group lessons for beginners. It’s fun.  Children play music games, they sing together, they make music together, play for each other and learn from each other.

Live it.  When you wake up in the morning singing “Mouse, Mousie in the Housie”, “There’s a Worm At The Bottom Of My Garden” “Wake Up Pointer Panda” or any of your songs from music class, you know that you are living the music! It might me annoying at times to have a song stuck in your head, but that is exactly what needs to happen in order for you to play it on your instrument.

Make it.  Each and every lesson should be about making and creating beautiful sounds. Even if you are playing only one note at a time – you should make them the best.  No banging! Instead, tell a story with drama and flair.  So what if you can only play Hot Cross Buns! Play it in a way that is unique. Improvise, change the ending, change the key.  Whatever you do…make MUSIC.

You have to read this book! (or not…)

music library

Actually…this is a short list of the books that I have read this summer.  I can’t say that I read every single word…but the chapters I read were really good, extremely helpful in planning for the new semester even if it was just for me to realize that I wasted my money on buying the book…

  • The Savvy Musician – I’ve owned this book for a year or two.  It is full of information that I don’t necessarily need but chapter #7 made me realize I need more gigs. Gigs? really, Dorla?  Well, in my world that translates to saying yes to church performances.  Most of them are volunteer- however I had underestimated the positive reaction of the families enrolled in my Studio each time they actually hear me perform.
  • Teaching Piano in Groups – Kindle version. I am listing it because I actually read more than 3 chapters.  But it is geared toward college professors – not dynamic independent studios who need to be at the cutting edge of piano teaching.  It reads like a textbook. Well…it is definitely a textbook!
  • Piano Lessons: A memoir – Kindle version. Such a good book to read by the pool. You can hear the piano teacher’s voice as she rants and raves – but there is also drama. Real drama that even included a few words about my school TCU! A great read about the life of a pianist.
  • How I Made $100,00 My First Year As A Piano Teacher – I am sure I have mentioned Kristin Yost before.  Her book is VERY easy to read – and that is a good thing.  She gets to the point and makes you think hard about how you will set up your first studio or how you are running your 20 year old studio.  Kristin’s book made me re-think recitals (p. 14), her idea of hiring musicians for a “Keyboard Jam” was just that. An idea.  But a few weeks after reading her book I was privileged to attend her “Keyboard Jam” and loved it!  It made me take the final step in deciding to change my studio recitals.  We now play at the local Nursing Home once a month and  I am working on a few other musical opportunities!
  • Steal Like An Artist – Thanks to Leila I now have a new favorite book! The author of this little book says: “Be Boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.) This is one of those books that you read over and over  again. Simply awesome.
  • Studio Makeover: Technology “Addition” – eBook. Can you believe Leila also recommended this one? She is a treasure trove! Anyway…a decade or more ago I had a computer lab in my studio for the students to work on music theory, composition, ear training, etc. I don’t remember if there was a specific reason for closing it down, but I just could not keep up any longer. Nowadays it is a piece of cake – provided your computer is not a dinosaur…this ebook took me step by step and showed me what to do and how to do it with today’s technology. I did not even purchase any new software – everything is online – just the way I like it.  Next year I might invest in new software, however it was exciting to be able to have this technology addition without a big expense.
  • The Dynamic Studio – Kindle version. When you read any of Johnston’s books it feels like your body is being pumped with adrenaline. His voice is so fast paced! I wonder if he speaks as fast as I read him! Granted, I did not read every single word. I can always come back and research or review.  His ideas are always good.  Some a little extreme. But it validated the changes I have made in my studio.  If you are stuck in a rut – strive for a dynamic studio!
  • Piano Hands Should Not Flip Burgers – eBook. Another fast paced book – but full of gems! There are many things that I have wanted to add to my student’s lessons but was not really sure how to go about it.  Composition, improvisation, games, things I would do once in a while without a good plan.  Well, Dow & Dow (the authors) put it on paper for me and I had my aha! moment. A favorite to re-read.

So…what have you been reading?