Julia's Advice


Piano or keyboard?


RCM information


How much to practice?

Recommended books

Piano lessons and children's IQ


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Piano or keyboard

There is a big difference between an acoustic piano and an electronic keyboard. Although in the view of many parents a keyboard has a lot of advantages (it is cheaper, much easier to move, has some “fun” functions, does not need to be tuned, etc.), it is not beneficial for students’ musical development at all, if not harmful.

I often hear such comments from the parents of beginners, “We don’t want to buy a piano because we don’t know how long his interest will last.” Or, “Let’s start with a keyboard. Anyway, in the beginning you will be teaching her basic skills and how to hold her hands. A keyboard is quite fine for that.” In these cases, I want to respond, “Don’t kill your child’s interest in music by making him practice on the keyboard.”

A keyboard is a very poor substitution for a piano. The main part of a piano, its “soul”, is strings – not keys! This part is missing in keyboards and digital pianos. When I teach beginners (and not only them), we explore millions of ways of touching a key in terms of getting sound “from the strings”, the best sound that expresses our emotions and reflects composer’s intentions. The whole process of working with the apparatus (fingers, hands, arms, and the whole body) is connected to the search for that subtle thread that leads from what we feel to what we express at the piano. This cannot be found in any keyboard or digital piano, no matter how “touch-sensitive” and advanced it is.

When I ask students to touch a key like they would touch a cloud to produce a “fluffy” sound, or to feel their fingertips firm and steady like they are made of steel to get bright and “sparkly” sound, or to fill their arms with all the heaviness of the earth and then let it go into the keys to reach the very depth of the sound, what would they hear at the piano? A plenty of different colourful worlds! The worlds that they will soon create and enjoy by themselves. What would they hear at the keyboard? Nothing changing! Why should they concentrate on their feelings and work on all those apparatus skills if the sound of the keyboard does not depend on them?

It is also true that students who practice on a keyboard have a worse technique than their counterparts who are lucky to have a piano. Their fingers are weaker and less developed. It is a well-known fact that students with keyboards are much more likely to drop lessons after a short time.
A student who has learned a piano can play a keyboard easily. However, it is hard to play the piano after a keyboard. It is never late to start learning functions of a keyboard. On the contrary, if you miss some basic understanding and skills in working with piano sound, it is very difficult to catch up.

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How much should my child to practice

It is very different and depends a lot on the unique individuality of a particular child. A simple answer “as much as she can sit at the piano (or as much as you, as a parent, are able to hold her there)” does not always work. I want to put here two quotes of great musicians and teachers of the past.
“For a student who is learning piano only for fun, it would be quite enough to practice two hours every day plus four to six lessons with a teacher (every week). For the one who sees the piano as the main business in his life three-four hours every day would be hardly enough not counting one-hour lesson every day.” (G. Turk)
“In the beginning you [a teacher] would better not allow students to practice without your supervision. Children are so absent-minded to be able to concentrate on improving the necessary skills of their hands. For example, I lock the instrument before leaving, so they cannot spoil instantly what I taught them so thoroughly during three quarters of an hour.” (F. Couperen)
It was the eighteenth century. Our life is different. However, there are things that still can be taken into account from those great masters’ advises.
First, children need a structure that is place, time, length, and regularity. Even a four years old child can sit 5-10 minutes at the piano without any pressure. As she grows, the length of everyday practice can be gradually increased. The most important thing is that time at the piano becomes habitual and part of everyday life.
Another thing is the teacher’s supervision. We are not so lucky to have a teacher for four to six hours every week, but if we do decide to involve our children in music making, we have to plan to have a lesson at least one hour a week on a regular basis.

I often do not insist on a lot of home practicing at the beginning of learning. I need students to understand how to practice. It can take from one month to a half of year depending on the age of a student. Still, I want all my students, even the youngest ones, to be at the piano every day, and let some certain amount of time be “reserved” for piano practice.
Students who are doing Grade 1 level of RCM should be able to practice not less than 20 minutes every day. For Grade 3 it should be 40-45 minutes, for Grade 7 – at least one hour and a half. Again, everything is very individual, but those are minimums for successful learning.

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Music Instruction Aids Verbal Memory

Washington -- Those dreaded piano lessons pay off in unexpected ways: According to a new study, children with music training had significantly better verbal memory than their counterparts without such training. Plus, the longer the training, the better the verbal memory. These findings underscore how, when experience changes a specific brain region, other skills that region supports may also benefit –- a kind of cognitive side effect that could help people recovering from brain injury as well as healthy children. The research appears in the July issue of Neuropsychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association. Psychologists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong studied 90 boys between age six and 15. Half had musical training as members of their school's string orchestra program, plus lessons in playing classical music on Western instruments, for one to five years. The other 45 participants were schoolmates with no musical training. The researchers, led by Agnes S. Chan, Ph.D., gave the children verbal memory tests, to see how many words they recalled from a list, and a comparable visual memory test for images.

Students with musical training recalled significantly more words than the untrained students, and they generally learned more words with each subsequent trial of three. After 30-minute delays, the trained boys also retained more words than the control group. There were no such differences for visual memory. What's more, verbal learning performance rose in proportion to the duration of musical training.

Thus, the authors say, even fewer than six years of musical training can boost verbal memory. More training, they add, may be even better because of a "greater extent of cortical reorganization in the left temporal region." In other words, the more that music training stimulates the left brain, the better that side can handle other assigned functions, such as verbal learning. It's like cross training for the brain, comparable perhaps to how runners find that stronger legs help them play tennis better – even though they began wanting only to run. Similarly, says Chan, "Students with better verbal memory probably will find it easier to learn in school."

Chan, along with Yim-Chi Ho, M.Phil., and Mei-Chun Cheung, Ph.D., followed up a year later with the 45 orchestra students. Thirty-three boys were still in the program; nine had dropped out fewer than three months after the first study. The authors now compared a third group of 17 children who had started music training after the initial assessment. This beginner's group initially had shown significantly lower verbal-learning ability than the more musically experienced boys. However, one year later, these newer students again showed significant improvement in verbal learning.

On the other hand, unlike the music students who stuck it out, the dropouts showed no further improvement. However, although the beginners and the continued-training groups tended to improve significantly, there was one consolation for the dropouts: At least they didn't backtrack. After a year, they didn't lose the verbal memory advantage they had gained prior to stopping lessons.

Article: "Music Training Improves Verbal but Not Visual Memory: Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Explorations in Children," Yim-Chi Ho, M.Phil.; Mei-Chun Cheung, Ph.D.; and Agnes S. Chan, Ph.D.; The Chinese University of Hong Kong; Neuropsychology, Vol. 17, No. 3.

This story has been adapted from a news release issued by American Psychological Association.


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RCM information

RCM examinations are held three times a year: practical sessions - January, June, and August; theory sessions - December, May, and August. The following chart shows which theory co-requisites are required in order to recieve a sertificate or diploma for a practical examination.

Practical Certificates and Diplomas
Theory Co-requisites
Introductory none
Grade 1 none
Grade 2 none
Grade 3 none
Grade 4 none
Grade 5 Preliminary Rudiments
Grade 6 Grade 1 Rudiments
Grade 7 Grade 2 Rudiments
Grade 8 Grade 2 Rudiments
Introductory Harmony (optional)
Grade 9 Grade 2 Rudiments
Grade 3 Harmony (or Grade 3 Keyboard Harmony)
Grade 3 History
Grade 10 Grade 2 Rudiments
Grade 3 History
Grade 4 History
Grade 4 Harmohy (or Grade 4 Keyboard Harmony)
ARCT Grade 4 Counterpoint
Grade 5 Harmony and Counterpoint (or Grade 5 Keyboard Harmony)
Grade 5 History
Grade 5 Analysis

Academic information

Students who pass the RCM examinations both in theory and in piano successfully get the secondary school credits recognized by most Universities in North America.

Music Instrument RCM Examinations Level Receive Credit for...

Any music instrument that is examined, including voice, but does not include speech arts.
Grade 7 Practical + Grade 1 Rudiments Grade 11 Credit
Grade 8 Practical + Grade 2 Rudiments Grade 12 Credit

More information can be found at RCM website http://www.rcmexaminations.org

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Interesting books for teachers, parents, and students

1. Mildred, P. Chace. Just Being at the Piano.

2. Margaret Grant. Your Child and the Piano.

3. Thomas Mark. What Every Pianist Needs to Know about the Body.

4. Carole L. Bigler and Valery Lloyd-Watts. Studying Suzuki Piano: More than Music.

5. Shinichi Suzuki. Nurtured by Love.

6. Andrew Watts. Passion for the Piano.

7. David Weiss. Sacred and Profane: a Novel of Life and Times of Mozart.

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