Piano Lessons by Nancy Frase
Discovering your unique path to musical achievement
The most defining characteristic of my teaching style is the extent to which I customize each student's course of study. I recognize that each student has his or her own unique way of learning and his or her own weaknesses and strengths. I also understand that there are often schedule and financial constraints that must be considered. When taking all of that into consideration, it becomes obvious that flexibility is key in creating a situation that fosters music education for each and every student.
I am committed to discovering an effective path to musical achievement for each student by using the student's existing strengths and resources to overcome challenges and to emphasize what can be accomplished.
The earliest age at which I'm willing to start teaching a child is about age six or seven -- but it depends on the child. Because my studio is not equipped to handle the perpetual high-energy motion of younger children, a student really needs to be able to sit at the keyboard and pay attention for 30 minutes at a time. There are some things I can do on the days a normally studious student is extra wiggly (like explain rhythm by walking or clapping or swinging the arms). However, I am not set up for running and jumping.
I tend to start at a younger age with children who have special needs because the timing of the intervention can hugely impact brain development, which greatly affects quality of life down the road. Traditional options are often not a good fit for these younger children -- I find great satisfaction in providing a solution for that gap. And, my work with these children is usually done at their home where the environment is better suited for their needs.
For parents of children under age six, I offer a single-lesson option where I spend an hour or two with the parents to educate them on some basic musical concepts. In turn, the parents can pass along that education over a longer period of time in everyday situations (for example, brushing teeth to a four-beat rhythm). Then, a number of months down the road, the parents can return for another single lesson to learn additional information. Even if the parents have no musical ability and even if the only keyboard in the home is a toy, this option can still be valuable.
Also, there are other music educators in the area who offer programs specifically geared for the younger age group -- they are better equipped to handle the perpetual high-energy motion of younger children. (More info: Helpful Links)
For younger children (ages 6-8), I expect the parents to be heavily involved in the lesson and in the practice sessions. During the lessons, the parent sits at the keyboard with the student, taking notes and sometimes actually playing along with the student. Essentially, there will be two students -- the parent and the child. During practice sessions, the parent needs to be at the keyboard, actively assisting the student with learning the material.
For children who are a bit older (ages 9-11), I expect the parents to remain in the waiting area (or even in the music area) and to actively listen to the lesson. The parent should listen in on the practice sessions and offer guidance at times.
For children age 12 and above, the parent and the student can jointly determine what level of parental involvement is best.
Traditionally, about half of my students have been / are adults. Adults come with a wealth of life experience that makes for very interesting lessons. They also have opinions about what they do want to learn and what they don't want to learn . . . and how they want to learn it. Since adults can understand the consequences of their choices, I am very willing to follow the adult student's wishes. I will offer suggestions and options, and I will explain the consequences of not studying certain aspects of music, but the adult student gets the final word on what is to be covered in the lessons. And, I solicit feedback on what teaching/learning methods are or are not working for them so we can adjust accordingly.
For example, one adult student with dyslexia told me that he didn't want to learn how to read music. He had taken piano and guitar lessons throughout his life, but he gave up lessons because every single teacher insisted he learn to read music. The result? He was a frustrated, "wanna-be" musician. When we sat down for our first lesson, he told me he wanted to learn to play by ear. So, I played a few notes of music for him and he mimicked me -- and, that is how he learned to play his favorite pieces. He understands the consequences of not reading music -- he is okay with it, so I'm okay with it.
Sometimes, people ask me if they are "too old" to take piano lessons. Here is my answer: If you are able to sit upright and pay attention for a period of time, and at least one of your hands is more or less functional, you are still "young enough" to learn how to play the piano. I've worked with students who are dealing with arthritis, improperly healed finger fractures, partial paralysis, limited sight, limited hearing, short term memory loss -- all of that just gives us more excuses to laugh at ourselves in the process. Keep in mind that my eldest student is 85 years young . . . she sets the bar rather high for everyone else.
And, the joy is in the process of learning, not in the "arriving" -- there is no particular level of proficiency that we have to achieve before your lessons are considered a success. You officially become a "pianist" on day one.
Students with learning challenges
Some of my students are autistic, some have visual and auditory challenges, some have a loss of dexterity and motor skills and some have short term memory loss. Whenever I am working with a student with a special challenge, I take extra steps to educate myself about the challenge and about potential solutions. And, I have highly qualified colleagues within the world of education, special education and music education who are willing to help me find solutions.
Let me give an example of how I cater to the strengths and challenges of students . . . one autistic six-year-old really struggles with sorting out visual input. However, he has "perfect pitch", which means he can listen to a pitch with his eyes closed and identify from which specific key on the keyboard it is coming. So, when I was teaching him the names of the individual notes, I had him sit in a chair with his eyes closed while I played each key on the keyboard and told him its name.
Traditionally, students learn to identify individual keys on the keyboard visually, by relative location. But, he was not able to distinguish the location of individual keys by sight -- the visual input was too overwhelming and confusing. So, he learned it by auditory means. And, now, when he wants to find a particular note on the keyboard, he hums the pitch and then pokes around on the keyboard until he matches that pitch.
When I want to teach him about a combination of pitches, I'll have him crawl under the piano (they have a grand piano at their house) where the sound surrounds him -- and I'll play the combination and describe it to him verbally. That is far more effective than showing it to him on the keyboard, which involves visual and tactile input.
Sometimes, I'll join him on the floor -- with the top half of my body underneath the piano, I can still reach one hand up to the keyboard to play the notes we are studying. That works well because he can wiggle and roll around while he is listening, and I'm still able to keep his attention on what we are doing.
The first time I crawled under the piano with him, it was because he invited me to join him. As soon as I crawled under there, he made and held eye contact with me for several seconds, and grinned as if show appreciation for a shared experience. Up until that point, I was not aware of how magical it could be to have my entire body encased in the vibrating echoes of a single chord. That was a day that I maybe learned more about life than he learned about music -- a day that he was a teacher and I was a student.
I find working with people with special needs very rewarding -- their victories are just a bit sweeter for me. It doesn't matter to me at what speed we move forward, or even if we move forward during one lesson just to return to the same starting place the next lesson. I find joy and healing in the act of teaching, and I trust there is healing and growth for the student in the act of learning.
I prefer the Faber course of study for children and the Alfred or Faber courses of study for adults. However, if a transfer student is already using another course, I am happy to continue using that course.
In my studio, I keep a small supply of the books I commonly use in my teaching. Students are welcome to purchase these books from me for the same price as I paid. In other words, the transaction would be a true reimbursement rather than a profit-bearing retail sale. My cost is usually less than retail because I receive a teacher's discount and I don't have to pay for shipping. (More info: Helpful Links)
For beginner students, I usually recommend one of these three books:
Also, I have been given a huge library of very old sheet music, including beginner-level material as well as advanced. Some of it is around 100 years old -- some of it has handwritten notes and names of previous owners on it. My students can select music from this library -- and, they get to keep the music. This is a great way to develop an appreciation for history.
Lessons are private (one-on-one) and usually focus on:
By having a well-rounded education, a pianist can be technically accurate when it is necessary (like when playing with an orchestra) and can be creatively artistic when he or she is inspired to craft an original piece of music.
Depending upon the learning style of the student, I may focus on only one of those components for a lesson or two until there is a "breakthrough" in understanding, or I may touch on more than one within a single lesson to "keep things moving".
The digital piano in my studio has 6-track recording capability with a computer interface. This functionality can be used to enhance the performing and composing experiences. (And, getting to play around with the really cool special effects on the piano can be a reward for working hard on the basics!)
I hold two student recitals each year, one around Memorial Day and one around Thanksgiving. These recitals are held at Bethel Lutheran Church here in Windsor and adult students are welcome to participate in the recitals. (More info: News & Events)
Getting signed up and getting started
Before we make any agreements, I would like to meet with you and your child (if applicable) for a no charge, no obligation initial consultation. The consultation usually lasts about 30 minutes and is best held at the location the lessons will occur. This will help both parties determine if this partnership can be successful before we make any commitments. If we do decide to move forward, we can figure out the details like lesson day/time, duration and frequency during this consultation.
Before the first lesson, you will need to purchase the course books. You may purchase them directly from a music retailer or I can provide the books to you in exchange for an exact-amount reimbursement of my retail cost.
For students who are not beginners, you may want to pick up some supplemental music of your choice -- either sheet music or a book of pieces that interest you. I would suggest getting some music that would be fairly easy for you to play -- we can add extra harmony to those pieces by implementing your music theory knowledge. Then, I would suggest getting some music that will stretch your skills -- you can work towards playing those pieces accurately, as written -- they could become "show pieces" that you play for public performances.
In preparation for your first lesson, you will need to acquire a three-ring binder (1" is a good size) with about 20-30 pages of lined notebook paper in it. The binder will need a pocket of some sort for smaller items. I will use the binder to write notes about practice assignments (or, if you are a parent of a younger student, it can be where you write notes). I will often provide supplemental print-outs that will need to go into that binder.
For older students (age 9 and older, including adults), you will need at least 10 pages of blank staff paper. You can purchase a package of staff paper from any music store, but the store-bought paper can be very expensive because of its higher quality. The higher quality is not important within the context of lessons; cheaper options work just as well. For example, you could purchase one pack of store-bought paper (or I can give you one sheet from my supply) and you can make photocopies as you need them. Another option is to download this document, which is a single page of blank staff paper, and print copies on your computer as you need them.
With beginner students, at some point within the first three to six months, it would be a good investment to purchase musical flashcards. The cards will include all the various notes on the staff, key musical symbols, note patterns, rhythmic patterns, etc. Pretty much any publisher will have a good selection of material in their flashcards at the beginner level.
Because the studio is not child-proofed, please do not bring younger siblings with you to the studio unless they are old enough to sit quietly and entertain themselves, or unless they are infants who will remain in a carrier seat.
Please turn your cell phone off during the lesson. If you must have it on for emergency purposes, please turn it to the "vibrate" setting and answer it only for true emergencies. Text messaging is fine unless you are the parent of a younger student and you are supposed to be fully involved in the lesson -- in that case, I expect your attention to be fully on the lesson.
Every week or so, I send out emails to my students. These emails contain information on news and upcoming events as well as your upcoming scheduled lessons and your payment status.