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Kids Playing the Piano
Tips for Teaching Piano Lessons to Four and Five Year Old Students
Many teachers unfamiliar with teaching piano lessons to children under six have asked me questions over the years since that is something I am very familiar with, so here is an article with a few tips to help. These tips and techniques were developed over years of teaching private lessons to four and five year old students, and although they are not by any means the last word on the subject, overall I would consider them good advice.

I most often worked with the Alfred All-in-One series for younger beginners for the “book portion” of the lessons, and usually found it to provide an effective foundation for reading. I have found that lots of repetition and explanation with the occasional redirection, and a well written lesson plan for both parents and students to follow is usually the key to optimize working with any student under age six.

The following is a basic outline (not necessarily exactly in this order, but in general it seems to work well). You will have to go back and revisit many of these things often during the lesson to make sure they sink in. Some of them may take a long time for some of the youngest students, perhaps weeks or even months, and that's ok. Just keep going over it at each lesson.

  1. find the groups of two and 3 black keys
  2. find the group of two black keys in the middle
  3. distinguish the right hand from left hand
  4. find middle C
  5. find middle C scale position with right hand
  6. 5 note C scale with right hand (slowly)
  7. hear the difference between high and low notes
  8. 5 note C scale with Right hand 3x in a row
  9. attempt C chord (open 5th at first, then when ready make a "spider" with your hand for the full chord. This may take a while--keep trying at every lesson.)
  10. learn all finger numbers with Right and Left Hand--(you can use the page in the book to illustrate this) and quiz by holding up or pointing to--"which is your RH 2nd finger", etc.
  11. 5 note C scale with Left hand (C below middle C - 3x in a row when ready)
  12. 5 note C chord with Left hand
  13. play some music for listening (you can do this at any time to get attention, and then go back to one of the previous things you were working on) - teach fast/slow, loud/soft (not TOO loud of course--just enough to make the point), hi/low, happy/sad (major/minor)
  14. start working in book, very slowly, and review often
  15. add other scales (5 notes slowly, both hands separately) and chords (both hand seperately)
  16. once they get past C, G, D, A scales, you can try both hands together on C (this could take a long time)
  17. after first few songs become easy in the book, start rhythm exercises with metronome (If they can't do it at first, let it go & come back and try it again at the next lesson. Some will get close immediately, some NEVER will. The goal is just to improve whatever their natural ability is.)
  18. try to add metronome with scales (not too fast, around 60BPM is good)
  19. eventually the goal is to know all 5 note scales and triad chords (may take years for some)

In general as lessons progress, I usually start the lesson plan with 5 note scales or partial scales to both strengthen fingers and provide piano theory (with a metronome once the student has the ability), then chord studies (all 3 voice Major, minor, for older students eventually progressing on to 4 voice, etc), then studies in the lesson book (again using metronome whenever possible), and then ear training (if there's time and if the student has done the other homework). Of course every teacher has his or her own methods, and I am very appreciative of that. I hope this information helps.

Photo Credit: Don DeBold

A Banjo
Banjo Lessons and Instructors
Banjos, while not as popular as the guitar, have a great deal of character and can be a tool for creating awesome music. Like any other instrument, the banjo can be learned, but it takes time and resources, whether you learn banjo with a teacher or not. If you’re serious about learning, then take some of the advice below.

When assessing your goals in your search for an instructor, it is important to understand the difference between the two types of the instrument – the four string and the five string banjo. The four string is used in traditional barbershop and folk styles and played with the right hand often holding a pick and strumming chords, similar in technique to the ukulele.

The five string banjo is the type used for bluegrass where the strings are picked with the right hand rapidly one at a time in a pattern. This is the style of Appalachian bluegrass music made famous in the movie “Deliverance.” Famous bluegrass five string pickers include Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley, and more recently Bela Fleck. If you are interested in learning bluegrass, you will need to find a teacher for the 5-string. If you like the old time sound of strumming, it will require the 4-string, so you should make that determination before you purchase an instrument.

For this instrument, banjo lessons at a school can be a viable option, and is certainly one of the most popular. Going to a location where resources and teachers for learning the banjo are available is a great option for many, because it means a commitment and often positive reinforcement provided by fellow students. The price to learn banjo with a teacher and a class is often reasonable, and these lessons can help you make realistic and steady progress.

But if group settings or inflexible class times are something you’d rather avoid, then perhaps you should look into another option like a private tutor. The cost to learn banjo with a teacher may be big, but will give you personalized feedback and instruction tailor-made for you. They can also work out flexible classes and design their schedule around your preferences.

Sometimes, though, you just can’t afford to learn banjo with a teacher, and that’s when a cheaper option is required. In a situation like that, one of the best options is to purchase a course, whether it is of books, video, or audio. A commercially available course that you can do at home means you need to have more discipline to put yourself through the course than if you were to learn banjo with a teacher, but means even more flexibility than a private tutor.

And don’t forget to make use of free online resources to learn banjo with a teacher. You can find great videos on YouTube and other popular video sites, where experts and amateurs alike post their tips and techniques completely for free. It’s a great way to learn banjo with a teacher, although a virtual one, for no cost at all. You can also go to blogs and banjo site forums for free advice and learning methods. Free resources are great whether you have a course or not, because they supplement your learning and give you real advice from real banjo players.

Photo Credit: T.J. Lentz

Duel Pianos
Getting Dueling Piano Lessons
The piano is a wonderful and time-honored instrument that millions have found enjoyment in. Dueling pianos is a type of piano show in which two or more people play pianos on stage. They take turns playing songs and singing, and there are sometimes comedy bits and other routines thrown in as well. Audience requests are usually taken and performed. Shows like this are pretty challenging, so it can be helpful to take some dueling piano lessons before you will be able to really shine.

Taking lessons as a normal pianist is the first step. You can find a local piano tutor in your area through the classifieds section of newspapers, local ad agencies, and classifieds web sites. Getting a teacher recommended to you by someone you trust for dueling piano lessons is preferable, but this won't always be possible.

If you have trouble finding a teacher, there are plenty of online resources available to help you out. Find PianoLessons.com and PianoTeachers.com can both help you find local dueling piano lessons. These sites contain large databases of piano tutors from all around the United States. You will be able to see what they look like, read some information about the teacher, and contact them if necessary before you make your choice.

Once you know how to play the piano, you will need to learn how to duel. You should know that dueling piano lessons will be more complicated and very different than ordinary lessons. For one thing, you will need to learn how to sing and play simultaneously. In dueling piano shows, the players come with pieces prepared but many of the songs come from audience suggestions and requests. The audience members will sometimes include cash in their requests, meaning that you should definitely know how to play as many requests as possible. Suggestions that don't include a tip don't often get played: thus the difference between a "request" and a "suggestion".

Since people will be requesting songs for you to play, you will need to learn how to be spontaneous and play anything you need to. You won't be able to rehearse all of your pieces beforehand and then play them one by one. If you don't have a large song repertoire, you won't last long as a dueling pianist. Dueling piano lessons will teach you how to keep a crowd engaged and lively throughout your show. You will need to be entertaining, good humored, and funny.

Most of the songs you will need to learn will be rock and roll, country, R&B, and classic rock. Your dueling piano lessons should include songs like 'Great Balls of Fire', 'Piano Man', 'Brown Eyed Girl', and 'Sweet Caroline.' The more songs you know, the better.

It will be a good idea to know your audience and do some preparation beforehand. For example, if you know that there will be college students at the show, you will need to learn some university anthems. Students will often compete to get their anthems played by giving bigger and bigger tips, so keep that in mind.

Sure you might be able to learn by yourself, but getting dueling piano lessons will help you in many ways. An experienced teacher can save you a lot of time and frustration by pointing out the biggest things you are doing wrong, and giving you tips on how to engage the audience. Remember that learning an instrument takes a lot of time and dedication, but there is nothing stopping you.

Photo Credit: Gordon Tarpley

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