Summer break – without a piano practice holiday! Karen Marshall

Karen Marshall author photoThe thing about music which is quite different to most other learning is that it takes constant ‘bit by bit’ attention. Cramming doesn’t work quite the same as it does for a history test! This year the summer holidays for many education authorities last for seven weeks and, as many music teachers will find parents reluctant to bring little Sally or Sammy throughout the holidays, tactics need to be employed to help prevent a September meltdown when your pupil cannot even remember where middle C is.

Here are ten Get Set! teaching tactics to make holidays practice heaven, compiled by myself and co-author of Get Set! Piano, Heather Hammond.

1) Be positive

Don’t give the student the idea of taking a holiday from piano. Stress the golden opportunity of no homework, no school bus to catch and no tiring days at school, meaning this is a time to showcase the piano, make lots of progress and ‘wow’ their teacher on return. It is best to not give any suggestions that this may not be the case.

2) Concert

Preparing a concert for Granny, cousins or friends down the road is a great idea. Children can get sick of iPads, computers, TVs and social media during the holidays and want some social connection due to not being with school friends. Friends can be impressed by even the simplest of tunes and it can be a novelty for musical novices to hear a best pal perform. They could also do duets with brothers, sisters and friends. As a teacher, try to set up these partnerships before the holiday begins.

Visit Get Set! free resources and check out some for use with your students. Pachelbel Goes Pop, Pop Goes the Weasel, Scarborough Fair, some new jazz material including Move It, Groove It and What You Gonna Do, or even a Brahms lullaby.

3) Provide a timetable of dates for a mid-holiday lesson

Many parents like the option of having a lesson or two during the holidays but may book up their diaries quickly with holiday clubs and all kinds of things to keep their children entertained. Provide a list of available dates for parents to book in the odd lesson. The extra income can be useful and you maintain contact with your student.

4) Arrange a piano party

One EPTA branch has just re-named their pupil concert to ‘concert party’ and have seen an increase in numbers. Put the word party next to something and the word fun can immediately come to mind. This could include performances to one another, theory quizzes (name that time signature from YouTube), using the four chords from Axis for Awesome (clean version) and playing by ear or improvising over the top (chords: C, G, Am, F). Or try the ‘Heart and Soul’ chord sequence which drives every piano teacher potty – C, Am, F, G.

5) Provide some ‘love it’ easy pieces to learn

All Get Set pieces were approved by our pupil panel, a group of children from 6 to 13 years who try out all our stuff and honestly tell us what they think. No piece scoring less than 8/10 got included in the book. Pull together all the favourite pieces of your students (past and present) – and use the things that will be quick to learn or so attractive that the student will take the time to learn it. Good old faithfuls include Fur Elise for Grade 3 plus, an easy version of The Entertainer (there’s one at the back of Get Set! 2), and most children love Let it Go from Frozen. The parents might not love it but most will tolerate it if their child is practising. Jazz and current pop can go down really well in the holidays.

6) Set the YouTube challenge – playing by ear

Can your student find any piece on YouTube and play it by ear? Get Set! 2 includes Hey Mr Miller where the children can listen to a Sing Up version of the song and play the last part by ear (In the Mood by Glen Miller). There are lots of videos on YouTube where students can see a piece performed on the keyboard and simply try to copy. From Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles to Someone Like You by Adele, there’s lots out there.

7) A piano project

There can be so many possibilities here. Some good ones can be found in Paul Harris’s Practice Diary (published by Faber with the Musician’s Union: £1 for members, £1.80 non-members). Can they find out how the piano works; compose a piece of music inspired by their pet, holiday location or favourite piano piece; investigate a composer whose music they are playing; make their own ‘record’ by recording a programme of pieces on a digital device? They could even design a sleeve for their CD.

8) Send a motivational e-mail to the parent for the student

Sometimes just a note saying ‘hope you are having a great holiday and that you are looking forward to hearing their piano playing in September ‘ can get rid of the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality and may encourage the child to have a play again.

9) The scale challenge

They are not always the most popular, but lots of different things can be done with scales. How many different ways can your pupils come up with to play them? Examples would be with different rhythms, different dynamics, in a variety of moods e.g. sad, menacing or joking. Some children can see colours when hearing music in different keys (synesthesia). What colours would they use to describe the different scales? The cycle of 5ths can be a really good framework for practising scales – pupils can colour in all the scales that they have learnt on a chart.

Circle of fifths
10) Teaching practice Facebook group for students to communicate with each other

You can set up a teaching practice Facebook group for students to be part of your piano community. They can input comments, videos and tag favourite piano books. This really is an excellent way to motivate them when they see what others are doing.

Golden Rule – Accept with kindness whatever a student manages to achieve or not achieve over the holidays. A good relationship is the foundation for continued success in learning. We should do all we can to make our students feel valued, happy and proud of their achievements. This comes with the benefit of experience. As younger teachers we both expected too much of our students at times. It is important to protect their self-esteem and help them feel valued and appreciated within their music lessons. At the end of day it is a privilege that they are our students and we get to work with them on their
journey of music education.


9781408179468 Get Set! Piano Tutor book 2 cover

Get Set! Piano is an exciting course packed with familiar classics and engaging new pieces in contemporary styles. The tried and tested progression is carefully paced to build confidence from the start.

Karen Marshall is a classroom, private and peripatetic music teacher in York. She has trained teachers across the UK on teaching students with Special Educational Needs.

Heather Hammond is an experienced primary school teacher and practising piano teacher with a thriving practice in York. She is also an educational music author and has written many books for young piano and woodwind players with pieces included in many examination syllabuses.

For piano and music teaching advice follow them on Twitter @getsetpiano

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