Technique

As bizarre as it sounds: doing light exercises/stretching and breathing before beginning a lesson can really loosen the mind, body and soul for focusing on the lesson.

Young piano students struggling with forming a good hand position respond well when I say "shape your hands like a turtle shell." I keep a toy turtle near the piano and bring it to the keyboard when a reminder is needed.
-Laura Hamm, NCTM, Vienna, West Virginia

Introduction to the pedal: in Jane Magrath's "Technical Skills 1," the pedal begins on the third page. If the student is having trouble, I have him or her place their right foot over my left foot to "feel" the pedal.
-Julia Mynett, Colorado Springs, Colorado

When trying to illustrate balance of the hands, we often refer to Valery Lloyd Watts's analogy: "Left Hand a feather, Right Hand lead," but my student couldn't relate to this. We decided to make an animal analogy. The student suggested Right Hand like a Cow. I asked," What shall the left hand be?" She replied, "Grass." She played her cow and grass happily and well. Sometimes we need our own special terminology!
-Joan Garver, Lakewood, Colorado

I start teaching 5-finger scales with new beginners right away using the Circle of 5ths, so that after several weeks they should know them all. Then, I have students transpose their songs as they learn them to all the different keys. This helps them become comfortable playing all over the keyboard. I teach the 5-finger scales visually, rather than by note name (except for the starting note), for example, all white, black in the middle, D scale feels like A scale and so on.

For the bare bones beginner-use a small ball that is soft to form a rounded hand. Ask the student to play a rhythmic pattern on the keys of the piano using the ball as a guide.

Legato playing is difficult in the beginning. Delay teaching legato so as not to create unnecessary tension until students are more comfortable with staccato and detached playing, and have more familiarity with the keyboard including playing up and down chromatically. Start legato approach with simple five-finger patterns after students feel somewhat comfortable with the staccato or detached approach
-Elizabeth Zawadowski, Pueblo, Colorado

To have students feel the weight of the arm into the piano or other instrument, have them drop one arm from a raised position in total free-fall to side or lap. Then have them drop the arm onto the keyboard (or with bow onto string in right hand for strings) to see how using arm weight and gravity can help play with less tension and bigger sound. Then teach students to use only the muscle needed for control.
-Kathy Dorbin, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Instead of introducing scales from a scale book, teach students the whole step/half step pattern of the major scale. Have them write out one scale each week, using whole notes according to the pattern. You can then talk about the fingering, and why a certain pattern is used for that scale. When all the scales have been written down and learned, discuss key signatures, how we came up with them based on the major scale pattern and how they relate.
-Kathy Dorbin, Colorado Springs, Colorado

Learning to use the sustain pedal can be difficult-and is just as difficult to teach. For every student, I stress that putting down the pedal is easy-it's knowing when to take it off! We practice letting go of the pedal, as much as learning to put it down.
For adults who have driven a car with a stick shift (standard transmission), we use the "pop the clutch" analogy. The note that is pushed down is the gas pedal. The student is instructed to let go of the clutch (pedal) when the gas is pushed down. If the clutch pedal is released too early, the student has "popped the clutch."
-Michelle Conda, Cincinnati, Ohio

Students often stop in the midst of playing when they have trouble with a fingering. The trouble is, they stop on the note they are having problems with. They need to stop before the problem note. I call this the "freeze"! Have the student stop and freeze on the beat before the problem, think clearly and carefully about what he or she is going to do and go on to that beat only when sure it is right. The student should practice the freeze/next note at least five times, until he or she can "melt" the freeze and not stop between the beats.
-Michelle Conda, Cincinnati, Ohio

For legato repeated notes, when the child lets the key all the way up stopping the sound, I talk about the difference between "patting" and "petting" a kitty or dog. Patting is an up down motion, but Petting is a stroking motion. By pretending they are petting a kitty, they quickly get the feeling of not letting the key all the way up. And the finger must not leave the key. We practice on our arms, legs and puppets before the keys. Then we have a game to see just how far up we need to raise the key before being able to depress it and make a sound. I tell them their pianos may be different than mine and they need to practice doing this at home.
- Submitted by Patricia C.

Helping little ones with legato: I have a bag of "invisible magic sticky dust" that helps little ones' fingers stay on the key until the next sound is heard. I even send home a little bag so that they may "apply" some to their fingers when they are practicing playing legato. Sound silly? You bet, but it works and the kids love it. Sometimes, when a small child's finger comes up to soon, I scrunch up my face and ask if we need a little sticky dust, and then search in my pocket and, lo and behold, I usually find some. Then, we rub it into the finger pads.
-Submitted by Patricia C.

Working on technique at the start of the lesson ensures it is covered every lesson.
 
Draw arrows above phrases to show shaping, the rise and fall.
-Submitted by Susie Swenson, NCTM, Barrington, Rhode Island

For intermediate students and beyond: (thanks to jazz pianist, Lois Vaughn) The "5-4 crawl" is for strengthening the weaker fingers. Using white keys only, go stepwise with left hand alone, descending from the center of the keyboard. Begin with 5, then pass 4 over the 5 "crawling" down the keys and working for even sound. Work with the right hand in the same manner, going up the keyboard.
-Submitted by Lynda Gulley, NCTM, Pawtucket, Rhode Island

When playing a piece requiring changes of position, have the student make the change very quickly, first without playing, then with playing. This helps to eliminate hesitations in performance and builds confidence. Make sure the student uses correct fingering to reinforce motor memory.
-Submitted by Susie Swenson, NCTM, Barrington, Rhode Island

Ask the student to sing the melody to find the beginning and ends of phrases whenever appropriate. The breaths shape the music.
-Submitted by Diana Smirnov, Johnston, Rhode Island

Start lessons with expressive scales and exercises.
-Submitted by Aurora Emdjian, North Providence, Rhode Island

For smooth scale playing, have the student move the thumbs under immediately after playing…then the thumbs are ready, in position. This also helps when playing scales in a fast tempi.
-Submitted by Susie Swenson, NCTM, Barrington, Rhode Island

When discussing arm/hand/finger technique, have the student rest his or her hand/fingers over your hand/fingers to feel the up-lift curved fingers and relaxation of the movements.

Forte doesn't mean that every note is loud; piano doesn't mean that every note is soft.