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How much should my child practice?

August 4, 2018 at 11:01 am

written by Victoria Warfield, Aug.4, 2012



How much should my child practice?  This is the big question – one of the first I get from the parents of new students.  The way you answer this question is so important.  You are laying the groundwork for that student’s independent learning experience for years to come.

Practice time is a real commitment that the whole family makes when someone decides to take piano lessons.  As a parent, you need to carefully consider what works for your style of family life.  Be consistent, create a schedule, and make your child a participant in that scheduling.  Also, consider how the family uses the room that holds the piano.  Sometimes moving the piano to a different room – or even a hallway – can make all the difference.

In the beginning, simply practice until you are done.

In the beginning, simply practice until you are done.  Because that may mean only 5 to 10 minutes of actual playing time, repeat that practice 2 or 3 times a day.  Most people think that right after school is the appropriate time but sometimes that is not the best option.  You can find unused time all through the day.  First thing in the morning as you are preparing breakfast, lunchtime if your child can come home, right before or after dinner, or even as part of your evening routine.

Most teachers will follow a method that gives work each week on as musical concept that includes theory, technique, and pieces.  Keep things together in a binder or portfolio.  This is the business of your child’s piano practice.  Make the taking out and putting away of their music part of the practice routine.

  • Make work copies of the written theory exercises so they can be repeated daily and keep them together.
  • Create a warm-up/technique library.  As your teacher gives you exercises for specific problems, keep them filed in a book. Choose a few daily to use as a warm up to each practice.
  • Memorize new musical terms and use them in your everyday conversations.

Make your brain engage in many different ways.

At the piano, each piece should be repeated at least 3 times at each practice.  Here is a good checklist that will increase that to at least 6 times and make your brain engage in many different ways as you practice.  In some ways, it is like going to the gym.  You have a routine to follow and a set number of “reps” on each apparatus to achieve.

  • Point and say the note names.
  • Play and say the note names.
  • Play and say the finger numbers.
  • Play and say the note values.  Later: Play and count the rhythm.
  • Play and sing the words.  Bonus: Make up your own additional lyrics or add lyrics to technique exercises.
  • Finally  – PERFORM.


Find a way for your child to keep track of the repeats.  Bring pencils, fun erasers, or even stuffies to the piano that can move from one side to the other of the keyboard.

Piano practice is a solitary endeavour.

Finally, be a companion to your child.  Piano practice is a solitary endeavour.  You don’t have to always be sitting there but listen, respond, remark, encourage, interact, praise, reward, so your child knows they are not alone and unheard.






The Whole Point is to Play! How to find the sheet music your kids will really love to play.

August 2, 2018 at 2:04 pm

written by Victoria Warfield, July 27, 2012

One of the strongest connections to music that children have is through the movies, videos, and games in their daily lives.  They dream of playing their favourite song on the piano some day.  That day can be today!  Most parents don’t realize that there is sheet music for any level of piano student across an expansive range of titles, styles, and genres.

Here is a guide – with examples – of the different editions you can buy for your child.  Ask them what their favourite songs are and go buy them!!  I have included links to “Selections from Disney’s Princess” to show how the same songs are available across the complete range of piano playing abilities.  These pieces may also be available as “singles” in sheet music and downloadable on your home computer to save you a trip to the store.  There are also “Best of…..” collections for music from a specific year or decade(1966, the ’80’s, 2011…), artist (The Eagles, Adele, Lady Gaga…), or even style (Broadway, Country, Cartoons….).  Online stores are a great resource to explore what is available out there.  I have added some links at the bottom to direct you to these stores and online sites.


This is the easiest level for popular piano music.  All five finger pieces have been arranged with the melody split between the hands. Starting hand positions are illustrated above the student part and key signatures are avoided. Shifts in hand position are noted for easy identification. Simple rhythms predominate, and dotted quarter-notes, triplets, and sixteenth-notes are not used.

Optional duet accompaniments are included for a fuller musical experience.

Students should be able to play these selections on their own or with very little teacher input after about 6 months of lessons or the completion of a Primer Method.

Selections from Disney’s Princess Collection Vol. 1 – The Music of Hope, Dreams and Happy Endings – Series: Five Finger Piano Songbook – Composer: Various – $7.95 (US) – HL 00310847 – ISBN: 9780634045110


Selections from Disney’s Princess Collection Vol. 2 – The Music of Hope, Dreams and Happy Endings – Series: Five Finger Piano Songbook – Composer: Various – $7.95 (US) – HL 00310848 – ISBN: 9780634045127



Big Note collections  are generally easier than the standard Easy Piano format. Rhythms are simplified, avoiding sixteenth-notes when possible, and helpful fingerings, phrasing, and pedal indications are added. Lyrics and chord symbols are included when appropriate. Keys with more than three sharps or flats are avoided.  As indicated, the size of the notes in the edition are larger as well to help with reading.

Students that have completed Level 3 of any method or Grade 1/2 Conservatory should be able to read and play this pieces with little support.

Disney’s Princess Collection Complete – Series: Big Note Songbook – Composer: Various – $14.95 (US) – HL 00316084 – ISBN: 9780634047886



Easy Piano arrangements of popular music correlate to the intermediate and late intermediate levels.  Lyrics and chord symbols are included when appropriate, along with fingerings, phrasing, and pedal indications. Keys with more than three sharps or flats are avoided.  The manuscript size is smaller and the rhythms are generalized.

Easy Piano, however, should not be considered easy.  These pieces will challenge a young student at the Grade 4/5 Conservatory level.  Students will need support and input but these pieces can be the most satisfying for playing “for your own enjoyment”.  They are melody-driven, easy to sing along with and generally impressive sounding when performed.

Disney’s Princess Collection, Volume 1 – Easy Piano – Series: Easy Piano Songbook – Composer: Various – $12.99 (US) – HL 00313057 – ISBN: 9780793567492


Disney’s Princess Collection, Volume 2 – Easy Piano – Series: Easy Piano Songbook – Composer: Various – $12.99 (US) – HL 00316034 – ISBN: 9780793597710



The most common sheet music editions are Piano/Voice/Guitar.  These editions are also the most frustrating for pianists.  The piano line is mostly the vocal accompaniment so the pianist needs to improvise to include the melody.  This is not a good choice for a performing piece.  As an advanced student, you should seek out the Piano Solo editions instead.  These are less available in all titles, unfortunately (even in this Disney example it is not available).  These editions allow the pianist to be the star.  The arrangements are melody-driven and make terrific performance choices.  Students that have achieved a Grade 8 Conservatory standard should be able to work through these pieces on their own.  They can also be used to enhance the traditional classical repertoire selections at their lessons.


Disney’s Princess Collection – Complete – Series: Piano/ Vocal/ Guitar Songbook – Composer: Various – $17.95 (US) – HL 00313184 – ISBN: 9780634033872



Here are some links to online music stores:

In the Vancouver area you can visit:

Tom Lee Music  

Long & McQuade

~check the websites for locations near you.








How to Buy a Piano

August 1, 2018 at 8:07 am

“The piano is able to communicate the subtlest universal truths

by means of wood, metal and vibrating air. “

A few years ago, Kenneth Miller wrote a piece for Esquire, straightforwardly titled “How to Buy a Piano,” in which he rhapsodized about the instrument’s unique power and beauty.   Some excerpts eventually made it onto, and from there they went viral.  Try Googling “Kenneth Miller” and “piano” now, and you’ll get thousands of hits.

The rub?… The quotes are often misattributed to a revered Brown University biologist with the same name.  That Kenneth Miller is a champion of evolutionary science and is one of this Kenneth Miller’s heroes.

This piece is beautifully written and also gives some great advice for you when you are ready to start the hunt for your perfect instrument.  If you’d like to read the original text,

click here

Kenneth Miller is a writer and editor based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in Time, Life, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Salon, Discover, Elle, More, Prevention, Ladies’ Home Journal, Reader’s Digest, Los Angeles Times Magazine, and many other publications. His beats include culture, crime, entertainment, science, religion and the environment.

3 Lessons I Learned About Music From Sports

July 31, 2018 at 3:24 pm

Written by Robin Yukiko – August 25th 2012 (abridged)

Before I begin, I’d like to preface this by saying that I am not athletic. I was the last to be picked in kickball and the only afterschool activity I did was chamber choir. That being said, there are a lot of things to be learned from sports that yield immediate results.

Activity: Volleyball.
Lesson: Go for it.

My Volleyball coach in high school made a good point. If the ball comes at you, hit it. If it’s far away, run to it and hit it. If you think you won’t make it because it’s too far, run anyway because you might hit it.   If you don’t run, guess what? You won’t hit it.
It only took a couple tries before I realized the truth of this. I started running for every ball that was even remotely near me and, lo and behold, I hit some!  Me, the non-athlete!
I discovered I could apply this to other areas in life, mainly music.  Sometimes this manifests itself in just showing up. Cold-calling.  Asking a question, like “Can I play here?” or “Can I put you on my mailing list?”   Like my dad, a professional pianist, always said, “You never know what can happen when you show up for work.”  In this business, going to a club could be part of your job. So go for it!

Activity: Cycling.
Lesson: Choose your course, choose your speed.

While I was teaching in Japan near Tokyo, I was temporarily sent to a small town on Shikouku where I was given a bike to get to my classes. I went from taking the train twice a day to not going near a station for two months. Every day I rode by a koi pond that paralleled the sidewalk. I purposely built my route around it. On Sunday I rode to the next town over just to see what was there. (The answer was nothing but regrets?….No.)   I didn’t spend a lick of gas to satisfy my curiosity, only my own energy.
I realized that the amount of beauty I see in my life is up to me, as is how long I want to spend on it. On that bike, I’m in complete control of where I’m going.  I rest when I need to, and if I get lost, I find my way back.
I feel the same way about busking. How long I play is up to me, how intensely, how personal… I decide where I put myself.  I sell CDs, I have an email signup list, and sometimes I just use it as practice time.  So choose a destination and just enjoy the ride.

Activity: Walking.
Lesson: Don’t wait for a bus that won’t come.

Have you ever been waiting for a bus for too long only to discover it was cancelled? Just start walking.
I have let so many projects stall out because I was waiting for someone who kept flaking out. Let’s be honest–we usually know who they are before they disappoint us. And to be even more brutally honest – it’s most people.
The lesson I truly learned by walking is that, in the music industry, you have to keep moving. Even slow progress is better than sitting still. As long as you’re headed in the right direction, you’re doing something right.  Keep playing, keep writing, keep networking……keep walking.

Bonus tip: If you see a bus along the way, flag that sucker down!


Mark Westcott speaks on fingering

July 13, 2012 at 12:40 am

written by Victoria Warfield, July 13, 2012



International renowned concert artist, acclaimed piano teacher, lecturer and most recently, author, Mark Westcott soared to world-wide recognition by winning five important international piano competitions by his twenty-third birthday, including the Bronze medal in the Van Cliburn and first prize in the William Kapell Competitions. Mr. Westcott’s teachers represent a varitable ‘who’s who’ in American music. They include John Perry, Frank Mannheimer, Cecile Genhart, Eugene List, and composer Samuel Barber.  Endowed with pyro-technical command and a huge dynamic range, Mr. Westcott’s unique artistry reveals an incomparable and poetic singing line, bountiful color, and an acclaimed mastery of the pedal. He has confounded the world’s most demanding critics and audiences with an almost perfect balance between keen musical intelligence and a profoundly emotional—even spiritual—communicative force.


Fingering is a tool for memory, security, speed in learning, and for final mastery. Select fingering carefully. Be consistent!

  1. Make fingering simple (uncomplicated).
  2. Use standard fingerings.
  3. Consider groups (clusters) of tones that can be placed in the hand.
  4. Finger not only for the moment but also for the convenience to come. Look ahead!
  5. Look for a pattern. Finger sequences with the same finger groupings.
  6. Finger with a tempo in mind. Check the speed away from the keys and see how the fingering feels in the fingers.
  7. Choose a fingering that fits and feels good. Then keep it.
  8. When you know the fingering don’t think of it. Never think of one finger. Think of a group.
  9. Arrange to play the strongest fingers on the accents.
  10. Finger to avoid breaks from one beat to the other.
  11. In wide leaps it is often wise to use a 3rd rather than a 5th finger.
  12. Finger chord successions to avoid breaks.
  13. In waltz-time avoid carrying the 5th finger back and forth from the single bass to the chord.
  14. For staccato passages, play legato first to select good fingering.
  15. For trills use opposite fingers as: 1&3, 2&4, 3&5, rather than next-door fingerings.
  16. For repeated notes use the same finger unless the tempo is very rapid. Changing fingering unnecessarily invites trouble. If finger is used as though picking up an object, one can repeat rapidly by remaining on key.
  17. For a “bite” in a mordant, finger 132, or 243.
  18. Always finger so as to lead to an accent.
  19. In double notes have the weight of the hand toward the thumb for proper balance of hand and position.
  20. In fingering any passage keep minute (small) rotary movements in mind, and also the direction of each note.
  21. In double note passages it is necessary to keep lagato in one part only. For instance, when 2 4 crosses over 1 3, release the 3 pivot over the thumb and rotate back toward the 5th finger. If one finger keeps the lagato, the double note passage will sound legato.
  22. See charts for scale and arpeggio fingerings.
  23. Keep fingers close to the keys at all times. Excess movements waste time, make speed and facility impossible, and tend to create tenseness.
  24. In rapid scales, do not try to play legato.   Speed binds tones together (as in a glissando). It is an artificial legato but sounds legato.
  25. Don’t play anything faster, in practice, than you can think of it.  In this way you gain finger control.
  26. Correct phrasing (breathing) depends on fingering. Look ahead, see the notes and where they go, and finger to get there.
  27. Alexander Libermann says, “Think of the fingertips. The fingertip is the first to go towards the key, into the key, and away from the key.  Our musical soul must begin in the tips of the fingers. Every touch in the piano playing is a finger touch. We must establish a ‘magnetic’ attraction between the key and our finger tips.  Our best control lies in not losing contact with the key.



July 12, 2012 at 10:11 pm

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