piano studio

Summer Slide for Piano Students

Summer slide describes the tendency of students to lose learning gains during the summer break.  This generally refers to school students, and their reading abilities.  It is estimated that students in low-income families fall behind, on average, 2 months behind on their reading.

While 2 months of no reading may seem insignificant, research shows that the consequences are cumulative and  are long lasting. As a solution, experts suggest providing children with enjoyable reading material, and encouraging them to continue reading without teacher support.

This discussion is directly applicable to piano lessons. Because music is also a language, progress is dependent on continued reading. If a student does not continue reading music in the summer, it is very likely for the student to lose the gains in their musical journey. Since piano lessons are generally once a week, it is inherently already less ingrained in the child’s life throughout the school year.  By removing these piano lessons in the summer, the effects of the summer slide are even more evident in piano lessons. Imagine teaching your child to read only once a week, in addition to taking two months’ break every year.

Some Suggestions to Prevent Summer Slide in Piano

  1. Have the teacher and student prepare a book of songs at the appropriate level for the student to enjoy reading through in the summer.
    • Research shows that students gain more educational value from material that they enjoy.
  2. Attend live concerts to keep music in the student’s life.
    • Listening is the key to learning any language. First we listen, then we speak.
  3. Keep up with a practice routine.
    • Not only is this important in maintaing progress, it eliminates the hardship of establishing a new practice habit in September
  4. Continue taking piano lessons.
    • A piano teacher provides accountability, support, and creative guidance to the student’s needs.


Quitting Piano Lessons

As a piano teacher, I often wonder why piano students quit.  Of course, most will stop taking lessons eventually in their life, so this blog will focus on students who quit after 3 years or less. While every situation is unique, there are some patterns  on why students stop playing piano.  In a podcast, Andrea from Teach Piano Today discusses with Karen King about King’s research in why piano students quit.

 The Findings:

Karen King shares some staggering statistics from her research in this podcast episode. Most shocking to me, was that about 80% of piano students quit after 3 years.  A surprising finding was that parents who have music training that are heavily involved in practice sessions have a negative effect on the students’ motivation.  A not so surprising finding, is that long-term students generally practiced more (about 2.5 hours a week), and have moved past the initial beginner stages.


King suggests that motivation for piano lesson thrives under three conditions: competency, autonomy, and relatedness. Competency refers to the student’s feelings about their own playing; if they feel that the piano is something that they are good at, they are more likely to be motivated to continue. Autonomy refers to the student’s feelings about the creative control they have over the music they play. If they feel that they have more control over their piano projects, then they are more likely to continue being interested in the piano. Relatedness refers to the student’s feelings about how the piano relates to other parts of their life. Since piano lessons can sometimes be a lonely endeavor, it is important for piano students to feel that the music they are learning is not confined to just the lessons. A suggestion from King, is to have parents play recordings of a similar genre to what the student is learning.

These findings are invaluable to all piano teachers, piano students, and piano parents. Together, with research, we can continue passing on the art of music education.

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Pedalling in Piano Playing

The sustain or damper pedal is a fun addition to piano playing. Commonly referred to my students as “the brakes”, the pedal mixes the colours of the notes being played as long as the pianist holds it down with their right foot.

Quick Facts about the Pedal

The sustain pedal is great for:

  1. Continuing the sound of a note while the pianist has to shift their hand position to play another note.
  2. Creating a resonance with many notes
  3. Creating the classic sound of romantic piano songs.

The sustain pedal is NOT great for:

  1. Playing many fast notes that are not meant to be mix with each other
  2. Mixing together notes from clashing chords
  3. Making every note be heard clearly.

Ultimately, a pianist’s  goal is to use the sustain pedal as little as possible. The sustain pedal is like adding salt to food. While some is often (maybe always!) necessary, you don’t want to over do it. To minimize overusing the pedal, pianists train to have their fingers hold notes and transition through notes slowly. To move back to the food example, if you have cooked your ingredients right, you shouldn’t need too much salt to add flavour!

Students begin to use this new tool once they have adequate control over their hands. The reason for this is that multitasking with both hand and foot can be challenging for beginners.

The most common hurdle when a student is first learning to use the pedal is figuring when to switch the pedal. Essentially you want to have zero break in the quality of sound! Imagine if your food was salty in some chunks and bland in others. Coordinating the foot changes with the movement of the notes is both a physical and intellectual challenge.


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