"Fur Elise" by Beethoven, Mary Poppins music, pianist, piano, piano addict, piano instruction, piano instructor, piano lesson, piano lessons, piano pedagogy, piano playing and phrasing, piano playing and relaxation, piano practicing, Piano Street, piano student, piano students as composers, piano studio, piano teacher, piano teaching, piano teaching repertoire, Piano World, pianoaddict.com, popular music, Shirley Kirsten, Shirley Kirsten blog, Shirley Smith Kirsten, slow mindful practicing, slow piano practicing, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Teach Street

My weekly breather in El Cerrito: Teaching munchkins in the East Bay (Piano lessons in progress–Videos)

I always look forward to my weekly getaway to El Cerrito because I can take wholesome deep breaths without choking on toxic Central Valley air. Besides, I also get to teach a few delightful munchkins and adults.

While the visit is all too short, I still relish my walks amidst the foliage as I ascend into the hills, looking down on a magnificent Bay panorama.

As a preview to my arrival, the Amtrak train glides along the water whetting my appetite for what’s to come.


After my arrival in El Cerrito, I walk to my studio location in a very old, established neighborhood with mature shade trees and lush greenery. It’s the perfect paradise for teaching piano.

Yesterday, Lucy 10, and Fritz 8 were filmed during part of their lessons.

Lucy has packed away 2 plus years of piano study with me, coming originally as a transfer student. Plagued by a method book addiction, she gradually freed herself of playing by finger number crutches and mundane chord formulas and climbed a mountain that led to a “Fur Elise,” driven peak experience.

On the way to the real deal, and not through puny transcriptions of great piano works transposed to C Major, she learned Intermediate level selections from the Baroque and Classical period.

Weaned from Bastien’s formulas and anything resembling, Lucy’s note reading improved as she was released from middle C position imprisonment.

Fritz, her younger brother, who jumped into the fray last year, has zoomed right along as well. He’s embarked upon repertoire from the Developing Artist Book 1, promising to perfect the Reinagle Minuet in preparation for his next You Tube appearance. His opening upload featured his own composition, “Finding Gold,” which was a big hit with his East Coast grandparents.

Yesterday he wanted to add his rendition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to his playlist.

So let’s roll Lucy and Fritz’s lessons as they unfolded just two days ago.

Lucy plays “Fur Elise”

Fritz jives with Mary Poppins music:

Last year, Fritz took the reigns as a composer:




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Piano Lessons: After a long summer break, where to begin? (Videos)

The first lesson with a student who took the whole summer off for one reason or another is a challenge. I repeatedly ask myself should we pick up where we left off and drag out the last sonatina that became time worn well before its time or start a completely new musical project.

One student had a spurt of energy when I had propped Burgmuller’s “Ballade” on the piano rack in the company of a Willy Wonka favorite. It was a novel combination meant to get practicing into full swing after Labor Day. But would the “newness” of carefully selected pieces be enough to nourish the baby step follow through that would bring the pupil beyond a stumbling sight read?

Magic bullet pieces, even those requested by a returning student following a long break from lessons might not necessarily weather the course of learning in slow motion parcels to obtain confident mastery. The developmental period would include patient separate hand practicing with an eye and ear to phrase shaping, good fingering and noted dynamics.

Encouraging this more detailed approach to a new piece would be a challenge especially with gaps in weekly practicing and other competing activities getting in the way. But it might still be worth the effort to nudge a student along on the layered learning path with lots of singing back and forth at lessons.

An 8-year old student made big strides in her patient practicing module at home. Aside from working up pieces in Faber’s Piano Adventures, she chose some favorites outside the method book grid that musically blossomed in a matter of weeks.

“Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” reached a lively tempo and became a centerpiece treat when she played it with me in duet form. Her next request was to study “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” so she could perform it on the electronic organ at the local sports stadium.

Her own built-in motivator drove her daily parceled out practicing and gave me ideas to spread around among other students.

Our local branch of the Music Teachers Association (MTAC) initiated its start of the year, pick-up-the-practicing momentum drive by scheduling Fall Festival recitals with various themes. (In the past these were planned for February to allow students time to get back to a regular practicing routine.)

The most popular was centered around “Halloween” with this description: “Students are invited to dress up in their Halloween costumes and play spooky music. Pieces do not have to be from a Halloween book. Classical pieces in minor keys often work well. You can even transpose a piece in a Major key to a minor key. Trophies will be awarded for the best costume and the spookiest piece.”

I thought about the 11-year old who was half-way through Burgmuller’s “Ballade” which I had tagged “Spooks” because of its mood and character. Perhaps she might be willing to pick up where she had left off back in June, planning graduated practicing in preparation for the late October MTAC sponsored event. At least goal-setting would frame our weekly meetings along the way.

About 8 of my students kicked off last season’s resumption of lessons by participating in the MTAC sponsored theme recitals. One wore a western style costume for “Halloween.”

Other recitals were “Dance” inspired, or classified under “General repertoire.” Duets for two players at one piano, or at separate pianos were part of combined theme categories. A 7-year old played Faber’s “Doorbell” with me.

Recitals with themes are a great idea, and I’m thinking that scheduling these under various headings during the year would provide a shared learning experience with parents, students, and family members in the audience.

Otherwise the MTAC’s mid-year “Celebration” Festival would invite students from all studios in the city to play compositions of various styles, awarding medallions for “Excellent” and “Superior” performances.

Every participant comes away from the event with something tangible in their hands: a Certificate and an attractive piano pin.

Surely, these medals, certificates and other rewards would be practicing motivators at any time of year.

Not to forget the MTAC’s Big Baroque Festival as a practicing enticement for Intermediate to Advanced level students. Last year’s event produced a vast array of beautiful performances one of which personally delighted me.

Finally, I can’t overlook the teenagers who have personally brought pieces to study in the beginning of the year that they’ve added to their sonatina roster.

These have included, “100 Years,” “Forever and Always,” “Hey Jude,” “You Raise Me Up,” and “Liz on Top of the World” from Pride and Prejudice.

Here are videotaped snippets of pupils at various levels, playing their own personal choices that ignited their practicing:

From Mary Poppins:

From Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:

“100 Years” and “Forever and Always”

“You Raise Me Up” (Early stage practicing with sub-divided counting)

And why not encourage composing to coincide with back-to-school, back-to-lessons time.

A motivated 7-year old student played his own piece and was excited about videotaping it for You Tube. His grandparents who lived back East enjoyed a cross-country sample of his creative effort.



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Aiden cat, joins Claudia, 8, and Teacher Shirley Kirsten at the piano bench for “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (Video)

Claudia is an enthusiastic 8-year old piano student who was eager to learn “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins. In fact, in just one week after practicing the piece very diligently, she was ready to play the duet with me. At first we tried a slower tempo, but during our second reading we had notched it up a bit. (We are all seated at the Haddorff piano)

Bravo to Claudia for her wonderful preparation and performance! And thanks go to Aiden cat for being an attentive listener.

Aiden Cat joins Claudia for Faber’s “Doorbell” (Claudia was 7 at the time)