Tips and Tricks for Keeping Students Focused

Keeping Students Focused in Piano Lessons

This week, most of my students are finishing their last couple days of school, and let me tell you, they are ready! They’re ready to sleep in,  play outside, and pretty much do everything except sit and focus during music lessons.

While I totally understand wanting to mentally check out as soon as the weather outside starts getting warmer, I still want my students to stay motivated, no matter the season. In this blog post, I want to share some tips and tricks that have helped my students remain engaged-even when it’s hard. 

Get Creative

I often supplement music theory concepts with hands-on learning. This may include:

  • Coloring to encourage rhythm concepts and dancing to encourage musical expression
  • Encourage students to tap into their imagination when it comes to routine exercises
  • Pretend that the black keys on the piano are “mattresses” the fingers are “sleeping on” to encourage finger placement as well as fluid motor movement. It’s a great way to get students to approach technical skills and practicing in a fun way. 

Divide Lessons Into Smaller Chunks

The range of my students’ attention span can be anywhere from a full 45 minutes to a measly 2 minutes.

To maintain engagement with my students who have a hard time focusing for longer periods of time, I often lay out a schedule that can consist of different lesson activities lasting 3-10 minutes each.

I then set goals for the lesson and if the schedule is completed, the student gets to earn a small reward (A lot of my students are huge sticker fans).

Offer Choices

Sometimes, at the end of a lesson, there might be an extra five minutes. I like to add choices of fun things to do!  This may include:

  • Improvising a piece of their own
  • Playing a favorite piece that they’ve played in the past
  • Giving them a choice of what song they want to play next

This is very effective in honoring the students’ creativity but also getting them to take more ownership of their lesson, which hopefully will translate to more enjoyment of music for the long haul!

Laura Tam | Music Therapy Connections | Springfield, Illinois

Those are all my tips for now! As I continue to teach, I always have to remind myself that every student is unique and is learning at their own pace. I love that each week I get to learn new ways to help my students grow and achieve their goals.

If you or someone you know is interested in music lessons, summer is a great time to ease into lessons and try it out!

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Practice Habits: What’s the Point?

With our spring recital right around the corner on May 12th, this is a great time to address practice habits. Are they necessary? What’s the point? 

Here are some common dialogues I’ve heard:

  • How long does my child really need to practice?
  • Does my child need to practice every single day?
  • My kids are too busy to practice.
  • I’m too busy to sit down with my child.
  • I keep forgetting to remind my child to practice.
  • My child only has to study for a test the night before, so why can’t he just practice the day before/day of lessons?

{These are my own personal opinions. Every teacher is different and follows a different discipline when it comes to practicing.}

How long does my child really need to practice?

Practice time is determined by the age and skill level of the individual child. We never want to force a child to practice and we want the practice time to be enjoyable. 

  • For a young child, say 5 years old, a practice session may only last five minutes per day. Pre-primer piano books are child friendly with short exercises. Many books have CDs or digital recordings for home practice, which can be a great motivator if used with each lesson. I also like to encourage free time at the piano, which can include improvising, singing, playing a song by ear, learning a song by ear, and composing.
  • The older child might practice for ten to twenty minutes per day as primer and level 1 piano instruction books tend to have longer exercises that require more repetition. This is the age we also see a fair deal of voice, ukulele, and guitar students. For voice, we simply encourage the child to sing! For ukulele and guitar, the instruction books are similar to the piano books in terms of exercise length. I love finding a child’s favorite song to learn during lesson time!
  • As a child advances to higher levels and skill sets, practice times will need to be longer. Repetition is the key to learning, in music and in the education setting. Practice times are usually a minimum of 30-minutes per day.

Any assignments that are sent home will already be understood by the child.

Does my child need to practice every single day?

Yes and no. This is a tricky question. It all depends on the individual. I like to encourage my young students to practice 4-5 times per week. Learning music involves muscle memory. It takes time to coordinate the eyes and hands with what’s on the page. My older, advanced students are encouraged to practice every day.

My kids are too busy to practice.

Is there any point in the day when your child is playing video games on the television, computer, or tablet? Are you constantly trying to get your child away from electronics? Build the practice time into your schedule.

Are you running your child to various activities throughout the week? Pencil in that short amount of time on days when the schedule isn’t as full and keep it scheduled for the same times every week.

I’m too busy to sit down with my child.

Any assignments that are sent home should already be understood by the child. I personally do not send home assignments that might be frustrating. I like to create a slight challenge when applicable but never too far fetched. This is especially true for my more advanced students. I tend to make notes on assignment sheets for single hand practice or specific measures when an exercise or piece is difficult. The last thing I want to do is make practicing a negative experience.

I keep forgetting to remind my child to practice.

I hear ya! I forget things left and right. Thank goodness for calendars, reminder apps, notification sounds, etc…

My child only has to study for a test the night before, so why can’t he just practice the day before/day of lessons?

Learning an instrument takes time. We learn math skills slowly, first by counting, then recognizing the numbers, later learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and on and on and on.

Music is the same. It takes years and years to master an instrument. The only difference between educational classes and music lessons is the time spent learning the material. Children are in school for at least 6.5 hours. That’s approximately 6.5 of educational learning, five days a week. Thank goodness for summer break!  

A piano lesson is typically 30-minutes once a week. That means most learning must be done outside of the scheduled lesson time. Practice is an essential part of the process, and we are always willing to provide advice for how to help make that happen in your home.

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A Truly Meaningful Experience: Why Our Classes Are Unique

Music Classes for Children | Springfield, IL

One day I entered the doors of Music Therapy Connections as a music therapy intern, and the next (after passing my board certification), I entered as music therapist. The entire building looked and felt different. Though I was nervous and still a bit unsure, I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. It was easy for me to fall in love with what we do here.

I love that I have the opportunity to serve everyone from birth through adulthood and all of life. I have the pleasure of working with people in the lesson setting, group setting, and individual therapeutic setting.

I love that I am able to serve people of all ages and all abilities within these walls. Everyone needs a safe place to experience something meaningful, create a sense of purpose, and even just be heard. Providing that safe place is the heartbeat of what we do here.

Early Childhood and Preschool Music Classes | Springfield, IL

For many of our students and clients, their Music Therapy Connections experience begins in our Listen & Learn for Little Ones class where children ages 0-3 explore music with their parents, grandparents, and loved ones. We focus on supporting their precious development and creating bonding opportunities for every family.

When our students are 3 years old and ready for the move, they often graduate to our Listen & Learn a Little More class! This class is still developmentally supportive, but we also continue to work on social skills, reading, counting and so much more! Plus, Listen & Learn a Little More is for children only. Parents can relax and listen to our preschoolers laughing and singing from the comfort of our waiting area.

Music Therapy | Springfield, IL | Music Therapy Connections

And, of course, when you feel that your 4 or 5 year old is ready, they can graduate yet again to our pre-lessons class Listen and Learn Into Lessons. This course was made for our very active 4-7 year olds who want to learn a new instrument but aren’t quite ready to sit for a 30 minute lesson. Students will learn piano basics, rhythmic counting, musical genres, terms and application in a fun and interactive environment with peers.

Finally, when your young learner is ready, they can register for their very own individual lessons with one of our teachers specializing in a variety of styles and instruments. Students can learn to play ukulele, guitar, piano, or sing!

Keep in mind, our lessons are individualized. Whether you are an adult or fresh out of our Listen & Learn Into Lessons course, we will create an environment to facilitate your success, growth, and love of music.

To register for lessons, click on the link below. If you would like to learn more about Music Therapy Connections, what we do, and our various services, we welcome you to our Open House on Sunday, May 6th between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm for refreshments, fun activities, a drumming experience, and a giveaway you don’t want to miss!

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Making Music Meaningful to You

A couple years ago for a school assignment, I was asked to design a survey in which I asked anonymous individuals for the various reasons why they listened to music. Out of fifty individuals who took the survey, top responses included:

  • listening to music as background sound during everyday activities
  • listening to music as entertainment
  • listening to music as motivation for everyday activities
  • listening to music to release built up tension

While this survey was designed for a research methods class and may not be representative of the general population at large, it did show that music was listened to and utilized for a variety of different reasons!

For myself, music provides a creative outlet to express my inner thoughts and make connections with others that otherwise would have been difficult to verbalize. It’s that powerful connection I feel with I’m singing a song together with a close friend and we instantly make eye contact when a meaningful lyric is sung, or the affirmation from certain lyrics in songs that seem to clarify exactly what I had been having difficulty processing in mind.

Music impacts individuals in many unique ways, so why not ask yourself how music impacts your life! Did you know that at MTC, we specialize in making music an enriching experience for anyone, whether it be through music lessons, adaptive lessons, or music therapy? Take a minute and explore our service options. Whether it’s registering for lessons or music therapy services, I hope that you’ll find meaningful ways music can shape your life in every season!

All the best,
Laura

For more information about music therapy services or lessons, email us at info@musictherapyconnections.org or register below!

Register for music lessons or music therapy

The Gift of Music

As a music therapist, I am a strong believer in the ability of music to support development, cognition, and motor skills. I am very proud to be a part of our amazing team at Music Therapy Connections, which includes teachers and music therapists offering opportunities to grow and learn in a fun and engaging environment.

This holiday season, we are offering gift certificates on all of our services here at Music Therapy Connections!

Adult Piano Lessons in Springfield Illinois

We offer individualized lessons for guitar, voice, piano, and ukulele. These lessons are for children, teens, and adults! We pair our students with a teacher who best complements their personality, interests and schedules. Your lesson experience is truly your own!

Sign Zoo Animals

For those under the age of five, we offer Listen & Learn for Little Ones developmental music classes. These classes support both the musical and nonmusical development of your very special little ones. We play instruments like shakers and drums, dance, explore social skills, and offer opportunities for bonding with parents, grandparents and other family members!

Now through the first week of January, you can purchase an All-Access Class Pass for your family — including multiple children — for just $165. By registering for the rest of the school year, you’ll save the cost of an entire session (or more, if you have 2 children). With an all-access class pass, your family can attend all 4 remaining sessions AND receive a USB flash drive containing the entire collection of Listen & Learn class music.

Self-Care Advent | 12 Ways to Gift Yourself in Preparation for the Holidays

Giving a series of classes or lessons is the gift that continues to support and nourish the lives of the people you love! Sending you joy for a very happy holidays!

Teacher Feature: Kristi Lecocq

Teacher Feature: Kristi Lecocq

Kristi Lecocq has been teaching voice, piano, and guitar with Music Therapy Connections for a little over two years now, and just this fall joined our team of Listen & Learn class teachers! We love having Kristi as a member of our team and are so excited to share a little more about her in this month’s teacher feature! Check out what she shared about her musical background.

“I grew up in a very “von Trapp-esque” family. My parents, siblings, and I all sang in multiple choirs at church, and for several years we were even part of a larger community choral group called Festival Singers that performed around the St. Paul/Mpls area during the holiday season. Most of our extended family gatherings during my childhood incorporated some form of jam session or sing-along.

I earned a bachelor of music in commercial music (vocal emphasis) from Millikin University. After graduating, I moved to Nashville, TN to soak up the singer-songwriter life for a few years. I returned to central IL in 2001 and have been performing in local rock bands ever since. Bands included Blue Bus, Equinox, Pancake Supper, One-Eyed Red, Alligator Wine, and currently the original rock band, Fireside Relics, which released its second original album this past March. I was also an adjunct faculty member in Millikin’s music industry department from 2004-2009 and taught songwriting and vocal styles classes. I am also currently part of a Springfield musical duo called the Tater Tots that performs children’s music for sing-alongs, parties, and events.

Some memorable and unique musical experiences over my lifetime include: playing in the Rosemount MN High School Marching Band at the Metrodome for the 6th game of the 1991 World Series between the MN Twins and the Atlanta Braves; singing with the Millikin University Choir and Vocal Jazz Ensemble in Haiti and the Dominican Republic; singer-songwriter performances at the infamous Bluebird Cafe in Nashville, TN; a recording session two summers ago with my husband Scott (who is also a musician) and our two children at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.

In addition to teaching voice, piano, guitar, and Listen & Learn classes at MTC, I also play the ukulele and the flute.”

Teacher Feature: Kristi Lecocq

Kristi also took the time to answer a few questions about her favorite things and share a couple fun fact about her personal life.

Favorite color: lime green

Favorite food: homemade egg sandwich + coffee & OJ (or most anything breakfast-related)

Favorite game: anything involving trivia

Favorite place to visit: Twin Cities to see my family and anywhere “up North” in MN, but especially the Boundary Waters

Favorite day of the week: Friday

Favorite non-musical activity: I’m a huge photograph nut. I love looking through old family photos, making photo books, and dabbling in photography, especially of my kids; I also enjoy being a “backstage mom” and “gymnastics mom,” volunteering at my children’s school with LEGO Club/library, and participating in political activism.

Weird talent: ??? I cannot think of a single one. My husband says I’m mundane! (I do shoot pool left-handed even though I’m a righty. Not sure that qualifies as “special.”)

We think Kristi is anything but mundane! She is a truly special part of MTC and we know all of her students agree. Let us know if you have a question for Kristi or if you are interested in filling one of her available lesson times.