Most young musicians learn to play their instruments with peers in a student orchestra, concert band, or group class. Student pianists, on the other hand, because they typically practice and perform alone for many years may miss out on learning essential ensemble skills such as:

  • Steady beat—keeping a steady pulse and avoiding pauses to fix notes;
  • Listening—understanding how their part fits into a large context;
  • Collaborative skills—receiving cues, learning to cue others, balancing dynamics, etc.;
  • Mentorship—absorbing musicality from more experienced peer musicians.

To compensate, it's important for piano teachers to play along with students in every lesson—whether with written duets, improvised accompaniments (covered in previous columns), or by tapping out simple hand drum patterns. To simulate the experience of playing with others at home, assign practice with backing tracks, a catchall name for pre-recorded or automated instrumental accompaniments. Here are options for helping your students set up a home backing track environment. 

If I had to pick just one from this list, it would be iRealPro, hands down. I require my students to own this app and I use it every day in my own practice. In fact, it's the main reason I bought an iPad. In future columns, I'll share some of my tips and tricks on using this remarkable teaching/learning aid. In the meantime, see Leila Viss's "Apps for Teaching" column in this issue (see p. 68) to learn how she uses it with her students.

Until next time, enjoy your creative music making journey.

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