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Resident Shilla Hekmat Presents Her Piano-Teaching Method At Teacher’s Conference

Shilla Headshot

Pictured: Shilla Hekmat

Resident Shilla Hekmat doesn’t want children to quit their piano lessons.

So the veteran teacher has created her own method to keep children interested and engaged.

She’s introducing the Shilla Hekmat Piano Method to fellow piano teachers today and presenting a 50-minute showcase at the Music Teacher’s Association of California convention in Santa Clara titled “The Top 5 Reasons Why Students Stop Taking Piano Lessons,” using her system’s “Visual Reward System.”

Passionate about music and children, Hekmat believes “every child can connect to music—and it can be a life-changing experience.”

• The first reason children stop lessons Hekmat says is that they’re not having fun.

Her research showed her that children keep up with sports, but not music lessons, because they love games.

Since she’s learned that “children don’t like to be told what to do”—her system presents every piece in a game-like format.

In the system, with books of color coded levels of difficulty, similar to the colored belts in martial arts, at the earliest levels students color in a basketball, for example, every time they practice a piece. After seven times they’ve colored in seven balls and the hoop and have a visual record of their work. When they play the piece for the teacher they earn a sticker.

Another “game” is the flash cards in two of the books where students have to identify concepts like chords or intervals, for example, in a set time.

• The second reason students get frustrated Hekmat reports is that teachers don’t acknowledge a child’s needs.

After experiencing “harsh and extremely critical” teachers in Iran as a teenager, Hekmat has learned that students “must be respected and validated.

“You can’t only look at the negative, wrong aspects of a child’s playing and not on what’s right.”

Correcting, Hekmat says, “should provide a strategy so the student doesn’t ask, ‘why can’t I get this right? Every week is the same thing. I never get it right.’”

Children can interpret this as they’re not good at anything and diminish their life and future, Hekmat cautions. “I try to say, ‘this part is great. Try this part this way and it will sound even better. See, you can do this.”

• Reachable, attainable goals are also essential, Hekmat says.

She gives students a one-page piece—often one they like—they can play and build confidence with. And often it reaches into other areas of their lives.

Another goal in her system is for students to see their names on the Student Success Chart displayed prominently in the studio.

Each colored level has four books: Piano Journey, Piano Theory, Fun Solos and Circle of Fifths covering a different aspect of piano playing. When students successfully complete a book, they earn a gold seal on the chart.

Students can see where they are in the program from white (introductory) to turquoise (level one) in relation to other students “and become self-motivated,” Hekmat says.

• Parental support also plays a vital part in students’ success, Hekmat reports.

“When the parent is forcing the child to practice and nagging, ‘why haven’t you done this? it just leads to resentment and they quit,” she says.

Children continue sports, her research showed her, because parents are involved and dedicated. (Age 5 or 6 is probably the best age to start lessons, Hekmat adds.)

• Students also quit because they were not taught with a clear, concise method, Hekmat concludes. “Children get confused and don’t want to keep going.”

Her method, she says, is structured and tested out. She’s been using it for the past seven years and seen improvement in students’ sight reading and interest levels.

A good system has to be step-by-step and sequential, so in the Shilla Hekmat Piano Method students are introduced to reading, technique, theory and repertoire in a cumulative manner that makes them comfortable with each application before continuing on to the next.

Hekmat, who’s been teaching for 30 years, started when she was 14, and has taught more than 700 students. Current students come from as far away as Santa Barbara.

She is also involved with the Music Teachers National Association and the American College of Musicians and her teaching philosophies have been published in Keyboard Companion Magazine.

She is chairman of Composers Today at the Music Teachers Association of California, and says students who reach her green, introductory four level, are ready for the MTAC’s certificate of merit auditions.

“I want to give every student the foundation so they can be confident and succeed in piano lessons,” Hekmat says. “ And be able to play anything.” —Steve Simmons

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