Hi, Everyone. We hope your holiday season is off to a great start!
A couple announcements this week, starting with the Beta option being released to our 500 longest-paying teachers. If you see a green notification near the top of your dashboard when logged in, you’ve been selected. We’ll be rolling out the Beta option to everyone shortly and then making those new features live soon after.
As a reminder, this set of features includes major improvements to the Student Management area and Calendar, which we’ve detailed here.
This week, thanks to your feedback, we’ve also made a few changes to the Beta features that you’ll be seeing shortly.
New icon sets
We’ve updated our icons to give you more choices for different instruments and locations. We’ve also made them colorless so they’ll match better with the colors you choose for your lesson categories. Choose from over two dozen location icons for your calendar. This can be found within Settings under the Calendar tab. When you add a lesson you simply choose which location the lesson will be taught at, which will include your icons.
There will also no longer be icons indicating the attendance status of events on the calendar. There are a few reasons for this. One is that it reduces the clutter of having too many icons on an event. But more importantly, you can now create your own attendance statuses, such as Late or Teacher Absent, and can set the billing status for each type of attendance. Lessons that have had their attendance set will show on the calendar as italicized and faded. And clicking the event will show you the attendance in the title of the popover that appears.
Emailing Students in Beta Mode
As a reminder, emailing students is now done within the Students tab under the ManageStudents subtab. This change allows you to filter by anything in the advanced student search, and email any types of contacts related to the student. Click here for full instructions.
You’ll see a Feedback button on the right-hand side when using Beta where you can let us know how it’s working for you and share your ideas for how we can improve Music Teacher’s Helper. Thank you for your input and for helping us serve you better.
In talking about musical expression at a higher level, as we’re going to do here, I just have one caution to suggest first: one of the biggest mistakes teachers and students make about musical expression is to imagine that it’s icing on the cake, that it takes place after all the technical hurdles are passed. On the contrary, expression is not the reward for having technique — it’s the reason for developing technique! It needs to be part and parcel of the learning process, from day one, or at least from very early on.
There is a good reason why stage actors hyper-exaggerate every movement or sound they make. They have to not only express an emotional gesture, but they have to make you notice it.
Two stories about making you notice an emotional idea: one story about a touring musician I heard and wished I could give a lesson to, and one about a series of drawings that I once made. Read more…
“But Miss Robin, I love all my songs. I can’t pick!” Yep, I have students who simply cannot choose only one favorite for their recital. When this happens, I might show them ways to make a medley.
I tell them to choose two or three songs. If they are older, more experienced students, they may choose more.
How to choose?
By theme: Christmas or other holiday; seasons; animal songs; love songs, etc.
By genre: Pop; rock; blues; country; folk; classical, etc.
By similarities in tempo, key signature, style or patterns, even in random selections. For example, “Popcorn” by Hot Butter from the ‘70s could be paired with Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mtn King” because they are both staccato and in a minor mode. For Billboard Top 20 medley hits, go here.
Next decide the order of songs in the medley. The student should play them through. Switch the order and try again. Does one seem to flow better into another?
Think about creating interest/avoiding boredom. Do the songs all sound the same? Try these ideas:
add another piece with a contrasting tempo. Include one in the relative minor key, or go from D to D minor.
Make a surprise in the medley by turning a ballad into an upbeat song or a fast piece into a slow song. Change from 3/4 to 4/4.
Remember that modulating up in pitch raises the energy and intensity. Modulating down in pitch tends to calm. But beware—it could also be anticlimactic!
Will songs flow easily into one another, or do they need a transition? Here are ways to tie songs together.
The chorus of one song might serve as transition between each.
The intro might work as a transition.
Can the student create his/her own brief transition?
Your student might need to try different combinations of verse, chorus and bridge of each song until the medley is cohesive.
Finally, make sure the medley isn’t too long. Students with many favorites might try to fit too many in. Keep the audience in mind. Make the ending special. Can the intro be repeated as an ending? Can your student place the most exciting piece last?
A medley can allow students to include more of their favorite songs. It can showcase their versatility and make performances even more exciting. They will have learned a skill they can use in the future (for graduations, weddings…)—to make a medley!
Do you give your students gifts during the holiday season? If so and if you’re like me, it’s usually a struggle to find something that is meaningful with a reasonable price tag. A couple of years ago I came up with a solution that I believe I’ll be repeating again this year. It’s a student gift that keeps on giving.
Before I dive in with the details, it’s not a bad idea to step back and ponder the purpose of giving gifts. With all the emphasis on “stuff” in our society, do our students really need one more thing?
A couple of years ago a book caught my eye: What Music Means to Me. The picture book includes large pages with stunning images that capture the essence of various gifted musicians. Alongside each photo is a personal, touching essay about the profound impact of music in their lives.
Poetry by Barbara Kreader (composer for Hal Leonard and one of my favorite authors at Clavier Companion)
Forward by Brian Chung (excellent speaker and General Manager of Kawai America Corporation.)
DVD which includes photos of the featured musicians along with them reading their own essay.
Can’t-put-a-price-tag-on-it bonus: I met the photographer in person, Mr Richard Rejino. and my book includes his autograph.
Once a piece is memorized with all the details in place it would seem a successful performance would follow. I believe there are THREE MORE ESSENTIAL elements that guarantee a positive outcome for a rookie and seasoned performer. In my opinion, these steps involving the head down to the toes are almost as important as preparing the piece itself. Here’s the first of the three elements:
Prepare to Perform
Group lessons are the perfect opportunity for peers to test the readiness of an upcoming performance. Besides each pianist playing a well-rehearsed piece, all follow and help each other memorize these components surrounding the performance. The routine encourages students to enter into the desired “performance zone” with a simple ritual. Here’s how I explain it to future performers:Read more…
A game of “Terminator” in full swing! From left to right, Lauren, Amanda (Mom) and Alisha Adams
Let’s be honest! Who enjoys learning a long list of Italian terms for their music theory exam? Not many! Here’s an idea for making learning music terms fun! Enter “Terminator!”
Giving the activity an exciting name is half the battle. The two girls pictured are currently preparing for their grade 2 theory exam so we called the game “Terminator 2.” Lauren and Alisha have downloaded free buzzer apps onto their phones and their Mom, Amanda, has really embraced the role of game host giving the girls a fun way of learning their terms several nights a week between lessons in the lead up to their exam.
For some, improvisation is a little scary. It doesn’t have to be with a clever back pocket pattern guaranteed to sound black-cat cool.
As I was planning for the fall, I wanted to include an improvisation activity that would introduce beginners to the idea of creating their own music as well as something to please seasoned improvisers. Thanks to an inspiration while attending a lesson with Bradley Sowash, I came up with a pattern that I call Black Cat Strut.
It’s an accessible improvisation jumpstart that offers tasks for both hands. While the left-hand stays pretty simple it still sounds hip. With the suggested tips, the right hand will get the opportunity to strut its stuff.
Check out this video that shows snippets of improvisers of all levels and ages strutting their chops.
Black Cat Strut is guaranteed to sound pleasing because both hands play something appealing and it’s in minor–always a popular choice for this time of year.
The patterns are suited for anyone at any level because both hands play separately–at least at the first level. In fact, there’s no need to play hands together at all and that’s the beauty of this jumpstart. However, it has just enough sophistication to build on it–suitable for those who are comfortable with improvising.
Here are some tips to help your students CATch on quickly:
We are drowning in information these days. There’s so much information that our eyes glaze over.
The boards of education of every school district in America are touting the importance of having information about student attendance, test scores, reading ability, curriculum, assignments, and so on. And everywhere, we see charts, graphs, and tables. How can we keep up?
It’s so easy to put all this information into a pretty chart, but do we really understand it?
A few years ago, I read an interesting article in Wired called TheEducational Benefits of Ugly Fonts. They discussed a research study where student volunteers were told to read some information. In one group, the information was easily scanned and read with a clear and legible typeface. In the other group, the same information was presented in an ugly, hard to read font. The students had to really work at making out what was being said.
One of the most difficult things about being a private teacher is organizing performance opportunities for our students. If you’ve never done it before, it can feel extremely overwhelming, to the point where you never end up doing them at all! That’s really unfortunate because if you think back to your music education, I bet you performed a lot.
There is so much that can be learned by performing that by not giving our students a lot of opportunities to perform, we are really holding them back. So how can you get a recital set up? If you have already held recitals in the past, what can you do to make them even better?
1. Charge a Recital Fee
If you already hold recitals and you don’t charge a recital fee, you should really think about it. Even if you have very few costs (I’m sure you have some) it’s going to take some time to set up a recital, and honestly, there’s nothing wrong with getting paid for your time. Do you consider your lesson fee to include the recital fee? I get it, but you’re probably not charging enough to begin with.
How Much to Charge?
The recital fee should typically be charged per student. I always make sure we buy trophies for each student, so it makes sense that each student would have to pay some fee. You should charge at the very least what will cover your costs. Like I said, it’s ok if you charge more because your time is involved in making recitals great as well, but if you’re not charging enough to cover your costs, you’ll find recitals to be a burden and that’s not what they should be.
I’ve done two recitals a year for 7 years now, and I always charge $20/student. I’ve never had one complaint. Each recital has anywhere between 25-30 students. If we were to assume an average recital has 25 students, then you have a $500 budget. As long as you can get a venue for cheap, that can go a long way to making a great recital. Read more…