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As students return for lessons after the holidays, why not kick off 2016 with pop music? Surprising your students with some Coldplay along with Chopin–or any favorite tune from the past or the present–could strike just the right balance to keep things interesting during the long winter months ahead.

The beginning of a new year is always a good time to reflect on the past year and make some revisions for the months ahead.  Has your curriculum remained relatively the same and even become stagnant?  Could you better match the interests of potential and eager customers in your local area by revamping your curriculum and adding some hit tunes from Adele, The Piano Guys or Star Wars?

David Cutler, author of The Savvy Music Teacher, discovered from his extensive research that music teachers who generated substantial (successful) incomes were more likely to integrate three elements into their instruction compared to other teachers who did not. They include: improvisation, technology and multiple musical genres.

Need to spice up 2016? Considering a fresh approach? Ready to integrate more improvisation, technology and musical genres, ie, pop music in to your teaching? Then you will want to sign up for and attend the 88 Creative Keys Winter Webinar Webshop. Watch the video below for more details. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

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As a child, I heard people play or sing songs with five or more verses—every verse the same dirge-like tempo, same key, same inflections… The intent of the songs deserved better. I wanted to arrange songs to reflect the message and engage the listener. Now I help my students create arrangements as well.

Start Simply

A very young student might play/sing only one note differently. It’s a start! Perhaps a vocal student has a two-verse song. She goes through the melody twice and ends. Ask her if she can think of a way to change the ending to have more impact. If she can’t think of anything, give an example and have her try it.

Play a repeated passage two ways: once identically and once with a change. Ask which version held his interest, or would keep an audience engaged.

Students singing together might start singing harmony by splitting to a third only on the final note. Starting simply might mean simply making them aware.

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Performing

Leila Viss

How will you play it forward?

December 14th, 2015 by

 

Two weeks ago, my student Addison entered my studio and declared, “I wrote a song for Paris!”

A little puzzled by what he meant, I probed further and learned that he improvised a piece on the piano based on his feelings about the terrorist attacks in Paris and posted it on his YouTube channel. It was Addison’s way of processing the tragedy, paying tribute to the victims, communicating his sorrow and as I thought about it more, this was Addison’s way to give what he could: he wanted to play it forward.

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music News, Performing, Press, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Reuben Vincent

Teaching Grouping

December 6th, 2015 by

21 The Coins of the Money Changers

I always found the rhythmic grouping of notes and rests very difficult to explain to students. How do you try and explain this concept to your theory and composition pupils?

Here’s an idea I stumbled on recently which seems to be helping: “money, money, money!”

• Before attempting to beam notes up into the correct groups, I first lay out a mixed selection of coins equivalent to four pounds sterling (I’m from England but the principle is the same whatever the coinage of your country. You can use real money or plastic play money).

• I then ask the pupil to organise the coins into four stacks equal to one pound, no more no less. The principle that this exercise demonstrates to them is that Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

“Sonatinas, Scary Songs, and S’More.” Just the fall theme to carry out my goals for students.

I wanted to avoid the crunch of pre-Christmas activities for once. But an earlier recital meant I had a month less to help them prepare. How could I help them shine? How could I motivate the third-year students hanging on the fringes? How could I involve the earliest beginners?

Sonatinas for levels two and up are available (here’s one book). But I found none for my first year students. Some weren’t even reading notes yet.

So—I wrote them! A couple had two movements, but most had three.

I asked questions to discover their likes, hobbies and activities. And I wrote custom-made sonatinas for my beginners.

For Soccer Sonatina I used only six notes. This was for my youngest little one. He conquered “Dribbling” and “Passing Drill.”

For Sonatina Minecraft, I listened to Minecraft’s music. Then I wrote in a similar style. My student thrilled to play “Moving Boxes” and “Oh, Share the Night” and “Find the Path.” One student enjoys mythology. For her I wrote “Flight of Pegasus,” “The Loss of Persephone,” and “Puckish Mischief.” There were also Zoonatina, Puppy Sonatina and Canine vs. Feline Sonatina, among others. I even wrote sonatinas for my beginning guitar students. For Ballet Sonatina I read up on it first. Then I wrote “Allegro,” and “Pas de Valse.” My young man was excited to realize “En L’Aire” made a sound picture of leaping and landing lightly. One student wrote her own piece for the recital.

What about the title “Sonatinas, Scary Songs, and S’More?” Halloween songs are easy to find for all levels. The “S’More” part included Christmas songs and general-themed pieces. It also included non-messy s’more treats later at the reception.

I’ve never had students more motivated. They couldn’t wait to share “their” pieces. As a bonus, the sonatina theme can grow along with their musical skills.

The down-side?

It’s one week later. Now they wonder, “When is our Christmas recital?”

Do you write songs or arrangements for your students? If not, give it a try. Consider the techniques each one is perfecting at the moment. Give it a fun title. I’m sure MTH blog readers would love to hear about it!

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Performing, Promoting Your Studio

Reuben Vincent

Piano Fingering Success

November 10th, 2015 by

piano fingers

The other month I stumbled on my very first piano tutor book from when I was a seven-year-old. The thing that struck me, as I thumbed through the pages, was that my music teacher had written the word “fingering” on almost every page! I can still hear the frustration in his voice as he yet again tried to explain to me the pitfalls of using “any old finger.”

As a piano teacher myself now, it fascinates me that some students have a natural tendency towards following fingering and others, like me, need constant nagging!

Light bulb!

Most sheet music editions have all the fingering suggestions carefully printed but one of my adult students was learning an arrangement without any fingering. In times past, I would pencil in my suggestions but this time I asked him to go away and work out what fingering would work best. The result was amazing! Not only had he enjoyed “taking ownership” of his fingering but it had made him think long and hard about Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Teaching Tips

wide paper LB

Last month I wrapped up my first year of chairing the inaugural Creative Pianist Track at NCKP 2015, the National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy under the auspices of The Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

It was an honor to work alongside master improvisation teachers Bradley Sowash and Forrest Kinney and the patriarch of piano pedagogy, Dr. Samuel Holland. Their wisdom and insight continually influence my philosophy and approach to teaching.

The session that I presented on Friday afternoon was entitled “Finding Time to be Creative.”  My presentation offered ideas on how to find TIME to BE CREATIVE, but ultimately it morphed into the importance of FINDING a CREATIVE STATE of MIND.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m wondering if you are like me and are enjoying a renewed sense of purpose beyond the page? Do you find yourself encouraging students to play by ear, read lead sheets, improvise arrangements and compose their own pieces? If not, are you at least wondering if you should include more of these activities in your lessons? Personally, I’ve never felt so strongly as I have right now about equating eye skills and ear skills. I believe this combination will encourage the development of well-balanced and lifelong musicians. Many of my new friends made at NCKP seem to feel the same way. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music News, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

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Count on Tin Pan Rhythm to boost your budding musicians’ understanding of harmonic progressions. Count on the app to trigger arranging skills thanks to the app’s intuitive interface. One more, you can count on students catching on to using the Tin Pan Rhythm  in seconds–I’m not exaggerating–and charge up their creative juices.

Here’s an extended tutorial provided by the developers so I won’t go into details on how the app works. You may not even need to watch the tutorial as it’s so intuitive. I know you’ll enjoy learning the app as you go. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Product Reviews

Put Your Records OnI remember, as a child, spending many an hour with my record player and LPs (long play vinyl records) in my bedroom. For me, half the pleasure of listening to the music was reading the sleeve notes which often gave up a wealth of fascinating information about the artist, composer, sometimes the instruments used, the recording personnel and the studio. And then there was the cover art which was a marvel in itself.

Of all the music that I listened to, I can’t forget an old Burl Ives record. One of the songs was called “I Know an Old Lady.” Apparently he didn’t “know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die!” I played that album over and over.

As I grew older, I began to realise that listening to an old man singing folk songs was definitely not cool and that if you were to be esteemed in your peer group, you had to be listening to Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music History & Facts, Performing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

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This past weekend marked a major milestone in my use of my favorite device, the iPad. I played piano at my niece’s wedding and read all the music scores from my iPad with the help of an app called forScore and turned the pages with my PageFlip Cicada Bluetooth Page Turner Pedal. Ahhh…a match made in heaven!

This decision was due to the fact that the happy couple requested Jon Schmidt’s “Waterfall” as a recessional. As there wouldn’t be time for me to memorize the piece and because I dislike depending on someone else to manage the tricky page turns, I determined this tech-savvy combo was the logical choice. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Performing, Product Reviews