We all know recitals can build excitement for our studios. Could we get even more creative with them? Give folks a performance to remember. Families will talk about it to friends, friends will see clips or photos on Facebook or in emails, and word will spread about the teacher whose students know how to put on a show. Students will be excited to have been a part of it. You’ll probably add to your waiting list as a result. Here are the first five buzz-making recital ideas:
How can I impress on my students that music is for life? Few sports can be played into later years. But music is for life. A job might be fulfilling until retirement. Music is for life.
I’ve started a master class series in which I’ll invite elderly musicians to share their music and their stories.
Martha Nelson shares why music is for life
The first was Martha Nelson, a drummer/singer/pianist/accordion player who entertained in all-girl bands in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Martha practicing accordion
Martha sang weekly on the Jerry Blake Show for Madison, Wisconsin’s WKOW TV its first year on the air.
Martha Nelson about to sing on WKOW-TV Madison, WI in the 1950s
She passed her music on to her daughters, who are both working musicians (and one of whom is yours truly). She drummed for our family’s dance band through the 1980s.
Martha played several pieces for my students (including the Glenn Miller hit “In the Mood”), and shared the story of how she got her start. She went all the way back to her mother. Grandma planned to travel to the U.S. from Sweden to join her husband. She was booked to sail on the Titanic. But her first-born, my Aunt Vicky, got sick, and they had to wait. Mom told my students their teacher wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that.
She taught herself piano. One of ten children, her dad brought a drum home one day, handed it to her, and told her that would be her instrument.
Now at 89, she still plays piano and sings. And one can often see her foot going or hear her fingers tapping in true drummer fashion.A year ago she joined me singing in a coffee shop—and I gotta tell you, she’s still got it! Her voice hasn’t really aged. Music helps keep her young.
Yeah, play it!
After Martha’s presentation, my students entertained her. The final song, by Chris, was—“My Heart Will Go On”—the theme from the movie Titanic!
Dane & Chris
Ava, Sam & Sara, seated
Music is good for many things: for background, for relaxing, for accompaniment to shopping or working,
for inspiration, entertainment, making a living,
passing on to another generation,
Passing the gift of music on to the next generation and the next…
and enjoying—from the womb till one’s final breath and into eternal life.
There are so many facets to a musical education; reading, theory, ear training, transposition, repertoire, and on and on. One of my personal frustrations is trying to get students ready to perform in special events without enough lesson time. Is it realistic to think that a teacher can cover all these skills and prepare for competitions with just 30 minutes a week with each student? With longer lessons more can be accomplished, but parents may be resistant to increasing the lesson time due to time and financial concerns. However, maybe as teachers we are not presenting a realistic picture of what they are getting for their investment. Below are some thoughts about better defining what can be accomplished over time with various lesson lengths. This is just one example, but perhaps it will encourage you to think about how you define your product.
30 minute lessons
(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)
basic study of music structure
Piano Basics is a place for every student to get exposure to the language of music and the fundamental skills involved in learning to play the piano. The student’s understanding of western music’s structure, along with proper playing technique, is developed through the use of the Piano Partners series by Bernard Shaak. Music reading is introduced through the (national reading program). These two books form the core of the curriculum. As the student progresses in ability, other music is brought in to supplement this core based upon the student’s individual interests.
45 minute lessons + 20 minutes lab time
(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)
intermediate level technique
extra music selection
Achievement Day access
As the student progresses and demonstrates an interest in music, and a willingness to dig deeper into the learning, the Rising Stars program will be recommended. At this level the student will be encouraged to learn performance preparation, step up their technical abilities, and dig more deeply into the details of their music. Achievement Day participation is encouraged. Several other performance opportunities will be available throughout the year requiring extra preparation.
60 minute lessons + 30 minutes lab time
(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)
performance level technique
advanced rhythm patterns
wide range of musical genres
collaborative duet work
lead line skills
advanced performance preparation
extra curricular learning activities
Achievement Day, Piano Festival and Federation, Sonatina Festival access
For the student who demonstrates exceptional interest and ability, and a willingness to work hard, the Comprehensive Musicianship program provides an amazing foundation in all aspects of becoming a well-rounded pianist. Technique is prioritized, and the student is given a broad palate of musical genres. He or she is encouraged to understand the history of western music and to be able to interpret music in its intended historical style. At this level students are also encouraged to create their own original music, incorporating their knowledge of music structure and patterns. Collaborative efforts are encouraged in the form of duets, playing with a string quartet, and accompaniment of soloists or other instruments. Basic keyboarding and ear training skills are taught so that a student can play from a lead line with a contemporary musical group. Students are encouraged to participate in several judged events throughout the year, and will be expected to develop a personal repertoire list. Group lessons usually involve a second lesson time for the week. Group lessons are alternated with education field trips to meet the total of 10 per year. Field trips involve musical experiences such as a trip to a special music store, or a symphony performance.
An essential part of learning to play music on an instrument (as opposed to singing!) is having an instrument on which to play. Owning or renting an instrument and having the necessary accessories are important for learning but are not something teachers may be prepared to handle. And yet, without the right equipment it’s hard for a student to get very far. How can the teacher help? What do you do to help your students? (Please add a comment at the end to share your perspective!)
Some teachers might simply accept whatever the student has for equipment. Others direct their students to local or online stores to purchase recommended items. Still others select and rent or sell instruments and accessories themselves.
I’ve done all three. Lately, I’ve taken to making things available myself, especially for beginners. This post is about why and how I’ve gone about it. Read more…
I was in for a shock when I looked up the price of karate and dance lessons in the town where my studio is located. My mind was totally blown! I hadn’t raised prices since 2010 because I thought parents would revolt and pull their kids out of my programs. Little did I know, my competitors in the “after-school-club” market were getting almost double for comparable programs, based on the number of instructional hours per week. That’s just leaving money on the table! It’s irresponsible as a business owner to not know your market, AND lost profit. After all, as much as music teachers love our jobs, we are in business to make a profit. Read more…
Group classes are a great way to reach more students, multiply your time and promote your studio. I taught a group vocal class over the summer (Group Classes) and a group guitar class. Find the first two guitar class posts here (Group Guitar part 1 ) and here (Group Guitar part 2).
What I cover in weeks 5-8:
-how to tell the key of a song
-transposing, review how to make your own chord charts, and the 3/4 strum
-the “Happy Birthday” song. You’d be surprised how many accompanists I’ve met who can’t play it!
-another parody I wrote for this class, with only 2 chords, to the tune of “Clementine”. This one I personalized with their names and some positive traits:
1. In a church one sultry summer, round a table sat The Six: sore fingers, sore brains, but they strummed their acoustics.
2. Guitars ready, keep it steady, press your fingers till they bleed. Making music is so fun! What more in life could you need?
3. Play the 2/4, play it over and over again. “Almost got it,” says the teacher, “Take a little rest.” But then…
4. …comes another even harder, will we ever get it right? Now the strings are out of tune, but do I loosen or turn it tight?
5. There is Jerry, always ready, and Malea’s cheerful grin, Leslie’s great dry sense of humor; Robin says, “Play it again.”
6. Asia strums and Doris hums and Gavin, fearless, forward goes. By the end of this guitar class, every one of them will be pros!
What I choose to review and for how long depends on how they did at the last lesson, and what I think they need:
-the 4/4 strum and appropriate songs
-a demonstration that 2/4 and 4/4 strums can be interchangeable
Note: whenever I introduce new chords or strum, I choose songs with as few chord changes as possible. I aim for a good mix of musical styles and tempos.
I sing the melodies until they can. Sometimes I say the strum aloud: DOWN, downup downup downup—and we pause at the chord changes until they have their fingers in place. Once most have the hang of it, I make sure to do parts of the songs slowly and parts quickly to accommodate all class members. It’s equally frustrating whether you can’t keep up, or you’re being kept from going as fast as you are able, so I do some for both.
Student workbook and assignment book to coordinate with game board.
It is so exciting to start a new school year. I usually take August off to give myself time to get ready for a new direction in the fall. In my never-ending attempt to keep kids engaged in the study of piano and music, I create a different theme and activity set each year. This year my theme is World Music, and I’d like to share with you how I have put this to work.
Game pieces to move around the board; little superheros.
Game board. Students move a space for each day of practice.
As the basis for my activities I chose to use an assignment book and game board from Keys to Imagination, created by Michelle Sisler. (http://www.keystoimagination.com/) There are several themes available, and I am using “Where in the World is Mr. Arpeggio” to coordinate with my world music theme. Each student gets a
workbook that includes assignment pages, along with activity pages at the beginning of the book which correlate with the game board. I purchase these books for the students out of their fall deposit money. A vinyl game board is pinned to my bulletin board and games pieces depicting superheros are added. The game board depicts a map of the world with a trail for students to follow as they track down clue cards to find Mr. Arpeggio, who has been stealing musical symbols. The clue cards also include interesting history and composer facts. Students progress on the board according to the number of days they have practiced the previous week.
In order to add a competitive element to the game, I also hung an even larger world map (under $15 at Hobby Lobby) on another wall and marked out a route for the students to race around the world. Students will choose a cute paper luggage tag on which to put their name, and then move the tag along the route as they accumulate points. In order to get on the map they need 15 points to get to Denver International Airport. From there they work their way to New York City, on to Paris, then Shanghai, and eventually end up in Los Angeles. Their prize reward increases at each destination. They will earn points by collecting the previously-mentioned clue cards, bringing their books, playing their scales cleanly, writing compositions, completing theory pages, playing at recitals, and other activities and goals.
Large map I added to have a race around the world.
During weekly media lab time I will add in world music activities on the computer. I may also use some of Keys to Imagination’s “Are We There Yet” studio series. This curriculum provides many activities related to studying world music. I will incorporate the world music theme into my group lesson activities and any special concerts or field trips we attend this year.
Multicultural activities for group lessons and media lab time.
Media room decorations.
Students will also be choosing a piano piece to study from a foreign country. I usually have a theme-specific recital sometime during the winter so the students can share these pieces with family and friends. I’ll encourage them to write a report about the country and/or the composer and maybe share some of those facts before they play.
This long banner ties it all together.
To set the mood, I ordered very inexpensive decorations from www.PartyCheap.com in the world theme—lots of flags! I may leave these up all year, or move some of them around from time to time. I have little cards to send out before lessons begin letting students know about the “world wide search” and how I need their help to find the thieving Mr. Arpeggio!
I’d love to hear from other teachers who use a theme each year for motivation!
Setting up an independent piano studio, I worked alone to make it a vibrant learning environment for budding musicians of all ages. Although I cherish my students and their families and never feel isolated while teaching, they do not provide a sounding board for the administrative side of the business.
My church position requires me to work alongside the choir director, the choir members, a few colleagues when we play duets, professional musicians for seasonal cantatas and the like but, I’m not required to attend staff meetings. I choose my own music and practice a number of times each week by myself.
Writing a blog post or article requires time and space alone with my thoughts AND my computer. Sadly, I look at my computer screen more frequently than anyone or anything else and it offers no human interaction beyond its service as an electronic communication conduit.
As timing would have it, over the past year, I’ve worked with more colleagues than ever before.
Co-publishing a book, planning a conference, and running a camp completely and dramatically changed my connectivity with fellow colleagues. Now, there’s not a day that goes by without a text, a call or email about an upcoming deadline or project that requires team work.
This led me to wonder why it is that so many of us set up our OWN studio, independent of others, in our OWN homes or rented space. We seem to dwell in our OWN silo with only limited social pipelines to the outside world like Facebook, blogs, etc. Why were most of us never encouraged to seek a mentor or partner who could offer advice, tips, an exchange of ideas, and even share a studio or business together upon earning a music degree? Or maybe I just speak for myself? Read more…
I’ve seen great success with group guitar classes in the past—this was no exception. Here’s how I went about it. You may have excellent ideas, too. We’d love to read about them, if you’d share them below!
*How many in a group? Six students signed up. I’ve had as few as three and as many as thirteen. I’ve been in larger groups myself, so I’d go up as high as twenty. The toughest part of that is tuning. I have them come early for that.
*What ages? Ten to adult. This group had three children (10+) and three adults. Though I enjoy groups of similar ages, I think the ones with adults and kids together are the most fun. The generations encourage and enrich one another, and the adults tend to remove the need-to-be-cool factor. We can get silly or serious. It makes the youngsters more open to songs of a variety of genres and decades.
*How long are classes? I aimed for forty-five minutes, but we usually ended up going over.
*Materials used? This class was for absolute beginners. I came up with my own instructional materials and compiled appropriate songs, which has given me complete freedom to tweak as I go for the particular group. I also have future group guitar class materials for advanced beginners, intermediate, advanced intermediate, and advanced. I’ve often had students stay with me through all five groups, and then enroll in private lessons.
I present most songs as chord/lyric sheets. I decorate with copyright-free clipart.
Each student must have an acoustic guitar to play. No electrics—I don’t like to mess with cords and amps in a group. I’d get hoarse talking over them!
*Where to hold the class? I’ve taught in my home studio, in my living room, and at two different churches in town, depending on the size of the classes. They all work well.
*Is a group an advantage or a hindrance?Read more…