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“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!

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Performing, Teaching Tips

Reuben Vincent

Theory Terminator!

November 7th, 2016 by

terminator

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.

There are lots of ways of calling the Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Early Impromptu Improv

October 28th, 2016 by

piano-improv

Early Impromptu Improv. That’s what you can do spur-of-the-moment when something like this happens: your pre-note-reading siblings arrive with worried smiles and one says, “I forgot my instrument.”

“No problem,” you say, “I have several others around the studio.”

“And my books…”

Uh oh.

“…and I forgot what you showed me last week.”

The younger sibling chimes in (with frank cheerfulness), “I don’t have any of my piano books either!”

Instead of various reactions of a negative nature that spring to mind, you could do an Early Impromptu Improv with them.
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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Music Jeopardy Wins!

September 28th, 2016 by

music jeopardy

Are you looking for learning games for your group class? Music Jeopardy could make a big win and motivate your students. I crafted my own. Here’s how.

What you’ll need:

  • Tri-fold project board
  • Velcro dots
  • Cardstock (tagboard) squares, 3” x 3” or 4” x 4” (or similar-sized cardstock figures—I purchased cardstock owls)
  • Sticky notes (smaller than the squares or shapes)
  • Buzzers (or bells, boom whackers, or even good-old hand raising)
  • Markers
  • A non-partial judge to decide who buzzed, rang or raised hands first
  • A game host (you)

To make:

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Posted in Music Theory, Studio Management

Reuben Vincent

5 Ways to Start Composing

September 14th, 2016 by

composing music techniques

There is nothing quite like the thrill of writing your own piece of music or helping your student to compose but sometimes it can be extremely hard to get started. What can you do to get the ball rolling as it were?

1 Numbers: A great idea I picked up the other week is to pick an easy key, roll three or four dice and convert the numbers (1-6) into degrees of the scale to generate the start of a melody. For example, say we picked G major and the numbers were 3, 4 and 1, that would equate to B (3rd note of the scale of G major), C (4th) followed by G (1st). After toying with these three notes, you should be inspired to know what comes next. If not, roll again! You could try something similar with a phone number. After writing out the number, cross out any zeroes or nines (not degrees of the scale) and see what happens!

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

The Art of Silence

July 27th, 2016 by

music teaching resources

The art of silence often has sad beginnings. I point to a spot in the music and say, “What about that?”

My student, blank-faced, says, “That lightning-shaped thing (or “squiggly-shaped” or “the seven with a bump” or “that hat-looking thing”)?”

“Yes. Did you do that?”

“Um, what am I supposed to do with it?”

And there we have our problem. Our students are in Go! mode in a world that’s in Go Faster! mode. Telling them to pause is akin to telling toddlers to walk at the pool. They don’t have that gear yet! It’s time to…

Teach them the Art of Silence

Make it Memorable
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Posted in Music Theory, Teaching Tips

Magic

So much in music can be analysed with rational conclusions drawn as to why a certain result is produced. For example, why does a certain piece of music make you feel melancholy? On closer analysis the composer has no doubt made a series of strategic decisions to create that result; minor tonality, quiet dynamic, low register of a well-chosen instrument, slow tempo, simple rhythm, descending melody etc. The great Hollywood composers have been masters of knowing exactly how to evoke the necessary emotion from a scene, building on a huge legacy of skillful composition for many hundreds of years. Conscious and calculated.

However, I love that music still holds onto some of its mystery. Magical moments that defy analysis. Happy accidents that touch the hearts of millions. Somehow it can manage to penetrate through human boundaries such as race, language, class, education, religion, social status and generation. It can be deeply therapeutic; a massage for the emotions. It can reach the seemingly unreachable; humans with severe learning difficulties, people with severe dementia and even animals! How extraordinary and how little we really know about the secrets of our art even though some of us have made the study of music our lifetime pursuit! Here are a number of mysteries in music to contemplate:

What is it about the groove in a song that gets your body moving to the beat without any conscious thought?

How come certain songs on an album become hits? Why not the other equally well-produced songs?

Why does a certain melody become, as the expression goes these days, an “ear-worm” that plays in your head like tinnitus for hours and hours?

How does that sudden Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music History & Facts, Music Theory, Performing

image

Let me tell you about a little secret I’ve been keeping!

All my pupils love it! It’s been handy for helping them learn new songs, especially tricky bits! It’s helped them improve their music reading skills! It’s encouraged a deeper understanding of theory! And best of all it’s free!

So what’s the big secret? Drum roll please…. Noteflight!?!

What does Noteflight do?

Noteflight is easy to use software with which you can create, listen and print out high-quality sheet music notation. And it’s brilliant!!!

Is there a catch?

Not really. Most of my students use the basic version which is free. You can pay a monthly or yearly subscription for extra features but the free version is Read more…

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

Groove website-3

“Here’s my top tip for musicians interested in becoming better improvisers: Forget the metronome. Practice with backing tracks, those auto-accompaniment loops that inspire, keep you on the beat, and mesmerize you into practice loops.” -Bradley Sowash, jazz improv specialist.

If you aren’t sure how to find or create backing tracks, I’d like to personally invite you to a webinar called “Groove Your Theory. The idea stems from Bradley’s regular use of backing tracks in his lessons and his own practice. We also use them at our 88 Creative Keys keyboard improvisation workshops that Bradley and I co-founded four years ago.

The webinar will be packed full of ideas that will help you save practice (or lesson) time as you compress theory, timing and technique and creativity into one activity. Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Practicing, Teaching Tips

When a Group Class Goes Off Course

By Robin Setinweg

What do you do when a group class goes off course?

“It couldn’t. It wouldn’t!” you say. Well, after successful group classes for years, it happened. And it was probably all my fault.

What was I thinking? Spring weather had just begun. That makes squirrely kids. It was right before spring break. That makes kids mega-squirrely. I made it a pizza party. That brings in higher numbers. And—here’s the biggie—I did not recruit help. I didn’t make sure any older students were attending. So I had oodles of young ones, and no older ones with whom to pair them up. Yikes.

It started great. I had three pizzas cooked ahead. I cut them to give my young learners a visual of whole notes, half notes, quarters, and eighths. They had to ask for the number of eighths they wanted to eat, and tell me how many quarter notes they took, or dotted quarter, etc. (nobody got a whole note!). But then the fun started.

Without supervision.

I was kept busy putting pizzas in, taking them out, cutting them and pouring beverages. So the party became quite noisy and full of high spirits. They weren’t naughty or ill-behaved—these are good kids! Just over-the-top energy and behavior. Which meant it was nearly impossible to get them back.

I had learning games planned. I swapped one in to quiet them down. I played a CD, and they were to draw how it made them feel. I spent the next 10 minutes answering questions like, “Can I draw the London Bridge?” and comments like, “Did you know the London Bridge was moved to (some city here in the States) in (some year I missed)?”

When the quiet music time became noisy due to high spirits, and I astutely realized this was not accomplishing the quiet mood I’d thought it would, I moved on to another game.

I think, by the final game, some music facts sank in. I had four chairs set up, with students on them. Each was a quarter note. We counted them. Remove one or more, the counting stays the same, because after all, rests take as much space up as notes (the chair is still there, simply unoccupied). They needed to decide how to make a half note, whole note, dotted half. Only one student was tall enough to lie across all four chairs to make that whole note.

I know they had fun, and they got the point through some games. But I also know I was done-in. I should have had help. I hope to help you avoid “when a group class goes off course.”

Have you ever had a group go amiss? Can you laugh about it now? Comments welcome!

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Posted in Music Theory, Studio Management, Teaching Tips