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Decades away from my childhood, I recently encountered some experiences, events, and resources that sparked memories of what it’s like to be a kid. I’ve been taken back to those feelings of curiosity, insecurity, excitement and anxiety cast in the mindset of a kid. Mmm…as an adult I still have those same feelings–when does that change? Regardless, sometimes it really is important to take the time to feel like a kid again. It may just kick start your approach to lesson time and help you understand the little human looking up to you for guidance.

What triggered these memories and feelings? Not a trip to the fountain of youth or a special vitamin; rather, these four things:

#1 Online Workshop

Have You Forgotten What It’s Like to Be a Child is a recently released online workshop produced by Wendy Stevens of ComposeCreate.com. In her unique perspective as a mom, teacher, and composer, Wendy offers:

  • The 5 characteristics of childhood that we forget
  • Scores of practical ways to apply this knowledge to help our students leave every single lesson feeling excited and competent
  • Secrets to composing effective elementary piano music that Wendy uses as a composer.

I enjoyed watching her uncover the psyche of a child and how

  • That influences her composing
  • It can enhance your teaching
  • It helps you engage in activities that connect with those who like to wiggle while warming your bench or chair.

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#2 Online Group Lessons

Signing up for lessons in something that you are not proficient will immediately help you recount those feelings of sitting in the hot seat as a child! I’ve taken online improvisation lessons with Bradley Sowash for a couple of years.

Being forced to reckon with new ways of playing my favorite instrument away from the page was humbling and exhilarating at the same time. What’s even better is that Bradley is now teaching online group lessons. This allows many of us read-only players to observe each other learn and expand our improvisational skills in a supportive, interactive environment.

I can’t tell you how many have exclaimed with child-like enthusiasm as they explore their creative side: “This is SO fun!”

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#3 A Book

On one of my Pinterest excursions (I limit myself to one, maybe two per week!) I pinned 13 Non-Professional Books that Have Made Us Better Teachers. I immediately went to my Amazon account and placed them all in my cart. The first one to arrive at my door was Wonder by R.J.Palacio.

A book usually doesn’t bring me to tears but this one did more than once and even on an airplane! A few tears of sorrow, but more of the uninhibited sort. Tears that sprang up from my soul. Does that make sense?

Wonder is one book NOT to miss as it is told through the lens of a 5th-grader with….well, you’ll find out.

Go now and get it. Here’s a link.

Find the entire list of recommended books at We Are Teachers  which is also pinned on my Pinterest board Advice for Teachers. The next book I’ll be reading: Outliers: The Story of Success by Gladwell.

#4 An App

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I’ve always been a fan of apps but it really hit me how much impact they can have on a kid.  A beginning piano student eagerly explained to me with confidence the name and duration of a half note. I had explored the concept with her at lessons and then assigned her to review the note value with the app called Rhythm Swing. The app offers three modes for each note value:

  • Learn (a video explains the concept)
  • Practice (offers the child instruction on how to use the app to master the concept)
  • Play (invites the child to master the concept by playing the correct rhythm and thus saving the cute monkey from the alligator.)

What I noticed is that reaching this child in a context of structured instruction with gamification (a fancy word for learning through game playing) led her to a clear understanding of half notes. I’ve sensed it for years but it was made even more clear to me that…

Clever apps that combine fun with learning connect with kids.

You can learn more about how I integrate Rhythm Swing and additional apps into my teaching here.

Is is time for you to feel like a kid again? If not now, make some room on your calendar and try out one or all four of these suggestions. Your students will thank you.

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Utterly Unique

September 9th, 2016 by

Other teachers said these things to me recently: “I’m just a small-town music teacher.” “It’s all been taught before.” “I don’t say anything new. It’s all been said before.” But not by you. You and your teaching are utterly unique.

Teachers with wonderfully creative ideas write online. Some of them compose songs we purchase for our students. Others create teaching strategies and games. Those aren’t your gifts? Don’t let that discourage you!

You leave a fingerprint on each student’s life…

Think about this. You leave a fingerprint on each student’s life. Utterly unique. Yes, many others have taught the same pieces. They’ve used the same materials. The same words will have been said. But not by you.

I recall the impact of various musicians on my own life. My mother left me a legacy to love music; to make music; to live and laugh music. My first private music teacher impressed me with her pretty voice. But I also picked up her touch on the piano, which I see passed on to my own students. A musician I met only once spoke two sentences that shaped my musical destiny. Other teachers plucked weeds, watered, fed and shone on me as I grew. A professor provided my first playing gig. Each of them impacted my life: utterly unique. Even a negative experience with a teacher helped shape me into a better person.

I’ve had students who no way in this world were going to sing or compose their own songs. But I nudged them. Now they’re making money at it.

Each student comes to you at a particular time of vulnerability. No one else will see him or her exactly the way you do. No one else will relate the way you do. The encouragement you speak at this time can change the course of a life. A word dropped by you might nourish words spoken by others. Your influence might inspire a student to drop a harmful thought pattern. You might provide an oasis. What if you’re the only one who really listens? You are undoubtedly providing a mode of expression that can last a lifetime.

So be encouraged, music teacher. Leave your utterly unique fingerprint on that life.

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

This past month I gave a piano masterclass in Jakarta, Indonesia. How? Read below – this post will hopefully inspire you with ideas to help your students (and bring more students to you).

Back in May, I had a dilemma that many teachers face: our piano students leave town for the summer. I could teach my remaining students until the fall rolled around, but what if I mixed in a little adventure?

I brushed with the travel bug last year, but I had never been to Asia. I started thinking, how cool would it be to visit and teach music somewhere out there?

It never hurts to check. I was enticed by Bali, so I chose to look into the city of Jakarta, a short plane ride away.

Steps to Teach Music Overseas

  1. Created a spreadsheet and Googled Indonesian music schools.
  2. Made a list of ~20, with links and contact info.
  3. Crafted a short email, stating that I wanted to teach a masterclass and/or teach lessons while I was visiting.
  4. Cut down my already short email by half, to be clearer and to-the-point.
  5. Sent this to each school.

Within the week, two had enthusiastically responded. I chose to work with Rosa Mistyca, the super sharp and talented owner of Ensiklomusika, based in Jakarta. We Skyped once to confirm that, yes, we’re both real people. Rosa agreed to promote my visit to Jakarta residents (a ton of work on her part). The deal was – I’d give one presentation for teachers looking for tips on teaching, and one masterclass where I teach individual students for ~25 minutes each, with their families and other students in the audience. Over the next month, we coordinated dates and suddenly I realized: Oh this is really happening. Can’t back out now.

No Longer Just a Fantasy: I’m Really Going to Asia

I booked my ticket, got my shots, and started to prepare. I had never done any of this before. But after a decade of teaching and making music in NYC, I felt ready to share what I’ve learned, to challenge myself, and to embrace a little chaos and uncertainty.

I sat down, nervously started to write…and realized I knew a lot more than I thought.

Until you write down or present what you know in a codified way, it’s tough to know how much you truly know. This is why blogging and writing lesson notes to families are so crucial (Music Teacher’ s Helper lets you do this easily, by the way). It doesn’t just help them but gives your teaching clarity. Weak habits get broken. You start to see how to approach the problems students face but also why, at a deeper level, an approach is good or needs to change. Very powerful.

Still, I was intimidated. Ensiklomusika was counting on me, paying me, to prepare something clear and useful, in an unfamiliar context, in a foreign country. It would be nice if they all loved it, and loved me, but maybe they’ll think I’m a fraud. Then what?

A wise man once wrote: “the future is indeed terrifyingly unknowable when you can’t even focus on the present.”

So I focused on what I could control: my own effort, in that moment.

Weeks later, I arrived in Jakarta and spent some time wandering around the city.

After a few stimulating days dodging Southeast Asia traffic, I hunkered down in my hotel to work on my presentation.

The Presentation

I arrived, sat down at the piano, and relaxed for a few minutes. Oh wait, I know how to do this.

Soon, a dozen teachers from Jakarta filed in, with pens and paper, and sat down, waiting for me to begin.

So I took a deep breath, and began. I talked about rhythmic approaches, how to sight-read, and common problems students have. I shared stories about my students to show why rapport matters so much – students often stay or leave because of this alone.

Finally, I brought in a unique approach to helping kids, as young as four, read and play music from their first lesson. I’ve used Andrew Ingkavet’s Musicolor Method for close to a year and watched as referrals flew in, my roster almost double, and my confidence as a teacher grow like crazy. Andrew’s approach not only works, but kids (and even one of my adult students!) really love it. What an opportunity to show a room full of Jakarta residents something new, from the other side of the world!

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After two hours, the conference ended. The masterclass began soon after.

Again, this was new for me. I was to give each of seven students a private lesson…with their families, friends, and students watching. To take the searing spotlight off the student, I planned to address the audience at times, to include them in the learning process.

This means I had to:

  • immediately identify the problems that particular student (a student I had just met!) was facing
  • help her feel comfortable enough to listen to me and try my suggestions (with a watching audience)
  • throughout each lesson, I had to observe, frame, and simplify those problems to the audience in a way that 1) didn’t alienate the student herself, and 2) helped the audience understand some technicals without alienating them

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By the end, I was totally wiped out.

And who headlines the entire masterclass? A wildly talented student, Elnino, six years old, sits down and crushes a tricky Sonatina. This boy used every part of his body gracefully and played it passionately. Not like a robot at all. It was easy for him.

Elnino’s physical instincts were top-notch. I nudged the audience to observe what he does so effortlessly with his arms and body overall, to open their minds to how he’s intuitively solved his own physical problems, the same problems that plague other students.

What a reward, to present material that I love to new faces, and they were thrilled!

We finished, grabbed a beer, and Rosa forced me to eat a durian (a fruit that smells so bad it offends cockroaches). Then I hopped on a plane to Bali the next morning. What a trip.

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Takeaways: What I Learned by Teaching Teachers and Giving a Piano Masterclass

It challenged me to condense all my knowledge in a simple, actionable way, and to do this publicly, on the spot.

I learned to repeat myself, helpfully. For instance, unclear rhythms cause most problems for students. During the masterclass, I saw five students struggle with this. So I approached them with a similar solution, five times, and noted the common thread to the student and the audience. Everyone wins.

The experience gave me more confidence as a teacher. It gave my work visibility, legitimacy, and a bridge to a whole new set of relationships on a different continent. As a busy teacher in NYC, I know that relationships, and ultimately businesses, are built and sustained on trust. I managed to create a pocket of that within an entirely new part of the world.

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Want to try something like this? You never know, all it takes is a quick email. Plan ahead now before next summer comes – Ensiklomusika continuously accepts foreign teachers during their visits.

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Brett Crudgington runs a private piano studio in Brooklyn, NY for over 20 students. He studied jazz as a teenager and spent formative years in college working with John Kamitsuka on classical music. It was here that he learned Abby Whiteside’s physical approach to the piano, how to make music that emanates from the core rather than the fingers. He actively brings a wide range of pedagogical tools to his lessons, including Andrew Ingkavet’s Musicolor Method.

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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio

music teaching tips

Welcome to our member spotlight series. Today we have Angie & Marcus. The questions are answered by Angie, but the husband and wife duo teach music lessons together in Boise, Idaho.

How long you’ve been teaching?

15 years

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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

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The Virtual Music Education Conference produced by Janice and Kevin Tuck packs four days with online presentations by experts in the field of music education. Even though it’s been around for years, my very first time to attend the online conference was this year. To be honest, I attended because I was invited as a presenter for the conference. I discovered that it was not only an honor to be included in the schedule as a speaker but also an honor to have access to the highly esteemed conference and learn from so many leaders in our field. There’s still time to access the conference. Learn more here.

I was glued to my seat listening to the first day’s presenters. In fact, I already purchased a couple of books while listening to the first two sessions! One of the books that I’ll be rereading soon is Todd Whitaker’s entitled, What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most. As I listened to Whitaker speak and then while reading his book, I kept thinking that I should have absorbed his advice years ago. It would have helped me to deal more professionally and effectively with troublesome student behavior and needy parents!

As I know you’ll want to purchase his book yourself I won’t “ruin” it by providing those 17 things here in this post. Instead, I’ve made some tweaks that show how I applied Whitaker’s advice for me as an independent piano studio teacher. For those you don’t teach piano, please make minor adjustments!

Begin each of the following sentences with: Great piano teachers…

1) Know that it may be the teacher that needs to improve before the student can improve at the keys.

Ex: Before you believe the student is the problem, check to see if you might be the problem and make steps to find a solution.

2) Understand that the method book and exams are not the keys to measuring success on the bench.

Ex: If a student wants to play “Fur Elise” great teachers will adapt their curriculum and realize that even though this may be the 100th student in their studio playing “Fur Elise”, it’s the student’s very first time to experience and enjoy “Fur Elise.” Read more…

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Lang Lang

Musicians are divided it seems – There are those who would be lost without their sheet music and there are those that play beautifully “by ear.”

Which is the correct method for playing music? What a question! I’m sure both camps will have good arguments to justify their preferred method. Personally, I sit in the middle seeing the pros and cons of both methods!

When teaching beginners, I like to start by teaching them basic music reading skills. At a point when they are successfully reading to a sufficient standard and maintaining those skills on a regular basis, I like to introduce the world of memory to them. Why? Here are some of my reasons:

• Learning to play by memory is practical – you can play for others at the drop of a hat when you don’t have your music.

• Playing from memory encourages the student to focus more on a musical performance.

• Encouraging memory skills allows for a more holistic approach to learning and music making.

• Older adult students love to work on memory techniques as they are often keen to try to keep their brains working!

Right from the beginning we can lay the foundation as we teach our students a simple scale by memory. We might build on that with more complex figures like arpeggios or broken chords. The main thing for the student to start recognizing are the patterns in music. Simple tunes are often littered with sequences (melodic figures that are repeated slightly higher or lower). As we help our students to decipher the building blocks of the song in question, it gives us, the teacher, the opportunity to incorporate theory and composition techniques.

For some, learning to play by memory may feel very daunting. They will need constant encouragement but the rewards can be phenomenal! I’ve seen many a metamorphosis – a timid performer turn into an expressive and confident musician because they have discovered the empowering magic of playing by memory.

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

What do you do when you have have four marvelous, faithful, dynamic and long-time pianists who are graduating from high school and leaving your studio? You throw a Senior Showcase AND check to see if their skills match your mission statement–you know–that one you post on your website but forget to check!

I held a senior showcase quite some time ago when I had three seniors graduate in one year. I did the same for the four seniors in the picture below. This year’s show included considerable “upgrades” thanks to the latest tech tools and my ongoing desire to provide creative-based teaching.

 

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Program cover made with Canva

The agenda for the evening

  1. Offer a knockout printed program featuring dazzling photos and important info about the seniors. TIP: Canva.com is amazing! Make sure to check out this free graphic design program.
  2. Prepare pianists to perform around 5 of their favorite current or past pieces that best represent their playing AND their creativity.
  3. Present a projected slide show featuring snap shots of “lifetime” pics of each senior to loop prior to the showcase.
  4. Include a projected slide reflecting the mood or style of the piece as each pianist performed.
  5. Meet a special-request for one of the seniors by displaying slides with various movie posters as he played a tribute medley honoring all his favorite film composers.
  6. Set up cool lighting to provide sophisticated staging.
  7. Ensure outstanding and confident performances from each pianist showing their unique personalities and skills sets.
  8. Create an opportunity for each pianist to read a score on an iPad and turn pages with a blue-tooth pedal.
  9. Design a pop medley collaboration featuring all the pianists using the piano and the impressive voice selection of the Clavinova.

Read more…

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

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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

Photo Credit

When I was studying music in college I taught lessons from any unused practice room that I could find. Usually after K-12 schools were finished for the day the stuffy white rooms would start to clear out as well.

This set up was far from ideal, however. My instrument was perched on top of the room’s out-of-tune old piano and students (who were often too short to reach the top of the clunky chordophone) were forced to unpack in one of the room’s dusty corners. If parents wanted to observe the lessons they had to find whatever space was available and dodge flying bows.

As I have started to break into teaching in the real world, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a good studio good, beyond the teacher, of course. What can we change about our studios to make them inviting and encouraging to students? Or if we’re moving into a new studio, what should we look for before we sign a lease? When 50% of young musicians quit after two years, it’s clear that we need to grab onto every advantage we can in order to maintain student interest.

(1) Consider your windows. There’s no simple answer to the question of windows in studio rooms, but it’s much better to think about how you want them than to ignore the issue. Some students will be energized by sunlight and a view of the outdoors, but others may be easily distracted and dispense with your lesson in favor of a bird that’s flying by.

In my experience younger students tend to be the easily distracted ones, while older more self-directed students are able to avoid the distractions and stay upbeat with the aid of some natural light. However, it’s up to you to judge what’s appropriate for each student. Consider investing in some curtains so that you can change the room on a fly.

(2) Think about your position in the room. If you’re like me then you’ll be all over the place to observe the student and watch his or her technique from every angle, but you’ll always default back to a specific spot. Maybe you’ll have a chair there, or a desk, depending on your situation, but one thing is clear: you need to give your students room to breathe.

No one likes to have their teacher breathing down their neck and we need to remember that we can often be intimidating to our students. Give your student some space. You’ll both be happier.

(3) Spice up your studio with some music-themed decoration. My viola teacher in my high school years had a Beethoven action figure that gave the room a sort of fun vibe. That’s not the only way to get your students excited about music, though. Maybe think about a poster of a famous composer or perhaps a page of one of your instrument’s great concertos. Reminding students that they’ll be playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto one day can inspire and motivate them through difficult times.

A few inspiring measures can go a long way.

A few inspiring measures can go a long way.

Perhaps a life size cutout of a famous violinist is what your studio calls for. What student doesn’t want Jascha Heifetz’s stony gaze scrutinizing their every note? Or maybe a get a cutout of yourself so that you can take a well-deserved nap.

(4) Give your students some space to unpack their instrument, resin their bow, or do whatever else they need to do in order to get set up for the lesson. Don’t repeat my mistake and stand idly by while your student slides their case along the floor, picking up dust and God knows what else along the way. All you need here is a low table, which can double as a place to keep your lesson box. That one investment can go a long way.

(5) Keep photos of your old students around. Every student who sticks with their instrument after they’ve stopped taking lessons is a story worth telling. On top of inspiring your current students to stick with it, having a reminder of your successes around can help you keep going through the rough days.

(6) Get yourself some sort of audio setup. This can be as simple as a pair of mobile speakers to hook up to your laptop or phone. As long as you’re getting your student to listen to some of the music for your instrument, you’re on the right track. I’m reminded of the story of a young Lynn Harrell, who listened to the records of Janos Starker for inspiration in his youth. Having your own equipment “in house,” so to speak, is more important than it seems here, since many students won’t have the resources or the motivation to go out and find recordings on their own.

These are some of my ideas, but I’m not the perfect teacher. Let me know how you make your teaching studios exciting in the comments!

About the author:

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Nick Cesare is a violist and teacher from Boise, Idaho. He has a degree in viola performance from Boise State University, where he learned that the viola belongs in the left hand and the bow in the right. When he’s not practicing, Nick likes to write about music, bike in the Boise foothills, and cook.

 

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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio

MTH has the wonderful option to send Lesson Notes after each lesson. Although designed to simply let parents know what’s assigned or happening at lessons, this is an opportunity to save yourself time and keep your customers informed!

Answering ten unnecessary emails = wasted time!

How many emails do you get asking  questions about schedules or upcoming events, even though you previously sent emails or other correspondence with that exact information? Read more…

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Posted in MTH 101, Music & Technology, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper