Last month I attended the Music Teachers National Association National Conferences in Las Vegas. I had the honor and pleasure of being a conference presenter this year, and would like to share my presentation with MTH blog readers.
My presentation was titled “Combining Method Books – Accelerated Approach to Teaching Beginning and Intermediate Piano Students.”
To demonstrate my approach, I brought six talented students from my studio, and discussed various method books and supplementary materials I have used during their course of study. All of those six sudents started piano lessons with me from scratch, without any prior knowledge. Each student then performed a piece by a contemporary composer, which is a main focus in my studio.
The presentation was very well received. The room was packed, and by the time we started, there were people standing and sitting on the floor. Many people asked questions in the end, and many people requested my presentation slides.
I am very happy to share the slides, and have put them online for easy viewing and accesss. If you are interested, please visit this link:
“The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat…”
And so begins the portrayal of the romancing, marriage and honeymoon of the Owl and Pussy-cat by the nineteenth century writer Edward Lear.
“And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon”
After a few years of private music teaching, I began to notice that each new pupil goes through a “honeymoon” period. They start with such enthusiasm; it’s as if nothing else but their music matters to them. This is often even more noticeable in adult students.
Now some student’s “honeymoon” period will last for considerable months while others, barely weeks! And then the inevitable happens… Read more…
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.
The King’s trusted advisor came bursting through the door! “My Lord, we are being attacked!”
“Fear not,” said the wise old King. “We shall use my secret weapon, The Great Red Dragon!”
To cut the first of eleven fairy stories short, that appear in composer Nikolas Sideris’ brand new piano duet book, the King saves the day through clever trickery and wins the respect of his people!
After I finished reading this two paged story, one of eleven written especially by Nefeli Tsipouridi, I couldn’t wait to turn over the page and start playing the first composition in the book. I was inspired!
But oh no! I was alone at the piano and this is a duet book!
Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, each primo part has a QR code on the side of the title, so all I needed to do was hold my tablet up and the next moment a well-recorded performance of the composer playing the secondo part began to my delight. (There is a link in the introductory pages of the book that you can visit to download the mp3 files if you prefer)
And wow, what an adventure! With the words of the story I had just read still ringing in my ears, I was transported to the centre of the scene with composer, Nikolas Sideris’, evocative music. We battled evil forces with every twist and turn Read more…
Why wait until a holiday to “turn on the party?” We teachers can find many reasons and ways to celebrate student milestones.
Parents may not understand what a big deal it is to graduate to the next level of books, for instance. We can help them get it by making a bit of fuss over it ourselves. And if they still don’t get it, at least someone has admired the student’s success.
18 Reasons to Celebrate Student Milestones—they:
arrived at the staples—the midway point!—of their book
passed a unit
completed their level and graduated to the next—huzzah!
practiced one hundred days in a row
practiced five days this past week
remembered to trim their nails
memorized a song
accomplished all their weekly practice goals
performed in public for the first time
played in their first recital
played in any recital
mastered certain number of scales (pentascales, octaves or more)
conquered a beast of a piece of music
got their first playing gig
used a metronome successfully
memorized names of lines and spaces
they graduated from high school and are going off to college
Celebrate a Student Milestone
18 Ways to Celebrate Student Milestones:
pull out a kazoo and trumpet a fanfare
tiny milestone—press Staples’ Easy Button
the midway point in their book—offer a candy or let them make a shot at a Nerf basketball hoop
publish their name (and photo?) on your website
include their name (and photo?) in your studio newsletter
a congratulatory certificate
snail-mail a card to their home, addressed to them
notify Piano Explorer Magazine about their completion of 100 consecutive days of practice (or 200+)
post their names on a chart in your studio
play a CD of a regal/fanfarish song as they enter the room
let them wear a costume crown during their lesson
give a blue ribbon
create a banner/ribbon and add iron-on badges for accomplishments (like boy-and-girl scouts)
let them choose from prizes you’ve collected (dollar store items, coupons for ice cream or burger, sheet music, manuscript paper or books, CD, iTunes coupon…)
let them play music games on the computer
bake their favorite cookies
Student milestone? Bake cookies!
for a BIG accomplishment , tickets to a concert or a huge fake-book
We have all taught (and smiled) through nasty headaches, various aches and pains, and plain old fatigue, but what about when your body just doesn’t seem to cooperate any more and your health is a constant challenge? Below are some ideas I have used personally and also those of other music teachers that I interviewed for this blog. I hope today finds you healthy and strong, but if not, take courage. Teaching can be a time of enrichment and satisfaction in your day.
Be a fun, warm and friendly person to be around. This is not always easy, but it will help others to see you and not your disability or illness.
Enjoy each lesson and each relationship. This can actually take your mind off your own problems for awhile.
Carefully plan your energy usage for the day. If you have to teach all afternoon, you might not be able to clean house and run errands all morning.
Be realistic about your schedule. Don’t take on more students than you can keep up with and also maintain your strength and health.
Adapt your environment to your needs. Get the right kind of chair, use a baton to point out issues in the music, keep all your supplies close at hand.
Don’t over do it or over commit on days you are feeling pretty good. Continue to work according to your overall ability. It is so tempting to try and get the one million things done you have been neglecting for so long, but exercise restraint. It is easier to plan a big event down the road than it will be to get through it once it gets here.
Schedule breaks between students or groups of students.
Strategically talk to parents and adult students about your limitations. They are usually willing to accommodate and adjust where needed.
If you need to cancel more frequently because of illness, design a more lenient “sick policy” for you and for your students.
Enlist the help your older teen students to help around the studio filing music, dusting the piano, or helping younger ones with theory lessons.
Be very clear about your teaching priorities and focus on core skills. Now is not the time to add extra programs and studio activities.
Have a volunteer sign up list for your studio parents. They can bring snacks to group lessons, emcee at recitals, help set up for events, take pictures and many other things.
Build a good support system. Have friends you can call for advice and support when needed.
Get help with housework and meals if possible. A little extra help might mean you can continue to teach, which is probably a higher love on your list than scrubbing floors. Sometimes you can trade services for lessons.
Take care of yourself every day. Do all the things you know are healing for you.
If you are worried about how your students will react to your challenges, I think you will be encouraged by this note from John Ledell.
Piano Teaching With a Debilitating Illness, by John Ledell
“When the doctor announced I had to go full-time into a power wheelchair, many thoughts flashed through my mind but the dominant thought was what would my piano students and parents think? Would I still be able to teach the way I always had, jumping up on the piano bench to play parts of pieces for students? How would I show them how I wanted certain passages played in the music? Would people want to take lessons from an old man in a wheelchair? Lots of questions and very few answers popped into my mind.
First a little background. I had polio when I was two. From an Iron Lung, it took 14 years of rehab and more than a dozen operations to bring me back to as normal physically as I would ever be. I could walk with braces but had a very pronounced limp. I was proud of my accomplishments in being normal enough to pass for normal. Flash forward to my 40’s when something called post-polio syndrome set in. The motor neurons controlling the muscles that were damaged by the polio virus started giving out. Thus my ability to walk was gone completely. I started using crutches full-time and got around satisfactorily but I always hid that fact from my students.
In the room where I teach, I would enter before lessons and sit in a rolling office chair and then hide my crutches in a closet so my students and parents would not know I was disabled. I could still hop onto the piano bench to play and then hop back to my office chair. I learned the hard way that it’s important to go to the bathroom before lessons in order to keep my disability hidden.
When the doctor told me I had to use a power wheelchair, it was because decades of using crutches had ruined my shoulders and made continued use of crutches unbearably painful. However, there was no place to hide the big bulky wheelchair in my teaching room so my secret would be discovered. I even thought of giving up piano teaching and let my wife, and fellow piano teacher, take over my students even though she already had a full schedule.
In the end we decided to confront the disability openly and just explain what was going on to both students and their parents. It turns out most of them suspected what was going on because my behavior and lack of movement was unusual. Instead of being put off by my disability, students and families rallied around me and threw their complete love and support to my wife and myself. It turns out what they loved about my teaching was my humor and supportive efforts with their children and music. No one cared about my mobility only the love and encouragement I always gave to their children and their music.”
Please add your insights in the comment section below so we can all learn from each other.
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…
Mmm! Lots of keen sports people randomly running around for 90 minutes?!
And yet, how easy it would be for our music students to be drifting along aimlessly without any real direction. And maybe even us too as their teacher!
So what is the secret to motivating our pupils (and ourselves)?
I’m sure you would agree that we need to set a combination of achievable short and long term goals. Goals give students and teachers focus. Short term goals act as “stepping stones” to the bigger ones.
And the best goals of all? Those are the goals set by the student. When they take “ownership” of their goals, they really do make great progress!
So this month, consider four small goals to encourage pupils to set. Hopefully, the bigger goals will naturally follow…
1st Goal – Let them choose the pieces (songs)
Pupils are far more motivated if they’ve chosen the song. Here’s an old trick of mine. If they are preparing for a concert or an exam, why not give them a Read more…
Being a person who is strongly nourished by sunlight and warmth, this is a hard time of year for me. That makes mid-winter a great time to remind myself why I really do love my job. This list is a compilation of many individuals’ thoughts, so most of us will find something we can relate to.
I get to keep learning new music all the time.
I am giving a gift that will last a lifetime.
My young “clients” are adorable and amazing.
Nothing compares to seeing a face light up when a child finally “gets it.”
Small accomplishments bring great pleasure.
I connect to children at the level of their hearts.
My job is much more meaningful than a typical 8-5.
I am sometimes the first person to alert parents to a learning or visual challenge.
I teach kids to rise above negativity and self-doubt to create beautiful and very personal music.
I get to witness generations of musicians enjoying their music.
It is gratifying to know that I am an important part of a child’s life.
I enjoy the constant challenge of finding better and more effective ways to teach a concept.
I am never bored—I get a whole new personality to enjoy every 30-45 minutes.
I have the privilege of helping to keep the arts alive in our culture.
I am helping to make someone’s dream come true.
I am able to model for a child smart work habits, diligence, perseverance, patience, and confidence.
I never really know how much impact and influence I am having, so it keeps me on my toes every single day.
Music is a unique form of human expression and I get to draw it out.
This makes it worth pouring my heart, soul and love for music into my work every day. Even the cold, dark days of winter. Please share your inspirational thoughts below!