Recitals are very beneficial for music students. A primary benefit is providing motivation to work toward a goal and highly polish a piece of music. Many students are not willing to put this degree of “polish” on a piece without the added incentive of a performance.

Recitals can also teach students valuable skills, such as proper protocols for solo musicians, dealing with mistakes during live music, learning self-calming and relaxation techniques, and developing positive ways to talk to themselves in stressful situations.

One of the main benefits of a live performance is to share music with others, and to enjoy it together. I tell my students that their music is a gift they are sharing with the audience. It is usually a joy to give a gift and watch the other person respond with pleasure.

To a lesser extent, performance is a concrete demonstration to the parents that progress is occurring. I downplay this with the students themselves, but I know that this is an important reality that a music teacher must take into consideration.

An even more slippery notion is that the performance reflects the skill of the teacher. In a lot of ways this is true of course, but in many other ways it is not because there are too many variables; student ability, willingness to practice and follow instruction, home environment and instrument quality, parental support, social anxiety levels, and even the amount of sleep the student had the night before. If you view an isolated student performance as a direct judgement on your teaching ability, too much pressure is placed on the child and the teacher.

Live performance can take place in a number of different settings, from very casual to extremely formal. I like to take my students up a continuum throughout the year from casual to formal. In this way I can watch each student and evaluate their ability to handle stress and performance challenges, and I can then adapt to give them the best chance of having a positive experience. If approached with the right attitude, even less than perfect performances can be an opportunity for learning, not a catastrophe.

The most basic level of performance happens when the student plays for the teacher at his or her lesson. If performance anxiety is severe, this may be the only performance level tolerated for awhile. In extreme cases of performance anxiety I try to gently nudge up the tolerance level by first having a stuffed animal sit on the piano and listen in on the lesson. Next I may have another student sit in the room during the lesson. This is also a great time for duets and improvisation.

Group lessons provide a step up in intensity. I like to have ensemble playing time as part of every group lesson (I teach piano so group performance is not the norm). If a piece is out of a student’s range I adapt it by having them play just one hand, or maybe a chord base. Group lessons can also include solo performances. This could either be in the form of a master class, or it can be a time to demonstrate performance skills for an upcoming event.

Once students are able to play comfortably in front of their teacher, stuffed animals and other students, a small studio recital should be well tolerated. This can be just for students, or for a small group of students and their parents.

If students become used to performing from a young age, most seem to adjust to it well. If you have an older beginner, it may not be as easy for them. They may view themselves as “behind” compared to other kids their age. No teenager likes to look less than perfect. This calls for a lot of creativity on the teacher’s part, such as finding pieces that sound harder than they are, or pulling together a fun ensemble or teacher/student duet.

The next level is to take students out to a small local venue, such as a retirement home. At the beginning of the year I try to keep the repertoire easy and fun for this kind of an event. I talk about how glad the residents are to see them and how they are going to love anything they do. I make the program informal and maintain a friendly exchange with the audience. At these first outings I also stay close by the piano to help with footstools and cushions, and to offer encouraging words.

Community events can be made more exciting with a theme, such as Halloween or Christmas music, or by including more duets. Student/parent numbers are fun. This would also be a good time to let students try out their accompanying skills by playing for a sibling to do a violin solo, etc. I don’t usually encourage a lot of extra guests besides parents to these small venues. Students and their parents are asked to spend some time talking with the residents before and after the performance.

Mid-winter through early spring is a common time for judged performance opportunities. This is a different venue from a recital, but with many overlapping skills required. Students in their second year of lessons are ready to participate in one or more judged events.

By the end of the school year students should be able to perform in a formal recital. These larger events take a lot of work, but I believe they are worth the effort. I do not recommend more than a 45-60 minute program of music. Students can be divided into two or more recital times if you can’t fit all students in that time limit. Make sure students of every ability level are included in each group. Think of something interesting to include about halfway or two-thirds of the way through the program. It could be an exciting duet or ensemble, a second instrument with accompaniment, or even an audience participation piece.

I spend a lot of time preparing students for their formal recital. They are encouraged to dress up, and invite their extended family and friends. Stage lighting and the presence of many cameras are discussed ahead of time. Complete “formal performance” protocol is expected. I give out annual awards to each student after the recital and then host a reception where parents provide the food and I provide the punch. I describe it as an end of year celebration; no judges—just a great time to share their music and have fun.

Not withstanding the importance that I place on recitals, I have had students who cannot play in front of others, no matter how many ways I have tried to build their confidence. At this point good judgement and compassion need to rule the day. I do not believe that public performance is mandatory in order to learn to play the piano recreationally. We all know stories of adults who quit piano entirely because they could not deal with recitals. I don’t want any of my students to be pushed beyond their breaking point.

Please post your recital experiences below. Especially how you handle performance anxiety at recital time.

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Posted in Performing, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

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.

Piano Basics

30 minute lessons

(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)

  • sight reading
  • fundamental technique
  • basic theory
  • 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.

Rising Stars

45 minute lessons + 20 minutes lab time

(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)

  • sight reading
  • intermediate level technique
  • intermediate theory
  • transposition
  • performance preparation
  • performance venues
  • extra music selection
  • memorization skills
  • 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.

Comprehensive Musicianship

60 minute lessons + 30 minutes lab time

(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)

  • sight reading
  • performance level technique
  • ear training
  • advanced rhythm patterns
  • challenge pieces
  • wide range of musical genres
  • collaborative duet work
  • transposition
  • basic composition
  • lead line skills
  • accompaniment skills
  • music history
  • advanced performance preparation
  • performance venues
  • memorization work
  • 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.

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

DRAG yourself to the beach and DROP onto that lawn chair!

Despite how much I love teaching, I genuinely look forward to my time off. After a long January through March with no breaks, I can hardly wait for Spring Break!

Do you ever hold lessons for part of a day before a vacation starts, or occasionally cancel some, but not all, lessons on a given day?

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Posted in Studio Management, Uncategorized, Using Music Teacher's Helper

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.

LINKS

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

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.
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Posted in Financial Business, Professional Development, Studio Management

I remember it well. Waking up with coffee in hand, I hurried to my laptop to open the Music Teachers Helper tab. Yes, I could have read the Daily Summary email that appears in my inbox which lists all the students arriving for lessons that day, but I wanted to access my calendar to double check the lessons scheduled for the entire week.

You can imagine my surprise when I logged in and I received a message that my account had expired. I logged in again assuming that in my haste, I had incorrectly entered my password.

Uggh…again the message: your account has expired.

You know that feeling when your stomach drops right after the roller coaster has crested the top of the ramp and begins its descent? Suddenly my coffee wasn’t sitting so well with me any more.

My anxiety grew as I had a list of items to complete on my Music Teachers Helper site before students arrived. I was planning to

  • Update a wait-listed registrant to active so I could create and send an invoice to the new student
  • Edit a lesson as a student needed to switch a time from Monday to Tuesday morning
  • Begin a draft of next month’s newsletter
  • Ensure that parents would receive the correct lesson day and time in their notification email by checking the week’s schedule
  • Email a new student family and inform them about the convenience of paying online with a credit card. I worried—would this handy feature be available to my new clients because of my expired account?
  • And more…

Insecurities crept in. Were my blog posts no longer appreciated? Perhaps I posted one too late which triggered the shut-off valve of my MTH account?

I figured there was a reason behind the MTH lockout and I knew Ronnie Curry and his timely MTH support team would have the answer.

Ronnie to the rescue! He promptly responded to my email plea and reopened my account that had been closed due to a small glitch. Breathing became easier and I brewed myself a fresh cup of Keuirg coffee.

Music Teachers Helper is the on-demand assistant that I’ve come to value even more than I knew.  With my current student load, the $49 a month, unlimited Music Teachers Helper account averages out to 92 cents a month per student. The peace of mind this system has offered me through the years is worth EVERY penny.

NOTE: Some of you may know that I also have my own blog at 88PianoKeys.me. Results from a recent MusicTeachersHelper survey revealed 88pianokeys.me is appreciated by MTH readers. I’m honored and thankful for your readership! Keep this list handy as it includes many relevant and helpful resources you’ll visit (as I will) on a regular basis.  Resources Music Teachers Love

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Posted in MTH 101, Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper

Sandy Lundberg

Mid-winter Motivation

January 26th, 2015 by

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.

  1. I get to keep learning new music all the time.
  2. I am giving a gift that will last a lifetime.
  3. My young “clients” are adorable and amazing.
  4. Nothing compares to seeing a face light up when a child finally “gets it.”
  5. Small accomplishments bring great pleasure.
  6. I connect to children at the level of their hearts.
  7. My job is much more meaningful than a typical 8-5.
  8. I am sometimes the first person to alert parents to a learning or visual challenge.
  9. I teach kids to rise above negativity and self-doubt to create beautiful and very personal music.
  10. I get to witness generations of musicians enjoying their music.
  11. It is gratifying to know that I am an important part of a child’s life.
  12. I enjoy the constant challenge of finding better and more effective ways to teach a concept.
  13. I am never bored—I get a whole new personality to enjoy every 30-45 minutes.
  14. I have the privilege of helping to keep the arts alive in our culture.
  15. I am helping to make someone’s dream come true.
  16. I am able to model for a child smart work habits, diligence, perseverance, patience, and confidence.
  17. I never really know how much impact and influence I am having, so it keeps me on my toes every single day.
  18. 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!

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

 

The issue of internal or external motivation is a debate that is sure to continue as long as there are music students and music teachers. One reason for this is the uniqueness of each student and each teacher. There is no one right answer.

Everyone seems to agree that an internally motivated child is the ideal. But what do we mean by “internally” motivated? Is it the child that seems to practice every week without wanting or needing stickers or prizes? Is it internal motivation to want to please your teacher or parents, or must it involve some level of personal enjoyment of the activity? 

Dan Pink, in his TED Talk, describes three elements of internal motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We can we strive to incorporate these three elements into our lessons. Certainly teaching students to be good readers and helping them to understand the fundamentals of music and harmony will promote a sense of autonomy. Training a student carefully in the elements involved in high-quality playing and taking pieces to completion, should develop a sense of mastery. A sense of purpose might come from discovering how their musical abilities can be used to serve and bless other people. Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

So I just had my annual Studio Holiday Recital last weekend! I give my students a recital gift at every studio recital, and I do two studio recitals a year. After 10 recitals or so, it has become increasingly harder to come up with new gift ideas. I am excited to report that I have found the ultimate holiday recital gift idea that will last 23 years!

What is it?

Ok, it’s not all that original – Composer Statuettes!

Believe it or not, this was the first time I gave out these little composer statuettes. In the past I have given medals, trophies, pins, certificates, personalized ornaments, little USB Christmas trees, giant candy canes, Christmas crackers, chocolates, soft toys…I thought these composer statuettes looked rather serious and students wouldn’t like them. I was wrong!

It’s all about personalization.

So on Sunday, the day after my recital, a dad called me out of the blue. It turned out that he had broken his daughter’s composer statuette by accident! No matter how much he assured her he would get her another one that looks just the same (they are easy to order online), my 7-year-old student was still upset, because “it won’t have her name and the name of the event on it.” I had no idea it meant that much to her! In the past I have sometimes personalized the recital gifts, sometimes not, but from now on, every recital award I give out will be personalized with the student’s name, name of the recital (summer or holiday) and year.

So how does this last 23 years?

There are 23 statuettes in the collection. Each student received the statuette of the composer whose music they played at the recital, if applicable. If there are multiple students in the same family, I give them all different ones, so the collection will look interesting on their piano. I keep a spreadsheet of which student got what composer, so I will be sure not to give them the same composer in future years. So in order to get the entire collection, a student will need to play in my studio holiday recital for the next 22 years! If a family has two kids, it will still take them 11 years to receive the entire collection! I think I will still give them something different for the summer recital, but at least for the holiday recital, I am set for a long while! The last statuette in the collection is called “World’s Best Student” – saved for special students, or those graduating or moving away.

Still room for variety from year to year.

I dressed up each composer with curling ribbon that looks like a scarf on the neck (break up the all-white, serious look), packaged each statuette with a candy cane inside, and tied the cellophane bag with shiny ribbons and a jingle bell ornament. In future years, I can put different kinds of candy or chocolate inside, use different ribbons, and attach different ornaments. This way the gift will still be interesting, especially since they will also get a different composer.

End Result

 

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Recently, we asked a series of questions to over 300 students of Music Teacher’s Helper users. Today, we share some of that data, which is likely representative of most private music teachers. So please share with your peers.

99% said that their teacher runs their studio in a professional manner. We hope Music Teacher’s Helper has played a part in such an impressive number!

Keep up the great work!

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management