music lessons in today's busy attention economy

The Information Economy?

People sometimes say that we are living in the “information economy.”  I think that is only partially true.  Instead, I believe we are living in the attention economy.  Think about it.  There is nothing more precious than our attention — not time, money, or material possessions –and everyone wants a piece of it!

Mindfulness

There has recently been a lot of talk about mindfulness in the media,and I believe it’s exactly because of information overload.  We as a society need to stop and learn to filter out the signal from all the noise.

Fully Present

I specialize in teaching music to children.  One thing that I have done from the beginning is made it a point to be truly present while teaching or interacting with my students and their families.  At recitals, I give my unwavering focus to each child on the stage, to the point where I feel both emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of the performance.  It is as if I am willing their success through my 100% attention.  

I didn’t realize that I was doing this until my wife mentioned it to me.  She said,

“I love to watch you at your recitals because you are completely there for your students.”

I believe that this total focus on each student in front of me is a big part of why I have such a strong rapport with them.  

It is unfortunately so rare for a child to have that complete and total attention from any adult these days. Many parents are so distracted.  Not only is there the normal work/life balance, but now there is also the ubiquitous smartphone constantly beeping in the background.  Many children seem to never have full attention, and “act out,”  because negative attention is better than no attention at all.

An Audience of One

Each lesson is also a performance.  You have an audience of one, and you are fully engaged in listening, responding, and leading the student to new heights of understanding and ability.  

What happens when you give a child your complete presence is remarkable.  You have complete trust;  you have a safe space where you can encourage, coax, or even cajole your student to move far beyond their previous internally-constructed obstacles.  When the student says, “I can’t do it”  you can say, “…yet!”  and they believe you.

I was so humbled to receive this comment from a parent:

“You have a unique capability to communicate, share and nurture enthusiasm for music…  you teach to the individual child.  You find a way to access each student where he/she is, and to find the music that touches him/her.  I have noticed with Mary* that (while she never wants to disappoint you) she does not fear judgment from you…you have created a safe place for the journey of learning.  While you gently push your kids, you are an incredibly patient and kind teacher. 

Be Present

So the lesson is this: Stop trying to multi-task.  Be completely present, and it will enable you to move mountains and maybe even change the world.

*Student’s name has been changed

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Posted in Teaching Tips

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

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
Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Teaching Tips

Finding music students

As a music teacher, your job is not only to educate but also to inspire.  To truly connect your student to music, you need to know a bit about them.  What kind of music do they like?  Do they have favorite artists or genres?  But what about the earliest experiences of music?

Be The Guide For Your Students

Preschoolers and young children are usually blank slates with little music exposure and are looking to you to introduce them to the world of music.  It’s your job to play, perform and recommend playlists for them at home.  The huge success of the Suzuki method is driven by the use of the pre-recorded music that you “program” the child from an early age, just like listening to a language tape.

Playlists for Music Students

I created some suggested listening and singing songs for young children a long time ago.  These were all songs I sang to my son when he was a toddler and what they share are simple melodic structures and very simple harmonies, often just two chords, the tonic and the dominant.  They are also just great for introducing early students to listening to music and eventually learning these tunes on their instruments.

Order of Listening

After folk songs, an introduction to early Classical and Baroque music is a great choice.  Actually,following the full history of music makes a lot of sense as it is builds upon itself developing greater harmony, color tones, length, etc.   And, you are doing a wonderful history of music in a nutshell, whether the student knows it or not.

Songs To Sing To Your Toddler – Some Suggestions

  • Hush Little Baby
  • Swing Low Sweet Chariot
  • Kum Ba Ya
  • Dinah
  • Kookaburra (usually thought to be an Australian folk song, it was written by a camp counselor in 1932)
  • Michael Row The Boat Ashore
  • Greensleeves
  • Lightly Row
  • HoneyBee
  • Cuckoo
  • French Children’s Song (Petit Papa)
  • Oh How Lovely Is The Evening
  • Summertime (Gershwin)
  • Silent Night
  • You Send Me (Sam Cooke)
  • Zippity Doo Dah (By The Sherman Brothers for Disney)
  • The 59th Street Bridge Song (Simon & Garfunkel)
  • Under The Boardwalk (The Drifters)
  • This Little Light of Mine

When MTV Used To Play Music!

I used to be a VJ for MTV. (That’s Video Jockey for Music Television for those of you who weren’t around when the television channel actually played music videos all day, everyday.)   What most people didn’t realize, I had no influence on what was played and when.  It was all done by the “programming department” who decided which videos to play and what order to play them in and how often.

Programming Your Child/Student

“Programming” is what you are actually doing by introducing great music to your students.

A real DJ (or VJ) would be making song selections based on mood, audience and the emotional arc desired.  I’ve done this a few times in my life, and it’s a thrill to see how you can shape the crowd based on song selections and timing.  You can really bring a crowd to a frenzy!

Student Preferences Lead To Enthusiasm

Well, the same thing happens when you are planning your lessons.  After a while, say a few months, you are going to have a good feel for who your students are.  You should be noticing what types of pieces they really respond to and start offering more in that direction.

Older students are usually beginning to show real preferences and some may have a favorite artist, rock band or Broadway Show with songs they want to learn.

Music Teacher As DJ

This past week, as I’ve been prepping for lessons, after many students took the summer off, I’ve gone through my past lesson notes to see what could be that perfect next song for the student?  What song would offer a new challenge that is not too overwhelming?   And I realized, it’s just like being a DJ, only on a longer macro scale.

Song Selection Examples

My 11 year old piano student K was learning “Titanium” by David Guetta which led me to “Flashlight” performed by Jesse J as heard in the movie Pitch Perfect 2.  A perfect segue!

My 8 year old piano student L was so into “Maps” by Maroon 5 and “Happy” by Pharell Williams…what should come next?  Hmm.  Still programming that one for later today.

What songs have you used to inspire and what did that lead to?  Please share in the comments below.

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Posted in Teaching Tips

getting students to practice piano

I often get calls from students that want to start piano lessons, but they don’t have a piano yet. Maybe the best thing for my wallet would be to tell them, “No problem. Let’s get you started!” But that really wouldn’t be the most ethical approach. As we all know practice is the most important part of lessons. Regardless of how good of a teacher you are, your students will absolutely never learn music well without practice. So they obviously need an instrument to practice on throughout the week.

Even though as teachers we know that practice is the most important part of lessons, for some reason most teachers tend to just say “Practice this.” Then they proceed to assign a bunch of measures that the student is supposed to “practice” throughout the week. Don’t be that teacher.

HOW You Practice is More Important than How LONG You Practice

Playing and practicing are two different things. If you just tell a student to practice some section, without instruction, they will no doubt play the section, not practice it. Playing is reading through a piece of music with no goal in mind other than reading through it. Practicing is focused with a goal. You practice what you cannot play well. If you can play a section well already, it doesn’t need practice.

Spend Your Lessons Teaching Practicing

For at least the first few months that I teach a student, I focus in on HOW to practice. These explanations often take up the majority of the lesson, but it is time well spent. Once my student practices correctly they progress unbelievable fast. The students that don’t apply these principals rarely get much better.

Memory

When a student is practicing memorizing a piece of music they should understand how their brains store information. They should have an understanding about how short-term/working memory and long-term memory work.

They should understand how long they last. They should understand how to move information from their short term memory to their long-term memory. If you need a refresher, or you were never taught how this works, this article on memorizing will put you in the right direction.

I’ve explained how the brain memorizes information to students as young as 5. Sometimes it takes a few lessons of repeating for them to understand fully. But don’t give up, or not try, just because you don’t think a student can handle the information.

Small Sections

As a teacher, we need to make sure that students aren’t “practicing” a piece of music from playing from the beginning over and over and over. Students will typically want to practice what sounds good. That means they are playing the parts they know over and over as well.

A better way to practice is to take a small section, sometimes a measure, sometimes just a couple of beats. The student would then play that small section through multiple times until it starts to feel comfortable. Then the student would move on.

One small section should end where the next section begins. Then once two sections are finished they should be played together, which helps avoid any breaks in playing. Once connected, a new section should be started. The key here is to take super small sections. Small enough that the student can focus in on every small detail and not repeat them correctly multiple times in a row. Dynamics, articulation, phrasing, everything should be added at the beginning of this stage.

Don’t Over Practice

I have no problem with students practicing hours and hours every day. Many teachers might disagree, but I think with a few exceptions the more practice the better. But it has to be effective practice. The key to not over practicing is not to limit your overall practice time, but to limit your practice time on any one section. Our brain needs sleep to learn. Very often students reach the limit of what they can learn in one sitting on one particular section and they continue to pound away.

We need to teach our students to practice a small section for a small amount of time. When it starts to get frustrating, they’ve practiced it too much. At that point, they would need to move on to something else and come back to it the next day. The secret to having extremely long effective practice sessions is working on a lot of different music, or at least a lot of different sections.

Sleep is the best practice aid out there.

Get the Parents Involved

When it comes to teaching young children, we just cannot expect them to practice as focused as we need them to on their own. Maybe some older students, and some particularly prodigious younger students can practice the way we tell them to, but most children just won’t be able to.

They may understand the process, but understanding and doing are two very different things. As a teacher, you’ve likely spent thousands of hours in a practice room, so you should know better than anyone how difficult it is for even a seasoned professional to stay focused, how can we expect this from a 7-year-old?

I personally believe that having parents sit in on the lessons is a good way to go. When the parent listens they get a clear understanding about what you are asking their child to do during practice. Then the parent would ideally sit with them and make sure practice went the way it was supposed to.

Some teachers are understandably hesitant about this. If you’re one of those teachers, then think about recording exactly how you want the student to practice and sending the recording to the students parents. This way you can have the best of both worlds, no parent in the lesson, but they still understand what is expected of them and their child.

Conclusion

Of all the things you can teach your students, how to practice really is the most important. We can’t be there all the time, but what we teach them can. The more you focus in on having them practice correctly, the better your students will get, and the more enjoyable lessons will be for everyone.

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Posted in 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

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By Robin Steinweg

Have you held traditional senior recitals? Often they are formal events. But what if your seniors don’t roll that way? Here are three unique senior send-offs, customized for out-of-the-ordinary students:

  • A late-starting piano student of mine hadn’t reached a level of wanting to share difficult repertoire. She had a couple of beautiful pieces prepared for the spring recital—including an original—but the traditional event wouldn’t be for her. She had traveled to Phoenix, Arizona and visited the MIM: Musical Instrument Museum (“The world’s only global musical instrument museum”) and had taken wonderful photos. I invited her to speak to my group class. She put together a power point presentation of highlights. Not only her own favorites, but what she thought the younger students would love to see. She held them captivated, and at the end, fielded a lively Q&A session.
  • A ten-year piano student had a large repertoire including many genres. She decided to host her own private senior concert before Christmas. She designed and created invitations and sent them to over a hundred friends, relatives, and teachers or other adults in her life. She chose not only her favorite pieces, but added some of her family’s favorites, and other songs for their entertainment value. She decided the order of the songs with attention to good pacing. The programs were her design. She invited another local musician to lead a Christmas carol sing-along so she could take a short intermission. She baked and brought all the refreshments for the reception. I’m sure it was a great addition to her portfolio!
  • Another long-time guitar (and voice) student entertained for a couple of hours at a coffee house. He sang and accompanied himself on guitar; invited family and friends; planned his sets carefully for pacing; set up and ran his own sound system; interacted with his audience; took requests; included a few original pieces; and invited his teacher to join him for a couple of duets. It was a successful evening for him and lucrative for the coffee house!

Music teachers tend to love their students and grow sentimental over them leaving the nest. We want to honor their gifts and hard work. When you have students who don’t fit the typical recital mold, how do you give them a unique senior send-off?

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Posted in Performing, Teaching Tips

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It seems there is a secret that is right in front of our noses. It is the secret of effective practice.

How I Learned The Secret of Effective Practice

When I was a young college student at NYU in a double major program of music education and jazz performance on guitar, I spent many hours on the 9th floor of the old SEHNAP building. It was called SEHNAP at the time because of the crazy acronym for a school that just seemed to be thrown together: the School of Health, Nursing, and Arts Professions. Today it’s called the Steinhardt building after a patron.

The 9th Floor

Anyway, the 9th floor was where the practice rooms were. These were small rooms with upright pianos and a small double pane glass window to peek in or out. There was just barely enough room for one person to sit and practice at the piano or stand and play sax or violin or any other instrument with a single music stand. The rooms were soundproof which also meant they were pretty air tight. After spending an hour or more in a room, you would start to feel the stuffiness of low oxygen and the heat of your own breath filling the room and you had to take a break for risk of fainting! And yet, these rooms were packed most of the week. Weekends, you could possibly find a room when lunch rolled around. But these rooms were coveted. It was where all the work happened.

Woodshedding

Jazz players call this woodshedding and it involved a story of Charlie Parker (or maybe some other jazz legend) hiding out in a woodshed to practice for hours and hours a day. In fact practice became known as “woodshedding” or “shedding” for short. I figure I spent my first two years of college “shedding” anywhere from 2 to 4 hours a day. This was less than in high school when there was really nothing else to do and I could spend up to 9 hours a day practicing. But it wasn’t all that productive. A lot of it was just repeatedly playing the same songs and licks and exercises over and over again with marginal improvement.

Victor’s Epiphany

It was on one of these long shedding days on the 9th floor when Victor, a guitar player of amazing abilities in his 3rd year, came stumbling out of a practice room with a euphoric look on his face. A bunch of us were taking a break from practice sitting on the floor near the elevators and we looked up expectantly.

“I just realized the most amazing thing!” Victor looked like he was high or something.

“What’s up Vic?” Ben called out.

“You don’t practice what you ALREADY know! You practice WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW!”

Victor stumbled back to his practice room and shut the door. The group of us on the floor just sat there like a bomb had gone off. In fact it was a bomb…in our minds. It blew away all the old conceptions of what practice was. It’s a moment I will never forget because it was like a complete shift in my thinking.

Practice What You Don’t Know

This is something that is hard for young students to realize on their own. Many of my lessons are spent actually in practice mode with them. I think of it like a soccer coach practicing goal kicks with my players. In fact, most kids playing soccer are not going to be practicing on their own, they are getting the practice with the coach.

Practicing in the Lesson

As a music teacher, it can be similar. Many students have poor practice skills or do not practice at home at all! The lessons then become about practicing and teaching them how to practice.

Smoothing Over

The biggest tip at improving is having the student work on the part that is giving them the most trouble, and repeating it several times. Then, running the whole song becomes a much better experience. At home, the student is now able to enjoy creating these sounds because that trouble spot has been “smoothed over.”

The game of practice is a book about encouraging and motivating children to practice their music instrument

You can teach kids the vital life skill of practice

The Game of Practice

This is an excerpt from my new book, The Game of Practice, with 53 tips to make practice fun! 

It’s a book for music teachers and parents of music students.  It has essays, like this one, about mindset and then 53 individual tips and tricks to make practice much less overwhelming and more game-like along with stories from my studio and my own personal parenting experiences.  You can get it for free for a limited time at Amazon.  If you find it helpful, I would greatly appreciate a kind review.

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Ed Pearlman

Music for Healing

June 12th, 2016 by

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Music heals.  It is widely used in therapy, it soothes the moods of people round the world, and the act of playing music generates endorphins that make a player feel better.

Music therapy has been used for many years for its multi-sensory expression.  Studies about neurological development support its use to draw out feelings and concerns of patients.  It was found to be particularly effective with traumatized children after World War II.  Therapists use many methods to work with people, including moving to music, listening, playing on instruments, body percussion, singing, and songwriting.

In the 1930s, my mother studied piano from a man named Moissaye Boguslawski, who had grand notions of what music could do to heal people.  He believed, ahead of his times, that music could cure antisocial behavior and treat memory loss.  A prominent concert pianist with various symphonies, he insisted on playing regular piano concerts at the Cook County Hospital for the Insane, a place in Chicago commonly called Dunning, which doubled as an insane asylum and a poorhouse.  Boguslawski was convinced that music had healing effects on people suffering in that institution.  He is respected for his work, including articles in leading publications on the psychological and therapeutic effects of music, but Time magazine wrote a 1936 profile of him which took a decidedly cynical and bemused view of his opinions and projects.

Times have certainly changed since then.  The healing effects of music are well accepted, and music therapy is a common health care career.

But music also heals the musician.  A study done by Oxford researchers found that active performers had an increased pain threshold after performing than before.  This included three groups of participants: churchgoers who actively sang and clapped versus those who sang politely in their pews; dancers who performed as compared to musicians who were frequently interrupted during rehearsal; and musicians in a drumming circle, versus those who sat and listened to music.

The increase of the pain threshold was used as an indication that endorphins were being generated by the performance activities.

The key researcher pointed out that “It is probably the uninhibited flow or continuity of action that is important: if the music is frequently interrupted (as in rehearsals), any effect is markedly reduced (if not obliterated).”

Practice and rehearsal might be very careful and nonflowing — but hopefully only to prepare for a performance that flows effortlessly.

There might be a lesson here for teachers, however — too much interruption, criticism, fear of mistakes, lack of continuity, can prevent a sense of flow and a sense of joy in playing music.  While some of that careful thought and practice can be necessary for developing skills, it is also essential to practice allowing continuity, rehearsing the feeling of flow, permitting enjoyment, and striving for effortlessness, even if in small segments.  You are what you practice, and if your practice is grim, halting, and fearful, the performance is unlikely to rise above the practice.

Making sure there is a goodly percentage of flow in practice sets the stage for a flowing performance, and unless the listeners are dancing along, the musicians in such a performance are likely to feel healthier and happier than their audience by the time the show is over!

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips