A few months ago, my wife hired a theater instructor, who specializes in improv, to come give a workshop for some legal mediators.  One exercise he had them do has had a wonderful impact on my music students.

All students struggle, in fact all musicians do, if truth be told.  Every musician at every level is trying to raise his or her own ceiling and get just a bit better than before.  However, there are some students who regularly do better than they will admit.  Their ambition to do well is great, but sometimes, if they demand too much perfection, they taint all their progress with a bad taste.  Nothing is good enough.  They simply get in their own way.


Jane, for example, would focus on getting all the notes right but her sound was meek and tentative.  We worked on that for a while and she made great progress quickly.  I complimented her on this, and encouraged her to keep it up and to value her new skill.

But all she could do was frown and look at me as if I was crazy.  She pointed out each of the notes she’d missed, especially the one that was way out of tune.  She talked as if I was either deaf or lying in order to make her feel better than she should.  It was very difficult to convince her that she had made an important step forward in her music making, regardless of a few sour notes.

This is when, finally, the lesson I heard about from the improv instructor paid off.   In one of his exercises, he had the students pair off and Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Getting Creative – My Students’ Rulers

Learning and practicing scales at the keyboard can be relatively easy and enjoyable with the aid of some simple visual aids.  Yet music students often feel daunted with the learning of scales, chords and arpeggios, thinking that they are either difficult, unnecessary, time-consuming or irrelevant.

Difficulties for students are most often seen when first trying to cross fingers over/under for piano scales and especially when playing both hands together, trying to remember which fingers to use and which white/black notes and more.

Practising scales plays an essential part in developing skills with the sense of key and pattern acquired through familiarity, speeding up the learning of new pieces, developing aural awareness and increasing familiarity with the geography of the instrument.

From my perspective and personal background, I have always felt that scales, chords and arpeggios are very important for finger dexterity and a better understanding of analysis of musical compositions, particularly with regard to modern music.  Yet some teachers put technical exercises somewhat in    Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Practicing, Teaching Tips, Uncategorized

“I got rhythm…Who could ask for anything more?” – Ira Gershwin

Teaching rhythm to students is a real challenge. Some just “pick it up” naturally and others need, in the words of Ian Dury and the Blockheads, “hitting with the rhythm stick!”

So if you have a theory student preparing for an ABRSM exam (or similar), what can be done to inspire them to write a good rhythm worthy of a full 10 marks?

 

Tip 1: “Follow my leader!”

I like to switch my metronome on at around 80 BPM or better still, I’m now using “Drum Beats+” on my iPad. This really easy to use app generates drum loops. A favourite preset of mine is “Phat N Hairy 90,” probably because it describes me quite well! The age I mean!!!

Firstly, I clap or beat out on a percussion instrument a Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music Theory, Teaching Tips

Kristin Jensen’s site called Ear Training and Improv offers unique worksheets, videos and posts to spur musical imaginations. Kristin’s growing library of clever resources for music teachers is impressive. Since the special day is coming up shortly, I decided to check out her Mother’s Day Composition activity.

I’m always attempting to find a way to incorporate my favorite tool (the iPad) and prefer to remain a paper-free studio as much as possible. Therefore, I’ve created a tutorial on how your students can complete Kristin’s activity as a digitally handcrafted musical Mother’s Day card with just the iPad and the help of a terrific app, of course!

Take a Peek at a Completed Composition

Here’s a finished project. You’ll notice some slight variations in what was notated and how it was played and sung–creativity can’t be stopped!

Note: Before you begin this process make sure to download Notability developed by Ginger Labs at the App Store. Here’s the link. Read more…

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

By Robin Steinweg

Five Buzz-Making Recital Ideas

We all know recitals can build excitement for our studios. Could we get even more creative with them? Give folks a performance to remember. Families will talk about it to friends, friends will see clips or photos on Facebook or in emails, and word will spread about the teacher whose students know how to put on a show. Students will be excited to have been a part of it. You’ll probably add to your waiting list as a result. Here are the first five buzz-making recital ideas:

The First Five:

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Financial Business, Performing, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

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:

Did you go to the conference? What were your favorite presentations?

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

“I didn’t practice as much as I’d like” is a pretty common refrain at music lessons. But “I didn’t touch it since last time” is not so easy to confess to.


There are many reasons why a student didn’t practice.  I think it’s important not to lump them all together, but to take care to understand what happened in each individual case, in order to have an effective response.

Perhaps the foremost excuse for not practicing is Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

“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…

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

 

It’s amazing how much can change in a year. I just returned home from the 2015 Music Teachers National Association conference in Las Vegas. When I asked a roomful of teachers to raise their hands if they owned an iPad (yes, I’m partial to Apple products), there was a forest of proud hands. I’m not sure that would have been the case last year. It seems more and more music teachers are favoring the user-friendly device and realizing that apps can truly enhance their teaching. As the app world can be overwhelming,  it’s good to start with those that are recommended by others. That’s how I developed this list below. These are just a few of the many that I integrate regularly into my teaching. I’ve listed only two or three per category and omitted some favorites to keep the list reasonable. To view a more thorough directory of apps for your digital tool box, click here. Links are included but prices are not as they fluctuate frequently. I’ve included a brief sentence on how I use each one or links to posts with further explanation. If the app is available for other operating systems, I’ve indicated that with an asterik.* Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music Theory, 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