Sandy Lundberg

Motivation Podcasts

July 26th, 2015 by

22312193-d9b1-48a8-ab3e-a0564be9f0fc

.

Student motivation is an ongoing discussion and concern for every music teacher. We debate internal versus external motivation, parent involvement, the role of talent, and the million ways to structure home practice. Students Luke Jones and Matt McKeever at the University of Missouri at St. Louis are taking a summer graduate music education class with Jennifer Mishra and they have created a series of podcast interviews with musicians around the country addressing the issue of student motivation. You can check out their project here: http://sutbpodcats.podomatic.com/

My interview encouraged me to once again write down a few of my thoughts about motivation.

The student has to own the lessons, not feel forced into them. If he or she does not arrive excited to start piano lessons do your best to sell the idea that studying music is an awesome, amazing experience. It helps if you can find ways to connect music to areas in which the student already has an interest. Our goal as teachers is to nurture and develop the student’s own personal value of the music study so they are not as dependent upon our external motivation.

Parents need to be educated about the value of lessons and how critical their role is in the child’s success. Compare the support they give the child on a sports team to the level of enthusiasm they need to show for music lessons. Give parents specific things they can do to be supportive and involved. Even non-musical parents can ask questions about the music, sit down for a living room concert, negotiate a motivation system, and show their child how much they value a musical education.

Taking music lessons will rarely go well if a student feels a loss of peer respect from the activity. Help students to develop friendships with other musicians, let them invite friends to a fun musical event, introduce role models, include fun popular pieces in their repertoire, and make sure students always have an impressive short piece to perform on the spur of the moment. Find ways to make their music relevant and useful in their life.

The student and teacher relationship is critical. Students need to know that you care about them as a person and are willing to listen to them. Share appropriately about your life as a musician. Be respectful, honest and trustworthy. Work hard, but be an source of encouragement, not a drain on their self-esteem. Personalize their program to reflect their unique gifts, interests, and learning style.

Learning has to include some fun, especially for the young. Include games and laughter in your teaching. Plan some group activities. Tell stories that make the music come alive. Every once in a while do something unexpected. Plan a surprise! Andrea and Trevor Dow are full of great ideas at http://www.teachpianotoday.com/.

Students need to know they are making progress.  Remind students how far they have come. Play old recordings and look over old play lists. Remind them of the goals they have already accomplished. Judging the correct speed with which to move a student forward is always a critical decision on the part of the teacher. Too fast and the fundamentals are not established deeply. Too slow and the student loses heart.

Create a vision for the future with the student and talk and dream about it. Point out harder pieces that they will be able to play one day. Take students to hear more advanced musicians and attend live music events.

Keep their vision alive with goal setting. Short term goals can take just a week or so— “See if you can memorize this to play for your grandmother when she comes to visit in two weeks.” An annual theme can keep motivation going throughout the year. Michelle Sisler has created a wonderful series of games at www.keystoimagination.com. The Music Teachers National Association offers a music achievement award program to help students set personal goals for each year. Don’t forget to set long term goals too, such as being ready to join the jazz band in high school.

When a student quits, all forward progress stops. Those that continue, even at a seemingly slow pace, will keep learning and growing. The longer a student sticks with their instrument, and the more independent and self-motivated they become in learning, the more likely they will have music in their life for as long as they live.

Read More » Comments (1)

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

It is easy to fall into the trap of being simply a music instructor. You have a series of lessons in mind, and you introduce new concepts each week, even if the student has not mastered the previous concept. After all, you are getting paid to teach: if your student is not learning something new in the lesson, they may not be getting their money’s worth, or so it would seem. If you follow this plan, however, you may find that your students cannot keep up with the new material, perhaps becoming discouraged, and they may even eventually quit.

Being a good music teacher actually has two aspects, and only one of them is instructing. The second aspect is coaching your students. These two sides of teaching work hand-in-hand in your lessons. Nevertheless, you will want to distinguish between instruction and coaching, as well as understand how they work together.

Music Instruction

When you instruct, you present new information to your students in a structured way. You use various instructional aids and different methods of communication to convey that information as effectively as possible. Anytime you show something new to a student, you are instructing them. Read more…

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Put Your Records OnI remember, as a child, spending many an hour with my record player and LPs (long play vinyl records) in my bedroom. For me, half the pleasure of listening to the music was reading the sleeve notes which often gave up a wealth of fascinating information about the artist, composer, sometimes the instruments used, the recording personnel and the studio. And then there was the cover art which was a marvel in itself.

Of all the music that I listened to, I can’t forget an old Burl Ives record. One of the songs was called “I Know an Old Lady.” Apparently he didn’t “know why she swallowed a fly, perhaps she’ll die!” I played that album over and over.

As I grew older, I began to realise that listening to an old man singing folk songs was definitely not cool and that if you were to be esteemed in your peer group, you had to be listening to Read more…

photo by:

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music History & Facts, Performing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Refresh

June 28th, 2015 by

Teachers get tired, need to refresh.

Tired music teacher

We need time away from lessons and students. Whether for an hour, a week, a month or a season. How can we relax and refresh ourselves to be ready when the next student shows up at the door?

Time to refresh

Time to refresh

I asked my friends at Piano Teacher Central, on Facebook, what helps them recharge.

Here are answers from this generous group:

  • Read, read, & read. Preferably sitting on a quiet deck or by a rushing stream. Marathon TV series watching—currently watching Doc Martin!
  • Silence and a good night’s sleep without the deadline of a morning lesson.
  • Quilt, garden, genealogy, and other crafts that hit my fancy!
  • Play the piano
  • Look at FB lol
  • Wait, you mean there is life beyond teaching piano?
  • emoticon, shocked
  • Quilt many quilts… some even with music.
  • Agree with the second one above, but also art
  • I love country walking when I need a break. Very energizing and refreshing.
  • Play Angry Birds on FB, read, binge-watch movies, beach time.
  • A walk in the woods or a good workout with a DVD (dance party! Lol)
  • I play with my kids, and read…I honestly need it to be pretty quiet once I finish teaching, at least for awhile.
  • I used to teach in the summer… …Now I’ve decided that summers are short, the weather is beautiful and having July and August off is my reward for 10 months of hard work. I will refresh myself by reading at the beach just a few blocks away, learning to stand up paddle board, kayaking, and doing photography.
  • I go here (photo of sun setting over a calm ocean beach) and hide from the world. I don’t touch anything to do with lessons for awhile.
  • It helps me to read piano blogs and posts on Piano Teacher Central! I get excited about teaching again and using new ideas.

As for me, I:

  • get “musicked out”—spend time in silence
  • Shhhhhh

    Shhhhhh

  • write
  • read books on teaching
  • read blog posts
  • attend live performances—variety of genres
  • hold a private sight-reading marathon
  • browse music books and sheet music at the local music store
  • sub for another teacher on vacation—I have no idea why this works, but it does
  • jam with other musicians for the fun of it
  • further my education—attend workshops
  • try out new pianos and guitars at the music store
  • have been known to take a long soak in the tub
Hey, I can dream, right?

Hey, I can dream, right?

How do YOU refresh?

 

 

 

Read More » Comments (2)

Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Hannah Cameron at piano

Now, go home and practice!

Much of the learning of an instrument takes place at home, between lessons. The more productive the home practice is, the better the progress. Below is a handout I once gave to my students to put in their binders as a reference for when they were not sure what to work on next. The instructions were to chose a category, then work on 3-5 items from the list. The lists are a little random, and many more points could be included, but it is a starting point. I have also used practice card decks, and even made Andrea Dow’s “popsicle sticks in a cup” as a group lesson activity, in which students write practice ideas on popsicle sticks, then place the sticks in plastic drinking cup and set it on their piano. They draw out sticks when practice inspiration is needed. This coming year I would like to make an entire “home practice kit” for each student. I’ll write a blog about it once it comes together!

Practice Helps

1. tempo, beat, rhythm

  • check the time signature, look for any variations
  • establish a steady beat at a manageable tempo
  • tap out or clap the rhythm hands separately counting out loud
  • use the metronome
  • try tapping the right hand melody rhythmically while tapping the beat with your left hand, and visa versa
  • find the underlying “felt” beat in the music
  • try counting using the smallest note value as your beat
  • in complicated sections draw a vertical line connecting the right- and left-hand notes that belong on the same beat

2. fingering, chord patterns and intervals

  • slowly play each hand separately while checking for exact fingering
  • if any changes are needed in fingering, carefully re-mark the score
  • highlight or note any places where the hand changes position for a new fingering pattern
  • practice, in isolation, any hard fingering passages, then connect them to the surrounding phrases
  • figure out what key the music is in and play the primary chords for that key
  • look for chords in your music, in blocked or broken patterns
  • look for intervals in the melody and harmony to help you find new notes and assist in fingering
  • if a passage has very difficult fingering, try memorizing it
  • try playing a passage slowly with your eyes closed, just by touch, without looking at the music or the keys
  • make a difficult passage into a fun exercise by playing it over and over moving up a whole step each time

3. posture, relaxation, body alignment

  • check to make sure you are sitting on your “sitting bones” and your back is tall, neither slouched nor over-curved inward, practice shifting your balance from one hip to the other
  • make sure your shoulders are relaxed and your arms are hanging freely
  • with your arm hanging loosely, find your natural, relaxed hand position for each hand and carefully bring your hand up to the piano
  • be sure your bench is positioned properly, top knuckles just touch the fall board while leaning ever-so-slightly forward, forearm is parallel with the floor
  • make sure your feet are properly supported and are properly supporting your body
  • be sure your head feels well balanced and weightless on top of your shoulders
  • quickly check your relaxation and posture every so often as you play
  • keep your wrists level and relaxed and your arms aligned with your hands
  • lean back slightly when playing directly in front of your body

4. articulation, phrasing, clarity

  • find all the phrases in your music and mark them according to how they should be shaped
  • make sure each finger is playing all the way to the bottom of the key and the weight of your arm follows the fingers and stays behind each note as it is played
  • practice a legato passage staccato, and a staccato passage legato for a change
  • practice the two and three note slurs to get a proper pattern of dropping and lifting
  • practice lifting at the end of each phrase and dropping into the new phrase
  • try playing the piece at half the normal tempo and keep all the dynamics and phrasing correct
  • find the loudest note in each phrase and then add the other notes at the right loudness to properly shape the phrase
  • use Mary Gae George’s “Thermometer of Dynamics to mark detailed shaping to the phrases

5. expression, emotion, feeling

  • try to determine the mood of your piece:
  • look at the title and the words (if any)
  • look at the dynamic markings
  • look at the rhythm patterns
  • is it fast or slow, accented, legato or staccato, etc?
  • determine if it is in a major or a minor key
  • play through the piece and ask yourself how it makes you feel; look through your list of descriptive words
  • get a picture or a story in your mind that matches how the music makes you feel
  • sing the song with emotion and feeling and match that expression in your playing
  • dance to the song
  • record yourself playing and listen critically
  • listen to a high quality You-tube version of your piece, if available
  • over-emphasize the emotion, without worrying about accuracy for the time being

Read More » Comments (0)

Posted in Practicing, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Master classes are my favorite sessions to attend at conferences. Just being in the presence of great teachers is inspiring, and their words of wisdom resonate with me long after the conference. When I teach, I often find myself quoting sayings I heard at master classes and pedagogy sessions I have attended. Some of my favorites are:

The longer the line, the greater the artist” – Jane Magrath

“If you can’t sing, you can’t play – you need to experience it inside” – Scott McBride Smith

“What is musicality? It is decency of the performer. It is the understanding of hidden meanings, connections, and completeness of the composition. It is deliciousness – not just in music, but in art and daily life” – Rozalie Levant

“Sonatinas are celebrations of contrasts” – Marvin Blickenstaff

“If you cut long notes short, you have no rhythm; if you are exact, you are too mechanical; if you are a little too late, ah – you are so musical!” Peter Mack quoting Ingrid Clarfield

“Grow like a tree when you crescendo – start small, eventually becomes magnificent” – Dang Thai Son

“Don’t feel guilty during the crescendo” – Anderson and Roe

“There are 256 pedal nuances” – Byron Janis

“Be a singer, try to be seductive” – Dmitri Rachmanov

“The Rachmaninov line aspires and then it falls down – it realizes everything is hopeless, then it tries again” – Jerome Lowenthal

“People who don’t read newspapers are uninformed, people who read newspapers are misinformed. Editions are opinions only” – John Perry quoting Mark Twain

Learn music through life and learn life through music” – Lang Lang

I take all my conference notes on my iPad. During the recent MTNA National Conference held in Las Vegas, I found the iPad to be an absolutely indispensable tool. Not only did I use it to present my session using Keynotes, I was able to get the most out of the master classes I attended. Here are two memorable experiences:

Intermediate Masterclass with Dr. Scott McBride Smith

image

 

Dr. Scott McBride Smith’s master classes are always audience-engaging. In this master class, he integrated technology and used an innovative slide sharing tool called “slideduet.” Attendees at the master class had the option to scan the QR code or type in the URL provided and view his presentation slides in real time.

These included biographical backgrounds and pictures of each of the student performers, their teachers and various accomplishments, interesting notes about the composers and the pieces being presented, quotes, as well as pedagogical thoughts and detailed analysis of important aspects. This means there was no need to take notes. Instead, I was fully drawn to what’s happening on the stage and inspired by the way Dr. McBride Smith interacted with each of the students.
image
Here is the link to all the presentation slides. Notice each slide corresponds to the exact time it was presented during the master class. When I review them, I feel transported back in time to the master class itself!

 

Advanced Masterclass with Dr. Douglas Humphreys

I really liked the format of the advanced master classes of this year’s MTNA Conference:

1. Instead of the usual two to three participants per master class, only one student was featured – this allowed time for very detailed instruction.

2. The master teachers were teachers of the 2014 MTNA piano competition winners – this gave insight to how an extraordinary teacher works in their studio.

Professor Douglas Humphreys was METICULOUS, and this master class was worth every penny. As soon as I found out which piece was being presented, I opened the forScore app, searched for the piece on IMSLP, and downloaded the score onto my iPad. Then, I was able to follow EXACTLY what was going on in the session, as professor Humphreys dissects the piece and guides the extremely talented (and already very good young pianist) to an even higher artistic level. Because a full hour was dedicated to this session, much ground could be covered, and it was a real treat that all three movements of the Bartok Sonata were given attention. In many previous master classes I attended, too many students were assigned per hour; after each student has performed their piece, only 10-15 minutes were left for the teacher to work with the student, and usually we only got to hear how the first page should be played and then time was up! In this master class, it was like sitting in on a private lesson of the highest quality.

To demonstrate how convenient it was to have my iPad with me and how easy it was for me to take notes using the app, here are some snapshots:

 

image

image

Attending master classes is so enriching and necessary for a teacher to continue to grow. The next major music conference in the U.S. will be the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy scheduled for July 29-August 1. Do you plan on attending the master classes?

 

Read More » Comments (2)

Posted in Music & Technology, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

More and more students are getting comfortable with learning from home via the internet, whether by making use of videos or online lessons.  I say “getting comfortable” because it really takes a little getting used to.  Technical glitches can make learning frustrating.  If you want to expand your teaching studio to the internet, be sure to think about some of these issues.

The Right Connection Software
Many people use Skype for lessons but I find it cumbersome because you and your  student have to be on each other’s phone list, and you are dependent on each other’s computer quality more than cloud-based systems.  Skype transmits the signals but depends on your computer to have the right software and handle most of the communications work.  Some software have quirky ways of meeting up with people, or low quality images.  But there screenare many systems out there and they are worth experimenting with.

My preference is Zoom.  Biggest plus – it’s simple.  Some systems are Read more…

Read More » Comments (3)

Posted in Music & Technology, Teaching Tips

tractor and trailer

Now I must explain from the outset that I have absolutely no farming experience whatsoever! Completely zilch!

But I do know that a trailer will go nowhere without a tractor to guide it!

So how can we help young Jenny conquer that awkward phrase in her song?

How can we help old Mary Williams to master the art of rubato?

How can little Jonny play that scale with flair?

Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm

The answer is simple – us! It all starts with Read more…

Read More » Comments (0)

Posted in Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips


Anna at Sonatina FestivalRecitals 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.Hannah Cameron at piano

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.Ensemble Time

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.IMG_5109

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.Recital Crowd

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.Food Table Decorations

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.

Read More » Comments (0)

Posted in Performing, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

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.
happysad
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…

Read More » Comments (3)

Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips