Andrew

Member Spotlight – George

January 6th, 2017 by

Welcome back to our member spotlight series. Today we have George. He teaches guitar and drums in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

How long you’ve been teaching?
Since 1995.

How would you describe your studio space to someone that’s never visited?
I travel to the students’ home.

Was there a specific moment when you realized you loved teaching music?
I think when I realized how much joy it can bring to people both young an old made me realize I was doing something worthwhile, both for them and for myself.

How did you feel in the moment you made the decision to be an independent music teacher? Do you recall being nervous/excited/scared?
I was excited because it is a risk but the reward of being able to do something you enjoy is worth the risk.

What were the steps you took to get your first lessons to having a full student roster?
It is always a little slow going at first but it will happen over time if you stick to it. I mainly started out with flyers and internet ads and then as you go referrals happen and your business spreads through word of mouth.

What is one piece of advice you could offer to someone looking to start teaching music lessons?
Don’t stop you have to always put the work in even when at times it can seem discouraging.

How do you currently find new students?
I use a combination of things to attract new students. You really cannot rely solely on one thing. Try different things find what works best and stick with it.

How do you feel when you think back to all students you’ve interacted with over the years and impacted positively?
It is a good feeling to feel like you possibly may have made a difference in their lives in a positive way.

What is your favorite part of a lesson?
Usually working on songs especially songs that a student enjoys playing.

Is there a favorite piece or style of music you find yourself teaching your students today? And how has that changed from when you started teaching?
I like teaching modern songs and country. When I first started it was more geared towards rock but you need to adapt to the times.

How long have you been using Music Teacher’s Helper?
About 10 years.

What is your favorite thing about Music Teacher’s Helper?
It helps me keep track of my students lessons which is a crucial thing if you are self employed.

Read More » Comments (0)

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

pianostar

As a piano teacher, I have to say that I am often underwhelmed by music books for beginners. To be fair to the composers of such books, it is an extremely difficult challenge to write engaging music with such a limited palette of notes but having said that, young students still need to be inspired to build skill and move their music-making to the next level. So I was curious to take a look at a new series for young pianists from the ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music) entitled “Piano Star.”

There are three books in the series:

  • Book 1 builds from a very basic skill level up to Prep Test (Pre-Grade 1)
  • Book 2 is at Prep Test level
  • Book 3 continues the journey building to Grade 1 standard

I have to say that I am very Read more…

Read More » Comments (0)

Posted in Product Reviews, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

music student focus

There is a common enemy among music teachers, heck, all teachers!

It’s the battle for the attention and focus of our students!

If you teach children, you know there is a problem of focus that is just not part of teaching teens or adults.  Young children have shorter attention spans and are easily distracted!

Tips for Battling the Distraction

Steps can be taken to keep the distraction at bay.  Some of these things may seem obvious, but you must look out for them

  • Limit clutter in the teaching space
  • Remove potentially attention-grabbing toys or objects
  • Have  a policy that  phones must be set on vibrate
  • Limit the seating to discourage too many siblings in the space
  • Don’t allow eating in the studio
  • Limit or remove pets
  • Use music notation that is visually clear and clutter-free

As so much of our visual attention is placed on reading music notation, the following can greatly assist in attaining focus.

When presented with traditional music notation, students are often overwhelmed by how complicated it all looks.  And it is complicated!

Reading music is a high-level skill.  It takes a long time and a lot of practice  to understand all the symbolic language and the nuances.   

In the first few stages of our Musicolor Notation, students begin to learn structure.   They begin to notice the patterns of the entire piece as a whole and which parts are slightly different but mostly the same.  Then we dive into the smaller details.

With traditional music notation, we do the same.  But so often, students still feel overwhelmed by all the abstract symbols on the page.  

To help with this, we developed a Focus Window.  

What’s a Focus Window?

A Focus Window is a way of directing the student’s attention to a specific portion of the page.  You can use a Focus Window for not only  reading music but also for teaching reading words to young children or to place attention only on a portion of a large picture, graph, map or chart.  

By using a Focus Window, students can work on a smaller area  than they would naturally reach for.   It limits the information overload.

Constructing the Focus Window

There are a few ways you can construct a Focus Window.  

Originally we tried to use flashlights by focusing light beams on  certain areas of the sheet music.  That didn’t work too well with young students.  The dark room was too extreme and all sorts of hilarious screaming ensued!

Paper and cardboard cutout windows were mildly successful.  

Our favorite and simplest method of constructing a Focus Window involves Post-It notes.  These wonderful little 3” by 3” yellow squares of paper with the light adhesive made by 3M have been an essential part of our studio for years.

By using the Post-Its to block certain areas of the page, you can quickly create an area in the middle that is the Focus Window.  

Here’s an example of how to block out a small Focus Window from a larger piece of music.

A Focus Window for music

Only play what’s inside the window

Too often, students try to play an entire phrase which it too much for them to  hold in their mental desktop.  By making that phrase smaller, (much smaller!) and only showing a small portion visually, we can control their focus.

The benefit of using removable Post-It notes is that you can quickly resize the Focus Window or even move it as your student progresses through the piece.

Some Focus Windows are quite large and are made by covering up all the extraneous information many method book publishers clutter the page with.

So often there are instructions meant to be read by a teacher or parent but not the student.  This type of text is very overwhelming for young children.  The same is true of the small duet parts often printed below the student part.

Also, many times there are beautiful illustrations and graphics on the page.  These can be charming and helpful.   For pre-literate children, the illustrations can be the way they remember which song is which as they can’t read the titles.

But the graphics should be limited as they do pull away focus.

We also teach the parents of our students how to do this at home.  It allows us to send home lesson notes that say, “Work on the one measure in the Focus Window and then enlarge it to include 2 measures.”

Learning how to practice is a skill that affects a student’s life forever.  By teaching students  how to effectively practice by limiting data and concentrating repetitively on small parts at a time, we can teach mastery skills.

The Itch of Curiosity

By using a Focus Window we limit the data.  We obscure parts of the whole.  This can be used to our benefit.  It triggers a universal psychological effect known as the information or knowledge gap.  

In the 1990’s, Carnegie-Mellon researcher George Lowenstein put forth the “Information Gap Theory of Curiosity.”

“It comes when we feel a gap “between what we know and what we want to know”. This gap has emotional consequences: it feels like a mental itch, a mosquito bite on the brain. We seek out new knowledge because we that’s how we scratch the itch.” (Wired magazine)

If you tell your students “you can’t peek under this until next week,” you have effectively created some curiosity.  Many of them will actually look just to see what’s there.   

Some have even “figured it out themselves.”

Others have practiced even more to make sure they get to “open the window.”

The Hidden Answer Window

The inverse of a Focus Window is a Hidden Answer Window.

Do you remember those interactive children’s books that have hidden flaps that allow a child to discover more content?  These were fun and engaging because of the curiosity invoked by hiding answers or parts of the story.

You can do this with music too.

Sometimes students are just not ready to work on certain phrases or maybe a left hand piano part is too tricky right now and you want them to work only on the right hand.  

Hidden Answer Windows in music

No peeking!

By covering the tricky bits with a little Post-It flap, you create a Hidden Answer Window.  They remind us that there is still unfinished business on this page, but we will discover it  together in future lessons.  

This  lowers the stress level of students who are desperately trying to seek your approval by playing everything perfectly.  It lets them off the hook.

It’s funny how some simple things can transform a lesson from drudgery and pain to effortless progress.

I have a few more practice and focus tips in a free download, 10 Tips To Make Practice Easy, Effective + Fun!

 

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Ed Pearlman

Provocative Expression

December 5th, 2016 by

girl-1488518_640

In talking about musical expression at a higher level, as we’re going to do here, I just have one caution to suggest first:  one of the biggest mistakes teachers and students make about musical expression is to imagine that it’s icing on the cake, that it takes place after all the technical hurdles are passed.  On the contrary, expression is not the reward for having technique — it’s the reason for developing technique!  It needs to be part and parcel of the learning process, from day one, or at least from very early on.

There is a good reason why stage actors hyper-exaggerate every movement or sound they make.  They have to not only express an emotional gesture, but they have to make you notice it.

Two stories about making you notice an emotional idea:  one story about a touring musician I heard and wished I could give a lesson to, and one about a series of drawings that I once made.
Read more…

Read More » Comments (0)

Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

music-1707842_640

“But Miss Robin, I love all my songs. I can’t pick!” Yep, I have students who simply cannot choose only one favorite for their recital. When this happens, I might show them ways to make a medley.

I tell them to choose two or three songs. If they are older, more experienced students, they may choose more.

How to choose?

  • By theme: Christmas or other holiday; seasons; animal songs; love songs, etc.
  • By genre: Pop; rock; blues; country; folk; classical, etc.
  • By similarities in tempo, key signature, style or patterns, even in random selections. For example, “Popcorn” by Hot Butter from the ‘70s could be paired with Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mtn King” because they are both staccato and in a minor mode. For Billboard Top 20 medley hits, go here.

Next decide the order of songs in the medley. The student should play them through. Switch the order and try again. Does one seem to flow better into another?

Think about creating interest/avoiding boredom. Do the songs all sound the same? Try these ideas:

  • add another piece with a contrasting tempo. Include one in the relative minor key, or go from D to D minor.
  • Make a surprise in the medley by turning a ballad into an upbeat song or a fast piece into a slow song. Change from 3/4 to 4/4.
  • Remember that modulating up in pitch raises the energy and intensity. Modulating down in pitch tends to calm. But beware—it could also be anticlimactic!

Will songs flow easily into one another, or do they need a transition? Here are ways to tie songs together.

  • The chorus of one song might serve as transition between each.
  • The intro might work as a transition.
  • Can the student create his/her own brief transition?
  • Your student might need to try different combinations of verse, chorus and bridge of each song until the medley is cohesive.

Finally, make sure the medley isn’t too long. Students with many favorites might try to fit too many in. Keep the audience in mind. Make the ending special. Can the intro be repeated as an ending? Can your student place the most exciting piece last?

A medley can allow students to include more of their favorite songs. It can showcase their versatility and make performances even more exciting. They will have learned a skill they can use in the future (for graduations, weddings…)—to make a medley!

Read More » Comments (4)

Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Performing, Teaching Tips

Do you give your students gifts during the holiday season? If so and if you’re like me, it’s usually a struggle to find something that is meaningful with a reasonable price tag. A couple of years ago I came up with a solution that I believe I’ll be repeating again this year. It’s a student gift that keeps on giving.

Before I dive in with the details, it’s not a bad idea to step back and ponder the purpose of giving gifts. With all the emphasis on “stuff” in our society, do our students really need one more thing?

A couple of years ago a book caught my eye: What Music Means to Me. The picture book includes large pages with stunning images that capture the essence of various gifted musicians. Alongside each photo is a personal, touching essay about the profound impact of music in their lives.

book-logo1

Bonus features:

  • Poetry by Barbara Kreader (composer for Hal Leonard and one of my favorite authors at Clavier Companion)
  • Forward by Brian Chung (excellent speaker and General Manager of Kawai America Corporation.)
  • DVD which includes photos of the featured musicians along with them reading their own essay.
  • Can’t-put-a-price-tag-on-it bonus: I met the photographer in person, Mr Richard Rejino. and my book includes his autograph.

You can purchase the book here.

So how does the book fit into this blog about giving gifts to students? Let me explain. Read more…

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Reuben Vincent

Theory Terminator!

November 7th, 2016 by

terminator

A game of “Terminator” in full swing! From left to right, Lauren, Amanda (Mom) and Alisha Adams

Let’s be honest! Who enjoys learning a long list of Italian terms for their music theory exam? Not many! Here’s an idea for making learning music terms fun! Enter “Terminator!”

Giving the activity an exciting name is half the battle. The two girls pictured are currently preparing for their grade 2 theory exam so we called the game “Terminator 2.” Lauren and Alisha have downloaded free buzzer apps onto their phones and their Mom, Amanda, has really embraced the role of game host giving the girls a fun way of learning their terms several nights a week between lessons in the lead up to their exam.

There are lots of ways of calling the Read more…

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Music Theory, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Early Impromptu Improv

October 28th, 2016 by

piano-improv

Early Impromptu Improv. That’s what you can do spur-of-the-moment when something like this happens: your pre-note-reading siblings arrive with worried smiles and one says, “I forgot my instrument.”

“No problem,” you say, “I have several others around the studio.”

“And my books…”

Uh oh.

“…and I forgot what you showed me last week.”

The younger sibling chimes in (with frank cheerfulness), “I don’t have any of my piano books either!”

Instead of various reactions of a negative nature that spring to mind, you could do an Early Impromptu Improv with them.
Read more…

Read More » Comments (2)

Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Teaching Tips

Leila Viss

Improvisation is Scary

October 23rd, 2016 by

For some, improvisation is a little scary. It doesn’t have to be with a clever back pocket pattern guaranteed to sound black-cat cool.

As I was planning for the fall, I wanted to include an improvisation activity that would introduce beginners to the idea of creating their own music as well as something to please seasoned improvisers. Thanks to an inspiration while attending a lesson with Bradley Sowash, I came up with a pattern that I call Black Cat Strut.

It’s an accessible improvisation jumpstart that offers tasks for both hands. While the left-hand stays pretty simple it still sounds hip. With the suggested tips, the right hand will get the opportunity to strut its stuff.

Check out this video that shows snippets of improvisers of all levels and ages strutting their chops.

Black Cat Strut is guaranteed to sound pleasing because both hands play something appealing and it’s in minor–always a popular choice for this time of year.

The patterns are suited for anyone at any level because both hands play separately–at least at the first level. In fact, there’s no need to play hands together at all and that’s the beauty of this jumpstart. However, it has just enough sophistication to build on it–suitable for those who are comfortable with improvising.

Here are some tips to help your students CATch on quickly:

Read more…

Read More » Comments (2)

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

contract

My top tip to any new private teacher would be to get a policy drawn up with your students. Everyone will be much happier for it! Pupils and parents need to know how you run things and your business will benefit from establishing some ground rules.

A feature I love about Music Teacher’s Helper is the “studio policy” web page that is part of the included music teacher website package. This gives us an opportunity to explain to prospective students, who might want to register for lessons, how we run our teaching businesses.

When I first started giving private music lessons I had no contract with my students. Things were casual. Some weeks pupils would turn up and pay for that lesson, other weeks they didn’t. It became very frustrating as I waited to see whether they would attend and pay and as a consequence, my earnings were extremely erratic. I began to quickly realise that I needed a solution otherwise I would simply run out of steam. Enter the contract!

I remember the night before I was planning to present my newly drawn-up contract to my students I was feeling rather anxious. What if they didn’t like the idea of a formal agreement? Would I lose pupils? A couple of parents grumbled but most, to my surprise, were very understanding and agreed that it was a good idea to get things into writing. The improvement was immediate! People were now paying for Read more…

Read More » Comments (0)

Posted in Financial Business, Studio Management, Teaching Tips, Using Music Teacher's Helper