“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

Is there a takeaway for music teachers from the movie Whiplash?

**Spoiler alert!   If you haven’t seen the film yet, check it out on DVD, and then come back and join the discussion. **

First things first.  There’s no doubt that the character of Fletcher is nothing short of mentally ill, but more of that later.  Let’s look at what the movie can tell us about music and teaching.

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Posted in Music News, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Written by Doug Hanvey, a private piano teacher from Portland, Oregon. 

These tips are oriented towards teachers and adult students, but a creative teacher will be able to translate these principles for their younger students.

In our increasingly complex and frenetic world there seem to be endless tasks and distractions that keep us from the things that really matter to us. If one of the things that matter is learning the piano, it would be worthwhile to occasionally reflect on how we choose to spend our time.

Endless Information and Techno-Distractions

Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize winner, said: “A wealth of information means a scarcity of whatever that information consumes. What information consumes is attention. A wealth of information,” said Simon, “creates a poverty of attention.”

There’s more information to digest than ever before. Every day, most of us spend hours watching TV, catching up on email (many of which are a waste of time), sending texts, playing computer games, surfing the web, or some combination of these.

Our capacity and availability for giving attention is no less critical to learning the piano than it ever was, despite the fact that we live in such an attention-impoverished time.

Start an Information Diet

So what can we do? If you’re serious about becoming a better pianist, and feel that you never have enough time to practice, consider an information diet. Meaning: kill your TV. And Facebook. And Twitter. And 80% of your email. Stop mindless web surfing. And computer games.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

––Robert Frost, from The Road Not Taken

Ten years from now, would you rather have taken the road of practicing for 5,000 more hours or have spent those 5,000 hours mindlessly surfing the web and watching TV?

Which road would lead to a more fulfilling life, so that on your last day you would be able to say “I gave it my all. I chose to spend my time on what really mattered.”

You know the answer. And you know it’s up to you.

Every “Yes” Is A “No”

Have you ever realized that each time you say yes to something, you are simultaneously saying no to something else?

Each time you log on to Facebook or spend half an hour roaming the Internet, you are saying no to something that might be more productive and valuable, if you were consciously aware of your values and used them to organize your time.

In his book The 4-Hour Workweek, author Timothy Ferriss pointed out that most media is “time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, or outside of your sphere of influence.” Ferriss challenged his readers to look at what they’ve read or watched today and deny that it wasn’t one or more of these things.

For the sake of mastering your instrument, I challenge you to do the same.

8 Questions

Here’s a brief exercise to help you decide if an information diet could be useful to you. For our purposes, “media” means any combination of TV, Internet use (web surfing, emailing, instant messaging or chatting), talk radio, newspapers, magazines, books and audio books, computer games, and use of numerous other portable electronic devices (unfortunately, ways to become media-spellbound expand daily).

I purposely kept “listening to music” off the above list, but in all fairness, while it’s something every music student should be doing regularly, it too can become a distraction from actually playing. Balance is the key.

You can do this exercise by mindfully reflecting on the questions, or by writing in your journal:

  1. Which kinds of technology and media do I consume the most?
  2. How many minutes or hours on average do I consume media or use technology as a distraction (i.e. not for work)?
  3. Why do I use the technology and consume the media that I consume? Is it a conscious choice or a habit?
  4. Am I trying to avoid something by distracting myself with media? What?
  5. Do I crave using technology or consuming media? Might I even be addicted?
  6. Is my use of technology and media related to the sense that I don’t have enough time to practice my instrument?
  7. How do I feel and behave after exposure to various types of media? (For example, studies indicate people usually feel more depressed after watching TV; and higher levels of Internet use have been associated with adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.)
  8. Could reducing my use of technology and consumption of media enhance my progress as a musician?

6 Practical Tips

If you think you could benefit from reducing your reliance on technology and consumption of media, here are a few practical tips, courtesy of Ferriss:

  1. Ask yourself about any information you are about to consume: “Will I use this information for something immediate and important?” If your intake of information is not both immediate and important, then don’t consume it. Just say no.
  2. Practice “the art of non-finishing.” Starting to consume an information source does not justify finishing it.
  3. Always ask: Am I being productive or just active?
  4. Always ask: If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?
  5. Never check email first thing in the morning. Get something important done first.
  6. Try an indefinite media fast. No newspapers, magazines, audiobooks, or nonmusic radio. (Music is permitted). No news websites. No television. No web surfing at the desk unless it’s necessary to complete a work task that day.

More than a century ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “There are many things of which a wise person might wish to be ignorant.” These days, his advice seems more relevant than ever. What might be worth ignoring and saying “no” to, so you can start saying “yes” to that which is more important?

Doug Hanvey offers piano lessons in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of 88 Keys to the Blues, a method which helps students master fundamental piano technique and musical skills while learning basic stylistic elements of the blues. The course builds a strong foundation for playing and improvising in blues, jazz, rock, and other popular piano styles.

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

The King and the Dragon!

The King’s trusted advisor came bursting through the door! “My Lord, we are being attacked!”

“Fear not,” said the wise old King. “We shall use my secret weapon, The Great Red Dragon!”

To cut the first of eleven fairy stories short, that appear in composer Nikolas Sideris’ brand new piano duet book, the King saves the day through clever trickery and wins the respect of his people!

After I finished reading this two paged story, one of eleven written especially by Nefeli Tsipouridi, I couldn’t wait to turn over the page and start playing the first composition in the book. I was inspired!

But oh no! I was alone at the piano and this is a duet book!

Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, each primo part has a QR code on the side of the title, so all I needed to do was hold my tablet up and the next moment a well-recorded performance of the composer playing the secondo part began to my delight. (There is a link in the introductory pages of the book that you can visit to download the mp3 files if you prefer)

And wow, what an adventure! With the words of the story I had just read still ringing in my ears, I was transported to the centre of the scene with composer, Nikolas Sideris’, evocative music. We battled evil forces with every twist and turn Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music News, Product Reviews, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

‘Tis the season of preparing students for upcoming contests, festivals and recitals. Here are four performance-enhancing apps that promise to help you help your students to do their best.

 

The Camera simulates the presence of a real audience more than you, the teacher, can provide during a lesson. Once that camera starts rolling, students move into a performance zone and are forced to commit to seeing the piece through with musicality and as few errors as possible. The beauty of the camera is that musicians can see and hear the instant replay, make self-assessments and learn from their mistakes. It’s like a digital mirror that reflects EVERYTHING you may be trying to reinforce at lessons. Bonus? It comes free with any smart phone or tablet!

 

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Posted in Music & Technology, Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

By Robin Steinweg

Celebrate student milestones

Why wait until a holiday to “turn on the party?” We teachers can find many reasons and ways to celebrate student milestones.

Parents may not understand what a big deal it is to graduate to the next level of books, for instance. We can help  them get it by making a bit of fuss over it ourselves. And if they still don’t get it, at least someone has admired the student’s success.

18 Reasons to Celebrate Student Milestones—they:

  • arrived at the staples—the midway point!—of their book
  • passed a unit
  • completed their level and graduated to the next—huzzah!
  • practiced one hundred days in a row
  • practiced five days this past week
  • remembered to trim their nails
  • memorized a song
  • accomplished all their weekly practice goals
  • performed in public for the first time
  • played in their first recital
  • played in any recital
  • mastered certain number of scales (pentascales, octaves or more)
  • conquered a beast of a piece of music
  • got their first playing gig
  • used a metronome successfully
  • memorized names of lines and spaces
  • remembered dynamics
  • they graduated from high school and are going off to college

Celebrate a Student Milestone

18 Ways to Celebrate Student Milestones:

  • pull out a kazoo and trumpet a fanfare
  • tiny milestone—press Staples’ Easy Button
  • the midway point in their book—offer a candy or let them make a shot at a Nerf basketball hoop
  • publish their name (and photo?) on your website
  • include their name (and photo?) in your studio newsletter
  • a congratulatory certificate
  • snail-mail a card to their home, addressed to them
  • notify Piano Explorer Magazine about their completion of 100 consecutive days of practice (or 200+)
  • post their names on a chart in your studio
  • play a CD of a regal/fanfarish song as they enter the room
  • let them wear a costume crown during their lesson
  • give a blue ribbon
  • create a banner/ribbon and add iron-on badges for accomplishments (like boy-and-girl scouts)
  • let them choose from prizes you’ve collected (dollar store items, coupons for ice cream or burger, sheet music, manuscript paper or books, CD, iTunes coupon…)
  • let them play music games on the computer
  • bake their favorite cookies

    Student milestone? Bake cookies!

  • for a BIG accomplishment , tickets to a concert or a huge fake-book
  • plan a senior recital just for your graduate(s)

More ideas

When we celebrate student milestones, it can generate excitement and motivation. How do you celebrate, and for what occasions?

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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

We have all taught (and smiled) through nasty headaches, various aches and pains, and plain old fatigue, but what about when your body just doesn’t seem to cooperate any more and your health is a constant challenge? Below are some ideas I have used personally and also those of other music teachers that I interviewed for this blog. I hope today finds you healthy and strong, but if not, take courage. Teaching can be a time of enrichment and satisfaction in your day.

  • Be a fun, warm and friendly person to be around. This is not always easy, but it will help others to see you and not your disability or illness.
  • Enjoy each lesson and each relationship. This can actually take your mind off your own problems for awhile.
  • Carefully plan your energy usage for the day. If you have to teach all afternoon, you might not be able to clean house and run errands all morning.
  • Be realistic about your schedule. Don’t take on more students than you can keep up with and also maintain your strength and health.
  • Adapt your environment to your needs. Get the right kind of chair, use a baton to point out issues in the music, keep all your supplies close at hand.
  • Don’t over do it or over commit on days you are feeling pretty good. Continue to work according to your overall ability. It is so tempting to try and get the one million things done you have been neglecting for so long, but exercise restraint. It is easier to plan a big event down the road than it will be to get through it once it gets here.
  • Schedule breaks between students or groups of students.
  • Strategically talk to parents and adult students about your limitations. They are usually willing to accommodate and adjust where needed.
  • If you need to cancel more frequently because of illness, design a more lenient “sick policy” for you and for your students.
  • Enlist the help your older teen students to help around the studio filing music, dusting the piano, or helping younger ones with theory lessons.
  • Be very clear about your teaching priorities and focus on core skills. Now is not the time to add extra programs and studio activities.
  • Have a volunteer sign up list for your studio parents. They can bring snacks to group lessons, emcee at recitals, help set up for events, take pictures and many other things.
  • Build a good support system. Have friends you can call for advice and support when needed.
  • Get help with housework and meals if possible. A little extra help might mean you can continue to teach, which is probably a higher love on your list than scrubbing floors. Sometimes you can trade services for lessons.
  • Take care of yourself every day. Do all the things you know are healing for you.

If you are worried about how your students will react to your challenges, I think you will be encouraged by this note from John Ledell.

Piano Teaching With a Debilitating Illness, by John Ledell

“When the doctor announced I had to go full-time into a power wheelchair, many thoughts flashed through my mind but the dominant thought was what would my piano students and parents think? Would I still be able to teach the way I always had, jumping up on the piano bench to play parts of pieces for students? How would I show them how I wanted certain passages played in the music? Would people want to take lessons from an old man in a wheelchair?  Lots of questions and very few answers popped into my mind.

First a little background. I had polio when I was two. From an Iron Lung, it took 14 years of rehab and more than a dozen operations to bring me back to as normal physically as I would ever be. I could walk with braces but had a very pronounced limp. I was proud of my accomplishments in being normal enough to pass for normal. Flash forward to my 40’s when something called post-polio syndrome set in. The motor neurons controlling the muscles that were damaged by the polio virus started giving out. Thus my ability to walk was gone completely. I started using crutches full-time and got around satisfactorily but I always hid that fact from my students. 

In the room where I teach, I would enter before lessons and sit in a rolling office chair and then hide my crutches in a closet so my students and parents would not know I was disabled. I could still hop onto the piano bench to play and then hop back to my office chair. I learned the hard way that it’s important to go to the bathroom before lessons in order to keep my disability hidden. 

When the doctor told me I had to use a power wheelchair, it was because decades of using crutches had ruined my shoulders and made continued use of crutches unbearably painful. However, there was no place to hide the big bulky wheelchair in my teaching room so my secret would be discovered. I even thought of giving up piano teaching and let my wife, and fellow piano teacher, take over my students even though she already had a full schedule. 

In the end we decided to confront the disability openly and just explain what was going on to both students and their parents. It turns out most of them suspected what was going on because my behavior and lack of movement was unusual. Instead of being put off by my disability, students and families rallied around me and threw their complete love and  support to my wife and myself. It turns out what they loved about my teaching was my humor and supportive efforts with their children and music. No one cared about my mobility only the love and encouragement I always gave to their children and their music.”

Please add your insights in the comment section below so we can all learn from each other.

LINKS

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips