have-you-forgotten-girl

Decades away from my childhood, I recently encountered some experiences, events, and resources that sparked memories of what it’s like to be a kid. I’ve been taken back to those feelings of curiosity, insecurity, excitement and anxiety cast in the mindset of a kid. Mmm…as an adult I still have those same feelings–when does that change? Regardless, sometimes it really is important to take the time to feel like a kid again. It may just kick start your approach to lesson time and help you understand the little human looking up to you for guidance.

What triggered these memories and feelings? Not a trip to the fountain of youth or a special vitamin; rather, these four things:

#1 Online Workshop

Have You Forgotten What It’s Like to Be a Child is a recently released online workshop produced by Wendy Stevens of ComposeCreate.com. In her unique perspective as a mom, teacher, and composer, Wendy offers:

  • The 5 characteristics of childhood that we forget
  • Scores of practical ways to apply this knowledge to help our students leave every single lesson feeling excited and competent
  • Secrets to composing effective elementary piano music that Wendy uses as a composer.

I enjoyed watching her uncover the psyche of a child and how

  • That influences her composing
  • It can enhance your teaching
  • It helps you engage in activities that connect with those who like to wiggle while warming your bench or chair.

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#2 Online Group Lessons

Signing up for lessons in something that you are not proficient will immediately help you recount those feelings of sitting in the hot seat as a child! I’ve taken online improvisation lessons with Bradley Sowash for a couple of years.

Being forced to reckon with new ways of playing my favorite instrument away from the page was humbling and exhilarating at the same time. What’s even better is that Bradley is now teaching online group lessons. This allows many of us read-only players to observe each other learn and expand our improvisational skills in a supportive, interactive environment.

I can’t tell you how many have exclaimed with child-like enthusiasm as they explore their creative side: “This is SO fun!”

Wonder_Cover_Art

#3 A Book

On one of my Pinterest excursions (I limit myself to one, maybe two per week!) I pinned 13 Non-Professional Books that Have Made Us Better Teachers. I immediately went to my Amazon account and placed them all in my cart. The first one to arrive at my door was Wonder by R.J.Palacio.

A book usually doesn’t bring me to tears but this one did more than once and even on an airplane! A few tears of sorrow, but more of the uninhibited sort. Tears that sprang up from my soul. Does that make sense?

Wonder is one book NOT to miss as it is told through the lens of a 5th-grader with….well, you’ll find out.

Go now and get it. Here’s a link.

Find the entire list of recommended books at We Are Teachers  which is also pinned on my Pinterest board Advice for Teachers. The next book I’ll be reading: Outliers: The Story of Success by Gladwell.

#4 An App

rhythm-swing

I’ve always been a fan of apps but it really hit me how much impact they can have on a kid.  A beginning piano student eagerly explained to me with confidence the name and duration of a half note. I had explored the concept with her at lessons and then assigned her to review the note value with the app called Rhythm Swing. The app offers three modes for each note value:

  • Learn (a video explains the concept)
  • Practice (offers the child instruction on how to use the app to master the concept)
  • Play (invites the child to master the concept by playing the correct rhythm and thus saving the cute monkey from the alligator.)

What I noticed is that reaching this child in a context of structured instruction with gamification (a fancy word for learning through game playing) led her to a clear understanding of half notes. I’ve sensed it for years but it was made even more clear to me that…

Clever apps that combine fun with learning connect with kids.

You can learn more about how I integrate Rhythm Swing and additional apps into my teaching here.

Is is time for you to feel like a kid again? If not now, make some room on your calendar and try out one or all four of these suggestions. Your students will thank you.

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

teaching young kids music

Have you ever been asked to teach music to a 3 or 4-year-old? Do you turn them down? It’s completely within your right to only teach older students. Some teachers just prefer to have students start at an older age, and that’s fine. Let me try to make a case for taking younger students, though.

If your studio is not yet full, you’re turning away income and perhaps discouraging a parent from getting lessons for their child until they are older. There are real benefits to early childhood music lessons that I don’t think should be ignored.

When Can Young Children Start?

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Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Reuben Vincent

5 Ways to Start Composing

September 14th, 2016 by

composing music techniques

There is nothing quite like the thrill of writing your own piece of music or helping your student to compose but sometimes it can be extremely hard to get started. What can you do to get the ball rolling as it were?

1 Numbers: A great idea I picked up the other week is to pick an easy key, roll three or four dice and convert the numbers (1-6) into degrees of the scale to generate the start of a melody. For example, say we picked G major and the numbers were 3, 4 and 1, that would equate to B (3rd note of the scale of G major), C (4th) followed by G (1st). After toying with these three notes, you should be inspired to know what comes next. If not, roll again! You could try something similar with a phone number. After writing out the number, cross out any zeroes or nines (not degrees of the scale) and see what happens!

Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Utterly Unique

September 9th, 2016 by

Other teachers said these things to me recently: “I’m just a small-town music teacher.” “It’s all been taught before.” “I don’t say anything new. It’s all been said before.” But not by you. You and your teaching are utterly unique.

Teachers with wonderfully creative ideas write online. Some of them compose songs we purchase for our students. Others create teaching strategies and games. Those aren’t your gifts? Don’t let that discourage you!

You leave a fingerprint on each student’s life…

Think about this. You leave a fingerprint on each student’s life. Utterly unique. Yes, many others have taught the same pieces. They’ve used the same materials. The same words will have been said. But not by you.

I recall the impact of various musicians on my own life. My mother left me a legacy to love music; to make music; to live and laugh music. My first private music teacher impressed me with her pretty voice. But I also picked up her touch on the piano, which I see passed on to my own students. A musician I met only once spoke two sentences that shaped my musical destiny. Other teachers plucked weeds, watered, fed and shone on me as I grew. A professor provided my first playing gig. Each of them impacted my life: utterly unique. Even a negative experience with a teacher helped shape me into a better person.

I’ve had students who no way in this world were going to sing or compose their own songs. But I nudged them. Now they’re making money at it.

Each student comes to you at a particular time of vulnerability. No one else will see him or her exactly the way you do. No one else will relate the way you do. The encouragement you speak at this time can change the course of a life. A word dropped by you might nourish words spoken by others. Your influence might inspire a student to drop a harmful thought pattern. You might provide an oasis. What if you’re the only one who really listens? You are undoubtedly providing a mode of expression that can last a lifetime.

So be encouraged, music teacher. Leave your utterly unique fingerprint on that life.

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Teaching Tempo

One fundamental question that lurks in the mind of students is:  “How am I ever going to play this music up to tempo?”

Many teachers have standard methods for speeding up a student’s playing, but there are several interesting ideas to consider on this subject, and they reflect different priorities about how to play music.

Perhaps the most common method for learning to play at tempo is to first learn the notes solidly at a comfortable tempo.  Then practice the music at slowly increasing metronome settings so as to arrive eventually at the correct tempo.

While I think this approach is valid, its weakness is that it sets the highest priority on getting all the notes right.

Tempo is not about the notes but about the beat.  One way to learn to play up to tempo might be to understand the beat first, and then fill in the beats with the correct notes.

Placing a high priority on understanding the beat means physically moving to the beat, which could involve the knee, the foot, swaying, breathing, and for string players requires a strong focus on good and consistent bowing.
Instead of reading the music as if every note was as important as every other, the student who focuses on beat notes would single out those beat notes for awareness and emphasis.

A good exercise for the student to try is to learn the beat notes for a passage of music, and then to invent ways of arriving at those beat notes on time.  If the student has heard the piece a number of times, the chances are good that their ears will guide them to actually play the correct notes.  But even if they are unsure, they can learn a great deal from finding their own pathways from one beat note to the next.

At heart, this is improvising, but it doesn’t really matter what we call it.  The learning process is that after inventing their own ways to get from one beat note to the other, they will appreciate better the choices the composer made, and will remember the music better because they will understand it from the inside, instead of merely memorizing what the music tells them to play.

Of course, the problem of playing the correct notes up to tempo still requires learning the notes.  But learning them in the context of arriving at the next beat note, and within the structure of a phrase, makes it far easier to learn the notes.

A good comparison can be made with speech.  It is far easier, quicker and longer-lasting to learn to say the phrase, “I like this music up to tempo,” than to learn the sequence, “i-l-i-k-e-t-h-i-s-m-u-s-i-c-u-p-t-o-t-e-m-p-o.”  Placing the notes within the beats, right from the start and engages the ears and the muscle memory of the fingers.

Special note:  A corollary to this discussion is that as much as we may want to get every note right, some notes are more important than others.  The beat notes are clearly the top priority for hearing music correctly.  This means we can relax a little about non-beat notes and trust students and ourselves to nail them down during the learning process, rather than panic about mistakes.  This too has a correlation to speech.  Our brains understand sentences that are misspelled if the first and last letters, and length of the word, are correct.  For example, we can understand, “I lkie tihs misuc up to tmepo” much more easily than if the initial letters were wrong:  “I klie to aply umsci up to etmpo.”

Cognitive studies have shown that drilling the same thing over and over fatigues the brain and yields diminishing returns.  Practicing something in different ways, trying new ideas, and playing games with learning, have been shown to allow for endless attention from the brain.

Learning notes as written and then drilling a passage at increasing speeds can be quite tiring and may have to be repeated many times to get lasting results.

But thinking a little bigger, placing the priority on learning the beat notes, improvising pathways between beats, then finding out the composer’s choices and learning them, noticing patterns within beats such as scales and arpeggios that lead to the next beat note, or even learning manageable bits of the music, such as phrases or half-phrases, up to tempo immediately rather than gradually — these are all intriguing games that allow a student to play up to tempo while gaining a greater understanding and appreciation for the construction of the music.  They’ll build in more musicality while arriving more quickly at their goal of playing up to tempo.

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

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
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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