wide paper LB

Last month I wrapped up my first year of chairing the inaugural Creative Pianist Track at NCKP 2015, the National Conference of Keyboard Pedagogy under the auspices of The Frances Clark Center for Keyboard Pedagogy.

It was an honor to work alongside master improvisation teachers Bradley Sowash and Forrest Kinney and the patriarch of piano pedagogy, Dr. Samuel Holland. Their wisdom and insight continually influence my philosophy and approach to teaching.

The session that I presented on Friday afternoon was entitled “Finding Time to be Creative.”  My presentation offered ideas on how to find TIME to BE CREATIVE, but ultimately it morphed into the importance of FINDING a CREATIVE STATE of MIND.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m wondering if you are like me and are enjoying a renewed sense of purpose beyond the page? Do you find yourself encouraging students to play by ear, read lead sheets, improvise arrangements and compose their own pieces? If not, are you at least wondering if you should include more of these activities in your lessons? Personally, I’ve never felt so strongly as I have right now about equating eye skills and ear skills. I believe this combination will encourage the development of well-balanced and lifelong musicians. Many of my new friends made at NCKP seem to feel the same way. Read more…

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

By Robin Steinweg

Blest be the binder that ties… together the details of my teaching. My Command Central Binder is one of three I’ll keep close this year. They’ll be colorful (because color makes me happy). They’ll be hardy (because I’m hard on them). They’ll be well organized (because I’m order-challenged).

The other two binders will be featured in future posts.

My Command Central binder is the one I need daily. It will help me run my studio smoothly. This information can be found in my computer lesson files. But I like hard copies printed out. I keep them in plastic sheet protectors. Then they don’t rip with continued use.

Command Central, Admin

Command Central Binder

Here are the administrative items I keep in this binder:

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Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

It is back-to-school time again! At the last MTNA National Conference, I discovered three new repertoire series that I will be using in my studio.

00-44560Five-Star Solos by Dennis Alexander

There are three books in this series, from Early Elementary to Late Elementary levels. Dennis Alexander needs no introduction! I already use many of his original compositions in my studio, from Early Intermediate to Early Advanced levels, so I was very glad to come across this new series. Now my beginning students can experience the magic of his creative genius. There are 11 original solos in each book, all with optional duet accompaniments. They contain a variety of styles, tempos, and moods – from ballads, waltzes, Latin pieces, contemporary sounds, and “showstoppers” that are sure to inspire students and impress parents. The optional duet accompaniments are fresh and contemporary-sounding, and technically accessible by teachers, parents, or older siblings. Many of my students do the National Piano Guild Auditions, and this series is perfect for the Elementary categories.

00-44380Classics for Students – Bach, Mozart & Beethoven, selected and edited by Jane Magrath

A highly respected piano pedagogue and frequent music conference presenter, Jane Magrath also needs no introduction. This new series contains three books, from Early Intermediate to Late Intermediate levels, featuring the music of three great masters – Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. The literature found in this series provides a sequenced course of study for the serious developing student who aspires to play music with substantial quality. All selections have been carefully edited with sensible fingerings and helpful ornament realizations. Pedal markings are very sparse, so as to remain as authentic as possible to the original composer’s score. What I really like about this series is that before the works of each composer is introduced, there is a page on the biography of the composer as well as important and interesting facts. For example, in the case of Mozart, Book 1 talks about Mozart as a child prodigy, Book 2 mentions the interesting historical pianoforte dueling contest between him and Clementi, and Book 3 talks about his importance and popularity as an operatic composer. The biography page is followed by a page “About the Music,” giving helpful hints on the characteristics of the pieces and technical skills required to play them. This series is perfect for Intermediate level students participating in judged festivals/auditions/assessments that require standard literature from the Baroque and Classical periods. I hope planning is underway for a similar series covering the Romantic and Contemporary composers!

12-0571538517Mastering the Piano by Lang Lang Piano Academy

Well, Lang Lang definitely needs no introduction! Arguably the most controversial of all famous classical pianists, love him or not, his influence and superstardom can not be denied. This new series contains 5 books, from Level 1-5. Warning: the levels DO NOT coincide with standard US pedagogical leveling! Level 1 (labeled as Early Elementary) is actually more like Late Elementary in my opinion, while Level 5 (labeled as Intermediate) is more like Late Intermediate to Early Advanced. Each book contains 8 units that aim to develop key aspects of piano technique, including specially devised exercise and studies that focus on a specific technical area. If you are a fan, there are lots of stunning photos in each book, showing his amazing fingers and famous posture, as well as commentary and guidance from the pianist himself.

86B6998B-1C5A-4DE9-B79D-E23192784B0AWhat I do like about this series:

  1. The selections are “uncommon” – there are some famous pieces that everyone knows, but there are lots of lesser-known pieces that you do not find in other series, including arrangements of music from other cultures. For example, here are the titles from Level 1: Lantern Song (Traditional Chinese) * Canzonet (Christian Neefe) * Hopscotch (Richard Harris) * Mission Impossible (Pam Wedgwood) * Allegretto in F (Johann Georg Witthauer) * Simple Gifts (Joseph Brackett) * Twilight (Richard Harris) * Cuckoo (Emil Breslaur) * Chasing Tails (Alan Bullard) * Minuet in C (Domenico Scarlatti) * Ode To Joy (Ludwig van Beethoven) * (Allemande (Ludwig van Beethoven) * The Elephant (Camille Saint-Saens) * Lullaby (Johannes Brahms) * Mo li hua (Jasmine Flower) (Traditional Chinese) * Embrukoi (Traditional African). Highly unusual but interesting for a “Level 1” book wouldn’t you say?!
  2. The commentary is very “personal” – it is as if though Lang Lang is sitting next to you and talking to you. There are numerous quotes and “messages from Lang Lang.” For example, in Book 2 Unit 1 Exploring the keyboard: “In this unit I would like you to start moving all around the piano keyboard with more confidence. We’re going to get used to traveling smoothly and swiftly and playing high up and low down.” “Keep a soft, curved hand position and relaxed arms and shoulders even when you are moving quickly around the keyboard. Have fun!”
  3. As he says in the Introduction of each book, you do not need to work through the units progressively. One can “Pick and choose what you would like to focus on depending on your own individual needs and tackle the units in an order that suits you.” There are also additional supporting materials from langlangpianoacademy.com

One can sense Lang Lang’s passion and drive in this series. He has inspired millions, and I look forward to using this series with some of my students, especially the ones that love him or have heard him in concert. I know when they see Lang Lang say “I was always told to curve my hands and fingers – as though there was an egg under my palm. This is a wonderful posture for making sure the power flows directly to our fingertips” – it will carry a little more weight than when I say it!

All of the above new resources can be purchased on the Alfred website.

 

 

 

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Posted in Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

Day 283 / 365 - SkillsI remember it as though it were yesterday. The song was called “Moonlight and Roses.” I hated that piece. I still do!

With tears streaming down my face, try as I might, I was getting nowhere. My mum patiently sat with me, trying to coax me to work through my frustration but to no avail.

Things just went from bad to worse. As my progress on the song deteriorated, frustration turned to anger. “I HATE this song!” “I HATE my music teacher!” “I want to QUIT my music lessons!” “I GIVE UP!” I screamed, red in the face, anger exploding from every fibre of my 8-year-old body.

What happened next was my mum’s worst and finest hour of parenting! In hindsight, she should have Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Sandy Lundberg

Motivation Podcasts

July 26th, 2015 by

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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.

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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…

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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…

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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?

 

 

 

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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

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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

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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.
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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:

 

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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?

 

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Posted in Music & Technology, Professional Development, Teaching Tips