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…
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“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!
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.
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.
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.
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:
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…
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How would you describe your studio space to someone that’s never visited?
It’s a wonderful place where learning and creativity combine to support aspiring musicians of all ages! Also, we play on a Yamaha baby grand and a Roland HP550 G, so we have the benefit of both digital and traditional instruments. Read more…
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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:
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.