Archives for 18 Sep,2009

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This week I was faced with a tough situation. I need a place for my next recital. The retirement home we usually host at is too small for my growing program to hold all of our students, teachers, families, and friends. A good problem, but still, a problem. Several of my students attend a somewhat controversial religious center, and the members of this organization were kind enough to offer their building to me, complete with a PA and Microphones, a warm up room, and a lovely outdoor patio for parents to relax while kids do warm ups! On top of that, the performance space is beautiful. I was so excited. But then, when I told the parent of one of my other students, she got tense, and said that it would be a sin for her to go in that building. A sin? I was not prepared for this. 

I am no stranger to being a religious minority. After living in the most religiously diverse city in the country, Los Angeles, for 5 years, I have learned a lot about being around religious cultures different from my own. Most people associate LA with plastic surgery and celebrities, but there is much more spiritual activity than you may think here in Hollywood. We have Evangelicals, Pentecostals, Catholics, Unitarians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Muslims, Jews, and everything in between. But, my experience goes back much further than that. I was raised in a religion that was not only a minority in the town I grew up in, but a hated minority. Whenever I told people what religion I was, I braced myself for the verbal attacks of being told I would go to hell because of the affiliation. It hurt. In my public school, we sang many songs that were of the city’s common religion. I kind of liked some of the songs, but I have to admit that every time I sang many of them, I was reminded of my minority status. So due to that, I am extremely sensitive to religious differences. I don’t teach songs that are blatantly religious, unless I know what the child’s religious background is, and I can choose appropriate songs.  I have a colorful spectrum of religions among my students from Wiccan to Episcopal, to Orthodox Jewish, to Kabbalist, to Evangelical Christian. I love it! I love being around so many different faiths all the time, but I got hit a new one when that parent told me it would be a sin for her to enter a religious building not of her faith. I have been in Buddhist Temples, Jewish Synagogues, Mormon Churches, Baptist Churches, Catholic and Episcopal Cathedrals. To me, I find it fascinating to learn about different faiths. So to hear someone say they would be committing a sin. Wow. What do I do? For the first time ever, I was speechless. I certainly don’t want to make anyone commit a sin, but I also don’t want to leave anyone out. What do I do? Well, she offered to let me use her religious center’s building. Great. Only problem is that it is not handicap accessible, and there is not a piano, just a Yamaha Clavinova.  [···]

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Students often find tasks like learning how to read music, memorization, and ear training to be dry and redundant. However, I’ve found several programs that make the process fun, entertaining, and even mildly competitive for the user.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll review various software packages that I use to make the learning process more enjoyable for students.


Back when I was an undergrad, we had to complete daily lab time with various ear training programs as part of our college music theory courses. We would go to the lab and run a series of prescribed ear training exercises on a computer. Students would write down their scores, and then turn them as part of their grade.

When I left school and started to teach, I really wanted my students to have access to the same kind of ear training resources. I eventually found Earplane. (

The Pros

Earplane offers a wide range of tests. The tests include interval identification, chord identification, identifying various modes, and intonation drills. A student can run Earplane at home between lessons to reinforce material learned at the lesson. And really, students can use Earplane anywhere they have internet access.

Interval tests include harmonic and melodic interval drills that increase in difficulty. There are two sets of intonation tests, which can be useful for beginners studying orchestral string instruments, fretless electric bass, trombone, or similar “ear tuned” instruments.

There is a triad identification test that covers major, minor, augmented, diminished, and sus4 chords. Earplane can test triad identification in open voicing, closed voicing, arpeggiated voicing and in different inversions. The site also offers 4 note chordal drills which includes major 7th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, m7b5, and diminished 7th chords. All can be drilled in open voicing, closed voicing, arpeggiated voicing, and in various inversions. [···]

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