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Carols of Christmas (Master Class)

By Robin Steinweg

Sara, Maddy, Chris





Each year I’ve observed that students are increasingly unfamiliar with the carols of Christmas. It’s important to me to introduce them to as many as possible, and to enable them to entertain or accompany their families and friends with songs of the season.

Many of them start practicing Christmas songs as early as October. I decided to make Carols of Christmas the subject of our December group master classes.

I chose a Christmas instrumental CD to play as they arrived, and we gathered around my kitchen table for snacks. Food makes everything friendlier! I decided to treat them to sparkling grape juice, which most had never tasted. There was also lemonade and apple cider, grapes, cookies, candies, chocolate-covered pretzels…

Christmas CD acoustic guitar





While they snacked, I read them stories of several carols’ origins.

Master Class snacks



I found a number of activities about the carols of Christmas at brownielocks–scroll to the bottom for more.

My biggest challenge was to find those that could apply to a wide range of ages.

I tapped the beginning rhythm of a number of carols. Even the youngest students were able to participate and guess song titles. Of course, I knew what they’d been practicing, so made sure to use those pieces to give them a good chance.

I also sang the first few notes of a carol, without the rhythm, just to see if they could guess—they did pretty well. For more mature students, I had a Carols of Christmas fill-in-the-notes game. I’d give them a few measures of a carol, leaving out a few notes or a measure or two. They could fill in the missing parts.

Ava, Sam





There were activity pages concerning lyrics of Christmas carols. “Where would you go to hear silver bells?” “Who danced with a silk hat on his head?” Some questions read more like jokes, but all of it got them thinking more deeply about songs they may hear while shopping, but haven’t focused on. Talking about lyrics brought up the meaning and history of words or phrases usually heard only once a year: deck the hall/don we now/noel/gloria/yuletide…

For a final touch, I had bent some sparkly pipe cleaners into treble clef shapes, and set out a variety of beads that they could thread onto the pipe cleaners, and either keep or give away as tree ornaments.






I’ve had reports from various parents how fun it is to hear their children sharing the carols of Christmas with their families.

How do you introduce Christmas songs to your students?



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2015 goals

The issue of internal or external motivation is a debate that is sure to continue as long as there are music students and music teachers. One reason for this is the uniqueness of each student and each teacher. There is no one right answer.

Everyone seems to agree that an internally motivated child is the ideal. But what do we mean by “internally” motivated? Is it the child that seems to practice every week without wanting or needing stickers or prizes? Is it internal motivation to want to please your teacher or parents, or must it involve some level of personal enjoyment of the activity? 

Dan Pink, in his TED Talk, describes three elements of internal motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We can we strive to incorporate these three elements into our lessons. Certainly teaching students to be good readers and helping them to understand the fundamentals of music and harmony will promote a sense of autonomy. Training a student carefully in the elements involved in high-quality playing and taking pieces to completion, should develop a sense of mastery. A sense of purpose might come from discovering how their musical abilities can be used to serve and bless other people. [···]

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So I just had my annual Studio Holiday Recital last weekend! I give my students a recital gift at every studio recital, and I do two studio recitals a year. After 10 recitals or so, it has become increasingly harder to come up with new gift ideas. I am excited to report that I have found the ultimate holiday recital gift idea that will last 23 years!

What is it?

Ok, it’s not all that original – Composer Statuettes!

Believe it or not, this was the first time I gave out these little composer statuettes. In the past I have given medals, trophies, pins, certificates, personalized ornaments, little USB Christmas trees, giant candy canes, Christmas crackers, chocolates, soft toys…I thought these composer statuettes looked rather serious and students wouldn’t like them. I was wrong!

It’s all about personalization.

So on Sunday, the day after my recital, a dad called me out of the blue. It turned out that he had broken his daughter’s composer statuette by accident! No matter how much he assured her he would get her another one that looks just the same (they are easy to order online), my 7-year-old student was still upset, because “it won’t have her name and the name of the event on it.” I had no idea it meant that much to her! In the past I have sometimes personalized the recital gifts, sometimes not, but from now on, every recital award I give out will be personalized with the student’s name, name of the recital (summer or holiday) and year.

So how does this last 23 years?

There are 23 statuettes in the collection. Each student received the statuette of the composer whose music they played at the recital, if applicable. If there are multiple students in the same family, I give them all different ones, so the collection will look interesting on their piano. I keep a spreadsheet of which student got what composer, so I will be sure not to give them the same composer in future years. So in order to get the entire collection, a student will need to play in my studio holiday recital for the next 22 years! If a family has two kids, it will still take them 11 years to receive the entire collection! I think I will still give them something different for the summer recital, but at least for the holiday recital, I am set for a long while! The last statuette in the collection is called “World’s Best Student” – saved for special students, or those graduating or moving away.

Still room for variety from year to year.

I dressed up each composer with curling ribbon that looks like a scarf on the neck (break up the all-white, serious look), packaged each statuette with a candy cane inside, and tied the cellophane bag with shiny ribbons and a jingle bell ornament. In future years, I can put different kinds of candy or chocolate inside, use different ribbons, and attach different ornaments. This way the gift will still be interesting, especially since they will also get a different composer.

End Result



Happy Holidays, everyone!

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