Sandra Lundberg

Sandra Lundberg


Anna at Sonatina FestivalRecitals are very beneficial for music students. A primary benefit is providing motivation to work toward a goal and highly polish a piece of music. Many students are not willing to put this degree of “polish” on a piece without the added incentive of a performance.

Recitals can also teach students valuable skills, such as proper protocols for solo musicians, dealing with mistakes during live music, learning self-calming and relaxation techniques, and developing positive ways to talk to themselves in stressful situations.

One of the main benefits of a live performance is to share music with others, and to enjoy it together. I tell my students that their music is a gift they are sharing with the audience. It is usually a joy to give a gift and watch the other person respond with pleasure.

To a lesser extent, performance is a concrete demonstration to the parents that progress is occurring. I downplay this with the students themselves, but I know that this is an important reality that a music teacher must take into consideration.

An even more slippery notion is that the performance reflects the skill of the teacher. In a lot of ways this is true of course, but in many other ways it is not because there are too many variables; student ability, willingness to practice and follow instruction, home environment and instrument quality, parental support, social anxiety levels, and even the amount of sleep the student had the night before. If you view an isolated student performance as a direct judgement on your teaching ability, too much pressure is placed on the child and the teacher.Hannah Cameron at piano

Live performance can take place in a number of different settings, from very casual to extremely formal. I like to take my students up a continuum throughout the year from casual to formal. In this way I can watch each student and evaluate their ability to handle stress and performance challenges, and I can then adapt to give them the best chance of having a positive experience. If approached with the right attitude, even less than perfect performances can be an opportunity for learning, not a catastrophe.

The most basic level of performance happens when the student plays for the teacher at his or her lesson. If performance anxiety is severe, this may be the only performance level tolerated for awhile. In extreme cases of performance anxiety I try to gently nudge up the tolerance level by first having a stuffed animal sit on the piano and listen in on the lesson. Next I may have another student sit in the room during the lesson. This is also a great time for duets and improvisation.

Group lessons provide a step up in intensity. I like to have ensemble playing time as part of every group lesson (I teach piano so group performance is not the norm). If a piece is out of a student’s range I adapt it by having them play just one hand, or maybe a chord base. Group lessons can also include solo performances. This could either be in the form of a master class, or it can be a time to demonstrate performance skills for an upcoming event.Ensemble Time

Once students are able to play comfortably in front of their teacher, stuffed animals and other students, a small studio recital should be well tolerated. This can be just for students, or for a small group of students and their parents.

If students become used to performing from a young age, most seem to adjust to it well. If you have an older beginner, it may not be as easy for them. They may view themselves as “behind” compared to other kids their age. No teenager likes to look less than perfect. This calls for a lot of creativity on the teacher’s part, such as finding pieces that sound harder than they are, or pulling together a fun ensemble or teacher/student duet.

The next level is to take students out to a small local venue, such as a retirement home. At the beginning of the year I try to keep the repertoire easy and fun for this kind of an event. I talk about how glad the residents are to see them and how they are going to love anything they do. I make the program informal and maintain a friendly exchange with the audience. At these first outings I also stay close by the piano to help with footstools and cushions, and to offer encouraging words.IMG_5109

Community events can be made more exciting with a theme, such as Halloween or Christmas music, or by including more duets. Student/parent numbers are fun. This would also be a good time to let students try out their accompanying skills by playing for a sibling to do a violin solo, etc. I don’t usually encourage a lot of extra guests besides parents to these small venues. Students and their parents are asked to spend some time talking with the residents before and after the performance.

Mid-winter through early spring is a common time for judged performance opportunities. This is a different venue from a recital, but with many overlapping skills required. Students in their second year of lessons are ready to participate in one or more judged events.

By the end of the school year students should be able to perform in a formal recital. These larger events take a lot of work, but I believe they are worth the effort. I do not recommend more than a 45-60 minute program of music. Students can be divided into two or more recital times if you can’t fit all students in that time limit. Make sure students of every ability level are included in each group. Think of something interesting to include about halfway or two-thirds of the way through the program. It could be an exciting duet or ensemble, a second instrument with accompaniment, or even an audience participation piece.Recital Crowd

I spend a lot of time preparing students for their formal recital. They are encouraged to dress up, and invite their extended family and friends. Stage lighting and the presence of many cameras are discussed ahead of time. Complete “formal performance” protocol is expected. I give out annual awards to each student after the recital and then host a reception where parents provide the food and I provide the punch. I describe it as an end of year celebration; no judges—just a great time to share their music and have fun.Food Table Decorations

Not withstanding the importance that I place on recitals, I have had students who cannot play in front of others, no matter how many ways I have tried to build their confidence. At this point good judgement and compassion need to rule the day. I do not believe that public performance is mandatory in order to learn to play the piano recreationally. We all know stories of adults who quit piano entirely because they could not deal with recitals. I don’t want any of my students to be pushed beyond their breaking point.

Please post your recital experiences below. Especially how you handle performance anxiety at recital time.

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134750351I admit it. I want everyone to be happy; even me! This fall I took a few surveys to help me better understand what behaviors and circumstances promote happy students, happy parents and happy teachers.
It is much easier for me to know which behaviors in my clients make me happy as a teacher. Some of these things are important enough to be included in a policy statement—a place where clear communication can set healthy boundaries and solve problems before they happen.
Here is what I included in my registration packets this fall:
Keep Happy Teacher

Students:

  • be willing to try new things, and new ways of doing old things
  • listen to directions and follow them at home
  • read your assignment notes over at home each week
  • enjoy the songs you are learning
  • have a respectful attitude
  • practice faithfully, and record it in your assignment book
  • smile a lot
  • tell the teacher frequently that you love piano lessons
  • always bring all your books to your lesson
  • participate in studio activities
  • take good care of borrowed books and return them on time

Parents:

  • offer your child support, incentives and encouragement at home
  • set aside practice space and time in your child’s schedule
  • say uplifting things about piano lessons in front of your child
  • provide an adequate instrument on which to practice
  • keep your expectations high, but fairly close to reality
  • help your child participate in studio activities and recitals
  • respond to studio emails in a timely manner
  • rarely cancel lessons, and call ahead on those rare occasions
  • drop off and pick children up on time
  • pay your tuition on time each month, without a reminder
  • call me when you have a concern or problem so we can resolve it
  • remember that I thrive on appreciation, and your kids thrive on praise

That covers my side of things, but what about the students’ or parents’ perspectives? For the last few weeks I have been surveying students and parents from my studio, as well as parents with other teachers in my local association, about what makes them happy with a piano teacher. Below is my compilation of the student and parent responses.
I expected certain things to be high on the parents’ list: keep tuition rates low, limit the number of outside activities, high tech studio, make sure we get our perfect time slot, be flexible with sport schedules, vacations and illnesses, have a location close to school or home, have lots of degrees, certifications and professional performance experience.
I was wrong. Not one of these items was mentioned. Read on to find out what was  [···]

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Mr. Arpeggio Book

Student workbook and assignment book to coordinate with game board.

It is so exciting to start a new school year. I usually take August off to give myself time to get ready for a new direction in the fall. In my never-ending attempt to keep kids engaged in the study of piano and music, I create a different theme and activity set each year. This year my theme is World Music, and I’d like to share with you how I have put this to work.

Superheros

Game pieces to move around the board; little superheros.

Mr. Arpeggio Map

Game board. Students move a space for each day of practice.

As the basis for my activities I chose to use an assignment book and game board from Keys to Imagination, created by Michelle Sisler. (http://www.keystoimagination.com/) There are several themes available, and I am using “Where in the World is Mr. Arpeggio” to coordinate with my world music theme. Each student gets a
workbook that includes assignment pages, along with activity pages at the beginning of the book which correlate with the game board. I purchase these books for the students out of their fall deposit money. A vinyl game board is pinned to my bulletin board and games pieces depicting superheros are added. The game board depicts a map of the world with a trail for students to follow as they track down clue cards to find Mr. Arpeggio, who has been stealing musical symbols. The clue cards also include interesting history and composer facts. Students progress on the board according to the number of days they have practiced the previous week.

In order to add a competitive element to the game, I also hung an even larger world map (under $15 at Hobby Lobby) on another wall and marked out a route for the students to race around the world.  Students will choose a cute paper luggage tag on which to put their name, and then move the tag along the route as they accumulate points. In order to get on the map they need 15 points to get to Denver International Airport. From there they work their way to New York City, on to Paris, then Shanghai, and eventually end up in Los Angeles. Their prize reward increases at each destination. They will earn points by collecting the previously-mentioned clue cards, bringing their books, playing their scales cleanly, writing compositions, completing theory pages, playing at recitals, and other activities and goals.

large world map

Large map I added to have a race around the world.

During weekly media lab time I will add in world music activities on the computer. I may also use some of Keys to Imagination’s “Are We There Yet” studio series. This curriculum provides many activities related to studying world music. I will incorporate the world music theme into my group lesson activities and any special concerts or field trips we attend this year.

Are we there yet

Multicultural activities for group lessons and media lab time.

Media ceiling view

Media room decorations.

Students will also be choosing a piano piece to study from a foreign country. I usually have a theme-specific recital sometime during the winter so the students can share these pieces with family and friends. I’ll encourage them to write a report about the country and/or the composer and maybe share some of those facts before they play.

ceiling flag strip

This long banner ties it all together.

To set the mood, I ordered very inexpensive decorations from www.PartyCheap.com in the world theme—lots of flags! I may leave these up all year, or move some of them around from time to time. I have little cards to send out before lessons begin letting students know about the “world wide search” and how I need their help to find the thieving Mr. Arpeggio!

I’d love to hear from other teachers who use a theme each year for motivation!

 

 

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