Kerri Green

Kerri Green

Kerri Youngberg Green grew up in Southern California. She received her Bachelors and Masters degrees in Piano Performance and Pedagogy from Brigham Young University. Her students have won competitions, performed with orchestras, gone on to music degrees, and grown to love music making. Kerri is active as a performer, teacher, and collaborative pianist in the Salt Lake City, Utah area and stays busy as the mother of four children.

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I am currently responsible for the my own practicing, for the practicing of three of my four children, and for assigning the practicing of my more than twenty piano students. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out ways to make daily practice palatable for all of us! After all, music and music lessons are supposed to be fun, right?

Well, yes! Of course they are! To that end, I have music dollars they earn to spend at an end of year auction. I offer prizes when they reach goals on their 40 piece challenge charts. We use the iPad and time off the bench to reinforce concepts. They come to group classes and play games and have treats. I am a happy, encouraging cheerleader in their lessons. Their assignment sheets are covered with happy faces next to statements like “Watch out for those flat pinkies!” and “Remember metronome!”

Music is fun! Music lessons are fun! Practicing is fun!

Except, of course, when it’s not.

Are we doing our students and ourselves a disservice when we try to play up the fun and play down the work? I recently came across a quote that has reminded me that sometimes practicing is just plain hard work.

Eliot Butler said:

To learn is hard work. It requires discipline. And there is much drudgery. When I hear someone say that learning is fun, I wonder if that person has never learned or if he has just never had fun. There are moments of excitement in learning: these seem usually to come after long periods of hard work, but not after all long periods of hard work.

In defense of happy learning, I want to say that I love learning. I love the lightbulb that goes off when something suddenly makes sense. I love working on a phrase and finding it fit better and better in my fingers. I love the way the world seems to expand when I learn something about a subject with which I am less familiar. BUT! Getting to the fun of it absolutely does take work.

I love rehearsing with other musicians BUT I would hate it if no one was well-prepared. I love learning new music BUT I would hate it if I hadn’t learned to sightread well over years and years and years of playing my instrument. I love teaching my students BUT it sure is less pleasant when they haven’t done any work on their own.

The life lessons that are taught through music lessons are invaluable: hard work over a long period of time pays off. It’s best to be consistent in your habits to make progress long term. Learning to take a big piece of music and taking it apart to its tiniest parts to learn to perfect it teaches important lessons about how to approach a major project: one step at a time. These are just a few of the things I hope my students and my children learn from their music study.

And along the way, I’m planning for us all to have lots and lots of fun.

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Marked Score

A few months ago, I joined a few piano teachers’ groups on Facebook. They have been a great source of teaching inspiration and have reminded me how many differences there are within our ranks as music teachers, even with teachers of great experience. A recent discussion has again sparked my interest in that basic teaching tool: the score and how we mark it to help our students succeed.

A score from a transfer student was posted: every fingering was marked as well as numerous note names. The score was cluttered with many section numbers, reminders and colors. The teacher sharing the score said that she prefers a cleaner score, with a student translating the necessary information from that mostly clean score, then asked the opinion of the group.

Here are some of the varying practices of the group:

1. Pencil only so they can erase scores before they send their students to an adjudication or competition.

2. Colored pencils or pens with a different color each week so it is clear what details were covered in the most recent lesson. Most of these teachers also advocate copying music before beginning study on it so that the copy is the one covered in color and the original score remains clean for judging purposes.

3. Eraseable colored pens so that both purposes of 1 and 2 can be achieved (i.e., colored to make notes more evident, but erasable for later so the score isn’t as cluttered.)

4. Different types of office supplies to help keep the score clean: Post-It tape so that the notes are removed when the problem areas are addressed, highlighter tape for the same thing with more impact,  removable red dots for specific problem areas.

5. Students mark important details themselves, often before study begins.

6. Important fingerings marked, as well as articulation, dynamics, phrasing indications, chord symbols, section numbers.

7. No teacher approved of every finger number marked in a score. The only note names that were agreed to be acceptable to be marked are notes that are continually missed or tricky ledger line notes. (I will admit that when I had an assigned amount of organ practice to do in college along with my piano practice, and when there were no organs available, I often sat in the hall and wrote every single fingering and pedaling into my score to count it as practicing. That was my almost-one-and-only stint of fingering every note, but I found it helpful enough that I tried applying the principle to the Bach Partita I was learning on piano and loved the exactness I felt as I worked through each measure so carefully.)

8. Something important to note for teachers of students entering festivals or competitions: none of us as adjudicators preferred a marked score from students. The rule should be clean copies only for judges, unless you would like the judges to immediately zero in on the offensive sections and be looking for the problem during performance.

I was interested that so many of the teachers in the pencil-only camp were quite passionate about their dislike for cluttered scores. As a student of many teachers who marked my scores with colored abandon, I must admit to a certain affection for those teachers and those lessons when I return to my multi-colored pages from years past (the picture at the beginning of this post is one page from college.) I never imagined that so many people would consider these rainbowed scores to be inconsiderate or offensive! Many teachers in the group mentioned a similar affection for their scores from previous study, especially when marked with effective fingering and inspired instructions. I now have more respect for the other viewpoint as well, but I think I am set in my bright and colorful ways.

What are your score marking principles? What are your students responsible for marking? (Mine are supposed to mark section numbers, important fingerings, and in a perfect world, chord symbols.) What are your most common markings? (Mine are a phrase tapering mark, fingering, chord symbols, and articulation. And lots of rainbow circles around dynamics, etc.)

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1000By now, most of us are familiar with the idea, given a broad audience through Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, that it takes approximately 10,000 hours of work to achieve an expert level at various high-level activities: some sports, chess, and of course, music.

I used the 10,000 hours idea in a group class a few months ago to help persuade my students that the more time they spent per week at the piano, the faster they would accumulate knowledge and skill. We discovered that it would take 10 years of practicing 20 hours a week, 20 years of practicing 10 hours a week, and with the average of 2 hours a week it would take 100 years of practicing to achieve this nebulous “expert” level. We all laughed, especially those of my students who struggle to get more than two hours of practicing in a week, but it left me thinking: while achieving expert level is certainly important to some of us, it is not the goal of most of my students or their parents. What is important to them? Being able to play a song from Frozen, accompanying a friend in a school performance, playing for church…in other words, they want to be competent pianists. [···]

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