Leila Viss

Leila Viss

Hi, I'm Leila Viss, pianist, organist, teacher, author of The iPad Piano Studio and blogger at 88pianokeys.me. I enjoy teaching piano to around 45 students ranging in age from 6 to 91. I am drawn to discovering innovative teaching methods and successful practice strategies to encourage the average player stick to the bench for life. Customizing lessons for each student is a priority and therefore I provide "blended" instruction of Classical, Jazz and Pop. The ever-changing tools of technology assist me in my daily teaching. Every student not only has a private lesson but a lab session as well. Lab assignments include activities using the latest music software, MIDI, iPad apps, a Clavinova and more. In 2012, I decided to try my hand at hosting my own blog and have found a new “love” at 88pianokeys.me. My fascination with the iPad and apps resulted in the book "The iPad Piano Studio: Keys to Unlocking the Power of Apps." What began as an idea, a nudge and then a reality is now serving as required reading for pedagogy students. Invited by Pete Jutras, the editor of Clavier Companion, I now pen a column for the piano magazine called "Apps for Teaching." I've served on planning committees for the MNTA (Music Teachers National Association) 2013 Jazz/Pop Track, the MNTA 2014 Improvisation Track and was appointed chair of the Creative Pianist Track by Dr Sam Holland of the NCKP 2015 (National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy.) Much of the above activities in the previous paragraph has to do with my good friend and colleague Bradley Sowash--a dynamic jazz pianist, author and educator. He contacted me in 2012 to help him plan the 2013 Jazz/Pop track. Things haven't stopped since then as we have co-founded 88 Creative Keys. This joint venture features camps, clinics and workshops to promote creativity. When not teaching, blogging, planning...I am usually practicing the organ and piano for my church position, adjudicating piano and composition competitions, presenting at conferences, exercising, and if there’s any time left, reading a good book (on my iPad, of course).

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.

book-logo1

Bonus features:

  • 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.

You can purchase the book here.

So how does the book fit into this blog about giving gifts to students? Let me explain. [···]

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Once a piece is memorized with all the details in place it would seem a successful performance would follow. I believe there are THREE MORE ESSENTIAL elements that guarantee a positive outcome for a rookie and seasoned performer. In my opinion, these steps involving the head down to the toes are almost as important as preparing the piece itself. Here’s the first of the three elements:

Prepare to Perform

Group lessons are the perfect opportunity for peers to test the readiness of an upcoming performance. Besides each pianist playing a well-rehearsed piece, all follow and help each other memorize these components surrounding the performance. The routine encourages students to enter into the desired “performance zone” with a simple ritual. Here’s how I explain it to future performers: [···]

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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:

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