Teaching Tips

Tips for teaching music

 

Love ’em or hate ’em, computers are here to stay and are rapidly permeating most areas of our lives. Music is no exception.

There’s music software ranging from humble metronome and tuning duties, right through to sophisticated composition and recording, and everything in-between! In preparing the next generation of musicians, integrating music technology into our lessons is therefore an important aspect of our student’s development.

But where to start? What software should students use? Will it be expensive? What skills need to be taught?

Over the next few months I will looking at some of the basic concepts of music technology that I teach in my music lessons as well as sharing some advanced techniques learnt from my experiences as a freelance composer and producer.

So why incorporate music technology in lessons?

  • It brings exciting variety into the lessons for both us as teachers and for our students
  • Particularly good for engaging teenage boys but I’m equally pleased to see the enthusiasm of my female students too
  • Helps give us a “USP (unique selling point)” when students are looking for a new teacher
  • Playing back to students what they written or recorded and allowing them to “see” their music is a very powerful method of learning
  • Helps us stay relevant as teachers
  • Gives students skills that they will be need in the future

What software is available?

For simplicity, I would divide music software into three basic roles:

  1. Software for notating sheet music
  2. Software for recording
  3. Utility software for tuning, metronome duties, guitar pedal software, drum machines, soft synths, etc.

How much?!

The good news is you don’t have to spend a penny! There is much legitimate, free software out there and some of it is exceptional. Beware that there is a lot of illegal, cracked software that may be very tempting. As teachers, we need to set a good moral/ethical example to our students and their parents. Software developers rely on sales to fund future releases and cracked software often contains bugs that can cause serious problems.

Notation software

NoteFlight is a fantastic free web based product and has provided a very good starting point for lots of my students. As their skills develop, some students have upgraded to Sibelius First, which can later be upgraded to the industry standard Sibelius. It is worth mentioning Finale which is another highly respected notation package in the music industry.

Recording software

There are many great products available for recording. You many hear of them referred to as DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations).

Apple provide their free entry level product GarageBand on their iPhones, iPads and MacBooks which is simple to use and can later be updated to their flagship product Logic (available on Macs but not the iPhones or iPads). With the Apple Camera Kit and a USB cable (same as a USB printer cable), you can connect a midi keyboard to record music. Bluetooth keyboards are now available so that you don’t need to use cables anymore! Guitars and microphones can also be connected for use. IK Multimedia provide some great products for singers, guitarists and keyboard players to interface with their mobile devices for recording.

Cubase is a long respected DAW which has the benefit of being cross-platform (I run it on both my PCs and Macs) and has been my weapon of choice since I was 14! It comes in three flavours, Elements (entry-level), Artist and then the full version.

Finally, I would like to mention a website called MusicRadar which is a fantastic resource for learning about software products and learning about how to use music technology.

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It has been a year since I created an amazing opportunity for my students – paid gigs! 

Every Saturday and Sunday afternoon (except Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day), one of my private students performs at a local restaurant for two hours. They get a small stipend, a free meal, and whatever tips they happen to receive from customers! This program has been so successful, and I will share with our dear MusicTeachersHelper blog readers on how you can create a similar one for your students!

  1. Find a restaurant with a piano. The one I work with has a baby brand. It is a very nice, upscale restaurant, and has a newly opened wine tasting lounge – perfect for live entertainment. 
  2. Talk to the owner. My program started because the restaurant was looking for a classical pianist who can perform for two hours every Saturday and Sunday. Someone gave them my number, I said I could not do it myself, since I have a baby and weekends are precious time, but I offered my students. Based on my studio reputation and student success, they accepted. (This is why you absolutely must have a studio website and Facebook page to showcase your students!) 
  3. Negotiate the terms. How much will the students get paid, if any? Can they expect tips? What else? Perhaps a free meal? My students and I are very lucky that the restaurant we deal with is very generous. Obviously the students should not expect professional fees, but some sort of stipend should be negotiated. It really motivates the students!

Benefits for the students

This program has greatly benefited my students. It gives them real life, professional performance experience. As mentioned before, they also get paid and a free meal, and many have made handsome tips. Kids love money, and food! It really motivates them to practice harder so they can be ready for their next paid gig. Many students, after having performed once, tell me they realize they don’t have enough repertoire (two hours solo playing is not a short time!), so they are motivated to learn new pieces. It is also good to send those that have a major exam or competition coming up so they can test-drive their program. I also use it as an incentive – “if you finish learning all these pieces you will be ready to perform at the restaurant and make some money!” Many of my students are very seasoned performers now because of this program. Their sight reading skills have also improved dramatically, as I tell them to sight read some easy classics so they can fill their two hours. They have gained confidence (for many it was the first time they ever got paid), learned the value of hard work, responsibility, and time management skills. The restaurant was so impressed with one particular student, that he got his own gig deal! One door opens another. 

Benefits for me

It is a lot of work to coordinate. The restaurant does not contact the students. All they know is that someone will show up every Saturday and Sunday. I do all the communication. I book who is to perform when, and I use Music Teachers Helper to help me keep track. I do it for free, and my students get all the stipends and tips. Every Saturday and Sunday at 3pm I expect a text from whoever should be there to let me know they showed up. At 5pm I expect another text to let me know things went well. Every now and then something unexpected can happen – for example one time the restaurant had a private party and forgot to tell me not to send someone, or the manager is away and no one is in charge, so I have to chase down the payment on behalf of the student, or the student has an emergency or is sick so I have to quickly find a replacement, etc. It is extra work for me. But all of this is giving me publicity as well, as I ask that my students put my business cards on the piano. Mostly, knowing that my students are greatly benefiting from this experience is why I do it. The parents really appreciate it, too, and they know this program is unique, no other teachers offer it.

Benefits for the restaurant

The restaurant gets new customers. Parents go, grandparents go, friends go, to support the students. They find out the restaurant exists. It is now on their list of dine out options. I also tell everyone I know how wonderful it is that they support live classical music. It truly is amazing that a business would do this, and I convey my appreciation to them often. 

What unique opportunities do you offer your students?

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