Music Teacher's Helper Blog

All music teachers are musicians. Nobody picks up their first instrument in order to teach it. To keep your teaching fresh, keep learning — and keep playing. Consistency is important, but sticking to the same materials, same approaches, same routines, and avoiding risks, can lead to boredom and resentment on the part of the teacher, and an uncomfortable and less productive experience on the part of the student.

One of the nicest risks to reach for, one which probably has the most impact on teaching, is performing. Those teachers who are already active performers know what I mean, though even we can all benefit from stretching ourselves — trying new repertoire, new genres of music, new venues large or small, formal or informal, new ensembles, different accompanists, solo experiences, or participatory events.

The risks you take by performing improve your teaching because you find yourself grappling with questions of your own that every student also has to handle, such as:  [···]

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Hi teachers!

I hope this post finds you well and you have all survived your scheduling nightmares for the new school year!

We all know that parents play an important role in the success of our students. Younger students need parents to  remind them to practice. Some students respond well to incentives, some practice better when the parents sit in with them. Clear communication between the parents and the teacher is also vital.

Here are a few things I do to get the parents to be more involved in my studio:

Parents Meet and Greet

I started doing this a couple years ago. I invite the parents to come for morning tea at the beginning of the school year. They can get to meet other parents, share each other’s experiences (such as how to get your child to practice!), and ask me any questions they may have. I also use this opportunity to outline the various programs and events I offer this year, and recommend which ones are suitable for their children.

Studio Newsletter

I started doing this years ago. I have newsletters on my studio website dating almost 10 years! Posting newsletters online is efficient, saves money on printing, and allows potential students to see what my studio is all about. However, some parents never read it! So recently I decided to go the old fashioned way – have my newsletters printed! I still post them online on my website, but the printed newsletters get distributed to each family. There is just something about physically holding a piece of paper and reading what’s on it, plus the pictures look more lovely! Here is the most recent one:


Tip of the Week

This is new. Starting from this week, every week I will post a Tip of the Week on my Studio Facebook page to help parents be more involved in their child’s music study. Here is the first tip:

How about you? How do you get parents to be more involved in your studio? Best wishes for a successful teaching year!

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Have you had students bring-a-friend to lessons? Whether a friend showing up for a lesson is planned or a (yikes!) surprise, the wise teacher is prepared. Here are ideas for voice/guitar.

Vocal students might require more warming up than other types of students (in more ways than vocally!). The voice is so much a part of the person it can be intimidating to share it.

For Bring-a-Friend-to-Voice-Lessons, try ice-breaker questions first:

  • What is the funniest word you know?
  • What movie would it be hilarious to see made into a musical?
  • If animals could talk, which would be the most rude?
  • Toothpaste tube: squeeze middle or end?
  • What fictional character is amazing but would be a pill to endure in everyday life?
  • If someone asked to be your apprentice and learn everything you know, what would you teach them?
  • What’s one of your favorite memories?
  • Have you ever done anything really embarrassing?

Now that you’ve got them giggling…

Spend a few minutes warming up their voices. Bring on the most entertaining ones you have. Be silly with them. Sirens are fun.

Have them flop over from the waist and do lip buzzes.

Say tongue-twisters. Then sing them on a pitch.

Try these silly vocal warmups from Patel Conservatory. Be sure to stick around for the finale, “Johnny’s got a head like a ping pong ball!”

Pull out a pop song your student loves and accompany them or sing along with a YouTube video.

Sing a goofy song.

Sing a Broadway song.

Teach them a two-part round.

On a well-known children’s song, have them each sing every other word. Try “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for starters.

On “Home On the Range” or other well-known song (if all else fails, try either a Christmas song or nursery rhyme), have them leave out the words or syllables on the downbeats. This one’s tougher, but should create some fun.

Have them sing “Do-Re-Mi” from the Sound of Music. Explain what the scale is and demonstrate at the piano. Next, have them sing the scale with numbers one through eight. The following exercise will prepare them for basic harmony: sing 1, 1-2-1, 1-3-1,-1-4-1, 1-5-1. If they do well, continue on with the whole scale. If they’re shaky, you could stop at 1-3-1.

Now make a first try at harmony. They can sing the 1 note together, and while the friend holds it, your student can go on to 2 and 3, and hold 3. If one of them has trouble, play along on the piano. Perhaps your student is ready now to add a harmony note on the final note of a simple song like “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” a third above the melody note.

Assuming they were able to sing harmony together on the last pitch of the song, let them try to sing thirds apart like this: Student one sings 1, 2, 3, 2, 1 as the other sings 3, 4, 5, 4, 3 simultaneously.

If that last activity went well, teach one of them the harmony to a whole song (keep it simple, sweetie!) and see if they can stay on pitch.

Here’s one for students who can both hold a pitch. My sister and I used to do this. Drove my dad up the wall. Your student sings a pitch and holds it no matter what. The friend sings a half step higher or lower. Grow louder and softer. Switch parts. If they are good at this, take a simple song like “Jingle Bells” or “Three Blind Mice” and have them try to sing it all a half step apart from each other. You might need to play one part on the piano while singing the other part.

Guitar Bring-a-Friend Ideas

Try to find out ahead of time if the visiting friends play guitar or another instrument. If so, have them bring their instrument.

Again, questions can help set a fun tone. Choose one or more:

  • What’s your middle name?
  • What career do you dream of having?
  • What mode of transportation do you wish you could use?
  • What’s something about you that surprises people?
  • If you could hang out with any musician for a month, who would it be?
  • Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
  • If you had to eat one thing every day from now on, what would you choose?
  • What is something coming up this year that you’re excited about?

What can you do with a friend at the lesson?

If the friend plays guitar:

  • have them play a three-chord song together. See if one can strum while the other finger-picks.
  • If the friend plays guitar, see if the two can play a song by each playing every other chord. Make a game of it. Or one could strum on beats one and three while the other strums beats two and four.
  • You can find a Simon Says game here.

If the friend plays recorder, have him/her play something simple in a key your student is familiar with and can accompany. Try “Merrily We Roll Along” or “Hot Cross Buns.”

If the friend does not play guitar:

  • let your student teach The one-finger chords Easy C and Easy G or Easy G7 and a simple down-stroke strum. Play a2-chord song.
  • If you own a ukulele, you could teach the friend two chords and have them play a duet.
  • Let the friend play a rhythm instrument along with your student.
  • The friend might enjoy singing while your student plays.
  • Find a pop song (a cool song, ya know?) with three chords and let the friend see how relatively easy it can be.
  • Show the friend how to play a simple bit of melody. Let your student accompany, or vice-versa.
  • Teach the friend to play Easy G and Easy Em (each with only one finger, and strum only the first four strings: D, G, B and E). Set a slow, steady beat (you might want to find a drum rhythm app for fun) and have the students see if they can make it to the next chord on time. Eight beats gives them a better chance to think and move fingers. If your student has some experience, (s)he should finger the full chord instead of the easy version.
  • Your student can show the friend how to read first string and second string notes. With flash cards of those six notes, give the friend a fun-shaped fly swatter, call out a note name and have him/her swat the correct note. At the same time, your student could play that note on the guitar. Who can get the note first?

Hey, Bring-a-Friend-to-Lessons is Promo-Worthy!

Be sure to photograph the visit. Put the picture on your Music Teachers Helper website. Consider videoing or audio-recording the friends making music together. Send it to your student’s parents, and ask them to pass it along to the friend. Let them decide whether to post it on social media, but be sure to ask them to tag you and/or your studio if they do!

If something the friends tried sounded pretty good, you might want to invite them to perform together in your next recital.

This is a great way to create buzz for your studio, and more fun making music for your students–and their friends!

Be sure and watch for my article on piano bring-a-friend-to-lessons ideas October 27. See you then!



photo by: ljguitar
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