piano

(Improvisation Journals, Preparing the Soil & Planting Seeds)

“How do I get really good at improvisation?” a student will ask me from time to time.

Most successful artists practice their craft daily. Think about any artist you may know. If you go into their studios, you will likely find evidence of the artistic process in many different stages of  creativity. With a creator of fine paintings, you might find a pile of rough sketches, pencil drawings and canvases with texture and shading patches; four or five versions of a still life of flowers and fruit, varying in color value, styles and techniques; and a landscape in water color sitting on an easel ready for finishing touches. The studio walls are decorated with finished works done by the artist, as well as pieces created by his contemporaries and influences which provide an inspiring work setting.

Journals are used by writers to keep the creative juices flowing, and to record their ideas.

Next spring, my students will be encouraged in their daily musical creativity with new improvisation journals! These journals will be specially created by the students themselves. There will be lots of space for jotting down melodic ideas, lyrics, doodles and drawings. Every other page will be manuscript paper, my intentions being that a great deal of the journaling will be done in a musical language (i.e. traditional notation, chord progressions, lead line, short hand notation, etc.).

We will have a journal making day in early spring when the students will put their books together and personalize their covers with pictures, pretty scrap booking paper, and collage. Manuscript paper can be downloaded from the internet and printed out from your computer. You might have access to a binding machine, or take the journals to an office supply store and have them spiral bound. You may also choose to use a simple audio software program (here is a free one you can download: audacity.sourceforge.net/) to do regular recordings of the students’ ideas. CD pouches are available also at an office supply store, and can be adhered to the inside covers of the journals.

Our journals will be divided into four sections, labeled “Planting Seeds“, “Budding Ideas“, ” Blossoms“,  and “Bouquets” to set apart the various stages of the creative process involved in improvisation and composition.   [···]

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After last month’s article, are you still looking for:

  • A few ideas for a fresh new way to start off a lesson?
  • A few quick improv games to use in a group setting?
  • A reward activity for a student’s hard work on an assignment?
  • Starter ideas for the next composition:

In each part of this series, we are exploring a different angle in the music creativity process. So, today we are going to explore improvisation with an activity I call…

“Walking the Dog!”

Excuse Me? You may be wondering what exercising your pet has to do with improvisation techniques? I have found this to be one of the best and ways to help my students to understand and practice development of motifs and phrases. Most people can relate to having a new pet with fond recollection, and so you’ll immediately have their eager attention to try this exercise when you greet them with “Today we’re walking the dog!”

The Motif: A Mini Melody

I first ask the student to play a mini, or baby melody, 3 or 4 notes (recommend mostly steps and maybe one larger interval).  [···]

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As the time comes closer for teachers around the world to organize a Christmas or seasonal recital, it becomes imperative to have a strategy or plan in place.  In most cases, students look forward to their recitals, but the responsibility is on the teachers to make it the most enjoyable experience possible.  Over the next few weeks, I will be addressing several issues and giving suggestions.  I am open to comments, ideas, and requests for articles.

A few examples from my own studio…
We hold recitals 2x/year – one a few weeks before Christmas and another in the spring.  Both are required of all students and are a great way to inspire and motivate… everyone looks forward to it!
I make sure reminders are periodically sent by email or posted on my website for all families to see.

Communication is key.  About 2 weeks before the recital, I send a detailed explanation of what to expect, what to bring, and where to be.  ?

I started having students write a short autobiography to be printed in the program.  Some students draw, paint, or color themed pictures to be included on the cover or inside as original “clipart”.

Students are expected to arrive a minimum of 15 minutes early… to avoid the stress of “running late” and making it much easier on their teacher!  ?  They are required to bring their music – in my studio, students are not required to memorize their pieces (for various reasons to be covered later).  The families also bring a dish or dessert to share afterwards during the reception time.

After the performances, we have awards – I give each student a certificate for performing and another for participating in games online at www.musiclearningcommunity.com and another for student of the month awards (covering the months since our last recital).  Students also receive the certificates from the back of the method books they have passed or any exams passed.  The entire awards ceremony lasts from 5-15 minutes for 30 students.  They love the recognition of their hard work!

Employing volunteer parents to help with set-up and cleanup has lessened the load on my shoulders and is always greatly appreciated!  My family has been a wonderful help as well.

Prior to the recital, be sure to establish…

  • what the students should do upon arriving (check in with you, find a seat, do an activity)
  • where the students will be sitting (as a group or with parents)
  • who is invited to attend (family, friends, etc)… are invitations provided?
  • the cost & when it is due (students, attendees, etc) to cover the costs of rental, use of facilities, any other expenses related to the event
  • media (pictures, video, cell phones)… how do you wish to handle it? (when can pictures be taken?  Are families encouraged to take video and if so, where should they stand or sit as to be the least distracting?)
  • dress code (is this a casual or formal recital?)… what is acceptable and not?
  • volunteers for certain tasks

Suggested To-Do List…

  • Make Programs a day or two before the recital, but not too far in advance or changes will be inevitable and cause unnecessary frustration and stress
  • Make invitations for students – they love ones themed with pianos and music notes!  🙂
  • Verify venue and time – to avoid last minute surprises

These are all technical aspects of a recital, but more to come include…

  • how to deal with stage fright
  • ways to motivate and inspire through recitals… and when to give gifts to your students
  • ways to order students in a program… who goes first?  who finishes up?
  • recital themes
  • reasons for students sitting with parents vs. sitting as a group (I’ve tried both)
  • whether or not to hold any sort of rehearsal before-hand
  • recital etiquette
  • finding a booking a venue/location
  • establishing a day and time
  • refreshments
  • how to put together a program
  • copyright issues in media (making of DVDs or CDs)… recording and copying

Have a wonderful recital and remember to enjoy every moment.  Never forget the amazing memories you are creating in the lives of each of your students and the responsibility we all have to do everything in excellence.  Enjoy!

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