Wendy Stevens

What do you do when a student shows up for the lesson with a friend in tow, and says (with wide, hopeful eyes and a big smile), “Can _____ stay for the lesson?”

It’s smart to prepare for these times. In fact, it can be a huge plus for your business to schedule a friend week or allow students to bring one friend per school year (or semester, if you like). This helps limit potentially disruptive visits and turn them into a positive.

If you need ideas for what to do with a friend at piano lessons, I have some here!

Get Acquainted

This may be the first time you’ve met this friend. To help both of you feel more comfortable, try this.

Ask a few questions from a list of possibilities:

  • what is your name (or age or grade)?
  • do you have a pet?
  • do you play an instrument?
  • are you married (ha!)?
  • what is your favorite (or most despised) food or restaurant, and why?
  • where would you like to visit?
  • what’s your favorite book?
  • what kind of music do you enjoy most/least?

Piano Bring-a-Friend Ideas

Your student could teach the friend a rote piece or a pentascale.

If the friend plays piano, choose an easy piece for them to play together, one reading treble staff, one reading bass staff. Switch parts.

If the friend plays piano, invite him/her to play a piece by heart.

Play a game together:

Give the friend a choice of rhythm instruments to accompany your student’s playing. Have him/her keep a steady beat, play only on beats two and four, only on the rest, etc.

Teach the friend an easy ostinato. Your student can improvise with it. Add a small stuffed critter to keep on the tops of their heads as they play, to illustrate posture. Now add a coin to the backs of their hands. Can they do this with a straight face?

Two improv pieces for the friends to try:

“Game On” by Robin Steinweg

The lower hand plays four 8th notes on each of these: A down to F, down to D, up to E.

The upper hand improvs on an A minor pentascale to create a video game sound.

“Mandarin Oranges” by Alyssa Hawkins

The lower hand plays a pentatonic scale repeatedly up and down (3 black keys, then the 2 black keys, up and back down). The upper hand plunks black keys to improvise a melody. Use the damper pedal.

Improvise a trio!

“Triumvirate” Put the friend on a repeating bass pattern in A minor and the student on an upper A minor pentascale. You, the teacher, improvise in the middle. Make sure the students know what triumvirate means. From the Cambridge English Dictionary: “a group of three people who are in control of an activity or organization.”

If improvisation seems scary, read this.

To make a week-long event of friend visits, check out Teach Piano Today’s “Bring a Buddy Day” package.

You can make this a Promo Opportunity for your Studio!

Photograph the visit. Post pictures on your Music Teachers Helper website. Consider videoing or audio-recording the friends making music or playing a game 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.

Create buzz for your studio, and give your students even more fun– making music with their friends.

If you need ideas for bring-a-friend to guitar or voice lessons, see my article from August 21st at Music Teachers Helper.

 

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Isn’t it more work to put together duets and ensembles?

Maybe. But sooooo worth it! Check it out…

  • Group playing is a team sport. Participants must work together—listen to one another. They must be able to start together and end together. They lean on each other’s strengths in order to pull off a good performance. They bolster each other’s courage and support each other.
  • It is in duet and ensemble playing that musicians learn the importance of balance (one part should not dominate the others). A good life lesson!
  • As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
  • A group musical experience transcends culture, age, gender, language and economic/social barriers. Depending on the arrangement, the musicians needn’t even be on the same technical level.
  • If there’s a good fit of musicians, it becomes a safe place for them to express themselves emotionally, to make mistakes yet still be accepted, appreciated and cheered on. It’s a great way to overcome the fear of performance. There is safety in groups!
  • In rehearsing duets and ensembles, students will be forced to confront their rhythm and work at it.
  • As a soloist, a performer chooses his/her own interpretation. As part of an ensemble, individuals sacrifice their own ideas to benefit the group. It’s an investment made toward excellence. And that takes any sting out of playing a part other than the lead.

Playing in a small group can become a life experience, not simply something done for a recital since opportunities to perform abound. Over students’ lives, there will be town festivals, community events, holiday performances and church services or functions, to name a few. Get ’em started young!

Here are a few ideas just to get you going.

Piano Ensembles

  • Lists of fun piano duets and trios compiled by Wendy Stevens at Compose Create.
  • A simple search on the internet will turn up dozens of piano duet and trio books.

Vocal Ensembles and Rounds

  • “Coffee Break” from the musical How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
  • Taco Bell Canon (even though this is pre-recorded by one person, Jul3ia, I included it because it was in tune…).
  • Another recording of Taco Bell Canon (in my humble opinion, the next best), features 7 young men.
  • Here’s an easy-to-pick-up round, taught on youtube using “Dynamite”
  • “Dona Nobis Pacem” is a well-known 3-part round. Here are words I have my beginning students use:

Part 1. Quarter notes__ Quarter rests__ Give them each one beat.

If you should break them both in half, they turn into eighths.

Part 2. Three___ beats____ dot—ted half has them.

Three___ beats___ hold on just for three.

Part 3. Three____ beats___ dot-ted-half and then three eighth notes.

Wait__  wait__  Now you start a–gain. (the words dotted half are themselves 8th notes)

Other Duets and Ensembles to Consider

  • Add siblings, parents or grandparents as accompanists or on duet parts.
  • Create an ensemble of piano, guitar, and rhythm—maybe vocals, too!
  • Drum circles can be fun.
  • Create an ensemble of whatever instruments students can play. Have they learned recorder in school? Let them show off their skills here. If they know five notes on their band instruments they should be able to work into a piece you arrange for them.
  • Take simple two or three part rounds and have students play each part on piano or other instruments.
  • Let the audience be part of an ensemble with a call and response led by students. Or let all students participate.
  • Another way to let the audience be part of the ensemble is with Wendy Stevens’ Rhythm Cups.

I hope you’re as excited as I am to have a recital of Dynamic Duets and Excellent Ensembles! I thank my sister, Vicky Dresser, for sharing five of her magical music recital ideas. You can read about the other four here:

Really Rad Rock and Roll Recital 

Mickey Mouse Club Musical Review

Family Folk Song Celebration

Make it More than a Recital!

What are your favorite recitals? We’d love to hear! And be sure to post photos on your Music Teachers Helper website. 🙂

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Other teachers said these things to me recently: “I’m just a small-town music teacher.” “It’s all been taught before.” “I don’t say anything new. It’s all been said before.” But not by you. You and your teaching are utterly unique.

Teachers with wonderfully creative ideas write online. Some of them compose songs we purchase for our students. Others create teaching strategies and games. Those aren’t your gifts? Don’t let that discourage you!

You leave a fingerprint on each student’s life…

Think about this. You leave a fingerprint on each student’s life. Utterly unique. Yes, many others have taught the same pieces. They’ve used the same materials. The same words will have been said. But not by you.

I recall the impact of various musicians on my own life. My mother left me a legacy to love music; to make music; to live and laugh music. My first private music teacher impressed me with her pretty voice. But I also picked up her touch on the piano, which I see passed on to my own students. A musician I met only once spoke two sentences that shaped my musical destiny. Other teachers plucked weeds, watered, fed and shone on me as I grew. A professor provided my first playing gig. Each of them impacted my life: utterly unique. Even a negative experience with a teacher helped shape me into a better person.

I’ve had students who no way in this world were going to sing or compose their own songs. But I nudged them. Now they’re making money at it.

Each student comes to you at a particular time of vulnerability. No one else will see him or her exactly the way you do. No one else will relate the way you do. The encouragement you speak at this time can change the course of a life. A word dropped by you might nourish words spoken by others. Your influence might inspire a student to drop a harmful thought pattern. You might provide an oasis. What if you’re the only one who really listens? You are undoubtedly providing a mode of expression that can last a lifetime.

So be encouraged, music teacher. Leave your utterly unique fingerprint on that life.

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