How can I impress on my students that music is for life? Few sports can be played into later years. But music is for life. A job might be fulfilling until retirement. Music is for life.
I’ve started a master class series in which I’ll invite elderly musicians to share their music and their stories.
Martha Nelson shares why music is for life
The first was Martha Nelson, a drummer/singer/pianist/accordion player who entertained in all-girl bands in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Martha practicing accordion
Martha sang weekly on the Jerry Blake Show for Madison, Wisconsin’s WKOW TV its first year on the air.
Martha Nelson about to sing on WKOW-TV Madison, WI in the 1950s
She passed her music on to her daughters, who are both working musicians (and one of whom is yours truly). She drummed for our family’s dance band through the 1980s.
Martha played several pieces for my students (including the Glenn Miller hit “In the Mood”), and shared the story of how she got her start. She went all the way back to her mother. Grandma planned to travel to the U.S. from Sweden to join her husband. She was booked to sail on the Titanic. But her first-born, my Aunt Vicky, got sick, and they had to wait. Mom told my students their teacher wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that.
She taught herself piano. One of ten children, her dad brought a drum home one day, handed it to her, and told her that would be her instrument.
Now at 89, she still plays piano and sings. And one can often see her foot going or hear her fingers tapping in true drummer fashion.A year ago she joined me singing in a coffee shop—and I gotta tell you, she’s still got it! Her voice hasn’t really aged. Music helps keep her young.
Yeah, play it!
After Martha’s presentation, my students entertained her. The final song, by Chris, was—“My Heart Will Go On”—the theme from the movie Titanic!
Dane & Chris
Ava, Sam & Sara, seated
Music is good for many things: for background, for relaxing, for accompaniment to shopping or working,
for inspiration, entertainment, making a living,
passing on to another generation,
Passing the gift of music on to the next generation and the next…
and enjoying—from the womb till one’s final breath and into eternal life.
There are so many facets to a musical education; reading, theory, ear training, transposition, repertoire, and on and on. One of my personal frustrations is trying to get students ready to perform in special events without enough lesson time. Is it realistic to think that a teacher can cover all these skills and prepare for competitions with just 30 minutes a week with each student? With longer lessons more can be accomplished, but parents may be resistant to increasing the lesson time due to time and financial concerns. However, maybe as teachers we are not presenting a realistic picture of what they are getting for their investment. Below are some thoughts about better defining what can be accomplished over time with various lesson lengths. This is just one example, but perhaps it will encourage you to think about how you define your product.
30 minute lessons
(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)
basic study of music structure
Piano Basics is a place for every student to get exposure to the language of music and the fundamental skills involved in learning to play the piano. The student’s understanding of western music’s structure, along with proper playing technique, is developed through the use of the Piano Partners series by Bernard Shaak. Music reading is introduced through the (national reading program). These two books form the core of the curriculum. As the student progresses in ability, other music is brought in to supplement this core based upon the student’s individual interests.
45 minute lessons + 20 minutes lab time
(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)
intermediate level technique
extra music selection
Achievement Day access
As the student progresses and demonstrates an interest in music, and a willingness to dig deeper into the learning, the Rising Stars program will be recommended. At this level the student will be encouraged to learn performance preparation, step up their technical abilities, and dig more deeply into the details of their music. Achievement Day participation is encouraged. Several other performance opportunities will be available throughout the year requiring extra preparation.
60 minute lessons + 30 minutes lab time
(number of lessons and tuition appropriate to geographical location)
performance level technique
advanced rhythm patterns
wide range of musical genres
collaborative duet work
lead line skills
advanced performance preparation
extra curricular learning activities
Achievement Day, Piano Festival and Federation, Sonatina Festival access
For the student who demonstrates exceptional interest and ability, and a willingness to work hard, the Comprehensive Musicianship program provides an amazing foundation in all aspects of becoming a well-rounded pianist. Technique is prioritized, and the student is given a broad palate of musical genres. He or she is encouraged to understand the history of western music and to be able to interpret music in its intended historical style. At this level students are also encouraged to create their own original music, incorporating their knowledge of music structure and patterns. Collaborative efforts are encouraged in the form of duets, playing with a string quartet, and accompaniment of soloists or other instruments. Basic keyboarding and ear training skills are taught so that a student can play from a lead line with a contemporary musical group. Students are encouraged to participate in several judged events throughout the year, and will be expected to develop a personal repertoire list. Group lessons usually involve a second lesson time for the week. Group lessons are alternated with education field trips to meet the total of 10 per year. Field trips involve musical experiences such as a trip to a special music store, or a symphony performance.
We’re excited to announce that the file area has been improved and the updated version is now available in your account. Here are the three changes:
1. Drag files from your desktop into the browser window to upload – in addition to clicking the upload button, you can now save time if you have files readily available on your desktop by clicking and moving with your mouse to upload.
2. You can now drag and drop to change sort order of the files - adjust the order of your files in seconds by selecting the file you want to move with your mouse and drag it to your desired order.
3. Expand and collapse folder – allows you to only view uploaded files for individual folders instead of all uploaded files. That way, you can choose to have a better visual of just the files you want to see at that moment.
If you have any questions or have any feedback for us, please reach out to support at email@example.com. Happy teaching!
Written by Doug Hanvey, a private piano teacher from Portland, Oregon.
These tips are oriented towards teachers and adult students, but a creative teacher will be able to translate these principles for their younger students.
In our increasingly complex and frenetic world there seem to be endless tasks and distractions that keep us from the things that really matter to us. If one of the things that matter is learning the piano, it would be worthwhile to occasionally reflect on how we choose to spend our time.
Endless Information and Techno-Distractions
Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize winner, said: “A wealth of information means a scarcity of whatever that information consumes. What information consumes is attention. A wealth of information,” said Simon, “creates a poverty of attention.”
There’s more information to digest than ever before. Every day, most of us spend hours watching TV, catching up on email (many of which are a waste of time), sending texts, playing computer games, surfing the web, or some combination of these.
Our capacity and availability for giving attention is no less critical to learning the piano than it ever was, despite the fact that we live in such an attention-impoverished time.
Start an Information Diet
So what can we do? If you’re serious about becoming a better pianist, and feel that you never have enough time to practice, consider an information diet. Meaning: kill your TV. And Facebook. And Twitter. And 80% of your email. Stop mindless web surfing. And computer games.
I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
––Robert Frost, from The Road Not Taken
Ten years from now, would you rather have taken the road of practicing for 5,000 more hours or have spent those 5,000 hours mindlessly surfing the web and watching TV?
Which road would lead to a more fulfilling life, so that on your last day you would be able to say “I gave it my all. I chose to spend my time on what really mattered.”
You know the answer. And you know it’s up to you.
Every “Yes” Is A “No”
Have you ever realized that each time you say yes to something, you are simultaneously saying no to something else?
Each time you log on to Facebook or spend half an hour roaming the Internet, you are saying no to something that might be more productive and valuable, if you were consciously aware of your values and used them to organize your time.
In his book The 4-Hour Workweek, author Timothy Ferriss pointed out that most media is “time-consuming, negative, irrelevant to your goals, or outside of your sphere of influence.” Ferriss challenged his readers to look at what they’ve read or watched today and deny that it wasn’t one or more of these things.
For the sake of mastering your instrument, I challenge you to do the same.
Here’s a brief exercise to help you decide if an information diet could be useful to you. For our purposes, “media” means any combination of TV, Internet use (web surfing, emailing, instant messaging or chatting), talk radio, newspapers, magazines, books and audio books, computer games, and use of numerous other portable electronic devices (unfortunately, ways to become media-spellbound expand daily).
I purposely kept “listening to music” off the above list, but in all fairness, while it’s something every music student should be doing regularly, it too can become a distraction from actually playing. Balance is the key.
You can do this exercise by mindfully reflecting on the questions, or by writing in your journal:
Which kinds of technology and media do I consume the most?
How many minutes or hours on average do I consume media or use technology as a distraction (i.e. not for work)?
Why do I use the technology and consume the media that I consume? Is it a conscious choice or a habit?
Am I trying to avoid something by distracting myself with media? What?
Do I crave using technology or consuming media? Might I even be addicted?
Is my use of technology and media related to the sense that I don’t have enough time to practice my instrument?
How do I feel and behave after exposure to various types of media? (For example, studies indicate people usually feel more depressed after watching TV; and higher levels of Internet use have been associated with adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.)
Could reducing my use of technology and consumption of media enhance my progress as a musician?
6 Practical Tips
If you think you could benefit from reducing your reliance on technology and consumption of media, here are a few practical tips, courtesy of Ferriss:
Ask yourself about any information you are about to consume: “Will I use this information for something immediate and important?” If your intake of information is not both immediate and important, then don’t consume it. Just say no.
Practice “the art of non-finishing.” Starting to consume an information source does not justify finishing it.
Always ask: Am I being productive or just active?
Always ask: If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?
Never check email first thing in the morning. Get something important done first.
Try an indefinite media fast. No newspapers, magazines, audiobooks, or nonmusic radio. (Music is permitted). No news websites. No television. No web surfing at the desk unless it’s necessary to complete a work task that day.
More than a century ago, Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “There are many things of which a wise person might wish to be ignorant.” These days, his advice seems more relevant than ever. What might be worth ignoring and saying “no” to, so you can start saying “yes” to that which is more important?
Doug Hanvey offers piano lessons in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of 88 Keys to the Blues, a method which helps students master fundamental piano technique and musical skills while learning basic stylistic elements of the blues. The course builds a strong foundation for playing and improvising in blues, jazz, rock, and other popular piano styles.
The King’s trusted advisor came bursting through the door! “My Lord, we are being attacked!”
“Fear not,” said the wise old King. “We shall use my secret weapon, The Great Red Dragon!”
To cut the first of eleven fairy stories short, that appear in composer Nikolas Sideris’ brand new piano duet book, the King saves the day through clever trickery and wins the respect of his people!
After I finished reading this two paged story, one of eleven written especially by Nefeli Tsipouridi, I couldn’t wait to turn over the page and start playing the first composition in the book. I was inspired!
But oh no! I was alone at the piano and this is a duet book!
Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, each primo part has a QR code on the side of the title, so all I needed to do was hold my tablet up and the next moment a well-recorded performance of the composer playing the secondo part began to my delight. (There is a link in the introductory pages of the book that you can visit to download the mp3 files if you prefer)
And wow, what an adventure! With the words of the story I had just read still ringing in my ears, I was transported to the centre of the scene with composer, Nikolas Sideris’, evocative music. We battled evil forces with every twist and turn Read more…
‘Tis the season of preparing students for upcoming contests, festivals and recitals. Here are four performance-enhancing apps that promise to help you help your students to do their best.
The Camera simulates the presence of a real audience more than you, the teacher, can provide during a lesson. Once that camera starts rolling, students move into a performance zone and are forced to commit to seeing the piece through with musicality and as few errors as possible. The beauty of the camera is that musicians can see and hear the instant replay, make self-assessments and learn from their mistakes. It’s like a digital mirror that reflects EVERYTHING you may be trying to reinforce at lessons. Bonus? It comes free with any smart phone or tablet!
Why wait until a holiday to “turn on the party?” We teachers can find many reasons and ways to celebrate student milestones.
Parents may not understand what a big deal it is to graduate to the next level of books, for instance. We can help them get it by making a bit of fuss over it ourselves. And if they still don’t get it, at least someone has admired the student’s success.
18 Reasons to Celebrate Student Milestones—they:
arrived at the staples—the midway point!—of their book
passed a unit
completed their level and graduated to the next—huzzah!
practiced one hundred days in a row
practiced five days this past week
remembered to trim their nails
memorized a song
accomplished all their weekly practice goals
performed in public for the first time
played in their first recital
played in any recital
mastered certain number of scales (pentascales, octaves or more)
conquered a beast of a piece of music
got their first playing gig
used a metronome successfully
memorized names of lines and spaces
they graduated from high school and are going off to college
Celebrate a Student Milestone
18 Ways to Celebrate Student Milestones:
pull out a kazoo and trumpet a fanfare
tiny milestone—press Staples’ Easy Button
the midway point in their book—offer a candy or let them make a shot at a Nerf basketball hoop
publish their name (and photo?) on your website
include their name (and photo?) in your studio newsletter
a congratulatory certificate
snail-mail a card to their home, addressed to them
notify Piano Explorer Magazine about their completion of 100 consecutive days of practice (or 200+)
post their names on a chart in your studio
play a CD of a regal/fanfarish song as they enter the room
let them wear a costume crown during their lesson
give a blue ribbon
create a banner/ribbon and add iron-on badges for accomplishments (like boy-and-girl scouts)
let them choose from prizes you’ve collected (dollar store items, coupons for ice cream or burger, sheet music, manuscript paper or books, CD, iTunes coupon…)
let them play music games on the computer
bake their favorite cookies
Student milestone? Bake cookies!
for a BIG accomplishment , tickets to a concert or a huge fake-book