6 fun pieces for intermediate to advanced pianists
When I was a teenager, I innocently asked my piano teacher one day if I could possibly learn some pop songs in my lessons. I will never forget his reaction!
Well, the colour drained from his ancient, wrinkly face and I could tell it was all he could do to withhold the rage clearly brewing deep within him!
“Why would you want to learn such rubbish?!?” he finally exploded.
“But it’s fun! And nobody has heard of the pieces I play” I grumbled, for he kept me on a strict diet of scales and Bach! I was tired of the same old routine and desperately wanted some excitement.
“Could I then just learn some jazz and blues?…What about some Scott Joplin even?” His cheeks were starting to puff uncontrollably and he gripped his chair for support. I could tell this was going nowhere!
I dropped my shoulders is resignation. The situation was hopeless. In fact I resorted to learning to play the “Maple Leaf Rag” in “secret,” dreaming of one day playing some cool popular music. The local music shop was just as disappointing carrying an antiquated stock in their so-called “popular music” section.
Now fast forward twenty or more years on and what a different world we live in! Exciting music is easily available from all over the world with the click of a mouse (or a poke of an iPad)!
Take one such book that I recently stumbled upon…
“Blue River” by Elena Cobb. A collection of six original pieces for the immediate to advanced pianist (grade 6+). Now had such a book been available for me as a teenager, I would have loved it! And to have shown it to my old teacher…now that would have been cruel but funny!!!
Full of bluesy, jazzy pieces and even some latin thrown in for good measure, this is an exciting collection which some of my advanced piano students are really enjoying at the moment. It’s challenging them but they are having lots of fun.
Cloud Seven, Latin. This was the first piece that caught my attention. It has a classic Cuban style groove, so perfect for Read more…
Posted in Music News, Performing, Practicing, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips
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Posted in Music & Technology, Music News, Product Reviews
“When I was confronted with official tuition, the academic thing, I could see no relationship whatever between that and the music I’d been writing since I was 11.” – Harrison Birtwistle
For many musicians, and for many music-lovers who listen to them, the term “academic” has become a kind of musical dirty word. Defined variously as “not of practical relevance”, “of only theoretical interest”, or “pertaining to scholarship rather than practice”, the term is assumed to have little or nothing to do with the sound of music, or the enjoyment of music, or of music as an innate form of human expression. Indeed, the term “academic”, can for some by synonymous with “anti-practice”: we engage in “academic” music when we study theoretical concepts or argue about obscure points of critical theory; we engage in “practical” music when we put away our books, pick up an instrument, open our hearts, and sing.
But there is a difference and I can hear it!
It’s of course true that reading a book about music is not the same as playing an instrument or attending a concert. And I agree that, in some quarters, so-called “book learning” of historical and compositional concepts can lean strongly toward the abstract, and can aspire to meet expectations of meaning and relevance that appear to have nothing to do with practical music-making or the preferences of the ticket-buying public.
But this is OK with me as a practicing musician, for three reasons: first, because it is these same “book-learners” who have provided musicians with so much of the foundation of practical music-making (from well-edited scores, to treatises, to knowledge about how our brains process musical information); second, because the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake – especially about something as essential as music – is important in its own right (if we can say that art justifies itself, then surely scholarship too can be self-justifying as a human pursuit); and third, because, in my experience, many student musicians and concert-goers vastly underestimate the significance of the role “academic” knowledge plays in the study, performance, and enjoyment of practical music-making, both for performers and for audiences. Read more…
Posted in Music History & Facts, Performing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips
Using Various Technologies to Provide Play-Along Recordings to Students
One of the things I feel very strongly about as a music teacher is developing the student’s ear – early, and often. I’m not just referring to the ear training exercises that most of us probably employ, but also using recorded examples at every possible opportunity.
I could write an entire post on why I believe this is so critical to the student’s success, and why I think audio examples and play-along recordings should be used constantly from the very beginning. For now, I’ll assume that most of you are already on board with this idea, and perhaps just need some ideas for HOW to provide recordings to students. Read more…
Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Product Reviews, Studio Management, Teaching Tips, Uncategorized, Using Music Teacher's Helper
A beach theme was used for the last studio recital. Can you tell?
Apparently I’m not the only one scarred by a horrendous memory black out during a recital. Riding home with fellow adjudicators from a nearby Federation of Music Clubs Festival, I discovered that others have endured unforgettable and traumatic experiences where the memory bank crashed during an important performance. As I’m preparing my students to participate in a local Federation festival that requires memorization, it’s critical for me to equip performers for NOTHING but a successful experience. I do not wish to pass along my personal past performance scars to anyone.
Playing for an audience is already risky but playing from memory for others including adjudicators could be equated to walking a tightrope. If performers are going to tip toe on that high wire, it’s important that a safety net is below ready to catch them when, not if mistakes occur and bounce them right back up on the rope.
Designing a plan that will empower students to play through an error, find an exit, manage a detour, reroute and get back on track all within a feeling of control and not panic is essential–but not easy. I figured if I came up with as many options as possible, students would be equipped to rely on a number of fallback plans to ensure a positive performance experience. Below is my piano-teacher-not-very-scientific list for building a strong memory bank. Read more…
Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips
To help me recover from a car accident, my doctor sent me to Katie, a physical therapist. I was surprised to discover parallels between physical therapy and teaching music. I shared five of them a month ago. Find the first five teaching tips here: 5 Teaching Tips
Below are 5 More Teaching Tips Inspired by Physical Therapy.
6. Warm Up First: Cold muscles are less pliable and more prone to injury. It’s best to get the circulation going, blood and oxygen to body parts that will soon work hard. Spend a few minutes on a treadmill or bike; walk; even climb stairs.
Fingers, wrists and vocal cords can also be strained without warming up. Voice students can begin low-to-mid-range and gradually move higher or lower. Piano (or other instrument) students stretch fingers, play scales and arpeggios, and loosen tight shoulders. Correct posture helps.
Make it a habit. Warm up. Read more…
Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips
How do you prepare a student to have a good experience in a competition or other event? Below are a some specific ways that I try to make sure the student is ready. Event prep is an ongoing process of growth and learning for both teacher and student. This long list is in a somewhat random order and by no means complete, but I hope it will generate a few ideas for you.
Start early. Nothing spoils the process more than running out of time. Creating a reverse timeline is an excellent idea. Starting from the date of the event, work backward setting intermediate goals and deadlines. For example, if an event takes place on April 5, you might set a deadline for secure memorization of the material by March 1, articulation, phrasing, and dynamics integrated by January 15, and notes, fingering and rhythm secure by December 2.
Start the piece correctly from the beginning. Do not allow any bad habits to develop. It is easier to start with a new piece from the ground up than to choose a piece with ingrained problems to rehabilitate. Allow the student one play-through to get the overall feel of the piece, but then slow way down and work section by section, phrase by phrase. On the other hand, sometimes the second or third time you learn a piece, it really comes together. Don’t be afraid to pull out a piece learned last year and relearn it at a deeper level, if it does not have big issues.
Choose material that is level-appropriate. Too hard and tears and frustration will be the result. Too easy and boredom and carelessness will set in. Take into account the amount of time you have to prepare. If the competition requires a certain minimum level of difficulty, use Jane McGrath’s book “The Pianist’s Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature” to determine the level of your piece.
Start with the rhythm, separated from the notes. The rhythm drives Read more…
Posted in Performing, Practicing, Studio Management, Teaching Tips
My first studio website was launched in 2006. I had just moved to Long Island, New York from New Zealand, and was in the process of applying to become a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music from MTNA. One of the many suggested projects for Standard III – Professional Business Management, was to build and launch a studio website. Lucky for me, my brother is an amazing website and graphic designer, so I was able to complete the project with minimal cost.
Over the years, I have learned a few website design tips and HTML codes myself, and my studio website has undergone a few major facelifts. Not only does it have my studio information and policy, I have added numerous student photos and videos, studio newsletters and announcements, as well as a blog where I post articles and reviews.
I have so much information stored on my last website, that it was beginning to look cluttered, and the layout was starting to look tired and dated. I decided to search for a new theme on WordPress! Moreover, I decided to make use of the free website offered by Music Teachers Helper. Since I already had my own studio website before joining Music Teachers Helper in 2010, I never thought about taking advantage of its website function. That is, until about a month ago, when Music Teachers Helper announced the introduction of a blog page! That made it very tempting, especially after reading about how to customize the templates. I have been having so much fun building a studio website using Music Teachers Helper, that I have decided to keep it and incorporate it into my new personal website on WordPress. Since doing so, I have discovered a few advantages:
1. On the odd (but seemingly increasing) occasion that my WordPress site is down due to server overload, I still have a “backup” website available to direct potential new students to.
2. I can separate information. “Static” information related to my studio, such as teacher bio, studio policy, and programs that I offer my students, can go on the Music Teachers Helper website. On my WordPress site, I will concentrate on articles, reviews, and my own upcoming performances and recitals.
3. I no longer need to deal with spams. I no longer disclose personal email or phone number on either site. I will use the Music Teachers Helper Contact Form and Registration Form exclusively. My personal contact information will only be given to students that are already in the studio.
Posted in Promoting Your Studio, Using Music Teacher's Helper
We are excited to announce MTH Webinars are now live. Live sessions will last approximately twenty to thirty minutes, with a Q & A session following each webinar. Each training session is limited to 25 participants, but a recording of the training session will be available at a later date.
Go to webinars.musicteachershelper.com and signup for a training webinar now. Training webinars include Settings, Student Management, Scheduling, and Invoicing.
Check the page frequently for updates on new days and times, as well as listings for other webinars such as Affiliate Training and Marketing Your Studio. We also plan to have advanced webinars such as Designing your Website, etc.
A reminder and link will be emailed to you one day, and again one hour, before the webinar is to begin.
Posted in Customer Support, Site Announcements, Using Music Teacher's Helper
A few weeks ago, I conducted an experiment on my pupils! No, don’t worry! No one was harmed in the process!!!
I simply asked them to share with me a memorable event from their childhood. It soon became clear that things that make the most impression on our memory, are events that had the greatest stimulus on our senses.
I can’t remember much of my childhood. So much of it was playing, eating and sleeping. Just the normal, everyday activities. But I do remember going for my first music lesson as a seven year old…
I can still see and smell the thick fog of cigarette smoke that greeted me as I opened the music shop door and stepped into what felt like a scene from a Dickens novel. And the intrepidation I felt as I heard for the first time the voice of the Fagan-like character who introduced himself as “Mr. Coffin.” I remember the feeling of hopelessness as my mother disappeared off into the distance. I still feel uncomfortable now as I recall the feeling of his long, bony fingers pressing down on my back and guiding me further and further into the gloom of the music shop towards the instrument that I was to learn on.
Why does this long ago memory feel like yesterday? How can I remember so many details?
The answer is simple. The event had such an impact on my senses and indeed, the rest of my life. (For although, Mr. Coffin ironically died a month or two later, I carried on studying music with a new teacher. And my new teacher’s studio was called the “torture chamber” but that’s another story!)
So if stimulating the senses has such an impact on long-term memory, how can we as music teachers exploit this knowledge to help our students learn new concepts better?
10 suggestions to involve more senses Read more…
Posted in Teaching Tips