After you received your undergrad music degree, performed a stellar recital of the classics, turned in that
lofty thesis, passed a professional accreditation exam or somehow earned shiny, new initials behind your name, you probably felt a great sense of achievement. Perhaps you felt like I did? After I received my Master of Arts in Piano Performance and Pedagogy, I felt my career was professionally wrapped up and ready to launch. Although my intent is not to discount the importance of the academic achievements listed above, I’m wondering if you–like me–had your bubble burst, your box tipped upside down and your bow unraveled when you entered the real world of piano teaching? Yes, I could play and teach Beethoven and Ravel, I could design a sequential curriculum for early learners but when asked to read from a lead sheet, my skills fell embarrassingly short. Read more…
Everything was conspiring against me. Especially my music teacher. Right then as he commanded me to “sing”, I was thinking unspeakable thoughts of hatred towards him.
Why did I need to sing in the school choir? After all I was an instrumentalist. I’d managed to survive all these years of mumbling at the back during class singing so why did everything need to get so ugly?
And there I stood! The whole choir of immature boys and girls just waiting to poke fun at me. Why couldn’t I just run around the corridors naked? Surely that would be less embarrassing?
But he made me do it! Oh how I seethed with anger at the time. But when I look back now, he probably gave me one of the greatest gifts to my musicianship!
So why sing?
Reason 1: Helps You Express Yourself Better
When you can’t articulate into words what you mean to another musician, singing simply fills in the gaps. The more frequently you sing to express musical ideas, the more relaxed and “normal” this method becomes. I love to promote a safe environment in my studio where everyone feels relaxed enough to communicate through singing their musical intentions without Read more…
Group classes are a great way to reach more students, multiply your time and promote your studio. I taught a group vocal class over the summer (Group Classes) and a group guitar class. Find the first two guitar class posts here (Group Guitar part 1 ) and here (Group Guitar part 2).
What I cover in weeks 5-8:
-how to tell the key of a song
-transposing, review how to make your own chord charts, and the 3/4 strum
-the “Happy Birthday” song. You’d be surprised how many accompanists I’ve met who can’t play it!
-another parody I wrote for this class, with only 2 chords, to the tune of “Clementine”. This one I personalized with their names and some positive traits:
1. In a church one sultry summer, round a table sat The Six: sore fingers, sore brains, but they strummed their acoustics.
2. Guitars ready, keep it steady, press your fingers till they bleed. Making music is so fun! What more in life could you need?
3. Play the 2/4, play it over and over again. “Almost got it,” says the teacher, “Take a little rest.” But then…
4. …comes another even harder, will we ever get it right? Now the strings are out of tune, but do I loosen or turn it tight?
5. There is Jerry, always ready, and Malea’s cheerful grin, Leslie’s great dry sense of humor; Robin says, “Play it again.”
6. Asia strums and Doris hums and Gavin, fearless, forward goes. By the end of this guitar class, every one of them will be pros!
What I choose to review and for how long depends on how they did at the last lesson, and what I think they need:
-the 4/4 strum and appropriate songs
-a demonstration that 2/4 and 4/4 strums can be interchangeable
Note: whenever I introduce new chords or strum, I choose songs with as few chord changes as possible. I aim for a good mix of musical styles and tempos.
I sing the melodies until they can. Sometimes I say the strum aloud: DOWN, downup downup downup—and we pause at the chord changes until they have their fingers in place. Once most have the hang of it, I make sure to do parts of the songs slowly and parts quickly to accommodate all class members. It’s equally frustrating whether you can’t keep up, or you’re being kept from going as fast as you are able, so I do some for both.
Last time, I gave you 2 simple tricks to read music notes. In many school districts, teachers are pressured into putting on concerts right away, and are told by administrators that the students have to read music right away. This goes totally against how we learn music, which is by using our ears to listen and our bodies to feel rhythms.
There are many systems that teachers use to count rhythms, with the most popular being the number counting of beats in every measure. I was trained that way myself, but noticed quickly that some of the same syllables for certain rhythms (i.e. 8th notes) were also used to count triplets (i.e. 1 + a). This would be confusing because triplets are felt differently than 8th notes. I somehow managed to learn how to feel the rhythms in those situations instead of relying on the counting.
The number counting system is good for determining where the beats fall in a measure, but there’s a simpler, well-researched system that is based upon rhythm function. Edwin Gordon’s system allows the student to recognize and feel the big and small beats in duple (based upon 2 small beats for every big beat) and triple (based upon 3 small beats for every big beat) meters.
Since most students are taught the number system, I will explain how this works, but I also want to compare that with Gordon’s syllables to give you a choice. Whatever works is what is best for you! Read more…
In an effort to journal my progress I usually record myself showing my best efforts AFTER I’ve practiced and perfected my improvisation assignment from Bradley. He continues to challenge me with his online, methodical and expert instruction. With limited time to practice, I decided I’d come clean and let you in on the somewhat messy process BEFORE “perfection” or let’s say “close to perfection” occurs.
What you’ll see in the video below shows how I tolerated cleaning my bathroom–not my favorite chore–by allowing myself periodic breaks to practice. Come to think of it, this would be a good way to encourage my students to practice. Parents could offer two options: practice or clean a bathroom! Read more…
Yes, Yiyi, is just as nice in person as she looks in a pic!
I’m still catching up on sleep after my return from the Music Teachers National Association Conference in Chicago. Attending dynamic sessions, and intense meetings, hanging with favorite peeps from around the nation, meeting Facebook friends in person and of course enjoying scrumptious meals took their toll on my sleep patterns. At the same time, what I absorbed will provide that much needed energy to reinvigorate my teaching.
Before I share more about my unique experience and the reason behind the title of this blog, here’s a couple of things I wish to mention.
Music Teachers Helper at MTNA
First, Music Teachers Helper should be proud and pleased with Yiyi Ku’s presentation on the terrific features of MusicTeachersHelper.com. This important tool has become irreplaceable to me. I’m sure those who attended Yiyi’s session learned what they were missing and signed up thanks to her comprehensive coverage of this online, savvy assistant.
Do you teach composition skills in your studio? Many teachers tell me teaching composition is something they would like to do, but never seem to get around to doing. There are many reasons given: no time, not sure where to start, student hasn’t shown an interest, not sure how to teach it.
I would not really say I “teach” composition, but more that I “encourage” composition. This is the level of intentionality that I have found to be comfortable for me in this area. Hopefully you can find one or two ideas for your studio in this blog.
The biggest help I have found is to start early, before the student thinks it might be hard! Composition grows out of improvisation, so I include improvisation at the very first lesson, and give it a little time every week for the first year. Just 3-4 minutes is enough to keep the spark alive. Emphasize that there is no “right” way, and that the student’s ideas are just as legitimate as yours.
There are so many ways to do improvisation with young children. Start improv on the black keys so that everything sounds harmonious. Model ideas for the student, and encourage them to listen for interesting textures and sounds. Make the improv tell a story. Sometimes I make up a story line that matches a Read more…
Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived! Is that what comes to mind when you think of the famous Tudor King of England? I imagine that his chat up line should have gone something like this: “Don’t worry; I won’t keep you for long!”
On a more serious note, probably a lesser known side to this colourful character of history was his ability as a musician and a composer! Born in 1491, Henry received an excellent education from the leading tutors of the day. As was expected of children born of the nobility, Henry was to become proficient in many skills such as hunting, fencing, jousting, archery, hawking, wrestling, dancing, writing poetry, singing as well as learning to play several musical instruments.
A Very Long iTunes Playlist!
Henry developed a life-long love of listening to, performing and composing music. He built an extensive collection of musical instruments over the years including some 78 flutes, 76 recorders, 10 trombones, 14 trumpets, 5 bagpipes and many others! He was well respected as a competent musician and singer, doing much to actively encourage the very best musicians of the day to attend court. Many of the finest musicians and composers were attracted to this centre of musical culture with some coming from faraway European countries! During his reign, much experimentation in combining different musical instruments together in ensemble playing contributed greatly to the developing Renaissance era. At the height of this musical community, Henry had almost one hundred musicians and composers at his beck and call! They were highly organised, taking shifts to provide the King with an almost constant soundtrack to his day. From his waking moments, appropriate instruments would entertain his seemingly insatiable appetite for music.
Who Needs a Barry White CD!
Perhaps rather shocking is King Henry the VIII’s requirement for musical accompaniment whilst he entertained the ladies in his Read more…
Prelude – For this month’s blog, I thought I might share five notation tips that you probably won’t find in the average theory textbook but nonetheless are important rules in music writing. Just before we get started, it’s important for you to remember that in music notation, the standard measurement of distance is worked out in stave (staff) spaces. In the music publishing industry, stave (staff) heights can range anywhere from 9.2 millimetres for educational music to 3.7 millimetres for a full orchestral score. Generally, for normal instrumental parts, a size of between 6.5 and 7 millimetres is commonly used. (All 5 tips are illustrated in the diagram which you can click to enlarge).
How long should a stem be? – Normally, the length of a note’s stem in music notation should be three and a half spaces. An easier way to work out stem length though, is that wherever the pitch position of the note-head on the stave (staff), the stem needs to go up or down an octave. When the note-head is positioned with two ledger (leger) lines or more, the stem always extends to the middle line of the stave (staff).
Where should a clef be positioned? – The clef must always be indented to the right by one stave (staff) space. It’s vertical position must also be precise to render the intended pitches of the notes that follow.
Which side of the note-head does the stem go on? – Here’s a killer tip to help students remember that Read more…