Mmm! Lots of keen sports people randomly running around for 90 minutes?!
And yet, how easy it would be for our music students to be drifting along aimlessly without any real direction. And maybe even us too as their teacher!
So what is the secret to motivating our pupils (and ourselves)?
I’m sure you would agree that we need to set a combination of achievable short and long term goals. Goals give students and teachers focus. Short term goals act as “stepping stones” to the bigger ones.
And the best goals of all? Those are the goals set by the student. When they take “ownership” of their goals, they really do make great progress!
So this month, consider four small goals to encourage pupils to set. Hopefully, the bigger goals will naturally follow…
1st Goal – Let them choose the pieces (songs)
Pupils are far more motivated if they’ve chosen the song. Here’s an old trick of mine. If they are preparing for a concert or an exam, why not give them a Read more…
“I can’t do it!” “I won’t do it!” “It’s too hard!”
Have you ever heard this from a student? One minute you have a sunny, happy child sitting at their instrument. The next, storm clouds and even threat of waterworks. And all you did was to place a new piece of music in front of them. Or remind them of a technique on which they’ve been working.
You want me to do WHAT?
If distraction doesn’t work , and neither do our words of reassurance or encouragement, how can we help them get past the tunnel vision that comes with feeling overwhelmed? How can we empower them to see solutions instead of the pessimism of believing they are bound to fail? (try this iPad tool for a distraction technique: Piano Maestro)
Dane shows how he’d look if he felt overwhelmed
Here are 5 ways to help a student get past “It’s too hard!”
1. Pull out a piece you know the student will love. Maybe it’s a little beyond her level, but she has a passionfor this piece.
2. Wait—don’t show the new song to her yet. Copy the piece. Cut apart the treble and bass lines. Start with either one. Place Post-its over every measure but one. Reveal only one measure at a time. If necessary, re-cover the ones she’s already done.
3. Stay low-key. Be blasé. Act as if it doesn’t really matter to you—she can play it or not, it’s up to her. The reward is the look on her face when she recognizes the song.
4. If the problem is the stress students feel when they hear themselves flubbing up, have them try out a measure on their lap. Then they’ll have gotten through it pain-free before trying it on their instrument.
5. Use humor. Example: a piano student got stressed about lightening up a heavy hand. I’d tried images of a bird lighting, a feather floating down on the keys… those only caused frustration. But when I said to imagine a hippo plummeting to the keys, he found it hilarious, and the problem was solved! Now all I have to do is sketch a hippo head on the page (or use hippo stickers) and his hands are balanced and light.
Next time you hear “It’s too hard!” give one (or all) of these a try.
This post is about the effectiveness of positive vs negative teaching.
What exactly do I want to get across to this student? Where do I want to take him/her, and what’s going to be the most effective way to get there? Any engaged teacher will regularly consider these questions. And one way to sharpen our awareness of these questions is to think about positive vs negative communication.
The first thing I do on a positive note with a student is to listen to them play. Even if they are playing badly, I like for them to play long enough for me to have time to catalog in my mind all the basics that are being done WELL. For example, the music may sound awful because of being all out of tune, but their timing might be good, or the sequence of phrases correct, and hand position may be good. I can start with this list as a foundation of good things to build upon. It’s certainly preferable to build than to tear down.
Try an experiment: Take note of each time you say “no” to a student. Notice each time you tell them they did something wrong.
It’s easy to say “no, don’t do that.” It’s easy to point out a mistake or problem. Why? Because teaching is all about getting a student from Point A to Point B, and identifying the obstacles is the first step to overcoming them. The big question is whether we focus on the obstacles or on the solutions.
When I tried the “no” experiment, I found Read more…
Do you have students who constantly feel ‘the need to look’ at their hands when sight reading and learning music on the piano? Perhaps they try to memorise the music quickly before they have learnt it sufficiently, then make many mistakes when playing it because they have forgotten what is actually in the music?
Do these students also regularly lose their place in the music and therefore get annoyed with their playing? The answer would be “Oh yes they do” in my experience.
I needed a solution that works well for me and my students in order to stop ‘the need to look’ at their hands.
When I look at my first music book from when I was seven, scrawled across each page are my teacher’s increasingly frustrated exclamations of, “fingering, fingering, FINGERING!”
We’ve all been there though as music teachers! Why do our pupils always ignore our reminders we write on their music for them? No amount of pencil annotations seem to help!
However, in a moment of frustration, I accidentally stumbled on a very useful solution which I now use all the time in lessons with good success!
Tip 1: “Follow the Yellow Brick” Post-it® !
• Cut up pieces of brightly coloured Post-it® notes to the appropriate sizes
• Carefully attach the sticky Post-it® note at the exact position over or under the problem area on the sheet music
• Write a helpful reminder with a marker pen (e.g. “LOUD,” “QUIETER,” “PAUSE,” “FINGER 2,” etc.)
• Sit back and watch the instant improvement. Magic!
• When the issue is finally resolved, simply lift the Post-it® note without marking the music
Students find it hard to ignore such bright and bold messages and therefore bad habits are quickly fixed.
Tip 2: Mission Impossible!
Do you sometimes give pupils a time restricted challenge? For example, how quickly can they get their hands into the correct position before sight-reading a new piece of music? Instead of using a conventional timer, try playing Read more…
Each year I’ve observed that students are increasingly unfamiliar with the carols of Christmas. It’s important to me to introduce them to as many as possible, and to enable them to entertain or accompany their families and friends with songs of the season.
Many of them start practicing Christmas songs as early as October. I decided to make Carols of Christmas the subject of our December group master classes.
I chose a Christmas instrumental CD to play as they arrived, and we gathered around my kitchen table for snacks. Food makes everything friendlier! I decided to treat them to sparkling grape juice, which most had never tasted. There was also lemonade and apple cider, grapes, cookies, candies, chocolate-covered pretzels…
While they snacked, I read them stories of several carols’ origins.
I found a number of activities about the carols of Christmas at brownielocks–scroll to the bottom for more.
My biggest challenge was to find those that could apply to a wide range of ages.
I tapped the beginning rhythm of a number of carols. Even the youngest students were able to participate and guess song titles. Of course, I knew what they’d been practicing, so made sure to use those pieces to give them a good chance.
I also sang the first few notes of a carol, without the rhythm, just to see if they could guess—they did pretty well. For more mature students, I had a Carols of Christmas fill-in-the-notes game. I’d give them a few measures of a carol, leaving out a few notes or a measure or two. They could fill in the missing parts.
There were activity pages concerning lyrics of Christmas carols. “Where would you go to hear silver bells?” “Who danced with a silk hat on his head?” Some questions read more like jokes, but all of it got them thinking more deeply about songs they may hear while shopping, but haven’t focused on. Talking about lyrics brought up the meaning and history of words or phrases usually heard only once a year: deck the hall/don we now/noel/gloria/yuletide…
For a final touch, I had bent some sparkly pipe cleaners into treble clef shapes, and set out a variety of beads that they could thread onto the pipe cleaners, and either keep or give away as tree ornaments.
I’ve had reports from various parents how fun it is to hear their children sharing the carols of Christmas with their families.
How do you introduce Christmas songs to your students?
The issue of internal or external motivation is a debate that is sure to continue as long as there are music students and music teachers. One reason for this is the uniqueness of each student and each teacher. There is no one right answer.
Everyone seems to agree that an internally motivated child is the ideal. But what do we mean by “internally” motivated? Is it the child that seems to practice every week without wanting or needing stickers or prizes? Is it internal motivation to want to please your teacher or parents, or must it involve some level of personal enjoyment of the activity?
Dan Pink, in his TED Talk, describes three elements of internal motivation: autonomy, mastery and purpose. We can we strive to incorporate these three elements into our lessons. Certainly teaching students to be good readers and helping them to understand the fundamentals of music and harmony will promote a sense of autonomy. Training a student carefully in the elements involved in high-quality playing and taking pieces to completion, should develop a sense of mastery. A sense of purpose might come from discovering how their musical abilities can be used to serve and bless other people.Read more…
The UK composer Elena Cobb has been busy recently!
Hot off the press is her latest book for complete beginner pianists entitled “My Piano Trip to London.”
Printed in full colour landscape, the first thing you notice is a sticker page that children will love using when they complete each song.
Each of the 17 songs represents a different London landmark or icon, giving a nice opportunity to engage the pupil in conversation outside music and then to relate it back to the lesson at hand. It’s quite an adventure to embark on with the pupil as you work your way through the book, from the Royal Albert Hall, to the London Eye, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Big Ben to mention but a few.
Over the years I’ve seen piano methods that contain lots of detailed instructions and exhaustive advice that quite frankly nobody bothers to read. Elena Cobb has really struck the balance I think in keeping each page clean and simple so that the teacher can do their job but also providing concise facts and tips that will be useful and enjoyable. I laughed to myself when reading Read more…
Piano Marvel drastically improves practice quality by using gaming technology to keep students focused on goal oriented practicing. It allows teachers to track daily practice and more easily involve parents with learning through weekly automated emails of students practice and progress reports. Your students will have fun perfecting a piece while accelerating their rhythm accuracy and sight reading skills.
Music Teacher’s Helper and Piano Marvel are friends, so right now you can receive a 30-day free trial and 20% discount by using the following code when signing up: 3EEED31A
Piano Marvel has been around since 2009 and their newest version has just been released with many improvements. Here are some notable updates:
A better way for your students to try it out – free access for the initial Level 1. When your students reach Level 2 they can choose to upgrade to premium to access those songs. All the premium features will be open access for the first 30 days of their account.
With a recital looming on the horizon, some of my students asked how they could prepare to perform before an audience. So I made it the subject of a master class.
Snacks came first—the best-ever ice breaker. I found out some of their favorite cookies ahead of time, and did a little baking. It’s surprising how food warms the student heart and softens the attitude. Apple cider and some new flavors of candy corn brought a fall flavor to the table. Some gourds for décor, and we were all set.
I got out my white board and asked the group a few questions about how they would prepare to perform. They recorded their answers on the board in their favorite colors. Let me share some of them. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s this group’s list, and I applauded them for it: