One of the biggest challenges students face when playing guitar is learning how to strum correctly.  They usually have a favorite song they’d love to learn how to play but when they sit down to try and figure it out it just doesn’t sound right.  Every time they try it, the strum sounds all herky-jerky instead of smooth and flowing.  Sound familiar?

Before we get started, be sure to open this PDF: Keys To Strumming, which I’ll be referring to throughout this post.  If you’re wondering what chords to play during this lesson, click here to use any to use any of the common-tone chord shapes I wrote about.

THE QUARTER NOTE BOUNCE

It’s fairly easy to teach a student how to play the quarter-note strumming pattern in Fig. 1 (Keys To Strumming PDF).  All you have to do is play a down-strum on every count (or beat). Every time you strum down, you count 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on.  But there’s really more going on here.  Once the down-strum is played, you have to lift your hand back up to prepare for the next down-strum, right?  This down-up movement of the strumming hand is more accurately represented by eighth notes.  Look at Fig. 1 again.  The arrows above the staff, hovering over each down beat and up beat, represent those eighth notes.  In other words, you should be counting “one and two and three and four and” as you strum down, up, down, up, etc.  This steady down-up strumming movement is what I call The Quarter Note Bounce. Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

By Robin Steinweg

“Can I do the 100-day practice challenge?” Ava asked, her eyes wide. “If I do it, will I get my name in Piano Explorer Magazine?”

“Yes, and yes,” I said. Piano Explorer Magazine publishes names of students who complete 100 days, 200 days, and more. Read about it here: Piano Explorer

Ava and her sister Callie are two of my go-getters. Their assignment binders include a box to check for each day they practice. But from a free online site, I printed Hundred-charts for them so they can see their days accumulate.

About two weeks after they started, they challenged me. “Are you going to do the 100-day practice challenge?”

At first, I said no way. I play and teach several different instruments. I do daily lesson prep for a lot of students. I write music for some of them and for my choir. I’m working on… everything. But as I looked at their eager faces, I wondered how I could expect them to commit to what I’m not willing to do. Deep breath. I said “Yes.”

Each week they reported their progress and asked if I was keeping it up. I did so for nearly three weeks before I forgot a day. I had a great excuse. But still, I forgot. So I started over. I copied myself a new Hundred-chart. When I shared my failure with the girls, they were sympathetic and encouraging.

How long to practice each day? Occasionally I might get in an hour. Or I might make it through a song once. One day I was gone from early morning to late night. But in the car that day, I worked out some fingerings so that the next day, I had them down cold. I shared this with my students in case they’re traveling sometime without access to a keyboard. In a pinch, yes, it can count!

(I practiced every day!!!)

What to practice? Since PE Magazine doesn’t specify, neither do I. They can sightread, play a repertoire piece, work on their lesson, or learn something new.

Not the only way—I’m not saying it’s necessary to practice daily. This is just one possibility. Do you have any practice incentives going on?

Halloween practice

The excitement catches on with other students

Surprise benefit: I’m playing more for fun—rediscovering enjoyment—while before this 100-day practice challenge, I’d gotten into doing only what I “had” to do. Ava and Callie are progressing quickly. They are excited and motivated at lessons. And—

So am I!

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Doesn’t look like I’m discussing music apps for ear training? Please bear with me…

If I could, I would head to our local Lifetime Fitness Center everyday. A habit or a hobby–not sure which–I try to squeeze in a workout as much as possible. One of the main reasons is because I like to build muscle and keep the metabolism up so I can eat my husband’s scrumptious cooking. The other reason I workout? Because I’m addicted to step class (among other classes) thanks to an outstanding instructor named Heidi.

This is a resort-like fitness center one-stop-light-away from our house!

She can “holler” at us with her New Orleans’ drawl and yet everyone remains extremely loyal to her group instruction because she works us hard and we see results. In addition, Heidi cues and designs steps and combos like no one else which makes for an exceptionally good workout for the body as well as the brain. Yep, step class, the trend started by Jane Fonda years ago-gulp–many more years than I’d care to admit.

I stepped right along with this video before my young boys popped out of bed.

Why am I talking about my exercise regimen in a piano-related blog? Because I’m amazed at how a Heidi-cue will prompt me to move my feet to the beat for 8 to 16 counts. When Heidi says “V around the world” or “ham-string-straddle-knee hop” I know which foot to use, which way to go on which beat. Of course, this was after enduring the first class or two adjusting to Heidi’s lingo and that 12-inch step in front of me. I, along with my husband, as he is now a huge fan of the class as well–have become imprinted with Heidi’s cues and combos and are forever faithful to following her every command.

Heidi and my husband after a one-hour step class

So, if my body responds to verbal cues accompanied by just a few visual aids from Heidi on the stage, it seems my ears could also train my fingers in a similar fashion. Why don’t I seem as committed to building my ears and fingers on the bench like I am to strengthening my biceps and quads at the gym? If my ears can train my body, why can’t they train my fingers?

I believe there is one simple reason for weak ears: because I’m lazy. My eyes have dictated every move to my 10 fingers for so long, that my ears sit back with their feet up and moan whenever they are called into action. Unfortunately, my well-trained eyes have made my ears dull, insecure and withdrawn. Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Pat Shelby

Purple Hair Changed My Life!

September 30th, 2014 by

A friend recently offered to take me out to lunch if, in return, I would let him pick my brain about teaching guitar.  He was feeling the tug to teach and wanted to explore how I got started.  It was fun for me to recount my story – I’ll share some of that story here.

Growing up, music was the most important thing to me.  I declared myself a music major when I entered a 2 year junior college in 1977.  I loved every aspect of musical performance, however I was convinced that I did not want to pursue teaching.  When the end of my 2 years at this school came, I was lost and confused.  I didn’t know what to do.  I was certain I would fail if I tried to continue school so I did a 180 and hit the road.  Literally.

I started a career as an over-the-road bus driver.  I traveled all over the U.S. and Canada taking senior citizens on vacations and driving regular routes.  I borrowed a guitar from one of my brothers during this time and started teaching myself how to play.  I loved playing that guitar, but I didn’t have any aspirations to do anything with it.  I totally kept my playing on the down-low. Read more…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Kerri Green

Getting to Fun

September 30th, 2014 by

I am currently responsible for the my own practicing, for the practicing of three of my four children, and for assigning the practicing of my more than twenty piano students. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out ways to make daily practice palatable for all of us! After all, music and music lessons are supposed to be fun, right?

Well, yes! Of course they are! To that end, I have music dollars they earn to spend at an end of year auction. I offer prizes when they reach goals on their 40 piece challenge charts. We use the iPad and time off the bench to reinforce concepts. They come to group classes and play games and have treats. I am a happy, encouraging cheerleader in their lessons. Their assignment sheets are covered with happy faces next to statements like “Watch out for those flat pinkies!” and “Remember metronome!”

Music is fun! Music lessons are fun! Practicing is fun!

Except, of course, when it’s not.

Are we doing our students and ourselves a disservice when we try to play up the fun and play down the work? I recently came across a quote that has reminded me that sometimes practicing is just plain hard work.

Eliot Butler said:

To learn is hard work. It requires discipline. And there is much drudgery. When I hear someone say that learning is fun, I wonder if that person has never learned or if he has just never had fun. There are moments of excitement in learning: these seem usually to come after long periods of hard work, but not after all long periods of hard work.

In defense of happy learning, I want to say that I love learning. I love the lightbulb that goes off when something suddenly makes sense. I love working on a phrase and finding it fit better and better in my fingers. I love the way the world seems to expand when I learn something about a subject with which I am less familiar. BUT! Getting to the fun of it absolutely does take work.

I love rehearsing with other musicians BUT I would hate it if no one was well-prepared. I love learning new music BUT I would hate it if I hadn’t learned to sightread well over years and years and years of playing my instrument. I love teaching my students BUT it sure is less pleasant when they haven’t done any work on their own.

The life lessons that are taught through music lessons are invaluable: hard work over a long period of time pays off. It’s best to be consistent in your habits to make progress long term. Learning to take a big piece of music and taking it apart to its tiniest parts to learn to perfect it teaches important lessons about how to approach a major project: one step at a time. These are just a few of the things I hope my students and my children learn from their music study.

And along the way, I’m planning for us all to have lots and lots of fun.

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Guido was having a terrible afternoon rehearsal with the boys! Try as he might they just weren’t getting it. They knew the words but they just couldn’t remember the shape of the melody.

“Arghhhh!” he thought, “it’s time I started looking for a new job, I don’t think I can take this anymore!”

And then it happened! As this frustrated singing teacher approached breaking point, he started to Read more…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

This is a guest post from Sam Rao, founder and CEO of Practicia.com.

Adequate home practice has been a problem for as long has music lessons have existed. Music teachers would love to crack open the black box of home practice and see how much and how their students are practicing at home. The six days between music lessons are often a complete mystery to teachers.

Parents can be strong allies but more often than not, they are too busy just trying to get through the day to effectively monitor their children’s home practice. Some parents are willing to help, but often lack the necessary musical background to be effective.

So why don’t students practice? Reasons range anywhere from simply not wanting to practice to lacking the time management skills. Also, many students don’t remember what and how their teacher asked them to practice during the week. Among students that do practice regularly, many prefer to spend all their time playing through their favorite music often ignoring technique, which would lead to the most improvement in the shortest amount of time.

How have teachers traditionally dealt with these challenges?

They have employed a variety of strategies and tools to aid their students.  Some of these methods have been effective. One prominent tool is of course “the assignment book”.

Many teachers have given copious instructions in their assignment books week after week. While we would love to believe that students and parents would conscientiously open and follow all the directions given to them, we all know too well that that’s not the case.  Few students and their parents ever even open the notebooks. Among the few that do, many students often don’t remember the practice directions from merely reading about them. Since most parents are not at the lessons, they are often unable to understand what the teacher expectations.

Teachers also use several motivation techniques to get their students to practice. Some hold regular recitals and performance opportunities so their students are always “under the gun” preparing for the next big event. Others use practice charts to track their students’ practice and reward them with all kinds of prizes for milestones achieved. Prizes can range from candy and trinkets to outright cash! However, the problem with self-reported practice routines is that no one knows for sure if the students practice as much as they say they did. More importantly, no one knows how they practiced. So while many of these strategies can be effective, how can we improve upon them using technology?

Enter The Cloud: a means of storing and accessing data over the Internet instead of a computer, smartphone or tablet’s hard drive. How can it help teachers? Tools like Youtube allow teachers to create video tutorials so students and parents can better understand practice instructions. Students can also record their practice sessions and upload them for their teacher to hear how they are practicing. Tools like EVERNOTE enable a teacher to enter practice instructions on their smartphone or computer, organize them, and share with students. However, these tools are just the tip of the iceberg. The cloud and mobile devices can enable us to do so much more:

  • What if we can use cloud technology, through mobile devices, to effortlessly assign multimedia practice instructions to students who can then access them from their own devices?
  • What if we could track their practice, listen to it, and even comment on it?
  • How about creating incentives that would automatically drive better practice habits such as time spent with the instrument, consistency, and practicing all that is assigned to them?
  • What if all of this could be done from the comfort of our smartphone or tablet?
  • What if parents would be notified via email every time we issued a new assignment or new instructions on how to practice something? Or every time their child practiced? Or every time their child reached a practice milestone?
  • What if students, parents and teachers could share practice accomplishments on social media?
  • How about dividing a studio up into “practice teams” that competed with each other for practice honors?

Practicia (pronounced Prac-TIS-ee-ah) is an app that is currently in development that will attempt to do just this and much more. Information is available at www.Practicia.com.

Some teachers might feel a bit hesitant in exploring a technology solution to the age-old problem of practice. But consider this: most students already expertly interact with these devices. Most young parents also have access to several devices and constantly check their email and text messages. Teachers may find themselves pleasantly surprised at how cloud based applications could transform practice at their studio.

 

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

Frankly, sophisticated apps like Practice+ can intimidate me. I prefer those that only have a few features that also seem extremely 

intuitive. Although this enhanced metronome app was quite easy to explore, the multiple features had me wondering if this would be worth my consideration for most of my students.

However…after I experimented with the recording option, it dawned on me that this could be the PERFECT app for an adult student of mine who continues to struggle with finding and sticking with a steady beat.

As I played through a piece using the “Clave” metronome set to 8th note subdivisions–there are SO many options from which to choose–I recorded my practice with the metronome and saved it with an appropriate title and then listened to the recording, all within the same app. I was close to being right on with a tendency to be slightly in front of the pulse–typical of yours truly.

Since my student struggles to know if she is on the beat, this practice metronome with a recording feature could be a dynamite tool to help her finally secure a steady, strict pulse. By listening to herself practice with the metronome she could possibly (hopefully!) self correct her wobbly adherence to the beat.

There’s an option to email recordings which could offer my student a chance to send me a sample of her practice for feedback and encouragement from me between lessons. more

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Product Reviews

Last month in Part 1, I explained how learning just 4 chord shapes that shared common tones, and using a capo could get your students up and running and able to play lots of songs in multiple keys.  I promised to expand the concept to include a few more chords.  So let’s get started!

In Part 1, I used the basic open position chords for G, C, D, and Em – the 1, 4, 5, and 6m chords.  Let’s expand that now to include all the degrees of the major scale.  The root note of each chord below, in the “basic chords” diagram, represents each degree of the major scale.  The result is a “chord scale.”  Just like you can assign a number to the degree in the scale, you can assign a number to the degrees in the chord scale.  If you play through the chords in order from 1 through 8, you’ll hear the major scale – the root notes ARE the scale!  A quick aside here, I highly recommend teaching the chord shape I use for the 5/7 chord, D/F#.  There’s a huge pay-off in terms of future learning a super-valuable, movable chord shape.  More on that in a future post.

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Posted in Music Theory, Practicing, Teaching Tips

GROUP GUITAR CLASS Week by Week

(Part 2 of 3)   

By Robin Steinweg  

The past two months I’ve shared some of the advantages of offering group classes. The first, June 27, covered Group Lessons, specifically a group voice class. July 27 featured Part 1 of Group Guitar.

Here’s an outline of what I cover in this eight-week beginner class.

I record the songs from each class, and email them as MP3s to the students.

  Digital Recorder

I record them at tempo so they can listen and learn the songs.

Then I follow up with a slow version which includes pauses before each chord change.

 

Week 1

-parts of the guitar (for both classical and steel string; I used pictures)

-finger numbers

-basics of tuning

-the all-important How to Read a Chord Chart

-how to strum (basic downstroke)

-easy versions of the C and G7 chords. Also complete fingerings of these.

 

Their first song requires only one chord: “Frere Jacques” (“Are You Sleeping?”)

-hints for a clear sound

-another one-chord song and then a couple of two-chord songs

-a strum in 2/4 time

  (Gavin’s got it down!)

Note that in the early classes I choose songs with as few chord changes as possible.

 

Week 2  Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Financial Business, Music Theory, Practicing, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips