Guido of ArezzoGuido 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 screen568x568-1intuitive. 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.

G major scale and degree

Basic Chords - Chord Scale

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Posted in Music Theory, Practicing, Teaching Tips

GROUP GUITAR CLASS Week by Week

(Part 2 of 3)   

By Robin Steinweg   guitars on stands

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, Tascam DR5  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

0731184137  (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

schubert scorePreparing solo music on your own can be a wonderful experience – it is a bit like meeting a new person and watching their personality and interests unfold over a long conversation and discovering you have just made an important new friend.

In the case of the really great pieces, feeling the layers of meaning reveal themselves to you as you get to know a new piece can be intoxicating; it has even been described as a bit like falling in love.

But how can we be sure we don’t learn mistakes as we prepare our pieces? And how can we learn a piece quickly without straining our voice?

Everyone will have his or her own answer to these questions. In my own work, I’ve found that keeping to a strict method – one that leaves actual singing to quite late in the learning process – makes all the difference. Here is a brief outline of the method I use to learn music quickly and without strain. I hope it will be of use to you too.

 

HOW TO LEARN YOUR MUSIC:  a method for singers

1. Listen to a number of recordings to get a feel for the piece (never listen to just one recording!). Do not sing along.

2. Read the text aloud.

3. Ask yourself what the text means. Paraphrase the text and say your own version aloud to be sure you understand what you are singing about.

4. Read the text aloud again and again until you can say it without tripping up.

5. Working very slowly (nowhere near performance speed), add the rhythm to the text (you are still not singing!) phrase by phrase. I like to start at the back of the piece and work toward the beginning phrase by phrase. This way I am always working towards something I already know. This helps to make important links between sections, and avoids the ‘dropping off a cliff feeling’ when you’re not sure what comes next.

6. Say the text aloud in the correct rhythm over and over until you can do it without error. Do this at a medium tempo – speed is unimportant until much later in the learning process. Strongly resist the impulse to sing! Read more…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

I thought I’d share something I call The Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept with you in this month’s article.  This is something I use with great success to get new guitar students ready to play music quickly.  In my role as worship director at my church it’s been an indispensable tool in getting new guitar students up and running on the worship team. The first chords most guitarists learn are G, C, D, and Em.  In the key of G, these chords cover the 1 – 4 – 5 – 6m chords that are found in most folk, pop, and rock songs.

Key of G basic open position chords After I teach these basic chords, I usually teach my students a special voicing concept for G, C, D, and Em that is used more widely in the music they really want to play.  After that, I show them how to use the capo and suddenly they’re able to play a lot of music in a lot of different keys! One of the things that used to frustrate me as a guitarist is when I would buy a piece of sheet music only to discover later that the guitar chord diagrams don’t show that actual chord voicings that are being played on the original recording of the song!  That frustration worsened if the song was in a non-friendly guitar key like Ab, Bb, or B.  Even if I learned how to play a Bb barre chord, it never sounded like the guitar in the original recording.  I knew something else was going on that the sheet music wasn’t telling me.  It was only when I discovered this common-tone chord concept that I learned what was actually happening! Here’s how the Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept works:

  1. Place your 3rd and 4th fingers (fretting hand) on the 1st and 2nd strings at the 3rd fret as shown in the diagram below (circled in red).  These two notes (D and G) are the “common tones” that will remain the same for all 4 chords.
  2. Since the 3 & 4 fingers stay in the same place for all 4 chord shapes, the 1 & 2 fingers are the only fingers to that move.  Look at the 1 & 2 fingers in the G chord.  Notice how they move one string over to create the Cadd9 chord.  Very simple movement!
  3. To make the Dsus4 chord, the 1 & 2 fingers split on either side of the 2nd string (like they do in a regular D chord).
  4. Finally, the 1 & 2 fingers land on the 5th & 4th strings to make the Em7 chord.

Capo Common-Tone Chords How to apply this concept:  Let’s say your chord progression is Em – C – G – D.  Try playing the common tone voicings instead of the basic chord forms.  For instance, if you see a C chord in your chart, play the Cadd9 voicing instead.  When you see D, play the Dsus4 instead.  If you come across a C2 (Csus2), the Cadd9 is going to sound great.  This approach might drive a music theory purist crazy – but to most ears all these voicing are going to sound great.  Try it! In the diagram below, I show you how to easily change the G chord into a G5, a.k.a. G(no3), by removing the 1 finger. (The 5th string gets muted by the 2nd finger.)  Now, move the 2nd finger over one string and your Cadd9 becomes a legitimate Csus2 because the 3rd of the chord (that was previously played at the 2nd fret of the 4th string) is now muted.  I love the jangly sound of those treble strings! G5 and C2 But wait!  There’s more!  Arming yourself with a capo, the guitarist’s top accessory (behind a tuner of course), enables you to use these common-tone shapes to play in at lease 5 more common keys! Common Tone Capo Chart No more going into cardiac arrest when you’re called upon to play a song in Bb (or Ab, B, etc.)!  Just slap your capo on at the 3rd fret and play your common-tone shapes!  Try this experiment:  Play the following chord progression using the basic open Key of G shapes - C – G – Em – D.  Try playing the same progression substituting the common-tone shapes.  Now put your capo at the 3rd fret and play those same shapes.  You’re playing C – G – Em – D shapes, but sounding Eb – Bb – Gm – F.  I’m betting both you and your students will love the sound of the common-tone chords and find the concept very, very useful, especially when transposing.  When first learning this concept, it may help to write your transposed chord shapes over the existing chord names in your chart.  After a while, you’ll begin to recognize them and you’ll no longer need to write them in…you’ll be able to transpose in your head! In my next post, I’ll expand this concept to include some inversions. Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Oh my God!

© Olga Vasilkova | Dreamstime Stock Photos

As you glance over at Kyle, you are surprised to see tears brimming over. Where did those come from? He is just so sensitive! Some students seem to take corrective comments in stride, but others melt with the slightest suggestion for improvement. Kyle melts…

There can be multiple reasons for a student to not respond well to correction. Each of these reasons would suggest a different approach for resolution.

  • fear of failure
  • low self-esteem
  • perfectionist attitude
  • frustration with themselves
  • not meeting their own expectations
  • lack of understanding of the problem
  • have a hard time trying new things
  • feel they are not able to please you
  • bad day at school
  • hit their emotional limit for the day
  • low stress tolerance
  • fight with parent or sibling in the car on the way to the lesson
  • feel out of control
  • not doing music lessons for themselves, but out of coercion
  • not used to being corrected
  • not used to working hard for something
  • do not respect you as a teacher
  • loyalty to a previous teacher

Questions you might ask yourself as the teacher:

  • Have I properly prepared the student to play this piece?
  • Is this piece too challenging for this student’s emotional reserves?
  • Does the student know what I am asking for and how to achieve it?
  • Does the student have the technical skills to do what I am asking?
  • Was I clear in my instructions?
  • Have I broken the skill down into small enough pieces?
  • Is the tempo too fast?
  • Is the fingering wrong?
  • Have I already pushed too hard for this session and it’s time to back off?
  • Have I given enough positive feedback to balance the negative?
  • Is it time for a break or time for a new piece?
  • What is my best guess as to what is behind this melt-down? (see list above)

Many times we can slip into a pattern of ‘the student plays and then the teacher makes corrections.’ This can be an uninspired approach if it is not a process of joint discovery and stretching for the next level. There are many creative ways to involve the student mentally and emotionally to get past a road block. One approach is to praise what you honestly can, and then, instead of immediate correction, try one or more of the following: Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

X-RatingHave you noticed that almost every product online has a rating? It’s an easy way to help you decide whether you should buy something based on the number of stars awarded by other consumers.

Let’s move this discussion to the world of music teaching. Take scales for example. Often an exam syllabus will require a number of exercises to be learnt. Here are some of the problems I was finding as a teacher:

X Which scales was the pupil supposed to be learning through the week?

X Which exercises were weaker than others therefore requiring extra practice at home and attention in lessons?

X How could I get students to give as much attention to the exercises in the back of their scale books as the ones in the front?

X How could I, and indeed the student, get an overview as to how close they were to reaching the requirements of the particular grade (or standard) they were studying for?

X How could I motivate them to do more scale practice?

Enter the X-Rating system!!! After some deliberation, I came up with the idea of Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

The Great Cupcake Practice Goals Challenge…

By Robin Steinweg        0309084435

It’s big. It’s breakable. It’s bodacious. It’s pink and white with a cherry on top, and has a slot like a piggy bank…  It’s a cupcake bank given to me by a choir member. And what might a grown woman do with a giant hot pink cupcake bank?

Just not right for a centerpiece...

Just not right for a   centerpiece…

Use it as inspiration for my students to set practice goals, and meet those goals each week. Two months of walking past that cupcake, wondering what to do with it, did the trick.

Students (with my input) set three practice goals each week (along with their regular assignments). Goals could be as simple as mastering a measure, finding hand position or doing their theory. They could be as involved as analyzing/labeling harmonic progressions or memorizing a recital piece. But they are all possible in one week.

Example of 3 goals

Example of 3 goals

Practice goals were emailed to parents via Music Teachers Helper. The following lesson we evaluated whether the student passed. If so, his/her name went on one piece of paper per practice goal, and into the cupcake.

0428095645

At the end of the given time (2-3 months), my husband drew seven winners—first prize (worth $10), second ($5), and five third prizes ($1 each). Not extravagant. Everyone’s name went in a number of times, and some never missed a goal. All had a chance to win, though the ones who practiced most had the best chance.

a really big bowl with hundreds of names!

a really big bowl with hundreds of goals met!

I allowed winners to choose from a list:

 First Prize:

$10 card for iTunes, local music stores, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Hobby Lobby or Michaels crafts.

Second Prize:

$5 card for iTunes, local music stores, Half-Price Books, Culvers custard, ColdStone icecream or Michaels crafts.

Third Prize (five winners):

Choose from a number of dollar items in a basket (book cover, nail clipper, gel pens, treble-clef-glittery-glasses, journal, craft items, notebook) or from my list: candy bar or something from the dollar menu at McDonalds.

0522170655   0522170711    0527190830

(Kennedy tries on glittery glasses, and Ava knows just what she will choose)

Take-away for Students: quicker progress due to focused practice (and more of it); sense of excitement seeing the cupcake fill and get emptied a few times; learning how to set practice goals (reachable, with a finish date); sense of accomplishment for goals met; a possible prize.

Priceless: at the lesson after the challenge ended—student places hands in lap and says, “Miss Robin, you didn’t write down any practice goals for me this week.”

Says I, “You’re right. The cupcake challenge is over. But you still have practice notes.” My student, with a wise look, says, “It would be a good idea to keep the goals.”      wink

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Posted in Practicing, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips, Using Music Teacher's Helper