Yiyi Ku

Chamber Music for Students

October 22nd, 2014 by

Dear teachers,

Photo by Ahjile Miller

I hope this post finds you well and enjoying the change of season as we go into Fall!

Like many of you, I teach a variety of students of different ages and levels. I also provide many different performance opportunities for my students. In August, my studio participated in a charity concert called Keys for life which helped to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Last week we took part in the Halloween/Fall Recital organized by my local music teachers association. Our next recital will be the Studio Holiday Recital in December, and next year on January 27 we will be playing in a concert, sponsored by the city, to celebrate Mozart’s 259th Birthday.

In all these different recitals, I try to provide chamber music experience for my students. For the beginners, this comes in the form of teacher accompaniments, which I always love to do. As my students become more experienced and advanced, I am especially interested in finding new ensemble music for them.

Here are my latest finds in chamber music for students:

Contest Winners for Three – Piano Trios from the Alfred, Belwin, and Myklas Libraries

There are currently 5 graded collections in this series, from Elementary to Intermediate levels. Don’t let the title Contest Winners intimidate you into thinking this is for your competition-minded students. In fact, quite the contrary!

This series is actually perfect for what I call “Fun Track” and “Recital Track” students. Look at these titles: Camptown Races, Chopsticks for Three, This Old Man, Yankee Doodle, Greensleeves, America the Beautiful…just to name a few. Most of these are of course arrangements, instead of original compositions. The good news is that you will find many familiar names such as Robert D. Vandall, Martha Mier and Dennis Alexander, who are well known for writing effectively and imaginatively for students.

Playing in an ensemble requires a different set of skills. The challenges for students include the ability to listen to others while focusing on their own part, absolute rhythmic security, ability to continue even if they make mistakes, and of course ensemble blending and balance. For this reason, it is necessary to give them “easier” music than what they can play as a soloist. I am very pleased to find that this has been taken into consideration by the publisher. At first glance, the pieces in each designated level seem quite naive and technically simple, but this is actually a good thing, because students can feel confident and get an immediate sense of accomplishment right away. Another thing I really like is that the dynamic markings already reflect the overall ensemble balance, so not all three players are playing the same dynamics at the same time, and it is always clear who has the melody.

For the Mozart Birthday Celebration Concert, I will have students play solos, duets, one student will be playing a movement from a concerto, and a family with three kids will play a piece from Book 2 of this series called “Romp a la Mozart” – theme by Leopold Mozart, arranged by Janis M. Yarbrough – can’t wait! Read more…

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Product Reviews, 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

Read More » Comments (11)

Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Product Reviews

It is that time of the year again – back to school craziness!

This is a great time to order new music for your music studio, as most publishers have back-to-school promotions. Aside from my favorite methods and teaching staples, I also like to check out what is new and expand my studio library.

In one of my previous posts, I talked about how I will be offering four learning tracks in my piano studio this year: Fun Track, Recital Track, Festival Track and Competition Track. In this post, I would like to share some of the music I will be using for my Festival Track students.

In all my years of teaching, I have always believed in the value of music festivals. While not every student is suited to the stress and extreme demands of music competitions, I think music festivals offer a nice alternative for most students. There are many kinds of music festivals. The ones I am talking about are those where students are given an opportunity to perform one or more memorized pieces before adjudicators in a non-competitive setting, with or without an audience. The key word here is non-competitive. Instead of selecting only one first-prize winner, everyone has a chance to earn a Superior rating, or Gold Medal, or whatever the award is to recognize a job well done. In music festivals, age and level do not matter, older beginners can play elementary pieces and still receive the highest recognition, provided the job is well done. Some music festivals have repertoire requirements, for example a Sonatina Festival where everyone has to play one movement from a Sonatina. But my favorite music festival is one that allows students and their teachers the freedom to choose and play “anything.” My local music teachers association offers one such festival!

When choosing music for my Festival Track students for music festival adjudication and performance, I have the following criteria:

1. The music must inspire practice – it is readily appealing.
2. The music must challenge the student in some way – rhythm, hand crossing, specific pianistic figurations such as extended arpeggios, etc.
3. The music must not be overly difficult from beginning to end – there can be sections that challenge the student’s current technical abilities, but there must also be sections where the student can feel enthusiastic about their progress.

The following fits the bill nicely.

Piano Extravaganza by Robert D. Vandall

Read more…

Read More » Comments (5)

Posted in Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

Yiyi Ku

New Piano Music

June 22nd, 2014 by

Dear Teachers,

I hope this post finds you well and you are either enjoying a well deserved summer break, or will be having one soon!

Most private music teachers have a lighter teaching schedule during the summer months. This is a perfect time to research new teaching materials for the next semester.

In my last blog, I talked about offering different “tracks” of programs in my studio for the next school year. Here are the descriptions of the four tracks:

1. Fun Track – for students that want to keep piano in their lives but can not commit to regular practice.
2. Recital Track – for students that want steady progress and opportunities to perform in recitals and non-adjudicated events.
3. Festival Track – for students that want to participate in adjudicated music festivals and exams.
4. Competition Track – for students that are interested in competitions and higher level music examinations.

I believe in selecting appropriate supplementary music for the different tracks. For example, students in the Fun Track are more likely to practice if they are given familiar tunes to play, while students in the Festival or Competition Track need to focus on the classics and good quality original music.

Here are some new resources I will be using:

 

1. Famous & Fun Deluxe Collections – by Carol Matz

 

I gave a detailed review of this series in my previous post “National Piano Guild Auditions Part 2.”

I am very pleased to find that two new levels are now available – Book 4 (Early Intermediate) and Book 5 (Intermediate). These are exactly what the title says – Famous and Fun, and are just perfect for my Fun Track students. The list of songs included in each book is enticing, there is something for both girls and boys, a variety of styles are included (Pop, Classics, Favorites, Rock, and Duets), and what has impressed me the most is the quality of the arrangements.

These do not sound juvenile. These are sophisticated-sounding arrangements, yet are technically very accessible for the designated levels. Students in the Fun Track want to play tunes they know – Star Wars, Can You Feel the Love Tonight, Beauty and the Beast, Over the Rainbow. They want to play tunes everyone knows – America the Beautiful, Greensleeves, The Star-Spangled Banner. They may not have the techniques required to play the classics in their original form, but they will learn simplified versions – Pachelbel’s Canon, Debussy’s Claire de lune. They want to impress their Friends – Hey There Delilah, Don’t Stop Believing. Lastly, they want to have fun making music with others – duet versions of The Pink Panther and James Bond.

Read more…

Read More » Comments (8)

Posted in Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

A is for App

My most recent favorite app is called Decide Now–only 99 cents!  Although it’s not a music-related app it is so easy to customize that you won’t be able to stop using it. A game of Piano Charades is just one example of how I implement this versatile app to reinforce music terminology by students acting out Italian terms at the keys. Here are the steps:

1) Call out words such as: piano, forte, fermata, ritardando, presto, largo, etc. and nudge students to act them out physically. This means YOU need to do it, too. For example: piano could be walking on tip toes while ritardando could be jogging in place and gradually slowing down the pace–like a train approaching a station.

2) After all terms are physically re-enacted, have the students jot down each term to review the spelling and the definition. If they are youngsters, have them draw a picture instead of writing out the definition. Ex: ritardando could be represented with a train engine.

3) Ask a volunteer to play one phrase of a well-prepared piece as the composer intended.

4) The performer must spin the wheel featuring all the terms just reviewed without letting the others see where the Wheel-of-Fortune-like spinner stops. Read more…

Read More » Comments (9)

Posted in Music & Technology, Music Theory, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

What a great time I had at this year’s MTNA National Conference in Chicago. This was my third MTNA National Conference. The biggest highlight for me was certainly having the opportunity to present a Showcase session for Music Teachers Helper! It was a wonderful experience and I enjoyed sharing my tips. It was also great to meet many people afterwards at the booth. Many people said they were already using Music Teachers Helper, and I was glad to be able to answer some questions regarding various scheduling and billing features. If you missed the showcase (there was an iPad giveaway!), you may like to check out the presentation slides I created (minus the fun animations and transition effects).

If you are a regular conference attendee, you no doubt know that at any given one time, there are usually many different sessions going on at the same time, sometimes as many as 9! This makes it very difficult to choose what session to attend! This year, I made a point to attend different sessions than the ones I normally would have chosen. I also made a point to meet people whose names I recognize. I made new friends, including MTH Marketing Director, Andrew Nicoletta and fellow MTH blogger, Leila Viss. It was also very nice to take a mini vacation from my usual teaching routine.

One trend I have noticed at recent conferences is the celebration of original compositions by living composers. At the 2012 Conference in New York, I heard the east coast premier of Lowell Liebermann’s Sonata for Two Pianos, Op. 117 – with Liebermann himself in attendance! At the 2013 conference in Anaheim, CA, the opening concert by the Ahn Trio included many works by contemporary living composers, commissioned by the trio. This year, I attended the session “From The Pen to the Premiere” for the first time, and heard beautiful new chamber music commissioned by MTNA Collaborative Commissioning Project, featuring new trios by acclaimed American composers Phillip Keveren and Wynn-Anne Rossi.


Both trios encourage the study of chamber music that is accessible to intermediate level musicians. Skyscraper

 by Wynn-Anne Rossi is a trio for clarinet, alto saxophone and piano. Petite Voyage by Phillip Keveren is written for trumpet, trombone and piano in F Major.  You can read a full review of Wynn-Anne’s Skyscraper here. I think this is a wonderful initiative of MTNA, to commission new works by composers of our time. This is definitely a session I will be attending in future conferences, and next time, I am going to get autographs of the composers I meet to show my students (thanks to a new conference friend, Melody Lee Stroth for that idea!)

If you have read some of my previous reviews, you already know that I am a big fan of Wynn-Anne Rossi’s works! I finally got to meet her in person, and she is just like her music – full of spirit, creativity, light, and positive energy! I attended her session for one of Alfred‘s three showcases, and it was so much fun to hear her talk about her new series “One of a Kind Solos.”

with Alfred composer Wynn-Anne Rossi at MTNA National Conference in Chicago

This new supplementary series comes in four books, from Elementary to Intermediate, and represents a personal journey with music. Wynn-Anne talked about where she got the inspirations for some of the pieces, and how she was trying to think of things that were meaning to her when she was a kid. Each piece has a story behind it, and challenges the student with musical as well as technical surprises such as odd meters, unusual modes, and various pianistic devices. Here are some examples: Read more…

Read More » Comments (3)

Posted in Product Reviews, Professional Development

Last week Music Teacher’s Helper attended MTNA Chicago. We met and learn about a lot of amazing tools in the music education space.  It’s a lot of fun to chat and learn about all the new digital apps and sites with a complimentary mindset. 

If you want to exposure children to arts education, you should know about the Piano Carnival Project.  It includes piano performances, stories and art based around Saint-Saëns’ famous composition, Carnival of the Animals. The goal of the project is to provide free, entertaining arts exposure to all, especially children without arts education. In order to reach as many people as possible, they have developed a digital ebook/app which allows for a completely immersive experience. Piano Carnival (downloadable here) is completely free, and includes music videos, interactive animations, dramatic recitation, lessons and much more.  

Here’s a 1 minute YouTube demo video showing a few of the ebook functions.

Also, here’s a short video about the process of creating PC, and there are lesson plans, educational materials, and much more at www.PianoCarnival.com

 

Read More » Comments Off (0)

Posted in Product Reviews

By Guest Blogger, Meg Baatz

For most musicians, carrying around an instrument happens only when absolutely necessary. But when you’re on the go in town, or travelling out of town, you often find yourself waiting and or wishing you could do something to practice. These six instruments were built with travel in mind, so you can make the most of your down time on a vacation — without having to risk damaging or losing one that’s less mobile.

  1. Voyage-Air Guitar

 

It’s not an air guitar per se, but it will help you keep your airplane luggage quota when you’re on a voyage (see what I did there?). The neck folds down conveniently to save you space, so you don’t have to try to fit it diagonally in your tiny car. Better yet, you don’t have to loosen or remove the strings, because folding it down releases the tension. Where do the strings go? They retract inside the guitar. A-mazing. Comes in both electric and acoustic with a few different styles to choose from.

Price: $3,370 (comes with a bag)

 

Sources: 1, 2, 3

  1. Travel Master Pochette Read more…

Read More » Comments (1)

Posted in Product Reviews

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…

Read More » Comments Off (0)

Posted in Music News, Performing, Practicing, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

Calling all piano lovers.  

Please take a few minutes to fill out this short survey about a new portable piano coming onto the market. Further details inside: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JT3DH7R

Thank you in advance. Your feedback will impact the design and features of this digital piano.

Here’s the survey link again: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/JT3DH7R

Read More » Comments Off (0)

Posted in Music & Technology, Music News, Product Reviews