Why wait until a holiday to “turn on the party?” We teachers can find many reasons and ways to celebrate student milestones.
Parents may not understand what a big deal it is to graduate to the next level of books, for instance. We can help them get it by making a bit of fuss over it ourselves. And if they still don’t get it, at least someone has admired the student’s success.
18 Reasons to Celebrate Student Milestones—they:
arrived at the staples—the midway point!—of their book
passed a unit
completed their level and graduated to the next—huzzah!
practiced one hundred days in a row
practiced five days this past week
remembered to trim their nails
memorized a song
accomplished all their weekly practice goals
performed in public for the first time
played in their first recital
played in any recital
mastered certain number of scales (pentascales, octaves or more)
conquered a beast of a piece of music
got their first playing gig
used a metronome successfully
memorized names of lines and spaces
they graduated from high school and are going off to college
Celebrate a Student Milestone
18 Ways to Celebrate Student Milestones:
pull out a kazoo and trumpet a fanfare
tiny milestone—press Staples’ Easy Button
the midway point in their book—offer a candy or let them make a shot at a Nerf basketball hoop
publish their name (and photo?) on your website
include their name (and photo?) in your studio newsletter
a congratulatory certificate
snail-mail a card to their home, addressed to them
notify Piano Explorer Magazine about their completion of 100 consecutive days of practice (or 200+)
post their names on a chart in your studio
play a CD of a regal/fanfarish song as they enter the room
let them wear a costume crown during their lesson
give a blue ribbon
create a banner/ribbon and add iron-on badges for accomplishments (like boy-and-girl scouts)
let them choose from prizes you’ve collected (dollar store items, coupons for ice cream or burger, sheet music, manuscript paper or books, CD, iTunes coupon…)
let them play music games on the computer
bake their favorite cookies
Student milestone? Bake cookies!
for a BIG accomplishment , tickets to a concert or a huge fake-book
We have all taught (and smiled) through nasty headaches, various aches and pains, and plain old fatigue, but what about when your body just doesn’t seem to cooperate any more and your health is a constant challenge? Below are some ideas I have used personally and also those of other music teachers that I interviewed for this blog. I hope today finds you healthy and strong, but if not, take courage. Teaching can be a time of enrichment and satisfaction in your day.
Be a fun, warm and friendly person to be around. This is not always easy, but it will help others to see you and not your disability or illness.
Enjoy each lesson and each relationship. This can actually take your mind off your own problems for awhile.
Carefully plan your energy usage for the day. If you have to teach all afternoon, you might not be able to clean house and run errands all morning.
Be realistic about your schedule. Don’t take on more students than you can keep up with and also maintain your strength and health.
Adapt your environment to your needs. Get the right kind of chair, use a baton to point out issues in the music, keep all your supplies close at hand.
Don’t over do it or over commit on days you are feeling pretty good. Continue to work according to your overall ability. It is so tempting to try and get the one million things done you have been neglecting for so long, but exercise restraint. It is easier to plan a big event down the road than it will be to get through it once it gets here.
Schedule breaks between students or groups of students.
Strategically talk to parents and adult students about your limitations. They are usually willing to accommodate and adjust where needed.
If you need to cancel more frequently because of illness, design a more lenient “sick policy” for you and for your students.
Enlist the help your older teen students to help around the studio filing music, dusting the piano, or helping younger ones with theory lessons.
Be very clear about your teaching priorities and focus on core skills. Now is not the time to add extra programs and studio activities.
Have a volunteer sign up list for your studio parents. They can bring snacks to group lessons, emcee at recitals, help set up for events, take pictures and many other things.
Build a good support system. Have friends you can call for advice and support when needed.
Get help with housework and meals if possible. A little extra help might mean you can continue to teach, which is probably a higher love on your list than scrubbing floors. Sometimes you can trade services for lessons.
Take care of yourself every day. Do all the things you know are healing for you.
If you are worried about how your students will react to your challenges, I think you will be encouraged by this note from John Ledell.
Piano Teaching With a Debilitating Illness, by John Ledell
“When the doctor announced I had to go full-time into a power wheelchair, many thoughts flashed through my mind but the dominant thought was what would my piano students and parents think? Would I still be able to teach the way I always had, jumping up on the piano bench to play parts of pieces for students? How would I show them how I wanted certain passages played in the music? Would people want to take lessons from an old man in a wheelchair? Lots of questions and very few answers popped into my mind.
First a little background. I had polio when I was two. From an Iron Lung, it took 14 years of rehab and more than a dozen operations to bring me back to as normal physically as I would ever be. I could walk with braces but had a very pronounced limp. I was proud of my accomplishments in being normal enough to pass for normal. Flash forward to my 40’s when something called post-polio syndrome set in. The motor neurons controlling the muscles that were damaged by the polio virus started giving out. Thus my ability to walk was gone completely. I started using crutches full-time and got around satisfactorily but I always hid that fact from my students.
In the room where I teach, I would enter before lessons and sit in a rolling office chair and then hide my crutches in a closet so my students and parents would not know I was disabled. I could still hop onto the piano bench to play and then hop back to my office chair. I learned the hard way that it’s important to go to the bathroom before lessons in order to keep my disability hidden.
When the doctor told me I had to use a power wheelchair, it was because decades of using crutches had ruined my shoulders and made continued use of crutches unbearably painful. However, there was no place to hide the big bulky wheelchair in my teaching room so my secret would be discovered. I even thought of giving up piano teaching and let my wife, and fellow piano teacher, take over my students even though she already had a full schedule.
In the end we decided to confront the disability openly and just explain what was going on to both students and their parents. It turns out most of them suspected what was going on because my behavior and lack of movement was unusual. Instead of being put off by my disability, students and families rallied around me and threw their complete love and support to my wife and myself. It turns out what they loved about my teaching was my humor and supportive efforts with their children and music. No one cared about my mobility only the love and encouragement I always gave to their children and their music.”
Please add your insights in the comment section below so we can all learn from each other.
An essential part of learning to play music on an instrument (as opposed to singing!) is having an instrument on which to play. Owning or renting an instrument and having the necessary accessories are important for learning but are not something teachers may be prepared to handle. And yet, without the right equipment it’s hard for a student to get very far. How can the teacher help? What do you do to help your students? (Please add a comment at the end to share your perspective!)
Some teachers might simply accept whatever the student has for equipment. Others direct their students to local or online stores to purchase recommended items. Still others select and rent or sell instruments and accessories themselves.
I’ve done all three. Lately, I’ve taken to making things available myself, especially for beginners. This post is about why and how I’ve gone about it. Read more…
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…
Being a person who is strongly nourished by sunlight and warmth, this is a hard time of year for me. That makes mid-winter a great time to remind myself why I really do love my job. This list is a compilation of many individuals’ thoughts, so most of us will find something we can relate to.
I get to keep learning new music all the time.
I am giving a gift that will last a lifetime.
My young “clients” are adorable and amazing.
Nothing compares to seeing a face light up when a child finally “gets it.”
Small accomplishments bring great pleasure.
I connect to children at the level of their hearts.
My job is much more meaningful than a typical 8-5.
I am sometimes the first person to alert parents to a learning or visual challenge.
I teach kids to rise above negativity and self-doubt to create beautiful and very personal music.
I get to witness generations of musicians enjoying their music.
It is gratifying to know that I am an important part of a child’s life.
I enjoy the constant challenge of finding better and more effective ways to teach a concept.
I am never bored—I get a whole new personality to enjoy every 30-45 minutes.
I have the privilege of helping to keep the arts alive in our culture.
I am helping to make someone’s dream come true.
I am able to model for a child smart work habits, diligence, perseverance, patience, and confidence.
I never really know how much impact and influence I am having, so it keeps me on my toes every single day.
Music is a unique form of human expression and I get to draw it out.
This makes it worth pouring my heart, soul and love for music into my work every day. Even the cold, dark days of winter. Please share your inspirational thoughts below!
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…
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…
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…
My friend Mary was cornered by a 4th grade student one day, who told her, “You’re pretty smart, for a music teacher.”
Mary asked the little girl why she thought most music teachers weren’t so smart.
“Because you only teach singing and playing instruments. Can you multiply? Can you divide? Can you do fractions?”
How would you answer this little girl?
Does this tell us something about our compartmentalized world? The little girl was learning music but should she have been taught the connections music has with everything else?
Should music teachers make these connections obvious? Or are we so intent on making music fun and doable, or on accomplishing specific tasks involved in learning a skill or satisfying a curriculum, that we don’t have time or mental space to tie things together as we teach?
I find that making connections in music learning to people’s work lives, to school subjects, to decisionmaking, to learning, help people learn music better. But I can’t say I methodically connect all the dots. Do you?
Below are some connections meant as food for thought for music teachers. (And please, add any subjects or angles that you feel are missing!) 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…