With this post, I’m going to start a short series of blogs on the theme ‘An Invitation to Performance’. I will be exploring performance as an action, a skill, and as something that every teacher should consider offering as an integral part of his or her teaching studio. As my students and colleagues well know, I can get quite evangelical about the importance of providing access to performance – in particular experimental performance (about which more later) — to all students, whether aspiring professionals or dedicated amateurs.

Performance offers us commentary on and access to a part of our musical self that no other medium can: it is the window into our true, communicative, musical responses, while at the same time being in the only venue in which we can observe or consider those truths. Performance is a lot of other things as well, things that my friends well know that I take great pleasure in discussing far into the wee hours. It’s a space; it’s a shared arena for action; it’s the special place where only musical things happen; it’s our only access to the creativity of our audiences.

I’ll be saying more about these and other ideas surrounding performance in future blogs, but for now, let me me start the series by banging a favourite drum regarding an effective practical option available to all music teachers who wish to give their students more access to the joys and intrigue of performance: the institution of the studio masterclass.

Making masterclasses work

There can be few experiences more stimulating for both music teacher and student than witnessing an expert performer working with a student in a masterclass setting. Once the hard graft of technique, musicianship, and style have been addressed, and once the many long hours of practice have been clocked, the opportunity for students to step out into the light of the concert hall and begin to experiment with performance under the expert guidance of a professional is an invaluable one. It is the crucial step between practice and performance, in particular, professional performance – in my opinion, the crucial step.

And yet, not all teachers make the space for masterclasses as part of the regular studio activities. Read more…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

Recently, we asked a series of questions to over 300 students of Music Teacher’s Helper users. Today, we share some of that data, which is likely representative of most private music teachers. So please share with your peers.

99% said that their teacher runs their studio in a professional manner. We hope Music Teacher’s Helper has played a part in such an impressive number!

Keep up the great work!

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management

I heard from the music school that a new student had signed up, so as usual, I called him to find out what level he was at, what he wanted, what his email was so I could send him a link to register with Music Teachers Helper.

It became clear soon into my phone call that this new student was hesitating  at the music school’s requirement that he sign up for 4 lessons to get started.

“I think I only want one or two to get started,” he said.

I told him that it was a good idea to give it a few lessons to get started and see how it worked, though of course if it didn’t seem a good fit, it was fine to drop out.

“I think really I only want one lesson,” he said.

I said, well, we can get started with some basics in the first lesson, but the second lesson is where I see what he took in, how he did, and where to take it from there.

Then he dropped the bomb. Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

This month I’m going to use my blog format to do what it does best: simply to spread information.

This past week, I was at voice faculty meeting at my conservatoire in Canada and one of our teachers, who is also an active chairperson in our local chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, gave a short presentation on an exciting new educational NATS initiative:  “Vocapedia“, a website dedicated to the science and pedagogy of the singing voice.

Here is a quick overview, quoted from their site, of what they aim to do with the resource:

The mission of Vocapedia is to present educational resources relevant to:
the anatomic and physiologic basic of singing
the acoustics of the singing voice; the acoustical basis of resonance
the physical health of the vocal mechanism
the science of learning and mental processes involved in singing and teaching of singing
current and historical thought on pedagogical practice.

The intent is not to prescribe techniques, services, practices, or styles of singing, or the teaching of singing. Rather, the aim is to present resources that provide rational thinking and facts as they are currently accepted in the scientific community, from authors who have demonstrated their expertise.

The site promises to become a foundational point of reference for those seeking information about all aspects of singing physiology, technique, and pedagogy.

I do encourage everyone to click through the links and spend some time exploring this exciting new initiative!

 

 

 

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

 By Robin Steinweg

 

Group classes are a great way to reach more students, multiply your time and promote your studio. I taught a group vocal class over the summer (Group Classes) and a group guitar class. Find the first two guitar class posts here (Group Guitar part 1 ) and here (Group Guitar part 2).

What I cover in weeks 5-8:

Week 5

-how to tell the key of a song

-transposing, review how to make your own chord charts, and the 3/4 strum

-the “Happy Birthday” song. You’d be surprised how many accompanists I’ve met who can’t play it!

-another parody I wrote for this class, with only 2 chords, to the tune of “Clementine”. This one I personalized with their names and some positive traits:

1. In a church one sultry summer, round a table sat The Six: sore fingers, sore brains, but they strummed their acoustics.

2. Guitars ready, keep it steady, press your fingers till they bleed. Making music is so fun! What more in life could you need?

3. Play the 2/4, play it over and over again. “Almost got it,” says the teacher, “Take a little rest.” But then…

4. …comes another even harder, will we ever get it right? Now the strings are out of tune, but do I loosen or turn it tight?

5. There is Jerry, always ready, and Malea’s cheerful grin, Leslie’s great dry sense of humor; Robin says, “Play it again.”

6. Asia strums and Doris hums and Gavin, fearless, forward goes. By the end of this guitar class, every one of them will be pros!

Week 6

What I choose to review and for how long depends on how they did at the last lesson, and what I think they need:

-the 4/4 strum and appropriate songs

-a demonstration that 2/4 and 4/4 strums can be interchangeable

Note: whenever I introduce new chords or strum, I choose songs with as few chord changes as possible. I aim for a good mix of musical styles and tempos.

I sing the melodies until they can. Sometimes I say the strum aloud: DOWN, downup downup downup—and we pause at the chord changes until they have their fingers in place. Once most have the hang of it, I make sure to do parts of the songs slowly and parts quickly to accommodate all class members. It’s equally frustrating whether you can’t keep up, or you’re being kept from going as fast as you are able, so I do some for both.

Week 7 

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Financial Business, Music Theory, Performing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

I admit it. I want everyone to be happy; even me! This fall I took a few surveys to help me better understand what behaviors and circumstances promote happy students, happy parents and happy teachers.
It is much easier for me to know which behaviors in my clients make me happy as a teacher. Some of these things are important enough to be included in a policy statement—a place where clear communication can set healthy boundaries and solve problems before they happen.
Here is what I included in my registration packets this fall:
Keep Happy Teacher

Students:

  • be willing to try new things, and new ways of doing old things
  • listen to directions and follow them at home
  • read your assignment notes over at home each week
  • enjoy the songs you are learning
  • have a respectful attitude
  • practice faithfully, and record it in your assignment book
  • smile a lot
  • tell the teacher frequently that you love piano lessons
  • always bring all your books to your lesson
  • participate in studio activities
  • take good care of borrowed books and return them on time

Parents:

  • offer your child support, incentives and encouragement at home
  • set aside practice space and time in your child’s schedule
  • say uplifting things about piano lessons in front of your child
  • provide an adequate instrument on which to practice
  • keep your expectations high, but fairly close to reality
  • help your child participate in studio activities and recitals
  • respond to studio emails in a timely manner
  • rarely cancel lessons, and call ahead on those rare occasions
  • drop off and pick children up on time
  • pay your tuition on time each month, without a reminder
  • call me when you have a concern or problem so we can resolve it
  • remember that I thrive on appreciation, and your kids thrive on praise

That covers my side of things, but what about the students’ or parents’ perspectives? For the last few weeks I have been surveying students and parents from my studio, as well as parents with other teachers in my local association, about what makes them happy with a piano teacher. Below is my compilation of the student and parent responses.
I expected certain things to be high on the parents’ list: keep tuition rates low, limit the number of outside activities, high tech studio, make sure we get our perfect time slot, be flexible with sport schedules, vacations and illnesses, have a location close to school or home, have lots of degrees, certifications and professional performance experience.
I was wrong. Not one of these items was mentioned. Read on to find out what was Read more…

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Posted in Customer Support, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Yiyi Ku

Did You Have a Good Summer?

August 10th, 2014 by

Inland Valley Symphony outdoor concert in Temecula

Today was the last day of my “summer vacation.” Starting from tomorrow, I will be back to my regular teaching schedule. I took a three week studio break from June to July, some students had lessons after that, some have been away, and I will see almost all of them back for lessons this coming week. I spent most of today organizing my teaching supplies and sorting new books for students, and wondering where did the summer go! Well, I have had a productive summer, and a recent blog by Leila Viss – Why Don’t We Collaborate? made me reflect on the various collaborative projects I have been involved with this summer.

With Dan Callaway at Temecula Pop Under the Stars

 

 

First, some of you may remember the name Dan Callaway. Dan was a blog author on Music Teachers Helper, I read many of his wonderful posts before I joined the blog team. Well, as it turned out, I met him in person this summer in an outdoor “Pop Under the Stars” concert in my town! He was one of the featured solo vocalists and I played the keyboard in the symphony orchestra. The concert was a huge success, drawing more than 2000 people. Dan was awesome and the audience loved him! As a pianist, we don’t get a lot of collaborative opportunities to perform with a large number of musicians. Unlike band instruments, we are not used to producing a “collective sound.” The experience is invaluable, and I can not recommend it highly enough!

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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Using Music Teacher's Helper

Running a piano studio tends to be a lonely job.

Setting up an independent piano studio, I worked alone to make it a vibrant learning environment for budding musicians of all ages. Although I cherish my students and their families and never feel isolated while teaching, they do not provide a sounding board for the administrative side of the business.

My church position requires me to work alongside the choir director, the choir members, a few colleagues when we play duets, professional musicians for seasonal cantatas and the like but, I’m not required to attend staff meetings. I choose my own music and practice a number of times each week by myself.

Writing a blog post or article requires time and space alone with my thoughts AND my computer. Sadly, I look at my computer screen more frequently than anyone or anything else and it offers no human interaction beyond its service as an electronic communication conduit.

As timing would have it, over the past year, I’ve worked with more colleagues than ever before.

Co-publishing a book, planning a conference, and running a camp completely and dramatically changed my connectivity with fellow colleagues. Now, there’s not a day that goes by without a text, a call or email about an upcoming deadline or project that requires team work.

This led me to wonder why it is that so many of us set up our OWN studio, independent of others, in our OWN homes or rented space. We seem to dwell in our OWN silo with only limited social pipelines to the outside world like Facebook, blogs, etc. Why were most of us never encouraged to seek a mentor or partner who could offer advice, tips, an exchange of ideas, and even share a studio or business together upon earning a music degree? Or maybe I just speak for myself? Read more…

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Posted in Financial Business, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

How musical is ‘unmusical’ Man?

Can ‘unmusical’ people become musical? What, if anything, can we as educators do to teach the apparently ‘tone deaf’ person to sing in tune and successfully with others?

In Part I of the series, I talked a bit about the paradox of ‘unmusicality’. If, as many people believe, music-making is somehow intrinsic to humans as a species, how can some people be apparently ‘unmusical’? For some singers, out-of-tune singing can usually be fixed with improved technique, but for others, the lack of development in their musical awareness and understanding can seem to be much more profound, even potentially neurological in origin. These people do encourage us to think again – and think deeply – about the anthropologist John Blacking’s famous question: ‘How musical is man?’

In Part II, I looked at a few of the types of ‘unmusicality’ demonstrated by community choral singers that I have come across in my work as a choral clinician and singing teacher. The idea there was to tease apart the types of ‘less musical’ singers I have worked with to see how they differ, and where their strengths and weaknesses typically lie.

I grouped my singers into three categories based on their musical responses: Generalists (those whose singing lacks pitch reference); Skiers (those who sing across the correct pitch areas, or in the right direction, but who do not usually sing discrete notes); and Talkers (those who sing well in their speaking range, but become Generalists or Skiers in other parts of their voice.) In my work with these singers over time, I have found that they also typically demonstrate one or all of the following three qualities:

1. They report not hearing the details in music

2. They are not comfortable with the sound of their voice

3. Their lack of melodic awareness occurs only in ‘musical’ settings, i.e. their speech (which includes many ‘musical’ elements, such as tone and melody) is normal.

The first two qualities in this list suggest that there is a disjunction between perception (whether neurological or psychological) and response. The second item in this list is explained by the other two.

 

Teaching unmusicality

In this post, which is the final post in my series, I’m going to talk a bit about how I have worked with these students in my own workshops and teaching studio.

As I’ve said before, I’m not at all an expert in this field – I’m just speaking as a musician and music teacher who is very interested in what music is, and how working with people who aspire to make music can be hugely revealing about the origins of music, both as cultural phenomenon and as a psycho-physical human response.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll separate my discussion by my three (imperfect, but I hope, useful) categories of ‘unmusical’ singer. In actual fact there are many ways in which the musical responses of these types of singer overlap, but for now I’ll separate them.

I’ll look forward to any other categories any of you may like to add in the comments section, below!

 

The Generalists

In my work with Generalists, I’ve noticed that their responses to musical stimuli tend to be predominantly bodily, by which I mean they tend to flex major muscle groups, rather than their actual vocal instrument, when reacting to a musical sound. All singers do this to a certain extent, of course; they sway, frown, flex their arms, and stand on their toes as part of their visualization of their musical material, and learning to control these responses is of course an important part of professional training. But the Generalists go further than this, and in what to me are interesting ways.

Singing with the body Read more…

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

© 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