onlinenotesI’m trying an experiment in online teaching — live classes.  If you have tried these and would like to discuss them or have questions, by all means, leave your comments below!

Live classes are different from online private lessons.  Private lessons have their own differences from in-person lessons, but I’ve discussed this in another post, so I’ll focus here on online classes with multiple students.

If you consider doing this, here are 10 questions you’ll want to take into account as you make your plans.  I’ll also mention some ways I’m dealing with it.  I’m not saying my approach is necessarily best, or even that it’s what I’ll end up with, but let’s consider it a work in progress… read on for 10 questions to get your thoughts in gear — Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

The Blank Stare.

blank stareWe dread it, but we’ve all seen it: the face that tells you unequivocally that your students are lost and haven’t got a clue what is going on. This can happen suddenly, and sometimes in the most unexpected places. Picture this scenario:

My lesson or class has been rolling along smoothly, and I’ve felt encouraged by the odd head nodding, or some gentle smiles tentatively creasing passive faces. I’ve smiled myself, warming to my subject, and then I’ve taken the fatal step.
                ‘And that’s how we know that the composer is modulating!’, I swoon. ‘She’s been hinting for the last two systems with those occasional B-flats and now we know from this arpeggio followed by the cadence: we are in F-major!’. 
                My revelation is met with silence, which is not what I expected. A hand shoots up, breaking the still pool of now immobile faces. ‘Why is it F-major and not F-flat major?’.  
                What?!’ I think, and try not to frown.  ‘Can you explain what you mean?’, I say.
                ‘I thought you said those were the “flat keys”, so why isn’t it F-flat major?’.
                ‘Because F isn’t flat,’ I reply. 
                Faces go blank and a thick pause of unknowing oozes across the classroom. Heads drop and a faint voice cries into its sleeve, ‘I don’t get it!’ and (since this is the film version) all the desks start shrinking backwards away from the teacher and disappear into a black abyss at the back of the room….

“Unknown unknowns”

ha ha i don't get it tshirtIt would be my guess that every music teacher reading this will have experienced at least some version of this same scenario. It can happen with children, teenager, or adult students, and, although it looks like the moment of catastrophe was caused by what I’ve called ‘one fatal step’ instructionally speaking, of course, these scenarios represent a series of moments of unknowing coming to a head. The student who asked this question (and it is a real question asked me in a class just last year) must have experienced many moments in previous classes when he hadn’t understood what was going on but hadn’t said anything. At the same time, I will have been happily piling concept after concept on top of this student without realizing that he hadn’t understood what was going on.

How can it happen that we sometimes unwittingly leave our students behind? And is there anything we can do to help those students who find the theoretical side of music difficult, or are some people simply ‘more musical’ than the others, who will always at some point get left behind? Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

How often do you find yourself in need of a list of your students?I'm in treble image

One can keep a list on your computer, but remembering to update it as you get new students or students discontinue can be inconsistent.

The easiest way to come up with a list of your students is to use the export names option on MTH; such a seemingly simple option that can save you time and help you in emergency situations. Read more…

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Posted in Customer Support, Studio Management, Uncategorized, Using Music Teacher's Helper

If Music Teachers Helper (MTH) allows you to gain or retain just ONE student, the way I figure it, you will earn double the cost of the service.   In addition, if MTH helps you avoid losing money through better payments and accounting, you might actually be saving the equivalent of MTH‘s cost each month you use it.

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But let’s take a look at the details.  Read on for 10 reasons why I think MTH pays for itself–

 

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Posted in Financial Business, MTH 101, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper

Boy with Ears & Music

Using Various Technologies to Provide Play-Along Recordings to Students

One of the things I feel very strongly about as a music teacher is developing the  student’s ear – early, and often. I’m not just referring to the ear training exercises that most of us probably employ, but also using recorded examples at every possible opportunity.

I could write an entire post on why I believe this is so critical to the student’s success, and why I think audio examples and play-along recordings should be used constantly from the very beginning. For now, I’ll assume that most of you are already on board with this idea, and perhaps just need some ideas for HOW to provide recordings to students.   Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Product Reviews, Studio Management, Teaching Tips, Uncategorized, Using Music Teacher's Helper

How do you prepare a student to have a good experience in a competition or other event? Below are a some specific ways that I try to make sure the student is ready. Event prep is an ongoing process of growth and learning for both teacher and student. This long list is in a somewhat random order and by no means complete, but I hope it will generate a few ideas for you.Competition Blog

Start early. Nothing spoils the process more than running out of time. Creating a reverse timeline is an excellent idea. Starting from the date of the event, work backward setting intermediate goals and deadlines. For example, if an event takes place on April 5, you might set a deadline for secure memorization of the material by March 1, articulation, phrasing, and dynamics integrated by January 15, and notes, fingering and rhythm secure by December 2.

Start the piece correctly from the beginning. Do not allow any bad habits to develop. It is easier to start with a new piece from the ground up than to choose a piece with ingrained problems to rehabilitate. Allow the student one play-through to get the overall feel of the piece, but then slow way down and work section by section, phrase by phrase. On the other hand, sometimes the second or third time you learn a piece, it really comes together. Don’t be afraid to pull out a piece learned last year and relearn it at a deeper level, if it does not have big issues.

Choose material that is level-appropriate. Too hard and tears and frustration will be the result. Too easy and boredom and carelessness will set in. Take into account the amount of time you have to prepare. If the competition requires a certain minimum level of difficulty, use Jane McGrath’s book “The Pianist’s Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature” to determine the level of your piece.

Start with the rhythm, separated from the notes. The rhythm drives Read more…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

duetMusic shapes us, but it is also shaped by our culture and practice of music-making. This is true whether we are students, performers, concert goers, consumers, or music teachers.

But how can we find space for experiment and innovation in our teaching without compromising standards or impeding the progress of our students?

In this post, I’m going to talk a bit about some of the ways we can make time to take risks and develop new approaches in our teaching.

I’ll also be talking about why this is important for our students, our job satisfaction, and our broader culture and practice of music teaching.

The medium is the message

IMG_1137The first thing I’d like you to consider is how your personal teaching method may reflect the space and/or institution you teach in, and the expectations that come with it.

You may be a solitary teacher working on the piano bench next to a stream of neighbourhood children, an instructor at a music school, a performer giving masterclasses or lessons on request, or you may be one of the increasing number of teachers who addresses students through internet portals such as YouTube.

However you connect with your pupils, your medium of interaction – your studio, institution, schedule, or online platform – will dictate how you teach to an important extent. A school typically requires teachers to follow a fixed curriculum, for example, while home studios usually prioritize one-on-one teaching over group classes.

Your school may encourage you to teach from a series of books they already have in the library, while in your home studio you may find that students and their parents appreciate following a system based on graded instructions books that are approved by some well-known institution. However you choose to teach, these work patterns will help to make your teaching effective, and they will help your students to progress at a regular rate alongside their peers.

But these same, what I am going to call ‘institutional systems’ can also have drawbacks, both for pupils and for teachers. What may seem like a time-saving book series or course curriculum that ensures standards in your studio may in fact be limiting your ability to express yourself as a teacher, and in turn, may be holding back your students from achieving their best as musicians.

DorianPerhaps the recommended studies and technical exercises take up so much lesson time that you can never really get to talk to your students about the special musical alchemy that is at work in the pieces they play? Or perhaps, in wishing your students to do well in exams, you may be encouraging them to conform too much to the received wisdom of previous generations of musicians, and in turn limiting the space in which they can experiment and innovate for their own and future generations?

Whatever system we employ will always bring with it both advantages and disadvantages. Our job is to try to identify the positive in both these things, and to put them in service of a greater ends: satisfying music-making, undertaken by both students and their teachers.

Rebelliousness in the teaching studio – making space for freedom

freedomLuckily for both teachers and students, there can be few conditions more inspiring to experiment and innovation than imposed limitations!

What starts out as a restriction, may end up inspiring some of our most innovative ideas – we simply have to think about them differently and make time and space to turn them to our advantage.

Many of you will be doing this already. Teachers in a home studio, for example, may work hard to create a clear curriculum of the sort typically found in music schools, while college teachers may take pains to carve out space for personal attention for their students of the sort made easy by the home studio format.

But we can go further, especially in the freedom we can give our students to experiment with music as part of their overall progress. We can take the time to let the students work their way more slowly through pieces, for example, perhaps taking time to help them identify underlying key structures, or colouristic effects, or aspects of text setting, and then giving them the space to improvise and innovate on these interesting and important musical features and ideas.

If your students don’t know how to improvise, remember that this is a very important part of music making – all the classical composers learned to do this at an early age using simple patterns. Teaching your students (and perhaps yourself) how to do this will hugely enhance their enjoyment of music, and will make your teaching – and your own playing – much more fruitful and enjoyable.

Another simple tip to consider is how you may be pacing your students. Many students want to progress quickly and can race through grade books because of their nimble fingers or strong memories. But these same students will almost without exception falter later on in their life as musicians. This typically happens either because the pieces they play at advanced level will eventually get very demanding of mental and emotional interpretive skills that they will not possess as players, or because they never learn to see the importance of musical life beyond their achievement in exams, and will give music up once their parents are no longer ferrying them to lessons.

If you gave your students more time to sit their exams – two years instead of one, for example – they may be annoyed at first, but in the end, they are more likely to enjoy playing, to become better musicians, and to develop the ability to have their own musical ideas. At the same time, they will make your work much more enjoyable! They will probably also score higher in exams and will do even more for the reputation of your studio. Who knows, you may even end up turning out more professional musicians than you were when you were simply ‘following the book’.

Music is play

dixielandHowever you organize your studio, university or college classes, or your online teaching content and interface, keep in mind that both student and teacher can learn as well as teach. Giving yourself – and your students – time to do this as part of their ‘regular curriculum’ will enhance your studio culture, your students’ progress, and your own work satisfaction.

But it’s important to remember that, without a doubt, your teaching makes an important contribution to something much bigger than yourself – broader musical and music pedagogical culture.

Like Mozart, and Beethoven, and Bach, and Dizzy Gillespie, all of whom played with music and broke away from the restrictions and patterns of the past, you too must take the time and make the space to break away from imposed work and playing patterns and come up with something new that is unique to you and to your students.

This, more than anything we can do as teachers to ‘maintain standards’, is what will keep music alive, both for now, and for future generations.

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

By Robin Steinweg              studio

I found myself in physical therapy following a car accident. I expected decreased pain and increased endurance and strength. But I was surprised to find parallels between PT and teaching music. Here are 5 teaching tips from physical therapy:

1. Study the Student: my therapist checked me over, had me try a number of exercises and studied how best to help me before our next session. She brought a book to show me the anatomy of my injuries. She studied my injuries and my responses.

Likewise, good teachers assess a student’s abilities and needs to determine a plan of action. We give thought and care to choosing methods and materials on which students will thrive and grow musically.

Be a student of your students!

2. Active—Not Passive—Learning: the limbs, the muscles, the ligaments—they need to do the work. A spoken treatise on the subject (a lecture, a lesson) isn’t going to cut it. Just do it.

When I heard how little my therapist spoke, I realized that I do more talking in lessons than is necessary. I don’t need to fill every moment with sound.         teacher, silent

Talk less. Play or sing more.

3. It Takes Practice: I’d forgotten just how awkward new movements can feel. You wouldn’t think that you could tip over from a prone position. But wobble and topple I did. Still, my therapist encouraged me, and I kept trying. And it got easier.

So it is with piano, passing a thumb under without the elbow chicken-winging. Or using the register key on a woodwind for the first time. Or fingering that new guitar chord (can fingers do that?).

It gets easier with practice.

4. Beware of Adding Too Much At Once: my therapist tells me I’m ready for more, but she doesn’t want to add new exercises, because that can get to be too much. Instead, she beefs up the ones I’m already doing. I am grateful, because it’s already taking forty-some minutes three times a day. And I do have a life beyond therapy. She rarely tweaks more than one exercise at a time. This is good, because it’s a gentler learning curve. I’m not as likely to forget how it goes. This is like a reward for doing well.

Students will appreciate this, too. They have busy lives. They are more likely to excel at one tweaked exercise than three or four brand-new ones. I should be reluctant to say, “Your reward for working hard is to work harder and longer.”

You worked well; let’s work smart, too.

5. Location, Aesthetics: my therapist’s studio has windows overlooking the Wisconsin River. Bald eagles perch on nearby branches while early sunbeams pierce the rising mist. The atmosphere is pleasant, energizing, sunny.     0127092757How about our music studios? Light, temperature, space and artwork can enhance lessons. 0127092240

Art begets art.

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Physical therapy has heightened my awareness of certain aspects of teaching. I’m reminded to study my students; to speak less; to encourage them that it’ll get easier with practice; that it’s okay to take smaller steps forward, and my studio’s atmosphere can inspire and free the art of music.  0127092122

I hope you found these helpful. If so, watch for “5 More Teaching Tips from Physical Therapy” here at MTH blog next month, February 28.

 

 

 

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Posted in Practicing, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Student Compositions

Student Compositions

Do you teach composition skills in your studio? Many teachers tell me teaching composition is something they would like to do, but never seem to get around to doing. There are many reasons given: no time, not sure where to start, student hasn’t shown an interest, not sure how to teach it.

I would not really say I “teach” composition, but more that I “encourage” composition. This is the level of intentionality that I have found to be comfortable for me in this area. Hopefully you can find one or two ideas for your studio in this blog.

The biggest help I have found is to start early, before the student thinks it might be hard! Composition grows out of improvisation, so I include improvisation at the very first lesson, and give it a little time every week for the first year. Just 3-4 minutes is enough to keep the spark alive. Emphasize that there is no “right” way, and that the student’s ideas are just as legitimate as yours.

There are so many ways to do improvisation with young children. Start improv on the black keys so that everything sounds harmonious. Model ideas for the student, and encourage them to listen for interesting textures and sounds. Make the improv tell a story. Sometimes I make up a story line that matches a Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips, Using Music Teacher's Helper

This is part three of my series about interesting ways I use Music Teacher Helper in my studio not always per the software itself.

Keeping track of miscellaneous fees = Headaches

If your studio is like mine, you offer to purchase books and materials for your students. Not only is this a nice service to the customer but it assures that students will have the correct supplies when needed.

My October 2013 blog post discussed ways to earn extra income by offering supplies for the students.

Headachesheadache image

Keeping track of all theses book and miscellaneous charges is, quite frankly, a pain. First you have to remember to get payment from the student. That job is made easier by adding the fees on MTH, however it is up to you to remember to actually add the fee. How many times do you go through your bookkeeping and realize a charge you paid was not transferred to the student for which the purchase was made? Read more…

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Posted in Customer Support, Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Uncategorized, Using Music Teacher's Helper