Robin Steinweg

“It’s Too Hard!”

January 28th, 2015 by

5 ways to Help a Student Get Past Overwhelmed

By Robin Steinweg

 

“It’s too hard!”

 

“I can’t do it!” “I won’t do it!” “It’s too hard!”

 

 

 

 

Have you ever heard this from a student? One minute you have a sunny, happy child sitting at their instrument. The next, storm clouds and even threat of waterworks. And all you did was to place a new piece of music in front of them. Or remind them of a technique on which they’ve been working.

  You want me to do WHAT?

If distraction doesn’t work , and neither do our words of reassurance or encouragement, how can we help them get past the tunnel vision that comes with feeling overwhelmed? How can we empower them to see solutions instead of the pessimism of believing they are bound to fail? (try this iPad tool for a distraction technique: Piano Maestro)

Dane shows how he’d look if he felt overwhelmed

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are 5 ways to help a student get past “It’s too hard!”

1. Pull out a piece you know the student will love. Maybe it’s a little beyond her level, but she has a passion for this piece.

2. Wait—don’t show the new song to her yet. Copy the piece. Cut apart the treble and bass lines. Start with either one. Place Post-its over every measure but one. Reveal only one measure at a time. If necessary, re-cover the ones she’s already done.

 

 

 

 

3. Stay low-key. Be blasé. Act as if it doesn’t really matter to you—she can play it or not, it’s up to her. The reward is the look on her face when she recognizes the song.

4. If the problem is the stress students feel when they hear themselves flubbing up, have them try out a measure on their lap. Then they’ll have gotten through it pain-free before trying it on their instrument.

5. Use humor. Example: a piano student got stressed about lightening up a heavy hand. I’d tried images of a bird lighting, a feather floating down on the keys… those only caused frustration. But when I said to imagine a hippo plummeting to the keys, he found it hilarious, and the problem was solved! Now all I have to do is sketch a hippo head on the page (or use hippo stickers) and his hands are balanced and light.

 

Next time you hear “It’s too hard!” give one (or all) of these a try.

 

 

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Sandy Lundberg

Mid-winter Motivation

January 26th, 2015 by

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.

  1. I get to keep learning new music all the time.
  2. I am giving a gift that will last a lifetime.
  3. My young “clients” are adorable and amazing.
  4. Nothing compares to seeing a face light up when a child finally “gets it.”
  5. Small accomplishments bring great pleasure.
  6. I connect to children at the level of their hearts.
  7. My job is much more meaningful than a typical 8-5.
  8. I am sometimes the first person to alert parents to a learning or visual challenge.
  9. I teach kids to rise above negativity and self-doubt to create beautiful and very personal music.
  10. I get to witness generations of musicians enjoying their music.
  11. It is gratifying to know that I am an important part of a child’s life.
  12. I enjoy the constant challenge of finding better and more effective ways to teach a concept.
  13. I am never bored—I get a whole new personality to enjoy every 30-45 minutes.
  14. I have the privilege of helping to keep the arts alive in our culture.
  15. I am helping to make someone’s dream come true.
  16. I am able to model for a child smart work habits, diligence, perseverance, patience, and confidence.
  17. I never really know how much impact and influence I am having, so it keeps me on my toes every single day.
  18. 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!

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

This post is about the effectiveness of positive vs negative teaching.

What exactly do I want to get across to this student?  Where do I want to take him/her, and what’s going to be the most effective way to get there?   Any engaged teacher will regularly consider these questions.  And one way to sharpen our awareness of these questions is to think about positive vs negative communication.

The first thing I do on a positive note with a student is to listen to them play.  Even if they are playing badly, I like for them to play long enough for me to have time to catalog in my mind all the basics that are being done WELL.  For example, the music may sound awful because of being all out of tune, but their timing might be good, or the sequence of phrases correct, and hand position may be good.  I can start with this list as a foundation of good things to build upon.  It’s certainly preferable to build than to tear down.

Try an experiment:  Take note of each time you say “no” to a student.  Notice each time you tell them they did something wrong.

It’s easy to say “no, don’t do that.”  It’s easy to point out a mistake or problem.  Why?  Because teaching is all about getting a student from Point A to Point B, and identifying the obstacles is the first step to overcoming them.  The big question is whether we focus on the obstacles or on the solutions.

When I tried the “no” experiment, I found Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

 

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…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Product Reviews, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Can you relate to this?

Do you have students who constantly feel ‘the need to look’ at their hands when sight reading and learning music on the piano?  Perhaps they try to memorise the music quickly before they have learnt it sufficiently, then make many mistakes when playing it because they have forgotten what is actually in the music?

Do these students also regularly lose their place in the music and therefore get annoyed with their playing?  The answer would be “Oh yes they do” in my experience.

I needed a solution that works well for me and my students in order to stop ‘the need to look’ at their hands.

Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Teaching Tips

I must have driven my music teacher crazy!

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…

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Posted in Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Carols of Christmas

December 28th, 2014 by

Carols of Christmas (Master Class)

By Robin Steinweg

 

 

 

 

Each year I’ve observed that students are increasingly unfamiliar with the carols of Christmas. It’s important to me to introduce them to as many as possible, and to enable them to entertain or accompany their families and friends with songs of the season.

Many of them start practicing Christmas songs as early as October. I decided to make Carols of Christmas the subject of our December group master classes.

I chose a Christmas instrumental CD to play as they arrived, and we gathered around my kitchen table for snacks. Food makes everything friendlier! I decided to treat them to sparkling grape juice, which most had never tasted. There was also lemonade and apple cider, grapes, cookies, candies, chocolate-covered pretzels…

 

 

 

 

While they snacked, I read them stories of several carols’ origins.

 

 

I found a number of activities about the carols of Christmas at brownielocks–scroll to the bottom for more.

My biggest challenge was to find those that could apply to a wide range of ages.

I tapped the beginning rhythm of a number of carols. Even the youngest students were able to participate and guess song titles. Of course, I knew what they’d been practicing, so made sure to use those pieces to give them a good chance.

I also sang the first few notes of a carol, without the rhythm, just to see if they could guess—they did pretty well. For more mature students, I had a Carols of Christmas fill-in-the-notes game. I’d give them a few measures of a carol, leaving out a few notes or a measure or two. They could fill in the missing parts.

 

 

 

 

There were activity pages concerning lyrics of Christmas carols. “Where would you go to hear silver bells?” “Who danced with a silk hat on his head?” Some questions read more like jokes, but all of it got them thinking more deeply about songs they may hear while shopping, but haven’t focused on. Talking about lyrics brought up the meaning and history of words or phrases usually heard only once a year: deck the hall/don we now/noel/gloria/yuletide…

For a final touch, I had bent some sparkly pipe cleaners into treble clef shapes, and set out a variety of beads that they could thread onto the pipe cleaners, and either keep or give away as tree ornaments.

 

 

 

 

I’ve had reports from various parents how fun it is to hear their children sharing the carols of Christmas with their families.

How do you introduce Christmas songs to your students?

 

 

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Posted in Music History & Facts, Music Theory, Practicing, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

 

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…

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

So I just had my annual Studio Holiday Recital last weekend! I give my students a recital gift at every studio recital, and I do two studio recitals a year. After 10 recitals or so, it has become increasingly harder to come up with new gift ideas. I am excited to report that I have found the ultimate holiday recital gift idea that will last 23 years!

What is it?

Ok, it’s not all that original – Composer Statuettes!

Believe it or not, this was the first time I gave out these little composer statuettes. In the past I have given medals, trophies, pins, certificates, personalized ornaments, little USB Christmas trees, giant candy canes, Christmas crackers, chocolates, soft toys…I thought these composer statuettes looked rather serious and students wouldn’t like them. I was wrong!

It’s all about personalization.

So on Sunday, the day after my recital, a dad called me out of the blue. It turned out that he had broken his daughter’s composer statuette by accident! No matter how much he assured her he would get her another one that looks just the same (they are easy to order online), my 7-year-old student was still upset, because “it won’t have her name and the name of the event on it.” I had no idea it meant that much to her! In the past I have sometimes personalized the recital gifts, sometimes not, but from now on, every recital award I give out will be personalized with the student’s name, name of the recital (summer or holiday) and year.

So how does this last 23 years?

There are 23 statuettes in the collection. Each student received the statuette of the composer whose music they played at the recital, if applicable. If there are multiple students in the same family, I give them all different ones, so the collection will look interesting on their piano. I keep a spreadsheet of which student got what composer, so I will be sure not to give them the same composer in future years. So in order to get the entire collection, a student will need to play in my studio holiday recital for the next 22 years! If a family has two kids, it will still take them 11 years to receive the entire collection! I think I will still give them something different for the summer recital, but at least for the holiday recital, I am set for a long while! The last statuette in the collection is called “World’s Best Student” – saved for special students, or those graduating or moving away.

Still room for variety from year to year.

I dressed up each composer with curling ribbon that looks like a scarf on the neck (break up the all-white, serious look), packaged each statuette with a candy cane inside, and tied the cellophane bag with shiny ribbons and a jingle bell ornament. In future years, I can put different kinds of candy or chocolate inside, use different ribbons, and attach different ornaments. This way the gift will still be interesting, especially since they will also get a different composer.

End Result

 

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Ed Pearlman

Music Is Not Alone!

December 16th, 2014 by

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…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Professional Development, Teaching Tips