‘Tis the season of preparing students for upcoming contests, festivals and recitals. Here are four performance-enhancing apps that promise to help you help your students to do their best.
The Camera simulates the presence of a real audience more than you, the teacher, can provide during a lesson. Once that camera starts rolling, students move into a performance zone and are forced to commit to seeing the piece through with musicality and as few errors as possible. The beauty of the camera is that musicians can see and hear the instant replay, make self-assessments and learn from their mistakes. It’s like a digital mirror that reflects EVERYTHING you may be trying to reinforce at lessons. Bonus? It comes free with any smart phone or tablet!
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.
February has been an extremely busy month for my studio. About half of my students participated in various competitions. Some of them did extremely well, some of them did about as good as I expected, some of them didn’t do as well as they could have, and some of them did amazingly well but unfortunately did not get recognized.
Music competitions are not for every student or every teacher. It does take a strong heart! Some students excel under pressure, some don’t. Some students deal with unfavorable results gracefully, some get heart broken. The toughest part is when you as a teacher disagree with the judges. And that happens quite a lot! Music is subjective. Music speaks to different people differently. Sometimes a chord is struck and there is chemistry, sometimes there is no connection. The same performance could wow some people, but not move others.
Like it or not, competitions are not going to go away. They are everywhere in life, not just in music. There are many types of competitions, some more “friendly” than others. In general, I do feel they offer many benefits for both students and teachers. One thing I can honestly say is that whether I agree with the result or not, every time I present a student for a competition, I grow and learn as much as they do from the experience.
Still, it is nerve-breaking to sit through a student’s competition and wait for the results to be announced. I admire those who do this at a high level constantly. At the same time, I can understand why some teachers or parents do not go the competition route at all. If you are a seasoned competition-oriented teacher, I welcome your thoughts on how you deal with the emotional ups and downs of preparing students for competitions. Here are some of my thoughts:
1. Look on the bright side.
If a student wins, great. If not, have you or the student learned something from the experience? If yes, it was worth it!
2. Competitions are eye-openers.
I have great students. Others have great students, too. I think I am a good teacher, but there are other excellent teachers. Competitions often inspire me to greater teaching. How did those other kids do so well? How did their teachers inspire them to work so hard? What can I do to inspire my students more? What can I do to better prepare my students next time? What professional development should I undertake to better my teaching?
3. Be prepared to gain/loose students.
I have gained new students because my students win in a competition. I have lost students because my students don’t win in a competition. I don’t let that bother me anymore. It is the nature of our business that students come and students go.
4. Celebrate the success of others.
It is ok that someone else wins this time! Here is an open letter I wrote to my students to prepare them for the outcomes of a competition.
5. Stay humble and do not be discouraged.
There is a saying in Chinese that goes something like this: the next mountain is taller than this one. The standard is so high in today’s music competitions, that one must remain humble even if one wins. At the same time, one must not be discouraged if one doesn’t win. There is next time. The world does not end. There are other opportunities.
Music is a form of expression. Expression is the process of making known one’s thoughts or feelings. Some students find it natural and easy to express themselves at the piano, others have difficulty. Expression does not have to be outwardly obvious. It is not a series of preconfigured gestures. The same body movement can look very convincing on one person, and very contrived on another. Expression is meaningless unless it comes from genuine thoughts, feelings or understandings.
I believe in teaching students to play expressively from day 1. The key is in developing imagination. That’s why Music for Little Mozarts works for the very young beginners – Mozart Mouse and Beethoven Bear are iresistible story tellers.
When teaching expression, one recipe does not fit all. Older students may not respond to stuffed animals. As teachers, we must have many tools to help unlock the student’s imagination and help them to communicate themselves. I do this through using a variety of high quality, contemporary educational music written specifically for students. You may find the following useful when teaching your students to play expressively:
1. Connecting sound and color
It helps some students to feel the character of a piece when we associate it with a certain color. My favorite series in this category is still Dennis Alexander’s A Splash of Color. No matter how many times I have taught it, titles such as Green Tangerine and Zinc Pink still make me smile. Here is my previous review of this series. Zinc Pink has been selected as the Royal Conservatory Share The Celebration Video Countdown Level 3 piece. It was great to see so many students across North America participate in this competition. Here is the winning video.
2. Describing landscapes and geography
Some students may find it helpful to think about certain landscape features such as flowing river, snowy mountains, or giant waterfalls. There is a series by Alfred that focuses on this aspect of imagination. You can read my previous review here.
3. Reflecting on memorable experiences
Asking students to think about things they have experienced may help them relate to the music. It could be a childhood toy, favorite food, unforgettable trip, or memories of someone. Music from the Romantic period is full of these character pieces that create a mental picture of a particular scene, event, or feeling. Think Schumann and Tchaikovsky’s Album for the Young, which are staples in a developing student’s repertoire.
I am particularly excited to find a new series that I consider the Album for the Young for students that may not be quite ready to play Schumann or Tchaikovsky. It is called Musical Scenes by Joyce Grill.What a delightful set of pieces to help students use their imagination! There are three volumes in the set, from Late Elementary to Late Intermediate levels. The pieces are short, with descriptive titles conveying a specific mood or moment, and encourage students to inject their own musical ideas. There are lots of pattern based figurations with changing harmonies, as well as contemporary rhythms that will readily appeal to many students.
4. Looking at a specific painting or artwork
Some students are visual learners. Asking them to merely think of a color or landscape or a specific memory still may not work for them in terms of helping them to play expressively. They need to physically see something.
Museum Masterpieces are piano solos inspired by famous paintings and artworks. What is unique is that instead of searching for the famous paintings and images on the Internet, the pictures are included in the books! The paintings that inspired the pieces are beautifully displayed on a four-page full-color insert at the center of the book, along with historical notes about each painting. This is such an innovative idea! Students not only learn to play expressively through Catherine’s beautiful style of composition, but they also learn about great works of art and artists from different countries and time periods. I can not think of a better way to spend $8.99 on a student – the humble price tag for each of the four volumes that range from Ealy Intermediate to Late Intermediate levels. Every piece is a gem, like the artworks they represent. I can see myself referring to the paintings over and over in my teaching, even for pieces that belong to standard repertoire, especially those from the Romantic and Impressionist periods.
These are some of the ways I help my students to be thoughtful and expressive in their playing. I appreciate having such a vast variety of educational supplementary music available for today’s students. You can view sample pages of all these exciting new books on the Alfred website.
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…
“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 passionfor 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.
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!
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…
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…