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.
In a previous musical life, I worked as an organist for ballroom and latin dancers! Okay, you can settle down now! Stop laughing already! I know it wasn’t very rock ‘n’ roll but it did have its benefits…
On the whole, the dancing communities I encountered were lovely and it was a pleasure to supply a quickstep or a rumba for them to elegantly glide around the dance floor.
But there was just one or two, you know the kind! The ones that spend too much time each week in the tanning salon and their over the top outfits would make a drag queen blush! In the early days, I could swear there were moments when I thought they were going to drag me from the stage and lynch me!
Why am I telling you this story? I learnt quickly that tempo and rhythm are Read more…
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!
Doesn’t look like I’m discussing music apps for ear training? Please bear with me…
If I could, I would head to our local Lifetime Fitness Center everyday. A habit or a hobby–not sure which–I try to squeeze in a workout as much as possible. One of the main reasons is because I like to build muscle and keep the metabolism up so I can eat my husband’s scrumptious cooking. The other reason I workout? Because I’m addicted to step class (among other classes) thanks to an outstanding instructor named Heidi.
This is a resort-like fitness center one-stop-light-away from our house!
She can “holler” at us with her New Orleans’ drawl and yet everyone remains extremely loyal to her group instruction because she works us hard and we see results. In addition, Heidi cues and designs steps and combos like no one else which makes for an exceptionally good workout for the body as well as the brain. Yep, step class, the trend started by Jane Fonda years ago-gulp–many more years than I’d care to admit.
I stepped right along with this video before my young boys popped out of bed.
Why am I talking about my exercise regimen in a piano-related blog? Because I’m amazed at how a Heidi-cue will prompt me to move my feet to the beat for 8 to 16 counts. When Heidi says “V around the world” or “ham-string-straddle-knee hop” I know which foot to use, which way to go on which beat. Of course, this was after enduring the first class or two adjusting to Heidi’s lingo and that 12-inch step in front of me. I, along with my husband, as he is now a huge fan of the class as well–have become imprinted with Heidi’s cues and combos and are forever faithful to following her every command.
Heidi and my husband after a one-hour step class
So, if my body responds to verbal cues accompanied by just a few visual aids from Heidi on the stage, it seems my ears could also train my fingers in a similar fashion. Why don’t I seem as committed to building my ears and fingers on the bench like I am to strengthening my biceps and quads at the gym? If my ears can train my body, why can’t they train my fingers?
I believe there is one simple reason for weak ears: because I’m lazy. My eyes have dictated every move to my 10 fingers for so long, that my ears sit back with their feet up and moan whenever they are called into action. Unfortunately, my well-trained eyes have made my ears dull, insecure and withdrawn. Read more…
A friend recently offered to take me out to lunch if, in return, I would let him pick my brain about teaching guitar. He was feeling the tug to teach and wanted to explore how I got started. It was fun for me to recount my story – I’ll share some of that story here.
Growing up, music was the most important thing to me. I declared myself a music major when I entered a 2 year junior college in 1977. I loved every aspect of musical performance, however I was convinced that I did not want to pursue teaching. When the end of my 2 years at this school came, I was lost and confused. I didn’t what to do. I was certain I would fail if I tried to continue school so I did a 180 and hit the road. Literally.
I started a career as an over-the-road bus driver. I traveled all over the U.S. and Canada taking senior citizens on vacations and driving regular routes. I borrowed a guitar from one of my brothers during this time and started teaching myself how to play. I loved playing that guitar, but I didn’t have any aspirations to do anything with it. I totally kept my playing on the down-low. Read more…
I am currently responsible for the my own practicing, for the practicing of three of my four children, and for assigning the practicing of my more than twenty piano students. As you can imagine, I spend a lot of my time trying to figure out ways to make daily practice palatable for all of us! After all, music and music lessons are supposed to be fun, right?
Well, yes! Of course they are! To that end, I have music dollars they earn to spend at an end of year auction. I offer prizes when they reach goals on their 40 piece challenge charts. We use the iPad and time off the bench to reinforce concepts. They come to group classes and play games and have treats. I am a happy, encouraging cheerleader in their lessons. Their assignment sheets are covered with happy faces next to statements like “Watch out for those flat pinkies!” and “Remember metronome!”
Music is fun! Music lessons are fun! Practicing is fun!
Except, of course, when it’s not.
Are we doing our students and ourselves a disservice when we try to play up the fun and play down the work? I recently came across a quote that has reminded me that sometimes practicing is just plain hard work.
Eliot Butler said:
To learn is hard work. It requires discipline. And there is much drudgery. When I hear someone say that learning is fun, I wonder if that person has never learned or if he has just never had fun. There are moments of excitement in learning: these seem usually to come after long periods of hard work, but not after all long periods of hard work.
In defense of happy learning, I want to say that I love learning. I love the lightbulb that goes off when something suddenly makes sense. I love working on a phrase and finding it fit better and better in my fingers. I love the way the world seems to expand when I learn something about a subject with which I am less familiar. BUT! Getting to the fun of it absolutely does take work.
I love rehearsing with other musicians BUT I would hate it if no one was well-prepared. I love learning new music BUT I would hate it if I hadn’t learned to sightread well over years and years and years of playing my instrument. I love teaching my students BUT it sure is less pleasant when they haven’t done any work on their own.
The life lessons that are taught through music lessons are invaluable: hard work over a long period of time pays off. It’s best to be consistent in your habits to make progress long term. Learning to take a big piece of music and taking it apart to its tiniest parts to learn to perfect it teaches important lessons about how to approach a major project: one step at a time. These are just a few of the things I hope my students and my children learn from their music study.
And along the way, I’m planning for us all to have lots and lots of fun.
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:
-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!
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.
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
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
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 wasRead more…
This is a guest post from Sam Rao, founder and CEO of Practicia.com.
Adequate home practice has been a problem for as long has music lessons have existed. Music teachers would love to crack open the black box of home practice and see how much and how their students are practicing at home. The six days between music lessons are often a complete mystery to teachers.
Parents can be strong allies but more often than not, they are too busy just trying to get through the day to effectively monitor their children’s home practice. Some parents are willing to help, but often lack the necessary musical background to be effective.
So why don’t students practice? Reasons range anywhere from simply not wanting to practice to lacking the time management skills. Also, many students don’t remember what and how their teacher asked them to practice during the week. Among students that do practice regularly, many prefer to spend all their time playing through their favorite music often ignoring technique, which would lead to the most improvement in the shortest amount of time.
How have teachers traditionally dealt with these challenges?
They have employed a variety of strategies and tools to aid their students. Some of these methods have been effective. One prominent tool is of course “the assignment book”.
Many teachers have given copious instructions in their assignment books week after week. While we would love to believe that students and parents would conscientiously open and follow all the directions given to them, we all know too well that that’s not the case. Few students and their parents ever even open the notebooks. Among the few that do, many students often don’t remember the practice directions from merely reading about them. Since most parents are not at the lessons, they are often unable to understand what the teacher expectations.
Teachers also use several motivation techniques to get their students to practice. Some hold regular recitals and performance opportunities so their students are always “under the gun” preparing for the next big event. Others use practice charts to track their students’ practice and reward them with all kinds of prizes for milestones achieved. Prizes can range from candy and trinkets to outright cash! However, the problem with self-reported practice routines is that no one knows for sure if the students practice as much as they say they did. More importantly, no one knows how they practiced. So while many of these strategies can be effective, how can we improve upon them using technology?
Enter The Cloud: a means of storing and accessing data over the Internet instead of a computer, smartphone or tablet’s hard drive. How can it help teachers? Tools like Youtube allow teachers to create video tutorials so students and parents can better understand practice instructions. Students can also record their practice sessions and upload them for their teacher to hear how they are practicing. Tools like EVERNOTE enable a teacher to enter practice instructions on their smartphone or computer, organize them, and share with students. However, these tools are just the tip of the iceberg. The cloud and mobile devices can enable us to do so much more:
What if we can use cloud technology, through mobile devices, to effortlessly assign multimedia practice instructions to students who can then access them from their own devices?
What if we could track their practice, listen to it, and even comment on it?
How about creating incentives that would automatically drive better practice habits such as time spent with the instrument, consistency, and practicing all that is assigned to them?
What if all of this could be done from the comfort of our smartphone or tablet?
What if parents would be notified via email every time we issued a new assignment or new instructions on how to practice something? Or every time their child practiced? Or every time their child reached a practice milestone?
What if students, parents and teachers could share practice accomplishments on social media?
How about dividing a studio up into “practice teams” that competed with each other for practice honors?
Practicia (pronounced Prac-TIS-ee-ah) is an app that is currently in development that will attempt to do just this and much more. Information is available at www.Practicia.com.
Some teachers might feel a bit hesitant in exploring a technology solution to the age-old problem of practice. But consider this: most students already expertly interact with these devices. Most young parents also have access to several devices and constantly check their email and text messages. Teachers may find themselves pleasantly surprised at how cloud based applications could transform practice at their studio.