One of the biggest challenges students face when playing guitar is learning how to strum correctly.  They usually have a favorite song they’d love to learn how to play but when they sit down to try and figure it out it just doesn’t sound right.  Every time they try it, the strum sounds all herky-jerky instead of smooth and flowing.  Sound familiar?

Before we get started, be sure to open this PDF: Keys To Strumming, which I’ll be referring to throughout this post.  If you’re wondering what chords to play during this lesson, click here to use any to use any of the common-tone chord shapes I wrote about.

THE QUARTER NOTE BOUNCE

It’s fairly easy to teach a student how to play the quarter-note strumming pattern in Fig. 1 (Keys To Strumming PDF).  All you have to do is play a down-strum on every count (or beat). Every time you strum down, you count 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on.  But there’s really more going on here.  Once the down-strum is played, you have to lift your hand back up to prepare for the next down-strum, right?  This down-up movement of the strumming hand is more accurately represented by eighth notes.  Look at Fig. 1 again.  The arrows above the staff, hovering over each down beat and up beat, represent those eighth notes.  In other words, you should be counting “one and two and three and four and” as you strum down, up, down, up, etc.  This steady down-up strumming movement is what I call The Quarter Note Bounce. Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

By Robin Steinweg

“Can I do the 100-day practice challenge?” Ava asked, her eyes wide. “If I do it, will I get my name in Piano Explorer Magazine?”

“Yes, and yes,” I said. Piano Explorer Magazine publishes names of students who complete 100 days, 200 days, and more. Read about it here: Piano Explorer

Ava and her sister Callie are two of my go-getters. Their assignment binders include a box to check for each day they practice. But from a free online site, I printed Hundred-charts for them so they can see their days accumulate.

About two weeks after they started, they challenged me. “Are you going to do the 100-day practice challenge?”

At first, I said no way. I play and teach several different instruments. I do daily lesson prep for a lot of students. I write music for some of them and for my choir. I’m working on… everything. But as I looked at their eager faces, I wondered how I could expect them to commit to what I’m not willing to do. Deep breath. I said “Yes.”

Each week they reported their progress and asked if I was keeping it up. I did so for nearly three weeks before I forgot a day. I had a great excuse. But still, I forgot. So I started over. I copied myself a new Hundred-chart. When I shared my failure with the girls, they were sympathetic and encouraging.

How long to practice each day? Occasionally I might get in an hour. Or I might make it through a song once. One day I was gone from early morning to late night. But in the car that day, I worked out some fingerings so that the next day, I had them down cold. I shared this with my students in case they’re traveling sometime without access to a keyboard. In a pinch, yes, it can count!

(I practiced every day!!!)

What to practice? Since PE Magazine doesn’t specify, neither do I. They can sightread, play a repertoire piece, work on their lesson, or learn something new.

Not the only way—I’m not saying it’s necessary to practice daily. This is just one possibility. Do you have any practice incentives going on?

Halloween practice

The excitement catches on with other students

Surprise benefit: I’m playing more for fun—rediscovering enjoyment—while before this 100-day practice challenge, I’d gotten into doing only what I “had” to do. Ava and Callie are progressing quickly. They are excited and motivated at lessons. And—

So am I!

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips

All working parents have a challenge getting dinner on the table, but private music teachers have it especially hard when the evening hours are prime business hours. I’d like to explore a few ways to address this dilemma.

Most teachers do better if they take an actual dinner break, not just teach straight through. Less than 30 minutes is probably not sufficient. Be sure to tell your last student before your break that you are not available to stay after the normal lesson time and chat.  As we all know, the main thing that signals a student to leave is that the next student is waiting for their turn!

Many of the items in the lists below could be in every column; this format is just a way to be a little more organized about it. If you have a favorite freezer meal or crockpot recipe, please share it in the comments section below.

In the end it really comes down to three Read more…

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Posted in Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Yiyi Ku

Chamber Music for Students

October 22nd, 2014 by

Dear teachers,

Photo by Ahjile Miller

I hope this post finds you well and enjoying the change of season as we go into Fall!

Like many of you, I teach a variety of students of different ages and levels. I also provide many different performance opportunities for my students. In August, my studio participated in a charity concert called Keys for life which helped to raise money for the American Cancer Society. Last week we took part in the Halloween/Fall Recital organized by my local music teachers association. Our next recital will be the Studio Holiday Recital in December, and next year on January 27 we will be playing in a concert, sponsored by the city, to celebrate Mozart’s 259th Birthday.

In all these different recitals, I try to provide chamber music experience for my students. For the beginners, this comes in the form of teacher accompaniments, which I always love to do. As my students become more experienced and advanced, I am especially interested in finding new ensemble music for them.

Here are my latest finds in chamber music for students:

Contest Winners for Three – Piano Trios from the Alfred, Belwin, and Myklas Libraries

There are currently 5 graded collections in this series, from Elementary to Intermediate levels. Don’t let the title Contest Winners intimidate you into thinking this is for your competition-minded students. In fact, quite the contrary!

This series is actually perfect for what I call “Fun Track” and “Recital Track” students. Look at these titles: Camptown Races, Chopsticks for Three, This Old Man, Yankee Doodle, Greensleeves, America the Beautiful…just to name a few. Most of these are of course arrangements, instead of original compositions. The good news is that you will find many familiar names such as Robert D. Vandall, Martha Mier and Dennis Alexander, who are well known for writing effectively and imaginatively for students.

Playing in an ensemble requires a different set of skills. The challenges for students include the ability to listen to others while focusing on their own part, absolute rhythmic security, ability to continue even if they make mistakes, and of course ensemble blending and balance. For this reason, it is necessary to give them “easier” music than what they can play as a soloist. I am very pleased to find that this has been taken into consideration by the publisher. At first glance, the pieces in each designated level seem quite naive and technically simple, but this is actually a good thing, because students can feel confident and get an immediate sense of accomplishment right away. Another thing I really like is that the dynamic markings already reflect the overall ensemble balance, so not all three players are playing the same dynamics at the same time, and it is always clear who has the melody.

For the Mozart Birthday Celebration Concert, I will have students play solos, duets, one student will be playing a movement from a concerto, and a family with three kids will play a piece from Book 2 of this series called “Romp a la Mozart” – theme by Leopold Mozart, arranged by Janis M. Yarbrough – can’t wait! Read more…

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Posted in Product Reviews, Teaching Tips

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

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…

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Posted in 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

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…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Pat Shelby

Purple Hair Changed My Life!

September 30th, 2014 by

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 know 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…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Kerri Green

Getting to Fun

September 30th, 2014 by

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.

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Posted in Practicing, Teaching Tips