Let ‘em Play, Let ‘em Play, Let ‘em Play

December 12th, 2009 by

After hearing Mannheim Steamroller’s first Christmas album (quite a while ago), I have been a huge fan of creative arrangements of holiday music. From “Jingle Bells”, to “Deck the Halls” to “Carol of the Bells”, most people from any religious preference recognize and seem to enjoy the tunes of the season. These familiar melodies attract students, and, when coupled with wonderful arrangements offered by current composers, the combination provides great tools for propelling budding pianists to new levels of playing.  Below is a list of ideas for utilizing the tunes and spirit of the season to enhance student’s learning experience and progress. Yes, I know a little late for this December–but now there is plenty of time to plan ahead for next year!

Shop Early
So many books/series include a CD that most students choose their holiday recital piece by listening to various options–usually in October (early, I know!) Every CD I own has been imported to iTunes and then moved to my iPod. Thanks to one cable, the iPod conveniently hooks to my Clavinova and high quality speakers allow students to select a favorite piece and begin to prepare early to guarantee a successful performance.

Make a List and Check it Twice
As students move closer to the performance date, they are welcomed to try out their pieces on “Bella”–my Yamaha C6 residing in my upstairs living room (instead of the piano in the studio). While there, we review the 5 p’s of performing:

  1. Posture–check the bench for correct body position at the keyboard and pedals
  2. Prepare–look for the correct starting position on the keys and imagine the first couple of bars to ensure the correct tempo
  3. Perform–focus on the dynamics, articulation, the form,the melody, etc, to avoid distracting thoughts
  4. Pride–smile upon finishing and take pride in the gift shared
  5. Polite–acknowledge the wild applause with a well-rehearsed bow

As students listen to peers during group lessons, they are also asked to memorize the 6 L’s of a polite audience member:

  1. siLent –shhh!
  2. stiLL–don’t move
  3. Look–at the performer
  4. Listen–to the performer
  5. appLaud–with abandon!

IMG_0009Inspiration by Decoration
Over the years, I have collected so many ornaments as gifts that my studio now includes a small tree adorned with years of memorable treasures. NO, the tree does not go up in October–the Friday after Thanksgiving is soon enough. If a student hasn’t gotten into the festive holiday spirit, the tree usually ignites the mood.

Recital-in-the Round
The annual Christmas recital is held in the large sanctuary of my church. To create a more intimate setting on the over-sized stage, the piano is placed in the middle and is surrounded by chairs. The choir-loft risers offer great viewing of performers. Two recitals are scheduled as the number of students performing would exceed the one-hour time limit I set for a recital–I can only sit so long. The audience always seems to be pleasantly surprised by the twists or arrangements on familiar tunes. Duets (not neccessarily holiday) are also featured during the program to provide variety. Although I prepare some refreshments for enjoying between the two recital,  families are invited to bring a favorite goodie to share. Sherbert punch and my Holly/cornflake cookies are an expected tradition by all.

IMG_0011The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Philip Johnston has inspired me to explore ways to market my studio. His book Promoting Your Teaching Studio (www.practicespot.com) discusses countless ways to promote business and suggests choosing a logo for letter heads, business cards, etc. As students tend to acquire numerous music books, and as I am always looking for some kind of gift to give in the spirit of the season, a book bag with my studio logo seemed to be a perfect option (www.customink.com). Since each student now carries the same bag, this year I designed book bag tags. The tags are made with a plastic container just large enough to hold 2 oz of personalized M&M’s  Although a little pricey, the M&M’s created a unique gift–hint: look for coupons online. (www.mym&ms.com)

Practice Giving the Gift of Music
Students always look forward to the Christmas recital and this year, it seemed they were more at ease with performing. For the past 3 months, I have scheduled times for students to perform at the local organic grocery store that has generously opened their balcony to a donated piano and budding pianists. The casual environment has eased nerves and provided opportunities to “practice” performing.

Hits of the Season
Perhaps the easiest way to encourage practicing towards an error-free performance is assigning each student to record themselves on the Clavinova. Thanks to a Sony DVD player/burner and the correct cable connected to the Clavinova, I can burn a CD of their best performance (usually a result of MANY attempts). Nothing motivates like making  a recording that, unlike a live performance, lasts a lifetime!

Wrapping it Up
Pianists love to play AND perfect AND perform pieces that sound good and that others recognize.  Do you have students playing “Bella’s Lullaby” from Twilight? Have high school students been asking to play Debussy’s “Clair DeLune” thanks to Edward’s skills at the piano–Bella’s Vampire beau in the amazingly popular book series and movies? Likewise, the beloved tunes of the Christmas season, the current arrangements and the traditions of the holidays provide ample ingredients to make a memorable experience that lures students to the keyboard. What better gift can a teacher give than the desire to stay on the bench through yet another holiday season? Let ‘em play, let ‘em play, let ‘em play!

Posted in Music & Technology, Performing, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

About the Author

Leila Viss
Hi, I'm Leila Viss and enjoy teaching piano to around 45 students ranging in age from 6 to 89. I am drawn to discovering innovative teaching methods and successful practice strategies to encourage the average player stick to the bench for life. Customizing lessons for each student is a priority and therefore I provide "blended" instruction of Classical, Jazz and Pop. The ever-changing tools of tec... [Read more]

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