Everything was conspiring against me. Especially my music teacher. Right then as he commanded me to “sing”, I was thinking unspeakable thoughts of hatred towards him.
Why did I need to sing in the school choir? After all I was an instrumentalist. I’d managed to survive all these years of mumbling at the back during class singing so why did everything need to get so ugly?
And there I stood! The whole choir of immature boys and girls just waiting to poke fun at me. Why couldn’t I just run around the corridors naked? Surely that would be less embarrassing?
But he made me do it! Oh how I seethed with anger at the time. But when I look back now, he probably gave me one of the greatest gifts to my musicianship!
So why sing?
Reason 1: Helps You Express Yourself Better
When you can’t articulate into words what you mean to another musician, singing simply fills in the gaps. The more frequently you sing to express musical ideas, the more relaxed and “normal” this method becomes. I love to promote a safe environment in my studio where everyone feels relaxed enough to communicate through singing their musical intentions without Read more…
With this post, I’m going to start a short series of blogs on the theme ‘An Invitation to Performance’. I will be exploring performance as an action, a skill, and as something that every teacher should consider offering as an integral part of his or her teaching studio. As my students and colleagues well know, I can get quite evangelical about the importance of providing access to performance – in particular experimental performance (about which more later) — to all students, whether aspiring professionals or dedicated amateurs.
Performance offers us commentary on and access to a part of our musical self that no other medium can: it is the window into our true, communicative, musical responses, while at the same time being in the only venue in which we can observe or consider those truths. Performance is a lot of other things as well, things that my friends well know that I take great pleasure in discussing far into the wee hours. It’s a space; it’s a shared arena for action; it’s the special place where only musical things happen; it’s our only access to the creativity of our audiences.
I’ll be saying more about these and other ideas surrounding performance in future blogs, but for now, let me me start the series by banging a favourite drum regarding an effective practical option available to all music teachers who wish to give their students more access to the joys and intrigue of performance: the institution of the studio masterclass.
Making masterclasses work
There can be few experiences more stimulating for both music teacher and student than witnessing an expert performer working with a student in a masterclass setting. Once the hard graft of technique, musicianship, and style have been addressed, and once the many long hours of practice have been clocked, the opportunity for students to step out into the light of the concert hall and begin to experiment with performance under the expert guidance of a professional is an invaluable one. It is the crucial step between practice and performance, in particular, professional performance – in my opinion, the crucial step.
And yet, not all teachers make the space for masterclasses as part of the regular studio activities. Read more…
“Students at any age will be encouraged to develop independence at the piano so that music can be enjoyed on the bench for a lifetime.”
The quote above is my longstanding mission statement. Growing “lifetime” pianists calls for meticulous planning, appealing music with a dose of quality teaching and most importantly, an installation of strong technical skills and diligent practice habits. While reading the TeachPianoToday blog…. I was inspired by a post about a special welcome bag given to each new student. I thought this would be a great way to kick off fall lessons in my studio but instead give every student a “welcome-back bag”. The idea of these bags becoming “practice pouches” made sense as practice is a habit that can always use a boost, especially after a summer break. Read more…
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…
Recently, we asked a series of questions to over 300 students of Music Teacher’s Helper users. Today, we share some of that data, which is likely representative of most private music teachers. So please share with your peers.
99% said that their teacher runs their studio in a professional manner. We hope Music Teacher’s Helper has played a part in such an impressive number!
“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?
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—
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…
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:
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…
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.