Note Recognition

“Catch a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and he’ll feed himself for life!” And so the saying goes.

As music teachers, I’m sure you’d agree with me, that a core objective in our lessons is to develop independence in our students. We don’t want them to be “spoon fed” for years. Rather we want to encourage them to think for themselves as musicians and use their initiative to learn new skills and pieces. Personally, I want my students to learn to read music as quickly as possible and then they can enjoy a lifetime of exploring new music for themselves.

So how do you teach music reading skills? I tell my students that they must memorise the notes but not the music (at first). Here are some resources and ideas you might like, starting this month with:

STEP 1 – Note recognition

MUSICTHEORY.NET
A great starting point is musictheory.net It’s a free web based resource that you can fully customise to your student’s needs. The great thing about this method is that pupils can answer the quiz at their own speed without any time pressure. Select “Note Identification” and then follow the self-explanatory steps. You can always paste the link to your uniquely designed activity to include in the student’s weekly email notes or paste it into their Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Teaching Tips

schubert scorePreparing solo music on your own can be a wonderful experience – it is a bit like meeting a new person and watching their personality and interests unfold over a long conversation and discovering you have just made an important new friend.

In the case of the really great pieces, feeling the layers of meaning reveal themselves to you as you get to know a new piece can be intoxicating; it has even been described as a bit like falling in love.

But how can we be sure we don’t learn mistakes as we prepare our pieces? And how can we learn a piece quickly without straining our voice?

Everyone will have his or her own answer to these questions. In my own work, I’ve found that keeping to a strict method – one that leaves actual singing to quite late in the learning process – makes all the difference. Here is a brief outline of the method I use to learn music quickly and without strain. I hope it will be of use to you too.

 

HOW TO LEARN YOUR MUSIC:  a method for singers

1. Listen to a number of recordings to get a feel for the piece (never listen to just one recording!). Do not sing along.

2. Read the text aloud.

3. Ask yourself what the text means. Paraphrase the text and say your own version aloud to be sure you understand what you are singing about.

4. Read the text aloud again and again until you can say it without tripping up.

5. Working very slowly (nowhere near performance speed), add the rhythm to the text (you are still not singing!) phrase by phrase. I like to start at the back of the piece and work toward the beginning phrase by phrase. This way I am always working towards something I already know. This helps to make important links between sections, and avoids the ‘dropping off a cliff feeling’ when you’re not sure what comes next.

6. Say the text aloud in the correct rhythm over and over until you can do it without error. Do this at a medium tempo – speed is unimportant until much later in the learning process. Strongly resist the impulse to sing! Read more…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Running a piano studio tends to be a lonely job.

hans-shake_318-23259

Setting up an independent piano studio, I worked alone to make it a vibrant learning environment for budding musicians of all ages. Although I cherish my students and their families and never feel isolated while teaching, they do not provide a sounding board for the administrative side of the business.

My church position requires me to work alongside the choir director, the choir members, a few colleagues when we play duets, professional musicians for seasonal cantatas and the like but, I’m not required to attend staff meetings. I choose my own music and practice a number of times each week by myself.

Writing a blog post or article requires time and space alone with my thoughts AND my computer. Sadly, I look at my computer screen more frequently than anyone or anything else and it offers no human interaction beyond its service as an electronic communication conduit.

As timing would have it, over the past year, I’ve worked with more colleagues than ever before.

Co-publishing a book, planning a conference, and running a camp completely and dramatically changed my connectivity with fellow colleagues. Now, there’s not a day that goes by without a text, a call or email about an upcoming deadline or project that requires team work.

This led me to wonder why it is that so many of us set up our OWN studio, independent of others, in our OWN homes or rented space. We seem to dwell in our OWN silo with only limited social pipelines to the outside world like Facebook, blogs, etc. Why were most of us never encouraged to seek a mentor or partner who could offer advice, tips, an exchange of ideas, and even share a studio or business together upon earning a music degree? Or maybe I just speak for myself? Read more…

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Posted in Financial Business, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

I thought I’d share something I call The Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept with you in this month’s article.  This is something I use with great success to get new guitar students ready to play music quickly.  In my role as worship director at my church it’s been an indispensable tool in getting new guitar students up and running on the worship team. The first chords most guitarists learn are G, C, D, and Em.  In the key of G, these chords cover the 1 – 4 – 5 – 6m chords that are found in most folk, pop, and rock songs.

Key of G basic open position chords After I teach these basic chords, I usually teach my students a special voicing concept for G, C, D, and Em that is used more widely in the music they really want to play.  After that, I show them how to use the capo and suddenly they’re able to play a lot of music in a lot of different keys! One of the things that used to frustrate me as a guitarist is when I would buy a piece of sheet music only to discover later that the guitar chord diagrams don’t show that actual chord voicings that are being played on the original recording of the song!  That frustration worsened if the song was in a non-friendly guitar key like Ab, Bb, or B.  Even if I learned how to play a Bb barre chord, it never sounded like the guitar in the original recording.  I knew something else was going on that the sheet music wasn’t telling me.  It was only when I discovered this common-tone chord concept that I learned what was actually happening! Here’s how the Capo Common-Tone Chord Concept works:

  1. Place your 3rd and 4th fingers (fretting hand) on the 1st and 2nd strings at the 3rd fret as shown in the diagram below (circled in red).  These two notes (D and G) are the “common tones” that will remain the same for all 4 chords.
  2. Since the 3 & 4 fingers stay in the same place for all 4 chord shapes, the 1 & 2 fingers are the only fingers to that move.  Look at the 1 & 2 fingers in the G chord.  Notice how they move one string over to create the Cadd9 chord.  Very simple movement!
  3. To make the Dsus4 chord, the 1 & 2 fingers split on either side of the 2nd string (like they do in a regular D chord).
  4. Finally, the 1 & 2 fingers land on the 5th & 4th strings to make the Em7 chord.

Capo Common-Tone Chords How to apply this concept:  Let’s say your chord progression is Em – C – G – D.  Try playing the common tone voicings instead of the basic chord forms.  For instance, if you see a C chord in your chart, play the Cadd9 voicing instead.  When you see D, play the Dsus4 instead.  If you come across a C2 (Csus2), the Cadd9 is going to sound great.  This approach might drive a music theory purist crazy – but to most ears all these voicing are going to sound great.  Try it! In the diagram below, I show you how to easily change the G chord into a G5, a.k.a. G(no3), by removing the 1 finger. (The 5th string gets muted by the 2nd finger.)  Now, move the 2nd finger over one string and your Cadd9 becomes a legitimate Csus2 because the 3rd of the chord (that was previously played at the 2nd fret of the 4th string) is now muted.  I love the jangly sound of those treble strings! G5 and C2 But wait!  There’s more!  Arming yourself with a capo, the guitarist’s top accessory (behind a tuner of course), enables you to use these common-tone shapes to play in at lease 5 more common keys! Common Tone Capo Chart No more going into cardiac arrest when you’re called upon to play a song in Bb (or Ab, B, etc.)!  Just slap your capo on at the 3rd fret and play your common-tone shapes!  Try this experiment:  Play the following chord progression using the basic open Key of G shapes - C – G – Em – D.  Try playing the same progression substituting the common-tone shapes.  Now put your capo at the 3rd fret and play those same shapes.  You’re playing C – G – Em – D shapes, but sounding Eb – Bb – Gm – F.  I’m betting both you and your students will love the sound of the common-tone chords and find the concept very, very useful, especially when transposing.  When first learning this concept, it may help to write your transposed chord shapes over the existing chord names in your chart.  After a while, you’ll begin to recognize them and you’ll no longer need to write them in…you’ll be able to transpose in your head! In my next post, I’ll expand this concept to include some inversions. Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

Group Guitar Class

July 27th, 2014 by

Group Lessons, Part 2 of 3

By Robin Steinweg

Guitar-group of kids

My waiting list had grown, especially with prospective guitar students. What to do? I multiplied my time this summer teaching an 8-week group guitar class (read about my 8-week vocal group here: http://www.musicteachershelper.com/blog/group-lessons/).

Part 2: Group Guitar Class

I’ve seen great success with group guitar classes in the past—this was no exception. Here’s how I went about it. You may have excellent ideas, too. We’d love to read about them, if you’d share them below!

*How many in a group? Six students signed up. I’ve had as few as three and as many as thirteen. I’ve been in larger groups myself, so I’d go up as high as twenty. The toughest part of that is tuning. I have them come early for that.

*What ages? Ten to adult. This group had three children (10+) and three adults. Though I enjoy groups of similar ages, I think the ones with adults and kids together are the most fun. The generations encourage and enrich one another, and the adults tend to remove the need-to-be-cool factor. We can get silly or serious. It makes the youngsters more open to songs of a variety of genres and decades.

*How long are classes? I aimed for forty-five minutes, but we usually ended up going over.

*Materials used? This class was for absolute beginners. I came up with my own instructional materials and compiled appropriate songs, which has given me complete freedom to tweak as I go for the particular group. I also have future group guitar class materials for advanced beginners, intermediate, advanced intermediate, and advanced. I’ve often had students stay with me through all five groups, and then enroll in private lessons.

I present most songs as chord/lyric sheets. I decorate with copyright-free clipart.

Each student must have an acoustic guitar to play. No electrics—I don’t like to mess with cords and amps in a group. I’d get hoarse talking over them!

guitars on stands

*Where to hold the class? I’ve taught in my home studio, in my living room, and at two different churches in town, depending on the size of the classes. They all work well.

*Is a group an advantage or a hindrance? Read more…

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Posted in Financial Business, Promoting Your Studio, Teaching Tips

How musical is ‘unmusical’ Man?

Can ‘unmusical’ people become musical? What, if anything, can we as educators do to teach the apparently ‘tone deaf’ person to sing in tune and successfully with others?

blindfold peopleIn Part I of the series, I talked a bit about the paradox of ‘unmusicality’. If, as many people believe, music-making is somehow intrinsic to humans as a species, how can some people be apparently ‘unmusical’? For some singers, out-of-tune singing can usually be fixed with improved technique, but for others, the lack of development in their musical awareness and understanding can seem to be much more profound, even potentially neurological in origin. These people do encourage us to think again – and think deeply – about the anthropologist John Blacking’s famous question: ‘How musical is man?’

In Part II, I looked at a few of the types of ‘unmusicality’ demonstrated by community choral singers that I have come across in my work as a choral clinician and singing teacher. The idea there was to tease apart the types of ‘less musical’ singers I have worked with to see how they differ, and where their strengths and weaknesses typically lie.

I grouped my singers into three categories based on their musical responses: Generalists (those whose singing lacks pitch reference); Skiers (those who sing across the correct pitch areas, or in the right direction, but who do not usually sing discrete notes); and Talkers (those who sing well in their speaking range, but become Generalists or Skiers in other parts of their voice.) In my work with these singers over time, I have found that they also typically demonstrate one or all of the following three qualities:

1. They report not hearing the details in music

2. They are not comfortable with the sound of their voice

3. Their lack of melodic awareness occurs only in ‘musical’ settings, i.e. their speech (which includes many ‘musical’ elements, such as tone and melody) is normal.

The first two qualities in this list suggest that there is a disjunction between perception (whether neurological or psychological) and response. The second item in this list is explained by the other two.

 

Teaching unmusicality
uuclinic-4In this post, which is the final post in my series, I’m going to talk a bit about how I have worked with these students in my own workshops and teaching studio.

As I’ve said before, I’m not at all an expert in this field – I’m just speaking as a musician and music teacher who is very interested in what music is, and how working with people who aspire to make music can be hugely revealing about the origins of music, both as cultural phenomenon and as a psycho-physical human response.

For the sake of clarity, I’ll separate my discussion by my three (imperfect, but I hope, useful) categories of ‘unmusical’ singer. In actual fact there are many ways in which the musical responses of these types of singer overlap, but for now I’ll separate them.

I’ll look forward to any other categories any of you may like to add in the comments section, below!

 

The Generalists

In my work with Generalists, I’ve noticed that their responses to musical stimuli tend to be predominantly bodily, by which I mean they tend to flex major muscle groups, rather than their actual vocal instrument, when reacting to a musical sound. All singers do this to a certain extent, of course; they sway, frown, flex their arms, and stand on their toes as part of their visualization of their musical material, and learning to control these responses is of course an important part of professional training. But the Generalists go further than this, and in what to me are interesting ways.

Singing with the body Read more…

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Posted in Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Oh my God!

© Olga Vasilkova | Dreamstime Stock Photos

As you glance over at Kyle, you are surprised to see tears brimming over. Where did those come from? He is just so sensitive! Some students seem to take corrective comments in stride, but others melt with the slightest suggestion for improvement. Kyle melts…

There can be multiple reasons for a student to not respond well to correction. Each of these reasons would suggest a different approach for resolution.

  • fear of failure
  • low self-esteem
  • perfectionist attitude
  • frustration with themselves
  • not meeting their own expectations
  • lack of understanding of the problem
  • have a hard time trying new things
  • feel they are not able to please you
  • bad day at school
  • hit their emotional limit for the day
  • low stress tolerance
  • fight with parent or sibling in the car on the way to the lesson
  • feel out of control
  • not doing music lessons for themselves, but out of coercion
  • not used to being corrected
  • not used to working hard for something
  • do not respect you as a teacher
  • loyalty to a previous teacher

Questions you might ask yourself as the teacher:

  • Have I properly prepared the student to play this piece?
  • Is this piece too challenging for this student’s emotional reserves?
  • Does the student know what I am asking for and how to achieve it?
  • Does the student have the technical skills to do what I am asking?
  • Was I clear in my instructions?
  • Have I broken the skill down into small enough pieces?
  • Is the tempo too fast?
  • Is the fingering wrong?
  • Have I already pushed too hard for this session and it’s time to back off?
  • Have I given enough positive feedback to balance the negative?
  • Is it time for a break or time for a new piece?
  • What is my best guess as to what is behind this melt-down? (see list above)

Many times we can slip into a pattern of ‘the student plays and then the teacher makes corrections.’ This can be an uninspired approach if it is not a process of joint discovery and stretching for the next level. There are many creative ways to involve the student mentally and emotionally to get past a road block. One approach is to praise what you honestly can, and then, instead of immediate correction, try one or more of the following: Read more…

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Posted in Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

“I’m late!
I’m late!
For a very important date!
No time to say “Hello”, goodbye!
I’m late!
I’m late!”Picture of White Rabbit with I'm Late
Part of the lyrics sung by the White Rabbit from the song “I’m Late” in Alice in Wonderland

Do your students run late?

Late students are inevitable. It is usually the same students that run late on a regular basis.

This can be stressful for instructors as it crunches the already limited time you have with the student.

Ideas on ways to eliminate late students: Read more…

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Posted in Studio Management, Using Music Teacher's Helper

"Circuit Training" Music LessonsThey’re not all the same but every now and again you meet a teenager determined to fit the stereotype. With so much hair over their face you’re not actually sure what they look like, their shoulders are dropped so low their hands are practically touching the floor and all questions are met with an obligatory “dunno” response (if you’re lucky)!

Were we ever like that? I’m sure many of today’s finest musicians had their moments as teenagers and I would like to just say that many of the teenagers I’ve taught have been highly “switched on” and motivated. But how can we inspire even the most apathetic student?

Enter something I’ve been trying out I call “Music Lesson Circuit Training!”

Now I need at this point to warn you that Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

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Michael Kaeshammer

We all know that stickers, charts, music money, trophies, and competitions may motivate students to progress but these “tactics” are just that, extrinsic motivators to get your students to do what YOU want.

However, why not find more ways to trigger intrinsic motivation so that your students achieve and move forward just because THEY want to.

Nothing inspires me more than seeing someone do something that I want to do. With the availability of videos on YouTube, it’s easy to see and experience others excel and having fun making music. When viewing  videos on YouTube, each one usually inspires me in some way. It dawned on me that the same videos could have a monumental impact on my students. Read more…

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Posted in Music & Technology, Music History & Facts, Teaching Tips