Sunday, August 28, 2011

Practicing Incentive This Fall

 Just like an onion has different layers of skin so a piece of music has different layers of elements to learn and perfect. This fall my students are going to practice with the intent of adding more layers to their musical artistry.
    Although tracking practice time is not an end in and of itself, I am going to keep the incentive to record the minutes we practice which we started this summer, every 100 minutes earns a chance to glue a shape, design. or sticker to a piece of posterboard. The poster will become a collage of shapes and colors; a work of art representing the layers of musicality we add as we learn a piece of music. At the fall recital we will display our project and hopefully our music will show what we have learned..
  The purpose of this incentive is to:
    1- Make student and parent aware of the length of their child's practice time
    2- To use assignment books routinely for reviewing assignments and recording practice times
    3.- To participate in a studio wide experience
Incentives to practice work for me if they take less than a minute to record and if they are inexpensive.
We will start with the first 100 minutes being shapes and basic colors. This layer is likened to playing correct notes and correct rhythm.
 As the minutes add up the shapes will be textured as dynamics add texture to the music.
Patterns on the paper will be like articulation. 
Shiny foil shapes will allow me to talk about phrasing and voicing.
Lastly, stickers will add personality as interpretation of the music is unique and individual.
I see it happening and I hope my students come on board and enjoy the art we create together.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Ice- Cream Group Lessons Coda

  The time for summer group lessons has past. 
I am very happy with the experiences we had and everyone loved the ice-cream. The ensemble piece was the most fun for my students. We started out by studying the short score and identifying the different staves of music. I am glad I kept the instrument parts simple and I will be able to increase the difficulty the next time.
It also worked very well to have everyone take a turn with the instruments. Playing the drums on the I-Pad Garage Band app was the coveted part.
The harder parts were the melody line and the accompaniment, harmony line. Even though the music was easy, the need to play on beat with the other instruments made everyone tentative.
I felt what a middle-school band teacher must feel as he brings beginning students together. 
The reward to see everyone engaged in a musical experience and enjoying each other was well worth the effort.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

More Teaching Across the Disciplines

I like to liken learning to play musically to peeling an onion. The first layer might be recognising notes; second rhythm; third dynamics; fourth articulation and on. I found a u-tube video of an artist I admire, who shows how he lays down layers of paint. I feel like we do the same thing when we learn a piece of music.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Engagement- Keeping the Student's Attention

       Dr. Randall Faber talks a lot about child-centered teaching. I have been thinking about what that means to me. I want to be centered on my student. I want to take my ques from the messages they are sending me. If I were not child-centered what would be at the center of my teaching? My lesson plan? My goals for what I want them to learn?

 A key to child-centered learning is engagement, according to Dr. Faber.
   "Are we operating on the student’s 90% attention capacity, or 6%?  Just like perception, attention can’t be forced.  It must be invited."
    What tools do we, as piano teachers have to invite attention?
    - Our open- hearted personality
    - Our own love of music
    - learning games
    - asking questions that invite curiosity
    - our ability to pace activities

 " When a student tries to contribute and direct learning, do we inwardly swat them away and stick to our lesson plan?  Harnessed attention is a gift, and yet we so often forego perfect opportunities for learning when the student shows interest."
    I know I have the teacher voice in my head saying, "We have to learn two new songs today. You are pulling me in the wrong direction."
    Last week I had double booked accidentally and I had two boys here together. One was in the second half of his hour lesson and we were about to work on the notation to his own composition. The other, who showed up, was a student who had been waning in interest. I went with my gut intuition and invited the older boy to teach the younger boy his song. I marveled how inspiring the teacher was and how attentive the learner had become. My agenda was not completed but something better happened.
   According to Dr. Faber, "One secret to engagement is the idea of curiosity.  Curiosity is a wonderfully useful state of mind!  It engages attention, and is a prerequisite to learning.  Not only should we let the student lead learning with curiosity, but the teacher must also model curiosity."

    "What if" are words which lead to interesting reasons to repeat a song or a phrase. My student's "What ifs" are always more adventuresome than mine. What if we play this phrase higher, or on the black keys, or backwards? I try to have three attention grabbers ready at every lesson because I know I will have to recapture their interest about every ten minutes.
   You may want to read Joy's notes on Dr. Faber's talk at NCKP 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ice- Cream Group Lessons

   Today was the kick-off for my ice-cream group lessons. I will have four different lessons with 4-6 kids in each group. I ended up with only two girls, the other student had a conflict. These two girls were jazzed because they had earned so many scoops in my practicing incentive. The students earned one scoop of ice-cream for every 100 minutes they logged.
    Besides having ice-cream we did some note-reading. We made up some words using only the musical alphabet. You can find the work sheet here.
    And we learned a simple piece which I had written for 6 instruments. I like giving my students different musical experiences and this one was about reading a score and learning parts for both pitched instruments and percussion. I did not know how this would play out, pardon the pun, but it was just right for the time factor and for my students.You can find the music here.
   I will write about how it is with more students next week. 

Monday, August 15, 2011

A Scheduled Practice Time

    I read a good post by Laura Lowe, a fellow piano teacher, and it made me want to add my own words to this subject.
    Setting a certain time aside to practice may be the key to progress for your child and for yourself. For the child making piano practice into a routine communicates the importance you place on this endeavor. It also gives your child the security to know that what happens today on the piano bench can be improved and enlarged tomorrow.

   As the parent having and staying with a practice routine will give you confidence that your child will learn to play. Let's face it, parents carry much of the guilt for failed improvement at the piano. I know when I took my daughter to her lessons I felt very bad about the days that disappeared without a thought to her playing. Realistically it may have been her fault for not going to the piano, but I know it wasn't until our routine was set that I could expect her to be responsible.
 This summer I had a incentive to keep practice happening. I rewarded every 100 minutes with a scoop of ice-cream on a cone. For some students this was ridiculously easy, and I think it was because they already had a very set routine of daily practice. Except for the very earliest beginners, every child should practice at least 20 minutes a day. And it needs to happen most every day. Research shows that the brain needs the repetition every day and it shows that cramming for a longer period once in a while does not prove the best results.
  I tell my students the story of what I learned from my third grade teacher. She applied this to learning spelling words but it works exactly the same way in piano practice. She told us to go over our spelling list in our heads before falling to sleep on the very day we received the new words. I experimented with her advise and found it to work. So, if you ask your child to go through all the music he learned at the lesson before bedtime, the remembering will place the information in longer term storage. This need not be a long intensive practice. It is more a remembering and it would be ideal to sit with your child and ask questions about his new pieces. Your child may want to skip practice on the day of their lesson, but this is the very day that practice is the most beneficial.
   "A great deal of research shows that thinking or talking about an event immediately after it has occurred enhances memory for that event."
   This is written about in Brain Rules by John Medina. 
Think about how confident your child will be the next day when she goes to practice and her assignment is familiar. Children have an "I can do it " attitude naturally and when they find they can't they sometimes assume they have failed. They are much harder to motivate in failure mode than if they feel they are successful. So, when is practice time at your house?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Who Knows Where Your Music Goes?

   I had a remarkable thing happen in my piano studio. My student Christopher, a composer, has written seven pieces, two of which we have notated in Finale. Composition #7 is really fun to play. I introduced it to Julian who started it and had to wait until we finished the ending. During the weeks that Julian was learning it, another younger student, Olivia, was sitting through Julian's lesson, waiting for her time. I did not realize how intently she was listening. One week later at her lesson she announced, "I can play Christopher's song!" And that is just what she did. Wow, how we influence each other.
  If you would like to see the music you can find it on the resource page at this, my studio webpage.

Monday, August 8, 2011

5th And Last Most Used I-Pad App

  I said I would share with you the five most used I-Pad Apps and this is the fifth. I think by now I have made clear that my I-Pad is a valuable teaching tool and I do not regret purchasing it. I must include my I-Phone in this next tool review. Sometimes in the lesson time allotted time flies and there I am introducing a new piece with 5 minutes left. I know we won't have time to play this piece more than once. This is fine for those students who are independent players but there are a few who will invariably come the next week saying "I forgot the song".
  "Well", I say, "You don't need to remember the song, you can use the tools I have taught you to read the notes and rhythm."
   For these students I have come to video taping them playing the piece. I do it with my I-Phone and then I send this to their parent with instructions to play this video for them if they have trouble.

 I try to video over their head so that their hands show. My picture does not illustrate that very well. But isn't my granddaughter cute? Okay, I would have to smooth back the blond hair. I also keep the video for next week when I enjoy letting them review the last week's progress to what they have done a week later. The video opens so nicely on my I-Pad and it is a great learning tool.

  I know there will be more great apps coming along in the future but I do see that any learning tool takes up valuable lesson time. Thirty minutes is hard to stretch if I have too many activities. I have also challenged myself to be consistent in using a tool so that I can see it's value over time.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

4th Most Used I-Pad Application

   Music Teacher's Helper is an online software package to help run your teaching business. It is the largest expense I have. I use it many times a day on my I-Pad Internet. Sometimes I get frustrated with it but it has made many aspects of teaching easier. It manages my student information, e-mails automatically, keeps track of billing, runs my teaching calendar, and allows me to design a website for my students.
   At the onset I found I needed to review the video tutorials many times. This helped me get through some mistakes I made in setting things up. The support is very timely and new upgrades keep the software user friendly.
  Not all my parents use e-mail, not everyone checks their e-mail regularly, but after two years I have found that this software has helped communication between parents and myself greatly.
   This summer I started encouraging online access for each parent. I assigned Usernames and Passwords and allowed them to register for open slots. As Fall approaches, my schedule will be set but I will have a few open slots that can be used if they must cancel a lesson.
   You can see my website here.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Ice-Cream Practice Incentive

                I am brain-storming ideas for my end of summer ice-cream group lessons. This is a lesson to celebrate my students summer practicing. I will have at least two sessions if I keep them to 6 students. I got the idea from Sarah and made it adapt to my circumstances. Many families go out of town and so I don't see much of them but when they come they write down how many minutes they have practiced. For every 100 minutes they put a scoop on my ice-cream chart.
       I want to do some learning before we have our ice-cream and so I have written a very simple ensemble piece. It is called My Favorite Treat and it is for 6 instruments. Two piano keyboards, xylophone,finger cymbals, triangle, and drum. Ensembles are fun with different age groups if the piece is easy and it teaches so much about counting and listening. My students love to trade instruments and we play it over and over again.
  I also did a little worksheet for a warm-up. These are available to look at and copy here.
  Any other ideas? What do you think?