Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween Group Activities

It was time to decorate the house and get ready for Fall group lessons. 

   I had girlies on Tuesday and guys today, finishing with some older gals tomorrow. I don't know how they got gender divided.

    They are showing my current favorite read which I snagged from a friend. I love how Anna Goldsworthy describes her mental process as a child taking piano lessons. Her teacher was fun to get to know and I think I may develop a Russian accent and quote her to my students.

                                 Thank-you Susan Paradis for the bat facts handout. We liked it!

                                                                   I recommend it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Middle School Blues

My pack of five have started middle school and we are singing the blues. One hour earlier to start school, way more homework, and sports in the afternoon is causing this malady. When can they practice the piano? Like last year, I have to dig around and find those songs which can capture their hearts. Speaking of hearts, this piece, on, is on the radio and happens to have an easy arrangement. My Faber Level 3A gang are getting this and really enjoying learning the whole six pages, with repeats. It is a girl song so He's A Pirate is an option for those who are more into action than lost love.

    Christina Perri who performs it and co-wrote it started writing songs on the guitar and transferred those chords onto the piano. I like the A minor key with the harmonic G# now and then. The first page is always free to print on


Monday, September 24, 2012

Serendipity or Pattern Play

   You will love this story, hang on to your seat! Last year I enjoyed reading a blog post from Anne Crosby Gaudet on Pianoanne about Pattern Play, a series of books written with the intent to bring freedom and joy into playing through improvisation. She had a wonderful project with her students and I was intrigued. I purchased one book and read it throughly, used it a little, but still struggled with how to use it across my studio. Then this summer Natalie at Music Matters wrote about a summer intensive in Seattle by the Pattern Play authors which she attended. She made the statement that she finally got the concept and there was more there than just improvisational exercises. I purchased three more books in the series and from one week to the next would take them out and try using them.
   Now the story moves to my husband, the piano tuner. He meets the most interesting and diverse people. Sometimes if the discussion, during and after tuning, is especially invigorating my husband will invite them for dinner. So, last night I had some guests coming to dinner who I had never met. As we made our introductions, Forrest handed me a book he had written, as a gift. It was entitled, "Pattern Play, Create Your Own Music". WAIT!

   "Are you the Forrest Kinney who wrote these books I have on my piano?" He was and we were both surprised at this serendipitous meeting. He was shocked to see so many of his books and I was shocked to see the very person I needed to talk to.
   Dinner was so fun and after, we made music. My husband even joined us in a trio. I had a master class right in my own home for the price of pasta and salad. Can't beat that!

    Here is a fun tip which I used this morning in lessons. Tell your student that you are going on an exotic trip and for added fun you are going to adjust your piano.

     Put a thin piano book, Pattern Play No. 1 is just the right thickness, inside the piano, on the strings, close to the dampers. Add a pencil off to the right and another one on the other side of the brace. The effect will be a percussion twang on some keys which will make the improvisation "Persia" so much more middle eastern.
    Your young student doesn't have to know anything about the D Harmonic Minor Scale, just give her 4 keys to explore.

   You, as the teacher, can play an accompaniment using D minor fifths, going up to the E flat for variation and just exploring what your intuition sends our way.
   This was just the thing to start me thinking about exploring theory through improv. I am so grateful for open, gracious people, who take a chance to meet others.
   Thank you Gail and thank-you Forrest.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Play Every Day And Learn

       I have enjoyed pedaling my bike this summer and I learned so many things that apply to playing the piano. It helped me make up my new practice incentive. If my students log their practice minutes they may have a bicycle to pedal. For every hour of practice they can colorize their bike. 

   Things I learned while pedaling:

  •    My muscles are stronger every day
  •    I have come to know the divots and potholes on the street
  •    I have more balance and trust myself more
  •    I am trying new roads because I am more confidant
  •    I feel increased joy going down the hills because I am not afraid of the upside

How does it apply to laying the piano?

  • Your fingers get stronger every day you practice
  • You come to know your weaknesses from working every day
  • Your fingers become more confident as you repeat your pieces
  • Playing everyday encourages you try new things
  • Your joy in playing increases with success
                           Two thirds of my students have earned their thousand minutes so we are on to 
                                                          Playing Every Day And Learn

   Find the image of the bicycle here.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Between A Rock and a Hard Place

   Occasionally, we can find ourselves held hostage to a series of unfortunate events. Summer is an up and down time for piano practice and the lesson following a vacation period can be rough. Combine a reluctant child with a time crunch and you have three people between a rock and hard place.

   There is a child who refuses to come to the piano, a parent who is trying her best to change the mood, and a teacher waiting to see what transpires, all three in very vulnerable places. As the child digs in with more determination, all wait to see if the tipping point will come before the lesson is over. Ninety-nine percent of the time the child complies and the teacher takes over. At that point, improvisation on the black keys is a balm for frazzled nerves. Our child has been fighting the moment of truth when she will undoubtably, in her mind, fail to play her pieces correctly. Having the whole keyboard of blacks to call home she can relax and find the real reason she wants to play piano; to make music.
   Bring some fun into summer lessons by reviewing favorites and when it's time to really work on a piece, play some games.
  Grab a prop, like domino pieces and for every time they play a section of their piece, correctly, they can set another domino. At the end the fun is watching them fall. Happy summer practicing!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

When Do I Start Lessons For My Child?

  I often get phone calls from parents who see an unusual talent in their young child. When should piano lessons begin? I have a two-year old granddaughter who demands a piano lesson when I come to teach her older siblings. What is she really asking for?  In my opinion she is asking for a musical experience.

    She has observed that music brings a great deal of pleasure to her parents and siblings. She is attracted to the piano and the sounds she can generate from that big, beautiful instrument. She is ready to explore the patterns and negotiate the keys in varied ways. She needs time to playfully explore music but one-on-one piano lessons are in the future. Lessons with a teacher are a long process of acquiring skill and musicianship not just an exposure to music.
  I teach music and movement classes to 18 month- 4year-olds to give this musical experience to the very young child. Some of these children come to me later with some foundation and are ready to embrace practice and accountability. A rule of thumb I believe to be true is that parents need to be with their child to practice until they are at least 8 years old. After that age they have some ability to go to the piano alone and know how to approach their practice sessions. Before then, they need the loving support of an interested parent.
Here are some other posts that address working with your children:
  How To Be As A Parent
  One Arrow At A Time

Monday, July 16, 2012

Clicking On the Keys

   Ah, the dilemma of telling that pretty little girl she really must cut her fingernails. She has no traction and the clicking is obnoxious.  I personally do not have nails that grow in beautiful petals but occasionally I run for my clippers to take them down. My own granddaughter had the discussion just last month. On that day, there was a real struggle between a future as a pianist and beautiful painted finger nails.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Beats Per Measure

The difference between having group lessons after school and in the middle of the day is astounding. My students are so much more ready to learn and ask questions. Here are the youngest mixed in with the oldest My First Adventure students doing beats per measure. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What Key Is This In?

   When I bring a few students together in a group lesson I like to start a conversation about musical theory. Yesterday I asked if anyone could explain key signature. 
   "It's your hand position."
   " It's the pattern of notes you play."
   " It's how many black keys there are." 

   It will take a few more discussions to fully understand it, but we tried in in a new way. It begins with the metaphor of a train and how it stops at different stations.

   The main station. Key of C is where the train begins. No passengers are aboard. It is five steps to the next station and there passenger F# takes a seat and stays for the whole ride.

   Five steps further along the track and we arrive at the station called D Major. When the passenger C# comes aboard F# takes his seat at the front of the train. Then it's five steps to the next station called A Major and so the train continues on. After using our feet to make the physical steps we travel around the circle of fifths until we arrive at F# Major, full train of passengers. Another day we can travel the other direction meeting passengers who are flats. Next week in our private lessons we will relate the train metaphor to the circle of fifths on their assignment pages. I hope it gives them another way to see Key Signatures.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The End Of Juneuary

   Yes, Juneuary is what we call this month because we can't seem to get beyond 63 degrees. Brr… It has been ages since I have have written about piano activities. Here in the Northwest, school just let out so my Spring Semester ends this week. It was time for a few groups lessons to check in with skills I hope everyone has acquired. For my First Piano Adventures students I made a last effort to follow up on Time Signature and music elements.

    These students are entering into Book C and I reviewed what a variation entailed and we played those Twinkle pieces at the end of Book B. I was pleased with their recall of the musical changes in each song. We watched a U-Tube video of a young girl playing Mozart's variations, or a few of them, and talked about how each part added more notes.
   Their favorite part was playing for each other and I was entranced with their dancing legs under the piano.

                Three more days of group lessons and I hope they are as fun as this one was today.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Practice Incentive Review

   I have two programs going in my studio that have been invigorating to many and ignored by others. The fact that they might have been ignored could be my own problem. Lesson time is precious and when we are learning I find it distracting to stop and ask if they recorded their practice minutes or if they brought their assignment sheet. My agenda just doesn't always pan out when that excited child comes through my door. But, my failings aside, after many months interest is rising due to the large chart on my keyboard.

   Each little sticker is a level of notes read correctly in just one minute. I add new notes or amount of notes at each level. It started like this.

   The Thousand Minute Club was a challenge, not because it is hard to practice 1000 minutes, but because it is hard to log minutes on the assignment sheet and bring it to lessons. I think I may be teaching responsibility and organization, as well. I am looking forward to trying something new after June, for the summer months.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Another Recital, Come and Gone

 It has been a week since my Spring Recital and I have processed the event. This recital was a success for everyone,which is not always the case. Often there a a few glitches for my students and it makes me anxious for them. In the last three weeks I found a duet arrangement of Hungarian Dance by Brahms which two of my beginning students were playing. Playing the whole piece for them always inspires a deeper love for their two-line simple version. I asked my High School students to play with me but as the day got closer they both felt unprepared. As we met at the recital venue one week before, to rehearse, I gave them a last ditch challenge. 
   " You may be given music to play at the last minute in the years ahead and this will require you to dig deep and go for it. If you back out because you are not perfect you'll miss opportunities to grow. We will stumble a bit next week but I have your back and I think the result will be positive."
  It was positive, not perfect, and it inspired my younger students to listen to original versions of their pieces.

  Another memory of this recital that was special was the grandchildren who played. Two sons had children playing and it makes my heart soar to see them progress and develop as musicians. Grace is the child who does video piano lessons with me every week. She was super excited to come to town to participate with her cousins.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Recital Programs

  I am trying out something new with my recital programs this year. The outside cover is somewhat under used and music can be a beautiful image in and of itself, so I am printing the first page of my student's compositions as the recital cover.

   Too busy? But what a kick to see their pieces in print. My student Anna just finished notating, with some assistance, her piece "The Wizard". It has a Hedwig's theme feeling. You can see it here. Click on resources at the left and find "The Wizard".
   Thank-you Wendy for the recital template. It worked very well and I appreciate your generosity. With one day away all there is to do is sit back and let it happen.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

1000 Minutes

  Some of my students have successfully practiced and logged 1000 minutes in the last three months. It seemed easy to me but the difficulty arose in writing down the minutes on their assignment sheet.

    I use a form graciously shared by Susan Paradis and to get credit for these minutes they must log them in the Practice Record.
  Congratulations Clara and Olivia for being the first to reach that goal.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Walking in the Night With Mr. Brahms

Okay, so last fall at the recital I taught the audience the little MFPA Book B song, "Knock, Knock, Beethoven". I then played the Beethoven Bagatelle from which this little snippet is taken. The audience sang along whenever this phrase was repeated. This idea ended up paying huge dividends as my young students reached that piece in their books. They all remembered singing it at the recital. So I am thinking I should do it again. MFPA books B and C introduce classical composers and they become part of the story line in the books. I think this is making a high difference in the interest my youngest students have in classical music.

   This time I am picking a lovely little piece by Brahms in 3/4 time. The evenings are warming up so walking in the night is something we might actually be doing. The little tune is hiding out around other notes in the original piece but once we hear it several times we will be able to sing along.

  None of my MFPA students have reached this piece, yet. But I am sure they will remember it when we get there. Three weeks until recital time and the pianos here are playing, for sure.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Music Video

None of us teach piano 40 hours a week, at least I don't think so. To supplement my income I teach movement and music to toddlers. My partner and I do Swingset Music which is our own curriculum and we write children's songs to go with our themes. We have been in the studio recording our songs so that some day we might have a CD. I wrote this song because my grandchild wanted to know why I always sang the words to her favorite book. 

I told her that some stories were singing stories and since writing this song my collection has grown.
Sing a story somewhere!

Friday, April 13, 2012

How Does Myelin Work?

    There is a danger of oversimplification when science is brought to the main stream. It is easy to jump on the general ideas and assume we understand highly complex systems. Nevertheless I like to wrap my head around how things work. For this reason I enjoyed reading and absorbing The Talent Code. I don't really know how myelin in the brain works but I trust in the knowledge of not just one scientist, but in the combined testimonies of many who are fascinated with the musical brain.

"Every human skill, whether it's playing baseball or playing Bach, is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse—basically, a signal traveling through a circuit. Myelin's vital role is to wrap those nerve fibers the same way that rubber insulation wraps a copper wire, making the signal stronger and faster by preventing the electrical impulses from leaking out. When we fire our circuits in the right way—when we practice swinging that bat or playing that note—our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed."
Daniel Coyle (2009-04-16). The Talent Code (p. 5). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 
    Tara gives another great view of how myelin works here.  I appreciate her added information and understand her concerns.
  What did I learn from The Talent Code? I learned that "deep practice" is wonderful to witness and when my students engage in it outside of my assigned pieces I need to respect their work.
 I learned to look at the messages I send to my students about what I value. 

  I learned to spend more time refining the efforts I make in igniting a desire for "deep practice".
  I learned to value what I am good at and ponder my weaknesses. It is for this reason that I write this blog. To write about my ideas sparks greater motivation within me to be a better teacher and musician. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

New #1 I-Pad App

             I must say a bit about an i-pad and i-phone app called Music Flash Class. It has become a favorite in my studio for the last month, especially as we are doing different levels in the one minute club. The features I most value are being able to design a deck of cards of my choosing, being able to decide how many cards to drill, and deciding the time allotment for each deck.

This is how you choose the notes you will have in a deck of cards. I can choose two notes for my My First Piano Adventures students or a certain hand position for an older student.

I can choose a keyboard to use to select notes or an alphabet. In fact the only thing I have run into that this app does not do is record scores for individual students, but I have a chart to show progress and each student is on a different path. Whether you are 5 or 16, I have a new note reading level to break through every week.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Hotbed of Talent

   Truly, my little studio of 37 students is not a hotbed of international talent. Whew! Did I just insult my students and wound my reputation? As I read the Talent Code I started feeling a wee bit unsuccessful until Chapter 8, "The Talent Whisperers". In the early 1980s a University of Chicago team of researchers led by Dr. Benjamin Bloom undertook a study of 120 world-class pianists, swimmers, tennis champions, mathematicians, neurologists, and sculptors. They found, especially among the pianists, that their first teachers were mostly average. What does average mean? A non-professional neighborhood teacher.
     "Bloom's pianists, for instance, had typically stayed with the first teacher for five or six years. From a scientific perspective, it was as if the researchers had traced the lineage of the world's most beautiful swans back to a scruffy flock of barnyard chickens. As the study concisely put it, “The initial teachers were largely determined by the chances of proximity and availability.”
    Did Mr. Coyle just describe my studio as barnyard? But wait, here are the statements made by these world-class pianists about their first teachers.

  She was really great with young kids.
  She was very kindly, very nice. 
  She liked young people, and she was very nice, and he liked her.
  He was very good with kids, liked kids instinctively and had a good rapport. 
  He was enormously patient and not very pushy. 
  She carried a big basket of Hershey bars and gold stars for the music and I was crazy about this lady. 
  It was an event for me to go to my lessons.

“Perhaps the major quality of these teachers was that they made the initial learning very pleasant and rewarding. Much of the introduction to the field was as playful activity and the learning at the beginning of this stage was much like a game. These teachers gave much positive reinforcement and only rarely were critical of the child. However, they did set standards and expected the child to make progress, although this was largely done with approval and praise.”

Daniel Coyle (2009-04-16). The Talent Code (p. 175). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition. 

This chapter inspired me and encouraged me to be that first teacher  and continue to love my students and expect them to be the best musicians they can be.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

One Woman's Desire

   One woman's desire created a fire in her home. Meet Irene, who is my student, a wife, mother of two and, a professional photo editor.

    Irene had a wish to learn to play the piano and so after purchasing a nice upright she approached me for lessons. This was going to be her thing, something special for her to expand her horizons. However, when a mother loves something, that something becomes more desirable to everyone in the family. What started as a little gift to herself, flowered into a family loving to explore music. Her husband picked up his love for old rock and roll songs and plays to relax, her son hears what she is playing and often reproduces them by hear, and even her daughter finds tunes she learns in school on the recorder, and plays them on the piano. The piano, once just hers, is now a family meeting ground.
   With her love of music and her delightful disposition, I feel honored to share my knowledge and collaborate with her in this new venture.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Leaving Cues to Ignite Deep Practice

    In my continuing study of the book "The Talent Code" by Daniel Coyle, I am trying a more overt message that I value hard work in my piano studio. A study by Dr. Carol Dweck dealing with the aspect of motivation reveals some important information.

  "When we get a clear cue, a message that sends a spark, then "boing", we respond". 

  Four hundred fifth graders were given verbal cues of praise and the cues they most responded to dealt with their hard work not the acknowledgement of their intellect.

  "When we praise children for their intelligence we tell them that that's the name of the game: look smart and don't risk by making mistakes".

    Deep practice is about digging into a piece and working through it even when it is hard. I am going to be more diligent about giving the message that I care how much my students practice and how well they practice.

"We are exquisitely attuned to the messages that tell us what is valued."

                   "You really worked hard, it was a struggle, but you conquered it."
   I am tracking practice minutes very carefully for the next months and I hope to send a clear signal that work at the piano can be fun and the reward is more beautiful music.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Swingset Music and Movement

Another Season of Swingset Comes to an End

   Winter Swingset just ended today.  Our Singing Stories curriculum was very easy and smooth to teach and I hope fun for the kids. I teach pre-school music once a week, many weeks of the year. Did you know that many picture books are songs and qualify as Singing Stories, not just reading stories. It warms my heart to see two-year olds singing and moving without self consciousness. Grandmas and Dads show up as well as Moms and Caregivers and all participate to the joy of their children.

   Here we are moving up and down with Miss Froggy who teaches us many adverbs to match our moving.

  Could it be that pesky flea on my head as well as on my toe?


             Dancing like the wind is so whirly and twirly.

   And playing the drums requires listening, evaluating each drum for it's sound value, and trading back and forth.

   There are more classes to view here and here. We are starting again in April, maybe you will join us?