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.