Friday, November 8, 2013

Homemade Scale Foldable

This month's group lessons consisted of rehearsing and videoing the duets, (October was duet month) and making homemade scale foldables. I had two to four students at a time, for one hour. 

  Buying scale books is possible but allowing each child to use the patterns to make their own scale book is child centered-learning. I used colored folders, inexpensively purchased at Amazon, as the shell and the inside varied depending on age. Keyboards can be copied for free from Susan Paradis. (Thank-you, Susan) Scroll down the teaching resources page to Keyboard labels. My students glued the labels on, making dots on the keyboard to illustrate a 5-finger or octave scale, and then with post-it notes made covers for each scale. We will use them at their lessons.

    A even more inexpensive version is to fold two pieces of paper hot dog style, vertical, and then staple them into the folder. After the scales are written in we cut the top fold just under each scale and make a cover. The best part of this process, for me, was listening to them discuss half-steps and whole-steps. It was  keyboard analysis from which each student benefitted.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Busy B Word Bubble and Duet Month

   October is duet month. I have tried this before. In the past I ended up playing some of the second parts because getting children together to practice is a scheduling challenge. However, it is working and I purchased some fun pieces to delight my students. One important element this time is that I have determined to get the partners together twice. Once to practice and have a group lesson experience, and once to perform for my video camera. I intend to show my movie during cookie time after my January recital. Duets provide the perfect setting to bring home the concept of the steady beat. Without lecture or nagging, the impotence of feeling the beat moves to the forefront. I have tried to shy away from pairing up siblings. They can annoy each other quickly. Next week I will get together the first batch of duets. I look forward to the process and the outcome.

I found a fun site that will generate a "most often used" word bubble from your blog. The idea it drives home in my mind is that my posts have been dedicated to sharing ideas for learning piano music.
I love the word "beat" right in the middle. I do many things to enhance a steady beat. Make your own word bubble here. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Music Magicians

   Dear Parents  
      Do you remember at the last recital I professed to be a magician by having students pick letters out of a hat and then composing a song starting with those letters, on the the spot? It really was music magic and I want to encourage more progress in musical endeavors that teach those magic skills.

    As a studio, we are working on many aspects of music at the same time. I have devised some short term and long term goals for your children. As they reach a goal they can put their picture on our goals board.

  As always there is a nudge to extend practice time, but new goals will be rewarded. Here is a sample of our goals. 

      October is duet month and we will all try a duet with a partner. Hopefully we can find some partners who can attend each other's lessons at least once towards the end of October. I will video their duet and make a little movie for all to watch at the next recital.

                              Tell me, I forget; Show me, I remember; Involve me, I understand.” – Carl Orff    

Friday, September 20, 2013

Getting In Sync With The Steady Beat

  The internet is a buzz with the You Tube Video from Japan showing the science of the transfer of sound and thermal conductivity using metronomes.

  One of my most common challenges in teaching piano is helping students feel the beat and become synchronized with it. I wonder if 32 students playing the piano on a moving stage, playing the same song, will eventually yield to one ready beat.
  Hmm… probably not. There will always be a rebel in the group.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Lead Sheets

   This summer I wanted to introduce each student to a lead sheet. I have used them over the years and they appear in the strangest places. For example, I was hired by a very passionate third grade teacher to come into her classroom to do music. This school had a music teacher and each classroom went once a week. She wanted more, so she paid me, out of her pocket for eight years. I went in on Mondays and stayed 45 minutes. I started out just accompanying, but over time she gave me more license and freedom to bring in music of my choice. The music she gave me to play was mostly lead sheets. Sometimes I had to make my own because she would hum the melody and I would jot down the tune on music paper I had with me. It was a learning adventure for me for sure.

    The Fabers have included lead sheets in their new edition lesson books. I have scoured the internet for free music to add to my collection. I start with just one note in the left hand, the root note. Then I add fifths, the first and the fifth note of the chord, and finally the whole chord.
     Here is an example of a great song to use that plan. "Walk Don't Run" sounds good with just one bass note, the fifths, and the chord. With my intermediate students who understand intervals, I show them the inverted chords, close together for fluency.
     Reasons to work with lead sheets-

  1. It opens the door to understanding chord theory
  2. Improvisation happens naturally
  3. Traditional songs come back into use, like Happy Birthday.
Wikifonia is a great internet site for finding lead sheets and even uploading your own.
                                                  Find some free lead sheets here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Talking About Music

      Talking about music with my students is sometimes quite magic. I handed A. a pencil and told her she was sitting in the teacher seat today. We were editing her music called "Dance With the Stars". In an effort to help bring her note reading skills on par with her composing skills, I was playing what I had transcribed and she was correcting. Finally words like crescendo, dynamics, and tempo had a real meaning. She is very particular about her own music. Being a natural musician, my task is to encourage her to become well rounded in all musical skills.

 When my next student arrived I handed her "Dance With The Stars" to sight read. M. reads music but the key of G flat means adjusting to black keys. Quickly she found the pattern and was delighted with the ease but also the sound. I told her who wrote it and we talked about the musical hook that captured our attention. In the middle of this animated conversation M. exclaimed, "There is some music I have to learn!" Why does some music vibrate our heart strings? We didn't find all the answers but I teach for moments like these when music is alive.
   Here is the music. I have permission to share.

Friday, July 5, 2013

I Am A Pianist

       As a teacher I am on the lookout for opportunities my students might have to learn to play with others. Accompanying singing groups is such an opportunity that comes along too infrequently. I would love them all to learn this skill once they are intermediate pianists. This past year one of my students accompanied his early morning religion class when they sang together. He struggled to keep on beat but his peers gave him encouragement and over the year he learned many pieces. 

    One song, in particular, was very difficult and the object of learning it was to accompany a larger group at the closure of the school year. Observing him at the first rehearsal I noticed that he was steady but slower than the conductor. Thanks to patient adults, who want to see our youth grow, I observed his skill taking off as the pressure during rehearsal pushed him beyond his comfort zone. As his piano teacher, one on one, I would never be able to apply this positive pressure on him. At the final performance he soared and the conductor felt he was tuned into him completely. I listened as many people thanked him for his ability and commitment. There was a new confidence and an almost visual mantle fell across his shoulders. "I am a pianist."

Friday, May 24, 2013

Getting off Beat

   Maria was playing a difficult piece with all the right notes but she seemed unaware of the rhythm pulse. On which part of the beat did the notes enter? Her brow furrowed and her body tensed. I asked her to isolate two measures and write in the beats. A moment of fear passed her eyes. What exactly did I mean? We started at the beginning. How many counts did the half note get? 1 & 2 &, she squeezed the symbols under the staff and waited as the next note appeared to be tied to a following note. Where did that tied note fit in the beats? We seemed to be as far away from the flow and beauty of this song as possible. In frustration she looked at me, silently asking how this could possibly clear up her practice problem.

  The ear and the senses are remarkable tools in playing the piano but they are sometimes 
wrong. Often we must go back to the linear math of music to see how the notes are put together. Ideally that should happen the first time we read a new piece but we get seduced by the sound and get carried away, guessing instead of knowing what the notes reveal.
  Life is like that to. Quite often we do not take stock of what is happening. We "play it by ear" and find out later we are fuzzy on the details. Our experience feels out of sync and no longer holds the joy we thought possible. That is when we must go back to the beginning and count. What action should I have taken at this point in the experience. How is the moment tied to this action? As the linear processing unfolds we begin to feel the steady beat, and now we know when we are right. There is nothing as physically satisfying as being "right on the beat".

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Understanding Music

                   I ran across this wonderful video about music.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Happy Birthday Project

    As part of my campaign to prove that Playing The Piano Is A Practical Skill I have challenged all my students to learn a version of Happy Birthday. Some of us are learning it with thumbs sharing on middle C, others are learning it in the key of F as a lead sheet with the primary chords, and still some are learning it in different styles. Once you play it for me from memory you get to be on the Happy Birthday Board. If you play it for someone on or around their birthday you get an added sticker.

                      I am halfway through my student list and it is such fun watching the results.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

"Piano Is Practical" Mini Documentary

   Piano is a practical skill meaning that the skill has usefulness through out life. So, as parents I would like to encourage practical (likely to succeed or be effective in real circumstances) assistance to your child in their practice routine. 
  I asked many of the parents in my studio to describe their child's practice routine. Here are some of their great comments.

1. She practices at the same time every day however long she wants. Sometimes she gives a concert.
2. His routine is to practice in the mornings before school.   15 to 20 minutes on most days.   He usually starts with scales.   I sit with him and help him.
3.They have changed over the years. Typically I prompt the children to do their practice.
4. He plays any chance he gets.  He plays his favorite pieces over and over.  He also picks out, by ear, new pieces he likes.  He plays at least 45 mins./ daily
5. Usually practices after dinner for about 15 minutes and during free time on weekends.
6.  I try to have her practice after dinner and in the morning on late-start days and Saturdays. I have her play each of her pieces three times through until she knows them well enough to do it fairly well, and then two times through each time after that. I am not consistent enough.
7. We do scales, new songs, review old songs up to 10 total, do the theory book.  Sometimes we do note flash cards if we have time.
8. She often plays on her own
9. In the past she would play many times during the day, but lately she has been in a funk
10. He gets up and plays after everyone is awake
    I see a similar thread winding through these comments. Practice before school if they are elementary age and practice after dinner if they are middle school and high school age. Practicing the same time every day is a very sound solution. If your child has a heavy homework schedule taking a break to practice for 20 minutes will make them more able to concentrate again, after. 
   I remember the challenges of children practicing, very well; I had five of my own. One skill I developed was to acknowledge that I was not the best practice buddy every day for my children but I was able to be really good with each child once a week. On the day that my focus became intense with that one child, I listened more intently to their playing and assessed the flow and amount of hesitations and mistakes. I read their assignments carefully it see if they were playing all assigned music and I asked questions about their intentions. I tried to give assistance to the problems they identified. I showered them with praise and hoped that this was enough to carry us through the week. You may think that it was easy for me because I was a teacher but my daughter played violin and I knew very little about that instrument. The complexity of her instructions and her frustrations were often more than I could handle. I was not perfect, but once a week I was great.
   I hope this encourages us all to see piano as a practical and useful skill. Watch our video about how we see pianists in everyday life.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I Am In Love

   Natalie, at Music Matters, introduced me to Evernote, a free app organizing tool. I so appreciate the review and I am in love. It was just what I needed to keep track of piano lesson notes and ideas. I have a note for every student in a folder entitled "piano students".

    The search features allow such flexibility. I can add as many tags to a note as I please which helps me find a specific note quickly. With a free subscription I can upload 60 megs of material every month. I love opening the app and search for Thursdays lessons and seeing my notes for each student and a picture to boot. I think seeing their happy faces makes me excited to teach them.

     The app syncs to all my devices so I can create a note on one device and have it on the other in seconds. There are more great features. I have a little clipper that grabs an internet page and sends it to Evernote and makes a makes a note for me. I can take a picture of some music and put it in a note with a message to work on the piece. I can e-mail a note to a parent so I can share an insight. I could go on but this is enough to give you a peek into the ways I use Evernote.
   Love is in the air and it delivers to my device.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What Gifts Are Emerging With Piano Lessons?

   On my parent questionnaire I asked what gifts were emerging since the onset of piano lessons. I find that I see the gifts as well and I am so grateful to see them blossom. When it comes to gifts, it is my observation that they are given incompletely. I have a gift to improvise and compose but I did not get the gift to be thorough and detail oriented. I find a melody, play it and get excited and then my lack of stick-to-it-tiveism bogs me down. Notating is tedious and nerve-racking. Gifts never preclude hard work. 

   Here is a sampling of the great answers I received. As you can see composing is a gift that keeps rising to the top. 
1. He seems to have a good ear and good rhythm.
2. She can figure songs out by ear that she hears on her iPod.
3. She has always shown musical talent and she sings from her heart.
4. He is shy but the piano playing is revealing his musical gifts.
5. Both children are experimenting in other musical fields.
6. He enjoys composing and playing his own music when he has time. Music has given him confidence,
7. I remember when you asked him to improvise the first time. He only played one note. Now he makes up his own endings and he makes the music his own.
8. He is experimenting playing his own songs with chords. His confidence has grown mastering more difficult songs.
9. I found out she has even more music in her heart and head than I thought she did. She has been singing since she was very little.
10. He is creatively inspired.
11. He has improved his ability to sing in tune, can read notes, and has developed good rhythm.
12. We knew she was musically gifted but we didn't realize how steady and solid her rhythm would become.
13. She likes to compose a little of her own.
   These answers help me feel that I am on the right track to do more lead sheet work and improvising. Wish I had more time in the lessons.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

What Expectations Do You Have For Your Child?

In a recent questionnaire to parents I asked the question -What expectations did you have before your child started piano lessons? The answers were varied and insightful. Here are a few of them.

1.That my children will have a better understanding of music

2. That he would learn to read and enjoy music.

4. That it would be tough-going keeping her motivated over the long-term, but that—if she stuck with it—it would prove a long-lasting gift for her and for my (hopefully) future grandchildren. I looked at it as a long-term, generational investment and a gift for her if she ever wanted to do anything musically. 

5. I thought he would learn the basics of music.

6. Just that he would have fun, and love music, and be a lifetime lover of music.

7. That he would continue to love playing and gain confidence in his musical ability.

8. Just that he would learn to appreciate music.

I thought back to what my mother would have said. It would be something like, "I expect that she will learn to play well enough to accompany our family sing-alongs, play at the Christmas Eve party, and play for the church congregation." You see my mother was practical and she saw playing the piano as a practical skill.

So, to this excellent list of expectations may I add, expect that your child will play the piano for may varied and different functions of home life and community life. The Piano Is Practical.
 Watch for a documentary, starring my students, as we explore how playing the piano is a practical skill.

Monday, February 4, 2013

A Parent Interview

I am always interested in feedback from the parents I work with and so I wrote some questions which I felt would give me some ideas of what they thought about the experience of piano lessons for their child.

               The questionnaires are coming back and I am going to compile the answers and without revealing names give a general idea of what people said.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Vulnerability of Performance

 A few days ago my students and I participated in a piano recital. There is something so very vulnerable about playing the piano in front of a crowd. I have been doing it since I was eight but yet every solo performance I have a moment of wanting to back out, even to this day. 

  There are so many facets of our selves which are in view when we perform. Not only is our physical agility evident but our ability to focus, our gift to express feelings through music, and our self-consciousness is open for all to see. 
"Why would you choose to perform if it is so unpleasant?", my son asked. 
  Now that is such a great question. Perhaps it is that when we can open ourselves up whole-heartedly to the music we have come to live and breathe, it is an amazing high.

   During rehearsal M., age 5, balked as I explained that I wanted him to tell the audience his name and the names of his pieces. 
    "I can't," he said, "I'm shy." 
     It was his first recital so I offered to stand with him in front of the group. 
     "It wasn't that bad." he said after with a broad grin. 

   There in a nutshell is the reason to perform frequently. We can learn that our fears are not that real. Coming through a gut-wrenching experience can build hope that we are growing and changing. If we falter the lesson is still important. Perhaps we should have prepared better, or perhaps we learned that life goes on after a stressful event, or best, that we made music come alive and people enjoyed it.

   For the teacher, sitting on the sidelines, the event is emotional. I know too well what could happen. I see their legs shake, their hearts race, and their hands stiffen with cold. I send them bushels of love and hold them together with teacher energy. Then I clap and whisper that they were fabulous and feel privileged to know them in their most vulnerable hour.  It is exhausting, but so worth the effort.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Recital Tips

Dear Parents,
   It is a few days before the recital and perhaps I can pass on a few tips to the handful of new students playing for the first time. And for those of you who have attended year after year, thank-you for preparing your pianist and making the recital an important event.

   I look at performing at a recital as pay back time. When we play for our families we show honor for the money invested in our progress and give joy to a whole room of people. It is not easy to support a child for years of practice with the hope that they hang in long enough to master an instrument. I try to point out to my students how fortunate they are to have an opportunity to learn and be encouraged on all fronts.
   You can prepare your child by talking positively about their performance and give them many small recitals at home. Some students will feel anxious and vulnerable. Please don't deny their honest feelings but talk about how performing only gets easier when you do it. Mistakes happen and they are allowed without recriminations. I try to create a relaxed atmosphere at the recital and most students come through splendidly. You don't need to come early since adrenaline mounts just before, but arriving on time helps to ease tension.
   May I suggest that you look over the program with your child and note if they recognize any of the pieces. Perhaps you can point out some pieces that they should really listen to so that their attention moves to the performance of other students.
  After the recital we share treats in the hall behind the chapel and this is a time when each student can come down from the high of performance. Again, they may want to give some praise and feedback to other performers whose pieces inspired them.
  I feel so lucky to have a venue where I am not obligated to pay a fee for rental. This allows me to make the recital free of charge for you.
  You may want to look at some pictures of past recitals on the archived blog posts labeled Recital Time.
   See you at the big event!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

January Recitals

  It has been ages since I posted. I am still around and madly teaching, or teaching madly, I don't know which. News from my studio includes the fact that I moved my recitals from November to January. The jury is still out about whether that is better. This year the big draw is the music to the Sherlock theme from PBS.

  I have a student playing three themes from this series in one recital and in the other recital I will play a medley of Hero's theme from Sherlock with the main theme from Downton Abbey and a small segment from Mrs. Darcy from the Pride and Prejudice movie. They all seem to be in the same key and one moves well into the other.

   Hero's theme is lively and full of mysterious intrigue, while Downton Abbey moves and flows, which brings to mind the changes in from WWI-WW2 in England. Ending with Dario Marianelli's Mrs. Darcy actually takes us backward in time but back to a romantic ending.

                                                      I am paying homage to the English movies I love to see.

   You can find all this music on where I search often. Thank-you, Musicnotes for making my life easier.