Saturday, December 31, 2011

Question of the Week: January 1, 2012 - The Numbers Game

Happy New Year! It's truly almost upon us. I can't believe how quickly this past year has zipped by, but December 31 is here and a new year is about to begin.

I've taken the past week off from blogging and studio-related activities and simply enjoyed time with family and my life away from the piano studio. It's been quite refreshing :)This coming week I'll be getting ready for the spring term, set to begin on January 8.

As I get ready to gear up for a new studio term, I have a confession to make. I'm finding myself dissatisfied with the way things are shaping up for spring. More than that, I'm battling a little bit of discouragement.

I've kind of come full circle in my studio in the past year. In 2011, my studio was full to overflowing, thanks to transfer students and referrals. I passed on several students to other teachers, and actually had a waiting list! All this was great, if a little overwhelming. I felt like things were going pretty well.

So I was totally unprepared for what hit me after the fall term. I lost several students- one very unexpectedly. Due to my limited availability, several potential students were unable to enroll, and one opted for another teacher who offered a studio plan that was more fitting to her "age and ability level". OUCH!

All of this has left me below my target range for what I consider a full studio. It all happened so quickly and so unexpectedly that I'm still struggling with feelings of frustration and failure. I know that when a student decides to quit, it is not based solely on the teacher, but I still feel mostly responsible.

Have you dealt with this type of yo-yo effect in your studio before? One term, the numbers go up, the next, you're back down. How did you deal with that type of irregularity? I'd love to hear how you learned to not let it affect your self-esteem as a teacher.

I'll be back early next week with lots of posts on my plans for the spring...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas to All!

It's hard to believe that Christmas Eve is already here! Amidst the whirlwind of the final week of lessons, extra church rehearsals, and family activities, it has once again crept up on me!

I taught my final lessons for the year on Thursday, wrapped up the rest of my student evaluations yesterday, and am prepping for our church's Christmas Eve/Day services. It has truly been a wonderful fall, and my heart is overflowing with thanksgiving as I prepare to celebrate the coming of Emmanuel.

I pray that one and all will have a safe and blessed Christmas and enjoy some time off with family and friends. I'm taking a break from lessons until January 8, but my mind is already busy planning our spring practice incentive and I can't wait to share it here post-Christmas.

But until then...MERRY CHRISTMAS and may God bless us- every one!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fall 2011 Practice Contest Comes to a Close

My fall term came to an end yesterday evening with our annual Christmas party. Students were greeted by the completed wall of fame full of stars!

We celebrated with the sounds of the season as they each played a Christmas song, then we shared a pizza dinner and finished off the evening with a whole bunch of games.

But there's more to the end of the term than just fun and games. At lessons this past week, I reviewed each student's goal sheet (filled out at the beginning of the term) with them, and we discussed together what goals they feel they met, and what they need to focus on over the next term. It was a good way to wrap of the term and get them thinking about the term ahead.

I have make-up lessons this coming week and will also be working on students evaluations as I prepare for the coming term. It's been a really great fall!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Musical Games for DS

I've had several discussions with parents over the past few weeks on how we can work together to motivate kids to practice and internalize what they learn in lessons. When one of my students showed up for her lessons yesterday with her DS in hand, it got me thinking, "I bet there are some great musically-oriented DS games out there!"

I took a little time to look around this morning and see what I could find, and here's what I came up with. I'd love to hear from other teachers OR students/parents who might have used these games or have others to add to the list. These would make great studio incentives if you're a teacher who uses incentive programs.

Rhythm Heaven : This game concentrates solely on rhythm, and looks to be an especially great choice for students who need a little extra work developing a good sense of pulse.

Easy Piano DS: While not as highly rated as Rhythm Heaven, this game is perfect for the creative musical student. In addition to developing musical skills, you can create and store your own compositions!

Kids Learn Music: With a 5-star rating from Amazon, this game is an excellent, interactive way to learn about music from all over the world, while improving basic musical skills.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

My Favorite Holiday Resources!

Good morning! My presence on the blog will probably be scarce as Christmas looms closer and closer, but I wanted to share a brief list of some of my favorite places for Christmas resources for my students. I've been using these worksheets and games in lessons this week, and plan to use them at our term party in just another week as well.

1) Susan Paradis' website has a wealth of Christmas-themed activities and individuals and groups alike. Check out this post for a complete list of all the Christmas materials on her site.

2) D'Net Layton has some adorable sets of flashcard ornaments and stockings that are perfect for the Christmas season.

3) Jennifer Fink at Pianimation has several excellent games and theory activities as well. All of her Christmas resources can be found in this post.

Did I miss anyone? If you know of other great resources, please let me know! Merry Christmas to you all! :)

Friday, November 25, 2011

Question of the Week: November 21, 2011 - Favorite Holiday Activities

Thanksgiving is over and gone, which means it's time for my studio to jump headlong into Christmas music and activities. For the past few years, I've actually scheduled my fall recital before Thanksgiving, giving us the month of the December to wind down, relax, and have some fun with Christmas music and themed activities. I've found that it's a much better way to finish up a term of lessons rather than trying to compete with all the myriad of other holiday activities my students are involved in every December.

Each year I try to expand my resources just a bit by adding a few more games, worksheets, and activities to my current repertory. I'm always on the lookout for new resources and activity ideas. I was thrilled to win the Gingerbread Man Giveaway at Jeanna's Sing a New Song blog, and I have tons of games and activities from that resource that I am excited about introducing into my studio this coming week. But of course, I'm always interested in what else is out there!

What are some of your favorite holiday resources for your studio? Do you have any favorite activities or games? I'd LOVE to hear about them. I'll be doing a follow-up post listing your ideas as well as a few of my favorites, so please comment below.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fun New Rhythm Instruments for the Studio!

Yes, it's recital week at the studio, but in the midst of planning group lessons and getting all the recital details taken care of, I came across a few items on Amazon that I just had to purchase for my studio!

The first was a Band-In-A-Box kit which contains a variety of musical instruments perfect for rhythm activities both in individual and group lessons.

I also picked up a set of 4 egg shakers at the same time. I've been wanting to get a few of these for some time now, and this was the perfect opportunity.

The box arrived yesterday, and while I'm dying to use them in lessons, that's going to have to wait until lessons resume after Thanksgiving, giving me lots of time to come up with some creative ways to use these instruments in lessons. :)

I'd love to hear ideas from other teachers out there. Do you ever use other musical instruments in your lessons? How do you incorporate them?

I got something else very special in the mail yesterday as well; a lovely Thanksgiving card from one of the families I teach. In the midst of a rather hectic week, it was such an appreciated gesture, and gave me the extra boost I needed as I went about my recital preparations yesterday evening.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recital Week in the Studio: Group Lessons

Recital week is here, and I'm in the midst of putting the finishing touches on what promises to be a very enjoyable evening. In order to build enthusiasm for the upcoming recital I've held group lessons for the past 2 evenings. This is the first time I've tried putting group lessons on the actual recital week, and while it's been a bit exhausting and meant a whole lot more preparation on my part, I think that on the whole it's been a positive experience.

Here are some of the activities we've been involved in for this week's group lessons:

1) My older group took a pop-quiz at the beginning of their group lesson to see how well they really knew their piece! I only had 1 student who scored a perfect 100%- it was amazing how many students didn't know the actual tempo marking or the starting dynamic! Whoops! Guess I need to be a bit more of a stickler on this one.

2) Our first group activity was a visit to the pumpkin patch :) I printed and laminated pumpkins, wrote letters of the musical alphabet on them, and hid them in the front yard. Teams competed against each other in a musical alphabet hunt to see who could gather (in the correct order) all the letters of the musical alphabet. The older groups did the same thing using skips.

3) Back inside, we stayed in teams and competed using D'Net Layton's Candy Corn Note Match to see which team could collect the most candy corn. The various pieces were scattered between 3 locations.

4) As a calmer activity after all the running around, we played rhythm BINGO using candy pumpkins as our tokens. The winner got to eat their completed row. :)

5) After student performances, a listening activity concluded each group lesson. I used Jennifer Fink's excellent Listening Challenge Worksheets.

Group lessons this time around were a real blast and served as an excellent enthusiasm booster for the upcoming recital. I can't wait for Friday!

Any other teachers out there prepping for a recital? Do you have any excellent fall-themed resources or activity ideas to share?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Giveaway Winner!

It's Friday :)

I waited until a little later in the day to allow time for any last-minute entries, and the winner is...

#8: Elisabeth

CONGRATULATIONS Elisabeth!! I really hope that you will enjoy the book. Please send me an email at with your address and I'll get it in the mail to you shortly.

Have a great weekend everyone! :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Final Day to Enter My First Book Giveaway!

Happy Thursday! Just a brief reminder that I will be picking the winner of my first giveaway tomorrow, so if you want to enter, please go to this post and leave an appropriate comment to be entered in the drawing.

You really will be blessed by this book, I guarantee it! :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

A whopping triple student cancellation for this evening has found me home a delightful 2 hours earlier than the norm (plus an hour of errand running), AND enjoying an actual sit-down dinner! What an unexpected blessing in the middle of my teaching week.

I wouldn't always have seen it that way. In the past, I probably would have viewed this evening's unusual circumstances as yet another indicator of the lack of commitment all too often exhibited by my students and their parents. I would have been frustrated about the wasted planning time and the unexpected interruption in my scheduled week. But over time I've learned that what I see from my students is usually only about 10% of the larger story and that leaping to conclusions and judging based on my limited perception is unfair to them.

I'm also coming to learn that the way I view life is based only about 10% on what happens to me and about 90% on how I react to what happens to me. When 'life' happens, I can either decide to see the glass as half-empty or choose to see it as half-full. For example, this afternoon rather than grumbling about my students and their lack of responsibility, I chose to see the afternoon as an unexpected gift- a chance for some down time and some much needed recharging. That choice turned what could have been another frustrating experience into a delightful afternoon breather in the midst of a busy week.

All you other teachers out there- I'm curious. How do you handle those unexpected circumstances in your own studio? Have you found that changing your reaction really does make a positive difference in the circumstances?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Amazing Bach Duo on Floor Keyboard

Just a little fun for your Saturday morning. A friend posted this video on facebook, and I just had to share! :)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Teaching Musical Playing + My First Giveaway!

Good morning fellow bloggers! It's been a while since I've posted. I'm not sure how many other teachers have found themselves more and more pressed for time as the term advances, but I certainly have! Unfortunately, as a result my blogging has taken more of a backseat role these past few weeks.

This morning I wanted to discuss playing musically. Musicality is an aspect that I've been really emphasizing with my students this fall. While I do believe that this is something that should be taught from the very beginning, there are always some students who seem to be more in tune to all those subtle nuances that make the music come alive. Other students notice, but put it in as a matter of course, not because they feel it. And then there's that last category- the students that never pay any attention to the dynamics, tempo, touch, etc. and see the piece as successful only when they've plowed straight through and arrived at the end.

With so many approaches from the student toward the performing of music, there is no set formula that works across the board. Some students will more naturally pick up on the musical elements that appear in the music, while others will struggle with incorporating those elements, even after repeated reminders.

When I speak of musicality, my primary emphases are on aspects like the dynamics, articulation, tempo, and mood. Before we start a new song, I always take some time to have a discussion with the student about these elements- even on the most basic of pieces. I'll have them circle all the dynamics with a colored pencil, or trace the slurs to remind themselves to play with a smooth, connected sound. We'll discuss the title of the song, and how the music fits the title. By making the student aware of these elements from the very beginning, the musical results are generally much more positive.

As an added visual accompaniment, I often use this hand-out. It's especially helpful with those students who seem to really struggle with the concept of playing musically to help them be more in tune with these elements. It's available under the printables tab if you're interested in using it for your own students. Any thoughts on what else I could include?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you teaching musical playing to your students. What is the best way to teach this? Is there a time to start introducing musicality, or should it be part of lessons from the beginning? How do you help students who may struggle more with this issue? Do you consider a piece complete even if the musical aspects are not all there, or do you insist on all the elements before leaving a piece of music?

In addition to this discussion, I'd like to offer my first blog giveaway! Over the summer, I had time to read the excellent book "Scribbling in the Sand" by Michael Card. This book explores what it means to express ourselves creatively as Christians, and it really challenged my perspective of worship and creativity. I'd love to share this excellent book with one reader, so please, if you'd like to be included in the giveaway leave me a comment below telling what it means to you to be a Christian artist and how the presence of Christ in your life has shaped your approach to music and teaching. I'll pick a winner next Friday. Good luck!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Fun with Acrostics

Did you know that when Father Charles Goes Down And Eats Breakfast...

...he has granola?
...or that the granola sometimes gives him amnesia?
...or that if Father Charles is having a particularly bad day, the granola might end up eating him?

Oh the fun one can have in lessons when making up new acrostics! As you can see, one of my students from yesterday got pretty creative.

What kind of fun things have your students been up to in lessons recently?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Middle C and C Position Flashcards (Revised)

Ever had one of those moments where your best laid plans didn't quite turn out like you'd hoped? I went to print my flashcards yesterday in preparation for some games this week, and realized that the margins did not line up AT ALL! My apologies to those who may have printed them already.

I spent some time yesterday re-vamping these sets of flashcards to make sure that they lined up correctly. These new and improved sets can be found on my printables page under flashcards.

Making flashcards and worksheets is definitely a learning process for me! If anyone has tips they'd like to share, I'd love to hear from you! :)

Friday, October 14, 2011

It's the Little Things

Yesterday afternoon, I answered the door for my first students of the afternoon (a brother and sister who do back-to-back lessons) to find them bearing smiles and these lovely flowers which they handed to me with the words, "thank you for being our piano teacher."

I was so touched! There are many days when I don't feel appreciated as a teacher, and when students and their parents go out of their way to give just a small gesture of appreciation it really makes my whole day brighter! It truly is the little things that make teaching so worthwhile.

Have you had any little surprises recently that have brightened your teaching week?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Football Note Match-Up: More C-Position Review!

Here is another set of worksheets I designed with my beginning readers in mind. They can be found under the printables tab, scrolling down to the worksheets section. Enjoy!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Family Wedding

Yesterday, I had the wonderful privilege of playing for my first family wedding. My cousin Laura was a beautiful bride, and I was so happy to be a part of her special day. I've played for a lot of weddings, but as this was the first wedding I've ever done for family, I was surprised at how emotional I found myself over the ceremony. As I watched the sanctuary filling with family I was able to pour myself into my music as my own personal gift of love to both the bride and our extended family.

This was also the first time during a wedding ceremony that I have been asked to perform the special music all by myself. Some couples have asked for a vocalist or instrumentalist, while many others simply opt not to have special music. But Laura and Tony asked me to perform one of their favorite songs, "Your Hand in Mine" by the group Explosions in the Sky. It is written for guitar, so finding a piano transcription and then adapting it to fit within the space of ~4 minutes was interesting, but so worth it!

My musical contribution to the wedding was my gift to the bride and groom, but that didn't stop Laura's mother from writing me a lovely card and passing along an Amazon giftcard as a token of thanks. I'm going to be visiting the music section of later this week to purchase some more music books for myself as a special treat- I can't wait!

Have you ever played for a family wedding? Did you find yourself more involved emotionally in the ceremony?

Friday, September 30, 2011

New Worksheets for Learning C Position Notes

I have a number of beginning readers in my studio right now, so these worksheets were designed with them specifically in mind! There are 2 worksheets, one for each clef. You can find them under the printables tab, just keep scrolling down until you see the link for the Land of C. Please print and enjoy using these in your own studios.

Fall Practice Incentive Update

I'm wrapping up my first month of the fall term, and am finally starting to see some of my students earn their first stars for the studio wall of fame. It's been really interesting to see which students are actually the most motivated about keeping the goals they set for themselves, and which students make only half-hearted attempts to keep their goals. There are always some surprises!

At this point, less than half of my studio have earned their first star, but I'm hoping that as time goes on I'll see my students start settling into more of a weekly routine and meeting more of their goals.

For those other teachers who have practice incentives for the fall; how are your students doing? Are they showing the diligence and motivation that you'd hoped they'd show?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Personal Boundaries as a Teacher

Over the past month, I feel like I've been turning students away like crazy. Each time I get a phone call, email, or personal inquiry about lessons and have to say no I find myself feeling a bit guilty. Couldn't I have squeezed just 2 more in? That's when I have to remind myself of the personal boundaries I have set for myself as a teacher and hold myself accountable to what I know are my personal limitations.

Boundaries are important in every area of life. What does that currently mean for me as a teacher? Between my private studio, my church position, playing for private events, my other part-time housesitting job, and making sure I allow personal recharge time, that works itself out to between 20-25 students. At that volume I'm able to juggle all my responsibilities without feeling too burned out at the end of the week.

Before I start giving the impression that I have always perfectly maintained this balance, let me set the record straight. I haven't always been so good about maintaining my boundaries! ;) There have been terms where I've totally overbooked myself and arrive at the end of the week completely exhausted. There have been terms where I've overscheduled myself on certain days, meaning that I'll find myself at the end of a teaching day with a terrible headache and unable to give my final students the focus, attention, and patience they deserve. That's what it's really all about: making sure that we're the best we can be for our students. Numbers aren't important. Being able to engage and having the energy to communicate well is what's important. And if you find yourself with too many students to effectively communicate and teach, then you've gone too far.

So how do you find that 'magic number'? It's going to look different for every person, and will most likely change from year to year depending on other responsibilities, age, health, etc. It also takes time to get to know your limitations and give them the respect they deserve.

Taking time to recognize personal boundaries isn't always easy. When the calls come in, it can be so tempting to keep saying yes! But when that temptation comes, I remind myself of my boundaries and think of current students and what would truly be best for them.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you set boundaries for yourself as a teacher. Have you been successful? Ever had any major disasters?!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Great Resources to Help Students Meet Their Goals

I'm having so much fun working to help each of my students meet their fall goals. If you're like me, you love a good list of free resources, so I thought I'd share some of the tools I've been using these past few weeks.

For students who noted that they wanted to improve their note reading skills, I've been using Susan Paradis' Notes in the Fast Lane. My students absolutely LOVE these worksheets, and can't wait for the time each week at their lesson when we pull these out. I laminated the sheets to save on paper, and I time my students for 90 seconds. Their goal is to complete the sheet and get at least a 22/24 to 'pass' their current level.

For students who told me they wanted to work on reading intervals, I printed and laminated Wendy Chan's Interval Snap Game. This was a HUGE hit with my students last week (thanks Wendy :) ), and a great fun off-bench activity that helped review basic intervals. We used the cards to play Go-Fish.

Several of my students noted that they wanted to get better at keeping a steady beat, so in addition to a LOT more metronome practice, I printed out Wendy Stevens' Rhythm Worksheets and made packets for my students. Each student is responsible for writing in the counts and clapping and counting OUT LOUD with the metronome.

These are just a few of the resources I've been making use of in recent weeks. Do you have any resources that have become staples in your studio? Or any resources you've been using on a regular basis this fall? I'd love to hear about those!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Question of the Week: September 19, 2011- The Slump

I want to take a little time this morning to take a brief survey with the help of other teachers. It's only my third week into the fall term, and I'm already beginning to experience what I call "the slump".

Several students have shown up for lessons this week with little or no practice logged. One student even had the guts to tell me he'd "forgotten about practicing".

Over and above this, the level of focus among my students was way off this week as well, and I had a hard time reining in the energy and maintaining any kind of focus.

I always find this phenomenon occurs about mid-term, after the first month or so of lessons has passed and the reality of the recital hasn't quite hit home. I've never had it hit so early. Two weeks ago we were just started off, setting our goals, and talking about what we wanted to accomplish this fall.

Over the years as I've taught, I've seen this slump slowly shifting earlier and earlier each term, and lasting longer and longer. It seems that students just don't have the enthusiasm and discipline that I expect them to have. On top of this, the parents also share their attitudes and don't make disciplined practice a priority, rather, they'll come in and make excuses for their kids and expect me to be the one to pick up the slack.

I am just curious if other teachers out there are noticing this type of trend in their respective areas? Do you find my observations to be relevant and applicable to your own studios? Have you dealt with this in the past? Do you have any ideas for how to breathe fresh inspiration even when it seems to be needed in the first month of the term?

I'm not meaning for this to be a negative post, I'm just sharing my observations and looking for feedback and (hopefully) some advice from more experienced teachers. If you wouldn't mind taking a few moments to share your own experiences by commenting, I'd love to get a good discussion going on this topic!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Trip to the Zoo Finger Number Worksheet for Beginners: LH

I posted the companion worksheet to this one a few months back, but never made the LH worksheet available on my blog. I just added this sheet under the printables tab, so please check it out and enjoy having the complete set to use with your students! :)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Fall 2011 First Week Review and 2 New Printables

It's been a great first week back at my studio. While I have to confess that I was dreading the end of summer and the start of a new schedule a little bit, once the week started up I found myself completely enjoying the change of pace and especially seeing all my students again.

If you missed my post on the fall practice incentive, you might want to take a moment to review that post for a better idea of my focus over the course of the week. As is always the case after a break, the lessons are largely comprised of review and getting students back on track for the upcoming term. It was the perfect time to help them set goals for the fall term!

We spent the beginning portion of the lesson doing just that, and I was very excited about the way my students responded to the challenge. They were all enthusiastic about setting goals for themselves and I can't wait to start up again tomorrow and see how many students really followed through with this.

In addition to weekly practice goals and skills for improvement, I included a special section at the bottom of the page with two additional optional activities; a composition and research project. Several students were excited about one of both of these options, and in preparation for upcoming weeks, I created some brainstorming sheets for my students to use in preparing their compositions and completing their research projects. The sheets are shown below, and they are both available for download on my printables tab under "Other Teaching Aids". I'm sorry the images below are so small...I'm not sure why they came out that way :(

How has everyone else's week gone?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Question of the Week: September 5, 2011 - Handling Holidays

It's 2:00 P.M. on this Labor Day 2011, and I'm done teaching for the day! It's such a nice change of pace to finish up lessons in the early afternoon, especially as I'm just breaking back into the fall schedule and this makes the adjustment period a bit less stressful.

So I'm curious:

How many of you are teaching today? What are your policies for teaching on holidays?

My policy has always been to teach on those school holidays like Labor Day, Presidents' Day, etc. However, since school is not in session, I always give parents/students the option of coming earlier in the day, and they most usually all take me up on it! While this may not be an option for a teacher with a family or other obligations, the fact that I don't have any children makes it easy for me to flip my schedule around. I get an early start to the day and then get to enjoy a rare evening off. Win-win situation!

I'd love to hear thoughts from other teachers on how they handle holiday lessons.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fall 2011 Practice Incentive: The Wall of Fame!

I'm excited to share this afternoon about the practice incentive I'll be using in my studio this fall: The Wall of Fame! As I planned for the fall term, I wanted to work with my students to help them both set and keep goals for their progress.

At their first lesson, each student will work with me to set goals for their progress over the fall. They'll receive this handout which we'll use to jot down their goals as well as a chart where we'll track their progress.

I'm planning on using a good portion of the beginning of the lesson working with each student to help set up specific goals. The handout has space for them to decide how much they should practice each day, how many days they want to try and practice a week, how many pieces they'd like to memorize, and skills they'd like to improve. In addition to that, there are a few extra projects they can attempt; working on a composition or completing a special research project on a variety of topics.

Each week we'll revisit those goals, and every goal met will move them one step further along their chart. Every 5 spaces will earn them a star on the wall of fame!

I sent this handout out along with my September newsletter detailing the specifics of the incentive.

I'm really hoping that setting concrete goals will help my students make consistent progress through the term, and that meeting those goals will help them feel successful from week to week.

Has anyone else ever attempted a similar practice incentive? How did it go?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mentally Preparing for a New Term

I'm back from vacation, and going full speed ahead as I get ready for the start of lessons next week. I'll be posting over the next few days about my fall practice incentive and sharing more about the planning and organizing that is going on, but I wanted to take a brief moment today to talk about the preparation I've been doing for myself personally.

I can struggle very often to maintain a positive attitude toward my studio. I am easily discouraged by perceived criticism or when lessons don't go exactly as planned. I can quickly become overwhelmed by trying to pull both the weight of my responsibility and that of the student. I waste time comparing myself to other teachers and musicians and come away feeling like I have nothing to offer.

These types of attitudes haunt my steps more than I'd like to admit, and I have to constantly remind myself to stay positive and keep the correct perspective.

So with the fall term looming ahead, I've set aside a bit of time from the preparations to prepare mentally for the upcoming term and encourage myself about what lies ahead.

First, I completed my studio vision. I've had a studio policy ever since the beginning, but I'd never taken time to sit down and write a vision statement for my studio. I've always had vague ideas floating around in my head about how I perceive my studio and what I want to get out of it, but taking the time to corral these thoughts was so helpful for me! It's re-adjusted my perspective and helped me to focus on what I think is most important as I approach the term ahead.

If you've never done so, I'd highly encourage you to sit down and take a bit of time to get your ideas and thoughts on paper. It doesn't have to be anything fancy, and it can definitely evolve with time, but having a written vision statement breathes a fresh sense of purpose into ones daily approach toward teaching.

After my vision statement was completed, I took a little bit of time to assess just what I needed to improve in my teaching over this term. I started a list to detail the areas I can see I need to be more disciplined on in lessons. This will be very helpful for me as I plan out the first week of lessons in the coming days.

Finally, I wanted to share a book I've been reading over the past week that's really been instrumental in shaping my perception of who I am as a musician. Michael Card's book "Scribbling in the Sand" delves into the heart of Christ and examines Christian creativity in a way that's really challenging me both as a teacher and as a musician. I'd highly recommend this book.

Preparation is key to a well-maintained studio, but it's more than just preparing the lessons and organizing the studio. Preparing ourselves mentally is just as important, and after taking some time to do just that I feel much more positive about starting back into lessons!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Summer Music Fun with Piano Duos (or Trios!)

My summer term is officially over! My husband and I are heading up to Maine bright and early tomorrow morning for a brief, but much needed, vacation. I'm really looking forward to the trip, a chance to get a brief break from teaching, and a week off from playing at church.

When I get back, it will be about time for choir to start back up for the fall. I've already received a huge stack of music from the choir director that I'll need to start looking at upon my return (right now it's still in my music bag- I'm avoiding it until post-vacation).

While I'm looking forward to choir, the past few weeks at church have provided some great opportunities for collaborative music, something I'm a big fan of, as you well know if you've been reading my blog for a while. :) I wanted to share some of that music with fellow teachers because I've had so much fun sharing this music with our congregation. While most of this isn't sacred music, it makes a fun change from the usual, and is perfect for lighter fare over the summer months.

The first piece is a piano trio titled "Out...Standing" by Kevin Olson. It was a blast to play! I performed this along with our organist and her daughter. You only need 1 piano because the third person stands behind the bench and plays from there- sometimes high, sometimes low, and sometimes in the middle of the keyboard. It takes a little bit of coordination to get smooth execution, but we really had so much fun working on this piece that I'd recommend it highly.

If you're looking for a beautiful, easily accessible duo arrangement of Pachelbel's Canon this version by Denes Agay is an excellent choice. My little sister and I played this for a prelude last week. The piece is very tastefully arranged and the melody weaves between the two parts so that each performer gets their time to shine!

Catherine Rollin's "Valse Sentimentale a Deux" is another lovely, lyrical duet. The haunting melody and flowing lines of this beautiful piece make it as enjoyable to listen to as it is to play!

Finally, I'd like to share a delightful collection of duets by Norman Dello Joio. My sister and I played these duets years ago, but they are still as charming now as they were then. There are five pieces in this set, and whether you choose to perform a few or all five they are all winners!

Have any musicians out there heard of or used these pieces? Do you have any duet or trio treasures of your own that you find yourself constantly referring to for your own performance or with your students?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Benefits of Review

Summer lessons can be challenging, especially if you have students who are gone for about half of the term at camps or on vacation.

Such has been the case with one of my most motivated students this summer. He was a star practicer over the spring term and worked extremely hard, but this summer both his attendance and practice have been sporadic, and it's been really hard to make consistent progress with the amount of time between lessons.

Two weeks ago, after a lesson following another long break, I decided to abandon my plan for the summer and simply focus on review of previous material and concepts. The following week when he showed up for lessons, I challenged him by telling him we were going to look at some former pieces. We looked back through his books and picked a few favorites for him to review and work on over the week. And that's been our mode of operation for the past two lessons.

I can't even begin to say what a difference it's made! By keeping things positive and letting him choose some of his favorites, he's had fun without feeling like we're backtracking. I've also taken advantage of this opportunity to review some of the past 'problem pieces' to reinforce concepts where he's a bit weak. Finally, I've been incorporating some fun, off-bench activities into the lesson.

There are some times when taking it easy for a few weeks and falling back on good old-fashioned review really is the best option. And I'm thrilled at the positive results I'm seeing from this slight detour. With a few weeks of review, I can be certain that this student will be more than ready to jump into the next unit come fall.

That's been my most recent teaching 'aha' moment. Can you remember a specific time when review of material was a lifesaver for a particular student?

Monday, August 15, 2011

Final Week of Lessons for the Summer!

I can't believe it's here already! Today kicked off the final week of summer lessons in my studio. It seems like just yesterday I was putting together my summer practice incentive and getting ready for the 10-week summer term. Where did the time go?

As the summer winds down, my posting has also been getting more sporadic- my apologies! Between wrapping up lessons, several housesitting jobs, planning an upcoming vacation, and starting to plan for the new term, blogging has somehow made it to the bottom of the 'to-do' list! And it will probably be that way for a little bit.

Don't worry- I'll be back soon with lots of posts on kicking off another term in my studio :)

Monday, August 8, 2011

1 Octave Minor Arpeggios Just Added!

I was able to complete my 'weekend project' late Sunday afternoon, and the 1-octave arpeggio visual guides are now complete with both major and minor sets available under the printables tab.

Please check them out if you are interested, and, as always, send feedback my way!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Finding Ways to Inspire and Affirm The Student

I posted earlier this week with a question I had over a student who is hesitant to give a straight answer to any question I ask and often reverts to a 'safe' alternative-replying with "I don't know". It was very helpful to receive commentary from other teachers who have dealt with similar issues. It seems to be a common problem, especially with pre-teen and teen students who have a desire to please coupled with the insecurities of adolescence.

This is a situation that every teacher will have to face at one point or another, but over and above this particular scenario I think it's important to make sure that as teachers we are giving the right message to our students regardless of whether they display hesitancies to interact or not.

So what can we as teachers do on a weekly basis to ensure that we are consistently affirming our students and inspiring them to success rather than tearing them down? I've compiled a brief list below.

1) Get to Know Each Student: A lack of response can mean many things. A student may suffer from an acute sense of perfectionism and be absolutely terrified of giving a wrong answer. Some students might just be extremely resistant to the idea of piano lessons and their lack of response is a form of defiance. Others are just shy and need to get to know you as a teacher before they feel comfortable opening up. By taking an interest in the person rather than the student you are showing that you care about their success and their story.

2) Cater Your Teaching Approach to Particular Needs: This naturally follows from number one- as teachers we can't change our approach without knowing the student. Keeping the same attitude across the board and refusing to adapt to the personal needs of the individual can be fatal. It displays a lack of passion for your profession and a lack of care for the student. As private teachers, we have the opportunity to work one-on-one with each student. It takes more work to teach to the individual, but the rewards greatly outweigh the cost.

3) Be Willing to Listen: This includes attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues like body language. Pay careful attention to the way a student interacts. Their verbal responses and non-verbal cues can be a big clue to the motivation behind the way they are acting and expose insecurities that need to be addressed.

4) Get off the Bench: If a student seems to be having trouble opening up to you, try starting to incorporate more fun activities into the lesson. Sometimes when students feel that they are constantly on the 'hot seat' (ie- the piano bench) they can respond by shutting down. Changing the environment and making it less threatening can help them feel less nervous about opening up.

5) Lighten Up: A sense of humor can do worlds of good toward helping a student feel more relaxed. Don't be afraid to be or say something silly to help lesson tension the student might be feeling.

6) Stay Positive: Take some time to evaluate how you teach- are you constantly pointing out mistakes that students make, telling them what they need to correct in order to make things right? Consider trying a different approach where you focus instead on the positive. Tell them what they did well, build them up and encourage them- then move on to what they could work on. Use positive language even when unearthing mistakes and engage them in helping you discover the spots that need work- that way it's not you as the teacher always coming down on them.

7) Encourage Questions: Sometimes we can get so caught up in our teaching mode that we cut off students and ignore their questions or treat them as stupid interruptions. Every question is valid. We need to take the time to hear the question and give it the respect it deserves. Without questions, the interaction between teacher and student becomes one-sided and can lead over time to the student shutting down due to lack of a sense of value as a person.

I know this list is not complete by any means, but it gives me some food for thought as I prepare to teach each week. And there's something else to mention as well. When I focus on being positive with my students it has a positive impact on the way I view my entire life. I find myself seeing the glass as half-full a lot more than the other way around. Positivity is contagious! Fostering an environment of caring and positive affirmation in one's private studio is only the starting point.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Visual Guides for One Octave Major Arpeggios

I'm in the midst of re-working my visual arpeggio sheets...and while fixing up the 2-octave sets, I decided to do some 1-octave sets as well.

The blank set is for students to write in the fingerings on their own and has grey keys for ease with writing. Please feel free to use these in your studios and comment if there are any mistakes you might find. I am an amateur at any computer-generated materials like this, but hopefully these will be useful! Both of these sets are available on the printables tab.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I have a student who has been asking all summer for Star Wars music. There was always a reason we couldn't get to it...first, I needed to find music, then he was away on vacation, then there was another song I wanted him to finish first...but finally I decided to surprise him this week with the music!

I presented it to him first thing, and I asked him if he knew the song. His response? "I think so." But as he started to play the first few measures, I could tell the instant it 'clicked' as a huge smile lighted up his face and he kept playing.

Seeing that joy and excitement on the face of a student is a priceless treasure!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Question of the Week: August 1, 2011- How to Deal with "Clueless" Students

I have a particular student whose response to any given question during our lessons can be predicted with 97% accuracy (I say this because there are some rare instances when he surprises me). That response is:

"I don't know."

It doesn't matter what the question is...What do you want to work on first today? Do you think that phrase 3 is the hardest phrase? What does the title of this piece suggest to you? seems that no matter what question I ask, I always get the same response.

I've tried various manners of approach. Sometimes I'll give him a few options, hoping that providing some guidance will help him make a decision. I try to draw him out with leading questions and hints. But nothing seems to work, in the end it just seems like I have to sit there and tell him everything.

I like to teach by asking lots of questions and helping my students find the answers rather than sitting there and telling them what I want them to do all the time. But it seems that this just isn't working with this child.

So...any suggestions from other teachers out there? Have you ever had a student like this who seems to not want to answer any questions in their lessons? How did you deal with it?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pasta and Piano

I just found this so adorable I had to share! While teaching yesterday afternoon, I was talking with one of my students about the tempo marking of a piece he was working on. I asked him what the tempo marking meant to him, and after studying it for a moment, he turned to me and said:

"It means a little bit faster than al dente."

It took me a moment to realize that he was referring to andante, but after that we both had a good laugh about making his tempo sound like 'pasta' and what that could mean!

Any of your students come up with their own alternate definitions recently? This is part of what makes teaching so much fun for me!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Inspiring Video Clip: Music Prodigy Derek Paravicini

A MTA colleague of mine shared this video with me, and I found it so inspiring I wanted to pass it on! Derek's story is truly amazing and inspiring, and reminded me to never underestimate the possibilities!

Take a few moments to watch this video- hope you enjoy this as much as I did!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

New! Teacher Resources Page

It's finally up! I hinted last week that I might be compiling a teacher resources page to put up on my blog. As a teacher, I am always looking for good sites that offer free resources as well as items that I need for various musical projects at inexpensive prices. I've come across a few really wonderful resources over the past few years of teaching, and wanted to share them for the benefit of other teachers.

I don't want my list to stay it's current length though! It's my goal to continue to grow the list as I discover new resources- whether through my own research or from the input of other teachers. So...please check out the list and let me know if there are any sites I might have missed!

I hope you enjoy this new blog resource :)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Another Budding Composer?

I have been blessed with an incredible studio of musicians of all different ages and skill levels. But no matter their age or ability, they all have a special place in my heart and I am always so proud of them when they take extra initiative and surprise me with their efforts.

Like when a student who'd only had 4 lessons showed up for his 5th lesson today with this:

During his lesson last week, the topic of composition happened to come up, and this student seemed intrigued by the idea that he could actually write his own song. However, I hadn't realized how much he had taken the idea to heart until he came back with his own composition meticulously transcribed.

He had written an entire piece using only quarter, half, and whole notes (the only rhythms he knows at this point), a wide variety of dynamics, AND his own lyrics (with a little help from his mom!).

And what's more...he performed his piece with perfect attention to every detail he'd added.

Here he is proudly holding his work of creativity.

These little unexpected surprises are what make teaching so worthwhile for me and give me the endurance to make it through the lessons that aren't quite so positive.

Have any of your students surprised you lately?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Another Great Resource for [Almost] Everything Musical

I have to confess- I LOVE getting magazines in the mail! And when I received a catalog from Music Treasures Company earlier this week, I couldn't wait to look through it to see just what they had to offer.

I was completely blown away by the variety of items they offered, and at pretty reasonable prices too! Not to mention a clearance section (always where I look first ;) ). From apparel to accessories and fun gifts, certificates and trophies to classroom and studio decor, they have a little bit of everything.

So I'm curious. Have any other teachers out there heard of this company or had experience with their service and products? What other companies have you ordered from in the past? Do you have and standard go-to places that offer hands down the best selection and deals?

I'm thinking of adding a page to my blog with a list of great resources like this, so any additional companies you can recommend would be great!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Crazy About Scales!

As a musician, one of my favorite ways to start a practice session is with scales. As practice time is often limited, I don't always take the time to do so, but when I do I have SO MUCH FUN!

I don't know when my little love affair with scales started, but I think it was sometime in college when my teacher showed me all the many ways I could get creative with scales and arpeggios. Up to that point, scales had been super boring and monotonous- 4 octaves ascending and descending with the metronome, arpeggios, cadences...where's the fun in that?! But a whole new world of possibilities was opened up to me when I realized I could play scales in parallel 3rds/6ths/10ths, perform both scales and arpeggios in parallel and contrary motion, vary my dynamics, articulation, was exhilarating! Suddenly scales transformed from boring drills into exciting, creative experiments. I started to enjoy that part of my daily warm-up so much more and continue to enjoy it to this day.

Having the rare opportunity to warm-up with scales yesterday reminded me again how much I enjoy them and also got me thinking about the role we as teachers have in finding creative ways to inspire our students. There are teachers who merely teach, then there are those who inspire. I make it my goal to be the type who inspires.

What does it mean to be a teacher who inspires? It means constantly thinking outside of the box and looking for creative ways to approach new concepts. It means embracing new ideas rather than sticking with the tried and true. It means taking the time to learn what makes each student tick and then finding ways to teach to those specific needs. It means being willing to make mistakes. It means being a teacher who teaches with excellence but also has fun!

Being this type of teacher does mean more work. It's a lot easier to stick to the middle of the road and never go outside the boundaries of what's comfortable looking for new ideas. But the incredible rewards of the extra work make it all worthwhile!

So what do you do to inspire your students and motivate yourself to go the extra mile to make sure it happens? Did you ever have a break-through moment as a student where a particular teacher made a musical concept come alive for you?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Building My Music LIbrary: Popular Repertoire

While some of my students claim to have no idea what they'd like to get out of piano lessons, most students come to their lessons with a playlist in mind- a list of songs they'd really love to be able to play on the piano. The reason behind the request can be something as simple as the fact that they heard the song on the radio, on TV, or in a movie, or maybe it's a song that was a favorite of someone special to them. Whatever the reason, I always try to honor those special requests whenever possible.

Over time, it seems that more and more students are requesting popular titles over classical or sacred music. Unfortunately, the majority of the repertoire I currently own is classical or sacred! ;) So over the next few years I hope to build a good collection of additional repertoire for my lending library that students can borrow. Why buy for my personal collection rather than make the student buy the book? For the simple reason that they usually are only interested in one song from the book, and I hate to make they buy an entire book for one song. Plus, this gives me a good core of popular music to draw from for future requests.

I've been taking baby steps toward this goal by buying a few books here or there when requests are made- seeking solid repertoire that I know will be an asset to other students as well.

Some of my favorite recent acquisitions have come from the Hal Leonard Supplementary Collections. I have a student who eats up any broadway musical tunes, so the Broadway and Movie Collection was perfect for her. Another student who has been requesting some Disney music will benefit from these books as well.

I've also been making use of some of Alfred's 5 Finger Piano books for my youngest students. Harry Potter has been requested frequently, and the 5 Finger Movie Heroes collection has music from Harry Potter as well as Star Wars (another frequent request).

I'm always looking for good suggestions for my lending library- especially as it's still in its infancy. Any suggestions out there for great collections of popular music? Broadway or movie hits?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Beautiful Day For a Wedding!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to play for a wedding at The Brookeville Inn. It was a beautiful setting for a wedding, and the weather, surprisingly, was quite mild for a July evening.

We were out back behind the Inn on a patio overlooking a pond and surrounding fields. I had plenty of time to wander around and take pictures, as the wedding was about 50 minutes late getting started! The groom, whose two children were to be in the wedding, had left their outfits at home, and there was a mad rush back to the house to get the clothes before we could start the wedding.

Luckily, during the wait the guests all went into the Inn for drinks so I didn't have to provide music for that whole time. In spite of the delay, I had a fabulous time playing for the wedding. I always enjoy getting out and playing for special events like these.

Food for thought...

At each wedding I play for, I find myself continually surprised at the attitude most couples take toward the music for their big day. It's regarded as a last minute add-on in many cases, and I am often contacted as an afterthought. In this case, the couple decided two weeks beforehand that maybe they did want music after all, so they contacted me. When couples decide they want music, they usually don't have any preferences on music, except maybe a request for the Processional. This leaves me responsible for the selection and order of the music, which I actually prefer, but as a musician I am always baffled at how music can take such a backseat position in such a big event.

Do other musicians out there find this to be true? Have you seen a decrease in the amount of interest couples take in their wedding music? Have you ever had an experience like mine when things didn't go exactly as planned? ;) I've had my fair share, but I'd love to hear your own stories!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Halfway Thru Summer Already!

As summer is definitely my favorite season, I'm sure you can imagine that I write this post with mixed feelings. While the past 5 weeks of our summer term have been an absolute blast, I am still sad to see we're over the hump and moving into the second half.

As we approach the second half of the term, I've been spending some time mulling over some of the highlights thus far of the term. The practice contest is certainly turning out to be a huge success. I think at times there's nothing wrong with fostering a healthy sense of competition in your studio, and we've certainly had our share here this summer! Kids are so excited about coming to lessons each week to add to their ice cream cones and sundaes. While their minds are focused on the rewards, I, as the teacher can see other benefits as they are improving immensely because of the extra time they are putting into practice.

I can be as creative as I want while planning a practice incentive, but the ultimate success really depends on the students themselves. How will they react? Will they be inspired to work harder, or will they just not care? All it really takes is one or two kids who have that drive and it gets the whole studio abuzz.

I'm excited to say that that has definitely happened here! :) So, while I am happy in a successful term thus far, I have to give most of the credit to my amazing students who make it all worthwhile.

Have any inspiring stories to share from your summer term so far? Have your students been motivated? What are you doing to keep them focused and excited about lessons not that we've hit that mid-summer slump?!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Born to Be a Musician

My husband and I were listening to a podcast the other morning, and the speaker challenged us at the end with two questions:
What were you created to do? and Why aren't you doing it?
Why these questions can be applied on many different levels, I've found myself pondering them over the past few days in reference to my role as a musician and piano teacher.

What is it that gives our lives meaning? What is it that we find provides that sense of passion and purpose that is so important to our identity as human beings? If we don't find the answers to those most basic questions, we'll most likely find ourselves floundering through life with no anchor on which to stake our identity.

When I look back on my life, there are many threads that make up the tapestry of who I am as a person. Some of those threads have woven in and out of my life over the years. But one thread that has been a constant since my earliest years has been that of music. I begged my mom to start piano lessons at 3 years of age. I learned to read music just after learning to read, making musical language just as much a part of my identity as the written language.

I was always involved in some kind of musical activity as a child, whether it be choral or drama activities, piano lessons, performances, or recitals, or accompanist opportunities. Music and I went hand in hand- we were inseparable.

Now as an adult who both teaches and performs music, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that music was what I was created to do. I get so much joy from teaching music and from sharing my music with others that I can't imagine spending my life doing anything else.

And yet...there are obstacles. The second question, the accusing why aren't you doing it? has more of a hold on me than I'd like to admit.

As musicians, our home turf is under the spotlight. While we may not feel that way all the time, each week as I teach I am, in a sense, a performer. When I play for services on Sunday or at a wedding, I am a performer. Whatever I do as a musician, my work involves some type of performance, whether it be in front of a crowd or in my home studio with just one child. That can be intimidating and daunting, especially for one who also battles with low self-esteem and a sense of never being good enough. It can seem so natural to fall into the trap of constantly evaluating our performance and comparing ourselves to others. Other teachers who do it better, have larger studios, more teaching experience, higher credentials. Other performers who have more talent, a better stage presence, flashier repertoire.

Those comparisons can paralyze us and lead us to create a million excuses to answer the question why aren't you doing it?

I was challenged by those two questions to take an honest look at myself as a musician. No, I may not be the most highly qualified, talented, experienced performer or teacher on the block, but I know that I have been created to 'do' music, and allowing myself to fall back on excuses rather than getting out there and doing it is when the real failure occurs.

I'd challenge you to examine those two questions for yourself:
What were you created to do? How do you know that music is your calling, that you were born to be a musician?
Why aren't you doing it?What is it that holds you back from your true potential as a musician? Fear? Feelings of inadequacy?
Don't let pitfalls stop you from reaching your potential! Get out there and embrace what you were created to be!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Review: A Call to Prayer

This book was another purchase I made with the gift card I received from a student after the spring term. Sadly, it's taken me until July to preview the book and post a review, but here it is at long last.

Years ago, I received as a gift a book of hymn arrangements by Melody Bober and literally fell in love with every one of the songs in the book. The settings were refreshingly original, and different enough that I didn't feel like I was playing a rehash of the same roadmap for every piece. Unfortunately, I misplaced the book, so when I was searching for books to add to my order, another Melody Bober collection seemed a good choice. The title of the book alone, "A Call to Prayer: 10 Arrangements of Hymns that Speak to the Heart", was enough to pique my interest. As a rule, I tend to be more interested in quieter, more introspective arrangements, and this sounded like it would fit the bill.

I did an initial run-through of the book last week, and have to admit that I was a bit disappointed with most of the arrangements. Feeling a little bit frustrated, I laid the book aside and decided to wait a bit before I picked it back up and gave it a second run-through.

This afternoon I was able to re-visit the book for at least a partial re-play of each arrangement, and I'm glad that I did. A second shot left me with a much more positive opinion of this collection, though it still doesn't rank among my top favorites. While I still see some of the arrangements as either too simplistic, predictable, flashy in spots, or modern for my tastes, there were a few selections that are quite nice. I loved how the arrangement of Be Still My Soul/It Is Well With My Soul ended by blending both hymns together, I like the slightly syncopated feel of He Leadeth Me, Just As I Am is simply and gorgeously arranged, and the hint of jazz found in the final arrangement What a Friend We Have in Jesus is pure fun to play.

Overall, while still not completely thrilled with my purchase, I can see that this book will afford many nice arrangements for upcoming church services. Has anyone else puchased/previewed this book? What were your opinions?