Saturday, February 26, 2011

Rainbow Landmark Note Worksheet

I don't know about all of you, but I am more than ready for spring! We had more snow this past week- yuck! To take my mind off of the snowy landscape outside, and to find just one more creative way to help my students learn their landmark notes, I created this worksheet:
It's perfect for spring and for St. Patrick's Day! Please feel free to use the worksheet in your studio, and send me any comments or suggestions you may have.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Flu, Flu Go Away...

There's a lot of sickness going around in Maryland, but up to this point my studio has been blessedly healthy. Until this week, when all of a sudden they're dropping like flies! One canceled yesterday, two more today...who knows what the rest of the week will hold?!

This means the fun of lesson rescheduling begins! I try to be really nice about offering either a make-up lesson (I purposely set aside the final week of the term for make-ups) or deducting the missed lesson off of the next month's tuition, but sometimes it gets to be a bit of a headache trying to keep track of everything.

So here's hoping that my student's get better quickly, I stay healthy, and I can keep track of the rapidly increasing amount of missed lessons.

If anyone has methods that have worked for keeping track of missed lessons that need to be refunded or made up, I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

I LOVE Having a Keyboard in My Studio :)

I got an email this afternoon from my choir director asking me if I had time to make a recording of the children's choir anthem for Sunday and send it to her before their rehearsal tomorrow. I walked into the studio, recorded the anthem, hooked my thumb drive up, copied the file, transferred the file to my laptop, and sent it on its way. Just like that, in less than 20 minutes I was able to take a song, record it, and turn it into an audio file.

I used to be an acoustic piano purist. And when I started to teach I vowed that I would always use an acoustic piano for my students. I couldn't imagine teaching on one of those 'fake' electronic keyboards, much less even owning one!

Well, as I've learned over the years, I spend a good bit of my life eating my words! Not only have I owned a keyboard for about 2 years now, I teach from it and I have found it an invaluable asset to my studio.

I originally bought the keyboard to have as a good alternative for gigs. When one plays for private events, one quickly discovers that the ritziest locales can end up having the crappiest instruments. They just don't understand the value and difference a quality (or at least decent!) instrument makes. I got tired of my music sounding terrible because of the instrument I was stuck with.

Then I got married and my keyboard moved with me to our condo. After a few months, I started toying with the idea of opening a second studio location in our home. At that point I couldn't afford a piano, so after a lot of deliberation I decided to temporarily teach using the keyboard.

This past November I finally purchased my piano for the studio! I was so excited to have a quality instrument to play and teach on. But, surprisingly, in the interim between opening my second studio location and actually buying the piano my perception of the benefit of a keyboard changed dramatically. My students loved being able to come to lessons and try their pieces on a variety of settings and experiment with different sounds. A second instrument in the studio is an invaluable asset. And while I haven't yet experimented with recording my students, it's something I definitely want to explore in the future.

So while I still believe that there is no substitute for the acoustic piano and will never change my opinion on that count, I have come to acknowledge the keyboard in it's own right and appreciate what it has to bring to the modern music studio. Technology and music can be a wonderful partnership!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Question of the Week: Feb. 21, 2011

I realize that I skipped last week...but as I posted about teaching twins and got some feedback on that, I think I'll count that as my 'question of the week' for last week! ;)

This weeks' question focuses on adult students. I've had my fair share of these, and they usually don't last more than a few months as the demands of weekly lessons or the failure to meet their own expectations makes them drop out. Can anyone identify here?!

One of the most common phrases I'll hear from my adult students in a lesson is:
"I played it so much better at home."

I can identify with this frustration as I have experienced the same phenomenon myself- a piece that I have practiced flawlessly completely bombs during the lesson. So, what can we as teachers do to foster a non-threatening teaching environment? I personally don't think of myself as a very threatening personality, but there's something about playing for another body (especially if it's the teacher!) that can be really unnerving for the most prepared student.

I'd love to hear your ideas or tips on how to deal with this issue!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chord Challenge Worksheets for St. Patrick's Day

If you have students who need a little more practice building major and minor chords, I've designed these worksheets for use in the coming month:
Students are given the root note of the chord on the first cloverleaf and are asked to build the rest of the chord in the remaining leaves. You can print individual sheets for each student, or laminate each sheet and reuse it for multiple students. There is a major and minor worksheet. They are available under the printable section of my blog.

This is my first attempt at designing a worksheet and offering it for general use, so please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Double Trouble? (Teaching Twins)

I'm about to embark on a new teaching adventure, namely, teaching twins! They are two girls, age 7. One began lessons two weeks ago and she's enjoying it so much that her twin sister has decided to join in! I'm a bit nervous about teaching two sisters who are so close in age. I have a lot of siblings in my studio, but no two who are so close in age and ability.

Have any other teachers had experience with teaching twins? Do you have any advice to offer?

I'll be teaching them on two separate evenings, but I'm questioning whether to use the same method with both and if (and how much) I should change up my usual 'beginner' routine so that they're not having the same experience. Should I treat them just like two beginners and ignore the fact that they are sisters? Or should I try to change things up for each sister?

I'll let you know how this new endeavor goes!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentine Activity for Note Recognition

As I'm always looking for innovative ways to emphasize and brush up on musical concepts, I couldn't let Valentine's Day pass me by without incorporating that theme into a special activity somehow ;). I've been wracking my brain since the beginning of the month trying to design a game/activity that I felt would work well for my students. I looked a several different websites, and read many many great suggestions.

Here is what I'm planning to do with my younger students this week:
I printed the Valentine Notes page off of Susan Paradis' website and bought some candy hearts.

Happy Valentine's Day Conversation Love Hearts Candy (small) PinkSherbetPhotographyToo!

Each student will choose 10 flashcards and then place a piece of candy on the correct note on the Valentine Note page. Then, they uncover and name each note. If they get it right, the candy goes in their bag. If they get it wrong, the candy goes back in my bag. A fun, and hopefully motivational activity!

For my earliest students who are not yet reading on the staff, I plan to use the actual keyboard as the 'gameboard' by having them draw musical alphabet letters and then placing candy on the correct key.

That's my plan for an opening activity this week- I'll let you know how it goes ;)

Photo credit: D Sharon Pruitt

Friday, February 11, 2011

Is Piano Practicing Ever Fun?

Is Piano Practicing Ever Fun? | Piano Teachers Federation

I came across this excellent article published by Dr. Joseph Line at the Piano Teacher's Federation the other day, and I've been mulling over it ever since. It addresses a lot of the attitudes that we as teachers may adopt toward students that can actually be harmful in the long run. It's also brought to mind several issues I have with our current education system and the American attitude toward education in general, but that's a topic for another post! Hope this inspires all you teachers out there to rethink how we present the concept of practice to our students.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

PA Primer Reference Sheet for Teachers

I blogged about this a few weeks back, but it's taken me this long to finally get started on the project! In the coming months, I hope to create teacher help-sheets for each of the Piano Adventures levels with information on what students learn in each book, the concepts they should have a firm grasp on before moving ahead, some common struggles many of my students encounter, some of the more popular songs, etc.

At this point, I only have a few students in the Primer Level, but it's the one I'm most familiar with, so that's where I started. I attempted to color-coordinate each section; for example, I used purple since that's the color of the Primer books, pink for the technique portion as it's the color of the Technique & Artistry Book header, green for the supplementary section as it's the Performance header color, and so on and so forth. As you can see, this form is pretty empty at this point, but I wanted to post to get some feedback.

Please feel free to use this form in your own lesson planning and pass along any suggestions on how I could tweak it or what else I might want to include in a given category. You can download the form here.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Piano Teachers' Federation: A Great Resource for Private Teachers!

I joined the Piano Teachers' Federation this morning. It's a great site that allows you to create a customized teacher profile, meet other teachers from around the world, write articles, search the huge library of pedagogically related articles, participate in forum discussions, and discover a whole host of other resources I haven't even tapped into yet!

If you're not aware of this organization, I'd encourage you to check it out! I've posted a link to their website on my blog sidebar for anyone who's interested. Let me know what you think- and if you're already a member I'd love to hear feedback from you as well.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Question of the Week: Feb. 7, 2011

How can it be February already?! My first month of teaching has flown by, and I've been pretty pleased with my students' efforts and the progress they've been making. Last week was kind of a downer though. I think it's typical to see the initial enthusiasm wane a bit after the first month, but it's still not fun when you see bad practice habits (or lack thereof) start creeping back in.

One of the most frustrating aspects of being a teacher (at least for me) is the fact that I have so little control over so much of my students' lives. Now I'm not saying that I want to step in and micromanage, I'm merely observing that when I teach a lesson what I am working with is the product of a week I have had no control over and have no clue about. Perhaps the kid has had a really bad week and is struggling with self-esteem issues at school. Maybe he's had a big project due and that's been sapping all his time and energy. It may be that family problems or conflict has kept him from being as focused and dedicated as he may normally be. If it's a younger child, many times their level of preparation for a lesson depends largely on how much time the parent has had to spend with them in practice over the past week. In short, there are a whole host of factors that go into play that I never even get a glimpse of, and have absolutely no control over. And yet, I am expected to teach the lesson regardless. If they're prepared, great. If they're not prepared, I get creative. If they don't want to be there, we make the best of it.

While this adds a level of mystery and unpredictability to my weekly schedule that can be exciting, it also wreaks havoc on all my attempts at lesson planning. Half the time I find my plans completely tossed out the window as I encounter the reality of just what a student is prepared to perform.

So this leads to my question of the week for all teachers who find themselves frustrated in their best laid lesson plans:

What do you do when a student shows up grossly under-prepared and you suddenly have to alter your lesson plans? How do you deal with the issue, and how have you learned to become more flexible as a teacher?
I'd love your tips as I work to make myself a more flexible teacher as well!

Monday, February 7, 2011

My Own Worst Enemy

Maybe other teachers out there can identify, but I often find that in my role as a private instructor I am my own worst enemy. I tend toward the Type-A, self-critical, OCD side of the spectrum, and I often find myself in a paralysis of over-analysis if a lesson goes less than perfect. I get stymied in the "what if I'd done this instead..." or "I should have handled it this way..." and rather than maintaining a positive outlook find myself focusing solely on the negative and what went WRONG. I interpret no news as bad news and beat myself up over hypothetical complaints that students must be harboring against me, their inept teacher.

Funny thing is, I've been realizing in the past year that so much of this is only a product of my imagination. There have been countless instances where I have found my own worst fears- situations that have caused me to be frustrated and irritated for days- to be completely unfounded, blown way out of proportion, and ridiculous in light of the perception of the other person(s) involved.

Take this past week for example. I have had the privilege of starting two new students in the past three weeks. They are good friends and in the same class at school. One of the girls came for her second lesson this past week and informed me that her friend had reported being "a bit disappointed" after her first lesson. I immediately started the downward spiral of self-criticism. What had I done wrong? How could I have structured things differently in the lesson to better meet her expectations? I spent the better part of an entire day worrying about the issue and agonizing over the fact that I had somehow failed with my newest student. Then this morning I received the first-lesson followup email response on my newest student in my inbox. The mother wrote how her daughter was practicing every night, loving everything, and especially enjoying the rote song I had taught her in the lesson. My fears evaporated in an instant. My worries and agonizings had been completely groundless and unfounded.

I write all this in a spirit of humiliation, but more than that as a reminder to myself and to all those teachers out there who are like me. If you tend to focus only on the negative, start to understand that your perceptions usually are much different from those of the student or the parent. What you perceive as a failure, they might not even have acknowledged. As my own worst enemy, I need to take a step back and try to see from the other side. If I did this more often, and worried less about all the unknowns, I would be a much happier teacher :)

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday Morning Surprise

During our churches' morning music rehearsal prior to the service, I was approached by our church secretary and informed that I had been given a RAISE! I had heard rumors of this from a member of our personnel committee a few months ago, but with no follow-up conversation I had figured that it wasn't going to happen.

I don't do my church job for the money. I love the opportunity and privilege of leading in worship every week, I love being able to interact with the choir, I love the church and the fellowship. The salary I receive is just extra.

But to me the raise signifies that what I am doing actually has significance- that I'm making a difference in the worship at Springfield and that people are noticing and care enough to let me know I am appreciated, valued, and an asset to the church community. It's also instilled in me a fresh commitment to making sure I am continuing to pursue excellence in all my musical endeavors at Springfield Presbyterian Church. Here's to a great year as church musician!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Keeping a Positive Teaching Attitude

"No matter how far removed the student's product is from the ideal, there is always a way of starting from a positive angle." - Christos Tsitsaros in Creative Piano Teaching

January has been a great month in my studio. My students have been motivated, they've been enjoying lessons, and it's been a very positive few weeks of lessons. But for some reason this first week of February is not continuing the trend. It's not been a very positive week so far. And I think I know why. We've had a good deal of snow here in Maryland over the past week, and some kids haven't been in school for almost a week. Now, you'd think that so much time off would result in more practice, but (speaking as a previous student) I know that just the opposite often happens. A few days without the normal routine and motivation goes down the drain!

That being said, I've seen this unfortunate trend reflected in lessons thus far this week. Practice is way down, motivation and excitement aren't there, and progress hasn't been made like I'd hoped. I've been tempted several times to give in to a negative attitude in lessons, especially when students return with the same mistakes we had fixed in last week's lesson or continue to struggle with the same passage even after a week's worth of practice on their part.

That's why I found this quote so convicting today as I was reading. As teachers, we have two options. We can either tear down or build up. That's not to say that we should overlook problems or issues and just smile and say "that was great!" no matter what. There is a positive way to correct. But as a teacher, I feel that I should never react to a poor performance or a week where a student's progress has been less than acceptable with sarcasm, harsh criticism, or a 'let's fix this' attitude that makes the student feel like a failure.

Instead, I try to focus on the positive and move on from there. Yes, the rhythm might have been incorrect, but what about the dynamics? Did they miss a note there- maybe- but they managed to maintain a steady speed as well.

This style of teaching takes a lot more effort! It's a lot harder to maintain a positive attitude and find a way of correcting problems that doesn't leave a student feeling discouraged and completely trashed by their teacher. But I want to be the kind of teacher students enjoy taking lessons from and don't approach with fear. I want to creatively help my students to achieve excellence and feel they can succeed, even if they have an off lesson or two.

Easy to say, not so easy to do. But as I slog through the rest of this week, I'm determined to keep a positive attitude and foster an encouraging environment with my students.