Thursday, May 26, 2011

Looking for Some Good Church Music Books

One of my students gave me an Amazon gift card as a thank-you gift after last week's recital and I've decided to use it to supplement my current selection of church music. It's been awhile since I added some new books to the mix and I'm ready for some new music to spruce up my Sunday morning repertory selections!

I'm going to be doing some searching over the following week, but I thought I'd also take a brief poll. I'd love to hear from other church musicians with suggestions on:

1) favorite hymn arrangers
2) favorite books of hymn arrangements
3) favorite series of hymn arrangements

So send me your top picks! I can't wait to see what you have to say :)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Spring Practice Incentive: Results are In!

We finished up the spring practice contest last week and celebrated the end of a great term at the dress rehearsal/studio party. If you want more information on this terms' practice contest, check out this post.

Once again, there were some students who took the challenge to heart, practiced every day, practiced diligently and seriously, and whose playing dramatically improved as a result. Then there were those students who didn't really seem to care about the contest and whose progress over this term was just so-so.

You can see the difference in looking at these charts as of last Friday. The monkeys are all over the tree! But I was happy to see many more on the upper half as opposed to the lower :) The winners received a $10 iTunes gift card.

Here are the results of our memorization challenge. Once again, some students really took this seriously and made it a goal to memorize almost every song they learned, while others really didn't take the challenge to heart.

I haven't awarded the prize yet, as we'll be doing a memory challenge this week in lessons to see how many of these songs the students actually remember, but the winner of this challenge will also receive a $10 iTunes gift card.

Any of you out there wrapping up a practice incentive program? What have you used as a theme? Was it a term or year-long theme? And what great ideas did you have for prizes?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Recital Week: The Recital's Over...Now What?!

Last nights' recital was a wonderful event full of beautiful music and fun memories. I always get a bit nostalgic every recital as I see my students perform and remember where they were last term and how far they've come.

This recital was extra special for several reasons. Three of my students played original compositions as part of the program. In addition to that, we finished the program with an original composition of a different sort. One of my teenage students expressed an interest a few months back in composition using FL Studio, so for the past month we've been working together with the software. We shared one of his compositions to wind up the evening. Finally, we also had a few sibling duets. My sister and I grew up playing duets together, and it's been my joy to be able to work with several sets of siblings in this area and help them learn how to play together.

I received flowers and numerous cards, including this one:

And I have to share this because it's just too cute! Downstairs at the reception, I was approached by one of my beginner students who's had just a few months of lessons. With a slightly worried expression on her face, she came up to me and asked, "Are we going to have more piano lessons?" I assured her that this was not the end and that she would get to continue taking lessons, to which she replied, "Oh good! I want to take more piano lessons." SO ADORABLE!! This was a student who was extremely nervous about performing. Her first question at her first lesson a few months back was, "Do I have to play in the recital?" You wouldn't know it from the fact that she asked to play an additional piece in the recital and walked confidently up to the piano for each performance!

All in all it was a delightful evening! Now here it is the morning after the recital and the big question is...what next?! Rather than ending the term with the recital I prefer to give my final week of lessons after the recital. There's so much hype and build-up to the recital that students sometimes struggle re-focusing after the event and I like to have a final week to wrap-up, re-focus, and get students excited about the summer term.

At our final lesson of the term I have my students fill out a performance evaluation on their recital performance. Then we talk together about what they liked and didn't like about their performance and how we can work on those areas in the future. At this lesson I also distribute surveys for both the students and parents (loosely based on these forms) to fill out giving me feedback on the past term of lessons. For a fun activity, we usually go back and do a 'memory test' by randomly picking pieces from their memory list to see if they really do remember them!

The remainder of the lesson is spent re-focusing the student on repertoire and establishing some goals for the summer (if they plan to take). I have a 'Summer Wish List' sheet to write down any special music they'd like to try and learn over the summer months since we usually take a more relaxed pace and focus on fun music projects.

When do you bring your spring term to a close? Do you make the recital the final event or do you hold lessons afterward? Are there any specific goals you like to accomplish in your final lesson week?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Recital Week: Recital Dress Rehearsal

Tonight is my studio dress rehearsal. This is one of the events over recital week that I look forward to the most. While I do enjoy the actual recital, the dress rehearsal is like a big party and gets everyone excited about the following evening's performance.

We meet at the church so that students get a chance to play on the actual instrument before the recital. The church's fellowship hall is also much more conducive to large gatherings than my parent's home where I used to hold the dress rehearsal and recital in my early days of teaching.

We kick off the rehearsal with dinner in the church fellowship hall. I usually order pizza and ask each family to contribute either a drink/snack/or dessert. This helps break the ice and get everyone a little bit more relaxed before we head upstairs to perform!

At past recitals, I noticed that some of the students didn't pay attention while the other students were performing. To encourage everyone to pay attention a few years' back I started printing the recital program for the dress rehearsal with extra space on the side where students are required to 'take notes' on the recital pieces. This gives them a specific task to focus on as they listen to each piece. It's worked great! I collect the sheets at the end of the rehearsal and before the recital I type up the comments for each student and hand them out when they arrive on Friday. This is a great morale booster as they prepare to perform.

After our recital run-through, we head back downstairs to play some fun games to wind up the evening. In keeping with this terms' practice incentive, we'll be playing some tropically themed games!

What's the purpose of a dress rehearsal? Most importantly, it's a time for the students to try out the instrument prior to the performance as well as get used to playing in a new location. Becoming familiar with the touch of the piano as well as the acoustics of the room are important for a confident performance. In addition to that, I want the dress rehearsal to be like a pep-rally so that the kids leave the event pumped up and excited about performing the following evening.

Do you hold a dress rehearsal? What are your primary goals when planning and holding a dress rehearsal?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Recital Week: Designing the Recital Program

I spent a portion of this morning putting the final touches on my recital program and running to Staples to make copies. I'm always surprised at how much it costs to copy these programs! That's why I opt to keep the format simple and go for black and white over color programs. Otherwise I could be spending almost $2/program!

I choose to do my programs in booklet style- a nice, yet simple, front cover with my favorite music quote, then the program inside. An insert contains a brief bio on each student performing that evening. I started doing this a few years back and I think it's a nice way to get to know a bit more about each performer.

Something else I always include at the end of the program is a list of the students who won't be performing due to scheduling conflicts or other situations.
I have a few students this year who had picked pieces for the recital and were planning to perform but are having to miss due to unexpected conflicts, and I want to reward their hard practice efforts over the past piano term.

How do you design and format your recital program? Are there any great tips you've discovered along the way that students love or that have been major cost cutters for you?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Recital Week: To Memorize or Not To Memorize?

Today I'd like to share my thoughts on where memorization stands on my priority list as I prepare my students for a recital. I grew up with a very strict teacher who insisted that we always memorize our music for recitals. Performing with the music wasn't even an option. I know that opinions about memorization among pedagogical circles have been many and varied through the years, and there is definitely merit to memorization! But while I firmly believe that to be the case, I don't always insist on my students having their music memorized for a recital.

My number one goal when hosting a studio recital is to create a positive experience for each child involved. I want them to look forward to performing and begin to grasp the joy we experience through sharing our music. And whether this involves music or no music is a lesser concern to me.

Every student has strengths and weaknesses. Some students memorize amazingly well, while others can struggle for months to memorize a simple piece. This does not mean that they are an inept musician, and I don't want a student who has trouble memorizing to experience extra anxiety about a performance because I insist on making them play without music.

My students do memorize pieces throughout the term, and I try to encourage memorization as much as possible. While some students will exhibit a natural tendency to memorize more quickly than others, this is a skill that can be developed over time, and all my students need to learn how to go about memorizing. My past few practice incentive programs have included rewards to students for pieces they memorize, and that's been a huge encouragement to students to try and develop their skills in memorization.

To cut down on the pressure, even though my students perform multiple pieces for the recital, they'll usually do one solo piece (memorized) and one duet with me (non-memorized). I feel like that relieves a bit of the stress.

How strict are you about having your students memorize recital music? Any tips or tricks you've used to help your students memorize over the years that have worked well?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Recital Week: Picking Repertoire for the Recital

If I haven't hinted at this enough already, this week is recital week! In honor of this event, I'm going to be posting each day this week on various aspects of what it means to prepare for a studio recital as the teacher. There are so many topics to choose from that I know I won't even scratch the surface, but I hope to get some good discussion going here on the topics I address. Please feel free to add your comments and suggestions to each post topic.

I'd like to start the week off discussing repertoire selections for an upcoming recital. What's the best way to pick music that will yield a successful performance? How can you pick successful, yet enjoyable performance pieces for each student? How much should a teacher be involved in the repertoire selection?

When it comes time to picking our recital pieces, I've discovered that there are often discrepancies between what a student wants to perform and what they will be able to perform well. Anybody else shared this experience?! For example, when we discuss recital music I've had students show me a piece in one of their books that they haven't even learned yet but want to play for the recital! That's when we as teachers have to step in and provide some guidance and help our students make wise choices.

My primary goal in structuring a recital and selecting the music is choosing pieces that a student can feel 100% confident playing. I want my students to have positive performance experiences as much as possible.

The first step we take when looking at possible repertoire is the students' memory list. Generally, these will be the pieces that the student most enjoyed playing, since they were willing to work on it for a longer period of time and take the extra step of memorization. And as a teacher, I can usually be comfortable with allowing a student to pick pretty much any of the pieces on that list. This works for any level of student since my youngest students learn songs by rote in addition to the lesson material.

How involved I get in the decision-making process varies from student to student. Some kids needs a lot more help- a glance at the memory list yields only a blank look and an, "I dunno" when I ask them to tell me which piece was their favorite! For those type of students, I generally end up making the decision for them. Other students have a very clear idea of just what they want to play, and will even make their decisions earlier in the piano term as they're learning the song. If that happens, we'll make a little note that this piece is a recital definite.

Throughout each term, I also make mental notes to myself of which pieces each student performed well and seemed to enjoy, and if a student is having trouble making a decision I'll step in and offer a few suggestions.

Of course, despite my best attempts at guidance and organization, there are always the few who are just impossible to work with when it comes to recital music. They don't have any ideas, when I make suggestions they all get shot down, and when we try to arrive at a consensus in lessons they're non-committal. Those are the students that give me recital-planning headaches ;) We, of course, eventually decide on music, but it's a long, hard road to get there!

Those are just a few of my thoughts on making repertoire selections for a recital. I'd love to hear any nuggets of wisdom you may have picked up in your teaching experience that have worked well when deciding on repertoire for your students.

Tomorrow I'll be discussing memorization of recital pieces, so stay tuned!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Almost Recital Week: Giving Students Food for Thought on Preparing for a Recital

This coming week is recital week! While I still have a few make-up lessons to teach next week, I'm already into my 'recital mode'.

Two weeks ago, as we reviewed recital music in lessons and discussed how to prepare for the upcoming performance, I stapled a colorful page into each students' assignment notebook with some ideas on how to prepare for a recital. It was quite a revelation to me to hear many of my intermediate students confess that they'd never before thought about prepping themselves for a recital in their home practice (something we'll need to work on for the future!). The sheet contained advice that any level of student could use, but with my younger students I especially emphasized the idea of performing as often as possible- for family, friends, and even for stuffed animals and pets.

When my students came back for lessons this past week, I was quite encouraged to hear reports from several of my younger students on how they'd taken my advice to heart! Here are a few examples:

*For Mothers' Day, one of my students gave a 'mini-recital' especially for her mother and grandmother.
*One student whose motivation level leaves me constantly searching for new ways to engage him actually took the initiative to play for his music class at school.
*Another student played one of her songs in music class, and the teacher was so impressed that she asked her to perform her song in the weekly chapel service!
*3 more of my students who are in the same class at school decided to all play in their music classes at school.

Beginner students are such a treat to teach! Seeing these students' excitement about the upcoming recital as well as their pride in what they've accomplished and eagerness to share their music is such a joy to me!

I am really looking forward to this coming week and all the events surrounding the recital! More to come, but in the meantime, what do you do to help your students prepare for a recital?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Organization Projects and New Studio Finds!

With the recital coming up I've not been developing as many new teaching aids, so my attention has turned to organizing over the past week! A recent post by Nicole over at Nickel Notes started my creative juices flowing, and a subsequent trip to Hobby Lobby resulted in some of these new organization attempts:

I found these great little boxes sold in sets of 3 for $5.99/set. While not incredibly cheap, I loved the clear design (makes it easy to find what's inside!) and the fact that they were stackable. So bought two sets and labeled them with each Piano Adventures level.
Up to this point I've just had all my flashcards, games, and other small manipulatives in one big box, which makes it a bit of a headache when I'm trying to find something!! I figured having larger boxes for each level would help keep things better organized, and hopefully help me find what I need more quickly. While the games and flashcards that go into each box will not be mutually exclusive to that level alone, I'll be placing flashcards and games into the box where those concepts are taught (FACE in level 1, eighth notes in 2A, etc.).

I also picked up these gems for only $1.99 and plan to make a few sets of alpha-gems this week! I also have a few other ideas up my sleeve...

Something else I picked up at Staples a while back but thought I'd mention as well are these great little mini dry-erase boards. They're great to use for ear-training activities in lessons, and my students love being able to use the dry-erase boards for many other activities as well.

Finally, my accordian file. I wanted a better way to organize all my worksheets, scale charts, stickers, etc. and Nicole mentioned using an expandable file. Why had I never thought of that?!

It was a great idea! I used bright colors and designated separate folders for worksheets, scale binder materials, stickers, and other lesson materials.

I don't know about you, but I LOVE getting organized! Have you found any great organizational methods or materials recently?

Friday, May 6, 2011

I Offer PIANO Lessons

I realize I haven't posted much this week, and this will probably be the case until the recital is over, but I wanted to share a brief snippet of what life's been like in my studio this week.

Yesterday I made the mistake of asking a student whether he enjoyed piano lessons (note to self for the future- kids are honest and don't have a problem with being blunt ;) ). Here's how the conversation went:

Me: (at the end of the lesson) So, are you glad you came to your lesson today?
Student: No
Me: Don't you enjoy piano lessons? (hint, hint)
Student: No (obviously didn't take the hint!)
Me: Well, why don't you enjoy piano lessons?
Student: Because we never do anything fun in piano lessons!
Me: I see (as I remember the fun jelly bean studio activity I did the previous week). Well, what would make lessons more fun for you?
Student: If we learned how to play the flute.
Me: Well, you come here to learn how to play piano, not flute, that's why we call them piano lessons!

It always amuses me to see what kids come up with and the way their minds work! This made me laugh a bit in the middle of a long afternoon of lessons. Have your students done or said anything recently that made you laugh?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Updated Major Arpeggio Visual Guide and NEW Minor Arpeggio Visual Guide

With the recital coming up in (gulp!) just two weeks, my blogging time will most likely be scarce, or at least the number of new resources posted. My main focus will be on preparing my students for the performance, not about teaching new skills.

However, this is a project I've been wanting to finish up for weeks now, and a rainy, cold Sunday afternoon was just the motivation I needed to complete it.

On my printables page you will find an updated, more colorful version of my 2-Octave Major Arpeggio Visual Guide, as well as a completed Minor Arpeggio Visual Guide!

Please enjoy using these in your own studios- and drop me a comment to let me know how they're working for you (and if there are any ways I can improve them!). Hope you all are having a bit more sunshine this afternoon- what a way to welcome in May!