Thursday, June 30, 2011

More Rhythm Worksheets for Beginners

Here are a few more rhythm worksheets I designed with my beginner students, and the summer practice incentive theme, in mind.

The first worksheet is a rhythm matching worksheet. Students have to add up the total number of beats on each sundae and match the correct cherry to that sundae.

The second worksheet drills time signatures. Students match the scoops of ice cream with the correct time signature.

Both worksheets are available on my printables page.

For my next project I'm hoping to come up with some good flashcard sets and games for my students that are in keeping with the summer ice cream theme. Please feel free to send along any ideas you might have!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Joy of Collaborative Music

I am so excited! This evening I'm rehearsing with my sister as we'll be playing together for the upcoming Sunday service.

My little sister's forte is french horn, although she played piano for many years as well. We've collaborated innumerable times over the years as a piano duo and as a piano/horn duo. Either way we always have tons of fun and grow as musicians through every experience.

This is absolutely, without a doubt, my favorite aspect of being a musician. The opportunity to create with other musicians, learn from each other, and have fun at the same time is so much more worthwhile to me (and less scary ;) ) than solo performing. That's not to say I don't enjoy a solo performance once in a while, but my true love is collaborative music.

Looking back on my past, it's easy to see just where this love stems from. Accompanying my sister and brother was a part of my musical experience growing up- whenever they had a recital or a performance of any kind I was always called on to accompany them. Since my sister and I took from the same piano instructor, we were often paired together for duets.

To celebrate my love of collaborative music, I even featured three collaborative works in my senior recital. I started the program with a Mozart 2-piano Sonata, played a movement from a horn Sonata with my sister midway through the program, and finished the program with a movement from my favorite piano Concerto. It was truly an evening that celebrated all kinds of music!

Collaborative music is an important part of any musician's experience, no matter what their age or skill level. I love accompanying my students in their lessons and for recitals, but I get even more excited when they can participate in collaborative efforts with their peers and siblings, just as I did as a child.

Now that we're adults, it's so rewarding that my sister and I can still make music together and celebrate this shared love of ours that has been so much a part of our lives.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Somebody Call the Tooth Fairy!

One of the reasons I love teaching is the never ending adventures that occur in weekly lessons. Like yesterday, for example. In the middle of a lesson while I was in the midst of a lengthy explanation, I happened to notice the student wasn't really paying attention. On the contrary, she had the oddest look on her face, and as I stopped talking and examined her more closely, I saw that she was holding a tooth in her hand!

Yes, while I had been talking away, she'd been slowly working on a very loose tooth with her tongue and it had popped out! We had a temporary lesson break while this situation was taken care of ;)

Whoever said teaching piano lessons was boring!?

So now I'm curious. What's one of the strangest things that's ever happened to you while in the middle of giving a piano lesson?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Personal Summer Sightreading Goals

Summer means many things to me as a teacher. It means a more relaxed teaching approach, keeping my students engaged while giving them a bit of a break from the higher expectations I have for them over the school year. It means a revised schedule with more morning lessons and free evenings (LOVE this!). It means trying to stay on top of just who's on vacation from one week to the next ;). And, last but not least, summer always finds me inspired to try and accomplish some personal goals.

I'll admit that I waited until Saturday morning to post about the new project I started mid-week simply because I wasn't sure if I was going to be able to pull it off. But, with a little extra effort on Friday, I did!

With one week of summer lessons behind me and the new schedule starting to feel more familiar, I decided to set a summer sightreading challenge for myself. The first week of lessons found me, as usual, pulling out repertoire and considering music for students, and in the midst of the planning I realized just how much music I had that I'd never played through! I try my hardest when purchasing books for my students to use the book well so that they get their money's worth out of their purchase, but it was suddenly clear that the same couldn't be said of my personal repertoire collection. I was ashamed to see how many books I had purchased (many by the request of my teachers) just to play one song from the entire book. It was time to make a change!

I started by pulling out a collection from one of my favorite (if not THE favorite) composers, Chopin. I purchased this book in college solely for the Scherzo in B Minor. Other than that the book had not been touched. Add to that the fact that while I have played Chopin Mazurkas, Etudes, Preludes, Scherzos, and Nocturnes I've never actually played any of the Waltzes (how'd that happen?!) and it wasn't hard to see that this was as good a place as any to start.

The book contains 15 of the Waltzes, and my goal was to sightread through 2 or 3 of them each day, finishing all 15 by Friday. I had so much fun playing through this set of pieces, and felt a great sense of accomplishment on Friday afternoon as I completed number 15. Now I have a more personal, comprehensive grasp of Chopin Waltzes and a clearer idea of which I'd recommend to my students. There's nothing like actually playing potential repertoire to assess more accurately the technical aspects inherent to each piece and which student would best benefit from a study of that piece. In addition to that, the index is marked with my favorite selections and I plan to work on these a bit more intensively in the coming weeks to add to my base of repertoire.

What a fun start to my summer! I've already given my shelves a critical look to try and determine what book will be chosen for the coming week...hmmm, that book of Bach Inventions, maybe the Mozart Sonatas, Debussy...??? so many choices!

Have you set any personal musical goals for the summer? Do you have any repertoire suggestions for me? What are your favorite Chopin Waltzes? I'd love to hear about your personal goals or suggestions for music I might enjoy looking at!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

When Students Take The Initiative: Summer Lesson Week 2 Update

I haven't done any further posting on my summer practice incentive before now because I've been waiting to see how my students would react this week when they returned to lessons. The first week of lessons for the summer was the introductory week, and this week I got to see how the contest affected their practice. The week's not over yet, but I couldn't wait to share about how things have been going!

Before I go any further into week 2, let me recap week 1. As each student came for their lesson, I showed them the handout about our summer contest. On hand I had pictures of ice cream cones for them to choose and put up on the poster. I found and printed pictures of sugar, cake, and waffle cones online and they chose their favorite kind. In addition to that, I had printed out ice cream scoops in varieties of flavors and showed them some of the options for ice cream scoops they could earn just to get them even more excited.

After the students chose their cone, they got to choose an ice cream sundae. I had about 5 different 'sundaes' for them to choose from. It was fun to see their intense deliberation over which one they wanted! After they'd chosen their sundae and posted that on another sheet I asked them to remind me of just what they needed to do over the week to earn rewards and then wrote it in their notebooks.

So how did my students react? Most were really excited with the summer incentive. I had several students whose eyes lit up as I explained how they could earn scoops of ice cream, and even one or two who asked me, "What if I make it all the way to the top of the page?" (No over-achievers around here... ;) ). Overall, I was very pleased with the positive reaction, but I was curious to see how much of it would stick until the following week.

As the week began, I had the typical reactions.

Some students had taken the contest to heart...

1. Two of my students practiced every single day, and one of them told me, "I knew I wouldn't get much time to practice, but I wanted to make sure I practiced EVERY DAY so I could get sprinkles!"
2. A student who has never before shown the initiative to practice above and beyond what his mom makes him do actually practiced an extra day this week!
3. One of my teenage students came out with, "This ice cream contest was a really good idea!"
4. Several students decided to take the extra initiative to try and memorize pieces, just so that they could get a cherry.

While others were a bit less enthusiastic...

1. The mother of my twin students showed up at the door with profuse apologies because neither of her girls had practiced all week!
2. Another teenage student practiced, but didn't make any attempt to record his practice for rewards.

As you can see, the positives seem to outweigh the negatives at this point (maybe I'm just an optimist though ;) ). But seriously, I can see some definite enthusiasm among my students about this latest practice contest and several of them have already shown that their enthusiasm is more than just a passing fad. Here's hoping that this trend continues and my students show some dedication to practice over the summer months, a time when practice can be spotty at best!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sprinkle Rhythm Challenge Worksheet

If you've been following my blog, you know that ice cream is the theme of my summer practice incentive. So far, my students have been super excited about earning scoops of ice cream for their cones and sprinkles and cherries for their sundaes (more on that in another upcoming post!).

In keeping with this summers' theme, I'm putting together a few more worksheets and games to use with my students over the summer months to help strengthen basic music skills. This worksheet is the first of the set and helps beginning students review their basic rhythms.

If you're interested in downloading the worksheet to use in your studio, it can be found on my printables page all the way at the bottom of the worksheets section.

I have so many ideas for worksheets and games and I can't wait to share them with my students and here on my blog over the coming weeks. As always, let me know what you think! And I'd love to hear any ideas you might have for some fun ice-cream themed summer games and worksheets!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Free Scale and Arpeggio Progress Charts and More on Teaching Scales

As a follow-up to my question-of-the-week on teaching arpeggios I thought I'd provide a bit more background on how I approach scales as well as provide my free scale checklists! I developed these for my own studio use just a couple of months ago. Previously I'd been printing and using a checklist from another source, but I was looking for something a bit more comprehensive, so I got creative and designed my own.

For the longest time, the hardest question for me was "WHEN do I start teaching scales?" Was there a magic moment when I should whip out my scale charts and dazzle my unsuspecting students with this exciting new concept? And, more importantly, "just how should I present scales?"

Over time I've come to believe that while there may be a magic moment, it's different for every student. Some students will be ready far sooner than others, and it's up to me to judge when each one is ready for the task.

I always begin with pentascales, and don't even consider moving on to scales until the concept of 5-finger scale patterns and tonic and dominant are well-established.

When I feel students have a firm grasp of pentascales, I introduce 1-octave scales followed by a tonic triad. The number of scales assigned each week depends on the student. Rather than using a traditional scale book, I opt for providing each student with a scale binder with printable materials. Susan Paradis' Picture Scales are part of their scale binder material and serve as a visual guide. In addition to these, I also include a blank Circle of 5ths chart found here (at the bottom of the page) as well as a blank key signature chart found here. Students fill these out as we learn each new scale/key signature.

Once students have mastered the basic scale, we gradually augment the pattern. We might add in staccato scales, or arpeggios might seem like the next logical step. In other words, while I have a definite starting place for when I feel a student is prepared to begin work on scales, the pattern after that point will look very different depending on each student.

For further reference, I've included copies of my Scale Master progress charts under my printables page. I designed these charts with three levels, each one adding more octaves, increased levels of speed, or more finely tuned skills. Please feel free to use these in your own studios- and send me any ideas you might have for making these more student-friendly.

In addition, I've love to hear from other teachers on their own scale secrets! I'm always open to new ideas!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Question of the Week: Explaining Arpeggios

Even though my students span a wide range of ages and skill levels, it always seems that I'll find myself in a pedagogical rut- ie- invariably there will be a chunk that's learning a certain concept all at the same time or within a relatively short span.

This time it's arpeggios. I've taught the concept of scales and arpeggios countless times, but as I've found myself doing so with increased frequency recently, I was curious to see how other teachers explain the idea of an arpeggio for the first time. Do you have any magic analogies that seem to work really well for presenting the concept? Do you use the same formula, or cater to each student's learning styles, teaching some the concept visually and some aurally? Do you approach arpeggios in lessons before they're introduced in music books, or wait until it's been covered?

I'd love to hear other teachers' thoughts- and look for a follow-up post from me tomorrow on more about this issue.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Finally Completed! My Musical Alpha Gems

I bought my gemstones at least a month ago, planning to make my own sets of alpha-gems (inspired by this post from Joy over at Color in My Piano) within the week. Somehow, that never happened! So on my term break week I was determined to get these completed and ready for use over the summer!

It took quite a bit more time than I'd anticipated, but I finally got them completed this afternoon. I took Joy's idea and ran with it- creating a few more sets then just the original alphabet letters.

I grouped my alphagems and have them stored in some cute, colorful plastic containers so I can easily pull out the set that I need. And now a bit more detail about what's inside each container (descriptions follow each picture)...

This set is simply the alphabet letters. I'm going to use these for my beginner students to help them identify notes on the keyboard, and also to drill notes on the staff with some of my elementary students.

This set turned out to be the smallest, and is made up of what I call 'Landmark Notes' (some people like to call them 'Guide Notes'), the first notes new students learn and ones that help orient them on the staff as they continue to learn more notes.

Another set makes use of intervallic relationships. Within this container are gems noting half and whole steps, steps and skips, and intervals from the 2nds to octaves. Beginner students will use the step-skip gems, while more advanced students will drill intervals. These can be used along with the basic alphabet keys- draw a letter and an interval and place both gems on the correct keys or line/space on the staff.

The final group is basic alphabet keys with added sharps and flats. I plan to use these with students as we learn pentascales.

So there's my project for the week! What do you think? Any suggestions on additional ways I could use these in my studio? I'd love to hear other ideas!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: Sunday Morning Holiday Companion

You might have noticed that it's been a bit quiet here at my blog recently. That's because it's been pretty quiet here at my studio as well. I'm in the midst of enjoying my term break week! Last week was a studio wrap-up week as I taught make-ups, did evaluations, and planned for the upcoming term which starts on June 13. But this week is the teacher's week off. (Let's hear it for a mini-vacation before the frenzy of summer lessons!) It's funny, because while I do enjoy my time off I still find myself thinking of my students every day and looking forward to seeing them again. However, the to-do list of household projects is keeping me plenty busy!

Yesterday a package arrived for me from Amazon :) I love getting packages in the mail- even if I already know what they are! It's even better if it's music, because while I know it's a music book the actual contents are still a bit of a mystery. Will I find some new favorites to add to my never fail go-to list? Will I discover some new favorite arrangers?

When I was searching for some new repertoire last week and considering the excellent suggestions offered by other readers, I came across this book. I was immediately intrigued by the title, "Sunday Morning Holiday Companion: 33 Timeless Selections for Worship Throughout the Year." The book was a compilation of arrangements for every season of the church year which I thought just might be a great addition as well as a very helpful resource when I was at a loss for some seasonal music. The second most intriguing factor to me was the fact that this book contained 33 selections and was on sale for less than $20. I was unfamiliar with the arranger, Victor Labenske, but I decided to give it a go and see what the book had to offer.

First impressions:

This is one FAT book! Over 120 pages of music. I was also really excited to see the large portion of patriotic music. I was a little disappointed in looking at the arrangements to see how simplistic some of them looked, but I then realized that this will be a great resource for both teacher and students :)

I got the chance to sit down and play through some of the arrangements this morning and was pleasantly surprised. These are very easily accessible arrangements, which is great for when I find myself in a last-minute music pinch, and the settings are quite refreshing, if a bit too modern for my tastes at times.

With so many pieces it will take me some time to become completely familiar with this book and form a better opinion of the arranger, but for now I'm not unpleased with the purchase.

Have you found any great church music recently? Have you ever played any arrangements by Victor Labenske?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer 2011 Practice Incentive Preview!

I'm putting the finishing touches on my practice contest for this summer, and I can't wait to see what kind of reactions I get from my students. Things won't really take shape until the first week of lessons, but just for a sneak preview here's the theme and how my students will be competing over the summer months.

Our summer theme is: ICE CREAM! Not the most original perhaps, but one that is fun and definitely summery. There are two different contests that my students will take part in.

1) Building their own ice cream cone: For every 100 minutes of practice a scoop of ice cream will be added to their cone. The goal is, of course, to have the tallest cone.

2) Make your own ice cream sundae: Each student starts with a sundae of plain vanilla ice cream and will add toppings based on their number of practice days (sprinkles) and for each piece of music they memorize (cherries).

At the end of the summer we'll have a studio-wide ice cream party with games and prizes to celebrate.

What's the point of this contest? I know that some teachers don't believe in tracking practice days and times for fear that this takes away from a focus on quality, but with a studio of primarily elementary/early intermediate students I tend to feel that this emphasis is what they need- an approach and a contest that will reward them for consistent effort and their success at establishing a practice routine in their early years of lessons. I find that this is especially helpful over the summer when the normal school-year routine isn't there to help maintain a more consistent discipline.

As I put the finishing touches on this practice contest, I'd love to hear your feedback. Do you have any ideas for small improvements I could make? Are your students participating in any kind of practice contests over the summer? Please share what you'll be up to with your studio!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Question of the Week: May 30, 2011- Term Breaks

As of this morning my spring term is officially over! I always experience mixed feelings after every term. Joy and pride at the accomplishments of my students and the completion of another successful term of teaching, relief at the thought of a brief break, and excitement as I prepare for the upcoming term.

I spent the first two days of this week doing make-up lessons and the rest of the week is reserved for teacher work days. As my studio has grown, I've found that setting aside time for myself at the end of each term to wind down and evaluate as well as ramp up for the coming term is essential.

Here's a little summary of what I'll be doing the rest of this week:

1) Finalizing my summer teaching schedule
2) Completing student evaluations
3) Searching for and buying new music! (one of my favorite things! :) )
4) Finishing up my summer newsletter and sending it out along with parent evaluation forms
5) Preparing my summer studio practice incentive
6) Putting some more effort into my Piano Adventures Planners and working on designing a few more teaching aids/worksheets/games
7) Taking LOTS of pictures and posting many blog posts about it all! ;)

So that's a little sampling of what's in store for me over the remainder of the week. I hope I get some significant progress made!

How do you wrap up the end of your teaching term and prepare for the upcoming one? Do you take time to pass out studio surveys, do you do student evaluations? I'd love to hear ideas from other teachers on how you organize yourselves between teaching terms.