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?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Question of the Week: July 4, 2011- Creating a Music Lending Library

As a relatively new piano teacher, the idea of a music lending library is one that has become increasingly attractive to me in the past year. However, it is an option that I know next-to-nothing about.

As a student, I can remember the excitement of receiving a brand new book and relishing the fact that it was mine. I would write my name on the inside cover, and if there were any pictures in the book it wouldn't be long before I had colored them in. There's also something special about looking back at those old books and remembering my favorite pieces from each one. This is one reason I've always been a bit hesitant to embrace the idea of a lending library.

On the other hand, I know that many of my students would welcome the opportunity to borrow a book rather than spend the money on it. I already try to cut down on repertoire costs for my students as much as possible, and this would be another great way to do it.

As you can see, I'm still kind of on the fence about this issue, and before I make a decision one way or the other, I wanted to get some feedback from other teachers who may have used this idea successfully (or maybe not so successfully!) in their studios. So here are my questions:

1. Why did you start your lending library? Was there a large initial investment on your part?
2. What kind of material makes up the bulk of your library? Do you have any specific books/series that you'd highly recommend as a core of the library?
3. How do you decide when a student may choose a book? Is it a reward, a fun occasional activity, or does their selection make up part of their main repertoire?
4. How do you keep track of all the music? When a student has a book, what are your policies about the condition of the book, and how much do your write in the music?
5. Have you found this a successful investment of your resources?

I'd love to hear your answers to any/all of these questions!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Summer Sightreading Goals: Take 2

How did my second weeks' attempt at sightreading go? Well...not so great. After my enthusiastic start to a summer of classical music sightreading I found that last week's schedule just wasn't conducive to sitting down and playing through some of my dusty anthologies of classics that haven't been visited in far too long. :(

But I wasn't a complete failure regarding music practice. I spent the bulk of my practice time sight-reading, selecting, and working up collaborative music for upcoming Sunday services- some lovely arrangements of both french horn and flute duets. I also found time to sightread through another recent church music purchase (review of that book coming soon) over the course of a day or two.

So, all things considered, I did find time to get some good sightreading in last week, just not exactly the genre I was hoping for. As they say, there's always tomorrow...although it's already Tuesday so I'd better get busy! I have several selections on my list from those who commented on my last sight-reading post, and I hope to get to those selections first before branching out on my own.