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?...it 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?