Friday, November 25, 2011

Question of the Week: November 21, 2011 - Favorite Holiday Activities

Thanksgiving is over and gone, which means it's time for my studio to jump headlong into Christmas music and activities. For the past few years, I've actually scheduled my fall recital before Thanksgiving, giving us the month of the December to wind down, relax, and have some fun with Christmas music and themed activities. I've found that it's a much better way to finish up a term of lessons rather than trying to compete with all the myriad of other holiday activities my students are involved in every December.

Each year I try to expand my resources just a bit by adding a few more games, worksheets, and activities to my current repertory. I'm always on the lookout for new resources and activity ideas. I was thrilled to win the Gingerbread Man Giveaway at Jeanna's Sing a New Song blog, and I have tons of games and activities from that resource that I am excited about introducing into my studio this coming week. But of course, I'm always interested in what else is out there!

What are some of your favorite holiday resources for your studio? Do you have any favorite activities or games? I'd LOVE to hear about them. I'll be doing a follow-up post listing your ideas as well as a few of my favorites, so please comment below.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Fun New Rhythm Instruments for the Studio!

Yes, it's recital week at the studio, but in the midst of planning group lessons and getting all the recital details taken care of, I came across a few items on Amazon that I just had to purchase for my studio!

The first was a Band-In-A-Box kit which contains a variety of musical instruments perfect for rhythm activities both in individual and group lessons.

I also picked up a set of 4 egg shakers at the same time. I've been wanting to get a few of these for some time now, and this was the perfect opportunity.

The box arrived yesterday, and while I'm dying to use them in lessons, that's going to have to wait until lessons resume after Thanksgiving, giving me lots of time to come up with some creative ways to use these instruments in lessons. :)

I'd love to hear ideas from other teachers out there. Do you ever use other musical instruments in your lessons? How do you incorporate them?

I got something else very special in the mail yesterday as well; a lovely Thanksgiving card from one of the families I teach. In the midst of a rather hectic week, it was such an appreciated gesture, and gave me the extra boost I needed as I went about my recital preparations yesterday evening.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Recital Week in the Studio: Group Lessons

Recital week is here, and I'm in the midst of putting the finishing touches on what promises to be a very enjoyable evening. In order to build enthusiasm for the upcoming recital I've held group lessons for the past 2 evenings. This is the first time I've tried putting group lessons on the actual recital week, and while it's been a bit exhausting and meant a whole lot more preparation on my part, I think that on the whole it's been a positive experience.

Here are some of the activities we've been involved in for this week's group lessons:

1) My older group took a pop-quiz at the beginning of their group lesson to see how well they really knew their piece! I only had 1 student who scored a perfect 100%- it was amazing how many students didn't know the actual tempo marking or the starting dynamic! Whoops! Guess I need to be a bit more of a stickler on this one.

2) Our first group activity was a visit to the pumpkin patch :) I printed and laminated pumpkins, wrote letters of the musical alphabet on them, and hid them in the front yard. Teams competed against each other in a musical alphabet hunt to see who could gather (in the correct order) all the letters of the musical alphabet. The older groups did the same thing using skips.

3) Back inside, we stayed in teams and competed using D'Net Layton's Candy Corn Note Match to see which team could collect the most candy corn. The various pieces were scattered between 3 locations.

4) As a calmer activity after all the running around, we played rhythm BINGO using candy pumpkins as our tokens. The winner got to eat their completed row. :)

5) After student performances, a listening activity concluded each group lesson. I used Jennifer Fink's excellent Listening Challenge Worksheets.

Group lessons this time around were a real blast and served as an excellent enthusiasm booster for the upcoming recital. I can't wait for Friday!

Any other teachers out there prepping for a recital? Do you have any excellent fall-themed resources or activity ideas to share?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Giveaway Winner!

It's Friday :)

I waited until a little later in the day to allow time for any last-minute entries, and the winner is...

#8: Elisabeth

CONGRATULATIONS Elisabeth!! I really hope that you will enjoy the book. Please send me an email at with your address and I'll get it in the mail to you shortly.

Have a great weekend everyone! :)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Final Day to Enter My First Book Giveaway!

Happy Thursday! Just a brief reminder that I will be picking the winner of my first giveaway tomorrow, so if you want to enter, please go to this post and leave an appropriate comment to be entered in the drawing.

You really will be blessed by this book, I guarantee it! :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Matter of Perspective

A whopping triple student cancellation for this evening has found me home a delightful 2 hours earlier than the norm (plus an hour of errand running), AND enjoying an actual sit-down dinner! What an unexpected blessing in the middle of my teaching week.

I wouldn't always have seen it that way. In the past, I probably would have viewed this evening's unusual circumstances as yet another indicator of the lack of commitment all too often exhibited by my students and their parents. I would have been frustrated about the wasted planning time and the unexpected interruption in my scheduled week. But over time I've learned that what I see from my students is usually only about 10% of the larger story and that leaping to conclusions and judging based on my limited perception is unfair to them.

I'm also coming to learn that the way I view life is based only about 10% on what happens to me and about 90% on how I react to what happens to me. When 'life' happens, I can either decide to see the glass as half-empty or choose to see it as half-full. For example, this afternoon rather than grumbling about my students and their lack of responsibility, I chose to see the afternoon as an unexpected gift- a chance for some down time and some much needed recharging. That choice turned what could have been another frustrating experience into a delightful afternoon breather in the midst of a busy week.

All you other teachers out there- I'm curious. How do you handle those unexpected circumstances in your own studio? Have you found that changing your reaction really does make a positive difference in the circumstances?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Amazing Bach Duo on Floor Keyboard

Just a little fun for your Saturday morning. A friend posted this video on facebook, and I just had to share! :)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Teaching Musical Playing + My First Giveaway!

Good morning fellow bloggers! It's been a while since I've posted. I'm not sure how many other teachers have found themselves more and more pressed for time as the term advances, but I certainly have! Unfortunately, as a result my blogging has taken more of a backseat role these past few weeks.

This morning I wanted to discuss playing musically. Musicality is an aspect that I've been really emphasizing with my students this fall. While I do believe that this is something that should be taught from the very beginning, there are always some students who seem to be more in tune to all those subtle nuances that make the music come alive. Other students notice, but put it in as a matter of course, not because they feel it. And then there's that last category- the students that never pay any attention to the dynamics, tempo, touch, etc. and see the piece as successful only when they've plowed straight through and arrived at the end.

With so many approaches from the student toward the performing of music, there is no set formula that works across the board. Some students will more naturally pick up on the musical elements that appear in the music, while others will struggle with incorporating those elements, even after repeated reminders.

When I speak of musicality, my primary emphases are on aspects like the dynamics, articulation, tempo, and mood. Before we start a new song, I always take some time to have a discussion with the student about these elements- even on the most basic of pieces. I'll have them circle all the dynamics with a colored pencil, or trace the slurs to remind themselves to play with a smooth, connected sound. We'll discuss the title of the song, and how the music fits the title. By making the student aware of these elements from the very beginning, the musical results are generally much more positive.

As an added visual accompaniment, I often use this hand-out. It's especially helpful with those students who seem to really struggle with the concept of playing musically to help them be more in tune with these elements. It's available under the printables tab if you're interested in using it for your own students. Any thoughts on what else I could include?

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you teaching musical playing to your students. What is the best way to teach this? Is there a time to start introducing musicality, or should it be part of lessons from the beginning? How do you help students who may struggle more with this issue? Do you consider a piece complete even if the musical aspects are not all there, or do you insist on all the elements before leaving a piece of music?

In addition to this discussion, I'd like to offer my first blog giveaway! Over the summer, I had time to read the excellent book "Scribbling in the Sand" by Michael Card. This book explores what it means to express ourselves creatively as Christians, and it really challenged my perspective of worship and creativity. I'd love to share this excellent book with one reader, so please, if you'd like to be included in the giveaway leave me a comment below telling what it means to you to be a Christian artist and how the presence of Christ in your life has shaped your approach to music and teaching. I'll pick a winner next Friday. Good luck!