Friday, October 12, 2012

A Word of Explanation

As my output on this blog has been a bit down over the past months I thought I'd offer a brief word of explanation. In short, I've felt God calling me to spend more of my time and energy on other endeavors. My blog will still be available for those who are interested in past posts or printables, and I'll be posting from time to time, but my presence here will continue to be limited.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Learning to See Things Differently

Sometimes, all it takes between what we as teachers perceive as a great lesson and a bad lesson is a matter of perspective. I'm writing this post because this is something that I personally struggle with a great deal. Before lessons, I am usually guilty of setting goals for the upcoming time period. There are things I want to accomplish, projects to be finished, new projects to be started...

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with setting goals! But there is something wrong with beating yourself up if you don't actually accomplish all those goals in each lesson.

I have a student who has been a real struggle for me this year so far. His level of energy and lack of constant focus in lessons have been a source of stress for me each week. As I set my goals for his upcoming lessons each week, I found myself approaching the lesson each successive week with more and more of a sense of despair. I knew that no matter what, the goals wouldn't even be remotely accomplished because half of my time would be spent trying to re-gain focus. And the entire day of lessons would end on a sour note as I reflected on that one lesson and what a failure it had been.

Not good!I knew that I needed to change my approach, so this week I decided to try something radical (for me at least!) :) . I approached his lesson with no expectations, no goals, no thoughts of "we have to accomplish x, y, and z...". Rather, I just let things happen. I worked with what I had. We spent the lesson engaged in more activity- jumping back and forth between the piano and keyboard, changing up the usual format of the lesson, throwing in some new stuff...and the lesson ended up being much more successful. Was the child more focused? Not really. What had changed was my approach to the lesson. I decided that success wasn't really based on accomplishing goals, but more on finding creative ways to engage and help this student experience success. The result was that I ended my day of teaching with a much more positive attitude, rather than starting my week off feeling like a failure.

As teachers, having goals and expectations are definitely important. But there are also times when those same goals and expectations can get in the way of a truly successful teaching experience. Sometimes all it takes is a small change of perspective to make all the difference! Have you ever dealt with this in your teaching experience? I'd love to hear your stories of success and tidbits of advice on how you overcame a difficult situation like this and made it a positive one!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Marble Jar

Over the summer, I decided that my incentive programs were getting a little out of control. I had contest upon contest upon contest, which meant that at the end of every term I was buying rewards for 5-7 students. It really started adding up! I decided to simplify things this fall with a more streamlined incentive. While still fostering competition, this incentive also rewards personal achievements. And with only 2 winners at the end of the term, it saves my wallet as well! :)

Enter the studio marble jar:

A simple concept! At the first lesson, students were given a goal sheet to fill out and place in their binders:

Then each week as they come to lessons, they get to put a marble in the jar for each goal met. If they met their practice goals: 1 marble. If they memorized a song: 1 marble. There are also some more long-range goals on the sheet that we'll be working on for a month or more, but the whole idea behind this contest is that they will see rewards every week (through marbles in the jar) from working hard at home to meet their goals.

At the end of the term I will draw a marble at random from the jar and that person will receive a special prize. The second winner will be the person with the most marbles overall.

So far this week, the marble jar has been a big success! Simple concept- big results! LOVE IT! What are you doing this fall to motivate your students?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Welcome Back!

Last week I welcomed my students back for the start of the fall studio term. The first lesson after a two-week break is always a bit of a toss-up. Some lessons involve students who haven't even looked at their music or even thought about piano over break, but then some lessons involve students who made the most of the extra time.

This time around, I was really really pleased to see more of the latter type of students! I had several who surprised me by taking advantage of the extra time to memorize some music, and a few of my students even composed songs during the break! Way to go! I think we're off to a great start.

We kicked off the fall practice contest last week as well, so look for some upcoming posts detailing our contest and how students did over the first week.

Anyone else out there have some success stories to share about students who took great initiative over a term break?! How about your own plans for the fall term?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Ending the Summer Term on a Good 'Note'

This past Saturday, as a final summer activity, I took 5 of my available students to a local nursing home for a mini-recital. They each played between 2-4 pieces. We picked a variety of solo pieces, duets with the teacher, and even had two siblings play a round together! What fun!

After the performance, I played some music while the students made cards to hand out to the residents, thanking them for listening to the performance. I even got a card as well! ;)

This was our first trip as a studio, and I'm looking forward to making it a regular activity in the upcoming terms.

(the clearer pictures are thanks to a parent- my own pictures turned out rather dim and blurry as you can see at the end of this set of pictures)

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Great Music Race is Over!

The past 10 weeks have completely flown by. Summer is fast coming to a close and schools are starting back up here in Maryland in just one week!

My summer teaching term ended this past week, and I'm looking forward to a 2-week break from teaching before starting the fall term. While summer is always hit-or-miss with regards to consistency with my students, I was really happy to see the majority of my students show discipline and effort with practice over the summer term, as is shown by the distance many of them were able to travel on our studio racetrack. There were a few students who cut out mid-term, but those students who decided to participate in the contest and stuck it out to the end did a pretty good job staying consistent for the 8 weeks they took lessons over the term.

There are also quite a few flags decorating our racetrack, showing the memorization efforts put forth by my students as well. It was a great term, and while I'm looking forward to a break and vacation, my mind is already full of ideas for the fall practice contest!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Letting Go...Moving On

It's the middle of July, which means that I am starting to think about the fall term. I've already had several families inquire about fall lessons, so I've spent some time this week thinking about the fall calendar, picking a recital date, creating the registration form...and deciding to let some students go.

I've previously posted about my thoughts on letting students go and how this doesn't mean you've failed as a teacher. That realization has been so healing for me. I've come to discover that knowing when to let go is actually a sign of respect, both for the student and for yourself.

That being said, I made the decision this week to finally let go of a family whose respect toward my time and resources has been nonexistent. I'd been trying so hard to just make the best of it, but it only resulted in mounting stress from one term to the next. I've finally come to the decision that the best scenario for all parties involved is to let them go. As I made the decision, a HUGE weight felt like it had been lifted off my shoulders. There's something so freeing about realizing that as a teacher you have an option, you're not just stuck with what you get! There's no rule that says we as teachers have to put up with a lack of respect, and it's not being respectful of myself when I let other people treat me that way.

It's taken me awhile to embrace this mentality and feel comfortable with the idea, but now that I've accepted it my entire approach toward teaching has changed. I feel so much more positive about lessons! I'm really hoping that this decision will help foster a better perspective toward lessons as the fall term gets closer.

Have you ever had a family who showed little or no respect toward you as a teacher or as a person? Did you feel guilt over getting rid of them? What helped you to step up and decide to respect yourself and your rights as a teacher?

Friday, July 13, 2012

A Little Summer Metronome Project

Sometimes students can have a hard time grasping the concept of playing with a metronome. As someone who has played the piano for years playing (and staying) with the metronome seems easy, but for beginning students it can be hard enough to just try and coordinate their fingers!

That's why I came up with this simple metronome log that I'll be using with some of my students over the remainder of the summer. The concept is very simple. Each week they pick a favorite piece to review using the metronome. The piece is already semi-familiar, so we can really focus on helping them learn how to stay with the metronome.

What kind of ideas have you come up with for students who may have had some trouble learning how to effectively use the metronome? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

5 Truths for Successful, Joyful Teaching

  1. Being a successful teacher does NOT mean never losing a student: No matter whose choice it is (parent, teacher, student) to forgo lessons, this is not a sign of failure! Personalities don't always mesh, expectations may differ, other interests may take precedence...NO business has success 100% of the time. Why should I expect that of myself?
  2. A change of approach doesn't equal failure or lack of competence in planning. How many of us stick with even our daily schedules!? Things crop up, plans change, the unexpected happens...As a teacher the key is to be flexible, creative and roll with the punches. Successful teachers keep an open perspective and are willing to be flexible.
  3. A bad lesson should not be taken personally. How many times have I allowed my frustrations on a personal level impact the way I interact with others? Just because a student has an 'off' week doesn't mean that it's my fault! Successful teachers take both the good and the bad and see them for what they are.
  4. I am a teacher, not a mother. My role is limited. My goal is to instruct. I can instruct until I am blue in the face, but there are certain things that, as a teacher, I have no control over. Successful teachers realize their limitations, but capitalize on what they CAN do.
  5. Teaching should be about my love of music: It's easy to sometimes forget that initial motivation in the hectic stress of weekly lessons, but it's important to keep in mind the WHY. Otherwise, teaching becomes rote- not about ministering to others through music. Successful teachers ALWAYS keep the why in mind.
I tend to take myself WAY to seriously. Over-analysis is part of my personality. So is worrying. It can be so hard to just let things go instead of agonizing over what I should have done or should have said. I've been struggling with this a lot lately, and feeling pretty burnt out as a teacher. That's where this post comes from. God's been reminding me in little ways of the fact that I've been trying too hard to control my life and my studio and that I just need to let go and let Him have control.

I hope that this list is encouraging to other teachers out there who might be experiencing similar feelings of frustration. Please feel free to comment and add to my list!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Race is On!

After 2 weeks of summer lessons, I thought I'd share a shot of our music racetrack. Unfortunately, the second week of summer was the week that almost half of my studio went on vacation, so a lot of the racecars are still down at the starting line, and the race is still missing a few students, but you can see that there are a few who have entered the race.

I've also had several students who have already shown the initiative to memorize some of their music, which is what the checkered flags in the middle of the racetrack are for.

We're off to a pretty good start, but I'm hoping that this week will see more cars up and in the race!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Reason to Celebrate

I don't think there's any magic formula for teaching students how to practice. Wouldn't it be nice if that existed?! Or if students could somehow be programmed into becoming good practicers?

It's a constant struggle for me to impart good practice techniques and habits to my students and find ways to make sure that they sink in. And despite my best efforts, I feel like I'm often offering the same suggestions and advice over and over.

Once in a while, however, I find that some of what I've said has actually stuck! Those are the times I celebrate.

Yesterday, one of my students and I were discussing the need to make sure the details were part of the music; things like the dynamics and an idea of the mood and suggested speed.

That's when he turned to me and said:

"Yeah, I was practicing this week and I was really having a hard time with this piece. Then I looked at the tempo and realized that I was trying to play it too fast. I slowed it down and I thought it made a big difference. Then I was playing it this morning and I think it was one of the best times I'd ever played it."

There it was! From his own mouth, completely unsolicited by me! He'd taken the initiative at home to pay attention, and found out all on his own that those details do make a big difference! Definitely a moment to celebrate. I especially love it when my students make these kind of discoveries all on their own rather than through my constant nagging. 

Have you had any reasons to celebrate in your studio recently?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer 2012 Practice Incentive!

This week has sped by! I can't believe it's Sunday evening, and lessons start up TOMORROW! I think I'm all prepared... ;)

One of the things I most look forward to at the start of each new term is a new practice incentive! I have so much fun coming up with a theme and getting everything together. This summer, our theme is "The Great Music Race". Students will be racing their cars around the track to see who can get closest to the finish line by the end of the summer. The racetrack will also get decorated over the term, as each piece memorized will earn a student a flag to put on the track.

Our race track is all completed and ready to go! I'll provide more pictures at the end of the week once students have their cars all set up at the starting line.

I'm also continuing our flashcard study by using Susan Paradis' Notes in the Fast Lane worksheets. I have all 12 levels laminated and I use them with students from time to time, but I thought that this summer would be the perfect opportunity to really make use of those excellent note drills. As an extra incentive, each student who makes it to Level 6 over the 8 weeks of the summer term will earn a ticket to a pizza party at the end of the term!

I'm hoping to see some dedicated practice from my students over these summer months. What are you doing to help motivate your studios over the summer?!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Summer Hymn Project

I'm still working on putting the finishing touches on my summer practice incentive, but I hope to tie up all the loose ends today and have things ready to share either later today or tomorrow.

However, in the meantime, I thought I'd share about a special project that I'll be working on with two of my students over the summer.

I have two very precocious beginning students- siblings. After our first few lessons, they started coming to their lessons every week talking about how they found certain musical elements in their hymnal at church over the week. Their mom shared with me how they eagerly examine the hymns looking for rhythms, notes and other technical markings- especially ones they don't know so that they can ask me at their next lesson! ;)

I decided to capitalize on their enthusiasm and interest by doing a special hymn project with them over the summer. Each week, they'll be examining one of the hymns sung in church a little more closely, and then we'll discuss their findings at their lesson.

You can see a copy of the worksheet I made up for the project below. I am a lover of good old hymnology, so I am thrilled to have this opportunity to share about the beauty of these old hymns with some of my young students!

I haven't included this worksheet on my printables page, but if you'd like a copy for use in your own studio, or maybe for a fun project at home with your kids, please feel free to let me know by sending me an email or commenting below. 

Have you ever done a fun project like this with any of your students?

Monday, June 4, 2012


I'm heaving a deep sigh of contentment this morning. Make-up lesson week is behind me, and I have an entire week off before the summer term starts! I'll be taking the week off from blogging and any studio-related business, but I'll be back on Friday to share about my upcoming summer practice incentives.

The end of a term is always a bittersweet time for me, especially if I happen to be losing any students. Yesterday was the final lesson with one of my high school students. She's moving on to another teacher. The focus in my studio is on beginning through early-intermediate students, and when students reach the upper end of that bracket, I often talk with them about the option to move on to another teacher who can start challenging them with more intermediate-level repertoire and technique. Some are resistant, while others are open to the idea of a new teacher and new experiences.

This particular student and her mother had resisted for two terms, but we finally came to the conclusion that this was indeed the right time to move on and embrace a change.I will miss this student terribly, but I know in my heart that this was the right change for her.

Have you ever passed a student on, knowing it was the best thing for them? How do you know when it is the right time for a change?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another Choir Year is Almost Over!

We had our final church choir rehearsal yesterday evening. Our director always turns our final rehearsal into a party at her house. We have a brief rehearsal, and then some time to relax and socialize! It's always a fun and special time, but a little bittersweet as well as it means another year has come and gone- where has the time gone?!

The choir always shows their appreciation to the director, organist, and pianist (me!) by presenting us all with a small gift, and I happen to just love the gift they got for me this year. How cute is this coffee/tea travel mug?! I used it this morning, and I'm sure that every use will bring back warm memories of the years I've been a part of this church.

Our choir still has 2 Sundays left to sing, but then over the summer months we rely on other special music for offertory. I'm already hard at work coordinating music for the ensuing weeks- lining up youth musicians from our congregation and pulling in other musician friends.

If you're a church musician how does your church handle the summer months? Does your choir get a break? Who is responsible for the music over the summer months?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Question of the Week: May 28, 2012 - Making Theory Fun?!

My spring recital is over, the final week of lessons for the term is behind me, and I just have a few make-up lessons to get through this week before my term break! It's a good feeling. :)

I've spent some time over the last day or so looking over term evaluations from my students. I'm always interested to see what has worked for them and what is not working.

The most popular answer to the question of what they enjoyed the least over the term?
 Theory Homework!

All of my students use the Faber & Faber Piano Adventures Lesson, Technique, and Theory books, and while I rarely see any of them complaining about the first two, theory just seems to be something none of my students are crazy about. It's the one assignment that is most frequently incompleted when students show up for their lessons as well.
So I'm asking for your advice and suggestions. Do you have a problem getting your students on board with theory assignments? If so, what have you done to deal with the problem? Do you have any approaches toward theory in your studio that have really helped inspire students and gotten them excited about theory?

Please leave your comments and thoughts below!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Spring Recital Success!

My studio recital was this past Friday evening, and it went off beautifully! I was so proud of all my students and the work they had put in over the past term.

As always, I played (no pun intended ;) ) an active role in the recital by accompanying each student on at least one of their two pieces, so I asked my mom to snap a few shots for me:

Most of her pictures ended up being the back of students as they played...

and so on and so get the idea! :)

I still have one week of lessons before the end of the term, but this week is always less stressful as we do a wrap up/evaluation/preparation for the next term.

How many of you still have lessons left to teach for the spring term? Do you take time off between spring and summer terms? Will you be teaching at all this summer?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Recital Week Group Lessons Recap.

Tonight's the big night in my studio! It's been quite a hectic week, but this morning I'm actually feeling prepared and excited for what this evening will hold.

In between some regular lessons this week, I also held group lessons for my students. We had a lot of fun preparing for the recital and playing some games together. I always try to make the recital week an exciting and fun week for my students! Here are some of the activities we did in group lessons:

1. Music History Crash Course: With my intermediate group, we did a quick survey of music history. I provided informational print-outs on each period of music history, and students cycled through the stations filling out a summary worksheet. We finished the activity with a group discussion, and then I handed out the music history timeline I discovered last week as an additional resource for their binders.

2. What Would You Do?: It's always good to be prepared for the unexpected...even in a piano recital! I used plastic eggs and put a scenario inside of each egg. For my younger students, I hid the eggs in the front yard and they had to find one. For my older students, I just tossed the eggs to them. Each student had to open their egg, read the scenario, and then as a group we discussed the best way to handle the 'problem'.

3. Spelling Bee!: I played this game with my younger students as a good tie-in to all the flashcard work we've been doing this past term. They divided into groups of 2, and each group was given a grand staff and several manipulatives. I called out a word, and they had to 'spell' that word by placing their manipulatives on the correct lines and spaces on the staff.

4. Jeopardy!: I finished each group lesson with a musical version of jeopardy. Categories ranged from Music History to Rhythms to Intervals to Key Signatures and many more. The game got pretty intense, especially with some of my younger students!

If you've had group lessons in preparation for your own studio recital, I'd love to hear about what you did in those lessons.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Music History Discovery: Printable Music History Timeline

In prepping for group lessons this week, I stumbled upon this excellent music history resource available on the Lancaster Symphony Orchestra's website.
The timeline has a brief summary of each era of music history with information on the characteristics of each era, information on the role of the conductor, and a handy list of famous composers from each period. Along the bottom is a running world history timeline to provide some context. I'm really excited about using this in my group lessons (more on that in a later post)!
The site also has some great handouts on the instrument families, activity pages, as well as some music notation worksheets. It looks to be a great resource! I love it when I stumble upon a great resource like this completely by accident! It makes my day. :)
I'm interested if any other teachers have found some great music history resources on the web. Please comment if you have any to share!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Nursing Home Visit: The Ministry of Music

This morning I had the very special opportunity to minister through music at a local nursing home with one of my students. We've been working on several duets over the past few months, and I've been itching to get her into a few more performance venues (she's a very hesitant performer) so this seemed like a perfect opportunity!

I had such a wonderful time performing duets...

and seeing this student get up the courage to perform a solo piece! For the remainder of the time, I played some hymn arrangements on my own. It had been too long since I'd done any kind of music ministry- I thoroughly enjoyed myself!

The audience was very engaged and responsive, especially one dear woman in the front row who clapped after every song, sang along with some of the music, and thanked us with tears in our eyes as we were leaving.

I used to perform at a nursing home on a weekly basis right after I graduated from college and my studio and church responsibilities weren't quite so demanding. I was always blessed by the experience, and I'm determined to try and make it more of a regular occurrence.

I'll keep you posted, but I'm hoping to get more of my students involved in visits over the summer! I want all my students to see their music as a ministry- something they can share with others, and taking it to a community like the one we visited today is an excellent way to get that thought process started.

Do you do trips like this with some of your students? Or do you minister personally in your community? I'd love to hear about ways you're using your music as a ministry!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Week :)

I don't know if this is just something that is celebrated in the US or not, but this week was Teacher Appreciation Week. While it's mostly for school teachers, some of my students always extend their appreciation to me as well with small gifts and tokens to show their thanks.

To me, it's always about more than the gift that's given, it's about the fact that my students took the time to think about thanking me for being their teacher, giving recognition to the time and effort that I put into making sure that I am the best teacher possible.

And on weeks like this, I'm always reminded of the fact that I need to be more vocal in expressing my appreciation for others. One little kind word or action can go a long way in brightening someone's day!

Did any of you have students who gave you special gifts for Teacher Appreciation Week? Or have any of your students done anything extra nice for you recently?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

I Know I'm Late...

Students and parents come up with some pretty interesting excuses for not being on time to their lessons. I'm sure we all have our share of stories! :) But what happened at one of my lessons last night was just too cute not to share.

A mother and daughter showed up about 10 minutes late for their lesson. Their excuse? The mom says:

"I couldn't get her to stop practicing!"

You can't be too upset with that kind of excuse, can you?! And especially since this was coming from a student who had been a real complainer about practicing until we tried something new this term. She's improved tremendously in both attitude and practice this term, and I'm so proud of her!
What interesting excuses have your students come up with recently to excuse late arrivals? ;)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Question of the Week: April 30, 2012 - Preparing Parents for Recital Events

Good morning! My studio recital is coming up in just about three weeks, and I know that many other teachers have May recitals as well.

Last Friday, I posted about my frustration over getting parents onto the recital bandwagon. I wanted to continue the discussion this week by opening up the floor for other teachers to share what they do in the weeks prior to a recital to make sure that parents know what's going on. After reading some of the comments from my last post, I am doing some specific things this week to make sure that parents and students are prepared and have the best recital experience possible.

I'll share those ideas at the end of the week, but for now, I want to hear from you!  

What do you do to help make communication more effective? How do you prepare both parents and students for the upcoming recital date?  

I'd love to hear feedback from seasoned teachers who may have some tried and true methods to share!

Friday, April 27, 2012


As a teacher, I am constantly amazed at how infrequently my students' parents actually pay attention. I struggle with this in my studio particularly where dates are concerned. It seems that no matter what I do, there is some kind of a disconnect between the information I provide and what parents remember.

At the beginning of each term, I send out registration forms. The form has the entire term's calendar at the bottom, with a note to KEEP the calendar and make note of the dates. Ninety-five percent of my parents return the entire form.

In the first newsletter of each term, I also include the entire term's calendar and ask the parents again to make note of pertinent dates.

In spite of these attempts to get everyone on the same page, every term I have to remind families again and again of the upcoming important dates. And even now, with the recital just 3 weeks away, I'm still getting parents asking me about the recital date.

I'm curious. Do other teachers out there struggle with communicating dates to parents? Do you also feel like there is often a disconnect between what you communicate and what parents actually assimilate? Have you found any effective measures to overcome the disconnect? If so, I'd LOVE your advice!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Finger Number Flashcards for the Beginning Student

I started 2 new students this past week, which inspired me to make these flashcards to help them learn their finger numbers. It seems like every student has their own personal challenges and I try to cater to those specific needs and help them overcome those challenges. These particular students were having a bit of trouble remembering their finger numbers.

The cards are very simple and can be used for a matching game, or just to drill finger numbers during lesson time. There are 2 types of cards, with a set for RH and LH. One set that shows a hand with a finger number in the middle:

and another set with an arrow pointing to the different fingers:

These flashcards are available on my printables page under the flashcard section. Please feel free to print them and use them with your own students!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Happy Dance

It's been a great week in my studio! I am so blessed with the students God has given me to teach, and while there are definitely good weeks and bad weeks, I can say without a doubt that I feel blessed to be a teacher. :)

Here are some of the reasons I'm doing a little happy dance this Friday afternoon:

1. I started 2 new students this week, and I can already tell that they are going to be wonderful additions to my studio!

2. I saw a positive response to a "you need to buckle down" conversation I had with a student last week. She came back this week and the difference was obvious- I was so proud of her for putting in the effort!

3. A student who's always been wishy-washy about practice is experiencing a practice revolution and exhibiting a much better attitude toward practice over the week.

4. Several students who are being diligent in memory work and asking about the upcoming recital because they're excited about performing!

5. Hearing about a performance given by one of my students at a Good Friday service at church (a student who is normally very shy about performing and has never been super enthusiastic about music/lessons in general).

6. Several encouraging messages from parents.

This was just what I needed to get back into the swing of things after our studio spring break! Have you felt especially blessed by certain students/parents recently?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Easter Group Lesson Fun

Yesterday afternoon I held an Easter-themed group lesson for my early elementary piano students. Even though this is my break week from normal lessons, I'd had several students inquire about group lessons, so a few weeks back I decided to schedule a special group class for the younger ones.

I had a blast, and I hope they did too. Unfortunately, I kind of forgot to take pictures once we got past the first activity...but here's the one picture I did take!

As the students arrived, we did some fun Easter worksheets from Susan Paradis' blog. I also had paper goodie bags that each student decorated. They were much more excited about decorating their goodie bags! ;)

Once everyone had arrived and had mostly finished their worksheets, we divided into 2 teams (The Dolphins and The Chocolate Bunnies) and headed outside for our first game: an Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt. I used this wonderful game from The Plucky Pianista. I gave each team the scavenger hunt sheet, and they had to search the yard for hidden eggs and find the terms. Not all of the eggs had terms inside. Some of the eggs were empty, and some had just candy. Both teams came very close to winning- but when the time was up The Chocolate Bunnies won by 1 term!

Our next game involved the rhythm eggs I posted about last week. We played a relay race. Each team had 10 eggs to sort into either a 3/4 or a 4/4 basket on the opposite side of the yard. They had to take an egg and hop like bunnies across the yard to place the egg in the correct basket. The Dolphins won this game.

Back inside, we took a break from all the games and had our performance time. I had the students write the names of their songs on index cards and place them in an Easter basket. I chose the first card, and then the student that played chose the next card and so on. While each student played, the student who had their card wrote 1 nice thing about their performance on the back of the card.

Then it was time for our final game: Pass the Easter Basket. My students did a great job defining the terms- though they found out that sometimes it's not as easy to figure out how to describe a theory term as one would think! ;) We ended up with a tie in this game.

Our final activity was a listening activity using Handel's Hallelujah Chorus. As we listened, the students drew pictures. It was fun to see the different interpretations. Some drew pictures of instruments, and one student drew a concert hall complete with singers, an orchestra, dancers, and a chandelier!

All in all, it was a fun and successful afternoon! Have you been planning any special Easter group activities with your students?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Pass the Easter Basket: Group Lesson Terminology Game

This is another game I'll be playing with my beginner group lesson next week. It's just like hot potato, except you pass around a basket filled with cards. When the music stops, the student holding the basket has to choose and define a term.

For more instructions and the free printable, just look under the games section of the printables tab.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Easter Egg Rhythm Sorting Game

I'm planning a special group lesson over Easter Break week for my beginning students and in preparation I'm coming up with a few easy games that will help them review basic concepts.

This simple game helps students recognize and distinguish between 3/4 and 4/4/ time.

There are 4 pages of 'rhythm eggs', plus a blank page if you want to make up some more of your own. Simply print and cut out the eggs. Then get 2 baskets and designate 1 basket for the 3/4 eggs and 1 for the 4/4 eggs. The student must look at the card and decide which basket to place the egg into. You can do this activity individually in lessons, or as a fun group activity with 2 teams competing to see which team can get all their eggs sorted first.

You can view and print the game by going to the printables tab under "Games". Hope you enjoy this game with your students!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Celebrating a Breakthrough!

Teaching can be a frustrating business. Sometimes it seems that no matter what we do as teachers, a student reaches a point where they give up. I've had my share of experiences like that over the years, but I've also experienced some real successes with students, and I try to dwell on those positive experiences more than the negative.

I have a student who has been taking for about 2 years. When she first started lessons she was super enthusiastic and practiced with diligence every week. She was a fast learner and ate up her music.

Then something happened last fall. We really started having problems. She started hating practice, was having trouble remembering even the most basic music concepts, and was considering quitting piano. Thankfully, her mom was not willing to let her give up so easily, so we came up with a plan that I implemented this spring.

We scaled WAY back in lesson material, moving back to My First Piano Adventures to re-learn notes and review interval reading. I was a little worried that this would not go over well, but it's been a fabulous decision! The student LOVES the book and the songs, and her mom is playing along with her each week using the duet parts. I've seen a dramatic increase in her reading skills.

To help keep things interesting, we're also working on several pieces that are a bit more at her level so that she feels like she's working on something besides just the basics. But every week I try to apply what we're working on in the MFPA to the other pieces, and she's making the connections.

The biggest surprise was yesterday when she showed up for her lesson with 5 days of practice and over 100 minutes logged for the week! That hasn't happened in probably about a year- we'd gotten to the point where getting her to practice was like pulling teeth. But this new approach has made all the difference in the world. She has started enjoying practice again and looks forward to her lessons.

Have you ever experienced a breakthrough like this, where a student is just about ready to give up but you're able to develop a plan that helps them re-discover their love for music? It takes a little bit of extra effort, but it's SO worth it when you see their passion for music rekindled!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Growing as a Church Musician

I am reminded of this pretty much every week: if you want to succeed as a church musician without completely losing your sanity you have to learn to be flexible! It's really not about perfection, but about how well you are able to roll with the punches and deal with whatever is thrown your way.

Every year, our church collaborates with another local church for 2 consecutive Sundays. The first Sunday, our adult and bell choirs travel to their church to join them, while the following Sunday they join us at our church. It's always a wonderful experience as we get 2 Sundays packed full of music!

This year, as a member of the bell choir, I was secretly looking forward to a 'morning off' from my responsibilities as church pianist as we were traveling to the sister church where their church pianist would be taking care of accompanying the choirs and performing all the service music. I was also excited about the opportunity about actually singing with the choir instead of accompanying them!

Think again.

When we arrived, I was approached by the church pianist, who asked me if I'd be willing to finish up the service as he needed to leave early that day. I was still able to play bells and sing with the choir, but I also played all the music for the latter half of the service. So instead of a morning off, I ended up doing more than my usual weekly musical responsibilities.

But you know what the neatest thing was? The fact that I didn't mind being asked to take on those extra responsibilities! And the fact that I wasn't nervous about them either! A year or 2 ago, if I had been asked to fill in in that capacity, I would have felt extremely nervous about the last minute preparations, and it probably would have ruined my entire morning. But as I grow as a musician and especially in my experience as a church musician, I'm learning to keep my cool and be available and flexible in whatever task I'm asked to perform.

It's exciting to look back and see how I've matured in my almost 5 years as a church musician! If you are a church musician, what are some of the ways that you have grown over the years?

Friday, March 9, 2012

I get such a kick out of the way my students 're-define' musical terms from time to time!

Yesterday, I was working with a student on a piece that ended with a repeated pattern ascending by octaves each measure. As we looked at the section and he played through it, I asked him if he could help me describe the movement from one measure to the next. After a few seconds of intense thought, he turned and with a huge smile blurted out:

"A cocktail!"

After I explained that the term was actually octave, not cocktail, we went on with the lesson, but every time an octave appeared from then on, he'd get a mischievous look in his eyes and mention the "cocktail."

What's the silliest thing your students have come up with lately?!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Called to Authenticity

I was inspired by this quote in a book I'm currently reading:

"In what ways are you allowing the next generation to see authenticity in your life?...Do you realize that your walk with God could affect many future generations?" ~Beth Moore, "Breaking Free"

As a Christian, I see my role as teacher as so much more than that! I'm a teacher, yes, but I'm also an ambassador of the Gospel, and a witness to Christ in every lesson that I teach.

Does God come up in every lesson I teach? Of course not, but my actions can speak just as loudly as my words! I want my students to see the attitude and actions of Christ in my life in the way that I relate them on a weekly basis.

I've been challenged by these words to take my call to authenticity more seriously as I plan for my lessons, and look for ways to witness to my students every day! By being faithful and planting the seeds, who knows what kind of a harvest God will reap in the lives of my students?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Shamrock Interval Builder Cards

We still have 1 week left to our February Valentine Note Challenge, but I'm already planning ahead for the month of March when we'll be working on emphasizing intervals.

I've got several ideas for some fun activities to help my students become better interval readers, and here's a look at the first one. I designed some basic interval drill cards that we'll be playing with over the next few weeks. The cards drill basic intervals of steps and skips, then 2nds all the way up to 7ths.

I'll be printing these out and building intervals with my student using my note gemstones. Here's how I plan to use the cards:

Step 1: Decide which intervals to drill depending on the students' level and/or intervals that might need a little extra work(beginners might just use the step and skip cards).

Step 2: Start by having the student pick a stone and place it on the left leaf.

Step 3: Have the student quickly 'complete' the clover by choosing the correct gemstone for the interval specified
The cards are available on my Printables page under "Flashcards". Any other ideas on how these cards could be used? What fun St. Patrick's Day activities are you planning in your studio?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Valentine Note Challenge Update

My beginning students are halfway through the monthly Valentine note challenge, and they are all loving it! This week, every student earned more hearts than the last, and several students came into their lessons asking when they were going to play the "note game"!

Here's a look at our chart so far:

As you can see, it's going to be a close race! I'm really excited about how seriously all my beginner students (even those who aren't my best practicers) are taking the challenge.

Have you been using any special themed incentives for the month of February? How's it going so far?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Words That Warm the Heart

I don't think that many of my students realize it: the power they have to make or break my day. I try not to let them have that kind of power over me, but as a teacher, I want so desperately to be an effective, inspiring, excellent teacher and I often let the reactions and comments of my students determine whether I've succeeded at that or not. Can any other teachers identify?

How do you feel when you ask a student to play through a certain passage again, only to sense their resistance to your suggestion through body language or even a spoken comment. Does your sense of worth sink when a student asks "How much time do we have left?" in that hopeful tone that suggests they'd rather be anywhere than on the bench, or react to the end of the lesson with a comment like, "Oh, good!" or "Yay!"

I've experienced these, and many more scenarios that, if I allow them, make me feel like an ineffective, uninspiring teacher. Words can hurt. Children often lack that sense of tactfulness that makes those of us who are more 'mature' think before we speak. The results, as I'm sure you know, can be some pretty honest comments! ;)

But if that's true for the negatives, it's also true for the positives. There's nothing like the smile that breaks over a student's face when they finally experience success over a tricky passage in their music. It's hard to beat the excitement and enthusiasm of an especially hard worker who comes to a lesson barely able to contain the excitement to share what he's learned that week. The little smiles and giggles that break out when we're goofing off a bit during lessons bring a sense of warmth and joy to my heart that make all the negative comments easier to bear. Like yesterday evening, when a student commented in the middle of the lesson, "You're fun!" After a long afternoon/evening of lessons, that comment had the power to give me the extra boost of energy I needed to finish out on a positive note.

There will be days of disappointment in any job, but, in my mind, the rewards of being a teacher and hearing those little words that warm the heart make it all so worthwhile!

Have you experienced encouragement from your students recently?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Are You a Martha Stewart Fan?

I have to admit...I am :) I receive Martha Stewart Living and Whole Living and love all the ideas on organizing, decorating and space management (I'm kind of obsessed with organizing- just ask my husband ;) ).

Anyway, the facts that I like Martha Stewart AND organizing made me really excited when I received an email from Staples about their new line: Martha Stewart Home Office! I was there in an instant, taking a look at all the great products available. If you're interested, you can follow this link for more information.

Something else the email from Staples contained was notification of a Martha Stewart Daily Giveaway for February: one different item each day from her new line! I've been entering every day in hopes that I might win something. Follow this link if you're interested in entering.

While we're on the topic of organization, is there anything you've done in your studio for 2012 that's worth sharing about!?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Latest Addition to the Home Studio

Look what's been going on in my studio this week:

I finally got a Piano Life Saver System installed on my piano! I've been wanting to do this ever since I purchased my new piano over a year ago, but the piano purchase was enough of an expense that I needed to wait for a time to save up for the system.

Finally, with the help of a little Christmas money, I was able to schedule an install of this system. I am thrilled that it's finally installed and running. There were a few hiccups in getting the system set up, involving drilling holes in my piano so that the tubing could fit:

but I know that this will really help extend the life of my instrument. Maryland is famous for it's hot, humid summers, and we don't run our air-conditioning system all that often, so I really wanted to be as proactive as possible in protecting my piano.

Have you taken steps to get a similar system on your instrument? Do you think that this is a good investment? I'd love to hear your opinions!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Loving Those Studio Surprises!

I absolutely LOVE it when my students surprise me with little tidbits from their week. Sometimes it will be a song they composed, other times they'll share about something they learned in music class at school, other times it will be a project that they undertook just to surprise me- their teacher!

I had one such surprise yesterday evening when a student proudly showed me this transcription of a song I'd taught him by rote.

While practicing the song over the week, he decided to try and see if he could write it out! I'll confess that it took me a bit to decipher his transcription, but I was really pleased to see that even though all the rhythms weren't correct, he had all the notes in the correct places. He had even gone one step further in the creative process and added a special ending onto the piece!

What 'surprises' have your students brought to their lessons recently?!

Monday, February 6, 2012

February Activity: Valentine Note Challenge

I'm starting lessons off this month with a fun note challenge! Over the month of February, students will be seeing how many hearts they can earn.

I'm using Susan Paradis's cute Valentine Notes worksheet as well as her Steal a Heart cards for the challenge. Each student is timed for one minute. As I show them one of the heart cards they have to:

1. Name the note
2. Play the note
3. Place a candy piece on the correct note on the Valentine Note sheet

After the minute is up, we count up how many candies they've earned, and they draw the correct number of hearts on this simple chart I created. They also get to keep the candy!

As you can see on the chart, we'll be tracking all through February, and the student who gets the most hearts will get a special prize. Not to mention candy every week!

What kinds of fun seasonal activities are you doing for February?!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Spring 2012 Practice Incentive 1 Month Update

After 4 weeks of lessons, I took a look at my student's progress. While not every student chose to participate, and some students who chose to participate aren't finding motivation from the practice incentive, many more are taking the contest VERY seriously and putting forth consistent effort from week to week, which absolutely thrills me!

Our first contest rewards weekly practice time- every 100 minutes and they get to add a little pom-pom to their caterpillar. The leader has 4 segments at this point.

The next contest rewards days of practice, as the butterflies move along the garden path for each day they practice. Up at the top of the same picture, several flowers have already taken root in the garden of music as students have memorized their songs- they receive a flower for each song memorized.

Overall, I've been pleased with how quickly my students have jumped on board with this contest, and with how many of them are taking the contest seriously- I've got quite a competitive bunch! ;)

Sunday, January 29, 2012

New Music for Students...and Teacher!

I had to place a big music order earlier this week, and decided to splurge a little bit and get myself a few new books for church. They arrived yesterday and I can't wait to sit down and spend some time playing through them.

The bottom book is "Sunday Morning Companion", a collection by Victor Labensky. I purchased his "Sunday Morning Holiday Companion" in 2011 and really enjoyed several of the arrangements.

In the middle is another Melody Bober hymn book titled "A Call to Worship". I have a few of her books, and was interested to see what this one was like.

On top is "What Can I Play for Funerals?" by Cindy Berry. I have several of her "What Can I Play on Sunday?" series and have been playing for enough funerals recently that I thought I'd give it a try.

I always love playing through new music! What sacred music gems have you discovered recently?!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Valentine Note Scramble for Basic Keyboard Notes and Middle C Position

I feel like 2012 just started a few days ago, and yet it's almost February! Where does the time go? In anticipation of February and Valentine's Day, I've created a few worksheets to help students review basic note names.

Susan Paradis has an excellent worksheet on her website that has notes from Bass C to Treble C, but I wanted something a bit more basic for my earliest beginners, so I created some worksheets that could be used with both pre-readers and beginning readers.

The first sheet is for beginner students and drills basic notes on the keyboard:

The second sheet drills the notes in the Middle C Position, for students who are reading on the staff:

These worksheets are available under the printables tab- look for the worksheets section and scroll all the way down to the bottom of the list. Let me know how you use these during lessons- I'd love to hear from you :)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Question of the Week: January 16, 2012 - Guiding Weekly Practice

It happens periodically with practically every student: they hit a wall. Whether it's resistance to practice, a period of little or no forward progress, or just a general lack of enthusiasm toward piano, every student seems to hit one of those walls from time to time. That's when our jobs as teachers can become tough as we attempt to find the magic piece that will spark enthusiasm or look for ways to help progress happen.

I'm at that point with a student right now who seems to be stuck in a progress rut. I was thinking that it was perhaps just a symptom of the Christmas season, but we're into the January term and it seems to be sticking.

I started off the new year with a new plan- as we review each piece in the lesson we take some time before moving on to develop a specific practice plan for the coming week. I used to just give all the ideas, but I'm attempting to make this process more interactive so that it sticks over the week.

The main problem is that I just don't see our plan put into action over the week. The same problems persist from week to week- even when we isolate sections in lessons and agree to focus on them over the week.

Have you found yourself in a similar situation with a student who wasn't willing to take the steps to make progress over the week? How did you motivate them? Do you have any tricks that helped them start taking disciplined practice more seriously? I'd love to hear some ideas from more experienced teachers on what works and what doesn't work- so share your comments!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Resource for FREE Printable Music Certificates

My spring term starts up TOMORROW, and I've been busy making sure I am all set and ready to go. One item that was still on my to-do list this afternoon was printing certificates for the Fall 2011 practice incentive winners.

I've used multiple sites in the past, but my current favorite that I've used for several terms now is Certificate Street. They have creative, colorful, FREE certificate templates, many of which can be customized for specific uses.

Here's what the certificate I chose this time around looks like:

If you visit this link, you'll find all the music certificates in one place.

What other great places have you found for free certificate templates over the years? I'd love to add some more sites to my resource page!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Spring 2012 Practice Incentive: A Garden of Music!

I opted for a springy, garden-type theme for our contest, because even though it's only the early days of January, this teacher is already longing for spring!

Each student will begin with a butterfly and a caterpillar head. Every week their caterpillar will grow longer and longer as they add pom-pom segments for every 100 minutes of practice. On a separate page, the butterflies are on a quest for the flower garden, and every week they'll flutter closer depending on how many days of practice they've accomplished.

However, our flower garden needs a little help getting started! Good thing my students can help with that. ;) For every song they memorize, they get to plant a flower in the garden of music.

Below you'll see a copy of the handout each student will receive for their binders at their first lesson next week. I'm hoping that this will get my studio excited about lessons starting up again!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Note Wizards! Studio Project #1

It's a COLD, windy day here in Maryland. After an unseasonably mild December (I was walking around outside without a jacket on Dec. 30!) winter seems to be here at long last :(

While I am mourning the onset of winter weather, the cold weather has kept me inside and focused on getting some projects accomplished for the upcoming spring term.

I am putting the finishing touches on my big practice contest, and I'll post about that later in the week, but I completed another smaller side project today that I want to share.

My studio is mostly comprised of beginner and elementary level students. One resolution that I have set for myself this spring is to really help these kids learn their notes. While note reading isn't everything, it certainly factors in reading fluency.

To help my students learn their notes and encourage them to practice their flashcards (as well as foster some healthy competition!) I'm inviting all my students to try their hands at becoming music wizards over this term.

There are 2 charts, one for my beginners, and another for those that are a bit further along. Each chart has rules to pass each level, with more flashcards added for each new level. Going along, students earn stickers to put on the chart as they move closer toward becoming music wizards!

It's amazing how competitive kids can be- and I'm hoping that having a visual representation will encourage my students to master their notes!

What kind of projects do you have up your sleeve as you get ready to start a new teaching term?