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With the financial cuts being made in schools, it’s quite scary being a public school music teacher.  Classroom teachers are being fired, classes are over flowing, and programs are being cut.  Since the arts are not mandated in the state of N.Y., they are the first to go.

I am the first to admit that academic subjects are vital.  But speaking very broadly, those subjects feed the left brain.  The arts nurture the right brain.  Plainly stated, we need both.  Please write your congressmen to  support education.

I am fortunate to live in an area where the arts are valued.  Even if my music position is cut at school, I would be fortunate enough to continue earning an income through private piano lessons. Because of my community in which I live, I will always be in demand. But for those families who cannot afford private lessons or lack insight to the arts, their children may not have the opportunity to develop the right brain as much.

Math and science nurture the brain.  Music and art nurture the brain and the soul.

Should music continue in our schools?  It’s a no brainer.

 

The attached article deals with a topic I especially have trouble- making up piano lessons.  Teaching piano is such a joy!  The lessons bring beautiful children and loving families into my home.  Our relationships become very close and I often think of the kids as my own.

But there is a fine line when mixing business with friendships.  My policy clearly states that I offer make up lessons only for sickness.  I also give parents a copy of my schedule so they have the option of trading lesson times with another student.  Even with this, parents are constantly asking me to make up their child’s lesson.

I love the families with whom I work.  I don’t want to have hard feelings or lose their friendships.  But when a parent asks to have their child’s lesson made up it is very uncomfortable.

The Suzuki parent who wrote the article below, I think, says it well.

If you are a piano parents or teacher, please read and pass along.

http://ottawasuzukistrings.ca/makeuplessons

I am pleased to say that the idea of skype piano lessons happened in my home.  It’s something I have been wanting to do but needed the right situation to launch.  A wonderful family in Kansas wrote  asking to give it a try and we have now had 2 successful lessons.

I have used skype for years  as a means to communicate from one part of the world to another.  I have chatted with friends and family during travel and have kept up with my own children as they live in different parts of the world.  But teaching my  first lesson was exhilarating!  There were a couple of unpredicted challenges, but the child, parents and I were jazzed by the success and fun.  I offered the first lesson for free but by the end of the lesson I knew I would be hearing from them again.

The family called for a second lesson as their child was preparing for a national music festival.  We invited the child’s home private piano teacher to attend our skype lesson.  It was great having the conversation taken to a higher level; not only could I advise the student, but the teacher and I were able to collaborate.

I just received a note from the family saying that the child received a “superior +” rating at the festival.  Of course the credit goes to the diligent work of the child and the dedicated coaching of the home teacher.  But it was an amazing feeling to know that, from the other side of the country, I was part of the discussion and learning process.

Once again, I am not suggesting that skype lessons are a substitute for a real live teacher.  But skype lessons are a wonderful way for teachers to work together for the betterment of teaching children.  Plus, they are a very fun method of learning and keeping a child engaged in music.

Sharing a Piano Student

I was put in an interesting situation with one of my advanced students.  For the past year, I told him that it was time to move on to a new teacher. Although we had only been together a few years, his progress was like a wild fire.  He would accomplish my weekly goals and then create some of his own.  A piece that would normally take a student months to accomplish he would devour in a month.  But, as with most students, he was reluctant to change to a new teacher.  Devotion develops and personal relationships grow strong.

Last summer there was a clinician in town from a well known music conservatory and we decided to do a master class with her.  It was a good experience for all.  She too took interest in his unique talent.  Although it broke my heart, I encouraged him to pursue lessons with her.  I sat down with the professor and the family and yet his loyalty to me continued.  He was not ready to make a change although his parents knew it would be in his best interest.

After much conversation a decision was made to share lessons, every other week between the two teachers.  I was the most hesitant to agree.  Would the teacher and I see eye to eye?  Would my lessons seem immature to him once he experienced them back to back with the professor?  But most of all, would my teaching look misguided from the point of view of the professor?

The only request the professor made was the she would be choosing the repertoire.  I was more than happy to comply.  We talked about technique, his strengths and weaknesses and began the duel teaching arrangement in September.  I am pleased to report that after 6 months we all feel very good with the plan.  I sat the family down to evaluate  the situation last week and they are extremely pleased.  They felt that the professor and my goals were one, but that in the lessons we approached the goals from different angles.  Another noted difference was that the professor worked with technical details where I looked more at shaping the entire piece.  The family feels that we really compliment each other and that the boy is getting the best of both worlds.

Would I recommend this strategy to others?  The answer is no.  I am very fortunate to have found a professor that is willing to keep communication open with the family and me.  The other fortunate thing is that she has respect for me as an educator.  I show no pretense and would beckon to her teaching, but she puts no pressure on me and does not undermine my work.

At this point, we’ll see where it leads.  It’s nice to have respect among educators, because it really is all about the child.

Update on Skype Piano Lessons

I have presented the idea of skype piano lessons in my blogs.  Many  have clicked and read the entries, but I am not getting “let’s do it” responses.

I realize that anyone can pick up on the idea to give skype lessons.  I also realize that there are many piano teachers out there that hang their shingles claiming to be a piano teacher who may have taken lessons as a kid, but do not have a music degree.

I am a credited music educator with a masters in music education and a concentration in piano pedagogy.  I have taught and lectured at a Suzuki institute for 10 years and teach private piano and public school music.  I do not work for a virtual company.  I am a solo educator interested in getting to know people and teaching others from around the world.  A very simple but amazing idea.

Interested in giving it a try?  All you have to do is respond to this blog, and we’ll take it from there, one on one, no company or gimmicks attached.

Let me know what you think.

“Breaking up is hard to do”.  There are many ways we “break up” with people: a romantic relation gone awry, close friends moving mile apart, saying “see you later” to parents when leaving to go to college, and saying goodbye to friends when leaving college after a degree has been achieved.

As a piano teacher I might say goodbye to a student when he decides to quit lessons, or  fire a student for not meeting expectations.  But I am approaching that  bitter/sweet situation where it might be time for a student to move on to another teacher to further his music potential.  When exactly is it time to say goodbye to a student?

Students come and go.  Most are of average ability, interest, and dedication.  But once in a while a teacher is blessed with someone who is extraordinary.  That is the gift  in which I have been blessed with my student “O” (o for outstanding).  O came to me because he decided he wanted to go into music to be a band teacher and thought having a piano background was a good idea.  In the very short time we have been together he has soared.  Now a sophomore in high school, his ability could competitively get him into university as a piano major.  He is completely delightful!  He incorporates new ideas easily, takes instruction seriously and practices so much that his mother has to tell him to stop and do other things.  He has a great sense of humor and a loving manner.  Basically, he is any teacher’s dream.

O has 3 more years of high school and will definitely go to college for music.  As much as I would like to be selfish and teach him until college,  there is part of me that knows he should now study with a preparatory teacher such as a university professor or professional performer.  So when is it a good time to “fire” a good student?

We have so much fun together during lessons.  Even so, I know as a teacher I have to do what is best for the student.  I have talked with O and his family about moving on.  When I first bought up the idea of O finding another teacher he and his family were adamant; they did not want to leave my studio.  A year later, I brought up the topic again. They are now understanding and listening. After doing some master classes with other teachers, O’s parents are beginning to see my point . But O does not want to go to another teacher quite yet. As a compromise, we have decided to take small steps in that direction.  For this year we are going to try a cooperative method.  O will still come for lessons weekly with me but will also take a lesson or two per month with a university teacher.  The other teacher and I have conversed and worked out a few details.  Everyone is on board to make this experience the best we are able for O.  We enter the year with respect for each other, keeping O’s best interest in the foreground.  O has agreed to the the idea but firmly states that he will stay in my studio until graduation from high school (In fact, he also said he would rather quit piano than change teachers.  haha)

It’s hard to say goodbye to a good student.  I guess it’s hard for a student to say good bye to a teacher as well.  I know that at some point O will be saying goodbye to me because he will see that the new teacher has much to offer .  To be honest,  I will be sad when this happens.  But I will also be gratified in knowing I gave it my all and sent a student soaring to reach higher goals. Once again my thesis holds true.  Piano lessons are much more than music.

The Piano Bet

Since the waters have been calm and rather uneventful, it’s been a while since I have written.  My year with my piano studio was amazing and as I often tell the kids, “I have the best piano students in the world”.  The one thing that makes this group unique is that they are very good friends and have fun together with music.

After our May recital, I typically start fresh with new and lighter music for the summer.  I try to incorporate pop music (which I try to discourage during the school year) , focus on easier literature to build reading skills, and I don’t get too upset if the kids don’t practice.

As I said in another blog, my students often surprise me with music they have prepared on their own or surprise me by working on duets and play them for group lessons.  Well, after our recital there was a lot of whispering and giggling, more than usual, so I knew something was brewing.  What was going on?  They were placing bets against each other.  Two of the kids decided they wanted to play Rhapsody in Blue as a duet and the others were waging bets on whether or not the duet team would have it accomplished by our September group night.  They were putting money down on the table for or against the deadline.  I have a small studio, 3 elementary kids and 7 high school kids.  But there was $22.00 down saying the duet team could not reach the target date.  What incentive for the duet team!

This is what I call positive peer pressure.  They have so much fun sharing their music and they really look forward to the group  nights.  Group nights are once a month and  very informal, but the students perform for their families in a mini recital fashion.  Pieces are to be memorized, which gives pointed goals every month.  This is especially hard for advanced students.  They are often memorizing more than once piece at a time preparing for future group nights.  However, it’s ok to replay a prior piece or to choose a piece from years gone by, although that  hardly ever happens.  The students look upon that as an embarrassment, which once again motivates them to progress.

Well, the duet team has been working during the summer.  For the most part, notes are learned and we are now working on musicianship and conversation between the parts.

What’s my bet?  I would put money down that they will perform Rhapsody in Blue in September.  What’s your bet?

I’ll keep you posted.

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