Archive for the ‘children and music’ Category

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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Teaching public school music and piano lessons on the side, I see all varieties of students.  In school I see kids who love coming to music class, those who hate it, those whose work ethic is very strong and those who refuse  to do any work regardless of its variety.  When it comes to joining chorus, I hear a plethora of excuses:  I’m too busy, I need the study hall, my friends aren’t doing it, I’m taking band instead.  And then there are the more creative excuses:  we don’t have a car so I wouldn’t be able to come to the concerts, my mom doesn’t want me to join, and my all time favorite, my dad has polio so I can’t join.  Funny how no one’s excuse it, “I’m too lazy!”.

But my piano students are different.  They are all smart, work hard and love to come to lessons.  This year all but three of my students are in high school.  Many are also in band, orchestra or both.  I am always amazed how they can practice so many instruments!   Once a month I have a group night where I invite the families for a little, informal recital.  The requirements are that the pieces performed are to be memorized and each student is to play a minimum of one piece.  At the last group night almost everyone played two pieces and two girls even got together on their own and performed a duet.  I knew nothing about it!  The same girls also meet periodically to work on a piano duet that they are composing.

All my piano students really look forward to the group nights and so do the parents.  At school the kids are comparing their music and gear up for the night.  One of their friends in orchestra heard them talking about group night.  He also played piano and had been considering looking for a new teacher.  My students convinced him to call me.  Although the friend didn’t call at first, the kids bugged him until he did.  Usually I get recommendations from parents, or someone hears one of my students and asks with whom they study.  But I have never gotten a new student from peer pressure!

I have had one lesson with my new boy and I know he will work out just fine.  Everyone is excited to have him come to his first group night.  It is so nice to see teens embrace music and have fun in sharing it.  How can this positive, productive attitude spread among others?

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Ah, summer!   No school, longer days, warm breezes, freedom.  Swimming, riding bikes, time with friends, bronze, healthy glow.  Time to read, time without a schedule, time to do absolutely nothing at all.

These are the thoughts I had as a child about summer.  Now that I am adult and a teacher my view hasn’t changed too much.  I add gardening, house cleaning, time with family to the mix.  But I am still on summer mode.  I can’t begin to imagine the word ‘work’ in conjunction with summer.  Since my husband is a teacher too, I have never had to think of summer in any other way than complete freedom.  Yes, I’m spoiled.

So, here in lies my question:  Should a child be expected to take summer piano lessons and maintain a practice schedule during the summer?  Good one, huh?

As an educator I say, ‘yes, definitely’.  As an educator I also say, ‘absolutely not’.   Now that I am teaching piano I love it when my students take summer lessons and practice.  Since summer is less scheduled, there is more time to practice and advance.  I am much more relaxed during my teaching and often extend the lesson time which accomplishes so much more.  During the summer I like to stray from the classical music and work with music the kids choose, work from a fake book, jazz,  and more technique.  It’s a time too where  I can chat a bit more with the child and their family before and after the lesson.  All in all, summer can be a time for strong musical growth.

Kids need a bit of structure.  Freedom is wonderful but an idol mind is not.  A diet of only TV and friends is unhealthy to say the least.  Parents need to moderate and encourage brain work.  Since music is a language, if it is not used it’s lost.  When a student does not take summer lessons, depending on the age of the child, it can take up to a month to retrieve skill and establish a practice schedule.

On the flip side of the coin, I believe children are scheduled  to the point of insanity.  There are so many opportunities:  sports, music, art, academics, volunteer work, part time jobs.  If a child doesn’t start a sport by the age of 5 it’s sometimes impossible for them to compete amongst their peers.  And if the child doesn’t practice 5 days a week he can be cut from the team.  With Suzuki education the norm is not unusual for a child to start an instrument at 4 years of age, giving them an edge among their peers.  Parents want their child to be well rounded and pile up the activities after school.  In some countries, children go to cram school after school hours.  In our village children hire tutors to raise their average in a certain subject.  Tutors are hired even if the child’s grade is in the high 90s so that the child may gain in class rank!  Children are scheduled to the point where meals are eaten in the car between activities instead of at a table with their families.

Does a child need a break during the summer?  Absolutely!  Even as an adult the thing I like most about the summer is not having a schedule.  It doesn’t matter what time it is, I don’t have to do anything routinely and spontaneity is my course.  Lunch with a friend on Friday, laps at the pool when I awake, in the mood to make cookies any time is possible.  I love it!  When I was growing up, my piano teacher did not teach during the summer.  I was so happy for that.  But then my mom would want me to continue to practice and I thought that was totally unjust.  Why could other kids just spend the whole day outside playing and I had to practice before I was allowed to go out? (I felt that way about doing chores too.)

So, I ask, should a child take lessons during the summer and be expected to practice?  My answer is a double edge sword.  As a teacher and parent I say that I see the benefits.  However, the child within me says kids need a break.  In doing so, I have offered my music families a 5 lesson session.  The deal is that they are to cash in on the 5 lessons from mid-June to the end of August.  When the child wants a lesson they call.  This alleviates working around vacations, kids not practicing and a schedule on my part.  Spontaneity is encouraged; parents are able to call for a lesson the same day they want to come.  With the 5 lesson expectation, kids maintain their abilities.  Notice I used the word ‘maintain’.  I don’t expect too much  progress in only 5 lessons.  If a family wants more than 5 lessons that’s wonderful, I am happy to accommodate.

I would appreciate some feed back on this topic.  Your thoughts?

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There are many sites that offer piano lessons on line.  Some of which, I understand are not reputable.  My skype lessons are simple to use and privately run -not with a company.

I have a masters degree in music education with a concentration in piano pedagogy.  I have been teaching public school music and Suzuki piano for many years.  I am a music clinician and lecture on parenting/ music topics.

No matter where you live, skype lessons are possible.  They are not meant, by any means to replace a home teacher.  The lessons are for enhancement purposes.

Best of luck!

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Although I had a very rocky start to my week at the Kingston institute, once I arrived I basked in the experience. The “rocky” was in the travel. A trip that should have taken 3 hours took close to 10 and that was with the help of my devoted husband and Kingston colleagues. But only as this institute provides, I was greeted with hugs from the faculty, concern from the families and a beautiful dinner. Like the master card commercial suggests, priceless.

Priceless is the only description of my week at the Kingston institute. Despite my anxiousness in preparing, the week was, as always, one of the best. I say that each year in reflecting, but it all was truly special. The things with which I am always most impressed are:

1. the faculty

2. the families

3. the devotion of both the above

The faculty at the Kingston institute are by far the most inspirational, dedicated teachers with whom I have ever taught. Their creativity and sense of humor set them above and beyond, forming a team that bonds, learns from each other and supports each other professionally and personally. Although I see most of them only once a year, I know I belong, sharing a common goal to be all we can be for the sake of the students. There is an indescribable warmth we share. I can be totally myself with this group. No walls are formed. I don’t have to measure my words or choose my words with caution.

The compliments fly freely among us, recognizing the effort and mastery in each other’s work. We share the common thread of music education, but we each fill a unique niche. Combining our talent we create an experience that, in my view, is of highest quality. A purely positive tone among the teachers is obvious along with teasing, jokes and laughter.

The institute attracts a certain type of family because parents are expected to stay with their children during the week. The parents to go to class with the kids, eat in the dining hall and sleep in the dorms. Education is first among the adults. Mondays lessons are generally a bit quiet among all as they get to know each other. But by the next day friendships have begun and by the end of the week strong bonds are evident among children and adults.

My group classes were lively. Through games the kids absorbed much more in a week than I could believe. In my 5 year old class with 10 students the children were performing complex rhythms and doing rhythmic dictation by the end of the week. The adults were active in participating as well. The adults were comprised of parents and teacher trainees; I often had 20 adults per classes taking notes, playing games with the children and applauding the accomplishments. In such a positive, supportive environment children were happy to learn and took pride in their accomplishments.

The equation for learning: smart  + loving + creative =  a stimulating environment

These qualities were evident all week, thus breeding success.  Our hope as a faculty is that more families will join us in our mission.  We will return next year ready to give all we have to offer , sharing music in a loving, nurturing environment.

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It’s that time of year again. I pack up my classroom at school, say good bye to the students I’ve had and will mostly continue to teach in September, and then clean, clean, clean. But as I clean. the creative juices flow as I mentally prepare for my institute teaching. As I go through the shelves in the classroom I stash away favorite games, look in books for fresh ideas and brainstorm just what I can do to bring a new twist to my teaching. Please oh please, I pray, let the right side of my brain go wild!

I took an art class a couple years ago about drawing on the right side of the brain. The premise was to unleash the right side of the brain thus changing the perspective of the way one looks at objects. Since I have no artistic ability the learning curve was impressive. But more over, I remember my brain actually hurting after each exercise. That’s what I try to emulate now.

As I am packing I am thinking these things:

1. What manipulatives can I add to my bag of tricks?

2. How can I incorporate them into games?

3. How can I teach the most information in the shortest amount of time?

4. How can I make the students laugh and have fun?

I know that the last of these is the most important. I always have to remind myself of this.
Think, “more than music”, I tell myself. I think of my colleagues preparing as well. Are they feeling the trepidation and exhilaration as I am at the moment? Are they plotting how they can be the best teacher possible too? Of that I am sure.

And what about the students? I remember getting my children ready for the week ahead. Packing their clothes, practicing much more the week prior to secure their performance pieces, getting their hair cut, wondering who their teachers would be and would they love my children. One of my children’s highlights in getting ready was shopping for snacks. Although the cafeteria provided enough calories to gain ten pounds in a week, we packed bags of snacks for the dorm. During the shop, all rules went out the window. We packed soda, chips, candy and the biggest of all treats, sweet cereal which was absolutely forbidden in our home. God bless the teachers who had my kids at the end of the week. They acceptingly and lovingly taught sleep deprived children on a sugar high. What great memories!

My goal is just that. To create great memories for my students next week. How will I attain that? The answer is yet to be discovered. I will pack my bag of tricks, begin to assemble new games and remember to look my students in the eyes with the biggest smile and the most love I can offer. I will remember to see them as small children who are looking to learn, trying to be their best and willing to share their love……..just like their teacher.

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In previous posts I have written about the quality of the Suzuki Institute at Kingston Ontario Canada. It is an honor to work with the prestigious faculty in this picturesque setting. But of equally high quality are the families that attend.

A few years ago I found an adorable little girl wearing home made dresses, her hair in long, blond braids as one of my students for the week. She captured my heart as she smiled and giggled the entire week at the lessons. Her parents were right at her side loving her beyond imagination and cherishing every second with their little girl. The love they shared was quite evident in their every move.

I don’t remember how many years ago that was. But we were reunited at the piano last summer again. The braids are now replaced by shoulder length hair loosely pulled back. The dresses are still home made, but interspersed with shorts and tee shirts. The smile is that of a 13 year old young lady, poised and confident. She converses in a relaxed, easy flowing way using an enormous vocabulary with whomever she encounters. The parents are at her side with the love and pride unceasing.

I now get occasional calls from her. The calls are sporadic jumping from one topic to another endlessly. We are very comfortable with each other as if we see each other daily.

Today I received a gift that was very powerful. It was a DVD of a recital given by this 13 year old girl. So much practice had gone into the final product. For the age, it was a lengthy recital of high quality. Her passion rings out loud and clear. The DVD was done very thoughtfully including photos of her with the extended family, friends and those who attended.  She also had a section of photos of her with Carole Bigler, her piano teacher to whom she dedicated the recital.

Included in the package was the program that she helped to compose. My name was listed as one of her teachers.

All this left me speechless.

I guess one never knows the impact one has on others. It’s hard for me to believe she thought to send me this package and include me in the program. What an honor.

And what timing! I am now packing my supplies to teach at the Institute. I am thinking of my lesson plans, wondering who my students will be, and what I can do to make my lessons ones that will have the highest impact. I always get a little anxious about that. How can I be my best? How can I make these small children walk away motivated and energized?  How can I teach a great amount about music  and make the kids  laugh at the same time?  What a tall order!

That’s what teaching at the Suzuki Institute does for me.  It creates a need for me to produce my highest quality work.  It puts me in the company of highly skilled educators where I learn not only about education but about being a giving human being.  It engages me with parents who place education first.  It brings beautiful children who offer so much love and energy  fueling me to teach yet another year.

Music institutes are a gift that keeps giving.  What will I bring to it this year?  I don’t completely know yet.  But I do know this.  I will aim to provide a gift that keeps giving.

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