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Archive for the ‘practicing piano’ Category

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.

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“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.

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Although my educational background certainly helps, most of my best teaching moments are purely reached by spontaneity and luck.  (Note:  This post is duplicated under “Listening Brings Musicality” )

One of my students I acquired purely by being at the right place at the right time.  GG (I’ll call her GG because she is a gorgeous girl!) was in 8th grade ready to give up  taking piano lessons.  Her disheartened mother thought she’d give it one last chance and enrolled her in the Kingston Suzuki Institute for the summer hoping to peak her interest.  GG was placed in  my theory class and, little did I know, she was from my home town.  I had never met the family.  Well, she and I had a lovely week together and by the end of the week I was asked to take her on as a student.

We started working together that summer and 4 years later, she is getting ready to perform her senior recital.  The first couple of years she soared.  She loved the music I chose for her and the new ideas I brought to her playing .  In the next two years she was overcome by the rigor of junior and senior year classes.  Not only this, she excels in skating and running, so needless to say, her practice time dwindled.  We continued lessons with smaller accomplishments.  By October this year, she had chosen a college and I began to think about how we would finish her year. She had started with one of the pieces from Debussy’s Children Corner Suite  and she loved it.  Being a Suzuki teacher, I recommended that she listen as she learned.  She really loved the piece and wanted to learn others from the suite.

GG is a very good player, but, in my eyes, not  extraordinary.  I thought since it was her senior year it would be good to give a private recital, but I was unsure of her ability.  As she learned Doctor Gradus I discussed impressionism and related it to art.  As she played I began seeing painters works in my mind:  Monet, Dega, VanGogh.  So I mentioned that it might be fun to create a power point along with the piece that she could show as she performed.

The idea blossomed.  In two weeks GG will give her senior recital.  She has created visuals for the entire Children’s Corner Suite and perfected the pieces.  Now this is the really interesting part…….

To create the power points for each piece she researched artists,  impressionism, and had to listen to each piece a million times to make sure her frames of art for each piece were aligned perfectly as she played.  She used the CD to create these power points, which meant she was listening to concert pianists perform them.  From doing this her artistry in playing soared.  I am left breathless after she plays each piece.  Her nuances are perfectly executed.  Artistry is not an easy thing to teach.  Listening provides an insight to performance ideas.

She has decided to create invitations for her recital and create her own program with notes on each piece and her approach to her visual presentation.

Although GG is not going majoring in music during college, at her last lesson she said that she is going to continue piano lessons there.  What a surprise from a girl who was ready to quit 4 years ago!   She has loved our project and it has given her new insight to music.  Not only that, it has inspired her to continue her music education experience.

Think of her on May 30th as she performs her senior recital.

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Although my educational background certainly helps, most of my best teaching moments are purely reached by spontaneity and luck.  (Note:  This post is duplicated under “Combining piano lessons with art” )

One of my students I acquired purely by being at the right place at the right time.  GG (I’ll call her GG because she is a gorgeous girl!) was in 8th grade ready to give up  taking piano lessons.  Her disheartened mother thought she’d give it one last chance and enrolled her in the Kingston Suzuki Institute for the summer hoping to peak her interest.  GG was placed in  my theory class and, little did I know, she was from my home town.  I had never met the family.  Well, she and I had a lovely week together and by the end of the week I was asked to take her on as a student.

We started working together that summer and 4 years later, she is getting ready to perform her senior recital.  The first couple of years she soared.  She loved the music I chose for her and the new ideas I brought to her playing .  In the next two years she was overcome by the rigor of junior and senior year classes.  Not only this, she excels in skating and running, so needless to say, her practice time dwindled.  We continued lessons with smaller accomplishments.  By October this year, she had chosen a college and I began to think about how we would finish her year. She had started with one of the pieces from Debussy’s Children Corner Suite  and she loved it.  Being a Suzuki teacher, I recommended that she listen as she learned.  She really loved the piece and wanted to learn others from the suite.

GG is a very good player, but, in my eyes, not  extraordinary.  I thought since it was her senior year it would be good to give a private recital, but I was unsure of her ability.  As she learned Doctor Gradus I discussed impressionism and related it to art.  As she played I began seeing painters works in my mind:  Monet, Dega, VanGogh.  So I mentioned that it might be fun to create a power point along with the piece that she could show as she performed.

The idea blossomed.  In two weeks GG will give her senior recital.  She has created visuals for the entire Children’s Corner Suite and perfected the pieces.  Now this is the really interesting part…….

To create the power points for each piece she researched artists,  impressionism, and had to listen to each piece a million times to make sure her frames of art for each piece were aligned perfectly as she played.  She used the CD to create these power points, which meant she was listening to concert pianists perform them.  From doing this her artistry in playing soared.  I am left breathless after she plays each piece.  Her nuances are perfectly executed.  Artistry is not an easy thing to teach.  Listening provides an insight to performance ideas.

She has decided to create invitations for her recital and create her own program with notes on each piece and her approach to her visual presentation.

Although GG is not going majoring in music during college, at her last lesson she said that she is going to continue piano lessons there.  What a surprise from a girl who was ready to quit 4 years ago!   She has loved our project and it has given her new insight to music.  Not only that, it has inspired her to continue her music education experience.

Think of her on May 30th as she performs her senior recital.

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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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When thinking of music institutes one mostly thinks of small children learning music in small group settings, teens in ensemble playing, daily private lessons and recitals.  That’s what my experience had been until a few years ago.  I looked at my class lists finding one of my lesson groups was for an hour lesson with two retired women.  I had taught adults before, so although a bit unusual in this setting, I was prepared.

The two women “L” and “M” had been taking lessons for a few years with the same teacher.  They were obviously good friends and comfortable with their music abilities.  L was tall and willowy and appeared a bit on the conservative side.  M , considerably older,  was short and compact with a self assured, observant nature.  Each woman, extremely intelligent,  was delightful individually, but together they were a dynamic team.  They were so endearing I knew the minute I met them I would look forward to their lesson each day.

While one had her lesson the other watched and cheered from the side lines.  They took notes for each other so that they could remember all I said.  Each suggestion I gave they found new and exciting.  I could literally see the light bulbs go on and they took what I said as gospel.  The next day they would tell me of their practice sessions and could not wait to show me how much better they played.  Their wit and enthusiasm kept me in laughter.

The laughter during the lessons is what I will always remember most.  During one lesson M had played exceptionally well and in a silly moment I gave her a sticker as I would have a young child.  She was so proud of the sticker she strutted around and told L  that she was so much better.  The next day L impressed me and earned two stickers.  M hung her head in shame.  She said, “Oh great!  I will never hear the end of this!”  And so our lessons continued with the goal to earn stickers.

The next year, I looked at my class lists and found L and M once again listed.  How delighted I was when I found out they had  requested to have me as their teacher.  This time they came with their own stickers (much fancier than the ones I had, they pointed out.)  The lessons continued as rollicking as before.  When not in class or practicing, L and M attended all the recitals and other events on campus.  They marveled at the skills of the little ones which prompted them to practice even more.

I shared stories of our lessons with my family and was most pleased to introduce L and M to my husband and children.  My relationship with L and M blossomed beyond music and they took an interest in my family as well.  We began sending Christmas cards and M would e-mail me in anticipation of the institute.  I would once again be their teacher.

Since they had shown such cleverness, I played into it by bringing stickers that had attitude.  The stickers were little dogs saying sarcastic things.  Ironically enough, I was able to find just the appropriate comment about their playing through the stickers.  Fun and silliness.

That summer I noticed a decline in M’s health.  She had developed a cough and tired more easily.  She confessed to having fallen asleep on the keyboard while in a practice room.  At Christmas I sent M a card; there was no response.

Upon arriving at the institute this year my class list had an envelop attached.  Inside was an e-mail sent to the institute for me.  It was from L.   They would not be coming this year.  M had passed away.  It was a very nice letter from L; she said that M was very fond of me.

I thought about them all week as I taught.  I missed them.  Music has brought many wonderful people into my life.  Music and education transcend the ages.  M was a teacher.  She and L taught me a lot about learning and relationships.

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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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