Archive for the ‘teaching music’ Category

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.


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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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When I was a teen the last thing I ever wanted to do was practice piano.  I vowed I would never make any child of mine take piano lessons nor would I ever teach piano and make other kids suffer the purgatory  in which I was trapped.

Many years later………….. teaching piano is the most rewarding part of my life.  I also teach public school general music and enjoy that, but the piano lesson are what I would love to be doing full time.

I left public school teaching while raising my own children and opened a big piano studio.  The only stress in the situation was that I was teaching at night and lost  family time.  Our school district would not allow students to be pulled out for piano so I would start my teaching day when kids were out of school and my husband came  home.  In retrospect, I was with my own children all day and my husband was with them in the evenings so I feel we really gave all we could, but it was hard for us not to be together as a family very often.

During that time, I realized the little professional acclaim the general public had toward piano teaching.  I sometimes felt like I was looked upon as uneducated because I was at home teaching piano rather than being in the work force.  I think many viewed teaching piano as just a hobby one does if one knows how to play rather than a profession that I was able to do because I had a masters degree in music education.  I often found myself explaining that I was taking a break from teaching public school so they would at least know that I went to college.

I am writing with this purpose:  If you are pursuing piano lessons for yourself or for your child, check the credentials of the teacher before beginning.  Many teachers actually believe they are qualified to teach because they took lessons as a kid.  Not only look for a music degree, but the teacher should also have  a concentration in piano.

Another decision to consider is finding a piano teacher who not only has a degree in piano, but also in education.  A music student can attend college as an education major or performance major.   Being a performance major is a very demanding job.  The performance major builds skill and technique to the maximum.  To be a music education major with a concentration in piano is less demanding in practice, however the teaching component  is added.  Which route you choose in deciding on a teacher is a personal decision.  The music education major will know how to work with children, but may have less skills than a performance major.  This by no means implies that a performance major cannot have both piano skills and an understanding of children.

When looking for a piano teacher, look for someone who is doing it as a profession, not as a hobby.  Check the teacher’s credentials, talk to parents and students who work with that teacher, and even ask to sit in on some lessons before agreeing to join their piano studio.  See how the teacher interacts with the students.

When music is approached as a  discipline, one will be successful.  Only a qualified teacher is able to facilitate this goal.

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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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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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Although I continue to be obsessed with Scrabble, it’s time to take a break and write a post about a very special event- my daughter’s college graduation. I realize that graduating from college is quite mainstream these days, but the weekend held some touching moments. As often with my family, music was the reason.

Festivities began on Friday for my family. The college held a recital for non-music majors of which my daughter accompanied many. It was fun to see her in the role of accompanist after watching her as a soloist for years. Accompanying is a different, interactive skill of which she was quite successful. Following the recitals was a champagne reception.

We  then went to a reception for music majors. My daughter graduated with a major in Spanish and a music minor, but because she only lacked one class in becoming a major (she wasn’t able to take the course because she did a year abroad) she was invited to the event. Being a small college, there were only 6 music majors so the event was intimate. Attending was the dean of music, private teachers, the graduates and their families. Since a student stays with their private teacher for 4 years, a close bond forms. Each teacher gave a little speech about their student and presented them each a gift. My daughter’s teacher made us laugh and cry. She began, “Often when a student goes abroad for a year she comes back opinionated and argumentative. This is the way my student came to me as a freshman.” It was apparent that professor and student truly loved each other!

The next day was the baccalaureate service. The graduating class was about 600 students. We did not have to look over the sea of students to find our daughter; she had a seat on the stage because she performed for the service. Once again, a tearful moment during the performance and a program with her name in it made us proud.

The following day was the graduation ceremony. Music brought my little girl once again to the stage. This time to sing the alma mater with others (about 15) in a small chorus. Of course, tears again.

I have written extensively that the non-musical goals associated with piano lessons are the driving force behind my teaching and the main factor in investing in lessons for my own children.  But this weekend proved to me that taking music lessons can bring pleasure and pride to others.  Music for music’s sake. I thank my little girl for bringing pride to her family and enjoyment to the world through her music.

Although this may be the end of a long journey of formal piano lessons, she will take her knowledge to new heights.  Most likely she will not pursue a career in music.  But employment options will be many:  she will be qualified to teach lessons, be a church organist, be an accompanist, and, maybe even more importantly, enjoy the fruits of her labor by making music in her own home for friends, relatives, and most importantly, for herself.

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When it rains it pours!  Lately I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed with teaching:  my daily school job, my  piano teaching, my high school jazz choir, concerts, group piano nights, report cards.  Luckily, April break was the light at the end of the tunnel.

So on this one day, I decided to leave earlier than usual for school (since I’d been awake since 3:00 A.M. anyway) to get some serious work done.  I was in the groove and the phone rings.  It was from a mom who’s child I had taught last summer at the Kingston Suzuki Institute.  After helping to jog my memory as to who she was, she explained that she and her children would be in the area and could they come visit.  Without missing a beat, I invited them to come and participate during my fourth grade class.  As I hung up, I thought, “I have to be crazy!  I am so swamped right now and I just added to the list!”.

My lesson ended up being great.  Right on time the mom entered with her 3 children.  I invited the middle child to play piano for the class.  No one in this particular class took piano lessons and they were in awe.  They asked him questions afterward to find out how he could play so well.  I then invited his older sister to play who was into improvisation.  She was mostly improvising on a pentatonic scale, so I popped in my students to join her.  Everyone thought it was very cool.  My students learned the meaning of improvisation and had these real musicians to look up to.  After that, I did a recorder lesson and we invited our visitors to join us.  It was all great fun!

My spontaneity proved to be a great lesson much beyond music.  The lesson it taught me was to always make time for others.  In real life it is easy to get caught up with the daily stuff and avoid going out of the way for others.  It would have been very easy to just explain that I was teaching and unable to meet with this lovely family.  But being a teacher at the Kingston institute has taught me to go out of my way for others.  The faculty at the institute is not only talented  but so absolutely giving of themselves that it’s easy to step into that mode.  I always think of it like being in Brigadoon.  We work together, respect each other, love each other and that’s it.  So when this mom called me, I automatically stepped into my Kingston personality.  (I try hard to have the “Kingston personality” all year, but in the real world it’s not always easy.)

This week I received a wonderful thank you note from the family; they had had as much fun as I during their visit.  I placed that card on the refrigerator to remind me of the lesson.  Not the piano performance, or the recorder lesson, or the improvisation.  I put the card there to remind me of a more important lesson: that of be a giving human being, the greatest lesson of all.

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