Posts Tagged ‘children and music’

“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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I was setting up my music room at school for what I call “game day” with my 3rd grade students. I save game day for the end of the school year because the games are a conglomeration of what I have taught all year. They cover topics such as: note value, music symbols, names of lines and spaces, solfeggio, tempo, dynamics, etc. I have created between 10 and 12 games that I scatter about the room. The student are divided into groups with 2 or 3 children per group. They then rotate around the room about every 8-10 minutes to play different games. The kids love it and have worked cooperatively solving problems and reviewing vocabulary. It really is great to see it in action.

Sometimes when a group finishes a game earlier than others they come to ask what they should do next. I then make up a variation of the game so that they are occupied while they are waiting. What’s better though is when I see the kids making up a different game with the game parts. They have given me some good ideas! The other day one little girl was asking how I created the games and came up with the ideas. She asked because she thought of a game to teach note value. It really was a brilliant game she created. Together we brainstormed ideas and variations for her new game.

I’m not going to write about it now because I am preparing to teach at the Kingston’s Suzuki Institute in a couple of weeks and plan to use some of her ideas. I’ll report of the results in a later post.

But the moral of this post is- teachers can learn from their students. I have often heard this statement but don’t encounter it too much after having taught for eons. Need ideas for group lessons? Just ask your students!

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When people ask me how I ended up being a music teacher I know there were 4 factors in my childhood that lead up to it:

1. My Grandmother sang, recited poetry and did finger plays endlessly with my cousins and me. Grandma was a born teacher (although she only went as far as 6th grade) and whenever a child was in sight, she was on stage. She LOVED children. Everyone else in the room disappeared when a child was around (funny, as I write this, I realize I am the same way! Thanks, Grandma)

2. My dad listened to jazz all the time. so subconsciously, I learned every word and trained inadvertently with Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Nat King Cole, and other greats.

3. When I was in high school, I had a young, vivacious music teacher who directed a small, select jazz choir that I had the opportunity of which to belong.

4. I took piano lessons. If you are one of my loyal readers you already know that I did not like taking lessons, but ironically so, the piano was my ticket into music college.

How does all this relate to my present relationship with music? Let’s start with Grandma. She was the perfect model of an elementary music teacher. I inherited her energy, understanding of children, and ability to engage children. Maybe I learned those skills in college, but Grandma comes to mind when I see my results.

Listening to my dad’s choice of music developed my love of jazz. Back then I viewed it as “music old people listened to” but I now see the music as timeless.

As much as I vowed I would never make a child practice piano, my piano lessons have provided me with endless job opportunities and now I find teaching piano a tremendous joy. I love the one on one with kids. As I watch my students play, I am amazed that I am able to provide this skill.

After years of teaching music, I am now able to do what really drew me to a career in music- jazz choir. Since I teach elementary school I have put all my energy in that direction and in piano lessons, but this year I started a jazz choir in our high school. In doing so, I feel rejuvenated, challenged and am having soooo much fun! We had our first concert this week featuring those tunes that my dad had planted in me during my youth: Ain’t Misbehavin’, Cloudburst, Can’t Help Lovin That Man of Mine, All The Things You Are. My students are wonderful. They are smart, polite and talented. At first, they didn’t like my repertoire choices but they ended up loving them. Funny to think of teens liking these piece in the age of rap and hip hop.

I love practicing with the students in a circle, me in the middle soaking up their 4 part harmony, balancing the voices, listening intently for lost parts, rounded vowels, ending consonants. I love watching their work take form. They don’t completely understand my work ethic nor my performance goal or standards. Since I am not their high school music teacher, this is hard for them to synthesize, but little by little I hear comments that imply they are beginning to understand.

Last weekend I invited the kids (12 members) to our house for a long rehearsal and then what I labeled a “team dinner”. That’s when the group started to gel. They had so much fun together, getting to know each other and firming up some vocal parts. The sound began to changed because they were respecting each other enough to work as a team, so different than singing solo.

The kids and I were very nervous the night of the concert. We all wanted it to be great. As we watched the video of it, the kids voiced their opinions both positive and negative. As it finished, one student said, “we need to practice more”. They are getting it. They are ready to move forward, beyond the notes and rhythms, beyond themselves to create a unified sound. They asked me what I thought. They knew the answer. Once again, what I do is more than music.

After years of teaching, I am doing what I dreamed about when I was 16 years old. Are these young, beautiful people dreaming too? Time will tell.

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12460612032658572Great title, huh?  Sometimes my spontaneity leads to my best teaching moments.  Last night’s lessons were priceless.

For the Christmas holidays I have a whimsical snowman holding a dish of candy which sits on my piano.  It’s funny to see the kid’s reactions to it.  Last night one of my little ones saw it the minute he sat on the bench and his eyes were so big I thought they would pop out of his head.  So, I asked him to play a piece and maybe he would earn a piece of chocolate.  He played it as fast as he could.  But, expecting a bit more, I told him that his performance was a good warm up.  I then sprinkles the little colorfully wrapped chocolates all over the keys.  I said if he could play the piece without a mistake all the candy was his.  He thought it was a great game and played well.  Of course, the candy was his. We then put it on the side of the piano to continue the lesson.  During the lesson, all my requests were prefaced by, “if you can do this, you can eat one of your candies.”  We accomplished so much!  I felt sorry for the parents having to take him home to bed after I pumped him with candy!

The fun wasn’t over yet; next was his older brother. His lesson began with scales.  This particular student is extremely bright and talented, but likes to play fast, which compromises his accuracy.  I told him for every scale he played perfectly he would win a chocolate, but if it was not perfect, his dad earned the candy.  He loved the game (he’s 15 yrs. old).  But he confessed that his real  incentive was trying to not let his dad earn candy!  We upped the stakes going from one octave to two octave scales which resulted in two candies for accuracy.

The next game was for the older brother to earn candy with sight reading, one piece for perfect notes, two pieces if he counted it aloud as he sight read.  We all had so much fun and so many laughs.  It was wonderful to see the two boys and dad munching on their way out the door and big strides in musicianship were made.

Ya gotta love the holidays!

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As any music teacher would attest, December means concerts.
This is a bitter sweet month; there is a lot of tension, but when the concert is over, there hopefully is a lot of satisfaction.

What really cracks me up is how the rest of the world views December. Many get so stressed with all that Christmas preparation: decorating. baking. Christmas cards, gifting. Personally, I think it’s all lots of fun . Yes, it is a busy time of year. But whenever someone starts bellyaching to me over it all, I just have to laugh. Music teachers do all that PLUS concerts! I almost always get sick, dread hearing Christmas carols, and am in charge of zillions of little ones bringing holiday cheer to their loved ones.

For the past 8 years I have had 4 concerts for school and my piano Christmas party in December. (that didn’t include going to my children’s concerts as the parent!) Generally, I put about 575 kids on stage during the month. This year I only have 2 concerts and the Christmas piano party. (only 200 kids!) It feels like such a HUGE break. I am really enjoying the season! I actually put on Christmas carols while we decorated the tree yesterday and felt great.

So all you music parents, truly appreciate your child’s music teacher this month. Once again, not trying to blow my own horn, just venting a bit about a high pressure month.

Happy holidays!

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This is very fun! I just tried “Wordle”. If you want to give it a go, click on “confessions of a band director” in my blog roll to get started. Very easy! I was very glad to how my educational priorities stacked up. I think my graphic describes my philosophy quite well.

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Right after I wrote some of my blogs on how music affected my relationship with my children I got a letter from my daughter from college. She sent a copy of an essay she wrote. The essay was basically about the influence I had on her growth in music. It talked about how she absorbed the music lessons and the teaching style that she heard constantly while I was teaching. She mentioned how my expertise became part of who she is and how she emulated what she heard and observed. The entire essay was a surprising compliment to me. How blessed I am to have received this letter at this point of my life.

As parents we hope we influence our children in a positive way. I am always so happy when my children call or thank me for what I have done for them. To receive this letter was a gift I will never forget. Some parents never get this opportunity. I am truly blessed. Once again, all through music.

Music and education have a unique effect. Also this weekend my cousin came to visit with his two boys. The oldest one proudly brought his violin. He had just started lessons and wanted to share what he had learned. What a bond we felt with this little guy! Not only was he part of our family, but it made it feel like he got the music genes from us! It was wonderful to see his excitement through his eyes.

Music touches the heart and soul. Sharing music with children only enhances the relationship.

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