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Posts Tagged ‘group music lessons’

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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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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Last night I had my “end of the year” piano recital for my studio. These wonderful children and their families dropped their regularly scheduled events, post phoned homework, ate dinner in record time, and made time to add the piano recital. In fact, one family went a step farther; one daughter had a social studies review class at the same time her sister had a lacrosse game and as soon as they both finished, they ate a sandwich in the car and came to the recital, a little late, but came and performed. I couldn’t imagine doing this with a brain fried from social studies or being exhausted, sweaty, dirty and bloody from a lacrosse game! (the younger sister actually had blood running down her leg.)

This is my piano studio, whom I love and admire. They are devoted and enjoy being together. We decided to go a little less formal this year and had the recital in a member’s home rather than in a concert room or church. In a goal to conserve finances, I was very glad to have made the change. I have discovered that the performance is really only one aspect of these recitals. The other important part of the equation is the socializing that goes on before and after. Although the performance lasted about 40 minutes, the event lasted 2 hours.

The adults shared conversation, tasty appetizers, and wine. The students shared the same with a non-alcoholic variety. The flow of conversation was spirited including many topics. I heard one young boy ask an 8th grade boy if he planned to go on to college for music. A mother of a middle school boy told me the monthly recitals inspired her daughter, who plays flute, to play for grandparents. Kids and adults commented on certain students’ performances and certain pieces.

Because we meet every month there were also comments about the progress students had made. One parent shared with me how she looks forward to certain students’ performances each month. Another parent commented on how sad she was that one family couldn’t make it. Friendships have formed within our parents as well as students. After a bit of food and conversation, some kids made their way to the kitchen to play a game while others relaxed chatting together.

Are recitals necessary? As a kid I absolutely hated them. We only had one each year so it felt like a lot was riding on it. Also, it was the only time I was ever asked to play from memory. Gathering once a year, the group really didn’t know each other and the parents didn’t have allegiance to anyone expect their own child.

By doing studio recitals monthly the adults take interest in all the children. The children become familiar with the setting and with performance expectations. And we all look forward to the socializing!  I am always living by the motto that piano lessons are “more than music”.  Of course, the other night at the performance the kids played beautifully sharing their talents.  And they learned discipline, concentration, memorization skills, accomplishing a long term goal, and many other non-musical goals.  But when the element of fun is added to the mix, isn’t it better?  Parents and kids had a great time sharing laughter, music, food, compliments, themselves.  Who could ask for anything more?  To answer the question, yes. Recitals are necessary.

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I sometimes think my best teaching or inspirational brainstorms stem from the fact that I get bored easily.  At school I shift from one activity to another with a fast pace.  In my personal life I go from one project to another often without finishing any. I like being with a variety of people, each one filling a different purpose in my life.

As most Suzuki teachers, I teach  private lessons and offer group lessons for my students once a month.  I look forward to having the kids and parents together.  They are a family to me.  But how does one keep something that is a routine fun? Or the real question is, how can I keep from being bored with the group nights?

As I have mentioned before, I have a fabulous bunch of students and families.
The kids are multi -talented, smart and creative. Knowing this, along with my thirst for variety, I thought of  “alternative night”.  For group this month the kids were to perform, but NOT on piano.  As I thought about my students I realized almost all of them played another instrument at school in band or orchestra.  So that’s what last night’s group was- an alternative recital.  What a blast!

We had a viola solo, a drum solo, and sax solo.  There were two duets: flute and clarinet, and then two cellos.  We had a trio (father, daughter and son)- the father and daughter as a piano duet with the son accompanying on drums.  We had a sister duet of a vocalist and accompanist.  We also had a father/son combo with the father on piano and the son on cello.  My youngest student who is six does not yet play another instrument so what he did was play alternative Suzuki pieces.  He took two pieces from book I (Mary had a little lamb and Allegretto I) and made them jazzy.

The really impressive part of the night was that the kids all came up with their own ideas of what to perform and prepared the material on their own.  They called each other to create duet combinations, arranged  practice times and even dressed up!  I don’t know who had more fun: the kids, the parents or me!

In addition to this music, one boy performed his book I recital. His sister had just started lessons with me this month and she gave her first performance during the group (her mother told me that the child was so excited that she had her party dress on in the morning so that she’d be ready; group was at 7:00 P.M.!)

After the performance we celebrated as usual with sweet treats, but the party went on for much longer than the usual group nights.  Everyone was in high spirits congratulating all the performers and marveling at this special group of kids.  I even received two e-mails today from parents commenting on how much fun last night was.

Well, it’s almost time to teach.  What a lucky teacher I am.  And I guess the kids are lucky to have a teacher with a very short attention span.

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For those of you who read my posts you are aware that, in addition to my weekly private piano lessons, I do one monthly group lesson. Being Suzuki based, the lessons are for kids and parents. In my earlier years of teaching, the lesson included theory or history followed by performance. Since I now have a smaller studio, the group nights are performance and chat about concerns or compliments on what the kids are doing outside of piano.

But last night I hosted my first ‘For Adults Only’ group night. I invited the parents for a wine and cheese party as a thank you for all the work they do at home with the kids. In a Suzuki based piano course the parent ‘s involvement is paramount. I am so fortunate to have parents who truly buy into the program and work very hard with their children, making my work easy and fun. As far as I could see it, the parents deserved a reward.

Needless to say, the evening was very well received. We began by filling wine glasses, passing cheese and crackers and a plate piled high with sushi and some other little taste treats. I lead the discussion by asking what concerns they had or asked if there were things they wanted to share about lessons or practice. As I had guessed the conversation flowed easily.

It was good for the parents to share stories without their kids there and to have an audience who shared a common job. I had assumed that one topic the parents would hit would be how to get their kids to practice more. To my surprise, some parents had the opposite problem; they were limiting their kid’s practice so that other things could get done!

Another topic that was a hot conversation point was how long should the kids be taking lessons on two different instruments. I then realized that most of my students were taking piano lessons plus another instrument. The kid’s activities ranged from karate, basketball, figure skating plus many musical organizations. Many were in jazz band, orchestra and chorus.

I knew I had amazing students and that they are really nice kids, but as the parents started talking about what their schedules are like and the challenges of being in multiple music groups, I had even more appreciation for these kids and parents.

We may not have solved anything too dramatic, but it was a fun night for all. The parents in my studio are bonding. On their departure I heard them say, ” See you next week,” as they look forward to the kid’s group lesson night.

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Last night I hosted my traditional group night for my piano students. Once each month we get together for an informal recital. Although it feels challenging to add yet another obligation to everyone’s busy week, the rewards are plentiful.

In keeping with the guidelines of Suzuki education, I used to do monthly group lessons. I would divide the students into two or three groups and teach theory or music history in addition to their lessons. But, with teaching public school, running a household and being a parent, I knew I had to streamline my teaching. That’s when I changed from hosting small group lessons to informal recital nights. Of course, I have to include more theory and history during my lessons, but the informal recital nights have true merit.

At the child’s individual lesson we decide what his/her performance piece will be. The piece should be memorized and polished to avoid any catastrophes. Although it’s not crucial, I try to feature different styles and periods of music (a night of everyone playing ‘Go tell Aunt Rhody’ is a killer!)

The benefits of these nights are just as much social as they are musical. We have become a family. Everyone is sharing a common goal, everyone is supporting and cheering each other on. Here is a list of just a few other perks:

1. Students hear a variety of music, not only gaining exposure to different pieces and styles, but also hearing pieces they then aspire to play.

2. The students make new friends. My group ranges from age 6 to 17. They are all friends now; the older ones appreciating the simple music of the little ones and the little ones idolizing the older students.

3. The parents have made new friends. After the performance last night the laughter and volume of the voices were not those of the children; the parents were having a great time together.

4. The children learn how to be audience members in a non threatening, loving environment. Kids don’t sit still by nature, but through our monthly play ins, they learn patience and respect.

5. Performance becomes less scary and more successful. When a student performs often they learn what it takes and how to do it calmly.

6. It gives the student a tangible goal. The student knows a performance is coming up and more effort goes into the practicing. Therefore, the student advances faster.

After the performance we have desserts so that everyone may celebrate and socialize. This is as important as the performance. It is a safe environment where the children will get praise for their performance and their accomplishments. For some reason, being a musician is not always socially acceptable among students at schools. Students are often made fun of if they like music or participate in music organizations. The group nights are affirming. Everyone appreciates the dedication it takes to study music.

My students had fun last night and played well. We look forward to the next.

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