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Posts Tagged ‘having fun with music’

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 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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Being a Suzuki teach, I have group nights once a month where students and their parents gather for an informal performance.  The students are expected to play a minimum of one memorized piece but I keep the atmosphere relaxed and non threatening.  In doing so, everyone looks forward to these nights.  The students don’t get uptight about performing and the parents like seeing the progress of all the players.  Everyone likes the social time that follows.  Because we gather each month it is comfortable and familial.

Last week I hosted my second annual ‘parents only’ night in my piano studio.  Instead of coming as a family and having performances, the parents came as adults, not parents, for  wine,  imported cheeses and candlelight.  It really was so nice to relax as a group and chat about topics other than music.  It gave me the opportunity to hear about their jobs, interests,   and how they fit into our community.  It gave them a chance to get to know me other than as a teacher.  It also gave the opportunity for them to talk about their child without their child at their heels.

The parents in my studio are very loyal as piano coaches at home, come to all lessons, and support my instruction.  It felt good to be able to do something nice for them, to let them know how much I appreciate their efforts.  It enhances our working relationship.

As adults, we continue to thrive on positive reinforcement.  Three years ago I had a principal at school who was a top notch leader.  He was professional, kind, interested in each one of us and made each of us feel very valued.  In turn, I found that I worked very hard to please him (I also did it to please the kids and myself) because I wanted him to be proud of me.

Not bad motivation.  Do something nice for someone today.

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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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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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