Posts Tagged ‘music education’

With the financial cuts being made in schools, it’s quite scary being a public school music teacher.  Classroom teachers are being fired, classes are over flowing, and programs are being cut.  Since the arts are not mandated in the state of N.Y., they are the first to go.

I am the first to admit that academic subjects are vital.  But speaking very broadly, those subjects feed the left brain.  The arts nurture the right brain.  Plainly stated, we need both.  Please write your congressmen to  support education.

I am fortunate to live in an area where the arts are valued.  Even if my music position is cut at school, I would be fortunate enough to continue earning an income through private piano lessons. Because of my community in which I live, I will always be in demand. But for those families who cannot afford private lessons or lack insight to the arts, their children may not have the opportunity to develop the right brain as much.

Math and science nurture the brain.  Music and art nurture the brain and the soul.

Should music continue in our schools?  It’s a no brainer.



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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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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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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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