Posts Tagged ‘sharing music with your children’

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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I am pleased to say that the idea of skype piano lessons happened in my home.  It’s something I have been wanting to do but needed the right situation to launch.  A wonderful family in Kansas wrote  asking to give it a try and we have now had 2 successful lessons.

I have used skype for years  as a means to communicate from one part of the world to another.  I have chatted with friends and family during travel and have kept up with my own children as they live in different parts of the world.  But teaching my  first lesson was exhilarating!  There were a couple of unpredicted challenges, but the child, parents and I were jazzed by the success and fun.  I offered the first lesson for free but by the end of the lesson I knew I would be hearing from them again.

The family called for a second lesson as their child was preparing for a national music festival.  We invited the child’s home private piano teacher to attend our skype lesson.  It was great having the conversation taken to a higher level; not only could I advise the student, but the teacher and I were able to collaborate.

I just received a note from the family saying that the child received a “superior +” rating at the festival.  Of course the credit goes to the diligent work of the child and the dedicated coaching of the home teacher.  But it was an amazing feeling to know that, from the other side of the country, I was part of the discussion and learning process.

Once again, I am not suggesting that skype lessons are a substitute for a real live teacher.  But skype lessons are a wonderful way for teachers to work together for the betterment of teaching children.  Plus, they are a very fun method of learning and keeping a child engaged in music.

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I was put in an interesting situation with one of my advanced students.  For the past year, I told him that it was time to move on to a new teacher. Although we had only been together a few years, his progress was like a wild fire.  He would accomplish my weekly goals and then create some of his own.  A piece that would normally take a student months to accomplish he would devour in a month.  But, as with most students, he was reluctant to change to a new teacher.  Devotion develops and personal relationships grow strong.

Last summer there was a clinician in town from a well known music conservatory and we decided to do a master class with her.  It was a good experience for all.  She too took interest in his unique talent.  Although it broke my heart, I encouraged him to pursue lessons with her.  I sat down with the professor and the family and yet his loyalty to me continued.  He was not ready to make a change although his parents knew it would be in his best interest.

After much conversation a decision was made to share lessons, every other week between the two teachers.  I was the most hesitant to agree.  Would the teacher and I see eye to eye?  Would my lessons seem immature to him once he experienced them back to back with the professor?  But most of all, would my teaching look misguided from the point of view of the professor?

The only request the professor made was the she would be choosing the repertoire.  I was more than happy to comply.  We talked about technique, his strengths and weaknesses and began the duel teaching arrangement in September.  I am pleased to report that after 6 months we all feel very good with the plan.  I sat the family down to evaluate  the situation last week and they are extremely pleased.  They felt that the professor and my goals were one, but that in the lessons we approached the goals from different angles.  Another noted difference was that the professor worked with technical details where I looked more at shaping the entire piece.  The family feels that we really compliment each other and that the boy is getting the best of both worlds.

Would I recommend this strategy to others?  The answer is no.  I am very fortunate to have found a professor that is willing to keep communication open with the family and me.  The other fortunate thing is that she has respect for me as an educator.  I show no pretense and would beckon to her teaching, but she puts no pressure on me and does not undermine my work.

At this point, we’ll see where it leads.  It’s nice to have respect among educators, because it really is all about the child.

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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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In the past, I have kept a wooden box of chocolates by the piano for the kids to treat themselves after their lesson.  Lately I think I will also have a box of tissue.

Yesterday I had lessons with a brother/sister team.  The kids had a grandmother that was quite musical and the children’s mother is probably more musical than she admits.

The mom is very conscientious in practicing with the children and they always come to their lessons very prepared. Well, I guess the kids had a rough week of practicing.  The boy was working on a Bach minuet and hit a mental block and his sister was having a difficult time keeping all the songs in the Suzuki Book one memorized since she is a real visual learner.

As always, the kids played very well at the lesson with no hint of having had a stressful week.  After the lessons, the mom broke down in tears.  She was overwhelmed with pride.  The hard work not only paid off for the kids, but also for the hard working mom/coach.  She was crying for the children’s success and for the loss of her mom knowing how her mother would have loved to be experiencing her grandkids.  It was quite touching.

This is not the first time I have had a mom cry during a lesson.  I have had parents cry out of appreciation for what I have done for their kids, I have had them cry out of frustration implementing the role of the home coach, and mostly, I have had parents crying out of pride.  I have sat in that parent chair with my own kids and know those tears well as I have shed them for all the same reasons.

Parenting is not an easy job.  It is certainly the hardest job I have ever had.  But, when one enters the job with their heart and soul, the benefits are many.  Being a Suzuki parent takes perseverance and patience. It taxes the relationship at times and it enhances the relationship at other times.  My number one advice to a Suzuki parent is be consistent and never give up.

I offer my students chocolate at my piano lessons.  I offer the parents chocolates, tissues, and love.

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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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