Posts Tagged ‘teaching music’

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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I have presented the idea of skype piano lessons in my blogs.  Many  have clicked and read the entries, but I am not getting “let’s do it” responses.

I realize that anyone can pick up on the idea to give skype lessons.  I also realize that there are many piano teachers out there that hang their shingles claiming to be a piano teacher who may have taken lessons as a kid, but do not have a music degree.

I am a credited music educator with a masters in music education and a concentration in piano pedagogy.  I have taught and lectured at a Suzuki institute for 10 years and teach private piano and public school music.  I do not work for a virtual company.  I am a solo educator interested in getting to know people and teaching others from around the world.  A very simple but amazing idea.

Interested in giving it a try?  All you have to do is respond to this blog, and we’ll take it from there, one on one, no company or gimmicks attached.

Let me know what you think.

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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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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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When it rains it pours!  Lately I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed with teaching:  my daily school job, my  piano teaching, my high school jazz choir, concerts, group piano nights, report cards.  Luckily, April break was the light at the end of the tunnel.

So on this one day, I decided to leave earlier than usual for school (since I’d been awake since 3:00 A.M. anyway) to get some serious work done.  I was in the groove and the phone rings.  It was from a mom who’s child I had taught last summer at the Kingston Suzuki Institute.  After helping to jog my memory as to who she was, she explained that she and her children would be in the area and could they come visit.  Without missing a beat, I invited them to come and participate during my fourth grade class.  As I hung up, I thought, “I have to be crazy!  I am so swamped right now and I just added to the list!”.

My lesson ended up being great.  Right on time the mom entered with her 3 children.  I invited the middle child to play piano for the class.  No one in this particular class took piano lessons and they were in awe.  They asked him questions afterward to find out how he could play so well.  I then invited his older sister to play who was into improvisation.  She was mostly improvising on a pentatonic scale, so I popped in my students to join her.  Everyone thought it was very cool.  My students learned the meaning of improvisation and had these real musicians to look up to.  After that, I did a recorder lesson and we invited our visitors to join us.  It was all great fun!

My spontaneity proved to be a great lesson much beyond music.  The lesson it taught me was to always make time for others.  In real life it is easy to get caught up with the daily stuff and avoid going out of the way for others.  It would have been very easy to just explain that I was teaching and unable to meet with this lovely family.  But being a teacher at the Kingston institute has taught me to go out of my way for others.  The faculty at the institute is not only talented  but so absolutely giving of themselves that it’s easy to step into that mode.  I always think of it like being in Brigadoon.  We work together, respect each other, love each other and that’s it.  So when this mom called me, I automatically stepped into my Kingston personality.  (I try hard to have the “Kingston personality” all year, but in the real world it’s not always easy.)

This week I received a wonderful thank you note from the family; they had had as much fun as I during their visit.  I placed that card on the refrigerator to remind me of the lesson.  Not the piano performance, or the recorder lesson, or the improvisation.  I put the card there to remind me of a more important lesson: that of be a giving human being, the greatest lesson of all.

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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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