Review of Black Key Blast by Wendy Stevens

Black Key Blast By Wendy Stevens

Wendy Stevens has produced many music resources over the years, spanning from theory tests (which I personally benefited from), to piano music, rhythm books, and now one of her most recent products: Black Key Blast-a beginner pre-staff songbook. In this book you’ll find 6 upbeat and energetic pieces with accompanying teacher parts, and lyrics to boot! Just to give you an idea of what you’d be in for, check out the title for each song…

- Movin’ and Groovin’

- Click Clock Click

- Round and Round

- My Imaginary Friend

- I Am the Princess

- Ninja Power

Natalie and I decided to play through Black Key Blast together to get the full effect, and I’m really glad we did because it helped a lot! When she and I finished the book, I really liked, “I Am A Princess” because I thought the student and teacher part complemented each other very nicely. I can’t say I felt the same way with the other songs after we had played through all of them. It took Natalie and I a couple times of playing through each song to really start getting an idea of what the duets should sound like. Even still, with some of the duets, Natalie commented, “They just don’t seem to fit.” Each part was actually quite fun, but, but it was just a bit challenging to get the duets to flow rhythmically and melodically.

I watched Wendy’s YouTube video for her Black Key Blast book and it definitely helped with understanding how the songs should sound. The songs in Black Key Blast seem like they’ll be really fun and exciting for beginner students to play as a solo or duet, but once those teacher parts come in, I can definitely see the students finding it a lot more challenging rhythmically. Even though this wasn’t my favorite elementary book, I do think your little students will enjoy learning these songs and even the challenge that may come with playing the duets!

To purchase your own copy click here>> Black Key Blast

To check out Wendy Stevens’ site click here>> ComposeCreate

Review of Learning Strategies for Musical Success by Michael Griffin

Learning Strategies for Musical Success

Michael Griffin has become quite a familiar name for Music Matters Blog readers. Just from the little I’ve been exposed to his work and the little I know about him, Mr. Griffin is a thoroughly impressive music educator and has definitely earned the recognition and promotion he’s received on the blog. Author of Music and Keyboard in the Classroom and developer of Music Education World, Michael Griffin has produced yet another excellent resource for the music community!

I might’ve not agreed with everything in the book, but very rarely do I come away from reviewing a product feeling INSPIRED! While reading the book, I discovered that Natalie uses some of the very same methods that are encouraged for greater musical success-methods that were used to teach me and help me excel in my musical endeavors, particularly the “student-teacher” method Griffin discusses.

“We learn…
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear 
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what is discussed with others
80% of what is experienced personally
95% of what we teach to someone else.”
-William Glasser, American Psychiatrist (found in the book)

Developing this fact-based, informative, well-researched, and personal-perspective book was clearly no walk in the park. I can only imagine the hours that were poured into getting this work published! By the time I finished the book, I was inspired to keep learning and challenging myself; I was inspired to strive more for excellence and be willing to work hard to achieve that. I felt like Mr. Griffin clearly communicated his message-and with a passion: “With a growth-mindset, and repeated and sustained effort, we can substantially improve in our endeavors.” He definitely holds to a similar theory in musical excellence and success as Einstein did in genius: “Genius is 1 % talent and 99% hard work…” I appreciate Mr. Griffin’s desire to re-instill this in people because the mindset to work hard and not take your talents for granted is deteriorating quite rapidly in our society-especially in younger generations.

If you’re a music educator-or maybe even hold another occupation-I believe you will find this book incredibly beneficial and inspiring! Plus, the book is nicely laid out into six chapters with thoughtfully divided sections and includes numerous illustrations, making it very “reference-friendly.” Take a peek inside!:


(Pg. 74, Figure 19: Higher-Order Thinking Skills)

“The self-directed action of doing something for its inherent value, for the sake of self-growth, is characteristically exhilarating, gratifying, uplifting, and enjoyable.”  -David Elliott (This is a quote used on pg. 77, section “Enjoyment”)

“Successful people overcome obstacles and even turn them to their advantage.” (pg. 81, section “Attitude of Mind”)


(Pg. 120, Figure 26: Multiple Intelligences Model)


(Pg. 121, section “Multiple Intelligences Theory”)


(Pg. 124, section “Music and the Brain”)

I loved portions of chapter 3 (“The Soft Skills of Achievement”) and chapter 6 (“Music and Intelligence), and found chapter 6′s, “Music and the Brain” section particularly fascinating!

To find out more about the book and/or get your own copy, click here! And if you’re interested in staying up-to-date on Griffin’s latest musical strategies, hop on over to his blog: Learning Strategies for Musical Success

Enjoy!

 

 

Review of Coffee with Ray by Nick Ambrosino

Coffee with Ray by Nick Ambrosino

In this easy-to-read story, you will follow the journey of Matt, a deeply frustrated piano teacher, who is desperate to find something that will help him enjoy the career he chose over seven years ago because of his love for music. You will also find he likes coffee. You will also find he drives a lot. You will also find Matt meets a man named, Ray. With all these things combined, you will find yourself in the midst of Matt’s quest to discover how to become the piano teacher he wants to be and to see the success he wishes to see in his students as well as himself.

One thing I did appreciate in the story, is that Matt is encouraged to take the responsibility he needs to as the music educator and to look more at what his students accomplish, rather than them being accomplished. Having the vision for students to become well-rounded musicians is something that I believe is hugely important as an educator, but you have to be willing to take one step at a time. I believe this is sometimes overlooked by teachers, parents, and even students-not just in music, but in other fields as well-when it’s something that really needs to be recognized.

Because of the underlying philosophy that is expressed and adopted in the book, and the use of some cuss words/phrases, I can’t recommend this product as a whole. But if you’d like to find out more about Coffee with Ray or its author, check out the links below:

Coffee with Ray
About Nick Ambrosino

Overview of Go for the Gold! Recorder by Kevin Babuder

Go for the Gold! Recorder is a multi-touch book created for a Mac or iPad and can be purchased through iTunes to read and enjoy in your iBooks. This is a beginner edition and from what I’ve read, to take full advantage of the interactive aspects the book offers, it’s best to use an iPad.

Not only will readers learn the basics of playing the recorder, but they will learn about different sports as well as some fun facts about different countries’ geography, culture, and music. This book has somewhat of an “Olympic” theme to it!

I love it when multiple subjects are incorporated into one resource because, at least from my own experience, when events, historical figures, and/or subjects are correlated, I tend to retain that information a lot longer. I’m not sure why exactly this is, but it seems like our brains naturally gravitate toward retaining pieces of information that relate to each other-especially when they’ve been learned at the same time. The ability God’s given our mind and memory is incredible!

According to the website, it appears that when you purchase the interactive book, the student receives a one-year subscription and it’s not a one time purchase. That detail is pretty unclear if you’re just looking at the product in iTunes. On the website, it shows that Go for the Gold! Recorder has some competition involved and that there’s also a ”teacher” subscription you can purchase. Check out the website for more details about these things!
To view on iTunes:

Review of The Songs of Hollywood by Philip Furia & Laurie Patterson

The Songs of Hollywood

I can’t think of any other title that would be more appropriate for this book. It might be a plain and simple name, but let me tell you, this book is chock-full of “songs of Hollywood”!

Personally, I love some of those old classic songs and dance numbers that Hollywood incorporated into their 20th century movies (especially “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”). And even though the music style in movies has greatly changed since the “golden age,” I still really enjoy and gravitate toward music/dance movies that are well done and artistic.

Although I didn’t read this book cover to cover, from what I did read, I could tell the authors put many hours of hard work into this project because of the careful attention to detail and timeline. The book includes many, many lyric excerpts  as well as thumbnail pictures off to the side of certain movies-which I believe kept it more intriguing and visually appealing. Along with excerpts and pictures, each chapter includes lots of historical notes about songs, artists, song writers’ perspectives, the movie, the time period, or the entertainment industry itself. The book does reference some not so “golden” incidents from history, so just be aware of that if you pick it up to read.

Songs of Hollywood did delve into some songs and movies that followed the 1920-1950’s era, such as “Mary Poppins” and “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” but it primarily seemed to track the progression of songs that hit the limelight during the “golden age.”

Like I said, I didn’t read this all the way through, but I enjoyed what I did read and getting a history lesson in one of the biggest industries of our society! If you’re in need of a helpful resource to prepare for a workshop, group class, or are just interested in the evolution of 20th century Hollywood music, The Songs of Hollywood would be a great place to start. At the back, the book has several pages of chapter references, a credits section, a general index, and a song index.

After writing my review, I found this endorsement on the back of the book and wished I had seen it earlier because it would’ve saved me from having to write anything:

The Songs of Hollywood is a brilliantly researched, highly entertaining cornucopia of facts, tracing and defining the evolution of the use of songs in film. It’s a fascinating read, bursting with information about the great songwriters, performers, producers and directors who transformed a novelty gimmick into an art form.”
-Richard M. Sherman, Composer/Lyricist of Marry Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and The Jungle Book

MTNA Live Streams Masterclasses

As you probably noticed, I’m not live-blogging the MTNA conference this year. After getting married in December, I decided that it would be good to take this year off of my various travels and extra events to re-focus and make my husband and children my first priority. I am loving being a wife and mother and enjoying learning a lot from this new role God has given me.

I haven’t heard if anyone else is live-blogging the conference (feel free to share any links if you know of someone who’s blogging!), but I was excited to see that MTNA is live-streaming a couple of masterclasses this year. The first one has passed, but you can still catch a live stream of the Spencer Myer Masterclass tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 9:00. This is a great opportunity to get in on a little bit of the conference virtually even if you can’t be there in person!

Review of Madge’s Notebook: A Piano Tribute to the Hunger Games by Rebekah Maxner

(This book is not licensed or endorsed by Suzanne Collins or Lions Gate Entertainment.)

Let’s say you want a new piano book for your intermediate/late intermediate student. But not just any book. You want one that’s going to get them pumped, kindles an interest in classical music, and integrates movie-like themes, yet is challenging all at the same time. If that’s what you want, then Madge’s Notebook: A Piano Tribute to the Hunger Games is the way to go!

I have only seen The Hunger Games movies, but from what I gather, Miss Maxner seems to be quite versed in The Hunger Games series. She has used that knowledge to put together a very creative and unique music book containing songs that capture the series’ setting and story really well, while tastefully interweaving snippets of famous pieces (“Ave Maria”, “Imagine”, etc). At the back of the book you can find what themes she incorporated into her songs.

When I was younger (and even now) I loved playing chilling soundtrack songs! I got goose bumps everywhere when I could finally play Pirates of the Carribean, but you know what was so great? I loved the feeling of playing something that sounded grand and elaborate, something that you could listen to on a CD. I believe some students will feel similar about Madge’s Notebook. Even though Madge’s Notebook isn’t a motion picture score, it’s well done “inspired by” music; and a motivated and hard working student will grow a lot from learning these songs. More than that, they’ll be one step closer to being able to play the original versions of historical pieces and pop songs they love!

Just as a side note, there are some pretty tricky rhythms and notations, and I found hearing some of the songs played on Rebekah Maxner’s YouTube channel quite helpful.

Rebekah Maxner’s YouTube Channel

To get your own copy…
Notekidds Website

Perspectives on Distance Teaching

Even though I took the plunge into teaching piano lessons long distance (via Skype) 3 years ago, I still find it insightful to read others’ thoughts and perspectives on the topic. This article by Dan Severino Two Different Animals – Online Teaching vs. Studio Teaching is extensive and full of helpful thoughts for both those considering teaching long distance and those who are already doing so in some capacity.

Friday Film Find

Thanks to one of my studio families for sharing this fun and inspiring video clip with me!