Music Manuscript Book

This past Christmas I gave each of my students a personalized manuscript book. They loved the design and some of them starting filling them up with original compositions the very next week! Since, for the most part, I’ve opted not to use theory books I can also utilize these for written assignments I give my students – writing out their scales, chord progressions, etc.

Whether you want to give your students a special, but practical, gift or use a manuscript book for their regular written assignments, you can get lots of use out of this versatile and attractive manuscript book! (Just click the button below to download the file, save it to your computer and then use it as often as you like to print books for your students. You can e-mail the whole file to a print shop and have them run how ever many copies you need and bind them. The book is set up with margin spacing to allow for double-sided printing.) Enjoy!

Let’s Have A Ball! Practice Incentive

Now that my regular teaching year is over I can say without a doubt that this year’s theme was by far the favorite among my students! In determining a theme for each year I always contemplate whether there is any area in particular in which I think all my students need to improve. As I was planning last August I realized that all my students could use improvement in their performance skills. They needed to prepare pieces to a performance level and then build the confidence to perform well. Thus was borne the theme for the year: Let’s Have A Ball!

Here’s a brief overview of how it works (this is what I included in the summer newsletter for parents and students announcing the theme for the year):

Because I have seen how motivating it is (for myself and my students!) to have a specific opportunity to prepare for and work toward, I am centering my theme this year around Musical Balls scheduled throughout the year. We will have three in the fall semester and three in the spring semester: Fall Ball, Thanksgiving Ball, Christmas Ball, Mid-Winter Ball, Spring Ball and Grand Finale Ball (specific dates are listed on the studio calendar and on the website). The Christmas Ball and Grand Finale Ball will be open to family and friends who want to observe the performances and join in on the fun!

As part of this year’s theme, we will be emphasizing three specific areas of musicianship that will help us become well-rounded musicians: Brains, Brawn and Beauty (aka Theory, Technique and Performance). In the front of each assignment book is a page titled with one of these areas. On each page is a list of ways to develop that particular area of musicianship. Throughout the year, each time a student completes one of those ways, they will be allowed to place a bouncing ball in their jar in the studio (there is the potential to earn quite a few balls each week!). Each time a student has collected 25 balls in his/her jar, they will write their name on a slip of paper and add it to a container for prize drawings that will take place at each Musical Ball.

Balls may also be added to the jar depending on the number of days practiced each week. Five practice days will earn one ball. Six practice days will earn three balls. Seven practice days will earn five balls. Throughout the year, there may be extra ways presented for students to earn additional balls, so keep your eyes and ears open!

The packet below includes 11 files, including an instructions file to walk you through how to set the program up step-by-step. (Once you complete payment, you will receive an e-mail with instructions on how to download the packet.) My Climbing the Ladder to Success practice incentive has been very well received and I hope that this one is equally successful in studios all across the world. I know my students and I sure had a ball with it! 🙂 Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions.

Let’s Have A Ball! Practice Incentive

National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy 2007

Anyone else planning to attend the 2007 National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy? It’s going to be held August 2-4 in Oak Brook, Illinois. My registration is in and I’m eagerly looking forward to attending what I’ve heard is one of the best music teaching conferences available. It’s only held every other year and I’m so excited that it worked out for me to attend this year. Here are a few of the workshops I signed up for:

Mario Ajero
– Podcasting: Harnessing the Power of Internet Audio and Video to Educate and Motivate Students (Check out Mario’s great blog here.)

James Goldsworthy
– Keeping Lesson One Open-ended (James Goldsworthy is an Associate Professor at Westminster Choir College)

Karen Zorn – The Archangel and the Pig: Surprising Ways to Stimulate Your Teaching

Jane Magrath – Teaching Literature for Piano: Outside the Box ( Jane Magrath serves as Director of Piano Pedagogy at the University of Oklahoma.)

Michelle Sisler, Alejandro Cremaschi – High Tech Hits Home – Practical Tips for Audio and Video Recording (Michelle Sisler is the owner of Keys to Imagination, a resource for music teachers adding technology to their studios and Dr. Alejandro Cremashi is Assistant Professor of Piano and Piano Pedagogy at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

I really want to go to pretty much every workshop – some of them look so intriguing! If you’re planning to attend, you should send me an e-mail to let me know. It would be fun to meet some of you! I’m hoping to do some live-blogging from the conference so that those who can’t attend can still benefit from the conference. But if you’re able to attend, you can register on-line now!

Ten Essential Skills for Promoting a Lifelong Love of Music and Music Making

Just came across this list from MTNA that I thought was great! After spending part of the afternoon working on ideas and objectives for my summer piano camps (yes, I confess, I’m just now getting around to planning them), I can see how these will be really helpful in determining what kinds of activities to incorporate. And of course, it provides some great structure to work within for private lessons throughout the year.

Ten Essential Skills for Promoting a Lifelong Love of Music and Music Making

1. Ability to internalize basic rhythms and pulse.

2. Ability to read—musical literacy.

3. Ability to perform with physical ease and technical efficiency.

4. Ability to hear the notes on the page.

5. Ability to work creatively—improvise, compose, harmonize and play by ear.

6. Ability to understand basic elements of theory, form, harmony, etc.

7. Ability to respond to the interpretive elements of the composition in order to express the emotional character of the music.

8. Ability to conceptualize and transfer musical ideas.

9. Ability to work independently and problem solve.

10. Ability to perform comfortably individually and with others in a variety of settings.

Music Teacher’s Helper – Another Review


Last July I did a review of Music Teacher’s Helper after setting up a free limited account with them. In January of this year I decided to take the plunge and pay for a full subscription – this would allow me to use the record-keeping system with an unlimited number of students. If you are looking for a way to eliminate some of the record-keeping headaches all of us music teachers experience, Music Teacher’s Helper (MTH) is definitely the way to go! There is so much to love about this program and it is well worth the [tax-deductible] $24.95 I pay for it each month. Here are some features I love:

* Every parent and every student receives their own secure page with a login and password so that they can access their account at any time and view schedule information, payment information, make on-line payments via a PayPal account, credit card or bank account, request lesson cancellations, view items on loan from the lending library, etc. There’s a handy script provided by MTH that I was able to place on my website so that students can login from there: http://nataliespianostudio.com/lessoninfo.htm

* Lending Library – When I lend a student a book or CD at their lesson I quickly enter it on the Lending Library page. This way I can keep track of who has what and the students can see on their account information what books they are borrowing. Now I’m not losing nearly as many books and CDs as a result of not remembering which student borrowed them!

* I can e-mail invoices to students at any time. Now, when I buy new materials for a student or there is a fee for participation in an event, I just add it to their account and send them an invoice. Checks come in with the students the next week and everything is paid for. And to think I used to cover a lot of these costs for my students just because I couldn’t get my act together enough to bill them for the books or felt bad about doing so!

* In my Year-End Evaluations this year I asked on the Parent Questionnaire if it was offered if they would be interested in paying for lessons on-line via a credit card or PayPal account. Over half of my studio responded in the affirmative, so I just finished the incredibly simple process of setting it up on my site. I can’t wait to see how this works! According to the instructions provided by MTH, when payment is made the information is automatically sent from PayPal to my MTH account and the payment for that family is recorded. This has the potential to cut out almost all of my manual entry work! Woohoo!

* Even the free MTH accounts include an attractive, professionally designed website that can be customized for your studio. You can view mine here. Since I have another website I don’t use this one much, but the more you can spread your name on the web, the better!

* Since MTH is all web-based, it allows for constant upgrades and improvements without any installation on your computer (which is what you would have to do if you purchased a stand-alone software program). Of course, this also allows parents and students to access their own information at their convenience. Brandon Pearce, the developer of the site, is constantly looking for ways to improve the system and is very open and responsive to suggestions. He’s developed a great product – one that can benefit every music teacher.

There are plenty of other features that I haven’t even tapped into yet, but hope to in the near future – such as the Repertoire Tracker, Automatic Invoicing, Expense Records… If you haven’t already, click on over to Music Teacher’s Helper today and try it out for yourself! Summer is the perfect time to make the transition and to convey a more professional image to your students and community when you pull back the curtains on your new studio perk this fall!

Review of Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora, Vol. 1

When William Nyaho was the guest artist at our state music teachers conference several years ago I was thoroughly impressed with his personable and engaging style as both a performer and a teacher. His performance of numerous styles of music was fabulous, but when he played the second of the set of Three Jamaican Dances for his encore, it was breath-taking! The sound was simple, yet elegant, and his exquisite touch made the piano sing in a way I have rarely heard. I bought the CD recording, Senku, that night, but I have always wanted to acquire the sheet music for the piece. You can imagine how thrilled I was when I heard of the new series of books just published by Oxford University Press: Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora. Although Jamaican Dance No 2 won’t be published until the 3rd volume, I was eager to try out the first two volumes of this new collection. Here is my review of the first volume.

The layout of the book is spacious and easy to read. Volume 1 is classified as early intermediate and includes at the beginning of the book a brief biographical sketch of each of the contributing composers as well as a short paragraph of performance notes for each piece. As one would imagine, a strong rhythmic background is essential in order to play the pieces accurately. I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of styles and moods captured in the different pieces. I jotted down a few thoughts as I played through each piece:

1. Kwela No. 1capturing a lilting 6/8 feel, this piece employs the use of 2-note slurs throughout and subtle syncopation is scattered within the B section in particluar.

2. Tender Thought
a simple sounding counter-melody makes this piece sound almost like a duet between the hands with interesting harmonies richly woven into it.

3. My Scarf Is Yellowa particularly tricky rhythmic structure and the effective use of many rests in this piece make it challenging, but fun to conquer!

4. Duskchanging time signatures throughout this piece in e-flat minor contribute to the ethereal quality it conveys.

5. Piano Piece No. 2, Call and Response
changing key signatures and a brief chordal section add color to this piece and the melodic line lends itself to some interesting fingering challenges.

6. Soufianethe left hand is made up entirely of harmonic 2nds and 4ths, making for an excessively dissonant piece.

7. Off-Beat Shortythis short peppy piece is made up of a syncopated rhythmic motif in cut time.

8. Ticklin’ Toesa variety of ideas are employed in this fun melodic ragtime piece, reminiscent of early Americana – this was one of my favorites!

9. Sweet Mister Jelly Rollanother fun, and almost humorous, ragtime piece.

10. Dancing Barefoot in the Rainvisual imagery of the title is probably key to understanding this otherwise fairly non-melodic piece with numerous changes of time signature.

11. Lullabya fairly complex structure could easily obscure the sweet melodic sound of this piece if careful attention is not given to voicing.

12. The Monk
one of the most challenging pieces rhythmically, this piece, when played precisely, portrays a mature musical sound.

13. Lullabyseveral hints of polyphony are scattered throughout the structure of this piece and the parallel fourths add a touch of Oriental harmony.

14. Builsa Work Song
a course, but rich sound marks this piece that is labeled forte throughout.

15. Ufie IIIdesigned to convey the sound of Ufie – a generic large wooden slit drum – this piece lacks much melodic content, but is fast and driving.