Monday Mailbag – Scheduling Students

How do others handle scheduling students for the new year?  Do you give returning students a chance to reserve their spot first, do you start with a clean slate each year and take requests on a first come, first served basis?  Do you give priority to students who continue through the summer?  I find that the spots on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 4 to 6 pm are the top choice for 90% of my students.  How do others make it all fit in a way that’s fair and manageable?

At the end of the year, when I conduct my Year-End Evaluations, one of the questions on the Parent Questionnaire is “Do you plan to have your child resume lessons in the fall?” There are check boxes for “yes” and “no” and then check boxes for “same time” or “other time” with a blank where they can list their preferred day/time. I make a note of all of these requests in my schedule spreadsheet. I do give priority to those who want to keep the same time, and then beyond that just do the best I can to accommodate the requests. Thankfully, my families understand what a huge job scheduling is and are very understanding if I can’t get them in their requested time.

What do you all do? Do you have any great scheduling strategies that work for you?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Rethinking the Assignment Book

Chris Foley has posted an interesting collection of ideas and thoughts from teachers on how they write lesson notes for their students. As much as I love and try to utilize technology in my studio, I just can’t seem to break away from the handwritten weekly assignments. Part of this, I think, is because I love designing customized assignment books for my students each year, and it is always closely integrated with our practice incentive theme. But reading some of these inventive ideas sure does make me think more outside the box and contemplate the possibilities!

I’d be curious to know how you all handle weekly assignments. Do you use computer-based notes? Do you have any creative ideas that have proved especially effective?

Music for Keyboard Ensembles

If you teach in a lab setting or have access to multiple keyboards in your studio, you might be interested in checking out this new Keyboard Ensemble sheet music over at SoundTree. For $9.95 you can download a pdf and print as many copies as you need. You can also listen to audio samples of each piece. This would be fun to incorporate into a group class!

HT: Music Technology in Education

A peak into my practice incentive for this year…

Well, after many hours of brainstorming, praying, revamping, and planning, I’ve finally pulled together a practice incentive theme for the upcoming year. Hooray! Several weeks ago, I posted 4 Components of a Good Practice Incentive, so I kept these in mind as I was developing the theme. There were a couple of ideas floating around in my mind, but eventually I settled on a theme based on a suggestion from a student at last year’s Year-End Evaluation. And so I present to you, without further ado:


The Studio Splog is a website I’ve set up to go along with the theme this year.  I can’t say much about it yet, because I know I have students who read this blog and I don’t want them to find out too much before our official kickoff for the year. 🙂 I’ll keep you posted, though, as things progress!

Monday Mailbag – Sight-Reading Ideas

Do you have any fun ideas for helping students improve their sight-reading skills?

Oh yes! This is an area that is really important to me, so I’m always trying to come up with better ways of helping them develop sight-reading skills. One thing that is important to keep in mind is that sight-reading encompasses a variety of different skills. In other words, a good sight-reader must be able to quickly identify notes and locate them on the keyboard, assimilate intervals and see patterns in the music, process rhythms accurately, maintain a consistent pulse and be able to play through mistakes, etc. The best way to improve fluency is to just do a lot of it. That’s why I love for students and parents to buy new books of their own volition and play through the pieces for fun. That said, I’m going to categorize a few of the ideas I’ve used that contribute to sight-reading skills:

Note Accuracy
Flashcard Mix-Up Game (here’s another version of the game for an earlier level student)
Mr. Whack-It! (a favorite for note id)
Point and Play

Intervallic Reading
Piano Keyboard Dice Game
Across the C’s Series
Susan Paradis has an excellent Notes in the Fast Lane series: Levels 1-4, Levels 5-8, Levels 9-12

Rhythm Accuracy
The Rhythm Chart
Wendy has a great set of progressive Rhythm Drills that I use all the time!

Feeling the Pulse
Do a studio-wide Feel the Pulse: Have a Heart! challenge

This is an area that I want to hone in on even more this year. One of the things that I’m planning to do is utilize more of Jon George’s pieces. I love his compositions, but tend to shy away from them because the collections often include a variety of pieces placed outside the normal range a student is familiar with (e.g. both hands in bass or treble clef, use of ledger lines, etc.).  However, I think this is exactly what I need to be doing more of with my students. They need to be comfortable all over the keyboard, reading notes anywhere and everywhere, and developing better intervallic reading skills.

So…those are a few ideas and my plan for the year. I know there are hundreds of other possibilities, though! Please chime in with additional ideas. What fun ideas do you have for helping your students develop better sight-reading skills?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Great Multi-Media Presentations on Composers

The San Francisco Symphony does such a great job of putting together these multi-media presentations to help visitors explore the lives and music of various composers. Just visit their Keeping Score website and click on the composer links to see it for yourself. Each one is designed differently, but is interesting and informative. While you’re there, you can also check out the Education portion of the site to find other ideas that you can build on in your teaching.

Amazing 6-Year Old Pianist and Composer

Have you seen or heard about Emily Bear? My sister told me about her several weeks ago, but I forgot to check out the links until just recently. Start off by watching this inspiring news story:

Here’s another video I found that has a compilation of many of her original compositions:

One thing that inspires me about this story is the part that Emily’s teachers have played in the development of her God-given talent. Even though she is obviously a gifted musician, it’s clear from her playing that she has also received excellent instruction that has propelled her further along than she would otherwise be.

Emily’s caliber as a musician is far above even the naturally gifted students that most of us teach, but I still see this as a challenge to recognize the talents and abilities that my students do possess, and urge them toward higher levels of excellence in their studies. Every student has untapped potential; it’s exciting as a teacher to help them discover that potential and catch a vision for what they can accomplish with the musical gifts that God has given them!

Monday Mailbag – Computer Lab

I think you mentioned before that you were going to start using a computer lab. How’s that going? I’d love to find out what programs you chose.

Yes, at the beginning of last school year, I offered a computer lab time as an extra perk in which students could opt to participate. Instead of purchasing software, I compiled a list of computer games and activities that corresponded to each of the areas of the year’s practice incentive. The students could come 15 minutes early or stay 15 minutes late to do the computer lab at the studio, and/or they could use the list at home.

A good number of students participated at the beginning of the year, but honestly, it pretty much fizzled out by the end of May. If I was to integrate it more with my practice incentive theme, rather than just making it a supplemental activity, I’m sure it could be much more effective. But, truth be told, it hasn’t seemed important enough to me yet to make it a priority. As much as I love technology, I just haven’t gotten into the music games side of things yet. I’m willing to be persuaded, though. 🙂

So…do you have a computer lab in your studio? How is it setup? What are the benefits? Will my students be musically challenged for life if I don’t get on the ball with a full-fledged computer lab? 🙂

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Free Music Instrument Info Sheets for Students

Several of the symphony orchestras across the country have great, interactive websites for children, parents, and teachers. I just came across the Nashville Symphony Orchestra Kids website the other day. The Our Instruments section of the site has a photo and brief info about each instrument, along with a short recording so that students can hear what that instrument sounds like. I especially like the instrument section under the Resources for Parents and Teachers. You can download a pdf file with the info about each instrument and distribute it to students. This would be great as a stand-alone info sheet, or as an inclusion in a workbook for students about the instruments of the orchestra.

HT: Music Academy Blog

Monday Mailbag – Piano Methods

I’ve been talking to other teachers to find out what curriculum (technique, method, theory, etc.) they use in their teaching. Could you list what curriculum you use in your studio?

This could be a long list! When I first started teaching, I used just about every method that I could find just so that I understood how it worked and could make an educated decision about what to use with my students. Even though I have favorites now, I still use different materials with different students. Interestingly, although philosophically I preferred the approaches of some of the curricula I tried, eventually I’ve settled on methods and supplementary materials that have the more appealing music. I think one of the best things you can do as a teacher is become so aware of the progressive concepts and techniques that you want your students to learn that you can use any curriculum to serve that end. Of course, that takes lots of experimentation and experience – but it’s something I’m always working toward.

For my core method books, my two favorite series’ are:
Faber Piano Adventures
Alfred Premier Piano Course

I usually use the Technique and Artistry book with the Faber series and the Performer book with the Alfred series, but I rarely use theory books with my students. However, we use a huge variety of supplemental books and various other technique and performance books as needed. I love trying new things, so my students are forever serving as my “guinea pigs”! Here are a few other technique series’ that I really like and have used quite a bit:

Expressive Etudes by Suzanne Guy
Beautiful Etudes by Victoria McArthur
Pathways to Artistry by Catherine Rollin
Burgmuller, Czerny, and Hanon by Ingrid Jacobson Clarfield

I’d love to hear what others think, though! What is your favorite method series? What do you like to use for technique and theory?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!