Monday Mailbag – Practice Expectations for Sick Students

I was wondering if you and other teachers would share their policies for students getting their practice time in if they are sick? I have had the flu for 7 full days and realized how completely it knocks one out…I thought of my students, and think if they get it that I should most definitely have compassion on them in regards to their piano practice! But with the season ahead, I’d like to glean from more experienced teachers about how to have a balanced view of piano practice!

This is a good and timely question! Most of my students put in 5-7 days of practice each week, so I tend to be very lenient with them if they have an off-week due to sickness, travel, or an unusually busy schedule. I always tell them, that’s life! As long as they are putting in consistent effort most of the time, I totally understand that there will be weeks like that. When that happens, I usually ask them if there’s anything in particular they want to play for me, or anything that they had trouble with that they’d like to go over with me.

If there are things they’d rather not play, but just want me to reassign, I have no problem doing that. Then we spend all the extra time playing games, sight-reading duets, or improvising. Basically, I want them to leave excited about what we did and energized to put in a good week of practice. That’s far more motivating than laying a guilt trip on them and making them feel bad for what they didn’t accomplish.

Feel free to share any additional thoughts or suggestions on how you handle lessons with students who have been sick and haven’t practiced!

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!

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

I’m off this week in my studio and decided to take a week off from blogging as well. Hopefully I can tackle all the things that I’ve been adding to my list of oh-I-can-just-wait-and-do-that-during-my-week-off. :-) I’ll leave you with a beautiful quote that some friends sent me recently:

“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.
Beautiful music is the art of the prophets that can calm the agitations of the soul;
it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us.
I have no pleasure in any man who despises music.
It is no invention of ours: it is a gift of God. I place it next to theology.
Satan hates music: he knows how it drives the evil spirit out of us.
My heart, which is so full to overflowing,
has often been solaced and refreshed by music when sick and weary.
Music is the art of the prophets and the gift of God.

~Martin Luther

May you all have a blessed week!

Musical Definitions

I’ve subscribed to the Clavier Companion magazine this year and carved out some time over the last week to read through it. Several of the articles were just wonderful! The interview with Louise Goss was inspiring, the Diary of a Cliburn Competitor was intriguing, and both Unlocking the Mystery of Playing by Ear, and Sight-reading Without Music were chock-full of great ideas that I can utilize in my teaching! However, for your reading pleasure today, I thought I would share my three favorite “Daddy-nitions” by Arthur Houle:

Interval: The interminable span of time it takes your student to identify a simple numeric distance of two tones.

Rests: Ignored by students. Only known cure: Hold music over student’s head and say, “You’re under a rest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you play will be used against you.”

Robert Schumann: Politically incorrect. Must now be called Robert Schuperson.

More About Christmas

Is everyone else in the midst of Christmas music and preparations for Christmas recitals? Somehow it snuck up on me this year, so I didn’t get the recital selections to all my students until last week. Gulp! I hope they are motivated to work really hard between now and the recital to get them learned well! My process for selecting Christmas recital music is about the same as what I outlined in this post.

I start off by taking requests from students for a piece that they would like to play for the recital. And this is basically first-come-first-served because I only allow one rendition of each carol/song. No, all 30 of you cannot play Carol of the Bells! :-) Then I spend hours and hours pouring through the books I have on hand and sitting at the music store trying to find just the right arrangement for each student. I want them to love their piece and to sound beautiful when they play it!

Once all the pieces have been selected and assigned, I incorporate them into our theme for the recital and write the narration or other elements that will be included along with the performances. This year’s theme is Jesus: God of the Galaxy! (This is in keeping with our Exploring A Galaxy of Music theme for the studio this year.) We’ll have our recital on December 17th, with a mandatory rehearsal the week prior. This Name that Christmas Tune game that Wendy posted looks fun! I think I’m going to use it at the rehearsal as a fun game in between our two run-throughs of the program.

I love doing our annual Christmas recital! It’s become a favorite tradition among my students and their families, and I’ve found that the students play so much better since I’ve started holding regular group classes throughout the year that give them the opportunity to develop their performance skills on a regular basis. I’d love to hear what others are doing recital-wise. Are you doing a Christmas recital? Do you have a theme? Favorite pieces? Traditions?

Christmas Music Galore!

In continuing yesterday’s theme of finding music, today I wanted to share some links I’ve found for free Christmas Music:

Making Music Fun – A variety of levels, simple/straight-forward melodies, rather than arranged pieces.

Music for Music Teachers – simple melodies; not very exciting musically, but good for those who just want to play familiar tunes.

Sheet Music Plus – All the new issue Christmas music from method publishers this season.

Sally DeFord Music – I downloaded all the solo piano arrangements and made a book out of them. They are really lovely!

Susan Paradis Piano Teacher Resources – Includes a variety of early level holiday sheet music, including several pre-reading arrangements (which are hard to come by!).

Jennifer Cook, The Church Pianist – Has a nice selection of free arrangements that you can download. There are only a couple Christmas posts, but perhaps more will be added in the future!

If you know of other websites with free Christmas music, please let me know and I’ll add them to the list!

Monday Mailbag – Finding Music

You seem to have plentiful sources of repertoire at your fingertips.  I am having a hard time finding good supplemental music for my small, beginning studio.  The closest music store is about an hour away, so I rely heavily on internet searching and shopping.  However, I find it difficult to know the level of the piece I’m considering and would especially like to “see” part of the piece to judge its appropriateness and sound.  Do you have any websites that you think do a good job of making this information available and clear?  I am most immediately interested in Christmas sheet music at the elementary level.  Any suggestions?

Yes, I have managed to accumulate a large collection of printed music over the years. My first rule now when I need a new piece for a student is that I have to go “shopping” through my own books before I can go to the store. :-) We actually have two fabulous music stores in our area, so I do have the opportunity to play through lots of music before I purchase it, but here are a few suggestions for those who don’t have easy access to music stores:

1. Subscribe to a New Release Club for music teachers to get a nice selection of new books at a discounted price. (Additionally, if you get on the list for some of these publishers, periodically throughout the year you will receive a sampler, often accompanied with a CD.)

2.Visit the publisher websites. I’ve noticed that Hal Leonard in particular has developed a very user-friendly site that allows you to view and listen to samples from many of their books.

3. Attend national conferences. I’ve attended both the Music Teachers National Association conference and the National Center for Keyboard Pedagogy conference, and in both cases came home with enough free music to more than cover the registration fee. Publisher showcases at these conferences are a great way to listen to composers discuss and play their own music.

4. Use on-line databases. If you’re looking for good Classical repertoire, the PianoWorks website is a great resource! The 20th Century Intermediate Piano Literature database may also be helpful.

5. Get together with other music teachers and have everyone play some of their (and their students!) favorite pieces. We’ve done this on a number of occasions with our local associations and I always come away with some new ideas. (Here’s a link to a Student Saver Pieces handout I put together for a workshop I did at one of our meetings.)

6. Subscribe to a music teacher magazine. I enjoy receiving the Clavier Companion (combination of the former Keyboard Companion and Clavier). I read through it, underlining and making notes and bookmarking pages for future reference – both teaching ideas and insights, and repertoire suggestions.

These are a few general ideas about finding music. Tomorrow I’ll specifically address Christmas music. If anyone has other suggestions for finding appropriate music when you don’t have access to a music store, please do share!

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!

For all those who despise sight-reading…

I wish all of my students who are resistant to sight-reading would read this excellent article by Derek Polischuk, of the Michigan State Piano Pedagogy Blog: Musical Understanding through Sight Reading. At any given time, I have a handful of students who are naturally very musical and have a good ear for music, but lack strong sight-reading skills. They love laboring measure-by-measure to learn a song that’s really hard, but balk at putting in the time to learn easier pieces that I assign them for the sake of building their reading skills. If only they could catch a glimpse of how much faster they could learn hard songs (and how many more they could learn!) but making a concerted effort to develop their sight-reading skills…Can anyone else relate? Anyone have some brilliant solutions for students like this?

Monday Mailbag – Game Idea Resources

Where do you get your ideas for your games?

Here, there, and everywhere! Isn’t that helpful? :-) Seriously, I’ve been accumulated game ideas and books with game and activity ideas for almost 15 years. I have a huge collection of idea books that I reference if I need some inspiration for new games. Some of these are specific to music, but most of them I just adapt. I also try to remember games that I loved playing when I was younger and then figure out how to adapt them to music concepts. For example, this Composer Trading Game was inspired by the loud and fun game, Pit. The Terms That Stretch My Brain object lesson was adapted from something I learned at a children’s workshop that I thought was super cool!

I’ve added several of my favorite game and activity books to the Activity Books section here. Also, D’Net Layton’s website is a great online compendium of games that are a lot of fun! Does anyone have any other great resources for game ideas?

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!

New Music Blog and Free Download on Music Education Benefits

One of the families in my studio sent me a link to this brand new blog that has been launched by Sonlight (a curriculum for homeschoolers). The blog is primarily geared toward families pursuing music education (rather than teachers), but I think it will be a great place to get ideas! You can also download a free report titled, “How Music Can Dramatically Affect Your Child’s Development and Life-Time Success” from this post.

Lots of Free Music!

Rebecca W. just alerted me recently to this fabulous Musopen website! Have you seen it yet? They have an enormous selection of music (audio) and sheet music that can be accessed for free, played from the site, downloaded, and embedded into other websites. In fact, as I type this, I am enjoying listening to a recording of the Dvorak Cello Concerto, Opus 104, I Allegro performed by the Davis High School Symphony Orchestra (pretty good for a high school group!).

The people behind Musopen are also working on a public domain music theory textbook. Sounds like a great concept and an interesting project! From the comments on this post, I also found out about a free music theory course by Catherine Schmidt-Jones that looks like a great resource!