Review of The Musician’s Way – Win a Copy for Yourself!

You would think that a book subtitled, “A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness” would tend toward dry, colorless explanations reserved for only the most devoted musicians. I can’t say that I was overly excited when Mr. Klickstein asked if I would be willing to review a copy of his book, The Musician’s Way, but within the first chapter my perspective completely changed! In addition to being an excellent writer and communicator, Mr. Klickstein presents so much helpful information that you will be itching to sit at the piano with his book beside you while you practice. At least I was!

The book is divided into three parts:

1. Artful Practice, which includes chapters on: Getting Organized, Practicing Deeply, and Musical Collaboration.

2. Fearless Performance, which includes chapters on: Unmasking Performance Anxiety, Becoming a Performing Artist, and Performing like a Pro.

3. Lifelong Creativity, which includes chapters on: Injury Prevention and Succeeding as a Student.

Each chapter is further separated into sections with descriptive sub-headings, making it incredibly easy to locate information relevant to a particular need. The extensive Notes, Bibliography, and Index at the back of the further contribute to the value of The Musician’s Way as a tremendous resource that would benefit any music teacher.

The Musician’s Way exposed how much my own practice habits are in need of reformation and how critical it is for me to learn these principles of effective practice, performance, and wellness so that I can pass them on to my students. I am not quite done with the latter half of the book yet, but I know that this is one of those rare books that I’ll be reading and referencing again and again as I attempt to achieve higher levels of mastery in my practicing, performing, and teaching.

Mr. Klickstein is obviously passionate about his message, and has set up a companion website with a wealth of additional materials. And…most exciting of all, he has offered to give away one copy of his book here on Music Matters Blog! Just leave a comment below if you’d like to be entered in the drawing to win. You can earn a double entry by posting about the giveaway on your blog and linking back to this post. I’ll select a winner next Friday, May 7, at noon CST. This will be a wonderful read for any musician or music teacher!


Someone once said, “You will be the same person you are today in 10 years except for the influence of the books you read and the people you hang around with.” This could probably be said specifically of us as teachers, too. I don’t ever want to get stuck in a rut of teaching the same old things the same old way. That’s why I subscribe to various music magazines, read music and education-related books, subscribe to dozens of music blogs, etc. There are always so many insightful and inspiring nuggets to be gained from others! Here are a few great thoughts that I came across recently:

“Piano teachers often cite the disparity of student levels in groups as a primary concern. I see this as an enormous advantage rather than an insurmountable hindrance. Because of this dynamic environment involving students with unique abilities and individual differences, students stand to learn something from one another and can contribute something meaningful to the group. Further, the potential for groups to motivate students to higher levels of achievement is an undeniable benefit. Indeed, the efficacy of group piano teaching is proven and the list of its merits is expansive.” ~Christopher Fisher, in an interview at

“Baby steps are tangible proof that some work is better than throwing in the towel, and that even the smallest action toward my goal serves me better than giving up…Truth is, large swatches of time never open up in my life, but baby steps I can manage.” ~Amy Greer, columnist for the AMT Magazine

“I assigned students to keep track of which pieces were their favorites during the recital – which ones they would want to learn in the future.” ~Bruce Berr, columnist for the AMT Magazine, describing the ingenious idea he had for helping his students stay focused and enjoy the music that their fellow students were performing at the studio recital. [I love this idea and want to try it at my next recital!]

“Your habits in the practice room make you the musician that you are.” Gerald Klickstein, in his book, The Musician’s Way

“My daughter said her favorite group lessons activity ever was playing “musical keys” with it.  Students each drew a flashcard and walked around the keyboard sheet with music playing.  When the music stopped they had to race to place their flashcards on the correct key.” Heidi, in her comment on last week’s Giant-Sized Piano Keyboard post [doesn’t this sound like a blast?! I can’t wait to try it with my students!]

Piano Preschool Lapbooks

While I was perusing Heidi’s blog, I came across this super cool idea! She put together Piano Preschool Lapbooks that include a variety of music flashcards and visual aids. I LOVE these and think that I will add them to the list of ideas to incorporate into the preschool piano camp that I’m putting together for this summer. There are so many great ideas…how will I ever fit it all into a 1 hour session for 6 weeks?! 🙂

Kansas Music Teachers Association and Missouri Music Teachers Association to Host Nancy and Randall Faber at Conference in June

Well, that’s probably the longest post title I’ve ever written! But I thought some of you in the region might be interested in knowing about this great conference coming up. The Kansas Music Teachers Association and Missouri Music Teachers Association are joining forces to put together a fabulous conference this year!

Our guest artists are Nancy and Randall Faber, and we have a slew of additional workshops lined up as well. In fact, I’ve been asked to present a workshop titled, How to Design a Practice Incentive that Will Motivate Your Students All Year Long! I’ll be discussing the four components of a good practice incentive, sharing the secret to making lesson plans that last all year long, give tips for turning any concept or assignment into an exciting game, and share lots of real-life, practical examples. Hopefully it will be a lot of fun for all of us!

If you are interested in attending the conference, but aren’t a member of KMTA or MMTA, just send me an e-mail and I’ll let you know how you can register and still receive the member price.

Also, there will be two great performances during the weekend – a solo piano recital by Randall Faber on Friday evening including the following works:

• Mozart : Sonata in B-flat Major
• Debussy : Pour le Piano
• Gershwin : Three Preludes
• Chopin : Etude in C Minor and Etude in F Minor
• Chopin : Berceuse
• Liszt : Mephisto Waltz

and a special Community Children’s Concert on Saturday late afternoon, called, The Snow Queen, by Nancy Faber.  Click here to download a copy of the flyer with additional information.

Monday Mailbag – Method Series

What method books do you use? Why did you decide to use this method? Do you use different methods for different students?

When I first started teaching I didn’t have a clue what method to use with my students. All I knew was that I didn’t want to use the ones I grew up on because I had such distasteful memories of piano lessons. So I became a fixture at our local music store, poring over all the in-stock methods. For the first couple of years, I tried out many of the method books to see which ones seemed to work the best and which ones the students and I liked the most. (I still feel bad for the guinea pigs students I taught those first several years! :-)) Also, as new methods have come out over the years, I’ve often tried them just to see what I think.

My top pick for most students is the Faber Piano Adventures series. I love the landmark approach to note reading, and I really love the engaging music! I’m not much of a strict do-everything-exactly-as-the-book-says teacher, so I try to learn as much as I can about pedagogical approaches and then incorporate it into whatever method I’m using with my students. That’s why the quality of the music is of primary consideration for me. If there are certain techniques or concepts you want your students to learn, you can teach it in a multitude of ways, using all sorts of supplemental books. The Faber’s have done a fabulous job putting together a method series that is both pedagogically sound and fun to play, in my opinion!

Another series that I’ve begun using with some beginning students is the Alfred Premier Piano Course. Again, both the pedagogy and the music are wonderful! This method seems most appropriate for an older beginner, because it does move a bit more quickly than the Faber series. It also makes learning rhythm a primary focus of the method, with short rhythm patterns preceding most of the pieces to help the student practice for rhythmic accuracy in their playing.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I am really excited about Helen Marlais’ brand new Succeeding at the Piano method series. I attended the workshop on it at the MTNA Conference, and I’m eager to give it a try the next time I start a new beginning student! I do think it is helpful to use different methods with different students. Especially in cases where I have a younger sibling who is either progressing more quickly than the older sibling, or if they are a strong aural learner and have already heard most of the pieces played by an older sibling, I will put them in a separate method. I really like the Hal Leonard method series for this purpose, and also really enjoy using the accompaniment tracks that come with their books.

So…those are my favorites! Anyone else want to share their favorite methods and why you like them?

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!

The Best Thing We’ve Done This Spring…

Even though I didn’t really feel like I knew what I was doing yet, I decided to launch into something new as soon as I returned from the MTNA conference. We’ve been doing it for several weeks now and it has been close to revolutionary in my studio! I’ve picked up a variety of improvising how-tos over the years because it’s something I’ve always wanted to learn, but none of them have been as helpful as I hoped they would be. In contrast, the Pattern Play series by Akiko and Forrest Kinney that I was introduced to at the MTNA conference has been everything I hoped it would be and more!

The very first week I was back, I decided to incorporate improvising into every lesson. I started with a brief discussion of what it means to improvise – comparing it to improv in the drama world. In essence, I wanted students to know that when you improvise, you are drawing from a repertoire of things that you have already learned and arranging it in a new and spontaneous way. Similarly, in dramatic improv, you are using words and phrases and even scenarios that you already have experience with; you’re just arranging them in a fresh way on-the-spot to achieve the desired end.

We started with the first improvisation in the book – World Piece – and just started right into playing, the student in the treble and me in the bass. I told them that we would try to listen to each other and match our sound and style so that it would be as musical as possible. Then, we would try to anticipate the approach to the end and finish together. You should have seen the looks on so many of their faces as we created beautiful sounds spontaneously. They LOVED it! I love it! We’ve continued this improvisation activity at each lesson since, and I echo the description of this series that states, “students will not only learn to play, they’ll play to learn.” This is a great way to introduce and reinforce various musical concepts. Plus, regardless of age, musical ability, or level of playing, every student can be successful at improvising and creating beautiful music if they are given the right tools.

Giant-Sized Piano Keyboard

Check out this giant-sized piano keyboard that Laura Lowe made using a bed sheet and permanent markers! I LOVE it! Especially as I work on plans for our pre-piano summer camp, I’m going to keep this in mind and hopefully make one. Don’t you think the little kiddos would have a blast with this?! I also love Laura’s ideas for teaching intervals, and could see using it for scales and chords, too. What fun!

Top Ten Reasons to Participate in Student Evaluation Programs

Last weekend, our local association sponsored our annual Music Progressions evaluations. Students are evaluated in performance, keyboard facility, applied theory, rhythm and pulse, sight-reading, written theory, and listening. We call them student evaluations, but in reality we all know that it’s an evaluation for us as teachers, right? Hence, I was inspired to compile this [facetious] list of the Top Ten Reasons to Participate in Student Evaluation Programs:

1. You don’t have enough stress in your life, so you relish the thought of frantically trying to prepare your students for a whole series of tests in all areas of musicianship.

2. You enjoy seeing the glassy-eyed look of your students when you use strange foreign terminology like “tempo” and “dynamics” that your student has obviously never heard in his life.

3. You want your students to realize that as good as they may feel about themselves and their musical abilities, there is always room for criticism and lower-than-average scores.

4. You feel it’s important for students to be subjected to performance on a wide variety of pianos, including ones that are out of tune, missing keys, lacking pedals, or produce a ringing sound throughout the duration of the performance.

5. You love being scrutinized by your colleagues and forever thereafter wondering if they’ll think of you as the teacher whose student forgot all his scales.

6. You enjoy the mental stimulation of trying to keep track of all of the requirements for each of the ten levels so that you can [theoretically] be preparing your students for their evaluations throughout the year.

7. You delight in the spontaneity that ensues when you realize you have forgotten some of the afore-mentioned requirements and must quickly teach your student all the varieties of 7th chords so that she can properly play them, identify them in questions, and write them on her theory test.

8. You like experiencing the adrenaline surge that comes from standing with your ear to the door of the room in which your student is performing and hearing her take the andante-labeled piece at 200.

9.You appreciate the opportunity to expand your vocabulary while looking for creative ways to convey the scores to each student while simultaneously encouraging them to continue in their music studies.

10. You think it’s healthy to contemplate a career change and submit your resume to different companies on an annual basis – just in case you missed your calling after all.

Review of Maestro! the Board Game

You may remember that I was so enthralled with the Maestro! game at the MTNA Conference that I purchased it to use with my students. Well, the opportune time came last Thursday when we had our fifth Briefing Session (a.k.a. group class) of the year. We had some extra time at the end of all the performances and theory presentations, so I unwrapped the packaging and my students and I figured out how to play it.

There were 16 of us present (slightly more than the 2-4 players the game is designed for!), so I had them organize into 4 teams of 4. We were a bit squished, but still had plenty of fun!

One of the things that I love about the Maestro! game is the integration of a variety of different learning areas – history, geography, composer biographies, and strategy. Another thing I like is that the play is simple enough for any student to understand, but leaves lots of room for creative alterations. I also got to scan through all the pages that are included on the companion CD that I’m even contemplating the possibility of using this as my piano camp theme this year instead of writing my own! I’ve never done this before, so it will take some serious consideration before I make a final decision. But that’s how much I love this material that Suzanne has developed! 🙂

Monday Mailbag – Helping Students Take Ownership in their Playing

I should start off first be mentioning that I’m 24 yrs old and my student is a married 38 yr old mother of two. She also happens to be a professional singer/dancer/actress locally here in my city. She basically wanted to learn piano so she can accompany her students (she is a director of the children’s performance division of a local theatre company) when they sing or dance in rehearsals.

My dilemma lies within the fact that she has a pretty extensive musical background, so note-reading (for the treble clef, anyway), dynamics, and most theory is already familiar to her. So sometimes I feel like she tunes out when I’m trying to teach her the material out of our method book. I’m also having difficulty conveying to her the importance of perfecting her pieces to the point where she can play it with no mistakes. We’ve discussed these issues, but from my understanding she feels like practicing the piece until she masters it takes too much time and is overkill.

I understand that as a working professional with two young girls, it’s difficult for her to find ample time to sit down and polish her pieces, but the teacher in me knows that if she really wants to be proficient at the piano (to the point of being able to accompany someone competently) she has to learn how to get a piece down 100%. Do you think this issue is worth pressing? Do you have any suggestions for how I could do things differently for the better? I need help!!

This is a pretty extensive explanation, but I thought it would be helpful to include all of it so that others can hopefully contribute to this discussion as well! Here are some thoughts:

1. One thing I’ve been doing this year as part of my Exploring a Galaxy of Music practice incentive is having the student select a “Stellar Student Selection” each week. This is a piece that the student wants to prepare for a polished performance the following week. It can be an easier-level piece that can be mastered in one week, or it can be a more challenging piece that they’ve been working on for a while and are ready to play for mastery. The great benefit with this is that it provides objective criteria that the student is working to achieve and by which their playing is measured. In addition to students being motivated to observe all the details in their playing, I’ve also noticed that if there are areas that the student persistently doesn’t get a point for (e.g. pulse/continuity, or note accuracy), he becomes increasingly motivated to practice and master that area. I just mark one point for each area that they perform well and an X for an area that wasn’t performed well. Here’s a sample of what my chart looks like:

2. If you have the ability to record your student playing and play it back for her, I would highly recommend doing this. It’s amazing how well our ears can compensate for our mistakes while we’re playing so that by the time we finish we can feel like we did a pretty good job even if it was terrible!  In fact, I had a student last week who even upon listening to the recording the first time thought it sounded fine. I had to play the recording back again and have him follow along note by note in his book to become fully aware of all of his errors.

3. Find as many ways as possible to make practicing relevant to her goals. If she wants to accompany, have her learn duet pieces and then play along with her (of course, refusing to stop if she makes mistakes to reinforce the skills necessary for good accompanying). I really like this series: Easy Classical Piano Duets for Teacher and Student. You could even do the same thing to drill technical exercises. Have her play scales while you sing along as though you are a vocal student warming up.

Especially with adults, we teachers are hard-pressed to convince them of anything that they don’t see or understand for themselves. In this situation, you have to lead her through creative processes so that she discovers the need for polishing her pieces. Otherwise you’ll keep talking until you’re blue in the face and it will only lead to greater frustration. That’s what my experience has been, anyway. If anyone has other tips for dealing with this situation, please feel free to leave them in the comments below!

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!