2010 ASMTA Conference – Musical Time Concepts – Dr’s. Dave and Tina Walton

Guest post by Jennifer Foxx

I enjoyed the Walton’s presentation. Their main objective was learning how to create a sense of ‘flow’ in music, developing a sense of musical time and pulse, and the differences between phrasing rhythm and metronome rhythm.

Teaching Musical Time

  • Listening to pulse with eyes open and closed
  • Tapping on the person (with caution-either on hand or shoulder)
  • Moving feet in time, use as pulse
  • Visually seeing pulse from conductor

The ways you express to students create clarity or confusion. Be careful how you word things.

Have students tap (after setting pulse) the number of evenly spaced notes per beats (half note, quarter note, triplet, sixteenth, etc…)

Phrasing with melody leads to:

  • Rubato – placement of pulse
  • Accelerando – collapsing the pulse
  • Ritardando – expanding the pulse

With metronome only have metronome play the first beat and have student subdivide. This can be tricky.

On a personal note: This summer, one of my workshops I held was a rhythm class basing a big portion of the class from Kalani’s, ‘Together in Rhythm’ book. If you are not familiar with Kalani and his drum circles, you have got to check it out! You can see some of the activities on YouTube. Drum circles are a great way for students to really feel the rhythm. And not necessarily worry about what is correct or not, but to feel their inner rhythm and just go for it. For some it was easier than others. I found that in one of my classes, several of the students had a hard time even getting started; they were worried about doing it “wrong.” This is even after I explained that they couldn’t do it wrong. With encouragement, they were able to get past those fears and really enjoy the rhythm drum circle activities. You will find with these drum circles that you do not need any past musical experience, when the group works together the natural pulse just happens. It is quite the experience. I asked my students if they had ever heard of drum circles before and one of them said yes, it’s what hippies did. It’s no longer for hippies! Everyone should give it a try, it is so much fun!

2010 ASMTA Conference – Staying Relevant in Changing Times – Chase Coleman

Guest post by Jennifer Foxx

Chase started out by asking the following questions:

  • Who are your students?
  • Where do they come from?
  • What are their parent’s expectations?
  • What are their expectations?
  • What are your expectations?

Chase had a few teachers, including me, answer some of these questions. For myself, my students are quite the mix. I have students as young as 4 years old up to several adult students. Typically my students are in the early elementary level to intermediate level. Some of my students have special needs; some are in accelerated programs at school; most are average and lead very busy lives. Their parents are doctors, lawyers, teachers, psychologists, chiropractors, surgeons, computer programmers, engineers – all sorts of career backgrounds.

Where do they come from? My students come from all over the valley where I live, from at least 6-7 different cities.

I would say the overall expectations from my parents and students are typically that they want to learn how to play the piano and to enjoy it, not necessarily to become a concert pianist. My expectations are the same, but further I expect that we apply the learning triangle where the teacher, student, and parent are all part of the piano lesson experience. Those who do apply this in their lessons are the most successful in their progression.

Chase then shared that the teacher who knows their students and can meet all these expectations most of the time should consider themselves successful indeed.

He went on to share some piano statistics. Piano Sales in 1997 were 94,709. In 2007 it was 62,536.

The statistics are not encouraging but…

The Negative Side

  • People are less interested in the piano.
  • The industry may be at peril in the USA.

The Positive Side

  • Sales of grand pianos are not down as sharply (he shared more statistics with the type of pianos that were sold).
  • Sales of electronic pianos are rising.
  • Perhaps all those older pianos are being resold, or passed on to family members.

Chase ran out of time in his presentation, but the topic is one that teachers should think about, especially if their studio is struggling. Ask yourself the questions above and see if the answers might be the problem.

Some of my personal thoughts on this subject…

I moved back to Arizona 4 years ago this month. (We were away for 9 years but wanted to come back home. All our family is in AZ.) When we moved back we were worried that it would take me a while to build my studio and that was a little scary because in order to afford to move back to Arizona we needed my income. Within a month I had a full roster, which was a huge blessing. I didn’t do anything extraordinary in my advertising. I advertised in the local paper which got me a couple students. I advertised in one of the community newsletters near me which got me quite a bit of students that first month. And then I had my website which got me quite a bit of students and continues to do so. I haven’t paid for printed advertising since that first year I moved here. All my students now come from two sources: referrals and my website (or online sources). If I could give one tip for teachers it is make sure you are on the web! We live in a time where people no longer use the yellow pages. If I need to find something, the first thing I do is get online. If you want people to find you, you must be online. I have been full since the first month I moved here and most of the time I have a waiting list. Many teachers around me have struggled with filling their roster especially during the hard hits these last couple years with the economy. Most of them are not online.

The other thing that I feel that has helped me keep a full roster is to know who you want to cater to and then set yourself apart and really cater to who you want to teach. I typically cater to average students who simply want to learn to play the piano and have fun doing it. I have a piano lab, quarterly group lessons, Christmas camp in December, camp workshops in the summer, and yearly incentive programs. I change things up each year and try to keep things active and fun throughout the year. (This is really important for boys especially – half my studio is boys!) I hold many piano events that students can play in during the year and I really think that is a key to motivation. When students are actively participating in events and they are fun events to participate in, they don’t want to miss out. Events such as: Halloween Festival, Music at the Mall (this one is through our MTA chapter), and Keyboard Festival are just some of the favorites I offer to students.

Lastly, make sure you know what your expectations are. Be sure to share those expectations with both parents and students at the interview and in your policy and other printed material you give them. This will make for not only a successful studio, but a happy one.

2010 ASMTA Conference – Alexander Technique – Pamela Blanc

Guest post by Jennifer Foxx

I was really excited for this class and its topic because I enjoy learning about new things that I’m not totally familiar with. I’m sure many of you have heard about the Alexander Technique but like me aren’t totally sure what it is. So hopefully my notes from the conference will enlighten you a little, but I have to say that to see it in action is a whole other thing. If you ever have a chance to go to an Alexander Technique presentation, and especially some master classes, don’t pass it up.

Pamela Blanc was our Alexander Technique presenter. Pamela is not a musician but works with many musicians in her California studio.

When we are in a seated position and we go to stand up, notice where you naturally tense up. Our neck has a tendency to tense in the process of standing and in the process of sitting and it doesn’t need to. How we use our spine influences how we use our limbs.

If we sit with a spine that is available for lengthening (keyword) while playing the piano we have a lot more longevity and ease of movement while playing.

It’s important to start with self-observation. We can’t change what we do not know.

Allow the right thing to do itself (instead of start doing what you don’t want). Yes, we want to discover what it is we are doing to interfere with our ease and coordination and we want to stop this interference so the right thing can do itself …balance can happen.

Try this: Make a fist, make a karate chop, make a fist, stop making a fist. This is a simple example of your brain sending messages to stop excitation. In neuroscience and in the Alexander Technique it is referred to as sending messages of inhibition (different than Freud’s definition of inhibition). How you use yourself affects how you function.

Some questions to ask yourself…is there something in my manner of use that affects my malfunction? This is a basic sequence of changing a habit. What am I aware of? What is interfering with what I want to have/be? What do I need to stop? How do I redirect my thinking/actions?

ALLOW the spine to release into length. This will happen if we stop the unnecessary contraction of the muscles of the torso which, when over contracted, can bring about a shortening of the torso & spine. It is Constructive Conscience Control of the individual. (This is Mr. Alexander’s language and the title of one of his four books.)

Tell your body not to stand up and stand up (this is allowing your body not to do extra work where it’s not needed). This is the process of giving yourself a stimulus i.e. “stand up” that you have a habitual response to i.e. “tightening your lower back” and telling yourself you are not going to stand up habitually, you are not going to tighten your lower back; you tell yourself you are going to prevent a shortening in your back and you are going to project/think of lengthening your back; Then you take it into the actual action of standing without the tightening and thus you are re-training/re-educating your habitual pattern of standing. When your brain learns that it can inhibit “physical” habits, it then begins to realize that it can inhibit “mental” habits and “emotional” habits. The act of inhibition is a brain activity and can be applied in all situations thus we have chosen in our response.

Allow your neck to be free of unnecessary tension so your spine releases into length.

“Tell lower back not to make a fist” (this is simply an analogy, see paragraph 5).

What are you doing in your daily life that you are responding with tension in your shoulder, neck, etc? (You are sending messages to your body.) This is part of the concept in the Alexander Technique that suggests IF we are “malfunctioning” there must be something in our manner of use to cause that malfunction.

Life is a process of responding to stimuli. What is dominating your thinking that is interfering with your best use? What we are thinking affects how we are using our bodies.

Now that you have a better understanding of what the Alexander Technique is, we were able to experience it in action in the Master classes. And I have to say, it was amazing!

The first student that Pamela worked with was a vocal student. First thing she looked for was tension, freedom at the top of the spine. Spine come up to nose level, throat is behind nose – top of breathing container. Pelvic floor is responding to the whole breathing container. Torso – cylinder to support breath.

After Pamela holds up (or lengthens) her spine, so to speak, the voice student felt she wasn’t working as hard because she had something other than her voice to concentrate on.

Pamela was helping her so her head wouldn’t get scrunched down, where she typically holds all that pressure from hitting the higher notes. The student said it helped her voice project higher/easier. The audience could hear a better tone quality.

The next student was a piano student. This student shared that she had tension in the shoulders typically when practicing. Pamela shares, when holding up spine, this is not about “holding up spine,” it is about allowing the spine to be at it’s easy extension which is something those smaller muscles we spoke of earlier take care of. Tone came out much better. Move from hip joints when he wants to as part of expression at the piano. Sit right on sitting bones.

If students tend to hold their breath when playing, it diminishes the oxygen that goes to their hands, fingers, etc.

A suggestion Pamela gave to the student to keep her connected with her whole body was to Exhale, Inhale, as blow out air, think of feet. Be sure to adjust bench and sit correctly (see above). It was amazing the difference the audience could hear in the quality of her performance after Pamela worked with her for just a short period of time.

This time an adult piano student performed a piece for us. She shared that she had tension in her upper arms. A couple things Pamela shared with her that would help release the tension was to inhibit going down, direct yourself up (do opposite of what your habit is), use the energy within our body to keep ourselves long and open. Energy is equal.

Watching the Alexander Technique in action was fascinating. I have found myself becoming more aware of the unnecessary tension I am carrying and to allow my spine to do what it was meant to do.

Recommended books: Indirect Procedures by Pedro De Alcantara (directed to musicians) and Body Learning by Michael Gelb (primer to Alexander Technique; not directed towards musicians).

2010 ASMTA Conference – The Grammar of Phrasing – Dr. Radmila Stojanovic-Kiriluk

Guest post by Jennifer Foxx

I’m excited to be guest blogging on the Music Matters Blog about the Arizona Music Teachers State Conference that was held the first weekend of June.

Our morning started out with a presentation that I knew would be a good one, because Dr. Kiriluk presented at our chapter on the same subject earlier this year. Even though I had heard her presentation before, I enjoyed it just as much the second time as I did the first.

She starts off with the definition of Phrasing. And then explained that we don’t talk like a robot and tells us to have our students talk like a robot so they can hear what that sounds like.

When we introduce Phrasing we should compare it to speech. The inflection and breathing appear in both our speech and music. The flow of the phrase is very important. One important thing to keep in mind with phrasing is that there are MANY good ways of phrasing the music; don’t be afraid to change it up. Use your knowledge, experience, instinct, and personal taste in choosing how to phrase.

It is important to shape the phrase from the very beginning. Consider the character and style of the piece. Be sure to look at the big picture. A great analogy she uses is to put on our 3D glasses – notice which melodies pop out. Do an experiment and try bringing out the treble, then the middle, then the bass creating variety. What did you like best? Don’t get stuck in a rut, make room for variety.

In her handout she includes some basic principles to keep in mind with phrasing…but still using your own judgment:

  • Follow the composer’s marking
  • Emphasize longer notes
  • Go to the 3rd measure out of 4 in a phrase
  • Emphasize higher notes
  • Emphasize downbeat
  • Major vs. Minor
  • Follow harmonic progression and implications in phrasing
  • Emphasize rhythmic peculiarities (syncopation, irregular rhythms, etc…)
  • Breathe in and out
  • Group the notes in a variety of ways
  • Find the main point of each phrase, each section and at the end of the piece

She concludes with how teachers can help students with phrasing. We should discuss and analyze the phrasing with the student. Sing! Dance! Let the student conduct the piece. Play improvised accompaniment or simply play along. Listen to good recordings and do whatever it takes for students to understand the phrasing.

Introducing: Guest Blogger Jennifer Foxx Reporting on the Arizona State Music Teachers Association Conference!

As I mentioned last week, Jennifer Foxx e-mailed me with the fabulous idea of having other teachers contribute guest posts with notes from their state conferences. I’ve already greatly benefited by reading Jennifer’s wonderful notes, and I think you all will likewise enjoy catching a glimpse into the goings on at the Arizona State Music Teachers Association conference! Stay tuned for lots of great posts from Jennifer this week!

Monday Mailbag – Piano Camp Logistics

I’ve perused your piano camp lesson plans and student workbook. They’re all very well done. I have some questions for you:

1) How do you schedule piano camp amidst summer private lessons?
2) What hours do you run the camp?
3) Are students able to take only a part of the camp and still know what’s going on if they missed earlier camp days?
4) If you’re willing to share the following question, great, but if not that’s fine too: How do you charge for piano camp?
5) What number(s) of students is a good number, and what number is too many?

It can be a bit intimidating to think about offering a piano camp for the first time, but I highly recommend it! Here are my answers to each question, along with some things I’ve learned over the past several years.

1) I do a survey at the end of the spring semester that helps me ascertain everyone’s summer plans and schedule accordingly. Here’s a post with a sample of the survey I use: http://musicmattersblog.com/2010/05/06/summer-is-just-around-the-corner/. I wait to figure out all the scheduling until I’ve heard back from everyone. Interestingly, this year I’m not even holding a regular piano camp because so many of my students opted to either continue with private lessons or take the summer off. I’m trying a new idea, though – a Pre-Piano Camp for children ages 3-5 who want an introduction to piano. The format is different for that; I’m hoping to share more about it later this summer after we have several more weeks “under our belt” so I can let you know how it’s working!

2) You’ll be able to see the options for this in the above survey as well. I do it for 2 hours each day. Since I’ve had up to three camps in one week before, I’ve sometimes done 10-12, 1-3, and 3:30-5:30. 2 hours seems like just the right amount of time for my studio.

3) I’ve had students miss a day or two here and there and it’s usually pretty easy to fill them in and pick up with wherever we’re at.

4) I charge the same as my monthly 45-minute lesson rate. This covers the week of camp, plus all supplies.

5) I’ve had anywhere between 4 and 8. It kind of depends on what all you’ll be doing and what equipment you have available. If you’re doing ensemble playing, then you’ll probably want to limit the number of students to the number of instruments you have available. I love working with all different-sized groups; you just have to factor in the different dynamics and then work with it. 🙂

I know there are quite a few other teachers who hold piano camps in the summer, so feel free to jump in with your own thoughts on what works well (and what doesn’t!) for your studio!

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!

Guest Posts: State Conventions and Summer Music Workshops

Jennifer Foxx, a music teacher from Arizona, sent me a suggestion that over the summer I post guest blogs from those who attend their state conventions. I think this is a fabulous idea! It would also be great to include posts from those who attend summer music workshops and would like to contribute some notes and/or pictures. I always learn so much by attending conferences and workshops, and reading the notes of others who attend is the next best thing to being there myself! 🙂

So…if you have attended or are attending a state conference and/or other music workshops this summer and would like to contribute some guest posts for Music Matters Blog, just send me an e-mail and I’d love to include them, along with your name and a link to your blog/website. Jennifer’s notes from the Arizona State Music Teachers Conference will be coming next week!

Monday Mailbag – Getting Students to Practice

I have a lot of students who like piano but just don’t put in very much (if at all) time during the week practicing. Do you have any advice and/or programs for that? I am a very “user friendly” teacher, the kids all like me and I give them popular music they enjoy to go with good method music (Faber Series) yet with their busy schedules, sports, video games, etc… I still have a huge problem with practice. What do you suggest?

This is the million dollar question, isn’t it?! I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue recently because I just presented a workshop at our state music teachers conference on this topic. I see it in some ways as a creative challenge – what can I do as a teacher to inspire and motivate my students to practice consistently? In some ways, I suppose our work as teachers would be less exciting if all of our students automatically practiced every day without us having to invest any energy into getting to know them and figure out what appeals to them, right? 🙂

Most of my students now are very diligent practicers, but it’s been quite the process to get to this point! Here are some varied tips that I’ve found helpful:

  • Only accept students into your studio who want to take lessons. Very rarely will I accept a student who doesn’t want to take lessons, but is being required to do so by his parents. Along with this, I make both the parent and student state during the initial interview that they will commit to practicing consistently.
  • Reserve the right to dismiss a student for lack of practice. It is clearly stated in my policy that a cause for dismissal is: “The student consistently fails to show diligence and determination in home practice.” I’ve only had to do this once, but it’s nice to know that it’s an option if lack of practice becomes a persistent problem.
  • Have high expectations for your students and expect them to live up to them. Sometimes I think we do ourselves and our students in by letting them get by with minimal or no practice for extended periods of time so that it becomes acceptable. My students know that I expect 5-7 days of practice a week and that’s what most of them aim for. They are also required to record their practice in their assignment books so that I know how much they’ve practiced. (This is all in theory, of course…I have my fair share of students who have difficulty locating a pencil with which to mark their practicing, or who slide by some weeks on 1 or 2 days of practice… :-))
  • Create a culture where dedication and excellence is the norm. This is one of the reasons that I design year-long practice incentive programs. I want the whole atmosphere of my studio to be full of fresh, exciting goals and challenges that will inspire each student to do his/her best and reach for new musical heights. Nothing works perfectly, but each year we are learning and growing and trying new ideas.

Obviously, there are many things that contribute to a student’s practice habits, but I think one of the key things to remember is that diligence begets success, and success begets diligence. The two go hand-in-hand. One of my overarching goals as a teacher is to help my students develop disciplined practice habits so that they will be successful, and to help them be successful so that they will be more disciplined in their practicing. It takes a balance of fun and creativity, coupled with high standards and firmness to achieve this, but it sure is motivating to me as a teacher to work toward this end. My students want to play the piano well and I want to do everything I possibly can to see them attain this goal!

This is a favorite topic for most of us teachers, so I’d love to get some input from others as well! What do you suggest for helping students develop better practice habits?

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!

Special Deal on Practice Incentives!

Last week at our state music teachers conference, I presented a workshop called, “How to Design a Practice Incentive that Will Motivate Your Students All Year Long.” It was a lot of fun! As much as I love designing my own full-blown program, I know that lots of teachers prefer to either use a pre-designed program or use another framework and adapt it to meet the needs of their studio. In fact, I love scouring idea books, blogs, websites, etc. to help get my creative juices flowing, too!

Anyway…I offered a special deal at the conference that teachers could purchase all four of my currently available practice incentives for only $50. I thought I would extend the same offer to readers of Music Matters Blog. Now is the perfect time to pull together ideas for next year’s practice incentive, so until the end of June, you can purchase the collection of Climbing the Ladder to Success, Let’s Have a Ball!, Go for the Gold!, and Mastering the Mystery of Music for only $50 (regularly $15 each).

Practice Incentive Collection | $50

Monday Mailbag – Teaching Family Members

I’m actually more of a piano student, than teacher. (I’m a high school senior preparing to major in piano at college next year). However, my parents have given me the opportunity to teach my 12 year old sister to play, so that I get practice teaching and they don’t have to pay for lessons. My problem is that she doesn’t take her lessons seriously and often interprets my teaching as “being bossy.”

I have heard similar stories from professional teachers from when they were young. (My piano teacher said he was the troublesome little brother/student). So, I was wondering if you had any advice on how to have effective piano lessons when the student and teacher are siblings.

This is a question that hits close to home for me because I teach three of my younger siblings. My sister, Noelle, was one of  my first students when I officially opened the doors of my studio. She was six at the time and graduated from high school last year. A couple of times, I presented the possibility of having her study with another teacher so that she could get exposure to a different teaching style, but she always wanted to continue studying with me. My other two siblings that I’ve taught have both taken from me for about 11 years now. Here are a few suggestions that have helped us make it work in our family:

  1. Schedule a specific lesson time and stick to it! No canceling lessons for trivial reasons just because they seem more flexible or understanding.
  2. Love them just like the other students, encourage them to reach high levels, but be understanding when they fail to meet your expectations.
  3. Don’t correct their practicing during the week. Unless one of my siblings comes to me with a specific problem or question about their practicing, I don’t offer any suggestions or practice tips. Instead, I just listen as a doting older sister and praise them for the progress they are making.
  4. Be personable, yet professional during the lesson. My siblings know that we mean business and that when they are at the lesson, the goal is to work on their musical skills. Also, make sure that they see that you are intent on helping them achieve their musical goals. Even if they balk at doing a technical exercise or trying a particular practice strategy, stick with it until they experience the improvement for themselves. This will assure them of your ability to help them, and encourage them to take your instruction to heart.

I’d love to have some additional feedback on this topic this week. Do any of you teach family members? What tips and strategies have you found to be especially effective?

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!