Another Fun Pre-Piano Camp Game!

As I mentioned last week, in A Peek Into Our Pre-Piano Camp, we’ve been having a blast at this fun piano camp this year! We just finished our final week yesterday, so I’m busy getting all the files and links ready so that I can make them available for any other teachers who want to do a similar camp. In the meantime, here’s another look at one of the super fun games that we played.

After learning A-F, it was time to do some reviewing and make sure we understood the proper order of the notes on the keyboard. For that, we needed to call in some reinforcements. 🙂

Each of these stuffed friends was given a flashcard for one of the keys on the piano (I just taped them to their chests). After the cards were all placed, I mixed the bears up and then let each student take a turn putting them back in the correct order so that we could say the names of the keys in the proper order. They got such a kick out of playing the game with the stuffed teddy bears!

Free School Calendars You Can Adapt for Your Studio

Blog reader Cindy Truman recently alerted me to a fabulous resource that could also be a huge time-saver! Check out this website with pre-designed school calendars that you can download, adapt, and print for use in your studio. I’ve already been manually  doing my own from scratch for so many years now that I have enough to just go into a previous file with matching days and dates and just change the year and the events. But I sure wish I had known about these sooner because it would have saved me a ton of time! Plus, I like a few of these designs better than mine anyway. 🙂

Monday Mailbag – Dealing with Pain

I have a question brought up by one of my students. She asked me if my back ever hurt after practicing for a long time. I told her yes, and then began to wonder if there was anything I could suggest for her to do to help it not hurt (and for me too!). I look forward to seeing some of your suggestions.

This is such an important issue! So many musicians have had to quit or greatly reduce their playing due to pain. Thankfully, though, in recent years an incredible amount of research has been done and many individuals and groups are working to educate musicians on how to avoid injury while playing.

One of the things that I learned when I went through some Suzuki piano training is that every part of the body is interconnected and there are both natural and unnatural ways of using them. The point of pain may not necessarily be the root of the problem. For example, a pain in the back could come from tension in the shoulders. Or it could come from an incorrect sitting position on the bench (anyone heard of the “sit bones”? :-)). Or I’m sure there are plenty of other possible root causes.

I would recommend reading the notes from the workshop presented by Beth Grace called, Beyond Scales and Hanon. Beth’s workshops (I’ve been to several) have been some of the most valuable resources for me as a teacher. Above all, I have learned from her the importance of researching and educating myself on the area of technique and proper/natural body movement so that I can intently observe my students, properly diagnose technical problems, and guide them in finding solutions that will make their playing easier and more beautiful.

Gerald Klickstein, of The Musician’s Way, has an extensive list of wellness resources that would be a great starting point for finding books and/or articles related to specific areas. A quick list of easy-to-implement tips that you’ll find in almost any discussion of this topic include:

  • Do appropriate stretches before you commence practicing. Just as athletes set aside time to stretch the muscles that will be called upon in their sports, musicians should take time to stretch and warm up their muscles as part of their practice session.
  • Take periodic breaks. Practice sessions don’t have to be marathons. I tend to be a chunk-of-time person; I like to set aside the time and work until I finish a project. But I’m learning that with practicing it can be better to take short breaks or spread the time throughout the day so that the brain is refreshed and you can focus better on the task at hand.
  • Drink lots of water. You should be constantly replenishing your body fluids through the day to maintain optimal brain and muscle functioning. Just have a glass of water somewhere close to the piano and take drinks in between pieces.

I know there are others who have done much more extensive research and have more experience in this area than me, so if you have comments or suggestions related to dealing with pain, feel free to comment!

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!

Comment of the Week – Fun Practice Game!

There are so many great suggestions and ideas that get buried in the comments on various blog posts (some from years ago!) that I thought it would be kind of cool to have a “Comment of the Week” feature. Each week – probably on Friday – I’ll post a comment that was left that week that seems especially insightful, creative, resourceful, humorous, etc. 🙂 If the commenter has a blog or website, I’ll include a link to that as well.

So, without further ado, here is a comment from Migna that I just love and can’t wait to try with some of my students!

I hate saying “you need to try that again…and again…and again”  and nothing improves because they’re not focusing.  So here’s a game I play, similar to the penny game, that helps them intensely focus on what they’re doing.  I will put a little toy frog, dinosaur, dog, or whatever I have on hand if I’m at their home, and place it on the last 5-6-7 keys (or however many you choose).  Each time they play the measure/section PERFECTLY, they may move ahead.  If they make a mistake, they must move back. I have them move it forward or back themselves.  It seems to “hurt” more and they have to reposition their hands again. Sometimes I have the frog jump on the last 5 black keys.  Goal is to have the marker go off the piano.  A 6 year old student of mine told me how his sister put a pretty rock they use on the first low white key and she made him practice 2 measures until he got it perfect 66 times!

A Peek Into Our Pre-Piano Camp!

This summer I’m trying something completely new – a pre-piano camp for 3-5 year-olds. Wow, it has been a blast! Even though I only had two students enroll in this session, I decided to go ahead with it because I knew it would help me tweak my plans and make sure they were age-appropriate. It’s been such a hit with these two, though, and there were quite a few other families that were interested but couldn’t do the summer session that I’m considering offering the class again in the fall.

As soon as we finish our last week, I’m planning to publish the lesson plans for those who might be interested, but in the meantime, I’ll give you a sneak peek into a couple of our favorite activities:

By the third week we had learned C, D, and E so I gave each of the girls three little game pieces and let them put them on any group of C-D-E they could find on the piano. Once they had correctly placed the pieces, they could improvise and play around on those three keys. Then we would find another group of C-D-E and do the same thing. It was a great way to provide some parameters, but then let them explore and be creative as well.

On week four we learned F and B as well, so it was time for a fun matching game! Each column of flashcards contained the five keys learned thus far. The girls took turns flipping over one of the yellow cards and then seeing if they could find a match by flipping over one of the orange cards. As they flipped over each card, they had to say the name of the key that was marked with the “X.” If it was a match, they got to keep it; if not, they had to turn them back over and it was the next one’s turn. It proved to be quite the challenge, but they eventually found all the matches!

How Early Do Children Benefit from Music?

Several months ago I was contacted by BAM Radio Network about being an on-air host for a new Thought Leaders and Change Agents channel they were launching. A couple weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a broadcast titled, “Starting Too Early, Starting Too Late? What’s Right?” The show primarily featured Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., educator and biologist.

The information Dr. Hannaford shared from her research was absolutely fascinating! I am familiar with some of the studies regarding a baby’s capacity to hear sound even while still in the mother’s womb, but I was in awe of the specific statistics that she shared. The show is a short 15 minutes or so in length, so it’s a quick listen, but I think every parent, musician, and teacher will benefit greatly from it! You’ll have to let me know what you think.

Monday Mailbag – Teaching 3/4 Time

How do you teach beginners ¾ time without having them pause and feel the nonexistent beat four? No matter how often I waltz around the room or count out loud emphasizing the first beat or even play the song for them, they still hold beat three twice as long as it should be. I’m starting to think it would be better to start beginners off with triple time and then switch to common time after that. Do you have a successful approach? Or do you think they’ll “get it” after a while?

Ah, yes, that sneaky beat four that just doesn’t like to be left out! This is definitely a challenge for youngsters, but it can be done. Rhythm is such a critical component of playing an instrument – arguably even more important than note reading – so it’s something worth working on over and over again until they get it. And the younger the better! Here are a few approaches that I use. Obviously, some students get it quickly with little need for reinforcement, whereas others missed out when the rhythm gene was being distributed, so it takes every approach imaginable (and then some!) before they really start to internalize different pulse patterns. 🙂

  • Instead of you doing the waltzing and counting for them, have them do it with you. I almost always introduce 3/4 time by having the student learn the waltz. We emphasize the big step on beat one and then the two smaller steps following it. Movement is key, because you ultimately want the student to internalize the pulse.
  • Be completely up front with the student if they are playing incorrectly. In my early years of teaching I was so afraid of hurting a student’s feelings that I often glossed over issues like this. I have since learned that the best thing I can do for my students is communicate openly with them and do what it takes to help them become skilled musicians. Acknowledge that this is a challenging time signature  and that most students have a difficult time getting it at first, but if they learn it well now, they’ll have it down for life!
  • Break it down. You want students to be successful every step of the way, so perhaps having them just play the first two measures in perfect rhythm would be a great first step. The penny game is perfect for this approach! Once they play the first two measures correctly a specified number of times in a row, add the third measure and do it again. This should help them grasp the concept of moving seamlessly from one measure to the next.
  • Tap and count out loud. This is another approach I used to be hesitant about, but now every one of my students from beginner through advanced knows that if they are not playing the rhythm correctly they are going to have to count out loud. (By the way, if I have a student who protests that he’s already counting in his head, I say, “That’s great! Then it should be a piece of cake for you because now you just have to have your mouth say what your brain is already thinking.”) Again, the goal is accurate rhythm, so if we have to feel slightly ridiculous to reach that goal, so be it. Better to feel slightly ridiculous in the safety of the studio than face the big world outside as an incompetent musician.
  • Use a rhythm instrument. Drums are especially good, and I will often pull out my djembe and have the student beat the pulse while I play and then swap instruments. In order to get the feel of the the 3/4 time, I have them beat the first beat slightly louder than the second and third.
  • Record the student playing the piece. Have them listen to the recording and follow along with the printed music and see if they can identify any places where they pause, play a note too long, cut a note too short, etc. If they can hear the error, that will be a huge first step toward them being able to correct it. It’s surprising how many students don’t hear what they’re doing incorrectly – even by listening to their recording!
  • Be aware of other issues that may be manifested in incorrect rhythm. Typically this case is a rhythm-specific issue, but occasionally a student will be struggling to play on beat because they are unsure about which note to play, or they are using poor fingering, or they are trying to read the words, etc. As a teacher, you have to be careful to identify what the root issue is and then address that, knowing that it will result in the correction of the secondary issues as well.

As always, if anyone has other suggestions on this issue, please feel free to share what works for you and your students!

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!

Subscribe to the New Music Matters eNews!

Well, I’ve finally taken the plunge and decided to start a Music Matters eNews. I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while and when I decided to switch my Sibro Publishing newsletter over to Constant Contact last month, I thought it was time to move forward with this newsletter as well!

I’m planning to include quick links to resources, special deals and promotions on various materials, plus lots of other exciting tidbits!  Just sign up using the form at the top of the right side bar to get in on the inaugural issue. 🙂

Quick Note: If you’ve ordered materials from me or corresponded with me before, there is a possibility that your e-mail address was already imported into the mailing program. If you enter it in the sign-up form, you’ll be given the option to update your profile.