4 Tips for Making the Most of the World Wide Web Before it Gets the Best of You!

There are so many wonderful websites, blogs, and new resources popping up on the Internet every day that it’s hard to keep up with everything! And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels that way, right? 🙂 Do you ever find that you’re so overloaded with inspiration and ideas as you click from place to place that you end up never getting around to using any of them? There’s a solution to this dilemma that makes keeping up with information so much easier!

1. Use an RSS aggregator. This is a system designed to help you follow blogs and websites without actually having to visit every single one to see if they’ve updated since your last visit. My favorite (of the two I’ve used!) is Feedreader. Here are some step-by-step instructions. (They are from several years ago, so the file names have changed, but the basic info should be correct.) Feedreader runs as a separate software on your computer and it is very intuitive. Here’s a screenshot of what mine looks like:

(Click on the image above for a larger view.) To add a new site or blog to follow, just click on the “New” button and enter the url of the website. Or, if you’re on the website/blog, just look for the RSS icon or subscription link and click on it. You should be directed to a page where you will have the option to add the feed to your  Feedreader program. You can also create folders to help organize the feeds to which you subscribe. If a post has not been read, it shows up in bold typeface so you can see at a glance what you’ve read and what you haven’t.

2. Scan titles for interest. I subscribe to a couple hundred blogs, so obviously there is no way that I’m going to read every post, but I also don’t want to miss out on anything! So I click on a particular folder and scan the titles, clicking on any that grab my attention. If it’s a short informational post, I just read the full text of it that shows up in the window to the right. If something I read especially resonates with me, I double click the title to visit the site and leave a comment on the post. Similarly, if the post includes a free worksheet or list that I can use immediately, I click through and print it off.

3. Use your browser as a to-do list. If I read an idea that I want to reflect on in greater detail or come across an insightful article that will take longer than a few minutes to read, I click through and leave it open as a tab on my browser (hooray for tabbed browsing!). In this way, my browser tends to function as a sort of to-read list – which is why I usually have dozens of tabs open at a time…and why it’s horrifying if my computer crashes and I lose all my open tabs! 🙂

4. Decide what to do with the information. Usually at the beginning or end of the day, when I have some time to read and work on projects, I visit some of the open tabs in my browser. If it’s an article, I read it and copy any meaningful quotes I want to save to a file I have on the computer for that purpose. If it’s a music teaching idea, I blog about it (for those who don’t blog, you could store it as a favorites/bookmark). If it’s part of some research I’m doing, I sift through and copy relevant information to other files where I can easily reference them. Items I’m interested in purchasing get saved to my universal Amazon wishlist. And so on.

All of this hearkens back to the old maxim, “Have a place for everything and everything in its place.” Just in a virtual sense! I love living in this technologically advancing age, but it’s so important to utilize the capabilities for greater efficiency and productivity, rather than letting them overwhelm us and wear us out. I recommend taking time to think through what your goals are and then coming up with some systems and steps that you can use to maintain order in your life. And if you have any great tips that have worked for you in terms of staying digitally organized, please do share – there’s always room for improvement, in my opinion!

Studio Business Cards

Joy’s recent post, “Studio Business: Making a Memorable Impression” reminded me that I was going to show you all my new business cards! Several months ago, I came across a post on the Business Opportunities blog about a business card redesign contest being sponsored by Moo.com. I’d been wanting to redesign my cards for quite a while but just hadn’t gotten around to it, so I figured it was worth it to give this a try. I sent in my entry and was accepted for the redesign. This included consultation with a designer, several design options, and a printing of 50 cards. After working with a wonderful designer, Snow Powers, we settled on a design that I love! And the paper stock that the cards are printed on makes them even more gorgeous. Not to mention that they came in an awesome little box. 🙂 The final design of the card includes three different front designs and one back design. Adds a nice bit of variety! Here’s a look at them (although I wish you could feel them, too!):

My goal was to have a card that looked professional but still captured the spirit of enthusiasm and fun in the studio. Between the font selections, colors, and images, I think Snow did a fabulous job achieving just that! If you’re looking at redesigning your business cards, I highly recommend Moo.com! I think that The Business Card Project is a fabulous approach to marketing their business and I will gladly spend the extra money to re-order my cards from them rather than trying to get them printed elsewhere.

5 For Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson Now Available!

5 for Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano LessonThis has been a long time coming, but I was finally motivated to push through and finish this project in time for a workshop I gave recently to our local music teachers association! Announcing: 5 for Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson. (See below for a special discount code!)

Over the years, I’ve come to see the value in using simple games and activities to help students learn or cement various musical concepts. Often times when I have a student struggling with something or I know they need to learn something for an upcoming evaluation, I spend some time brainstorming to come up with a fun activity or game that relates to it. Many of those ideas have made their way onto this blog, but now I’ve compiled a collection of 5-minute games and activities for the private piano lesson and organized them in an easy-to-find and easy-to-implement layout that I hope will be beneficial for lots of other teachers as well!

Categories in the book include Keys on the Piano, Notes on the Staff, Intervals, Chords, Key Signatures, and Rhythm. Each page contains the game name, a list of supplies, step-by-step instructions on how to play the game, ideas for variations, and links to related resources on the Internet. There are a total of 28 games (more if you count the variations!), plus an appendix at the back with additional resources.

I’ve actually put together a whole package that includes: an instruction sheet, cover file, the eBook in a format for easy computer viewing, the eBook in an easy format for printing, and the eBook in black and white for monochrome printing. You can download the package and feel free to print as many copies as you want to use in your studio!

As an extra special way of celebrating the completion of this project, I’ve set up a discount code so that if you order by the end of this week, you can get $5 off the regular price of $15! Just order through the Resources page and then enter this code when you checkout: 65Y126PP

I hope you and your students have tons of fun with these games! We sure have had fun with them in our studio! 🙂

Monday Mailbag – Become a Piano Teacher in 5 Easy Steps…or something like that!

I am a senior in high school who has been taking piano lessons for 11 years and I want to be a piano teacher as a part time job. I want to go to a community college for two years and would like to transfer to a State University. What do you recommend for me to do in order to become a teacher?

For starters, let me say two things:

1. You do not have to have a music degree to be an excellent piano teacher.

2. You do have to be well-educated to be an excellent piano teacher.

Degree programs may be helpful for those who want a systematic approach designed by someone else to prepare you for a given field according to the criteria of those designing the program. However, there are many, many other ways to become well-educated. In fact, the more you are willing to take responsibility for your own education, the more lasting value you will gain from your efforts and studies. And asking the question above is a great first step! Here are my top 5 suggestions for preparing to be a piano teacher:

1. Continue studying with a private teacher who is also willing to mentor you as a teacher. This has been and continues to be an invaluable part of my education! There’s just nothing that beats continued improvement in your skill as a pianist and working through your own difficulties to equip you to help your students do the same. And my teacher (and author of the book, Thinking As You Play) has done worlds for me in working with me through intermediate-level repertoire and learning to think conceptually.

2. Start reading and do lots of it! There are numerous piano pedagogy books, blogs, websites, articles, magazines – way more than you’ll ever have time to get through! – that are a great way to build your understanding of issues related to teaching. In addition, I highly recommend reading business-related books that will get you thinking about your  studio not just as it relates to teaching, but also as it relates to being a successful business. The book, The Savvy Musician, would be a perfect starting place for a book that combines the two worlds. To paraphrase a thought I read recently in another book, having a right knowledge about teaching doesn’t necessarily make you a good teacher, but it’s a whole lot easier to go from right knowledge to good teaching than from no knowledge to good teaching!

3. Walk with the wise. As soon as you possibly can, find and join a local music teachers association and become actively involved in their events, workshops, and meetings. Get to know the other teachers – many of whom have years of experience. Ask them all your questions and take as much advice as you can get. Visit their studios and take notes while observing their lessons. Every time I observe another teacher, I take away valuable tips and ideas that I can immediately apply in my own teaching. And the camaraderie shared among fellow teachers is priceless. I know that I have over a dozen teachers that I could call in a heartbeat with a teaching issue and they would gladly offer whatever help and advice they could. For those who don’t have the luxury of living in an area with a teachers association, if there are other teachers in the area, consider starting an association or at least getting together informally. And if even that doesn’t work, connect with other teachers on-line through a forum or through blogging.

4. Start teaching. Take on a few students so that you can start implementing the ideas and things you’re learning. If possible, I recommend taking on a couple of transfer students rather than beginners. Teaching while you are studying and learning makes everything so much more relevant! Plus, if you opt to chart more of a customized course for your studies, you can use your teaching as a springboard for what to study. For example, if you have a student who is ready to branch out from just using method books, you might want to explore the earliest original classical repertoire and the various composers of it. You can learn more about the historical eras and share what you learn right away with your student, thus cementing the knowledge in your own mind. Or perhaps you will have a student struggling to play even eighth notes, so you will be compelled to explore new technical and rhythm development ideas. And so on.

5. Work toward and get your MTNA certification. This was one of the most helpful things I did to organize my own teaching philosophies and methods. Plus, it gave me the extra push to streamline my procedures and documentation so that I would have a smooth and professionally-run studio. As I comment in the article I linked to, I have no doubt in my mind that I am a better teacher today because of the things I did to earn my certification. Not to mention that it was highly practical so that the things I was working on were immediately applicable to my teaching and studio operations. It was well worth every minute and dollar I spent on it!

This is by no means an exhaustive list, so I’d LOVE to have some additional ideas from other piano teachers. What advice would you give to the above questioner?

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!

Videos from the September Surprise! Collaboration Station Activities

Last week I gave a brief synopsis of the Collaboration Station activities that were a part of our September Surprise! kickoff event. Here are the video clips from each of the activities. Just keep in mind that the students had roughly 15 minutes and no prior warning to put these together!

Cups in Rhythm – or “Cup Stacking”

Duet Improv

Bell Choir

Trio Improv

Red River Valley Ensemble

YouTube Performance Evaluation – Free Worksheet!

I have to say, I really love YouTube. It is such an incredible teaching resource! My students and I are always referring to it for various performers or performances. So, I decided it was time to capitalize on it a bit more and give my students a structured approach to utilizing the many performances available for viewing on YouTube. As we know, some of them are fabulous clips of world-renowned musicians. And others are, well, not so fabulous. 🙂 Here’s a very simple YouTube Performance Evaluation worksheet I came up with:

I didn’t want to make it cumbersome for the students, but merely provide a way for them to listen intentionally to the recordings and think about them critically (rather than just embracing any and every performance as a good or valid rendering of a particular piece).

A New Idea for Young Prospective Students

One of the things I’m always trying to think about is ways to add value to the families in my studio. Of course, I need to make enough to pay my expenses and run a business, but I want them to feel like they are getting a great deal for their money. So, here’s an idea I thought of the other day when I was contacted by the mother of a little girl who is on my waiting list. She was hoping to get her into lessons this fall, but I ended up not having an opening for her, so they’ve decided to wait until next fall. The thing is that her daughter is so excited about starting lessons NOW.

Instead of just waiting a whole year and risking the loss of some of her enthusiasm, I thought it would be cool to offer some sort of Piano Lesson Prep Course that the mom can do with her daughter to start giving her musical experiences. The Mom really liked that idea, so I sent her the Pre-Piano Camp Package that I put together this summer. She can print off the student workbook and use the lesson plans to help guide her daughter through the course. I’m so excited to see how this works! If it works well, it’s probably something that I’ll list on my website as an extra studio “perk” – families who want to sign up their children for beginning piano lessons will have the option of receiving the Piano Lesson Prep Course to use as a fun introduction to music and the piano.

This particular mom is a pianist herself, so I know she won’t have any trouble utilizing the curriculum. But for those parents who don’t have a musical background, I think I would put together an easy reference sheet with things like a picture of the piano keyboard with the names printed on it, definitions for basic music terms, etc. It seems like it would be a fun way for the parent and child to start the learning process together. I guess we’ll see how it goes with this first family and then go from there! I’d love to know what you think, especially those of you who are parents. Would something like this be of interest to you if you were enrolling your child in a new activity?

Review and Giveaway of Sonatinas and Little Sonatas CD!

Don’t you just love it when your students come into lessons saying, “I want to play this really cool piano piece by J.C. Bach that I heard over the weekend?” OK, really, when was the last time you heard such a comment? 🙂 It’s much more likely that they want to play the theme song from Pride and Prejudice, or an arrangement of the latest pop song, or maybe a Jim Brickman piano solo. But the students who are exposed to beautiful Classical music tend to be fewer and further between. CDs like, Sonatinas and Little Sonatas, by Allen Reiser go a long way to remedy this malady.

It’s always challenging to find recordings of early level piano literature. While YouTube has helped us make great strides in familiarizing students with such selections, nothing beats having a truly beautiful performance for them to listen to and appreciate. This is the kind of CD I might give to an advancing student and ask them to listen to it and then label each piece in numerical order according to which piece they liked the most to which they liked the least. In addition to giving us insight into what type of pieces capture their interest, it also plants new seeds of appreciation for a genre of music that would otherwise go largely unexplored by the student. In addition, the liner notes provide brief, but helpful, background information on each of the eight Sonatinas and Little Sonatas (including an explanation distinguishing the two from each other).

If you would like to win a copy of Sonatinas and Little Sonatas for yourself or for a student, just leave a comment on this post. In fact, if you’d like to put the word out to your students, they are welcome to come and leave a comment for a chance to win, too! And, as usual, for double entry, just post about this giveaway and link back here on your blog or Facebook and then leave a second comment indicating that you did so. The drawing will close on Thursday, September 30, at noon (CST). Sonatinas and Little Sonatas is available at Amazon.com or directly through Allen Reiser’s website.

Monday Mailbag – Sight-Reading for Strong-Eared Students

I have a student who is 13 yrs old.  He is extremely passionate about playing the piano and can sit down and create songs by ear, but his reading skills are far behind.  He recognizes this and wants to take the time to learn, but many of the methods seem too young for him and I don’t think the “older beginner” methods will work either.  Do you have any students at this age?  If so, what do you find works the best?  He is homeschooled so he seems more advanced than your typical 13 year old; I want to make sure that he doesn’t start out frustrated.   Any suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated!

Do I have students like this? Ha! I think a conspiracy has been plotted against this can-hardly-play-by-ear teacher to load my studio with 13-year old play-by-ear students! 🙂 Yes, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I do have a handful of students who are pretty close to the above description. Here are some things that I’ve found helpful:

  1. Keep encouraging their ear! One way to do this is through the Any Song Assignment. Lots of fun!
  2. If you want to avoid the method books, just start giving the student easy level supplemental books that they can play through. The best way to improve sight-reading skills is by doing lots of it! And there are so many great books available now that you can easily find repertoire at increasing levels of difficulty that a student can work through.
  3. Check out the Across the C’s series of sight-reading worksheets that I developed several years ago. It’s a completely different approach to sight-reading, but draws heavily on principles of landmark and intervallic reading.
  4. The Notes in the Fast Lane series by Susan Paradis is fabulous!
  5. One thing I’m trying this year is using sight-singing as a way to build sight-reading skills. I can’t weigh in yet on its effectiveness, but I have high hopes!
  6. Sometimes having the student notate their original compositions or arrangements is a great way to help them develop sight-reading skills in reverse. It tends to make them much more aware of details in the score and reaffirms the value of learning to read music well. I give my students a special manuscript book that they can use for this purpose.

I’m sure this is an area that is common to many of us teachers. Do you have students who fit the above description? What effective approaches have you found to help them learn to read music well?

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!