Happy Memorial Day

Today is a good day to remember. In the midst of much tragedy and suffering, we remember those who have lost their lives, those who have willingly sacrificed their lives, those who have spent their lives on something bigger than themselves. Sometimes I wonder if the loss of things and people we hold precious in this life is designed to reveal that there is Someone bigger than this life. Someone who will never leave. Someone who will be the rock on which we can stand and find security in the midst of the storms of this life.

This weekend, I’ll be directing a children’s program and I thought I would share with you one of the songs that I wrote to go along with our sea-faring Voyage theme:

In the Midst of the Storm
There are days, blessed days,
that are happy and bright,
when this life seems the best-
all is going right.

But the trouble will come
in this world, Jesus said,
so take heart, hear the truth,
don’t forget-

In the midst of the storm, in the midst of the sea,
in the midst of the waves crashing down on me;
God is there in the night, God is there in the gale,
God is there when I fall down and when I fail.

He is real and He’s alive!
He is watching over me.
When I’m pressed on every side,
He will be my Rock and Peace.

[Here’s a link to a piano recording of the accompaniment and vocal parts. There’s a section where there are two parts going at once, so hopefully it won’t be too confusing…:-) ]

May you each have a very blessed Memorial Day!

Studying Music in College by Justin Birch

With a number of students right now who are looking at pursuing music education long-term either via college or alternative higher education options, I was really interested when Justin Birch contacting me about submitting a guest post on the topic of studying music in college. I especially appreciate his point that students who are serious musicians should not only focus on their instrument, but also look for opportunities to learn from other instructors and classes. Even though we all aim to provide our students with a well-rounded music education, I agree that we should encourage our students to learn from other teachers and educational opportunities.

Studying Music in College
by Justin Birch

Being accepted into a college’s music program is just the first step in what will be a student’s demanding but rewarding journey to a degree in music. Whether their interest is in eventually teaching music to others, performing in a chamber orchestra or studying music in the context of its historical evolution, a strong foundation in their chosen instrument of study will be essential to their progression in the program. However both student and teacher can benefit from looking beyond the traditional college coursework when constructing a well-rounded program of study. As such, students should consider attending instructional seminars and classes offered by visiting instructors and seeking outside instruction to continue to round out their playing experience. Similarly, music teachers should keep in mind how they can build a relationship with the student that will ultimately provide them with a performance edge.

A Look at Other Music Classes in College
While it has become fairly common for most schools to provide students with the opportunity take traditional classes as well as online education, some schools are taking the college experience to next level by giving students the chance to learn from guest artists in residence. One such program at Columbia College Chicago gives students the chance to take master classes with musicians who have succeeded professionally not only as recording artists, but performance artists as well. From these individuals, it is possible to learn techniques and philosophies that extend beyond the traditional music background of most college instructors. For instance, at Columbia College students can study jazz and composition with faculty member and Chicago jazz and orchestral ensemble great Peter Saltzman, but they can also attend a master class taught by Grammy award-winning jazz artist Christian McBride. The combination of insights students receive by taking this extra step ensures that they will not only gain new information about technique, but that they’ll also learn something new about music as a performance art.

Likewise, some colleges provide students with the chance to study with a rotating faculty of teachers. For instance, Lancing College features a regular faculty of just three. All instrumental lessons are taught by visiting professors that are not part of the full-time faculty. These professors may stay for a semester, a year or longer, depending upon their contracts. This rotation of faculty, which some music schools employ selectively and others, like Lansing College, use for the entire program, gives students the chance to meet a variety of teachers from a variety of backgrounds, exposing them to a variety of different opinions

The Private Teacher: the Tutor
When teaching a college music major in a private setting, it is essential that the private instructor remember that they are there to assist the student. Students are coming to the private instructor for extra insight into technique, reinforcement of those techniques and to benefit from extra practice. There is additional accountability when the student is paying for private instruction, and this often goes a long way to encouraging them to extend their practice time.

As such, the Berklee College of Music offers insight into how a music student should be encouraged and tutored. The school emphasizes that tutoring, or private instruction as the case may be, is a supplement to the musical classes the student is attending in college. With that in mind, it is essential that the private teacher assume a secondary role to that of the professor. Ultimately, the student is seeking a degree, and learning to do something one way for one teacher and another way for another might actually hinder his or her ability to learn in the college setting. Thus, the private music teacher’s role is to enhance the student’s ability to learn in the college setting and to provide assistance when the student fears they might be falling behind, not to compete with the college instructor.

Committing to Outside Study
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average university student will spend approximately 6.3 hours per day on educational and work related activities. Add in another 1.5 hours per day on average for travel, .8 hours for grooming, one hour for eating and 8.3 hours for sleeping, and the average student is left with 6.1 hours in which they will be able to unwind and relax. While 6.1 hours might seem like a lot of time, for many college students, this time is treasured for socializing, playing sports and enjoying life. However, to successfully pursue a music degree, more time must be committed to practice, than the 3.3 hours that is spent on average in studying. In fact, writer Cameron Mizell from MusicWages.com remembers practicing eight hours each day during college, which is essential to progressing as a musician.

Luckily, working with a private instructor can help a student accomplish this task, as the instructor will be able to hold the student accountable for his or her progress and assist in reinforcing good practice habits. While studying eight hours per day, every day, might be unrealistic for some musicians, each should aim to practice for at least three hours each day—in addition to the work that is required for other classes.

Successful music students will not only study with excellent faculty during their university years, but they will seek other opportunities to learn from private lessons, visiting professors and guest artists. Likewise, private instructors must remember that their job is to complement the college instruction the student is receiving and enhance that instruction in ways that will benefit the student. This dichotomy will provide the student with the opportunity to grow as a performance artist, enhance their technique and develop practice routines that will help them to continue to grow as a musician even after their formal education has ended.

KMTA Conference is in 2 Weeks!

Well, I meant to post about this a long time ago, but I kept forgetting. Our annual state conference is just two weeks away for anyone who wants to attend. This year’s conference will be held in Emporia and will be featuring Melody Bober and Jane Solose. I’m also scheduled to present a couple of workshops and I’m really looking forward to it! Here are the workshop descriptions:

Creative Collaboration – Making Every Lesson Come Alive!
Whether you’re teaching an individual student or working with a group, you can make every lesson a rich and rewarding musical experience. In this fast-paced session Natalie Wickham, NCTM will walk you through the process of cultivating, implementing, and infusing creativity. Then, she’ll load you up with ideas to use in all sorts of scenarios: Fun with One, Friendly Duos, Family Favorites, and Groups Galore!

Technology Treasure Trove!
With millions of places to travel on the web today, it can be overwhelming to navigate to the destinations that will prove the most beneficial for your studio. In this enlightening workshop, Natalie Wickham, NCTM, will help you discover some of the most exciting possibilities that are available at little or no cost. Whether you want to utilize technology to teach long-distance lessons, make CDs of your students’ playing, create your own YouTube channel, learn to upload video clips on the fly, or live stream studio recitals so that friends and relatives around the world can tune in, you will leave inspired and equipped to make these dreams a reality!

NOTE: If you have an association or other music educator’s group that would be interested in having me present a workshop, just send me an e-mail and I will send you a list of workshop topics!

Free Classical Music Concerts at Classical Archives

In the mood for a classical music concert? Check out the free on-line classical music concerts at ClassicalArchives.com – “the ultimate classical music destination”! Right now, I’m listening to the lovely May concert of the music of Johannes Brahms. You can read a brief bio of Brahms, see a list of the concert selections, and then keep up with what’s playing in the separate player window. What fun!

Classical Archives also hosts interviews with various musicians. Here’s one with pianist Jeremy Denk. Read lots of questions and answers, and quickly click to other resources, including video clips of performances. This is such a fabulous resource!

Review and Giveaway of Harp CD by Alicia Felts-Wedertz

The harp has long been recognized as one of the most soothing instruments. Remember the biblical account of Israelite King Saul and how he hired David to come play the harp to calm his spirit? In this newly released CD, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Alicia Feltz-Wedertz gives listeners a chance to experience the same effect as they relax and listen to the beautiful melodies. The CD includes the following selections:

  • Make Me a Blessing
  • Holy, Holy, Holy
  • Amazing Grace
  • No One Understands Like Jesus
  • The Old Rugged Cross
  • My Jesus, I Love Thee
  • Jesus Loves Me
  • Wonderful Peace
  • When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
  • He Giveth More Grace
  • I’d Rather Have Jesus
  • Why?
  • Beneath the Cross of Jesus
  • Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

In addition to enjoying it yourself, this would also make a great baby gift, I think! And Alicia has provided the opportunity for one special Music Matters Blog reader to win their own copy of this CD! Just leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing to win. The drawing will end at noon (CST) on Thursday, June 2, and the winner will be drawn using a random number generator.

Monday Mailbag – Practice Tips for Young Students and Parents

I recently started a few new kindergarten students and I was wondering if you might have any practice suggestions for that age.  I would especially like to give some ideas to their parents about how they can help their children practice.

I’m finding more and more that the best approach to teaching good practice habits is to take the time to have the student model them in the lesson. A lot of times we look over a new (8-measure) piece and see if they can tell which measure will be the hardest. Then we start with that measure and master it until it feels easy. Or we start out clapping and counting, or air-playing the finger patterns, etc. It takes more time this way, but usually neither the student nor the parent really “gets” it if you just tell them what to do at home. They have to observe and experience it so that they actually understand what it should look like when they practice.

Here are a few other links that you may find helpful:

It is amazing what a difference it makes for young children when they have a dedicated parent who attends lessons and practices with them during the week! I would love to hear any other ideas from teachers or parents on how to develop good practice habits for young 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!

Today is the Big Day – Entrepreneurship Meets Music Student!

My students and I have been eagerly anticipating this day all year long! Tonight is the culmination of our year of Quest for Capital! Tonight is…The Gallery!

I think of tonight’s event as a sort of entrepreneurship-meets-music-student endeavor. Part of my vision was to give students a framework to work within to develop creative projects that relate to music in some way. Yes, we want to become excellent pianists, but it’s also important for us to see music in the context of the world around us. All of life should be cohesive and integrated. We shouldn’t fragment and segment the pieces of our lives into separate corners, but rather find ways to interlock them (like a puzzle) so that they form a beautiful whole.

Ultimately, I believe that Jesus Christ is the one by whom everything is held together in life (see Colossians 1). He gives meaning and purpose to every worthy pursuit. Within our lives, though, there are so many possibilities for us and our students to integrate music with other areas. That’s what I hope each of my students has gleaned and continues to remember from their preparations for tonight. I also wanted them to experience how exciting it is to be a producer and not merely a consumer in our society. And there are lots of other things that I hope this year’s practice incentive theme has accomplished as well :-)…but for now, here’s a list of the projects that will be on display at The Gallery:

  • A Year of Praise with Psalm 150 Calendar
  • Capturing God’s Creation Musical Slideshow
  • From His Heart to Mine CD
  • In Our Valleys Music Book
  • Musical Art – “Castle”
  • Musical Keychains
  • Musical Treats
  • Piano Bracelet
  • Piano Masterpiece Pencil Drawing
  • Quotable Mug Raffle Drawing
  • Set of Customizable Musical Postcards
  • Students’ Classics CD
  • Sunflowers in the Rain Sheet Music
  • The Abandoned Amusement Park Sheet Music
  • The Magnificently Amazing Music Book Holder
  • The MuZine
  • The Space Book

Time for Year-End Evaluations – Free Downloadable Forms

It’s hard to believe that the spring semester of lessons is coming to a close. One of the most helpful things I ever started doing was scheduling Year-End Evaluations at the last lesson of the spring semester. Last week I sent home Student and Parent Questionnaires with each of my students. Next week, parents will attend the lesson with their child(ren) and we will use the time to discuss their questionnaire answers, go over my evaluation of each student, figure out summer plans, and discuss future goals and ideas for each student.

A handful of my studio parents attend every lesson, so I see them all year long, but for those who don’t, this is a great opportunity to catch up and make sure we’re all headed in the same direction. It also gives them a chance to voice any concerns or share ideas for working more effectively with their child(ren). I really love spending this time with the families and would highly recommend it for any teacher!

Here are a few links for free forms that you are welcome to download, adapt, and use in your own studio:

Year-End Evaluation Forms – this is a generic form that I use for every student. It takes a good bit of time for me to do this, but it is so helpful to think back over the past year and be intentional about future planning.

Year-End Student and Parent Questionnaires – a sample form that I used several years ago.

2011 Year-End Parent Questionnaire – I like to tweak the forms a bit each year to solicit specific feedback. This is what I’m using for the parents this year.

2011 Year-End Student Questionnaire – this year’s version.

Remembering Jed…

Seven years ago today, I penned the most difficult studio newsletter of my life. The afternoon before, one of my wonderful piano students was tragically killed in a car accident. I still think of him often and remember the tremendous legacy that Jed left behind, even at the young age of 12. Here are a couple of my favorite pictures of Jed:


Performing at a local festival in the beautiful Wichita State University Wiedemann Hall.


Having fun working on an ensemble with a group of students.

Memories like this bring tears to my eyes and remind me to love my students and invest as much as I can in their lives. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but God has given us today!

Note: If you want to read more of Jed’s story, you can download for free the chapter, Tragedy Strikes Close to Home, from my book, Pajama School.