Calling All Composers and Arrangers!

SheetMusicPlus.com just launched a new (beta version) Digital Print Publishing that is open to composers and arrangers who want to make their work available to a large customer base. Just sign up for a free account, upload your sheet music, and start earning royalties. The composer/arranger will earn 45% of every sale, and all music will be available worldwide. According to the FAQs, Sheet Music Plus uses a proprietary process that helps protect the the rights of the creator. This looks like a great way for composers and arrangers to start reaching a wider audience with their work!

Monday Mailbag – Using Games to Teach Piano Technique

I am a student teacher and would like some tips on teaching technique via games. I have a 7-year-old student who is struggling with “keeping fingertips tall” and “keeping a rounded hand shape”. I find technique drills are not working and I hate to make technique seem like the enemy. Do you have any games that you have used to re-enforce the concept in a fun way?

As much as I love to use games as a teaching tool, I confess that I’ve hardly ever used them for technique purposes. Instead, I use more of an understanding-based approach when working with students on technique principles. From early on, I explain scientific principles of gravity, strength, and conduction to students to help them understand why they should keep their wrists up, fingers rounded, shoulders relaxed, etc. You can read a post I wrote on Finger Strengthening here.

I also still use my goofy thumb position image poster to show students how to play with their thumb in the “slide position.” The Beyond Scales and Hanon sessions I’ve attended by Beth Grace have also been invaluable in helping me understand proper and injury-preventative piano technique so that I can model it for my students and direct them accordingly no matter what repertoire they are playing.

Most of my  5 for Fun! games and activities for the private piano lesson are theory-based rather than technique-based, so I would love to hear from other teachers on this topic. Do you use any games that have proven particularly effective in helping students learn and implement good piano technique?

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!

New Coolest Website!

One of my students is working on playing worship songs from lead sheets this year and periodically runs across chords that she hasn’t learned. Yesterday the A Maj 9 chord stumped her. I don’t exactly play Major 9 chords everyday, either, so I decided to look it up on-line just to be sure that I was telling her the correct notes! And boy did I find a treasure…

PianoChordDictionary.com is so cool! I love that you can see just about any chord in any inversion, then play it on the digital keyboard pictured at the top of the website to hear what it sounds like. Another super helpful feature is the listing of common names for each chord so that you can avoid confusing yourself (or a student!) when various chord charts refer to the chords by different names. For example, in another chord encyclopedia that I have, the only chord close to A Maj 9 that was listed was an A Maj 7 (add 9), so I wasn’t sure if that was a different chord or the same one we were trying to confirm.

The only thing I can think of that would make this site even more amazing would be if you could play the notes onto the keyboard and then it would search its database and bring up whichever chord you were playing. Anyone know of a site that does this? Regardless, I know that this site will probably be getting weekly visits from me now. 🙂

Free Music Curriculum Galore!

I know I’ve been to Jennifer Fink’s fabulous Pianimation website dozens of times, but for some reason I either never realized or forgot about the amazing collection of free music curriculum sets she has available to download. Whether you want to help a student understand how to improvise using the Blues scale, need some extra sight-reading material, or are looking for well-organized rhythm reinforcements, you will find it here. These are about to get printed out and added to my go-to teaching resources!

Monday Mailbag – What Curriculum Do You Use?

Do you have any set “curriculum” you follow as far as what you expect students to learn/cover over the course of a year? I know there is the Carnegie Hall Achievement Program that provides “expectations” for each year of study. Is your incentives program for setting goals for students each year?

Yikes! These are the kinds of questions that I’m also afraid to answer because it will expose how scattered my teaching really is. But I decided to be brave and just put it out there in hopes that I’m not the only one and that maybe some teachers who have it all together will offer words of wisdom for the rest of us. 🙂

There are a number of states that have a syllabus or curriculum or achievement tests of some sort (along with the nationally-oriented Carnegie Hall program) that are a wonderful resource for teachers! Our state curriculum, Music Progressions, has been invaluable in helping me develop more of a systematic understanding of and approach to teaching theory concepts, in particular. It also provides a framework to determine where a student’s sight-reading, rhythm, ear-training, and keyboard facility skills should be at as they work through each of the ten levels.

I would highly recommend picking up and studying some of these program curricula and even enrolling some students who are interested in studying and preparing for those achievement-oriented exams. However,  I do not make this a requirement for my whole studio, and actually prefer not having very many students participate each year. Perhaps it’s because of my own non-traditional educational background, but I think that using programs like this across the board can stifle both the teacher and the student and put them in a box that may not fit their natural bent or personal goals.

I firmly believe that the teacher is actually the core curriculum. In fact, an article in the latest issue of American Music Teacher about renowned pedagogue, Theodor Leschetizky, underscored this truth. Here’s a quote that I love from one of his pupils:

“The great quality of Leschetizky was his vitality…there is no Leschetizky method. It is a mere legend – an absolute fallacy. He never spoke, at least I never heard him to speak, of technique. Several of his assistants and some of his pupils have published books on his method which are all diametrically opposed. Don’t be misled by them. There was no method. His teaching was much more than a method. It was a current which sought to release all latent vitality in the student. It was addressed to imagination, taste, and personal responsibility.”

The best thing you can do to provide your students with a comprehensive music education is to keep learning! Go to workshops, conferences, concerts; read books and magazines and blogs; talk with colleagues; observe other teachers; pursue new skills; etc. The more knowledge, understanding, and skill you acquire, the more you will be able to customize your teaching to the needs and goals of every [unique] student in your studio. This is part of the reason why I develop yearly studio practice incentive themes – they provide a wide-open framework that allows for maximum flexibility in working with each student to become a skilled musician.

I always feel like I need to be more streamlined in my teaching, but I think I just gave myself philosophical justification for continuing this scattered life as a teacher… What do you think? Is it better to have a set curriculum or to develop a spontaneous curriculum of sorts for each student as you go? Does it have to be an either/or proposition?

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!

Creativity on the Cutting Edge

Last Friday I presented a session to two of our local music teachers associations. It was titled “Creativity on the Cutting Edge” and dealt with the philosophy and use of mobile technology in the studio. I had a lot of fun putting ideas together for the presentation, and gleaned a lot of inspiration from a book I’ve been reading: Color Outside the Lines by Howard Hendricks.

I’m hoping to share more in detail about the content of the sessions, but I thought I would post some of my favorite quotes from the book thus far…

“Creative behavior begins in the brain of a thinking individual with a desire to cause constructive change.”

“The ability to discover alternatives to a given idea is another capability of the right side of our creative brains.” [Howard Hendricks refers to this as divergent thinking – a fascinating concept!]

“Most people want a guarantee of success. But truly creative individuals will tolerate temporary disorder for the eventual satisfaction of an uncommon result. So be willing to risk and make mistakes. Start on a journey without any control or knowledge of the possible outcome.”

“Never did [Jesus] approach any two evangelistic or educational situations in quite the same way. Creativity was His hallmark.”

Howard Hendricks references Silvano Arieti’s book, The Magic Synthesis, in which he identifies nine socio-cultural ingredients in the “creativogenic” society. One of these is described as “Stress on becoming, not just on being.”

Wee Sing Resources

Did anyone else grow up with the Wee Sing series of songbooks? I still have a collection of these childhood favorites sitting on my shelves (I think I need to pull them off and start using them in my teaching!). I just recently discovered that there is actually a Wee Sing Website with more info, resources, and activity sheets to go along with the Wee Sing books. And even though these have been around for 30+ years, the authors are keeping up with the times and have created a new Wee Sing and Learn ABC app to help children learn the alphabet. The Wee Sing series would be a fabulous teaching resource for planning themed preschool or elementary music education classes!