4 Tips for Instilling Rhythmic Precision

The longer I teach, the more I recognize the essential importance of teaching and working toward rhythmic understanding and precision in my teaching. Some students, of course, have an intrinsic sense of pulse; others, well, not so much. The Musicians Way has an excellent article about how to instill a better sense of rhythmic precision in your playing. I love this quote from Gerald Klickstein,

“Rhythmic exactness involves, among other things, how we place, articulate, color, and emphasize pitches and phrases.”

He then goes on to elaborate on four tips for establishing rhythmic precision without sacrificing musical expression:

  1. Vocalize and Move
  2. Toy With Your Timing
  3. Vary Your Emphasis
  4. Bull’s Eye the Downbeat

Read the whole article for some great, practical suggestions!

Monday Mailbag – Favorite Christmas Arrangements

I have so appreciated your ideas and was wondering, if you find any great Christmas arrangements that you just love, will you let us know?

With our Christmas Recital coming up later this week, Christmas music is definitely on my mind! Here are some of the favorites on our program this year:

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear by Melody Bober – a gorgeous intermediate level arrangement!

Christmas Traditions by Phillip Keveren – this whole book is a gem! This is a great collection of musical arrangements at an elementary level, and many of them are perfect rote teaching pieces. One of my favorites for this is the Go, Tell it On the Mountain arrangement.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy by Andy Fling – a fun, simple arrangement of this favorite Christmas classic.

In Christ Alone by Natalie Wickham – 🙂 A couple of my students requested a duet for the recital, and after considerable searching I thought it would be fun to see if they could pull together this duet that I arranged several years ago for another student.

Several of my students have written their own arrangements this year, and they are absolutely amazing! I’m so excited to share them with you all sometime after Thursday. 🙂 I won’t be able to live stream the Christmas recital this year, but I’m hoping to get it posted to YouTube like we did with last year’s.

If you have any favorite Christmas selections in your studio, please share! It’s always fun to find out about other great arrangements to add to the list of possibilities.

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!

Beethoven’s Birthday Giveaway and Promotion: Guest Post by Marcia Washburn

One week only! In honor of Beethoven’s 242nd birthday anniversary on December 16, your family can enjoy learning about music together in Marcia Washburn’s all-inclusive e-course, Beethoven Who? Family Fun with Music. No expensive CDs to buy! No prior musical knowledge required!

A $29.99 value but order today for half-price–just $14.99. Special price ends Dec. 16, so don’t put it off. A great gift or something fresh to start your new year in January.

That’s not all! She’s throwing in a free bonus e-book for all who order this week: Teach Your Family to Play the Soprano Recorder. Marcia teaches you how to play the recorder, even if you can’t read a note!

To order, or for more information, go to http://www.marciawashburn.com/BeethovenWho.html.

Remember: this half-price offer ends Dec. 16. Order Beethoven Who? Family Fun with Music now so you won’t miss out on half-price plus the free recorder book.

Marcia is graciously giving away one copy of Beethoven Who? to a Music Matters Blog reader. Just leave a comment below to be entered to win the drawing. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) this Thursday, December 13.

Monday Mailbag – Media Release Forms for Piano Students

Love the student videos. Do you have your students sign media consent forms before filming and posting publicly online? Just curious if you’ve experienced any negative reactions. I’m sure there are plenty of very positive ones as well!

Yes, I include a Media Release Form along with the Parent Questionnaire, Studio Policy, and business card at all of my initial student interviews.

I wrote this based on what seemed necessary for my studio, so I recommend obtaining legal counsel as you develop a form that meets your studio needs. Here’s the wording from mine:

“I, _______, hereby grant permission for my child, __________, born on ____________, to have his/her photo and/or video used by Natalie’s Piano Studio in promotional materials, downloadable products, website content, and blog posts.”

Parent Signature _________________________ Date ______________

I have only had one family decide not to sign the form because they prefer not to have any public internet presence. However, it has still worked out great to record the student and post the videos on my YouTube account, but set them to “Private” and just send the parents the links to the videos. They are pleased to retain their privacy, but still get to experience the technology used in the studio.

I’d be curious to know how other teachers handle this. Do you have parents sign a Media Release Form? What do you include on the form? Have you received complaints from parents?

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!

Tips for Buying a Piano – Guest Post by Coach House Pianos

Buying a piano is not as dissimilar as we think to buying a car. Before we want to hand over a large amount of money to a car dealer, we would want to fully inspect the goods, test it out and make sure it is as described. This is the mindset we should have with any large purchase. A piano is a very personal thing. It is a significant investment and you, and your piano shall likely be together a long time. As such, you must be absolutely sure of your decision before you commit.

To help you have a clear idea what it is you need, Coach House Pianos has put together a few things to consider when you are ready to make this investment:

  1. Cost – do you want a good quality second hand piano? This can cost anywhere up to £18,000 ($29,000), whilst a brand new Steinway could cost in excess of £130,000 ($209,000).
  2. Type of Piano – A Grand Piano or an Upright Piano? You will need to consider carefully its use. For home use, teaching, at a venue and many others.
  3. Quality – This applies when inspecting prospective instruments. We would suggest checking for rust on the iron frame, cracks in the wood (particularly the soundboard) and the condition of the strings.

These are to name just a few of the important features to consider. Your piano is one of the bigger investments you will make and like a car, you will intend for it to last and be with you for a long time. There is benefit to buying your piano from people with experience in these beautiful creations. Speak to someone who understands how important this instrument is going to be and who appreciates that it is going to be your personal creative outlet.


Coach House Pianos is our newest advertiser here on Music Matters Blog and we are grateful for their support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send me an e-mail and I’ll let you know about our advertising packages.

A Treasure Trove of Tabs OR Random Links Galore

I am notorious for accumulating a bazillion open tabs in my browser of interesting articles, products I want to check out, things I’m researching, or ideas I want to revisit. Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but as of this moment I have 72 active tabs. So I decided it’s time to clean house and share some of these treasures – even if it is in an eclectic haphazard sort of way. 🙂

Reaching the Preparation Threshold by Chad Twedt – a very interesting article on getting pieces to a high level of readiness to reduce performance anxiety. I am trying to do a better job of applying these ideas to both my own playing and to my students’ preparation for recitals. My natural tendency is to move as quickly as possible to new pieces – I think I have a very short attention span, and I tend to project that on my students as well. Instead, I need to work on perseverance and endurance – sticking with pieces for much longer to make sure that they can be played and performed at a high level.

What Makes a Musician? by John Sloboda – A look at why so few music students ever reach a high level of musical performance, and what contributes to those who do.

Music Flash Class – a customizable music flashcard app that looks like a great resource for music teachers and students!

Rhythm Sight Reading Trainer – a fascinating-looking app that allows the user to tap rhythms and then evaluates their accuracy.

Piano Teaching Tips from Tom Gerou – a free download of the piece, “Willows” by Tom Gerou, along with a point-by-point list of teaching tips from him that should be applied to this piece.

The 4 Deadliest Practice Mistakes Ever – I’ve never before thought a practice mistake could kill me, but these great practice insights from Grace certainly reveal how such mistakes can kill a pianist’s musical aspirations.

Play Piano by Chords (improvising) – a video tutorial of using a single rhythm pattern to create continuity in a piano improvisation.

Chord Progression Generator – a fun site where you can enter a mood and key, and a chord progression is generator that can be used to improvise accordingly.

Children’s Character Posters – a fun collection of colorful character-building posters that would be a great addition to a lively studio environment!

America’s Dream Chamber Artists – a site worth visiting just to see the cool group photo on the home page!

Portland Cello Project – the name of this group intrigued me because my brother is a cellist and I love listening to cello music. The most amazing thing to me about this group? They have a repertoire of over 800 pieces!

SoundCloud – one of my newer resources, SoundCloud has a great free app that you can use to record music, make comments, and share through a variety of options.

How the Brain Responds to Music by Emily Singer – for starters, there’s a colorful graphic illustrating the different areas of the brain, then the article briefly explores some of the research related to the use of music in helping patients overcome illnesses and diseases.

New Hymns for Worship – a collection of musical scores and recordings of hymns written or rewritten mostly by Davide Marney within the last 10 years.

Classical Music and the Loss of Meaningfulness in the Post-Christian West by Francis Schaeffer – a free audio download that I am very curious to listen to since Dr. Schaeffer and his wife Edith are some of my all-time favorite authors.

30 Mobile Apps Reinventing Music Education – more possibilities to add to the ever-growing list of mobile apps that you can use in your studio.

Brain ‘Closes Eyes’ to Hear Music – another interesting article related to research involving the brain and music, this one exploring the relationship of the eyes and ears to each other and their subsequent ability to focus or not based on the activity of the other sense.

A Note of Hope – a film project by City Gate Films that I came across recently that explores the intersection of music and social justice in Africa.

Piano Safari – I almost hate to give this one away in just a brief little link, but if you’ve gotten this far in the list I think you deserve to know about this amazing new piano method that is hot off the press. I’m using it with a student right now and will be writing a review soon – can hardly wait to share this gem with everyone!

The 7 Laws of the Teacher – a video by Howard Hendricks, a highly inspirational and practical educator and author (I recently read and loved his book, Color Outside the Lines). Obviously dated, but entertaining nonetheless!

Well, do you think that will keep you busy for a while? 🙂

Thinking of Teaching Via Skype or Facetime or Other Long Distance Avenues?

It’s been over two years now since I taught my first Skype lesson, and I absolutely LOVE having technology that allows for such incredible flexibility and opportunity for teachers and students alike. I have some full-time long-distance students, and multiple times every semester I use Skype or Facetime to teach students on vacation or who have some emergency situation that prevents them from making it to the studio for a lesson.

The technology today makes it very simple to offer long-distance lessons, but I know that it’s still pretty unnerving to jump into a situation like this when all you’ve ever known is in person lessons. I recently came across a couple of posts that are very insightful in presenting some of the benefits and drawbacks of long-distance teaching:

One Student, One Teacher, 1500 Miles by Steve Betts – I could echo word for word the three points that Steve Betts shares that he has learned from his long-distance teaching experience!

The Pros and Cons of Music Lessons Via Skype or Google+ by Chad Twedt – A very extensive list of pros and cons.

I really appreciate the time and thought put into both of these posts and think they are very helpful for teachers considering offering long-distance lessons. It definitely pays to know what you’re getting into ahead of time! That said, I encourage anyone whose interested to give it a try and just see what you think for yourself. Just see it as a learning experience, an opportunity to contribute new ideas for improvement to the music education community, and something that you can do on a trial basis so that you and the student can constantly evaluate what’s working and what’s not.

If you have experience with long-distance teaching and/or a post you’ve written on the topic, please feel free to share!