A Special Piano Solo

I’d Rather Have Jesus has been one of my favorite hymns for many years. Rhea Miller’s beautiful lyrics express the feelings of my own heart. I’ve always wanted to write my own arrangement of this hymn, and after attending The Creative Life conference last summer and launching Project 28 in my studio, that became one of my goals for this year. Although I’ve composed and arranged a variety of music over the years, the biggest challenge with this arrangement was that I determined not to notate anything, but to compose and play entirely by memory. For those who naturally memorize quickly and can play dozens of compositions with hardly a thought, that won’t seem like much, but for someone like me who has always struggled with memorization and playing by ear, I assure you it was no small feat! I am so grateful to God for giving me the ability to see this goal to completion.

A sweet friend recently encouraged me to put together a recording of it for her. If you watched our studio Christmas Recital you may have already seen my first performance of this, but I wanted to do a separate recording that would be easier to share with my friend. I hope it is a blessing to you!

Here are the lyrics:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;
I’d rather be His than have riches untold;
I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;
I’d rather be led by His nail-pierced hand.

Than to be the king of a vast domain
And be held in sin’s dread sway;
I’d rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today.

I’d rather have Jesus than men’s applause;
I’d rather be faithful to His dear cause;
I’d rather have Jesus than worldwide fame;
I’d rather be true to His holy name.

He’s fairer than lilies of rarest bloom;
He’s sweeter than honey from out the comb;
He’s all that my hungering spirit needs;
I’d rather have Jesus and let Him lead.

Monday Mailbag – Planning a Comprehensive Curriculum for Intermediate Piano Students

I have been thinking a little more about curriculum. My younger students typically work through a method book with additional repertoire and activities added. My older students  choose several pieces to work on through the semester/year, discuss theory/musical concepts in their pieces, work through a theory book, and typically do scales or other technical exercises. Do you have any set “curriculum” you follow as far as what you expect students to learn/cover over the course of a year?

Last week we dealt with one aspect of this question – 5 Essential Resources for Selecting Repertoire for Intermediate Piano Students. This week we’ll look at additional resources for planning a comprehensive curriculum. It’s important, first of all, to understand that “comprehensive” does not mean “exhaustive.” You will never be able to teach any student everything there is to know or learn about being an excellent pianist. (Not that that keeps some of us from trying, but I digress… :-))

Music Progressions – I have mentioned our state piano curriculum before, but this is easily the most helpful resource to me in knowing what skills students should be working on at different levels. Music Progressions outlines a systematic approach for teaching keyboard facility (scales, arpeggios, etc.), applied theory (intervals, chords, etc.), rhythm, sight-reading, listening, and written theory.

The Brown Scale Book – I don’t use scale books with my students, but as I was referring to this wonderful reference book for some inverted arpeggio fingering for a student a couple weeks ago and trying to figure out how to help my more advanced students remember the correct fingerings, it occurred to me that I should just have them each purchase this book for their own reference. Duh. So I ordered four of them that afternoon from my local music store. This is way easier than writing down fingerings in their assignment books!

Practice Incentive Themes – Many of you are familiar with the yearly practice incentive themes that I develop for my students. These are particularly helpful for older students because they provide a framework for us throughout the year to ensure that they are receiving a comprehensive music education. It’s easy to revert to a repertoire-based approach to teaching/learning piano, so developing and using the structure built into the  practice incentive themes helps make sure we include other important skills like playing by ear, improvising, composing, memorizing, etc. Plus it keeps the whole process more fun!

Theory Books – I’ve mentioned several times that I rarely use theory books with my students. For written theory work, I often have the students use their Music Manuscript book, develop a program like Kick it up a Notch!, or use the Just the Facts II theory series from Music Bag Press.

If you have resources or tips for developing a comprehensive curriculum for intermediate students, please share!

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!

Free Improvisation Handbook by Richard Grayson

One of my studio moms posted a link to this video on Facebook:

I thought it was really cool and started checking more into this amazing pianist/improviser, Richard Grayson. After digging a while, I unearthed a link to his Improvising at the Keyboard handbook, a work in progress that is already an incredibly helpful resource for anyone interested in learning to improvise. His explanations and examples are easy to understand and put into practice. I’m looking forward to using it myself and with my students!

Win a $25 iTunes Gift Card from Sight Reader App!

A Guest Post by Michael Lerner of Sight Reader App

We’re really excited to announce the latest version of our innovative iPad app that helps musicians of all levels read music! It’s called Sight Reader and n honor of the New Year and to commence our resolution to become better sight readers, we’re giving away a $25 iTunes gift card to one lucky (sight) reader.

While there are a number of mobile and tablet apps that teach and allow you to practice your reading, the end result is that you become very good at touching a screen. That’s because touching a screen is how you interact with these apps and not by playing your instrument.

What makes Sight Reader different is that you practice reading music by reading on your instrument and Sight Reader has many ways in which you interact with your music. For the very beginner there are animated lessons introducing the basic notes on one of 12 supported instruments. There are then simple exercises to read and play followed by challenges that offer newly generated music with each use to prevent memorization. In addition, students can use flashcards to test how quickly they can identify then play a random note shown on screen.

For the more serious reader, there are Rhythm Only exercises that are a single pitch with infinite rhythm combinations, Note Only exercises which are steady streams of notes at particular rhythms to increase speed and dexterity, Intervals which allow you to practice recognizing intervals more quickly, and Scales so you can practice your scales in all 12 keys.

What’s also important is that everything you play is graded objectively and students can monitor their results. This makes it great for practicing without a teacher present.

Tell us what’s most important in your sight reading practice routine in the comments below. The $25 iTunes gift card winner will be drawn using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Happy reading!

Monday Mailbag – 5 Essential Resources for Selecting Repertoire for Intermediate Piano Students

I have been thinking a little more about curriculum. My younger students typically work through a method book with additional repertoire and activities added. My older students  choose several pieces to work on through the semester/year, discuss theory/musical concepts in their pieces, work through a theory book, and typically do scales or other technical exercises. Do you have any set “curriculum” you follow as far as what you expect students to learn/cover over the course of a year?

This question has been sitting in my inbox for about six months now (sadly it’s not the only one…), but I’ve been intentionally delaying answering it because this is an area I’ve been really wanting to improve in my teaching. Sequencing and repertoire selection seems so much simpler for elementary students than it does for those at an intermediate level. There are so many musical possibilities, so many skills to be learned, so many pieces of repertoire to be discovered…and only so much time to work with each student. What to focus on? And how do you know if you’re covering the most important things?

Well, I finally decided to post this question, not because I have a brilliant answer, but to share some resources and ideas that have been helpful to me in my quest to learn to teach higher level students more effectively. And in hopes that some other more brilliant teachers will pass on their knowledge in this area! In this response, I’ll be dealing specifically with repertoire selection for intermediate level piano students. Next week I’ll address other aspects of the “curriculum” for teaching intermediate level students.

For starters, here’s what you’ll need:
1. The Pianist’s Guide to Standard Teaching and Performance Literature by Jane Magrath – this is a must-have for every piano teacher! I cannot even imagine what an enormous task it was to compile a reference book of this magnitude, but I love having a handy place to look up specific composers and their works, read a brief overview of the piece, and see an approximation of what level of difficulty it is.

2. Spotify – Ever since I first posted about Spotify last fall, I have fallen more and more in love with it. 🙂 (You have to have a Facebook account to set it up, but it is well worth it!) You can do quick searches to find nearly any piece of music, listen to several recordings, click through to discover new albums and artists and repertoire, subscribe to playlists that others have created, and create your own customized playlists. For example, as I did lesson planning and worked on selecting repertoire for several late intermediate students this spring, I put together a Student Repertoire Spring 2013 playlist so that I could quickly access pieces I selected for individual students for my own reference and to play recordings for them at their lessons. For students who are also on Spotify, you can easily share links to tracks, albums, or playlists. I would definitely consider this another must-have for music teachers today!

3. Excellent compilations of intermediate literature. Here are some of my favorites:

4. IMSLP Petrucci Music Library – It’s great for students to be able to play familiar, tried and true piano classics, but I love to find lesser known and played pieces for the students to learn. Especially when they will be performing for recitals, adjudicated events, or auditions, it’s fun to find new pieces that will capture the student’s (and audience’s!) imagination and inspire them to develop their skills and musicality to new heights! IMSLP is the perfect place to find just about any musical score (that’s in the public domain) and download a temporary copy to see if it’s what you’re looking for and whether it will work for a particular student.

5. A cup of hot tea. Definitely a necessity for long hours of poring over musical scores and listening to recordings, trying to find the perfect pieces for each student!

Now it’s time for others to share their brilliance. 🙂 What resources or tips do you have for selecting repertoire for intermediate 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!


And the Winner Is…

#2 – Miss Leah! Congratulations! I know you and your students will benefit greatly from the Note Busters workbook!

However, the authors of Note Busters have generously offered a special 40% off coupon code to everyone who commented on the review post! This is available for any number of workbooks you’d like to purchase for yourself and/or your studio. The code is only valid through Sunday, January 20th, though, so visit the Create Space store now to place your order. Coupon code: PCMW2UTM (The discount can be applied after adding the book(s) to the shopping cart.)

Thanks to everyone for participating in the giveaway. Stay tuned for another great giveaway coming up next Tuesday!

Piano Teaching Tips

One of the most helpful aspects of the Alfred Ledger Lines blog is the Piano Teaching Tips that they post periodically featuring one of their composers giving a little “masterclass” of sorts on how to play one of their pieces. The most recent one is a post by E.L. Lancaster highlighting Midnight Adventure, an etude in the Premier Piano Course Technique book. It’s really cool to read the composer’s own thoughts about the piece, and gain a deeper understanding of how they want it to be played. Plus, you can download a pdf file of the piece with comments from the composer jotted into the score to aid with your understanding. This is such a beneficial resource, especially for new teachers who need practical direction on how to teach students to play excellently and musically.

Evernote: A Fabulous Free App for Lesson Planning

Ever since I started teaching almost 15 years ago I feel like I’ve been searching for ways to organize and streamline lesson planning. From endless lists, to spreadsheets, to binders, to paper files, I’ve tried dozens of different ideas. None of them have accomplished what I really want in the way of planning repertoire and collecting ideas specific to each student. Nothing, that is, until I spent some time over Christmas break exploring the fabulous (and free!) Evernote app!

This is one more reason why I can’t imagine teaching without my iPod Touch at my fingertips. Evernote is optimal for lesson planning purposes because you can create a folder for each student and then create notes within the folder. Notes can include text, photos, links, audio clips, etc. This is a super cool way to record different repertoire excerpts for students that you can play back for them when they’re at the lesson. You can also e-mail the notes, so you could easily use this to record lesson assignments and then send it to the student. There is also a version that you can use on a desktop/laptop computer and sync with your mobile version.

Another cool feature is the ability to create tags. For example, I can create a tag called “music to buy.” Then, whenever I create a note that includes a book or resource that I need to buy for a particular student, I just assign it that tag. On the home screen of Evernote I can select the “Tag” area and all the tags will be sorted alphabetically, quickly allowing me to access the “music to buy” category and see an overview of all the notes containing purchases I need to make. Isn’t that cool? I’m sure there are even more capabilities that I haven’t discovered yet. There are so many possibilities! Is anyone else using the Evernote app for lesson planning? I’d love to hear your ideas on how you’ve used it!