Piano Explorer – A Rediscovered Gem!

Years ago, I subscribed to the Piano Explorer magazine for my studio, letting students take home a copy if they were interested and archiving the rest in a notebook for future reference. Eventually, I let my subscription expire and its existence faded from my memory. Something recently reminded me of the Piano Explorer and I decided to re-subscribe and give each of my students a copy this year to see if they enjoy it. (If you purchase a group subscription of 5 or more copies, it is only $6/subscription!) I’m also planning to incorporate some of the activities into our practice incentive theme for the year, so that might provide some extra motivation to check them out!

As I’ve been perusing the latest issues that arrived in the mail this month, I am reminded of what a great little gem this magazine is! Written especially for piano students, each 15 page issue has interesting articles, fun facts, engaging activities, and more. And now, there is even a companion Piano Explorer website that students can visit to watch pre-selected video clips of music from the composer of the month or listen to clips of the featured instrument. There’s also an online Teacher’s Guide with additional notes, a schedule of composers to be highlighted for the year, and answers to the kids’ activities.

The Math Behind an Octave

There are so many things that are easy to take for granted as musicians. We are standing on the shoulders, as it were, of many who have gone before us, making observations and discoveries that have been instrumental (:-)) in the progress and development of music as we understand it today. Even this tidbit that Paulo Goncalves, of Do Re Mi Studios in Jannali, Australia, recently wrote regarding the relationship of math and music is fascinating!

Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician, discovered that notes that sound good together (i.e. are in harmony) are mathematically related. He also found that the sound of a note plucked on a string depends on its length and tension. In his experiments, he discovered that by halving the length of a string and plucking it again, you produce a sound that it is almost the same. However, this sound is higher in pitch. The interval between the original note and the note produced by halving the string is referred to as an octave. Mathematically, an octave is the distance between any given note with a set frequency, and another note with double that frequency. In music, both these notes have the same name but are written an octave apart on the staff.

Next semester, as part of our Classical Conversations homeschool program, we’re planning to go through a book called, Math in Motion: First Steps in Music Theory, so I’m excited to see what other interesting things we discover that go even beyond basic theory to a deeper understanding of the science and math of sound!

Pictures and Easy Step-by-Step Instructions for Making Dozens of Musical Instruments

In conjunction with our rhythm-themed practice incentive, Beat the Pirates!, this year, I was thinking it would be cool to spend time at one of our group classes to make our own rhythm instruments. So I was thrilled to come across this wonderful page at DariaMusic.com that has dozens of musical instruments you can make using easy-to-find materials from your home!

Whether it’s a pair of bilmas to help you keep the beat, or a handy pie pan bodhran drum, Daria has pictures and instructions to guide you as you construct your own versions of each instrument. (Now if only I could find some real turtle shells, we could make authentic turtle shell rattles!) I’m excited to explore the possibilities, and would love to know if you have a favorite homemade rhythm instrument that students can make!

Sneak Peek at Our New Studio Practice Incentive Theme

There are always a number of factors and considerations that go into developing a new practice incentive theme for our studio. This year, there were two primary inspirations. The first was a fervent request from one of my students (who also happens to be my daughter!) that we do a pirate theme of some sort. The second was a response by composer Wnne-Anne Rossi in the February/March 2017 issue of American Music Teacher. The question posed was, “How can you best assist a student who struggles with timing?” This paragraph from her response grabbed my attention:

“And yes, feeling rhythm is more important than thinking rhythm! The piano is a percussion instrument, and young pianists must act like drummers. Keep a drum on hand, and switch places at the piano. Assign sounds or words, like ‘boom-ditty-boom-yeah.’ Walk the beats. Enjoy rhythm as the ‘cool,’ playful part of the lesson.”

That last sentence, in particular, sparked an epiphany for me. “Enjoy rhythm as the ‘cool,’ playful part of the lesson.” This got my imagination spinning as I pondered the prospect of approaching rhythm in such a way as to make it the most fun part of the lesson. Rhythm has the potential to be so engaging and fun, and yet is so often relegated to the status of “necessary evil” in our effort to get our students to play a piece of music accurately. So…some of the details are still in development, but I’m super excited about how these inspirations are making their way into this year’s theme…

I’m planning to look into Wynn-Anne Rossi’s series, Latina Musica, and will be looking for lots of other resources and ideas to transform our studio into one where rhythm truly becomes the coolest part of every lesson!