Jungle Expedition Practice Incentive Theme is Here!

We are wrapping up an exciting year of expeditioning at our studio, and we have had a blast! The students have loved traveling from hut to hut as part of Jungle Expedition: where mighty musicians survive, earning various privileges and treats. I’m impressed at how hard they’ve worked all year long to improve the consistency and quality of their practicing and to tackle Extra Endeavors (they’ve especially loved earning tickets for memorizing pieces and performing for friends!). It definitely makes the hard work of planning and conducting a practice incentive theme worth it when we can look back and see how far the students have come during the year!

We still have a few weeks of lessons left before we take a break or change things up for the summer, so most of the students are frantically collecting tickets and trying to get to one final hut before time runs out!

Piano Safari Level 3 is Here!

Rarely have I been so excited for a new music book to be released, but my students and I have been eagerly anticipating the completion of Piano Safari Level 3 for quite a while now! This piano method has completely transformed the way I teach piano, and I can’t imagine what I did before it was around. I’m looking forward to reviewing Level 3 here on Music Matters Blog soon!

Also, MTNA is offering a webinar by Piano Safari authors, Julie Knerr and Katie Fisher, this Friday on “The Role of Rote Teaching in the Development of Reading, Artistry, and Technique.” I’m sure this will be a treasure trove of teaching philosophies and tips, and is sure to invigorate your teaching!

Using Composition and Notation to Teach Music Theory

As I took piano lessons for years growing up, I always dutifully completed the obligatory theory lesson that correlated with the repertoire pages for the week (even if I was scrambling right before the lesson to get it done!). However, after 10 years of lessons I still had no idea how to identify what key I was playing in. There was a complete disconnect between what I was playing and the theory work I was doing. This dichotomy is the primary reason why I rarely use theory books with my students, especially at the lower levels. Instead, we spend a great deal of time discussing the underlying theory of each piece of music and lots of repetition to memorize what each term and symbol means.

 

The Psalms Project we do each spring provides a wonderful opportunity for students to solidify their theory knowledge as they compose and learn to notate their compositions.

 

Even though we eventually input all of the compositions into Finale on the computer, I require students to notate everything by hand first as part of the learning process. It’s fun watching their “aha” moments as various concepts (like the fact that since the key signature includes an F# they don’t have to notate sharps on each F throughout the piece) click!

Music Note Memory Game

For this year’s Jungle Expedition studio practice incentive theme, one of the huts students can travel to is the “Game Hut.” Stephanie used her last 30 tickets to go to that hut and had fun looking through the 5 For Fun! Games and Activities for the Private Piano Lesson to make her choice. She opted for the Music Note Memory game, and we had a great time playing it!

   

We lined up a column of flashcards with notes on the staff and another column with marked keys on a piano keyboard.

 

We each took a turn flipping over one card from each column to try to find a match. Whoever found a match got to go again, and then whoever had the most matches at the end won! This was a great quick game to reinforce note identification skills!

Free Piano Scale Discovery Worksheet

It’s amazing how much more fun it is to learn about chords and scales on the piano when you’re using a magnetic board, some cool thumbtack-looking magnets, a set of scale blocks, and a piano scale worksheet!

After learning how to count the half steps to construct major chords, I called out the name of a chord, Claire lined up the scale blocks beginning at that note, placed the magnets on the correct keys on the piano diagram worksheet, eliminated every other block following the first one so that she knew which three blocks it had to be, then rotated them accordingly to display the correct sharps or flats.

She loved doing this activity, and using both the visual and tactile teaching materials makes it much more memorable!

I initially created this worksheet to help students at a group class gain a better understanding of scales, but it’s great for a variety of activities including this one that teaches students how to construct chords. Click on the image below to download your free copy of the Scale Discovery Worksheet:

Teaching Students to Practice Their Instrument More Effectively

In his always-informative newsletter, Gerald Klickstein, author of The Musician’s Way, linked back to his post on Beautiful Repetition. I love his four points:

  1. Insist on Excellence
  2. Reject Mindless Repetition
  3. Aim for Growth Rather than Sameness
  4. Evaluate Continuously

 

Visit his post for an elaboration and specific ideas for each point!

Appreciating the Old Welcoming the New – A Guest Post by the University of Florida

Those that were born before the iPod may remember the decline of cassette and record players, the latter of which is currently experiencing a resurgence as more people turn to vinyl for a revival of sound quality. This infographic illustrates the evolution of music technology and how it has allowed us to enjoy and create music socially as well as individually.

Items like the 4-track tape machine were used to record and play tracks reel-to-reel. Now people can share audio and video on YouTube, SoundCloud, Spotify, and other streaming platforms. They can even record their own music on affordable programs like GarageBand.

In a rapidly-changing musical world, it can be helpful to treasure the inventions of the past while looking forward to future developments. Check out the infographic below for some inspiration, or use it as a visual when teaching your students about the history of music innovation.


Interested in learning more about applying new methods to music education? Discover the online master’s degree in music education from the University of Florida.

A Great Tool for Helping Piano Students Improve Sight Reading and Rhythm Skills

One of my favorite resources to help students develop their rhythm and sight reading skills is the Rhythm and Sight Reading cards from Piano Safari. These are great to use as a supplement even if you don’t use the method books. Levi agreed to demonstrate how we utilize these cards:

After tapping the rhythm pattern, they move to the piano keyboard and select one key for each hand, then for the final run-through they improvise using the rhythm pattern for each hand.

Levi has struggled for quite a while with his sight reading skills, so we tried something a few weeks ago that has worked wonders for him! Before playing through the line of music on the piano, he audiates (hums or vocalizes) the pattern while “ghost” playing the fingers on his lap that he will use to play the line on the piano.

He demonstrates the same approach for the bass clef pattern. It has been amazing to watch his skill (and even his enjoyment!) of sight reading develop just from this simple exercise!

A Favorite Composition Project for Piano Students

Every spring (for 12 years now!) we launch The Psalms Project in our piano studio. This has proved to be an anticipated and approachable opportunity for students to learn valuable skills related to composition. After selecting a verse (or several) from the book of Psalms in the Bible, we work through a series of steps to consider what they want the overall mood to be, what key it should be in, and what melodic and rhythmic motives to use. I encourage them to work away from the piano at first to focus on the natural rhythmic flow of the text, then to experiment with melodic and/or harmonic ideas. You can click the image below to download a free composition worksheet if you or any of your piano students want to try doing The Psalms Project.

 

Claire exclaimed, “This is actually fun!” while learning to notate her composition after taking some time to tap and write out on a white board just the rhythms for her melody. Once the composition is entirely notated by hand (a great way to reinforce theory concepts in a meaningful way!), the students get to learn how to use the Finale notation software to input their work.

Now that we have our new Nessie mic, we might try making vocal and piano recordings of our songs this year to go along with our published music book!

Deciding on a Musical Instrument – What to Choose? – A Guest Post by The Tutor Pages

Most parents will consider these questions at some point: Is my child musical? Can we afford music lessons? Which instrument should we choose?

Many parents are eager for their child to begin music lessons at a young age. However, some instruments are a better choice than others for young beginners. For example, the piano or a string instrument can be learned very young – even 3 year olds can experience success. On the other hand, vocal teachers will often recommend that a child start later, perhaps after puberty. Woodwind and brass teachers normally recommend that a child wait until their adult teeth have come in before learning their instruments.

Every instrument has advantages and disadvantages. Piano lessons are an obvious choice: the child can immediately make a reasonable sound on this instrument and there is a huge repertoire – truly a lifetime of discovery. On the other hand, pianos can be an expensive investment and you may have to worry about disturbing the neighbours. Digital pianos are worth considering for both of these reasons.

Some instruments provide more social interaction. Guitar lessons, for example, give students a great opportunity to play in groups. Beginner guitars are reasonably priced, portable, and are great for singing along and playing with friends in many genres.

Other string instruments like the cello and violin also provide social opportunities – you can join orchestras and other ensembles. They have a vast body of repertoire available, especially in the chamber music realm. The same is true for woodwind instruments like the clarinet and brass instruments like the trumpet. It is worth remembering that some instruments have better crossover for other genres such as jazz: for example, the trumpet or double bass.

Whatever instrument you choose, you can find advice on choosing the right musical instrument, tips on how to learn, and help finding a music teacher on the UK’s premier website for private tuition: The Tutor Pages.


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