One of my favorite things to do as a pianist is to play through new music. It’s so fun to pick up an unknown book and anticipate the gems that might be hidden within its pages! These delightful books, Waddle & Quack and Shimmer & Strut by Canadian composer Lynette Sawatsky contain many such gems.
They could easily double as coloring books besides with the beautiful sketches that accompany each piece! Many of the pieces are prime rote material, my favorites being “New Lamb” and “Alpha Betta” from the first collection because of their colorful and patterned use of 7th chords. Even though the preface states that they are intended for early elementary readers or for rote teaching, most of my early elementary students would probably have difficulty deciphering the notation for themselves. Many of the pieces employ clef changes, movement to different hand positions or places on the keyboard, playing on all black keys, and more advanced rhythms (triplets, dotted eights and sixteenths, and slight syncopation). That said, for a little more advanced reader or those students who are eager to learn harder-sounding pieces by rote, Waddle & Quack offers musical imagery that captures life in the Animal Kingdom.
The second book, Shimmer & Strut, was written to provide more challenging pieces and it delivers on that intent. Despite the notation choices sometimes being a little difficult to decipher, each animal-themed selection paints a picture in sound of the defining characteristics we would expect that creature to exhibit. It could be a fun group class activity to play some of these and see if the students can guess which one it is from a list of animals! Three of the pieces include a teacher duet accompaniment, but the remaining eight are solos that any late elementary student could feel proud playing. The variety of styles, from the playful staccato 2nds of “Tiny Frog Waltz” to the serene parallel 4ths of “Gentle Panda” to the catchy inviting rhythms of “Shark Tango,” will provide any student with just the piece to fit their personality.
Thanks to Lynette for sending me a couple of sample copies so I could review them. Check out her website if you’re interested in finding out more about her other compositions or listening to recordings of the pieces. Enjoy!
I am thoroughly enjoying watching the recorded masterclass with Robert Levin and appreciate his down-to-earth style coupled with incredible insight into the music of various composers and how to interpret it effectively. Perhaps one of my favorite ways to learn is by observing master teachers working with students on musical concepts and diverse repertoire, so I’m looking forward to checking out the forthcoming masterclasses with pianists András Schiff and Murray Perahia as well!
I am not exaggerating when I say that I spent dozens of hours typing in every search string I could think of and perusing every shopping place that came to mind in order to find my newest piece of studio furniture. Although I’ve made many efforts over the years to do a better job of standing while teaching I always found myself gravitating back toward my trusty office chair. I finally realized that a major deterrent was the need to constantly refer to the student’s assignment book and jot down notes. What I needed was a standing desk!
Little did I realize how hard it would be to find exactly what I wanted! My criteria was that it had to be relatively stylish, adjustable height-wise, and able to be collapsed and stored out of the way when not in use. You try searching for that! 🙂
Actually, I’m happy to report that I found exactly what I wanted and I LOVE it! Just in case you happen to want this little beauty for your own studio and teaching, you can find the Origami Up Down Stand Desk on Amazon.com. See how handily it folds away in the corner? And it’s so wonderful to have a spacious worktop for my laptop, colored pens, and plenty of room remaining for assignment books and other paraphernalia. Can you tell I’m excited?! Sometimes I just can’t help it if little things like this keep me excited and looking forward to teaching each day. 😉
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A pair of super cool light-up rhythm sticks that my husband brought home from a work conference and a Rhythm Clock game idea from Janice Tuck, of the Fun Music Company, inspired this week’s rhythm activity: Rockin’ Around the Rhythm Clock!
I used the rhythm patterns emphasized in Piano Safari Level 1, notating a pattern to correspond with each number on the clock. After going over them with the student to make sure they felt comfortable with all the patterns, I turned on the perfect rhythm backing track provided by Janice and our challenge was to see if we could keep going around the clock for the duration of the track (just under 2 minutes). They loved it!
For a take-home worksheet, I put together a blank rhythm clock so that they can come up with their own rhythm patterns and then we can try them at next week’s lesson (feel free to download this free worksheet if you want to try it out with your students!):
It’s working! You might remember that the big objective with this year’s practice incentive theme, Beat the Pirates!, is to make rhythm “the cool part of the lesson.” I was thrilled when after today’s rhythm activity at the beginning of the lesson my daughter Claire exclaimed, “This is fun!” (This is especially encouraging since she was ready to quit taking piano lessons because of how much she hated rhythm. In fact, she wanted to switch over to violin lessons because she thought then she wouldn’t have to count. :-))
For the first round I gave the student a whacker while I assumed the drummer role. Setting a steady pulse, I counted in four beats, then played a pattern from one of the rhythm flashcards. At the completion of the pattern I gave four beats of rest during which the student had to see if they could whack the corresponding flashcard. If they got it correct, they kept the card. If they didn’t whack anything or whacked the incorrect one, it stayed there and I continued on to a new pattern while maintaining the beat. Once all the flashcards were claimed, we laid out a new set of rhythms. It was cool to see how even in a short time the students went from struggling to spot the rhythm patterns and keep up with the beat to being able to process and react more quickly!
For the second round, after having seen the process modeled, the student took on the drummer role. They found that it was difficult to maintain the pulse during the four beats of rest, but they loved watching me try to find the pattern they had played! This quick game only took a few minutes, but it was a great way for them to practice both listening to and identifying rhythm patterns and also playing various rhythm patterns themselves.
One of the best things I ever did in my studio was implement monthly group classes that are open to all students in addition to their regular lesson for that week. These monthly gatherings have done wonders to build camaraderie in my studio and give students myriad experiences to help build their confidence as performers. Piano camps each summer have further contributed to these benefits, and I’ve tossed around the idea of offering more classes on a regular basis throughout the year. So I was thrilled when a former colleague contacted me to let me know about the launch of her Teach Preschool Music course!
Megan Desmarais has been teaching preschool music classes in her studio for many years and has done an awesome job putting together a comprehensive and professional course that walks other music teachers through the process of setting up a similar program in their own studios. She sent me a free course enrollment so that I could look over and review the course and I am SO impressed!
Seven modules plus a bonus material section include everything from helping you establish goals before you start the course, to how to handle logistics, to a whole year’s worth of lesson plans (wow!), to clear explanations of what the class should look like, to troubleshooting tips, to making a business plan, to many additional resources, and more. This course is well worth the regular $247 price tag, but from now until this Friday, October 6, you can sign up as a charter student for only $187! I am so excited to work my way through this course because I love teaching young beginning students anyway, and I can see how there would be so many benefits (both musically and financially) to being able to offer well-structured and planned preschool classes in addition to regular lessons. Thanks, Megan, for making this fabulous resource available to us!
As much as I love to travel, sometimes I just can’t make it to all the cool places to enjoy all the unique experiences the world has to offer. At least with the internet we can sometimes get a small taste of it!
After one week back to teaching in the studio, I am reminded of the value of trying new ideas and approaches to connect with each student and engage them in the learning process in a meaningful and enjoyable way. The end result is that I love teaching more and they love their piano lessons more. A win-win! Here are a couple of new ideas we’re trying in the studio this year:
Have you ever wondered what to do with those high school students who love music, but struggle to make the time to devote consistent practice to their instrument? Well, this year two such students happen to be my boys. So, after a bit of brainstorming I decided to try something new to keep them engaged in learning and playing, but without the pressure of daily practice and progress. I printed each of them a For the Love of Music workbook and we spend about an hour each week going through it together. They are enjoying watching the video clips featuring a couple of my former students and deepening their own understanding of music. The only stipulation in addition to attending our weekly session is that they have to have something prepared to play for the monthly group class. It can be something learned by ear or from printed music, as long as it’s on the piano and ready to perform. Less pressure on them and less expectation from me and we’re all loving piano lessons more than before!
After months of anticipation, Musical U has finally launched their brand new podcast: The Musicality Podcast! Here’s a quick link to the audio file and shownotes for the interview I did for one of their episodes titled, A Mindset for Musicality. I already subscribed via my podcast app and am so looking forward to tuning in regularly to gain inspiration and ideas for my own musical development and for helping my students become more musical!