Teaching Composition to Students

Or this post could be titled, “Reason #47 Why I Love Piano Safari!” 🙂

When Alyssa first began piano lessons last fall we tried some simple improvisation activities, but she was reluctant to play anything without knowing that it was the “right” notes. As we’ve worked through my all-time favorite piano method – Piano Safari – she’s gradually gained confidence and creative freedom. After a couple weeks of hashing out some ideas and discussing possibilities at her lesson, she came back with this fabulous original composition, Thunderstorm Over the Prairie.

The way this is presented in the method was perfect for her! She got to draw a picture to represent each part of the thunderstorm, then come up with musical ideas to reflect each element. She told me after she played this at her lesson that having the pictures was so helpful for enabling her to memorize her composition and keep track of where she was. As you can hear, she also enjoyed incorporating a familiar folk tune into her piece. I just love watching my students flourish as musicians who are comfortable all over the keyboard, whether playing written music, pieces by rote, or original compositions!

3 Tips for Getting Millennials Interested in Music Learning – A Guest Post by Alternate Tone Music School

Millennials were born into a world full of electronics and gadgets. They have no memory of a world without the Internet, smartphones, and laptops. Many of them have been plugged into an electronic device since they were toddlers. Surrounded by an overwhelming amount of stimuli, millenials often have a very short attention span.

The generational divide between many music instructors and the millenial generation can pose considerable challenges. Millennials are frequently described as privileged, always looking for fun in work, and valuing friends and lifestyle. Many of them also place an emphasis on collaborative learning experiences like shared work assignments. As instructors, we need to be able to adapt to their learning style and needs in order to stimulate their interest in music learning.

1. Using Technology to Enhance Interest

Since Millennials are avid users of gadgets, it is important to integrate technology as a learning tool. This provides a perception of “playing a game” instead of a mundane learning class.

At Alternate Tone Music School we use the latest musical technology for classes and conduct musical workshop that provide music exposure to kids of all ages. One example is our featured innovative kit. This kit allows students to expand their world of imagination, creativity, and invention.

The innovative kit transforms every day objects into touchpads and combines them with the internet. For example, we plug fruits and vegetables into the device and convert them into piano keys where each piece of fruit or vegetable represents a specific key on the piano. For a fun challenge, you can even try to use items that begin with the same letter as the key name, like this:

C – Carrot
D – Dragon Fruit
E – Elderberry

At the end of the day, not only will they recognize the different key sounds, but they will also remember the layout of the piano keys.

2. Develop Collaborative Courses or Workshops

Millennials enjoy working in groups, so at Alternate Tone Music School most of our programs encourage group learning.

While individual lessons allow the instruction to be tailored to the student’s learning style and goals, group classes can be more fun and interactive, spurring a student’s interest for music or reigniting their passion for learning. Collaborative learning sessions are a great way for students to meet other like-minded musicians.

At Alternate Tone Music School, we provide jamming sessions with our students in addition to their regular classes. This helps build their confidence as they perform and play with their peers. Occasionally, we also have special music-related workshops like song composition skills to broaden their knowledge about music and how they can explore it further.

3. Promote creativity

Our school systems are said to be killing creativity in our children. Kids are often punished for making mistakes and are discouraged from thinking or acting differently. They are taught how to follow instructions and replicate what their teachers do. However, these practices do little to encourage creativity. Children who are restricted to such frameworks are less capable of coming up with new solutions and engaging in self-expression.

Alternate Tone’s core belief is that it is the responsibility of us instructors to help promote creativity in our students. Using another fun innovative music-making kit, students explore their creativity by using everyday objects such as toilet paper rolls, paper, sticks, cardboard, water etc. to build a structure that makes music.

Here are some examples of our students’ musical creations:

In the words of Frank Fitzpatrick from the Huffington Post, “Imagination is the wellspring of creativity, for it is our audacity to imagine that pushes the boundaries of possibility.”

A successful music instructor has experience and knowledge, is adaptable, and is a source of inspiration for his students.


Alternate Tone Music School is the latest advertiser here at Music Matters Blog. They specialize in providing piano lessons and guitar lessons in Singapore. Contact them for workshop and teaching opportunities. 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 us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.

Using Key Signature Flashcards to Make a Circle of Fifths

This may be a no-brainer, but for some reason it just occurred to me this week that key signature flashcards (I love this set of Student Flashcards from TCW Resources!) would provide a great hands-on opportunity to create and understand the Circle of 5ths!

Mercy has been working hard on memorizing all of her key signatures, so at her lesson this week, we laid out all of the cards in order and then I arranged them in a circular pattern and asked if she could figure out why this arrangement of them was called “The Circle of 5ths.” After thinking about it for a minute, she realized that each subsequent key was a 5th above the previous key. The proverbial lightbulb flashed and she couldn’t stop thanking me for explaining this to her because now it all made so much sense!

We discussed the enharmonic keys and then moved into the flat keys until we arrived back at C Major/a minor. Doing this activity together helped her see in a very tangible way how the Circle of 5ths works and it finally clicked for her why you could count up in 5ths to determine the sharp keys and down in 5ths to figure out the flat keys. It’s so fun to help students grow in their understanding of music theory – hopefully in a way that they will never forget!

Learn From Your Musical Heroes – A Guest Post by Andy Trowers

The best musicians are truly inspiring. They evoke strong feelings through their playing. One of my favourite things is to listen to artists I admire and try to emulate the way they play or compose. You can learn so much from the way they express themselves in note placement, note selection, rhythmic patterns, and technique.

It seems like an obvious thing to say, but many musicians neglect the listening side of music. Analysing a composition, whatever genre, is a key part of improving as a musician. It inspires ideas and enhances your ear, which is essential for improvisation. It’s even a great idea to listen to musical forms you don’t particularly like. You can often listen to them more objectively and gain unusual ideas that can be incorporated into the style you play in an innovative way.

Here are five of my favourite musicians and composers and what I learned from them.

Keith Richards

KeithRichards‘Keef’ Richards was the first musician I truly idolised. His guitar playing is understated and has one sole purpose – to deliver a great song. He is perhaps not the most technical of guitarists when it comes to solos but he is the undisputed master of catchy riffs. He taught me the importance of ‘weaving’ or blending in with other musicians as you play. Playing in the space other musicians leave is essential in a band situation and he epitomises this approach. His passion for blues also turned me on to some great old blues masters who have greatly influenced the way I play.

Stevie Wonder

StevieWonderStevie Wonder was born into music. A child prodigy, he signed to Tamla Motown at the age of 11 years old. He became blind at birth but didn’t let that stop him from becoming one of the most influential musicians of all time. His 1973 album Inner Visions is an acknowledged classic and he played most of the instruments you hear on the album. Whenever I listen to it, I am struck by its outrageous funkiness. His rhythmic playing is second to none, yet he also manages to incorporate beautiful melodies. This fusion of funk and catchy song writing is something that has inspired my own efforts at composition over the years.

Bob Dylan

BobDylanWith his gravelly voice and unkempt appearance, Bob Dylan is an unlikely pop star. He is a prolific songwriter, though, having written many famous hits performed by many different people. He recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature for song-writing.  His poetic lyrics have been a great influence on many songwriters over the years. His early work is based primarily on the acoustic guitar and I learned fingerpicking technique from it, essential for folk and blues playing.

Nina Simone

NinaSimoneThis classically trained pianist-turned-jazz-singer fought against prejudice to become an internationally acclaimed artist and songwriter. Her haunting voice and assured compositions defy description, yet are recognizable the world over. The way she fused classical music with jazz and soul to create a unique sound should be an inspiration to those looking for innovative directions in music.

 

Mozart

WolfgangMozartAnother child prodigy, Mozart was composing and performing in front of royalty by the age of five. He was a master of the classical art-form composing concertos, symphonies, operas, sonatas and string concertos. He created more than 600 works and influenced countless musicians throughout the generations. For me, his final unfinished requiem is a masterpiece. Though there is controversy over how much of the final piece is his, it is a striking example of dynamics in music. The ebb and flow of the music show how powerful near-silence and changes in volume and tempo can be in a piece.


Andy Trowers is a freelance writer and regular contributor to www.cheap.forsale and is the latest advertiser here at Music Matters Blog. We are grateful for his 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 us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.

The Best Way to Motivate Students

My husband shared this quote with me the other day and I thought it was very relevant to teaching students and learning to play an instrument:

“Action never follows motivation…It’s the other way around. When you act, motivation inevitably follows.”

I’ve seen over and over again that when students (or I!) make practicing a discipline and a priority in their lives, they become more motivated. So, in a nutshell, the best way to motivate students is to require them to practice. Because the more they practice, the more skilled they become, and the more motivated they will be!

[Read the whole article here.]

The Perfect Assignment Sheet for Piano Students

Somehow I just came across this fabulous compilation of free downloadable assignment sheets that Amy Chaplin, of the Piano Pantry blog, has either created or adapted! Even though I always create custom assignment books that correlate with our practice incentive theme for the year, I absolutely love the variety of ideas that Amy incorporates into these sheets. Whether you’re looking for an assignment sheet that includes helpful theory concepts, or one that outlines technique warm-ups, or even one that is based on specific practice tips, you’re sure to find one that is just the right fit for your students and studio!

Review and Giveaway of the Flexi Symphony Clip

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a far cry from a fashionista. My hairstyle and accessory choices are driven by whatever takes me the least time in the morning (because there are so many things I would rather do than spend time fixing my hair!). So when Jackie Adams, a Lilla Rose consultant, asked me to review her symphony hair clip, I confess that I was somewhat reluctant. But I decided to give it a try, and a few days later a complimentary beautiful flexi hair clip arrived in the mail.


I am a bit of a sucker for attractive packaging, so it probably helped that it arrived in a very cute little envelope with a full color brochure included. 🙂 However, I must say I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I like it! (After viewing the handy sizing chart video, I determined that the small would be the best fit for me.)


It is SO easy to just pull back the sides of my hair, stick in the flexi clip and go! What’s really impressive is that it doesn’t slide out like so many other barrettes and clips that I’ve tried.


So…if you’re curious to give this a try (or have a student who might enjoy it!) just leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing for your own symphony flexi clip! If you win, Jackie will contact you to get your size preference. In the meantime, feel free to check out the website for other products and visit her Facebook page for more info. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, February 3!


Jackie Adams is the latest advertiser here at Music Matters Blog. We are grateful for her 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 us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.

The Speedy Scale Game for Piano Students!

As I mentioned last week, I love to incorporate a variety of games to reinforce and evaluate music theory concepts with my students. This week we tried a Speedy Scale game to help students develop visual-spatial skills (they weren’t allowed to look at the piano keyboard, but had to visualize it in their mind) and put their music scale theory knowledge into practice (they’ve all been memorizing scale patterns this year to earn Mental Miles as part of our Vanishing Voices practice incentive theme)!

Daniel caught on really quickly, so I talked him into doing a step-by-step video of how to play this game during a lesson:

Here’s a snapshot of the supplies needed:

  • Two complete octaves of scale blocks (see here for a post on how to make your own scale blocks!)
  • A set of plain blocks with each one containing only one note name
  • A block with Major and Minor written on alternating sides
  • A block with a sharp, flat, and natural sign drawn on alternating sides


This is a quick, fun activity that is easily adaptable to students of all ages and levels. Since Alyssa just started lessons last fall she is just finishing up learning all of her Major pentascales. So in her case, I just had her select a block with a note name and then roll the sharp, flat, natural sign block, then arrange the scale blocks according to the pattern for the Major pentascale.


  1. After students had drawn a note name block from my hand and rolled the other two blocks, I walked them through this process for figuring out the arrangement of the scale blocks:
  2. Find the two scale blocks with the given key name (Stephanie’s was e-flat minor, so she found the two e-flats and placed them at the beginning and end).
  3. Fill in the remaining note names in alphabetical order with no regard for which ones are sharps or flats.
  4. Review the pattern for the given type of scale (we just used the Major and natural minor scales today) and write it out on the board if necessary.
  5. Begin with the “tonic” and work your way through the whole and half steps, rotating the blocks as necessary to represent the scale (a couple of times when students were tempted to switch out a block for something else – especially those pesky white key flats and sharps – it was essential that they remember they could only use the block that was next alphabetically!).

Each of the students thoroughly enjoyed this activity, and it was neat to see how much they improved just in the short 5-10 minutes we used at the beginning of the lesson!

The Importance of Being Creative – A Guest Post by Andy Trowers

Creativity is one of the most important life skills a child can develop. Beyond musical or artistic benefits, creativity brings many advantages later in life. It improves problem-solving at work, allows greater expression, reduces stress, and helps makes connections with like-minded people. This post explores the benefits of creativity and how it can be nurtured, especially in children.

Creative1

There is a reason that coming up with answers is often referred to as “creative problem-solving.” It’s because creativity plays such an important part in coming up with solutions to the obstacles of everyday life. Whether at work or in general life, we are presented with issues that require a combination of creativity and knowledge to find the best path. Being creative helps people adapt to new situations more easily and can greatly improve career prospects.

Creativity is also a form of expression. Art, music and other creative forms let us explore feelings in a way that we feel comfortable with. Young people can gain a greater knowledge of themselves and the person they want to be by exploring emotions safely through art and music.

Creative2

It is well known that creative expression reduces stress and anxiety. It is often used as a form of therapy for sufferers of depression, as the very act of playing music or creating art can put you in a meditative state. In this state, studies have shown that positive emotions are increased while negative ones tend to withdraw. This is why art and creation go a long way to increase the happiness of a child.

Though some art-forms can be solo affairs, many also help connect people in a very real way. From joint art classes to playing in a band, or simply going to appreciate art, music, or photography, creative endeavours have a way of bringing people together. They are talking points and help human beings relate to each other and realise that we have shared experiences, no matter what colour or creed we are.

Creative3

Creativity also helps children learn. Throughout any kind of creative process, questions crop up time and time again. It makes the child think in ways and about things they wouldn’t normally do. It is brilliant for expanding a child’s knowledge and understanding of the world around them.

So how do you improve creativity? Here are my three top tips for helping children (and big kids) get their creative juices flowing.

1: Use it over and over again

Creativity is like a muscle – the more you use it, the better it works. With children, try many different creative mediums – painting, music, sculpture, drawing, or whatever art-forms are available. Each one has its own unique set of challenges and discipline that will help a child grow and develop.

2: Encourage a sense of freedom.

Let them explore new things with no sense that they might be doing it wrong. We learn at least as much from our mistakes as the things that end up going perfectly, especially at a young age.

3: Don’t force it

Ensure that each creative session is fun and not enforced. Nothing kills creativity quicker than the sense that you have to do something you don’t want to do. Children should look forward to it each time, not be told they have to do it.


Andy Trowers is a freelance writer and regular contributor to www.australia.for-sale.com and is the latest advertiser here at Music Matters Blog. We are grateful for his 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 us an e-mail and we will let you know about our advertising packages.