We Wish You a Merry Christmas?

If I was going to be completely honest (and I do try to make a habit of it), I would have to say that I really don’t like much Christmas music. I know that’s practically blasphemy to many Christmas die hards, but it takes all of about one day for me to be done with Christmas carols. Less if it happens to be October or earlier. And I have three children in my house that are already breaking out the Christmas music!

Maybe it’s the bland, trite arrangements that make me groan, or maybe it’s just the pervasiveness of it the last couple months of the year. I don’t know for sure. But just as I will continue to teach Fur Elise for the sake of my students, I will continue to endure the familiar yuletide tunes to support these motivated aspiring pianists. That makes me a nice teacher, right? :-)

All that said, I was intrigued by the latest newsletter from Alfred Publishing on “A Creative Christmas.” Robert Vandall talks through his latest contribution to the Christmas repertoire – Christmas Extravaganza – and the various composition techniques he employed to “have moments of pianism and creativity that would allow students to shine, give teachers valuable musical concepts to teach, and audiences something out of the norm to enjoy.” I’m actually looking forward to playing through some of these selections and hopefully finding some new, fresh, inspiring music that I can enjoy listening to this Christmas season!

A Fun Group Piano Class Rhythm Game

The last week of each month I hold a 1-hour group class in addition to the regular lessons for that week. This gives the students an opportunity to perform for each other, participate in ensembles, and play a variety of games to help reinforce musical concepts.

Since one of our primary focuses this year is on developing more proficient rhythm skills, my plan is to begin each group class with a fun rhythm game. This week we played, “Pass the Rhythm” – a variation on the old “telephone” game and adapted from the Rhythm Squeeze game on Teach Piano Today.

I split the students into two teams – boys v. girls in this case! They lined up front to back and the first and third player of each team was given a white board, marker, and eraser.

I began by tapping a 2-measure 4/4 rhythm pattern on the shoulder of the student at the back of each line. They had to notate the rhythm that they thought I tapped and then pass the board to the next player in line.

The next player looked at the rhythm pattern and then tapped it on the shoulder of the first person in line.

Finally, the one at the front of the line notated the rhythm pattern that they felt. After the rhythm was passed all the way to the front of the line, I had each team hold up their board and compare it with the rhythm I had written on my board for that round. Each team received one point for each correct beat. The students then switched places and we did the same thing for Round 2. We did several rounds and then tallied the points so that the team with the most points was the winner!

Everyone seemed to enjoy this engaging game, and it’s a great tool for determining where they are at in identifying and tapping rhythms!

Watch Two Piano Concerts Live from Your Own Home!

Cliburn.org recently announced that they will be airing two upcoming piano concerts live on their website and on YouTube. What a fabulous opportunity for those of us who can’t make it to these performances in person!

Marc-André Hamelin will be performing on Tuesday, October 6, 2015, at 7:30 p.m. CDT at Bass Performance Hall (in Fort Worth, TX). His program is as follows:

MOZART Sonata in D Major, K. 576
DEBUSSY Images, Book II
HAMELIN Variations on a Theme by Paganini (2011)
SCHUBERT Sonata in B-flat Major, D. 960

Garrick Ohlsson will be performing on Tuesday, April 5, 2016, at 7:30 p.m. CDT at Bass Performance Hall (in Fort Worth, TX). His program is as follows:

BEETHOVEN Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, op. 110
SCHUBERT Fantasy in C Major, D. 760 (“Der Wanderer”)

Scherzo No. 4 in E Major, op. 54
Etude in E Minor, op. 25, no. 5
Etude in G-sharp Minor, op. 25, no. 6
Nocturne in C Minor, op. 48, no. 1
Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, op. 23

Celebrating 10 Years of Blogging at Music Matters Blog!

In doing some back-end work on the blog today, I had a little flashback and realized that it’s been 10 years this month since I first launched Music Matters Blog! My how the world of music education has changed since then! I distinctly remember my trepidation at starting a blog and wondering if I would be able to generate enough content to make it a valuable endeavor and resource to other teachers. In fact, I even jotted out a schedule on a spiral bound notebook of what I would post about each day for the first 30 days. I was taking a step of faith, believing that after that new ideas and inspiration would develop. 1,463 posts later, I guess I’ve come up with enough to say. 😉

Here are some highlights from over the years (watch closely; your picture might be included!):

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I have learned so much as a result of running Music Matters Blog, and I will be forever grateful for all the friendships I’ve developed and opportunities I’ve experienced because of it. The music education community is truly one of the most inspiring, supportive, and generous groups of people with whom I’ve interacted! Even though I have less to say on the blog these days, I look forward to continuing to contribute as I’m able, and Lord-willing there will be many more years of blogging on Music Matters Blog!

A Simple and Fun Rhythm Activity for the Piano Lesson

Since one of my main objectives this year is to help my students master rhythm skills, we are finding a variety of ways at each lesson to help students decipher, play, and notate rhythms accurately. Here’s a fun multi-sensory rhythm activity we tried this week that was very effective!
This is adapted from Have a Heart – Feel the Pulse, but instead of using a page of hearts I drew four hearts across the top of a dry erase board and then wrote the 4/4 time signature on the row below the hearts. I played a simple 4-beat pattern of quarter and eighth notes and had the student place small magnets inside each heart to show whether each beat contained one or two sounds/notes.

After placing the magnets, the student translated them into notes, drawing quarter notes where there was only one sound and a pair of eighth notes where there were two sounds. This was a huge help in reinforcing the importance of identifying and maintaining a steady pulse while playing various rhythm patterns!

First Week of Lessons!

Some of you may remember my embarrassing confession earlier this year and my resolve to ensure that every one of my students becomes a fluent reader of music at the piano. I am happy to report that all of our hard work in the spring paid off! When I used our NoteStars game to evaluate where they were at this week, every student was still able to quickly and accurately identify and locate every note on the staff. They are also exhibiting a much greater level of independence in learning new music, which is exciting for all of us!

In our continuing quest toward playing the piano well, this year I am honing in on rhythm skills. Since note identification and rhythm are arguably the two most fundamental pieces of knowledge necessary to read music fluently, I want to equip each student to precisely execute any rhythm they come across in their music. Toward this end I have assigned each of them one part in an ensemble from the 4 Afro-Caribbean Songs for 5 Right Hands at 1 Piano book that I mentioned last week. (Note that you can download for free 4 of the parts from each song on the publisher’s website!) I introduced each piece by having the students look over it and tell me everything they could about the printed music. Then we discussed the time signature and used a rhythm instrument to play and count through the rhythm of the piece. At the end, I asked students which measure of rhythm was the hardest, then we worked specifically on that rhythm to make sure the student understood how to count it. I also had them count to see how many times that exact same rhythm was used in the piece, which led to the observation that musical pieces are usually comprised of repeating rhythm patterns. (Sometimes it’s amazing the things that I take for granted that students know or have somehow figured out on their own even though I haven’t made it a point to teach it to them!)

Part of my new resolve as a teacher is to take full responsibility for ensuring that my students have truly learned what I’m teaching them. Inspired by the following quote, my aim is to cause them to know the material and to essentially make it impossible for them to study piano with me and leave a lesson not having learned what I set out to teach them. It is such a wonderful responsibility and privilege to be a teacher!

“Teachers have redefined teaching as ‘the coherent speaking of an adult located at the head of the class to a passive gathering of students.’ They believe their primary responsibility is to cover the material in an organized manner.

They think about teaching as what they do–their focus is upon themselves. Many teachers cover their material and leave the room thinking they have taught. But if you gave their students a pop quiz, you would find out they hardly learned a thing. The divorce between teaching and learning is tragic and the root of many of our educational woes.

Obviously, the students are responsible to learn the material–but the teacher is responsible to cause them to know the material.”

~Bruce Wilkinson

September Surprise!

Despite my best intentions to continue teaching at least my own children this summer, we ended up with a studio-wide summer break. I have to admit, it’s nice to take some time off, gather new ideas, and get re-energized for another year of teaching. My favorite way to launch the new year of piano lessons is with a September Surprise! Students prepare any piece of their choice to surprise me, I plan a few games, and we officially launch the new studio practice incentive theme for the year.

Here are a few snapshots from our evening:

Look at all these beautiful faces eager for another year of piano lessons!

After a fun round of Music This or That (I highly recommend this active and insightful game that Wendy put together!) we moved right into the surprise performances.

One of the favorite performances of the evening was this creative improvisation by Levi.

After all the performances and an energetic drum circle, I introduced our Jungle Expedition practice incentive theme and let students select the wall figure of their choice to represent them on their expedition throughout the year as they travel from hut to hut.

The evening ended with a time of munching on goodies and visiting with one another. So excited to see how each of these students progress as individuals and musicians this year!

Free Wolfie iPad App Webinar this Wednesday

Have you heard of Wolfie? One of the teachers in our local association [of MTNA] first mentioned it at a meeting we held last year to discuss studio technology and apps. I was fascinated by it, but didn’t yet have an iPad, so I couldn’t check into it much. Thanks to a couple of generous gifts, I was able to purchase an iPad mini earlier this summer, so I’m in the process of figuring out the best ways to utilize it in the studio. Wolfie seems pretty incredible with its database of musical scores, ability to track where you are playing and turn the page for you, handle annotations you want to make on the score, and keep track of the progress of students in your studio that are using the app for their own piano practicing!

Wolfie iPad App

These things sound fabulous, but I’ve only caught a glimpse of them in action, so I was excited to learn that the creators of Wolfie will be conducting a free webinar this Wednesday (11:00 a.m. CST) for teachers who want to find out more. I’m looking forward to learning more and seeing how I can implement this in my studio this year!

(If you’re interested in attending, just visit the Facebook Event for the Free Wolfie iPad Webinar and click the link to register.)

One Week and Counting!

In one week from today we’ll be having our September Surprise! to kickoff a new year of piano lessons! In addition to getting all the finishing touches put on our practice incentive theme for the year – Jungle Expedition – I’ve also been collecting student repertoire and resources for group classes throughout the year. It’s motivating for me to spend time playing through a lot of great music, and it’s fun trying to figure out just which ones to use for each student that I hope will capture their imagination and inspire them to work hard!

Here’s a snapshot of some of the great music and resources we’ll be using this year! I’m especially excited about a unique find that I came across at our state music teachers conference this summer – 4 Afro-Caribbean Songs for 5 Right Hands at 1 Piano. This should be a fun way to work on rhythm in an ensemble setting! I’ll keep you posted (and hopefully share some videos!) along the way.