2010 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Early Afternoon

Exhibitor Showcase Alfred Publications Exploring Piano Classics
by Nancy Bachus

Nancy Bachus walked attendees through the Exploring Piano Classics Repertoire and Technique Books in the Preparatory Level, Level 1, and Level 2, sharing anecdotes and historically relevant tidbits about each piece. When discussing the Technique Book she stated that there are some people who subscribe to the idea that technique should be learned from the repertoire. She, however, subscribes to the philosophy that your technique is what you bring to the piece that enables you to play it well. All of the Repertoire Books come with a CD, so she played a few selections for us. The Repertoire Books also contain great cultural and musical information to enable the student to understand the time period in which the piece was written. Labels on the side of each page also identify the piece as either Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, or Modern. This is a great introduction into the classics!

Nancy referenced a workshop she attended last week by Rebecca Johnson in which she stated that all children have a need for aesthetic beauty. She said that she believes that and that she believes she has created a series that will enable students to experience that.

“Technique is only a means to an end, but without that means we will never reach the end.” Josef Levin

2010 MTNA Conference – Poster Session and More Exhibits!

Throughout the conference, an area of the Exhibit Hall is devoted to posters displaying research conducted by teachers on a variety of topics related to music. It’s informative to walk through and look at the displays with the opportunity to discuss the topics with those who conducted the research.

Here, Anna Marie Isenhower displays a very attractive poster depicting her efforts toward Integrating Dalcroze Education Into Private Piano Lessons for Beginning Students. She shared some great, practical ideas to use with students that will help incorporate movement into the lesson time!

Having made my rounds through the whole Exhibit Hall previously, today my plan was to go back to a few select booths to purchase the materials I decided to get. At the top of my list was the MusicEd Marketplace to pick up the Nate’s Scale Plates that I mentioned in a post a couple weeks ago. While I was at the booth, I became intrigued by the Maestro game on display. After talking extensively with the creator, Suzanne Fauser, and looking through the correlating materials, I was completely sold and decided to purchase one for my studio. (You’ll be hearing more about this in the coming weeks!)

From there, it was on to the booth featuring the creators of the Pattern Play series, Forrest and Akiko Kinney. I had several questions to discuss with them, and also wanted to purchase copies of the series for use with my students. I am really excited to start incorporating some of the principles and patterns into my teaching! They also graciously agreed to take a picture with me.

2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Late Morning #2

Free Piano Teaching Resources Online!
by Michelle Gordon, NCTM

There was a packed house for Michelle’s workshop! She distributed a handout that was chock-full of great resources in the following categories:
• Free, Download Software in Order to View, Hear, and Print Music
• Piano Teacher’s Websites and Blogs
• Piano Teacher Discussion Boards
• Games
• Music History
• Theory Lessons
• Ear Training
• Free Sheet Music
• Other Neat Stuff

Michelle went through each of the listings, gave live examples through her internet connection, and helped the attendees get a feel for what they could find at each of the sites. She did a great job helping teachers navigate through the vast number of resources available for music teachers online!

Visit Michelle’s website. I believe she is planning to post her handout on the site, so be sure to check it out if you’d like to have a copy of her list of resources.

UPDATE: Michelle sent me a copy of her handout, so you can download it by clicking here.

2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Late Morning

Let’s Play Chamber Music! A Guide for Young Pianists
by Carolyn Bridger

Carolyn began the session by presenting a hypothetical situation in which several young musicians want to play their instruments together and ask their teacher if there is any music at their level that they can learn.

Repertoire resources:
MTNA Website – database of intermediate level chamber music
Kasandra Keeling – repertoire list from 2008 MTNA Conference
Music Libraries – M312 (piano trios), M412 (piano quartets), M512 (piano quintets)
Publishers’ catalogs

What is chamber music? 2-8 players with one person on a part and no conductor. Chamber music began as social entertainment. It still serves much the same purpose. Rather than using the term “accompanist,” which implies a lesser role, the term “collaborative” is being favored to indicate the equal role of each person to work together toward the final musical goal.

Carolyn went on to give ideas for different venues for playing chamber music. Many community centers welcome chamber groups.

Chamber Music Suggestions
Blanchet, Georges – Petites Pieces Tres Faciles en Trio (3) (vln, cel, pno); Eschig
Critelli, Carol – The Empty Birdhouse and Other Songs (9) (vln, cel, pno); Latham
Jones, Henry – Trio for Young players: Variations on a French Tune (vln, cel, pno); Oxford
Kerr, Robert – The American Journey (5) (2 voln, vla, cel, pno); Latham
Kirchner, Theodor – Bunte Blatter (12); (vln, cel, pno); Amadeus
McMichael, Catherin – Summits (4) (vln, cel, pno); Camellia
Peeters, Flor – Larghetto (vln, cel, pno); Schott
Schwartz, Paul – Little Trio (3) (vln, cel, pno); MCA
Scott, Cyril – Cornish Boat Song; Little Folk Dance (vln, cel, pno); Schott

Chamber Music Websites
Chamber Music America
ACMP – The Chamber Music Network
The Collaborative Piano Blog (are you seeing this, Chris? you made the short list on the handout! :-))

2010 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Mid-Morning

Creating Learning Communities for Young Students
by Stella Sick and Kristin Shoemaker

Online Communities: Goals

The two presenters met last year on the flight home from the conference and discovered that they have a lot in common, including the fact that they both have small studios. They felt like their students were missing out on some of the benefits of being in a larger studio, so they began to explore alternatives.

Four Different Online Communities
Studio Groups
Study Groups
e-Piano Groups
Time-Shifted Groups

Student Equipment Needed
video-conferencing software
* Skype – 2-way, free
* iChat – Mac only platform, up to 6-way
* ooVoo – up to 6-way, flashing commercials, payment plan

Studio Groups
The presenters showed a video clip of a session that took place between a teacher in Minnesota with a student in Arkansas and a student in Zambia. This approach enabled students to connect with a teacher, even when living in remote parts of the world! Kristin shared that one of the students’ moms said that he rated the virtual piano class as one of the “top three coolest experiences in life.” 🙂 Another benefit of using an internet-based group experience is that it enables the teacher to see and hear the instrument on which the student is playing. In one group session, Kristin had one student play a short melody and then had another student attempt to replicate it by ear. Another thing she did was ask the more experienced students to give a word of advice to a new student beginning lessons.

Interestingly, Kristin observed that playing virtually for each other seemed to invoke the same feelings of nervousness in performing for each other as if they had been in the same geographic location.

Study Groups
Even students without a webcam can experience the benefits of virtual group connections via a conference call feature. In the clip she showed, the students did interval ear-training drills with each other in preparation for an upcoming exam. In another clip, one student played a melodic pattern and then the other one played it back. Another perk experienced through this approach is that students took the initiative to help instruct and encourage each other.

e-Piano Groups
In each group, there were three components:
Part 1: Dialogue (get to know each other, share ideas)
Part 2: Perform (share repertoire pieces with each other)
Part 3: Create (compose something together on the piano)

In putting together these groups, Stella and Kristin selected a variety of YouTube videos for the students to watch and then discuss. Students asked questions of each other and talked about what they liked and didn’t like about the performance. Part of the learning process for the students is finding the words to express their musical impressions.

After the dialogue portion of the session, each of the students took turns playing sections of their pieces for each other. Even though the quality in the video clips was poor, it didn’t detract from the group dynamics and encouraging spirit among the students.

Stella and Kristen designed the e-Groups with a very specific structure. Each meeting time had a specific objective. The groups were to meet 4 times over a period of 1-2 months. The students scheduled the meeting times according to their schedule.
Session 1: Melody – each plays one phrase and they go back and forth until they have a good cohesive melody
Session 2: Harmony – select chord progressions
Session 3: Accompaniment – putting the chord progressions together to form a complementary accompaniment
Session 4: Get Creative!

Many teachers incorporate composition and improvisation into lessons, but this transformed the activity from a lesson assignment to a group project. They learned many valuable skills by working together to create a composition, including applied theory, communicating musical terminology, notation, etc. This creative process was a highlight for the students involved in the e-Groups.

Time-Shifted Groups
The presenters use a Facebook group with a private setting. Stella uses this for her college students to get a window into the practice habits of her students. She created her own video with clear instructions as an example for her students to follow. This created a sense of accountability for the students. Kristin prefers using Vimeo because she likes the ease of accessing the video clips. This set-up also enables students to leave feedback for each other.

It was rewarding for the teachers to see students connect virtually and socially with each other. In addition, it seemed to spur them on to greater heights in their musical studies. Students also took greater initiative and responsibility for their learning by continuing with the groups even in the absence of a teacher directing them. Thus, online communities can be very beneficial in encouraging students to blossom musically.

Handouts and additional information are available at stellarpiano.com.

2010 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Early Morning

Exhibitor Showcase – The Frederick Harris Music Co.: Inspiring Creativity at the Piano with Pattern Play – A Look at the Complete Series

This wasn’t the session that I originally planned to attend, but several of my colleagues were so enthusiastic about this series after attending a workshop on it yesterday that I decided to attend.

Forrest and Akiko Kinney began the session with an improvisation at the piano. It was gorgeous! Following the piece, Forrest shared a quote by poet, Wallace Stevens, “Music is feeling, not sound.” He went on to ask: if what you are playing is not on a printed page, not by ear, and not memorized, then where does it come from? It comes from your feelings within. He also shared a humorous illustration to make the point that creativity-encouraging activities often get too bogged down with cognitive details. His illustration was to imagine that you attend a story-writing contest and are told to write a story, but then you are given myriad details that should be incorporated into the story (you must have a princess…and her name is such and such…and she must fall in love with so and so…but then another so and so must come onto the scene, etc.). You become so bogged down cognitively that creativity is stifled. Akiko shared a supporting example of the importance of recognizing feelings as a valid basis for musical expression with students.

The Kinney’s have developed a series that introduces students to their 38 improvisational patterns. What is a pattern? An accompaniment. They use a duet-to-solo model so that students become comfortable improvising at the piano with another person before they are expected to do it on their own. Here is a breakdown of the highlights of each of the four books in the series:

Pattern Play 1
• Explore world-music (African, Persian, and Irish), classical, and popular styles
• Improvise on all black keys and all white keys
• Improvise using major, minor, and blues scales
• Create music with intervals and triads

Pattern Play 2
• Explore world-music (Japanese, Spanish, Caribbean), Medieval, classical, jazz, and blues styles
• Improvise using modes (Dorian, Lydian, etc.)
• Create music with seventh chords
• Create accompaniment patterns with intervals and triads

Pattern Play 3
• Explore world-music (Brazilian), classical, jazz, boogie, blues, and popular styles
• Improvise using scales and modes with one flat and the “major blues scale”
• Create music with triads and 7th and 9th chords

Pattern Play 4
• Explore moods and imagery in music
• Improvise using scales and modes with one and two sharps
• Create music with triads and 7th, 9th, 13th, sus, and diminished chords

How do you know when to end a duet improvisation? You can specify a number of measures, but, again, this bogs down the creativity with too much cognitive information. Plus, it takes away the excitement, the surprise, the sensitivity to the sound.

The Kinney’s then gave an overview of how each piece is laid out in the books. Each piece contains four pages: Duet (Bass), Duet (Treble), Solo, and Trio or Quartet. The Duet (Bass) page, the bass player (typically the teacher) is provided “with the materials for making a repeating accompaniment that creates a rich, supportive environment in which the student feels invited to create melodies.” On the Duet (Treble) page, ideas for creating melodies that complement the bass accompaniment are given. On the solo page, further ideas are given for the student who is ready to try solo improvisation. On the Trio or Quartet page, “explores more ideas for the soloist or reveals how to play the Pattern as a trio. Theory is also incorporated into the books, but it is introduced according to the philosophy that music theory should follow, not precede, creative expression.

One of the teachers in attendance volunteered to serve as the student so that they could demonstrate the improvisation principles in practice. They moved beyond just white key improvisation to various modes and keys. After asking if the volunteer knew a particular key, they stated that you don’t know a key until you’ve created in it. You don’t learn to play, but you play to learn.

After several additional comments and demonstrations, they had two volunteers from the audience (including my friend, Sarah!) demonstrate a trio improvisation. They encouraged teachers to enjoy teaching and to always include surprise and creativity in the lessons!

Oh, also, here’s a fascinating little point of interest that the one introducing the Kinney’s mentioned: Forrest Kinney is a regular performer at the home of Bill Gates. Cool, huh? So maybe if I buy the books and get really good at improvising, some wealthy individual will want me to come play in his home… 🙂

2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Dinner

Tonight, we had an informal get-together for some of us teachers who know each other through blogging or e-mail groups, but had never met in person.

We carpooled over to Albuquerque’s Old Town, where we stopped first at the San Felipe de Neri church, the oldest surviving building in Albuquerque.

After that, we walked over to Church Street and made our way to Church Street Cafe, where we had reservations for dinner.

The restaurant was a quaint, southwestern-styled place that actually extended quite a ways back into some large eating areas. Too bad they didn’t have any more outdoor tables available – it was a perfect evening to dine alfresco!

Here’s a shot of our group, all hailing from various parts of the country, but enjoying this wonderful occasion to meet together and discuss all things teaching…and lots of things not-so-teaching-related!

We all enjoyed the New Mexican cuisine while conversing and getting to know each other better. Truly, one of the best parts of coming to conferences like this is seeing old friends and meeting lots of new ones. Everyone is eager to share helpful resources and exchange ideas that have been successful in their studios. I jotted down several notes with ideas gleaned from our conversations and look forward to implementing them in my own teaching. What a fun evening!

2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Early Evening

There was a bit of a break at the end of the last session, so I decided to meander around the Exhibit Hall. I still had a few more coupons to turn in, and still need to browse about half of the booths. There are so many interesting materials and people to talk to! Plus, I’ve often remarked that every teacher takes home enough complimentary materials to more than cover the cost of conference registration. 🙂

At the Lee Roberts Music Publications booth, Mr. Lovison uses Skype to enable a conference-goer to connect with Robert Pace. So far, I’ve been a very good girl and haven’t bought anything. But I’m making my list and plan to help several exhibitors reduce their take-home inventory tomorrow!

2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Late Afternoon

Independent Music Teacher Forum
presided over by National IMTF Chair, Lezlee Bishop, NCTM

This was an opportunity to raise questions, concerns, or ideas to the MTNA Board of Directors, letting them know what we would like to see them do to meet our needs as independent music teachers. Several teachers expressed a need for support in the areas of insurance and legal representation. A survey was also conducted of those in attendance to assess the motivation and methods of each teacher. Each teacher was asked to select only 3 of the stated teaching philosophies to indicate which ones most closely matched their own priorities and teaching goals. Following are the results of the survey.

How Do You Teach? – Why Do You Teach?

  • My goal is to develop technical skills in my students so that they can participate in as many competitions and festivals as possible. The more cups and judge’s comments, the better! (1 affirmative response)
  • My goal is to develop students who are capable sight readers and skilled sight players of music. (5 affirmative responses)
  • My goal is to teach appropriate style and interpretation in a wide range of repertoire. (13 affirmative responses)
  • My goal is for my students to be well rounded musicians, with a solid and practical understanding of music theory, history, ear-training, and technique. (21 affirmative responses)
  • My goal is to have highly structured music lessons, geared towards conservatory certification, or entrance into a collegiate music degree program. (1 affirmative response)
  • My goal is to be flexible, to allow my students to learn their favorite styles of music, as well as accompanying skills to help them interact musically with their peers. (11 affirmative responses)
  • My goal is to have students who play well, and to guide them with sound educational practices and opportunities to become music teachers themselves. (3 affirmative responses)
  • My goal is to have students with high scores on comprehensive state, national, and international music testing programs. (no affirmative responses)
  • My goal is to emphasize musical improvisation and composition skills to help my students understand and appreciate how music is structured. (2 affirmative responses)
  • My goal is to help my students develop a lifelong love of music as performers, music consumers, and concert attendees. (25 affirmative responses)

2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Mid-Afternoon

Efficient Learning and Memorizing when Practicing to Perform
by Barbara Fast, NCTM

Ms. Fast shared statistics from expertise research of ice-skaters. The research indicated that ice skaters intended to practice more difficult elements, but practiced easier moves instead. However, in their post-practice diaries they reported practicing more difficult elements. Recall was also incorrect. There is indication that we feel like we have spent more time doing that which is more difficult.

On another note, research has also shown that children do better when they have adult supervision in their practicing. We should aim to involve the parents. When students were given music in which they were disinterested, they just tended to play through it; however those who chose their own music designed elaborate practice strategies to learn their pieces well. Importantly, it is practice strategies rather than the length of study that influences performance.

Practice Strategies of Top 3 Performers:
1. Played hands together early.
2. Practiced with inflection [musicality] early.
3. Practice was thoughtful (evidenced by silent pauses).
4. Errors avoided and fixed immediately
5. Precise location, source of error identified
6. Tempo of performance trials varied systematically
7. Target passages were repeated until the error was corrected

Another research report revealed that the pianists who gave the best performances increased the length of music practice segment in middle-stage of practice.

Suggestions for Teachers:
“Can you teach me how to do this?”
“Can you explain to me what you are doing?”
“Is what you are doing working? Why not?”
“In order to do this, you will need to… [specific, not general, practice suggestions]”

Sports Psychology: Blocked and Variable Practice
If golfers could be convinced to go from one shot to the next, without stopping to fix any mistakes, there was a slower learning than those who did repetitive block practice. However, in the end, those golfer rose to a higher level of playing ability than those who did the repetitive practice.

The Practice Revolution by Philip Johnston
A very popular book among students at her university. Contains some interesting strategies built on the idea that you should always look for ways to vary and change your practice.
* Break a piece into sections and label them from worst to best.
* Give student only a short section from a piece.
* Assign specific metronome marking.
* Number the piece into zones and randomly select numbers from a cup to determine practice order.
* Play with eyes “glued” to the music.
* Just work on transitions.

Introducing a New Piece: Getting Them Hooked
• Teachers should take the responsibility to help their students fall in love with the music they are learning. Providing a sound model (e.g. teacher, demo, CD, YouTube) of the piece is very helpful!
• Make it easy.
• Identify parts of the piece that play to their strength.
• Look for patterns in the music.
• Give students the essential tools; let them experience the correct technique in a passage in the lesson.
• Tap the rhythm on the fallboard to practice coordination separate from the notes.

Memorization Practice Strategies
• Some students memorize holistically, developing a concept of the entire piece. Others practice in segments, breaking the piece down into smaller parts. Some are addictive, systematically lengthening musically meaningful sections. Some memorize serially, just playing as far as possible. These are the four categories of memorization.
• Research showed that difficult passes in the middle of a phrase were the most prone to memory errors. These areas need more reinforcement.

Memory is Context Dependent
Students who played their pieces fine by memory in their regular practice environment experienced considerable memory loss when the performance took place in a different setting. Even in the same room, transitions from one instrument to another caused memory loss experiences. This is why it is so critical for us to give students lots of opportunities to perform on different pianos.

Practicing to Perform
• Use verbal cues in passages as a way to focus on the musical elements (e.g. in a forte passage, say “forte”).
• Use visualization (a technique used extensively by athletes).
• Write in detail about an upcoming performance. Be positive. Can also writes scripts for pre-performance and post-performance.

Guides to Practicing (Available through Hal Leonard) by Nancy O’Neill Breath
Playing Your Best When it Counts: Mental Skills for Musicians (available in 2010) by Bill Moore