2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Early Afternoon

Alfred Exhibitor Showcase Piano for Busy Teens
by Melody Bober and Gayle Kowalchyk

Melody Bober and Gayle Kowalchyk launched this workshop with a lively duet performance. Ms. Kowalchyk addressed the changing culture of teenagers in the 21st Century, in particular due to the impact of technology. She referenced a show on Oprah some time back in which a family was asked to live without any technology for an entire week. They hardly knew how to live their lives! Teenagers’ attention is also divided with homework, after-school jobs, community involvement, sports participation, and more. Consistency in practicing is the key! Practice time is limited, so giving students effective practice strategies is essential.

The impetus behind the Piano for Busy Teens course was observing the study guides that school teachers sent home with students prior to a test. As piano teachers, we are typically a small slice of a student’s life; this is, nevertheless, an important slice of their life! The three books in the afore-mentioned series include a Study Guide with a 1-Minute FYI, a 5-Minute Warm-Up, a 15-Minute Practice Plan, and a 5-Minute Finishing Touches.

Melody Bober took over at this point, and walked attendees through the books, explaining the layout and concepts of each piece. Each book contains jazzy styles, famous masterworks, themes from Classical works, a “showstopper,” a technical exercise, and a duet. She performed several selections from each book and the music is wonderful!

After the overview of the Piano for Busy Teens series, Ms. Kowalchyk introduced a series of books by Mike Springer called Not Just Another Scale Book. The book contains pieces that utilize each of the scales as a way to encourage students to practice and master their scales. Each book also contains a scale that has three recordings for each scale. The first is a piano solo and orchestrated accompaniment at the performance tempo. Next is the orchestral accompaniment alone at a slower practice tempo. The third is the orchestral accompaniment alone at the performance tempo.

The final part of the session was an overview of the newest recital suites that have been published by Alfred. These include: The Dakotas by Melody Bober, The Carolinas by Dennis Alexander, Tennessee Treasure by Martha Mier, Along the Mississippi by Wynn-Anne Rossi, and The Grand Canyon by Catherin Rollin. Melody Bober played us parts of each of the movements from the suite she composed. She shared an idea she received from another teacher to give a different state to each student and have them choose one of the movements to prepare. Then she [the teacher] played the part of tour guide and put together a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted information about each state. Their studio took the tour “on the road” to nursing homes – a great idea! Dennis Alexander then took the stage to play his suite for us. Next up was Martha Mier, playing her suite. It was a really nice touch having each of the composers present to play their compositions for the group.

The workshop concluded with an ensemble rendition of Fiesta Cha-Cha, complete with Alfred’s own Mariachi band. 🙂

2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Late Morning

Sight-Reading Strategies for the Beginning and Intermediate Student
by Dr. Pamela D. Pike

Dr. Pike began her session by iterating the importance of sight-reading and the realization that most of our students will become amateur musicians who need to be fluent sight-readers.

“Coping with unexpected change is the goal. This is what real sight-reading is – playing the notes, rhythms, dynamics that you know, but in a context you have not played before.” Richard Chronister

Sight-reading involves:
1. Perception (decoding patterns)
2. Kinesthetics (executing motor skills)
3. Memory (recognizing patterns)
4. Problem-solving skills (improvising and guessing)

Dr. Pike proceeded to expound on each of these areas and offer additional insights based on her research on the subject.

Gestalt Principles – we look at lines and shapes in groupings and recognize them as familiar objects based on past experience. Similarly, in music-reading, an excellent sight-reader will immediately assimilate notes into recognizable/familiar chord patterns because of having experienced it previously.

Helpful terminology to understand sight-reading research:
Perceptual Span – how far ahead the pianist is looking in the score.
Eye-Hand Span – how long a pianists can keep playing once the score has been taken away.

Playing an instrument involves two things: Perceiving and processing visual cues and executing fine-motor skills. Research has shown that pianists who have a good sense of keyboard topography are more successful at sight-reading. The critical link that connects the visual and kinesthetic aspects of sight-reading is memory. In many respects, it is only exposure to great amounts of sight-reading material and repertoire that can effectively prepare one to be a fluent sight-reader. The more you play music, the more you build a cognitive memory of familiar components contained in music.

How can we help our students develop this skill?
Consistency and the amount of time matter! There has been a lot of buzz lately about the 10,000 hours required to develop expertise in a skill. The same holds true with sight-reading. Regular sight-reading should be assigned and completed on a daily basis (10 minutes of dedicated work on this a day is more effective than a 30-minute block of time once a week). Students also must develop good problem-solving skills. They have been spoon-fed material and are accustomed to working in groups, rather than individually.

Repertoire pieces with broken chord patterns should be played as blocked chords. Dr. Pike encouraged attendees to compose written exercises to help students see the chord patterns. Based on research and experience, students will sacrifice rhythm in favor of pitch almost every time. For that reason, Dr. Pike posits that pitch drills should be more numerous than rhythm drills. She continued by displaying additional repertoire pieces and explaining how she would help students “chunk” the pieces to aid sight-reading.

2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Mid-Morning

Not Only Fur Elise: Gorgeous Unknown Compositions by Well-Known Composers
by Dr. Peter Mack, NCTM

In this standing room-only workshop, Dr. Mack entertained, educated, and inspired us with performances of some of his favorite mostly-unknown works. He began the workshop with a lovely playing of Rachmaninoff’s Fragments. He then proceeded to play little snippets of many other selections. Dr. Mack expressed his affinity for slow, sad, sentimental pieces, letting us know that most of his selections would be of this flavor. 🙂 Here are a few of the highlights.

Bach, Johann Sebastian – Four Duets, BWV 802-805 (publ. Konemann/Mel Bay; also in Henle 139). Also available from Konemann is a book of preparatory pieces for the Well-Tempered Clavier.
Bach/Marcello – Transcription of Concerto for Oboe, BWV 974 (Konzertbearbeitungen, pub. Konemann/Mel Bay K171)
Bartok, Bela – Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs (pub. Boosey and Hawkes)
Beethoven, Ludwig van – 5 Variations on “Rule Britatania” WoO 79 (from Variationen, Vol. III, pub. Konemann/Mel Bay K201)
Chopin, Frederic – Contredanse (Paderewski edition of complete works, Vol. XVIII)
Chopin/Liszt – “Chants Polonais,” Spring (Pub Editions Durand DC0987300)
Debussy, Claude – “Pour la Danseuse avec Crotales” from “Six Epigraphes antiques” (Etudes, Children’s Corner etc.; pub. Dover 0-486-27145-5)
Faure, Gabriel – Improvisation, Op. 84, No. 5, 3 (Faure Selected Pieces; pub. J.B. Cramer)
Grieg, Edvard – “In Ola Valley” Op. 66, No. 14 from Norwegian Folk Songs (Pub. Konemann/Mel Bay K175
Haydn, Joseph – Variations on “Gott, erhalte” Hob. III: 77/II, (“Klavierstucke, Vol. 2,” Pub. Konemann/Mel Bay, K 219)
Liszt, Franz – “Au Lac de Wallenstadt” from “Annees de Pelerinage” (Pub. Dover 0-486-25627-8)
Mendelssohn, Felix – Gondellied in A major (in Complete Works for piano solo, Vol I”, Pub. Dover 0-486-23136-4)
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus – Menuett, KV355 (594a) (Klavierstucke, Pub. Henle 133)
Prokofiev, Sergei – “Mephisto Waltz” (Pub. Dover 0-486-28551-0)
Ravel, Maurice – “ A la Maniere de Borodine” (Pub. Dover 0-486-29806-X)
Satie, Eric – “Sonatine Bureaucratique” (Pub. Masters Music Publications M 2116)
Scarlatti, Domenico – Sonata in a minor, K.3, L. 378
Schubert, Franz – Allegretto in c minor (Klavierstucke Vol. II; pub. Konemann/Mel Bay)
Schumann, Robert – Faschingsschwank aus Vienne; Esp. Romanze and Intermezzo (Pub. Peters 2312)
Scriabin, Alexander – “Prelude for the Left Hand Alone, Op. 9, No. 1” from “Piano Music for One Hand” (Pub. Schirmer)
Tchaikovsky, Peter – Der Puppe Grablegung/Die neue Puppe (in “Leichte Klavierstucke, Vol 2; pub Henle 135)

Dr. Mack concluded his presentation with a “Name that Tune” game designed to root out “the real piano nerds.” His witty sense of humor and anecdotal comments coupled with many gorgeous pieces made the whole workshop truly delightful!

2010 MTNA Conference – Monday Early Morning

Even with an 8:00 a.m. start time, the Exhibitor Showcase highlighting the much-anticipated new piano method by Helen Marlais was full! The method is called Succeeding at the Piano and is gorgeous! Dr. Marlais is an engaging presenter and quickly captured the attention and interest of all in attendance as she worked her way through the new materials.

The Lesson and Technique Book incorporates simple technical exercises to enable students to build excellent musicianship and technique right off the bat. She employs a discovery method to encourage students to think about musical sounds before the corresponding terminology is actually introduced. Little green boxes after many of the pieces encourage students to assess their playing.


Dr. Marlais also mentioned that she likes to introduce aspects of musicianship as early as possible, introducing phrasing as early as page 33. Intervals are also introduced very early, to reinforce good reading skills (intervals of a 2nd through 5th are introduced before the student ever begins playing on the staff). The flashcards that correlate with this level contain lots of intervallic reading excerpts as well.

After going through the Lesson and Technique Book, Dr. Marlais gave a quick overview of the Recital Book and the Theory and Activity Book and then through all of the Grade 1 books .

Each session attendee received a packet from FJH containing the three books (Lesson and Technique, Recital, Theory and Activity) of both the Preparatory and the Grade 1 levels. The method is made up of lots of folk tunes, time-tested classics, jazz-inspired duets, and solos by composers such as: Timothy Brown, Kevin Costley, Mary Leaf, Helen Marlais, Edwin McLean, and Kevin Olson.

2010 MTNA Conference – Sunday Night

The evening of the first full day of the conference concluded with a recital by the American Pianists Association (APA).

Joel Harris, APA’s artistic director, commenced the recital with a brief history and explanation of the association and its activities. The program was as follows:

Prelude and Fugue in A Minor by Bach/Liszt, performed by Stephen Beus

Prelude in B Minor by Bach/Siloti and Sheep May Safely Graze by Bach/Petri, performed by Spencer Myer

The Goldberg Project by Bach/Tepfer, performed by Dan Tepfer

From Goyescas (El Amor y La Muerte and Los Requiebros) by Granados, performed by Spencer Myer

Sonata Tragica, Op. 39, No. 5 by Medtner, performed by Stephen Beus

Jazz Standard, performed by Dan Tepfer (please especially note the shoes… :-))

Fascinating Rhythm (The Man I Love and I Got Rhythm) by Gershwin/Wild, performed by Spencer Myer

2010 MTNA Conference – Sunday Dinner

A couple weeks before the convention, I received an e-mail from our Division, inviting all members to attend a dinner at Tucanos Brazilian Grill. After checking the website to confirm my initial thought, I immediately signed up! I’ve heard people tell about these Brazilian restaurants where the waiters walk around with skewers of meat and slide chunks onto your plate at your request.

Ever since I first heard about it, I’ve wanted to try such a restaurant. Well, let me tell you, I was not disappointed! From the extensive salad bar to the parmesan rolls to the roasted vegetables to the grilled meats, everything was fabulous! A huge thanks to our West Central Division Director-Elect for organizing the dinner for all 58 of us!

2010 MTNA Conference – Sunday Later Afternoon

Group Piano Games: Making Learning More Enjoyable
by Erin K. Bennett, NCTM

Ms. Bennett began with an introduction, reminding us of how fun group classes can be. We shouldn’t become too bogged down in logistics. She then went on to outline thirteen reasons for incorporating games into your teaching:

Why Incorporate Games?

  • games hold students’ attention
  • students relax and learn faster when they’re having fun
  • students learn to work cooperatively
  • students feel progress and a sense of accomplishment
  • students are empowered to learn, rather than be taught
  • students will happily repeat games
  • games appeal to multiple learning approaches
  • games are adaptable to different ages and different subjects
  • games create a manageable sequence of skills
  • memory training happens naturally through play
  • games allow teachers to evaluate comprehension and track student progress
  • games infuse joy into the structure of the classroom
  • games are fun for teachers, too!

Ms. Bennett went on to outline two different types of games:
Teaching Games: design to instruct (new skills, drill one component of a more complex skill); and
Performance Games: design to assess (listen to and evaluate student progress, good for skills approaching level of mastery)

Specific Teaching Game Ideas
Relays – can be used for learning repertoire by having students line up behind the piano bench and take turns playing one measure at a time, while keeping the rhythm flowing seamlessly throughout the piece.

Telephone – person at the back of the line taps a rhythm pattern on the back of the person in front of them. That person then taps it on the person in front of them. Continue this pattern until it reaches the front of the line. Compare the final rhythm with the rhythm that started the game. This could also be adapted to a melodic by-ear game.

Changing Harmonies (pictured above) – one student improvises a tonal composition with a very slow harmonic rhythm. The remaining students are arranged in a line and walk around the room in one direction until they hear the harmony change; then they change directions. If a dominant 7th chord is played, the whole class freezes until a new harmony is played.

Specific Performance Game Ideas
Jeopardy – choose categories and questions related to applied keyboard theory; let each team of 3-4 students come up with their own team name. After the question is fully asked, whichever person stands first gets to represent their team at the piano (alternatively, regardless of who stands first, the team of the first one standing may select any team member to represent them). In order to most effectively demonstrate the game, Ms. Bennett had the whole audience participate in a playing of the game. Categories included: I-IV-I-V-I Progression, Harmonization, Sight-Reading, and Major Scales. (The Jeopardy PowerPoint template was downloaded from Microsoft Online for free.)

Musical Chairs – have one student begin playing their repertoire (its helpful to specify a minimum number of measures) while the others walk around the chairs/benches that have been placed around the room. The one who is without a seat is the next one to perform. In between the performances, the teacher can offer feedback/suggestions on the performance. (An audience member suggested that if a studio doesn’t have the space, you could use a set of black cards, with one red card mixed in, that the students pass around while the music plays; the one left with the red card is the next one to play.)

Scale Races – includes preliminaries, quarter-finals, semi-finals. Two students are placed at a piano/keyboard and are given a specific scale to play. The one who plays the fastest and most accurate wins and advances to the next level. Beauty and accuracy trump speed.

Rhythm Bee – students line up single file and are shown a rhythm card that they must clap and count. Could also be used for sight-reading excerpts.

Truth or Dare – especially useful in preparing for a large-scale evaluation. Truth cards would contain specific skills. Dare would contain more challenges. Broader categories could be used, such as: Truth=minor scales, two octaves, hands together, as determined by the teacher; Dare=improvisation only, or sight-reading only.

Her parting words? Be fun!

2010 MTNA Conference – Sunday Late Afternoon

Develop Active Listeners Through a Dynamic Series of Group Piano Activities
presented by Cindy Tseng, NCTM

Ms. Tseng outlined five types of listening activities:

  • Expressive Copycat
  • Creative Story Effects
  • Group Recording Session
  • Music Review
  • YouTube Listening

She went on to give specific activity ideas that could be implemented in each category. In Expressive Copycat, she emphasized that students may understand that a forte marking means loud, but they don’t hear the difference between how they are playing and what a forte sound should sound like. Expressive Copycat utilizes fun activities that encourage students to listen and then imitate sounds made either by the teacher, or even by other students (in the Team Copycat activity).

In Creative Story Effects, students are encouraged to write a short story accompanied by keyboard sound effects. Ms. Tseng showed numerous video clips of her students “in action” to help us actually see what the ideas look like in practice. This was very helpful! Her students did this as a group activity, enabling even shy students who might otherwise be resistant to improvisational activities to be incorporated into the activity. She also encouraged reading a familiar children’s book while improvising sound effects. This is a great way to reinforce new concepts as students learn them in their lesson.

In Group Recording Session, students become aware of how they are playing and how they sound as a group. Then, they are encouraged to do both a group assessment and a self assessment. She demonstrated this by having all the attendees sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” together and then recording and playing it back for us so that we could assess it. She gave a list of elements for us to consider and asked how we could make it more interesting. Various audience members gave suggestions: add harmony, shape the phrases, stress specific syllables. Then, she recorded again and asked for input on how we felt about the second recording. It was amazing how much more musical the second recording was, in part just because each vocalist was more aware of the musical components of their singing.

There are a variety of ways to evaluate a recording session: Re-analyze the score, use musical element flashcards to consider particular elements, take the score to the next level, two way demonstration. The teacher may have an idea of what would improve the quality of the music, but it’s important to lead the student to his/her own understanding of what will sound better. To encourage higher level performance, Ms. Tseng has each group put together a music album. Each group selects a group name, and group members take turns being the group manager from week to week. The results of this activity are that students play under “performance mode” and learn to articulate what they have heard and how to identify problems and postulate solutions.

In the Music Review activities, both student and teacher performances are used. Sometimes the teacher should play a piece very well; other times it is beneficial to play without dynamics and musical phrasing just to help students realize the difference in sound. Ms. Tseng has developed music review sheets on which specific elements are outlined – one sheet is designed to be used without the score and included areas like texture, form, and articulations; one is designed to be used without the score, and students are expected to identify what they heard or didn’t hear in specific measures. Students can provide either written or verbal feedback.

Students are encouraged to do YouTube listening using a “Listening Guide Sheet.” This is a great venue for observing ensemble playing and introducing new concepts. They are also building a musical vocabulary that enables them to understand and communicate effectively. To create a “Listening Guide Sheet,” select three to four areas for them to listen for from a list of options: dynamics, articulation, tempo, mood, texture, rhythmic pattern, melodic contour, harmony, silence. Students are especially motivated to learn pieces that they’ve listened to and evaluated!

This was an incredibly inspiring workshop that was fabulously presented! I look forward to pondering these ideas much more in the coming weeks.

2010 MTNA Conference – Sunday Early Afternoon

After the morning hot air balloon excursion, it was time to hit the conference!

I began the afternoon with a trip to the Exhibit Hall. One of the fun parts about the conference is walking around the Exhibit Hall, browsing all the materials, talking with other teachers, and getting specific information from those selling their products.

I came across this charming little digital harpsichord, designed to look like a period instrument. Amazing!

Each attendee receives a program and coupon book. The coupon book is full of slips provided by the exhibitors that can be turned in at their booth for free gifts. This is a fun incentive to make your way around the whole exhibit hall and check out the wide variety of products.

The first afternoon session was an Exhibitor Showcase. I attended the Kjos showcase, led by the dynamic Charlene Zundel. The session began with an interactive game and then she spent the majority of the time discussing the theory books and encouraging attendees to make theory work fun for their students. She also announced that Kjos now has all of the corresponding listening exercises available on their website for the students to use on their own in between lessons.

Those in the workshop enjoyed participating in the games for a chance to win music bucks. All the money earned could then be used to bid on auction items at the end of the session. The competitive spirit definitely comes out in workshops like this!

Quick Update – No Internet

Just wanted to post a quick update for all of you following along and attending the conference virtually. So far, the internet connection at the convention center is proving to be completely uncooperative. I have spoken with the convention center personnel and they are aware of the problem, but can’t seem to fix it. So, if things don’t improve, I may have to settle for just taking notes and pictures throughout the day and then posting them at night. One of the nearby hotels is graciously letting me use their business center to post this update, but I have no other way to access the internet throughout the day during the sessions – extremely frustrating!

Sorry for the long delays. I appreciate your patience and hope that you will still benefit greatly from the notes – even if you have to read them all at once instead of in increments throughout the day. 🙂