Two Great New Resources!

Many moons ago I, like most music teachers, dreaded the “b” word. We love to teach, to play, to create. But, by and large, we do not like to do bookkeeping. I don’t mind finances at all, but I had such a difficult time collecting money from families or reminding them when they had overdue lesson fees, etc. Then in 2006 that all changed. Music Teacher’s Helper came on the scene and that has forever changed! This is probably the best money I spend every month because once I have everything set up for the year, I create automatic invoicing and the whole process is seamless. Families receive their invoice on the first of each month with their lesson fee amount plus any additional materials, book, or event fees. They can pay on-line or check their account at any time for details.

My posts about MTH always seem to turn into sales pitches, but the main reason I’m posting is because they have finally revamped their IOS app, and I am super thrilled! I do a lot of business from my iPhone, so it’s been a pain not having a working MTH app to record student payments, update info, etc. The new interface looks great, and I can highly recommend the whole MTH package to any teacher looking to make the business side of their studio operations a headache-less venture! (When you click on the links in this post for Music Teacher’s Helper, you’ll receive 20% off your first month and Music Matters Blog will receive a small commission that helps keep this site running.)

I am still pretty much in love with Piano Safari – the latest and greatest (in my humble opinion :-) ) piano method on the market! The students who started and are still working through it have done so well and truly enjoy making music at the piano. Even though they are learning more musically rich music via rote teaching right from the start, the approach to reading rhythms and notation is thorough and effective.

So I was excited to see that the Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards for Level 3 are now available! What’s even better is that if you order the package of all three sets of Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards (and believe me, you want these no matter what method you are using with your students!) are available for 20% off for a limited time. There are so many great ways to use these cards in the lessons (this week we’ve been having fun using rhythm instruments to play the rhythm patterns while selected rhythms from my keyboard provide a steady – but fun – beat in the background!) and the students enjoy having easy-to-manage exercises that they can work on and achieve success in their sight reading endeavors. I have a few students working through the Level 2 books and cards right now, so I’m excited to check out this new set of cards for Level 3!

Overview of PRACTICIA (prac-TIS-ia)

PRACTICIA is an up-and-coming practice app designed to engage teachers, parents, and students in a new, revolutionary way. This app will not only be able to be used as a resource for private teachers, but also band instructors, choir directors, orchestra teachers, etc. Since I am not a music teacher, I don’t have any students to try the app out with…so I decided to do this review/overview a little differently.
First, take a look at PRACTICIA’S promo video on their site and then come back for a Q&A session with the app’s CEO and Co-Founder, Sam Rao, to find out more about what PRACTICIA is!
Q&A with Sam Rao
MMB: Does the app monitor how long a student practices or is that just based on what the student enters?
Rao: Yes! It actually records all practice and presents a live feed of all practice sessions to the teacher. The teacher can instantly give a “Thumbs Up” acknowledging that they noticed the student had practiced. Or they can even make comments on the practice sessions they choose to review…:)
MMB: Is this supposed to be a substitute for an assignment book?
Rao: Yes. It is meant to completely replace the assignment book. In fact, it will also enable the teacher to give Audio, Video instructions in addition to Text instructions. Also, the teacher can reuse the assignments for other students working on the same piece. The parents and students can elect to get email notifications every time an assignment is created or updated, or marked complete.
MMB: Will it only be able to be accessed through a mobile device?
Rao: In the BETA, the tool will only be through mobile device. Over time we will make more and more features available through the web until the whole tool is fully available on PC’s and Macs as well.
MMB: With this app, is your thinking and hope that many teachers will shift to using this approach with most if not all of their students and parents?
Rao: It is our hope that teachers will use this tool with all their students. The more students are participating, the more exciting the practice dynamics become. With PRACTICIA’s unique “group functionality”, teachers can divide their studios into “Practice Teams” and have the teams compete against one another for best average practice times and number of days practiced.
MMB: Do you believe that most kids will have easy access to a mobile device whenever they’re in need of inputting their data into PRACTICIA?
Rao: 
Yes. Most homes have multiple smart devices that they can use. And the number of smart devices in use is growing exponentially.
MMB: Do you think it will create any inconvenience for teachers if some of their students use PRACTICIA and some don’t?
Rao: It should not be inconvenient. Teachers can keep using the traditional ways for students that do not have access to mobile devices. However, more and more people are getting smart devices and this situation should only be temporary in most cases.
MMB: Does this cost anything?
Rao: 
The Beta version will be completely free. Once the full version comes out, there will be a nominal monthly fee for the student to use it. It will be free for teachers and schools.
MMB: I can see where this app could help improve a student’s quantity of practice, but do you think it will help improve the quality of their practice?
Rao: Because every practice session is recorded and can be heard and commented on by the teacher at any time, EVERY practice session becomes a work product that the student is accountable for. Teachers should see a dramatic increase in the QUALITY of the practice!
MMB: There are many teachers who have a large number of students, with the ability to constantly be in communication/interaction with their teachers, wouldn’t that create a much greater workload for the teachers?
Rao: The teachers are free to be as engaged as they feel like they need to be. There is no ability to message through PRACTICIA. Teachers can decide how much or how little time they want to spend spot checking practice sessions. With the ability to create automated Awards, leaderboards at the click of a button, and the ability to reuse assignments and instructions, teachers might find themselves saving time with PRACTICIA while keeping their students more engaged!
Note: Some teachers are excited about the possibility of offering “Practice Coaching” services to their students for a monthly fee. For a set monthly fee, to be determined on a case by case basis, the teacher can commit to commenting on every practice session submitted by the student. Food for thought..:)
MMB: How did you come up with the name PRACTICIA?
Rao: PRACTICIA was not the first name we thought of! We had many iterations. But we gravitated toward that name as our vision of PRACTICIA is that of a “global practice village” i.e a destination, where students go and practice (inspired by destination names ending in “ia” such as “Valencia”, “Iberia”, “Tanzania”, “Mauritania” etc.) Eventually PRACTICIA will become a global social network for practicing…
MMB: What are your top 3 hopes for this new app?
Rao:
-That it ENGAGES students and parents in practicing like never before.
-That it gives teachers (both private and classroom teachers) unprecedented visibility into what goes on in the practice room
-That practicing becomes as exciting, if not more exciting than anything else the students are involved in…:)
Click this link to check out the website for PRACTICIA: PRACTICIA.com
Thanks Sam for giving us a closer look at the PRACTICIA app!
Here are some screen shots of PRACTICIA–>

Review of Ear Master Pro


I have yet to review a product I liked better or found more musically resourceful than Ear Master Pro, an ear training & sight-singing software! This program is loaded with exercises to help improve students’-even teachers’-ear and sight skills, and I found it to be very nicely laid out, as well as user-friendly and effective.

Upon opening the program, you can first choose a mode and activity from the options pictured below. (Yes, there is even a “Jazz” mode! I’m not super familiar with the jazz style and I didn’t delve into that mode extensively, but I do find it pretty neat they have that as a feature.)

Within each activity, there are different modules you can choose from (some activities have over 20 modules while others have 1), and then you can choose what lesson of the module you’d like to start with. Once you do all that, you are set to begin your activity!

I found the interactive interface of Ear Master Pro to be pretty straight forward and easy to navigate which was really nice considering how many features it has. To be quite honest, I really enjoyed some of the activities myself. Naturally, I have a poor sense of rhythm and am definitely a “by sight” pianist, but I thought I’d give a rhythm dictation activity a try and…I ended up liking it. I believe some contributing factors to me liking this training program so much is 1) the good selection of activities, 2) how much you can customize the activities to fit your needs, 3) it has a fun, educational and techy feel, and 4) the fact that it utilizes so many different aspects on the computer: onscreen piano keyboard and staff, computer keys, the ability to use built-in audio functions or hook up a midi keyboard.

One thing I think is huge about this program is the clear sound quality it has. So often ear training games, sites, or CDs have very tinny or muffled sound, and that can really affect the listener’s ability to distinguish what they hear-especially if they are doing melodic dictation. I can see having Ear Master Pro in your studio as a teaching/training tool for your students being incredibly instrumental in helping them improve in areas from simple rhythmic dictation to chord identification.

Even if you’re not convinced yet to go buy your own downloadable copy, you should definitely download the trial version of Ear Master Pro and try it for yourself! There is also a Teacher Edition you can take a look at on the site.

 

 

4 Tips for Writing More Effective Piano Lesson Assignments

The topic of the latest newsletter from Music Educators Marketplace really resonated with me: Tips for Effective Practice Assignments. It always amazes me how often students return to their lesson with very little reference to their assignment book during the week. (I’m not the only one that deals with this, right?!) But the more I’ve pondered this, the more I realize that some of the fault lies with me and my approach to writing assignments. I think as teachers we may subconsciously write the assignments more for our own benefit than the student’s! So, I think it’s definitely worth exploring ways to make assignments more effective. Here are the 4 Tips shared in the newsletter:

1. Consider Visual Appeal

2. Include Specific Goals and Specific Suggestions for Results

3. Engage the Student as a Collaborator in Creating Practice Steps

4. Expect Student Engagement with the Assignment at Home

Click here to view the whole newsletter with more elaboration of each tip. I’m doing lots of revamping of my studio for this fall, so I’m excited to take these tips into consideration and figure out ways to make student assignments more effective so that their practicing, in turn, will be more effective during the week. If you have any additional tips that have worked well for you, please do share!

Overview of Go for the Gold! Recorder by Kevin Babuder

Go for the Gold! Recorder is a multi-touch book created for a Mac or iPad and can be purchased through iTunes to read and enjoy in your iBooks. This is a beginner edition and from what I’ve read, to take full advantage of the interactive aspects the book offers, it’s best to use an iPad.

Not only will readers learn the basics of playing the recorder, but they will learn about different sports as well as some fun facts about different countries’ geography, culture, and music. This book has somewhat of an “Olympic” theme to it!

I love it when multiple subjects are incorporated into one resource because, at least from my own experience, when events, historical figures, and/or subjects are correlated, I tend to retain that information a lot longer. I’m not sure why exactly this is, but it seems like our brains naturally gravitate toward retaining pieces of information that relate to each other-especially when they’ve been learned at the same time. The ability God’s given our mind and memory is incredible!

According to the website, it appears that when you purchase the interactive book, the student receives a one-year subscription and it’s not a one time purchase. That detail is pretty unclear if you’re just looking at the product in iTunes. On the website, it shows that Go for the Gold! Recorder has some competition involved and that there’s also a “teacher” subscription you can purchase. Check out the website for more details about these things!
To view on iTunes:

Review of The Piano Bench Mag

Karen Gibson, publisher of The Piano Bench Mag, has established an “on the go” music magazine for teachers! Whether waiting for an appointment or just sitting at home, you’ll find a plethora of different ideas in her monthly publication.

The magazine has a specific topic for each month. December focused on Practice, January was Games, February takes a look at Students, and the most recent focuses on Technique. I really like how Gibson includes a variety of articles, as well as resources and helpful tidbit pages. I am much more inclined to look through an entire magazine if I can acquire information apart from just reading articles. Each monthly issue seems to be pretty substantial, too, so you’re pretty well guaranteed a good amount of information and ideas!

If you’d like to purchase an issue or subscribe to The Piano Bench Mag – providing resources and inspiration for piano teachers, it’s available for mobile devices through Apple Newsstand and Google Play (for Android). You can also find The Piano Bench Mag on Facebook.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/the-piano-bench-mag/id712098279?ls=1&mt=8

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bdhjefeedd.gfcbdhjefeedd

https://www.facebook.com/PianoBenchMag

To try it out, I downloaded it to my iPhone Newsstand (which I have never used before) and I could navigate it pretty well, but from what I could tell, the formatting for the iPad version looked nicer.

If you want a free 3 month subscription, be one of the first three to comment “subscribe me” and the free subscription will be yours!

UltraMusician

In a world of advancing technological capabilities, I love discovering new inventions that create more efficient ways to do things or provide another outlet to learn.

Even though I have not personally tried UltraMusician, I like the approach that David Mann has developed for people to learn music on the site. UltraMusician teaches full music comprehension by using 4 of the most essential skills (instrument, theory, sound, and notation) to become a well-rounded musician.

The program is designed with a game-like interface that moves from one skill to another so that everything remains cohesive. And it’s not just designed for youngsters but anyone wanting to learn music.

Below is a video giving further detail about this total music comprehension site and how it works, as well as introducing their desire to launch development of the “UltraMusician Mobile App”.

If you’d like to support UltraMusician’s App Project, head on over to their Kickstarter page before their campaign ends March 2.
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1538038397/the-ultimate-mobile-app-for-learning-music?ref=search

You can also check out UltraMusician for yourself by going to their website:

http://www.ultramusician.com