Great Composers and Their Music: Lapbook and Biography Sets

Have you seen the collection of composer lapbook and biography sets that Joy Morin, of the Color in My Piano blog, has created and made available in her store? What a fabulous and memorable way to teach music history to students and/or children! Growing up, I loved to create my own lapbooks to document and share the things I had learned in various subject areas, so the prospect of using this approach to teach about composers and their music is very appealing to me.

Joy uses these as the curriculum for her homeschool music appreciation class – a fabulous approach that I think any homeschool family would love! I can also see using them for a summer piano/music camp or even as an ongoing group class theme throughout the year. There are lots of possibilities!

A Super Fun Silent Movie Project

In the November/December 2012 issue of Clavier Companion magazine, Penny Lazarus wrote a fascinating article called, “Silent Movie Music in the Piano Studio.” This was fresh on my mind when our family was invited to participate in a special talent-sharing night at a local church, so we decided to give the silent movie idea a try. Instead of just finding a silent movie, though, we opted to create our own. We wrote our script/storyboard (not sure you can call it a script if it’s for a silent movie!), gathered our costumes and props, filmed each scene over a weekend, and then showed the movie on an overhead screen while providing the music live at the event. It turned out to be a ton of fun and was a huge hit with the audience!

Here’s the original silent movie (I recommend turning the sound on this video all the way off and using the sound from the following video so you can hear the music selections from the live performance):

Also, anyone want to take a guess as to what part I play in the film? :-)

Here’s the video from the live performance (I recommend playing this simultaneously with the above video so you can listen to the music selections while watching the silent movie):

References and Resources:

 

Music:

 

The entire November/December 2012 issue of Clavier Companion is one of the most interesting magazines I’ve read! I highly recommend subscribing to and reading it. Here’s one other practical, imaginative idea from an article by Donald Sosin called, “Sound and Silents” that I want to try with my students at our next group class:

“…ask for two volunteers from the audience and have them walk in a neutral way towards each other onstage a few times, exchanging a letter as they pass. The pianists take turns creating different moods. I caution the actors never to alter what they are doing. The only thing that changes is the music, which informs the audience as to what is going on. Depending upon what is played, the scene might look like a teenage romance, a spy film, a horror flick, or an announcement of a tragic death. I often have to keep reminding the actors to ignore the music, so strong is their impulse to react to what they’re hearing.”

Free Improvisation Handbook by Richard Grayson

One of my studio moms posted a link to this video on Facebook:

I thought it was really cool and started checking more into this amazing pianist/improviser, Richard Grayson. After digging a while, I unearthed a link to his Improvising at the Keyboard handbook, a work in progress that is already an incredibly helpful resource for anyone interested in learning to improvise. His explanations and examples are easy to understand and put into practice. I’m looking forward to using it myself and with my students!

Win a $25 iTunes Gift Card from Sight Reader App!

A Guest Post by Michael Lerner of Sight Reader App


We’re really excited to announce the latest version of our innovative iPad app that helps musicians of all levels read music! It’s called Sight Reader and n honor of the New Year and to commence our resolution to become better sight readers, we’re giving away a $25 iTunes gift card to one lucky (sight) reader.

While there are a number of mobile and tablet apps that teach and allow you to practice your reading, the end result is that you become very good at touching a screen. That’s because touching a screen is how you interact with these apps and not by playing your instrument.

What makes Sight Reader different is that you practice reading music by reading on your instrument and Sight Reader has many ways in which you interact with your music. For the very beginner there are animated lessons introducing the basic notes on one of 12 supported instruments. There are then simple exercises to read and play followed by challenges that offer newly generated music with each use to prevent memorization. In addition, students can use flashcards to test how quickly they can identify then play a random note shown on screen.

For the more serious reader, there are Rhythm Only exercises that are a single pitch with infinite rhythm combinations, Note Only exercises which are steady streams of notes at particular rhythms to increase speed and dexterity, Intervals which allow you to practice recognizing intervals more quickly, and Scales so you can practice your scales in all 12 keys.

What’s also important is that everything you play is graded objectively and students can monitor their results. This makes it great for practicing without a teacher present.

Tell us what’s most important in your sight reading practice routine in the comments below. The $25 iTunes gift card winner will be drawn using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Happy reading!

Piano Teaching Tips

One of the most helpful aspects of the Alfred Ledger Lines blog is the Piano Teaching Tips that they post periodically featuring one of their composers giving a little “masterclass” of sorts on how to play one of their pieces. The most recent one is a post by E.L. Lancaster highlighting Midnight Adventure, an etude in the Premier Piano Course Technique book. It’s really cool to read the composer’s own thoughts about the piece, and gain a deeper understanding of how they want it to be played. Plus, you can download a pdf file of the piece with comments from the composer jotted into the score to aid with your understanding. This is such a beneficial resource, especially for new teachers who need practical direction on how to teach students to play excellently and musically.

Evernote: A Fabulous Free App for Lesson Planning

Ever since I started teaching almost 15 years ago I feel like I’ve been searching for ways to organize and streamline lesson planning. From endless lists, to spreadsheets, to binders, to paper files, I’ve tried dozens of different ideas. None of them have accomplished what I really want in the way of planning repertoire and collecting ideas specific to each student. Nothing, that is, until I spent some time over Christmas break exploring the fabulous (and free!) Evernote app!

This is one more reason why I can’t imagine teaching without my iPod Touch at my fingertips. Evernote is optimal for lesson planning purposes because you can create a folder for each student and then create notes within the folder. Notes can include text, photos, links, audio clips, etc. This is a super cool way to record different repertoire excerpts for students that you can play back for them when they’re at the lesson. You can also e-mail the notes, so you could easily use this to record lesson assignments and then send it to the student. There is also a version that you can use on a desktop/laptop computer and sync with your mobile version.

Another cool feature is the ability to create tags. For example, I can create a tag called “music to buy.” Then, whenever I create a note that includes a book or resource that I need to buy for a particular student, I just assign it that tag. On the home screen of Evernote I can select the “Tag” area and all the tags will be sorted alphabetically, quickly allowing me to access the “music to buy” category and see an overview of all the notes containing purchases I need to make. Isn’t that cool? I’m sure there are even more capabilities that I haven’t discovered yet. There are so many possibilities! Is anyone else using the Evernote app for lesson planning? I’d love to hear your ideas on how you’ve used it!

Bring the Sounds of Africa to Your Music Lessons: Guest Post by Alan Grainger

As a music teacher, you’re always looking for ways to brighten up the music room and bring something new to your lessons.

We think we’ve found the perfect instrument.

African drums much like the djembe are the perfect way to spice up your music lessons, and really engage with your students. Not only are they highly unusual and alternative, but they can teach pupils more than just the basic notes.

Here, we take a look at just how you can bring the sounds of Africa to your music lessons:

The benefits of African drums

African instruments can bring a whole host of benefits to education.

Djembe drums are unique instruments that are sure to brighten up your lessons. The goblet-shaped drum – constructed from Mahogany with a goatskin head – is available in a variety of shapes for players of all ages.

The handheld drum is played in a seated position, so is perfect for all children. You don’t need any additional sticks as the drum is played by hand. This all adds to the ease of playing, and increases their appeal to distraction-prone children.

As well as learning a brand new instrument, you can help educate kids in areas other than music.

The djembe is steeped in cultural history; it has been played in religious ceremonies for years. As you teach the instrument, you can also spark pupils’ interest in history, geography, and culture by discussing the origin of the drum, the culturally representative carvings on the body, and the times it would be played.

How to teach them

Before you can teach this drum, you need to be able to play it yourself.

The djembe has five basic notes:

  • Bass
  • Tone
  • Slap
  • Ping
  • Muffled tone

Each of these notes is played by striking the head of the drum in a different way, but each is easy to grasp. To see exactly how to play these notes, check out this great YouTube tutorial.

To teach your students the djembe, start by teaching them these basic tones. As they grasp the notes, encourage them to play more notes in quicker succession. You should then continue to encourage pupils to start playing their own rhythms as well as teaching well known ones.

The beauty of the djembe is that it is playing in a drumming circle. The leader starts off playing one beat, with everyone else joining in and playing their own tunes. If you have a number of students, this is a great way to teach the drum the way it should be played.

Top ways to include the djembe in your lessons

With such an exciting instrument to play with, there are a whole host of ways you can include djembe’s in your music lessons.

As previously mentioned, getting a group of students together to play in a drum circle is a great idea for getting a real feel of the drum. Using djembes, as well as additional hand-held percussion instruments, get pupils to sit in a circle.

Nominate one person to start by tapping out their own rhythm on the djembe. Then, when students feel ready, they can join in. The idea is not to play the same rhythm. Pupils play a complimentary polyrhythm that really enhances the drum circle.

You can also include African drums as part of a generic drum or percussion lesson.

If you’re teaching about different kinds of percussion or drums, including the djembe drum is a great way to spice things up. Include them by teaching children about the different kinds of drums and percussion instrument available. Bring in this new and exciting drum, and encourage students to try out as many as possible.

Bringing the sounds of Africa to your music lessons is one of the best ways to really engage with students. Not only do they learn to love music, they can get a real insight into exactly what makes the djembe so magical.

Djembe Drum Shop is an online retailer that sells a great range of musical instruments for children, including djembe drums, percussion instruments, and school percussion packs. Visit their website to find out more.

Theta Music Winter Competition 2013 Starts Today

Theta Music, one of the best sites for on-line music theory games is commencing their 3rd Annual Ear Training and Music Theory Competition today! This is a great way for teachers and students to have some fun while building their skills. It’s a one-day competition, so sign up and start playing now for your chance to win up to a $30 Amazon gift certificate!

How to Explain and Teach Cross Rhythms

I have several students working on more complex rhythms this year, including a variety of cross rhythms. This requires such an incredible amount of hand independence, and is often very difficult for students to grasp, so I was doing some research to find more resources on the topic. I came across a fabulous blog post with a downloadable PDF called “Cross Rhythms Without Tears” by Christine Brown. The 3-page overview gives some very helpful (and mathematical) explanations, plus a number of excerpts from repertoire where cross-rhythms are encountered, along with suggestions for practicing them. What a great tool that I can pass on to my students!

Beethoven’s Birthday Giveaway and Promotion: Guest Post by Marcia Washburn

One week only! In honor of Beethoven’s 242nd birthday anniversary on December 16, your family can enjoy learning about music together in Marcia Washburn’s all-inclusive e-course, Beethoven Who? Family Fun with Music. No expensive CDs to buy! No prior musical knowledge required!

A $29.99 value but order today for half-price–just $14.99. Special price ends Dec. 16, so don’t put it off. A great gift or something fresh to start your new year in January.

That’s not all! She’s throwing in a free bonus e-book for all who order this week: Teach Your Family to Play the Soprano Recorder. Marcia teaches you how to play the recorder, even if you can’t read a note!

To order, or for more information, go to http://www.marciawashburn.com/BeethovenWho.html.

Remember: this half-price offer ends Dec. 16. Order Beethoven Who? Family Fun with Music now so you won’t miss out on half-price plus the free recorder book.

Marcia is graciously giving away one copy of Beethoven Who? to a Music Matters Blog reader. Just leave a comment below to be entered to win the drawing. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) this Thursday, December 13.