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!

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!

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.

KMTA Conference this Weekend

I’ve refrained from live-blogging the whole conference, but thought I would share a brief post from our state music teachers conference this year. We are currently enjoying a masterclass with our conference artist, Gila Goldstein:  

It’s been inspirational to spend time with colleagues sharing ideas, learning about new repertoire, listening to beautiful music, and growing as teachers. If you have the opportunity to attend any local, state, or national workshops or conferences, I highly recommend it as a way to re-energize your teaching!

Year End Awards Ceremony and Piano Recital

For the conclusion of our C2 practice incentive theme this year, we had a special awards ceremony in conjunction with a studio recital this Monday evening. We began the evening with a couple rounds of Musical Wheel of Fortune, then moved into student performances.

Levi performs “Little Robot”

Daniel performs his own arrangement of Viva La Vida”

Heidi performs the theme from Beauty and the Beast

After each of the students performed, I recognized them for their growth in character and competence throughout the year, identifying a particular power card from our theme that I thought best represented each student. After sharing a little about their growth they got to select their choice of an award: a selection of mugs filled with various goodies.

Mercy is the top point scorer for the year and receives “The Battery Award” for the way she energizes others with her enthusiasm and hard work!

After they selected their awards I asked them what made them choose the award they did. Interestingly (thankfully!) each of them chose based on the content in the mug. I asked them how that content got there. They quickly replied that I put it there.

Levi is given “The Engine Award” for his demonstration of steady, dependable character throughout the year.

So I made the point that just like they chose the mug they wanted based on the content they wanted from it and that content was placed there intentionally, they will only be able to get out of life what is placed into it. In other words, if they want to be a responsible, dependable, trustworthy person, they have to put those qualities into their lives. And if they want to be an excellent, artistic pianist, they have to put those skills into their lives. And then I reminded them of our theme verse for this year:

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations.” Ephesians 3:20-21

There is a power greater than any power in the world that will enable them to accomplish even more than what their minds can imagine right now! I can’t wait to see how that plays out in each of their lives as they seek God and let Him grow them in character and competence in music and every other area of life!

And of course we ended the evening with a time of snacks and fellowship!

I’m so grateful for an awesome group of students and families!

An Embarrassing Confession

I’ve known this for a while, but it’s one of those things that’s easy to ignore as a piano teacher, perhaps supposing that eventually there will be an epiphany and the student will automatically know it. But sometimes you have to confront the truth. Embarrassing as it may be. I recently decided that it was time to own up to the reality.

What reality, you ask?

The reality that most of my students do not read music fluently.

Are you shocked? Rightfully so.

In my preparations for my most recent workshop (Facts and Fun: Great Games for Teaching Music Theory) that I presented to several local associations, and honest reflections on the quality of performances at our Christmas Recital and Dinner, I finally had to face this reality. Granted, I have a relatively small studio now of students who have only been playing for several years (or less), but I realized that I have no business giving them printed music with notes, terms, symbols, and more that they cannot readily identify and execute at the piano. I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s good to give students a challenge and let them rise to the occasion. But the truth is that I’m not being fair to them when I take this approach. I am not adequately preparing them to successfully play (let alone perform!) some of the printed music I’ve been either assigning them or letting them tackle on their own. In truth, it’s like giving them a Russian novel when they are still struggling to learn the Russian alphabet!

Now, don’t get me wrong; I am a huge proponent for creativity, improvisation, and rote technical skill at the piano (none of which is dependent on the ability to read music). But if one of my primary goals is that my students are able to play printed music well, then I needed to make some drastic changes to my teaching approach.

And that’s what I did.

At the beginning of January, I sat all my students down at the beginning of their lesson and asked them to evaluate their own level of fluency in identifying and playing any note on the staff. Most of them knew that they were sorely lacking. The one who didn’t was quickly proved wrong by a brief activity designed to evaluate the aforementioned skill. I continued our heart-to-heart by asking them whose fault they thought that was. Some of them sheepishly mumbled, trying to take the blame. All of them were shocked when I confessed that it was my fault. And one told me that it was okay, that she still thought I was a great teacher. :-) Anyway, I told them that I was putting a halt to the learning of any new pieces of printed music until they had fully mastered every note on the staff (for starters). They nodded in understanding, and we’ve spent the last month working our tails off to learn and master identifying and playing every note on the staff. This is our first step, but I am already seeing such tremendous results that I’m excited to continue in this path to ensure that every one of my students becomes a successful and fluent music reader.

In the hopes that I’m not the only teacher guilty of such notational negligence, I thought I would begin posting the activities, games, and approaches we are using to make this goal of musical fluency a reality (and even have a little fun along the way!). So, stay tuned for fun and practical ideas you can implement in your studio. And if you find yourself at the same point I was and are ready to get serious about making this skill a priority for your students, I highly recommend ordering a box of these Student Flashcards (you can order one box for every two students because there are two of every note in it). I’ll explain how we divide them up and start working step-by-step toward mastery.

2014 Christmas Piano Recital and Dinner

Last night was an evening of tradition and new beginnings. It was our 17th annual studio Christmas recital, but it was also our 1st annual Christmas dinner! Thanks to the vision of my creative husband, we decided to combine our studio recital with a special Christmas gift to our studio families – an evening of dinner, fellowship, and inspiration. Here are a few snapshots from the occasion:

Our theme was based on Matthew 1:23, ““Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

We used the Fireside room in our church building – a warm, cozy escape from the blistering winds and snow flurries that started falling in the afternoon!

Once all the families arrived, they were directed to their tables and offered hot drinks. My four kids were each assigned to serve a table, and did a fabulous job keeping drinks filled, serving each course, and making everyone feel welcome! You can see my husband attired in his kitchen apron also checking in on guests – he and my mom manned the kitchen and dished up plates of food to be served to the guests.

The courses were interspersed with musical selections – a variety of solos, duets, and ensembles – and a time of sharing testimonies of how we have experienced “God with us” throughout this year. I was so encouraged and blessed by all that was shared!

All of the students collaborated on a “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” ensemble (from A Christmas Gathering by Lynn Freeman Olson). Fun!

A group shot of all the students, plus a few guest artists (a.k.a former students) who contributed to the musical program.

I wasn’t sure how everything would work out, but thanks to the help and participation of each person, it proved to be a wonderful success! We look forward to many more years of Christmas recitals and dinners!

New Music Matters Blog Store – 50% Off Everything for 1 Week!

Even though things are a bit quieter on the blog these days, I’ve been doing some updates behind-the-scenes to make things run more efficiently. One of those updates is the integration of a brand new Music Matters Blog store! I’m super excited to get this up and running, but I need some help to make sure that it’s working correctly. So, for anyone willing to help me iron out any glitches I’m offering an unprecedented 50% off EVERYTHING in the store for 1 week! All you have to do is select any item(s) and enter the following coupon code when you checkout: 6SYWB4GOH36M. (The code will expire on Tuesday, November 18.)

You have to use the links in this post to go to the new (beta) Music Matters Blog store so that the coupon code will work properly. I’m planning to add some sample pages for all of the products so that you will be able to sneak a peek at the Practice Incentive Themes, Piano Camp Programs, and Games. You’ll also notice that I’ve included my published books (physical books that will be shipped to you if you order them!) and a category for Piano Books and Sheet Music. In the course of downsizing my studio, I have hundreds of brand new piano books and pieces of sheet music that I’m going to be listing and making available at 50% off the retail price. Stay tuned as I get these uploaded to the site – there are lots of goodies!

I really appreciate your help and support in getting all of this up and running and making Music Matters Blog as helpful of a resource as it can be for music teachers and enthusiasts. If you have any comments, suggestions, or things you’d like to see included in the store or on the site, please feel free to send me an e-mail and let me know! Happy shopping!

Welcome to My New Studio!

Whew! What a year this has been! After getting married last December, I continued teaching full-time through the spring semester while also adjusting to being a full-time wife and mother of four. For the sake of continuity for my students (and preserving my own sanity!), we opted to leave the studio at my parents’ house until this summer. I wanted to have a good chunk of time to go through the entire studio, get rid of things I no longer needed, and then move everything over to the new studio in as organized a manner as possible. Not to mention that the new studio still looked like this at the beginning of summer:

What, you don’t think that looks like an inviting studio, either?! :-)

Thankfully, my awesome and artistic husband had a vision for bringing life to our old, dark basement, and we employed some talented friends to help us make my new studio a dream come true! Now I get to enjoy this colorful and inspiring environment every day:

We have almost no natural light in our basement, so we wanted to use colors that would make the area feel bright and welcoming. The waiting area is just outside the studio and has lots of space for families to sit and play games, read a book, or hang out and talk. We’re hoping to put bi-fold French doors on the studio entrance, but that will have to be part of Phase II!

Here’s a closer look into the studio where you can see my desk along the back wall, the Clavinova and piano on the side wall, and then a beautiful entertainment cupboard that houses our printer and shelves with extra paper and envelopes. You can also catch a glimpse of this year’s practice incentive theme: C2: igniting the power within!

I just have to let you peak in my closet because it’s one of the most exciting parts of the studio for me! We picked up this handy shelving system at Lowe’s and some plastic drawer organizers at Walmart, and now everything is neatly organized and easily accessible from anywhere in the studio. I love being able to reach over and grab whatever I need while I’m teaching, but then close the doors and have a squeaky clean-looking studio at the end of the day.

Here’s a view of the other side of our waiting area/library where we have lots of books to peruse while relaxing in one of our comfy chairs. And in between lessons, feel free to plug in a guitar and jam away. :-)

I’m thoroughly loving my new studio and look forward to posting more now that we’re settled and full-swing into a new year of piano lessons. Hope you enjoyed the virtual tour and that your year of teaching is off to a great start!