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!

 

Musings for the New Year

After a long hiatus, I’m excited to be back to posting on Music Matters Blog (though I anticipate it will be much more sporadic than before!). The New Year is in full swing, and I’m thrilled to be entering it with an incredible husband, four wonderful children, a studio full of amazing families, and an awesome support network of family, friends, and colleagues! I have lots of ideas and thoughts to post in the coming days, but for now, I thought I’d share a few videos with you:

Christmas Recital 2013 – There is a Redeemer

Julian’s and My Wedding Video

Julian and Natalie-Wedding Ceremony from IanGVideo on Vimeo.

A Shorter Version with the Highlights from Our Wedding

Julian and Natalie’s Wedding (Short Version) from IanGVideo on Vimeo.

Our Story (the video that we showed at the beginning of our wedding)

Julian and Natalie from Positive Motion Studios on Vimeo.

Happy New Year to all of you! I’d love to hear about your plans for the year and any special new things you are doing in your studios!

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder…?

Thanks to all of you who have e-mailed, texted, or left comments to find out how I’m doing. I am so grateful for each of you! Just so you know, I did not drop off the face of the earth. I wish I had time to write the whole story (stay tuned for the book! :-)), but here’s a very brief synopsis of what has been going on in my life the last nine weeks.

On August 21, God brought Julian Weber to my doorstep. Literally. He spent about 5 hours talking with my dad, sharing his story, and ultimately asking for permission to pursue a relationship with me. Life has been a whirlwind since that day, and as of October 4, I am engaged to a man I have come to love with all my heart.

Through many challenges leading up to and following the death of his first wife, God has walked with Julian and his four children (whom I have also grown to love very dearly!) and brought amazing redemption and restoration in his life. Though different on the surface, God has so faithfully and lovingly walked with me for 30+ years, building a foundation in my life and preparing me for this exciting new adventure! We praise God for all that He has done and is doing in our lives, and would love your prayers as we prepare for our wedding on December 21.
“This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Psalm 118:23

In light of this, I hope you’ll forgive my long absence from the blog and any negligence in responding to e-mails. It’s about all I can do to keep up with the studio and teaching, various other responsibilities, planning a wedding, and preparing to be a wife and mother in a couple of months. But I am loving the adventure and am confident that this is what God has called me to do. I do look forward to continuing Music Matters Blog, and have so much I’d love to share with you as soon as I am able!