Happy New Year – Making the Most of the Year Ahead!

The anticipation of a New Year is always so exciting! However, with it comes the realization of expectations already left unmet and hopeful ideas yet untried. I was fully expecting to have my blog re-design ready to unveil by the first of the year, but it is nowhere close to being complete. My studio newsletter was supposed to go out last weekend, but it barely made it to people’s inboxes this morning. New repertoire that I hoped to introduce at lessons this week remains undiscovered in my files or on the shelves of the music store. And the list goes on.

Sometimes (most of the time!) I feel like I can barely keep my head above water in the ongoing current of a life full of responsibilities and activities. And even two weeks of “break” does little to help me reduce the load of e-mails requiring responses, work my way through the pile of new materials awaiting review, finish out financial records for one year and get systems in place for the new year, make progress on projects I’ve committed to do for various people and organizations, and the list goes one! Can anyone else relate? :-)

Nevertheless, time marches on and so must we! Instead of an official Monday Mailbag post today, I thought perhaps we could all share ideas of things we have done or are doing to start off the New Year to hopefully achieve greater efficiency, organization, or success in our various endeavors. For myself, I find that being able to organize things on paper aids me greatly in organizing my thoughts and systematizing my schedule. In the past I’ve tried outlining my responsibilities according to different roles, but this year I tried a different approach of outlining my responsibilities according to their frequency. I ended up with six categories:

  • Daily Responsibilities
  • Weekly Responsibilities
  • Monthly Responsibilities
  • Ongoing Responsibilities
  • Short-term Commitments (along with the committed time frame)
  • Project Plans (along with deadlines)
  • Random Projects and Ideas (general things I’d like to incorporate into my life as the opportunity arises)

This system of preparing for the year has helped me feel much less overwhelmed and anxious (so far!) about how everything is going to be accomplished. At the same time, I try to keep at the forefront of my heart and mind the realization that “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Have you come up with a good system that works for you in planning for greater efficiency, organization, or success in the year ahead? Feel free to share about it in the comments below! I’m sure many of us can benefit from a multitude of such ideas!

Monday Mailbag – Students Performing Without Teacher Knowledge

At a student’s lesson last week, he mentioned that he had performed a few pieces over the weekend for the public. I tried in my calmest, most interested (because I definitely was) tone to inquire as to the nature of the performance, who was there, WHAT did he play?!!! I’d really love to hear some encouraging words as to how to handle these situations. I want my students to play and definitely don’t want to squash their willingness to do so. Who has some words of advice to help us teachers keep our cool?
I’m guessing that instituting a policy that students can play any time they want without our prior knowledge as long as they don’t disclose the name of their teacher to any unsuspecting audience members is not the answer you’re looking for. :-)
Typically I start by praising the student for taking advantage of the opportunity to play, followed by a reminder that that’s why it’s so helpful to always have pieces polished and ready to play at a moment’s notice. You never know when opportunities might arise. Beyond that, asking questions is a great way to use situations like this as a learning experience:
  • How did that opportunity come up? (Did the student volunteer, or did someone ask them to play?)
  • What did you play? (Sometimes this can be incredibly eye-opening, because we may have a student who plays pop songs really well by ear, but they never make their way into the lesson. Or a student may be working on music for church in addition to the regular assignments from us.) I often have the student play for me whatever they performed so that I can get a glimpse of other talents or interests they may have that I wasn’t even aware of.
  • How do you think it went?
  • Is there anything you wish you had done ahead of time that would have helped you feel better prepared?
  • Did you enjoy the experience?
  • Would you like to do more of that kind of thing in the future?
  • What kinds of pieces would you like to work on in preparation for future opportunities like this?
And so on. Whether it’s accompanying, playing a special at a church service, performing in a school talent show, or giving an impromptu rendition of a piece for company, this is the stuff of real life! This is one of the reasons that we are teaching our students to play the piano develop as musicians, so it’s exciting for them to see some of the fruits of their labors. One thing that is incredibly important is to keep communication open between you and the student – encourage them to bring in other things they’re working on. Ask if they want input from you, or let them know it’s okay just to play it for your enjoyment.
It’s so easy as teachers to become trapped inside our mold of what piano lessons should look like, or what students should be learning, or what we should be teaching. But most of us are teaching individual lessons, so we have incredible freedom to work with students on an individual basis. The more we can learn about their bent – their talents, interests, and strengths, the more we can help them be successful musicians – in whatever capacity that may be. This is something that I’m learning more and more all the time!
Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Question for Discussion

I received an e-mail from a friend in another city asking if I know anything about the Simply Music method of teaching. They are looking for a new teacher for their daughter, and a teacher they are considering switching to uses this method. Are any of you familiar with this method? Or do any of you use it? Do you think it would be a good approach for a transfer student? What are the pros and cons? I would love to know your thoughts and opinions, since I am completely unfamiliar with it.