Music Matters Blog in Your Inbox

There have been lots of exciting things going on in my life lately – so much so, that I’ve completely neglected this blog for a few weeks. But don’t worry, I’ll be back and I’ll fill you in on everything soon!

In the meantime, several readers have e-mailed me recently to let me know that for some reason they stopped receiving e-mails with the posts from Music Matters Blog. The service I have been using (Feedburner) is no longer working very effectively, so I’ve set up an RSS feed through my MailChimp account. If you would like to receive an e-mail in your inbox each day that Music Matters Blog is updated, just fill out the form to the right and select the “yes” option under “Daily Blog Email?” Or you can click on this link and fill in additional information about yourself and your studio.

Getting Ready for Another Year (or…random ramblings)

For quite a few years now I’ve been taking off teaching for the month of August to give myself time to travel, come up with a practice incentive theme for the next year, catch up on other projects, do lesson planning, and hopefully feel put together by the time my students return for another year of lessons. The last of those objectives is feeling increasingly unattainable right now, though! :-)

Our practice incentive theme for the year is now finalized and I’m really excited about it! I can’t divulge the details yet in case some of my students sleuth around here looking for more info, but here’s a sneak preview:

I’m heading off to the teacher resource center this morning to do some laminating and get all the wall decor designed and put together. And this Friday, we’re having our annual local association Kickoff event where I’ll be presenting a workshop titled, “Creative Collaboration: Making Every Lesson Come Alive!” We’re jumping on board with MTNA’s Year of Collaborative Music and planning a variety of events and workshops to coincide with this theme. I’m making an effort to emphasize this in my studio throughout the year as well. Is anyone else focusing on collaborative music in their association or studio this year?

In other random news, it occurred to me recently that I’m getting ready to celebrate my 5th anniversary! Not wedding anniversary (remember, I’m not married!), but it’s been almost 5 years since I launched Music Matters Blog with the official Welcome post. And to think that I was so worried when I first started the blog that I would run out of things to post about. In fact, truth be told, I mapped out the first 60 days of posts just to give me a cushion and time to concoct other post ideas. It’s all rather humorous now, especially considering that I have way more ideas than I ever get around to posting!

Anyway…I figure this is the perfect excuse to do a complete site overhaul. I’ve been tired of this current design for a long time, but just haven’t taken the time to work on a new design. Now I’m ready! I’ve started working on it, but I can tell it’s going to take a while to get the new site up and running. So in the meantime I thought I would open it up for any ideas or suggestions you all have. Is there anything specific you’d like to see on the new site? Feel free to leave any and all thoughts in the comments below or e-mail them to me directly.

Until then, though, we’ll make the best of this current look. I’ve got a number of exciting things lined up for this fall, so stay tuned! :-)

Summer Plans

Summer has officially begun for my studio! We’ve finished the last of the Year-End Evaluations, gotten everyone’s summer lessons scheduled, and taken a few days to catch our breath before launching into whatever we’ve decided to work on for the summer. I think I must have worked my students especially hard this year, because about half of them have opted to take off until we resume in September. :-)

As much as I love teaching, I do love the slower summer pace, and look forward to being able to tackle other projects. Here’s a rundown of some of the teaching-related things I’m hoping to get done:

  • Finish preparing for the workshop I’m scheduled to give at our state music teachers conference next weekend: How to Design a Practice Incentive that Will Motivate Your Students All Year Long!
  • Finish compiling all the files from our Exploring a Galaxy of Music practice incentive theme and make it available here on Music Matters Blog.
  • Put together the details for a Pre-Piano Camp that I’m trying this summer for 3-5 year olds.
  • Finalize the lesson plans for our regular studio Piano Camp.
  • Complete a couple projects I’ve been brainstorming and working on that I think you all will really like! I know that’s kind of vague, but stay tuned for more details…hopefully soon!
  • Develop next year’s practice incentive theme. I’ve received a ton of suggestions from students, so I’ll be doing lots of thinking, praying, and planning to put together an exciting theme that will emphasize areas in which my students want and need to improve.
  • Read Teaching Piano in Groups by Christopher Fisher. I got my autographed copy at the MTNA conference in March and have been eagerly anticipating reading it ever since. Summer will be a great time to read through it for inspiration and ideas!

I’d love to hear what you all are going to be working on this summer! Do you have any projects or ideas that you’re developing?

Send a Musical E-Card and Invest in the Musical Education of a Student at the Same Time!

Check out these awesome e-cards that include music provided by some of the most prominent orchestras! But even better, for every one of these e-cards you send, Fidelity Investments will donate $1 to buy new musical instruments for local area students. I’m usually not a fan of e-cards, but I love this (and just sent off a whole stack of them :-) )!

HT: Ed Flynn – thanks for passing this on to me, Ed!

Student Christmas Gift Ideas?

Is everyone else trying to figure out what to give their students for Christmas this year? Anyone come up with any great ideas yet? I usually like to give something creative that will last longer than the time it takes for a piece of candy to make the journey from their mouth to their stomach. :-) Still trying to come up with the perfect idea for this year…

One of my students’ favorite gifts was this Music Manuscript book I made for them a couple of years ago. Many of them still use their books for theory assignments or composition projects. I’ve made the complete file for this book available in the Music Matters Blog store in case any other teachers are interested in giving these to their students as a special gift. Just click the button below to download the file, save it to your computer, and then use it as often as you like to print books for your students. You can even e-mail the whole file to a print shop and have them run however many copies you need and bind them. The book is set up with margin spacing to allow for double-sided printing. Enjoy!

Music Manuscript Book | $5

Maybe my ear is not so bad after all…

My musical strength has always been sight-reading and it’s been a long process to develop any ability to play by ear. After reading this funny little anecdote my Dad sent me today, though, I’m feeling pretty good about myself… :-)

The symphony musicians had little confidence in the person brought in to be their new conductor. Their fears were realized at the very first rehearsal. The cymbalist, realizing that the conductor did not know what he was doing, angrily clashed his instruments together during a delicate, soft passage. The music stopped. The conductor, highly agitated, looked angrily around the orchestra,
demanding, “Who did that? Who did that?”

Trying a New Stitch

Since I’m currently serving as the president of one of our local music teachers associations, one of my responsibilities is to write a letter for our quarterly newsletter. Just for fun I thought I’d post the article I wrote for the most recent newsletter…

Several years ago one of my students presented me with a beautiful scarf for Christmas. It had been hand-crocheted by her mother and I implored her to teach me how to make one myself. She patiently walked me through the steps and within a few minutes I had the basic stitch down. Over the next several months I found myself crocheting row after row of yarn into scarves and often tearing out huge sections to start over because the rows became uneven or the stitches were inconsistent. Finally I felt like I had mastered the scarf design and promoted myself into making baby blankets. Now the projects required more yarn and more time, but it was worth it to see the look of delight on my friends’ faces when I presented them with my hand-crocheted blankets as a gift for their precious newborns.

I’ve made many such blankets now and would be eager to proclaim that I am a master crochet artist were it not for one thing. You see, I only know how to do one stitch – the same stitch my student’s mother taught me more than three years ago. Oh sure, there was the couple months I made a foray into hats, but it was short-lived and I quickly returned to my lone stitch. It’s familiar. And comfortable. And safe. I know that when I use it, my blankets will turn out well. In fact, it hardly requires any effort at all anymore. I know there are tons of other stitches I could learn, but I was perfectly content to keep whipping off my own familiar blankets. Until last Wednesday.

My student Isabella sat in a chair in my studio handily crocheting a colorful scarf during her brother’s piano lesson. When it was time for her lesson, I asked if I could see what she was working on. She showed me her work of art and I was in awe. The stitches were beautiful! Much more intricate than my plain little stitch. I begged her to show me how she did it. She quickly pulled some more yarn from the skein and adeptly handled her crochet hook as she demonstrated the stitch for me. At that moment I was struck by the realization that with a bit of time and effort I could become skilled in implementing this stitch into my own crochet projects. Sure, I’d probably have to rip some rows out before it was mastered, but undoubtedly the end result would be well worth the risk involved in launching into the unfamiliar.

I am struck by the parallel between this enlightening experience and teaching. If we are not deliberately taking steps to learn new things and try new approaches in our teaching we can quickly fall into the rut of doing what is familiar and what requires the least effort. We keep using the same method books because we know them forward and backward and we like the results they produce. We keep teaching the same repertoire because we know exactly where all the trouble spots are and because the pieces sound flashy and impressive. We keep structuring our lessons the same way we always have because it feels comfortable and predictable. That’s why we all need an “Isabella” in our lives.

We need other teachers and experiences that open our eyes to the possibility of new approaches, that reveal the beauty of seeing students reach higher levels of musical understanding and ability than we thought possible, that teach us how to incorporate fresh ideas into our teaching. It may come in the form of a brilliant idea gleaned from the plethora of practice resources on howtopractise.com or in a helpful suggestion given by a workshop presenter or in a thought-provoking statement read in an article or in a handy teaching tip shared by a colleague in casual conversation. Perhaps it will mean carving time out to attend the next WMMTA informal coffee and chat at Wendy’s studio or taking the first step toward pursuing national certification or spending some time on-line looking for a fun activity to help a struggling student. The resources today are countless! But the question is, Are you willing to take the risk? To try something you’ve never tried before? To break out of the comfortable and familiar to explore possibilities that could lead you and your students to new musical heights?

I, for one, am excited about the possibilities. I won’t ever give up my familiar basic crochet stitch, but now I’m determined that my next blanket will consist of the beautiful new stitch that Isabella has inspired me to try!

~Natalie Wickham, NCTM

Resources for Voice Teachers?

I just received an e-mail asking me if I know of any good resources for vocal pedagogy. I’m sure there are some blogs or websites out there that would be a great resource for vocal teachers, but since I don’t teach voice I’m afraid that I’m not much help in that area. So I thought I would see if anyone else has any suggestions. Anyone know of some good resources out there for vocal teachers? (And if not…looks like this is a niche that needs to be filled by one of you voice teachers! :-) )

Random Ramblings…

Is everyone else equally crazy this time of year?! We just finished our Music Progressions evaluations this weekend – hooray! (So that’s my excuse for a dearth of posts this week.) I told my students I would even give them one week off of playing scales as a reward for all their hard work. :-) They were thrilled! Now I’ve been thinking through some new things I want to try next year. I think I’m finally ready to take the plunge and offer an “official” computer lab in my studio. We do various technology-related things throughout the year, like recording CDs, participating in the Clavinova Festival (another one of my students just won a new Clavinova this month! That makes three from my studio now. If you have a Clavinova Festival in your area, I highly recommend it!), notating compositions in Finale, etc., but I’ve never offered a full-blown computer lab.

So, I’ve been exploring the Music Learning Community website more indepth and considering whether I should develop my computer lab around it to start with. I’ve heard wonderful reviews of it from lots of teachers and I know my students love the free games they play on it. The site offers “more than 450 web-based, fully interactive, multimedia learning games for music students — beginners through Level 4.” Pretty impressive!

Anyway, I’m putting this on my list of things to explore and figure out this summer. If any of you offer a computer lab or use Music Learning Community in your studio I’d love to know how it works for you and if you have any tips for someone just starting out.