Review and Giveaway of Fireworks in the Night

As if writing a book isn’t hard enough, author Sherry Miller has gone above and beyond by producing a full-blown audio track and lesson plan to accompany Fireworks in the Night, her first book in a series called Randy the Raccoon & His Musical Friends.

The book is full color and beautifully illustrated – sure to capture the attention of a young animal-loving audience! As a long-time music educator in both private and classroom settings, this book is an innovative addition to the other materials she has created to inspire a love of music in budding musicians.

The story is a creative weaving of Randy Raccoon’s nighttime escapades with a glimpse into the life of one of history’s greatest composers: George Frideric Handel. I was surprised that more of Handel’s story wasn’t included, but there is a list of “Fun Facts About George Frideric Handel” at the back of the book and the accompanying lesson plans (available as a free download upon providing your name and email address) cover some additional interesting information. Also, it’s helpful to note that the book assumes that the reader is listening to the correlating audio file (included in the free download) and references the music that they are hearing. If you have a device handy for little ones to play and follow along, I can envision them experiencing hours of enjoyment listening to the lively audio drama. This is a fun introduction to the world of Classical music, and hopefully will whet young appetites to explore and learn more!

Sherry has kindly offered to give away one free copy of Fireworks in the Night to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing to win. A winner will be drawn using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, June 10, 2016.

Review and Giveaway of Piano Safari Level 3

Even though I believe that a good teacher can effectively utilize any method or curriculum to help a student achieve success, there is something invigorating about having well-designed resources that capture a teacher’s philosophy and vision for their teaching. That’s how I’ve felt about Piano Safari ever since it’s debut a couple of years ago. It has been the perfect complement to my desire to help students develop creative freedom, technical ability, and musical artistry at the piano while also building a solid foundation of reading and rhythm skills.

I don’t know who has been awaiting the release of Level 3 with more anticipation – me or my students – but it’s finally here! The pack includes a Technique Book, a Repertoire Book, and a set of Sight Reading Cards. I’ve had a blast looking through the materials and preparing to teach it. It’s also exciting to see some of the same Classical Education principles that I’m discovering are essential for true learning applied in this method. Namely, repetition, both of content and of processes, is necessary in order for students to attain mastery. I love how this is emphasized in the Technique Book through the use of cool images that the students are instructed to color one small section at a time for every accurate playing of a scale.

For this reason, I see the Technique Book being used not so much sequentially, but more in a spiral learning approach where a student continues to revisit the previously learned scales and exercises to develop increased speed, fluency, and familiarity. The Technique Book also references the animal techniques to instruct the students how to play each scale. The visuals are attractive and helpful while maintaining a clean, uncluttered page layout. I also appreciate the various practice strategies emphasized throughout the book. Another great feature is the way that each introduction of a new scale/key includes the same process as previously learned, while also incorporating a new accompaniment style, demonstrating to the student how the chords and chord progressions can be used in a musical way. All of this is then woven together into the Technique Extravaganza at the end of the book that gives the student an opportunity to showcase all that they have learned in a fun, energetic duet!

The Level 3 Repertoire Book is a fabulous compilation of original compositions, duets, and Classical pieces in their original form. The pieces are in major and minor keys (C,G,F, and a,e,d), and there are helpful bits of information and questions for the student to consider, along with brief biographical sketches about the various composers. This thoughtfully designed book will leave students well-prepared to continue their exploration of every musical style!

Last, but not least, perhaps the most versatile element of the Piano Safari method – the Sight Reading Cards. Whether or not you use the method in its entirety, these cards are a must-have for any piano teacher! We use them in a variety of ways in our studio, and they have done wonders to help my students improve their rhythm and sight reading skills in a sequential and manageable way. Each card includes a 4-measure musical excerpt for the student to play hands together that incorporates dynamics, articulations, and the rhythms they have learned. There is also a single line of rhythm only that can be tapped, played on single notes, or used for a musical improvisation.

Now, for the best part! If you’d like a chance to check out Piano Safari Level 3 for yourself, Julie and Katie have graciously offered to give away a free Level 3 pack to one Music Matters Blog reader (a $45.50 value!). Just leave a comment below to be entered. One winner will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, June 3, 2016. This could be just the thing to re-energize your teaching this summer or in preparation for next fall!

Review and Giveaway of Little Gems for Piano

UPDATE: I was just alerted (Thanks, Amy!) that the comments were turned off on this post. Oops! Apparently a setting got changed so that in all new posts comments were not enabled. You should be able to leave comments now!

If you’ve been around Music Matters Blog for a while you know that I am a huge fan of rote teaching as a vehicle for teaching students technique and artistry. Piano Safari is my absolute favorite resource in this respect! But I was thrilled when I was recently contacted by Paula Dreyer, author and composer of a new collection of rote teaching pieces called, “Little Gems for Piano.” There are two volumes, the first one is for beginners and the second one is labeled Early Intermediate. Some of the early beginner ones didn’t appeal to me very much, but the further I got in the book the more I enjoyed the sound of the pieces.

Here’s a clip of one of my favorites in Volume 1: Carnival Celebration:

In addition to utilizing rote pieces for teaching artistry and technique in general, I’ve also found that rote pieces can be a great motivator for students who struggle with vision problems or the ability to read music fluently. Rote pieces can also be an effective tool to use with students who have trouble memorizing. Because they are so patterned, it helps the students learn to recognize melodic and rhythmic motives and commit them to memory very quickly. Don’t we all like to have cool sounding pieces that we can learn quickly and easily perform by memory at a moment’s notice?!

Now, for the exciting part…Paula has generously offered to giveaway a copy of each of her “Little Gems for Piano” books to Music Matters Blog readers! We’ll be giving away one copy of each volume, so just leave a comment below for your chance to win. Two winners will be chosen using a random number generator at noon (CST) on Friday, May 13!

Piano Safari Level 3 is Here!

Rarely have I been so excited for a new music book to be released, but my students and I have been eagerly anticipating the completion of Piano Safari Level 3 for quite a while now! This piano method has completely transformed the way I teach piano, and I can’t imagine what I did before it was around. I’m looking forward to reviewing Level 3 here on Music Matters Blog soon!

Also, MTNA is offering a webinar by Piano Safari authors, Julie Knerr and Katie Fisher, this Friday on “The Role of Rote Teaching in the Development of Reading, Artistry, and Technique.” I’m sure this will be a treasure trove of teaching philosophies and tips, and is sure to invigorate your teaching!

Teaching Students to Practice Their Instrument More Effectively

In his always-informative newsletter, Gerald Klickstein, author of The Musician’s Way, linked back to his post on Beautiful Repetition. I love his four points:

  1. Insist on Excellence
  2. Reject Mindless Repetition
  3. Aim for Growth Rather than Sameness
  4. Evaluate Continuously

 

Visit his post for an elaboration and specific ideas for each point!

A Great Tool for Helping Piano Students Improve Sight Reading and Rhythm Skills

One of my favorite resources to help students develop their rhythm and sight reading skills is the Rhythm and Sight Reading cards from Piano Safari. These are great to use as a supplement even if you don’t use the method books. Levi agreed to demonstrate how we utilize these cards:

After tapping the rhythm pattern, they move to the piano keyboard and select one key for each hand, then for the final run-through they improvise using the rhythm pattern for each hand.

Levi has struggled for quite a while with his sight reading skills, so we tried something a few weeks ago that has worked wonders for him! Before playing through the line of music on the piano, he audiates (hums or vocalizes) the pattern while “ghost” playing the fingers on his lap that he will use to play the line on the piano.

He demonstrates the same approach for the bass clef pattern. It has been amazing to watch his skill (and even his enjoyment!) of sight reading develop just from this simple exercise!

Compose Yourself – Giveaway #1!

Imagine the look on your students’ faces as they listen to a simple melody transformed into a gorgeous orchestral sound. That is exactly the awe factor that Maestro, Cellist, and Composer Philip Sheppard has in mind with his ingenious new creation, Compose Yourself. Distributed by the award-winning educational game company, Think Fun, Compose Yourself will appeal to experienced musicians, creative teachers, eager students, and even those with no musical background at all! You can’t help but love the simplicity of arranging a selection of transparent cards with unique note patterns to form a melody.

But the real fun is when you enter your personal pattern into the accompanying website and get to hear the results as performed by The English Session Orchestra and/or acclaimed percussionist Evelyn Glynnie. So cool!

Composer Yourself is a perfect addition to any piano lesson, composition lesson, or group class. Think Fun has generously offered to giveaway one free Compose Yourself game to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing. One winner will be selected at noon (CST) on Friday, December 11, 2015 using a random number generator. Enter for your chance to win and then come back tomorrow for another sweet giveaway!

 

 

Q&A with Pierre from Flat

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Pierre is a co-founder of Flat, an online music score creator that allows you to compose with friends. Please welcome Pierre as he joins me for a Q&A session! *applause* :)

MMB: Could you give us a summary of what Flat is?

Pierre: Flat is a collaborative music score editor that offers the ability to collaborate in real time on the same composition with your friends. It’s like Google Documents. We focus on a new experience to create the simplest, easy to use music tool.

MMB: What inspired you to develop Flat?

Pierre: Basically, we’re 4 musicians. We all met during our computer sciences studies. Vincent my CTO & co–founder plays cello and I am a drummer. Back in those days, it was almost impossible for us to collaborate easily spur of the moment.

It was mainly due to two things:

-­ Existing software was too professional and the learning curve was so hard.

-­ None of software offered real time collaboration. Meaning, that to collaborate easily, you had to be in the same room, etc…

It clearly appeared that we could create a web application to change that. However web technologies weren’t mature enough at that point. Three years later, we had to submit a final study project to our school. We thought it was a great opportunity to try to develop Flat. We received distinction for our work and started over once we get graduated. We are now almost one year old and we’re proud to see that we managed to address the collaboration issue!

MMB: Could you take us through the steps of creating a score using Flat?

Pierre: Of course. It’s pretty easy, actually:

-­ Click on create score

-­ Enter your sheet music name

-­ Select your instruments

-­ Set the time and key signature

-­ Start to compose your masterpiece

Watch these steps in action!

MMB: Does Flat save all your music?

Pierre: Flat automatically saves your work. We called it the smart history! When you have made many changes or apply a major modification like changing instruments, a transposition, etc…
A version will be created. None of your work can be lost. You can go through all your version history and revert to an old one whenever you want!

MMB: The collaborative aspect of Flat sounds pretty cool, how exactly does that work?

Pierre: As I said previously, it’s just like a Google Documents. You invite a collaborator, grant him access, and you can start to collaborate. Based on a set of colors you’ll see what collaborators do. There is not a limit of the number of collaborators. Flat can be used directly within Google Hangouts video chat, as well. So users can collaborate in realtime and take advantage of the video. It happens often that we have 10 people inside the Google Hangouts session. It’s pretty stunning!

MMB: Can you create scores through a MIDI device and/or write in the music?

Pierre: As I am writing my answers, Corentin is going through the last checks of the first version of MIDI composition. It will be online by the beginning of the next week.

MMB: If you can use both methods, is it easy to switch back forth?

Pierre: You can use any kind of input to write in your sheet music. You can easily switch from your keyboard to midi and back to using your mouse. We’re spending most of our time thinking how to keep Flat as easy as possible. If something is inconvenient for us it will be worse for the user.

MMB: Can you create score through the microphone on your computer?

Pierre: We did some research on that topic. It’s a real challenge that we intend to implement within the beginning of 2016!

MMB: Is it mobile device friendly?

Pierre: We have maintained a mobile device version of Flat. However we have understood that usages are completely different on a computer and a mobile device. This is why, instead of developing a different experience dedicated to mobile on the same product, we have started to work on a mobile app of Flat. Crazy engineers have just joined the team to create it before the end of the year.

Check out Flat and start some real time composing with your friends!

InTune App Review

I do believe that InTune is one of the simplest apps I have ever reviewed, but the effectiveness of this simple ear training app has apparently earned it an almost 5 star rating on iTunes. In addition to its iTunes rating, it has been ranked among the top 25 music apps in more than 50 countries, and in the USA it stands at #11.

So what’s this app all about? Well, there’s honestly not much to it. Using the concept of pitch discrimination (differentiating pitches that are close together), award-winning and highly acclaimed app developer, Ben Kazez, has gone to task with basically just this concept and a gaming element to create InTune.

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 8.24.18 PM-You open up InTune.

-You select New Game or compete with your friends in Apple’s Game Center. (The Game Center icon pops up in the top left corner)

-You can select what mode you want to play.

-Once the game has started, you hear two pitches, distinguish if the second was higher or lower than the first, and then slide the second dot accordingly (up-higher; down-lower).

-If you get three strikes the game is over.

-If you slide correctly, you continue on and the pitches get closer together/harder to distinguish-testing to see just how good you are at pitch discrimination! :) Once you’ve completed Level 5 (the highest level you can attain) you can either Play Again, Share Score, or Change Mode.

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It’s just that simple.

I don’t know if the sound they chose for the game has significance or not, but it definitely reminds me of the sound you would hear when getting your ears checked at the doctor, which to me, is unlike any other sound I typically hear. Just a side note!

Dr. Dan Kazez, producer of InTune, is a cellist and professor at Wittenberg University, who discovered through studies that students who played InTune (regularly practicing pitch discrimination) improved their listening at 3 times the rate of those who did not.

I haven’t played InTune very regularly to know if it’s been improving my ear or not, but it has caused me to be more conscientious of pitch and it’s apparent world success is quite intriguing to me!

InTune Info Page on the Wittenberg Website

iTunes – keep in mind this app is only available for iPhone or iPod Touch

InTune on Youtube (the version on the video is a little older but still very similar)

Free Notation Software Deal & Giveaway

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To celebrate the 500,000th download of FORTE 6 Notation Software (a WINDOWS operating system software), starting right now (exclusively for MMB readers) until September 14th, you can download FORTE 6 Basic for free! (a $24 value) FORTE 6 Basic free download page

If you’re not familiar with FORTE check out their website! I’ve never used it, but from watching their introductory video it appears very user friendly and quite similar to Finale, a notation software I used to use.

Also, Music Matters Blog has been given the opportunity to giveaway to its readers 1 FORTE 6 Premium license (FORTE Premium a $200+ value!), so let me know in the comments if you’re interested in being entered and you might just win!