Awesome Folding Standup Desk for Teaching Piano!

I am not exaggerating when I say that I spent dozens of hours typing in every search string I could think of and perusing every shopping place that came to mind in order to find my newest piece of studio furniture. Although I’ve made many efforts over the years to do a better job of standing while teaching I always found myself gravitating back toward my trusty office chair. I finally realized that a major deterrent was the need to constantly refer to the student’s assignment book and jot down notes. What I needed was a standing desk!

Little did I realize how hard it would be to find exactly what I wanted! My criteria was that it had to be relatively stylish, adjustable height-wise, and able to be collapsed and stored out of the way when not in use. You try searching for that! 🙂

Actually, I’m happy to report that I found exactly what I wanted and I LOVE it! Just in case you happen to want this little beauty for your own studio and teaching, you can find the Origami Up Down Stand Desk on Amazon.com. See how handily it folds away in the corner? And it’s so wonderful to have a spacious worktop for my laptop, colored pens, and plenty of room remaining for assignment books and other paraphernalia. Can you tell I’m excited?! Sometimes I just can’t help it if little things like this keep me excited and looking forward to teaching each day. 😉


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Piano Explorer – A Rediscovered Gem!

Years ago, I subscribed to the Piano Explorer magazine for my studio, letting students take home a copy if they were interested and archiving the rest in a notebook for future reference. Eventually, I let my subscription expire and its existence faded from my memory. Something recently reminded me of the Piano Explorer and I decided to re-subscribe and give each of my students a copy this year to see if they enjoy it. (If you purchase a group subscription of 5 or more copies, it is only $6/subscription!) I’m also planning to incorporate some of the activities into our practice incentive theme for the year, so that might provide some extra motivation to check them out!

As I’ve been perusing the latest issues that arrived in the mail this month, I am reminded of what a great little gem this magazine is! Written especially for piano students, each 15 page issue has interesting articles, fun facts, engaging activities, and more. And now, there is even a companion Piano Explorer website that students can visit to watch pre-selected video clips of music from the composer of the month or listen to clips of the featured instrument. There’s also an online Teacher’s Guide with additional notes, a schedule of composers to be highlighted for the year, and answers to the kids’ activities.

Sneak Peek at Our New Studio Practice Incentive Theme

There are always a number of factors and considerations that go into developing a new practice incentive theme for our studio. This year, there were two primary inspirations. The first was a fervent request from one of my students (who also happens to be my daughter!) that we do a pirate theme of some sort. The second was a response by composer Wnne-Anne Rossi in the February/March 2017 issue of American Music Teacher. The question posed was, “How can you best assist a student who struggles with timing?” This paragraph from her response grabbed my attention:

“And yes, feeling rhythm is more important than thinking rhythm! The piano is a percussion instrument, and young pianists must act like drummers. Keep a drum on hand, and switch places at the piano. Assign sounds or words, like ‘boom-ditty-boom-yeah.’ Walk the beats. Enjoy rhythm as the ‘cool,’ playful part of the lesson.”

That last sentence, in particular, sparked an epiphany for me. “Enjoy rhythm as the ‘cool,’ playful part of the lesson.” This got my imagination spinning as I pondered the prospect of approaching rhythm in such a way as to make it the most fun part of the lesson. Rhythm has the potential to be so engaging and fun, and yet is so often relegated to the status of “necessary evil” in our effort to get our students to play a piece of music accurately. So…some of the details are still in development, but I’m super excited about how these inspirations are making their way into this year’s theme…

I’m planning to look into Wynn-Anne Rossi’s series, Latina Musica, and will be looking for lots of other resources and ideas to transform our studio into one where rhythm truly becomes the coolest part of every lesson!

Vanishing Voices is Here and You Could Win a Complete Studio Display Package!

Every year around this time I release our latest studio Practice Incentive Theme, and I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited as I am this year! Vanishing Voices: a musical race against time! is one of the most successful themes we’ve ever done in our studio.

I have seen every student grow so much both in musical skills and in their awareness and appreciation of the rich musical heritage we’ve been given by dedicated composers throughout history. We incorporated several principles of Classical education into the theme and experienced great results; namely, memorization and repetition. Have you ever asked your student what a scale is only to have them fumble for the words to express what you thought was clear to them? Or what about rhythm? Or an interval? In the Vanishing Voices theme, every three weeks students are given (or select) a new set of musical terms to memorize and/or review so that by the end of the year they can clearly articulate the definitions of dozens of musical concepts. It is so vital for them to have a good working vocabulary as a foundation for building a stronger understanding of music and the ability to play well.

At the same time, students are developing rhythm and sight-reading skills while earning Meter Miles, becoming fluent in scales while earning Muscle Miles, learning to put their knowledge in writing while earning Mental Miles, and practicing every day to earn Music Miles. To top it off, students can rack up hundreds of Bonus Miles with a variety of additional options that they can have fun accomplishing on their own. It has been a blast to watch the students excitedly calculate their mileage in order to travel to various countries and collect composers to add to their Composer Portfolio, trying to make it to each one before they…vanish!

I am indebted to cartoonist, Ben Lansing, author of the fabulous book, Bigwigs of Classical Music, for generously allowing me to use his composer caricatures for the Vanishing Voices theme. Aren’t these such fun drawings?!

Now…for the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Everyone who purchases the Vanishing Voices studio practice incentive theme between now and 12:00 noon (CST) Saturday, June 24, will be entered in a drawing to win a free complete set of all the studio display materials (that includes a 54″x36″ world map, 35 composer portraits for the wall gallery, timeline and marker, extra laminated student airplane markers, wall verses, and laminated composer and mileage charts!). If you’re looking for something new and fresh to start this fall that will keep your students excited and motivated throughout year, this may be just what you need!

Finally a Way to Track Repertoire!

One of my favorite things to do is brainstorm creative and effective ways to streamline processes and organizational ideas for both myself and my students. That’s one of the reasons that I develop a practice incentive theme for my studio each year. It provides a ways for students to set goals, manage their progress, and achieve success. Plus, it helps me remain organized from lesson-to-lesson and stay on track with each student’s goals. I also love using Music Teacher’s Helper to manage my studio bookkeeping in an organized and professional manner. However, one area I have consistently struggled with is keeping track of my students’ repertoire in a systematic and organized way. I’ve tried a variety of different approaches, both pen-and-paper style and digitally, but nothing has ever clicked for me in a way that I was able to maintain consistently. Until last month.

Amy Chaplin’s inspirational series on using Evernote for studio organization prompted me to re-download the free software and give it another try. I first tried it several years ago, but wasn’t able to stick with it. Even after downloading it this time, it sat on the “back burner” because I couldn’t figure out quite how to use it in a way that worked for me. But it all started to come together when I was adding a book to my Goodreads reading list and writing a brief review of it last month. As I did so, I wished that there was a repertoire database like Goodreads that would allow me to search for a particular book, add it to my list, create and tag certain categories to place it in, and write my comments about it. I don’t know of any such repertoire database in existence (if you know of one, please let me know!), but as I lay in bed that night I began to wonder if I could use Evernote in a similar manner to at least organize repertoire for my studio and students…

By the time the next morning came around, I was ready to open Evernote and get to work! Amy’s series helped me understand how to use the tagging system effectively, so I started creating a folder-type system using tags. I am SO excited about this system and think it will finally be something I can maintain consistently! Here’s a screen shot of how I ended up structuring it:


Here’s the step-by-step run-down, just in case anyone else wants to give this approach a try!

  1. Create a tag named, “Repertoire.”
  2. Create what will become the next layer of tags: By Era, By Key, By Level, By Meter. Then I also added a few other tags that were included in this second tier: Duet, Rote Pieces, Sacred Arrangements, and Student Favorites.
  3. Create the next layer of tags that will be nested inside the previous ones. In the By Era one I created tags for: Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionist, 20th Century, and Contemporary. In By Key, I created one for each major and minor key, plus a tag titled, “Modal.” In By Level, tags included: Beginner, Elementary, Early Intermediate, Intermediate, Late Intermediate, and Advanced. By Meter has: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8 so far. (It’s tempting to try to think of every possible tag that I might want to use for a piece, but I decided to stick to these four main criteria so that it wouldn’t get overwhelming trying to keep up with every detail for every piece!)
  4. Within each era, I started creating a tag for each composer, titled by last name, then first name so that they appear in alphabetical order by last name.

Next, I created a tag and labeled it, “Events.” In this one, I didn’t nest any secondary tags, but instead I will create a note for each event in which I have students participating. The event is labeled by year, month, and then event title. For example: 2017.04 Music Progressions. This way they are arranged chronologically. In the note, I list each student and the pieces they are performing for the event, plus any other relevant information.

Finally, I used Joy Morin’s suggestion of creating tags for “Students-Active” and “Students-Inactive.” Then within the active students, I have a tag for each current student. Nested in that, I have three tags so far. Each one begins with the student’s name and then has either “Performances,” “Rep Ideas,” or “Rep Learned.”

This is where the tagging system is ingenious! Here’s the process for adding repertoire and assigning it to categories:

  1. Create a new note with the title of a piece of repertoire.
  2. Tag it with: which era it is, who the composer is, what level it is, what key it’s in, what meter it’s in, and then if I want to assign it to any particular student as a piece of repertoire that they’ve learned or as a repertoire idea for a piece I want them to learn. Now it is handily placed in all of those categories and is visible when I click that category. And to add notes, links, or any additional info, all I have to do is change the note once and it’s reflected across the board. So cool! Throughout the years I can keep adding tags to assign it to other students as well.

 

The other thing I do is click back on the event I created and tag it with the “performances” tag for every student who participated in that event. This way I can make any changes I need to to one event note, but then have it automatically updated for every student who participated in the event.

Now that I have a workable system in place that I love and that makes sense to me, I am so thrilled to be able to use it consistently for lesson planning, archiving events, tracking student participation, filing repertoire ideas and notes, and keeping a record of repertoire that every student has learned. I’m sure I’ll keep tweaking this in the days ahead, but for now I am excited to have one landing place for all things event and repertoire-related!

Music is in [and on!] the Air!

We’ve had another fun week in the studio polishing up some cool piano pieces…

[“Cool Walkin'” by Melody Bober from Grand Solos for Piano, Book 3]

…recording important information (in our Mini Music Manuals, of course!)…

[It’s exciting to see the new level of ownership students are taking to really know all of their musical terms and symbols!]

…trying out our new Nessie Recording Mic

[I love utilizing technology to enhance the students’ musical experience and inspire them to greater heights in their piano playing!]

… and creating cool percussion tracks to accompany favorite repertoire.


[“Sneaky Ape” by Wendy Lynn Stevens from Piano Safari, Level 2]

A Neighborhood Christmas Concert

We always love to try new ideas in our studio, and this year we thought it would be cool to expand our annual Christmas recital into a Neighborhood Christmas Concert as a way to get to know our neighbors better and share our musical selections with them. So we printed up invitations about a month ago and hand-delivered them to our neighbors.

Our theme for the evening was “A Time for Joy.” We greeted our guests at the door with some warm candlelight and a program adorned with the winning cover art for this year (each year the students are invited to draw and submit artwork that corresponds with the theme and then all the students vote for their favorite at our rehearsal).

We ended up with a nice turnout for the evening even though it was bitter cold and icy. One of the perks of having the guests coming from next door and across the street!

Unfortunately, one of our students who comes from out of town was unable to make it in for the occasion due to the road conditions. Here’s a group shot of everyone who participated in the program:

Following the musical performances and narration we enjoyed some hot drinks, delicious refreshments, and lots of time for visiting!

At the last minute we decided to live stream the concert for some of the neighbors that had hoped to come, but couldn’t make it, and some out of town family. (In the years since I first experimented with livestreaming recitals, it has become so incredibly easy that all you need now is literally a smart phone and an app – Ustream is what I started with and it works great!) Unbeknownst to us the iPhone that was doing the recording got bumped part way through, so the view moves to the ceiling, but for anyone who wants to get a glimpse into our event, here’s the recording:


Live streaming video by Ustream

I hope you all are having a wonderful Christmas season and eagerly looking forward to a New Year!

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!

New Sample Pages Added to the Store!

Many of you have requested the ability to see sample pages of the piano Practice Incentive Theme Packages and the Piano Camp Lesson Plans, so I’m excited to report that you can now view samples of every product available in the Music Matters Blog Store! I know many of you are busy getting ready for summer piano camps, and a few overachieving teachers are even planning ahead for next year’s practice incentive theme (I am not one of those!), so as a special thank you for your patience I am offering a special $5 off coupon for any item in the store in honor of the completion of this project! Just enter the following code when you checkout to have the discount applied to your cart: Sample

Also, be sure to check out what other teachers have to say about using these games, piano camps, and practice incentives on the Testimonials page.

I am just beginning to consider piano camp plans for this summer, so if you have any favorite ideas or resources, feel free to share them! For those thinking about offering a piano camp for the first time this year, here are several blog posts to help you get started:

Piano Camp Logistics – http://musicmattersblog.com/2010/06/28/monday-mailbag-piano-camp-logistics/

Planning Piano Camps – http://musicmattersblog.com/2011/04/11/monday-mailbag-planning-piano-camps/

More About Planning Piano Camps – http://musicmattersblog.com/2009/05/18/monday-mailbag-more-about-planning-piano-camps/

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!