Announcing…For the Love of Music!

After many, many hours of work, I am thrilled to announce that our latest project is finished and ready for the world! :-) I could write all about it, but instead I’ll let you watch the trailer that Joey and Jed put together for it:

For the Love of Music is a 5-day course to help pianists develop a love for skillfully reading music. Joey and Jed were my inspiration for this course because they are both fabulous musicians, but both struggle to sight-read fluently. We spent an intense week working together to produce a course that they have gone through and that we hope will be a great help to pianists around the world who face a similar challenge.


You can visit the Music Matters Blog Store to read more about what’s included in the package (including a special bonus offer worth $15!). For the Love of Music can be used by any individual who has experience playing the piano and a basic foundation in music theory. The boys especially enjoyed going through it together, and competing against each other between each class to see who could sight-read the most measures of music (they both played 8,000+ measures of music over the course of five days!).

It was lots of fun and very stretching for us and we hope it proves to be the same for everyone who goes through For the Love of Music!

Project 28 Studio Practice Incentive Theme Now Available! Special $5 Off Offer!

In Courtney Crappell’s article in the latest issue of American Music Teacher, “Dealing With Narcissism: Are Our Students Self-Absorbed Or Just Afraid?” he shares two concepts gleaned from another author that we can embrace as teachers to help our students overcome fears that may hinder them from learning: 1) Letting down our personal guard; and 2) sharing in personal growth. He goes on to say, “Showing another that I am a work-in-progress is scary and immensely challenging. Perhaps most significantly, this act requires us to believe in, and promote, our current level of ability rather than something more. Instead of selling ourselves as the perfect model teacher and performer, we must sell who we truly are.”

Largely inspired by my time last summer at the Pattern Play Teaching Intensive and the Creative Life Conference, I did exactly what Courtney suggests, I let down my guard and committed to sharing my personal growth with my students. That became the impetus for one of our most enjoyable and fruitful Studio Practice Incentive Themes: Project 28. You can read more about the philosophy behind the theme in my guest post for Easy Ear Training: 4 Steps to Playing By Ear. The way I set up this theme required a bit of a paradigm shift, particularly as I pondered what it means to study music as a language and what it takes to become fluent in another language. Thus, the assignment pages were completely revamped to include a space for Hear Music, Speak Music, Read Music, Write Music, Think Music, and Live Music. I was nervous about how it would all play out, but I found that as I approached each lesson with a willingness to learn and work with my students to help them achieve their goal, we had a ton of fun together and learned a lot!

Project 28 begins with the student answering the question, “What do you want to be able to do by next May that you can’t do right now?” From there, the teacher and student work together to determine their first 4-week (28 days…hence the title, Project 28 :-) ) goal and what skills and resources will be required to achieve it. This becomes the basis for the assignments from week to week, thus adding an element of relevancy because the student and teacher have a clear idea of the purpose of each assignment. Every four weeks is dubbed, “Film Week,” and the student has the opportunity to share on camera (either verbally or musically or both) what they have accomplished in those four weeks. My students really enjoyed the Film Weeks, and they provided great accountability as they worked toward their goals. In fact, here’s a shot of a brother and sister duo who loved putting together creative presentations for each Film Week:

All of the details and resources for Project 28 are outlined in the downloadable theme package. And from now until the end of June, you can use the following code to receive a $5 discount on any purchase from the Music Matters Blog store: E91O40F4.

I hope this serves as a great tool and motivator for you and your students as you work together to become better pianists and musicians!

The Music Arranger’s Page

Thanks to Christopher Sutton, of Easy Ear Training, for hosting Hans Hansen, I discovered this new website that is practically a course in music composition on a website! The Music Arranger’s Page is a collection of extensive posts on how to arrange music, write good melodies, figure out intros, and lots more! If you or your students are interested in learning more of the ins and outs of writing and arranging music, this website is sure to give you an education! :-)

Monday Mailbag – 5 Suggested Resources for a New Teacher

I have been reading your site for the past year and have found it very helpful. I am a new teacher starting out so I have 4 students right now. In the fall I will be partnering with an after school program doing private lessons with possibly 8-10 more students. I saw your post about memorizing where you recommended Thinking as You Play: Teaching Piano in Individual and Group Lessons. I am planning to order a copy of the book but was wondering if you might have any other resources you would suggest to a teacher starting out.

Even though I have been teaching for 15 years now, I still feel like a new teacher in many ways! However, I am grateful for the many excellent resources in the music education community that have helped me develop competency and confidence as a piano teacher. Here are the resources that have been the most helpful to me in the order I would recommend them:

1. Association with music teaching colleagues – This is by far the number one most valuable resource you could ever have! If you have a local association in your area (check the MTNA website for local affiliates), you should definitely join it and become active in the meetings and student events. It would be impossible to measure the extent to which the teachers in our local associates have influenced me and my teaching. I have learned SO much through their input and example, and I honestly doubt that I would still be teaching if not for their encouragement and instruction. I know that not every area is blessed to have an association and not every association is populated with welcoming and generous teachers, so in that case I recommend moving to Kansas. :-) And if that’s not a possibility, then find some way to connect with other colleagues, perhaps through an association you can travel to once a month, a state or national conference, an on-line community, a collection of bloggers you can follow and interact with, etc.

2. Subscribe to industry magazines – in addition to being an avid book reader, I also love magazines! Industry magazines even have an advantage over books in that they can disseminate more current and relevant cultural trends and information about the latest musical research and technology available to music teachers. They also feature articles written by our contemporaries who are dealing with the same issues and student needs as we are. There are three magazines that I read regularly and highly recommend: American Music Teacher, Clavier Companion, and Listen.

3. Read a wide variety of books – there are a handful of specifically piano pedagogy books on the market that all have helpful insights related to both teaching and running a studio. However, I have found that I receive just as much inspiration from reading books on other subjects where I can relate the ideas and philosophies to teaching in a different way. Sometimes that might be a biography of an educator or a pianist; sometimes it might be a philosophy book; sometimes it might be a history of specific educational theories; sometimes it might be a theological book and how our view of God relates to the way we live and interact with others. (If you happen to be interested, here are links to the posts I’ve written for the past six years that compile brief reviews of the books I read during that year: 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012) If I had to pick a few personal favorites to recommend, though, here are the three (other than Thinking As You Play) I would choose: The Savvy Musician by David Cutler, Color Outside the Lines by Howard Hendricks, and The Musician’s Way by Gerald Klickstein.

4. Study teacher guides – if you want to get to the nitty-gritty practical side of teaching, one of the most helpful things you can do is study detailed explanations and ideas from other teachers on how to teach or reinforce specific musical concepts. Some piano method series publish a guide for the teacher that is extremely useful for understanding the pedagogy behind certain activities or approaches. Legendary pedagogs Randall and Nancy Faber have an on-line guide with videos for their Primer Level piano method. The relatively new Alfred Premier Piano Course has an online assistant with lots of supplemental resources for teachers and students. And the one I’ve been poring over recently (and will be posting about much more extensively soon!) is the Teacher guide for the fabulous new Piano Safari method!

5. Follow piano teacher blogs – lastly, as a long-time blogger I would be remiss in not extolling the virtues of the myriad blogs now comprising the online music education community! There is nothing quite like peeking into the studio of another teacher and seeing the creative ways they run their studios and teach their students. It’s so much fun to look at pictures, download carefully crafted resources, and implement the imaginative ideas gleaned from other devoted teachers.

Those are my top 5 suggestions for new teachers, but I’d love to hear from other teachers as well! What advice would you give to a new teacher? What resources have been the most helpful to you in your teaching endeavors?

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!

Friday Film Find

I’m sure most of you have seen this video before, but it’s one of my all-time favorites! I especially love to show it to beginning students to inspire them to think more musically and creatively in their playing. Don’t you just love how much fun all these guys are having?!

Building Awareness of Rhythm in Piano Students

Joy Morin, of the Color in My Piano blog, has a fabulous article on Building Awareness of Rhythm in Piano Students in the latest issue of Soundpoint. She suggests that there are three essential components of rhythm (pules, meter, and rhythmic values), then goes on to discuss each one in more detail, along with specific activities that piano teachers can use to help their students develop better rhythm skills. I’ve been thinking a lot about this issue lately and found Joy’s article quite insightful!

Monday Mailbag – Teaching Balance Between Hands

Some of my students have a lot of trouble with balance between the hands.  I have them play one hand very loudly, and “ghost” the other hand, gradually adding the other hand by tapping the keys, then playing softly, getting gradually louder, but would love some other ideas.

This is the same tried-and-true strategy that I use all the time with my students. Here are a couple of other considerations:

  • When teaching specific techniques, it’s helpful to make sure that all other hindrances are removed so that the student can focus all of their attention on the technique itself. For example, instead of having the student attempt to achieve proper balance on a piece where they are still struggling to read the notes or play with rhythmic accuracy, etc. try something simpler like playing a pentascale with one hand louder than the other. I devise lots of simple, on-the-spot exercises for students so that they can develop various technical skills.
  • Utilize exaggeration. One teacher I know uses imagery of a cast iron frying pan in one hand and a feather in the other. Encourage the student to still create sound with each hand, but to completely exaggerate the contrast between the two.
  • Alternate hands. For example, have the student play the melody note first, at the desired dynamic level, followed by the harmony note(s) immediately after. This helps them hear and feel the difference between the two without having to actually play them at the same time at first. Gradually play the harmony note(s) closer to the melody note(s) until they are eventually being played simultaneously.
  • Have the student play one part while you play the other. Skills like hand balance are very much a combination of technical facility and listening. The student has to be able to physiologically achieve the right balance, but they also have to know what they want it to sound like and listen intently to see if they have achieved the desired sound. Playing with the student helps them concentrate on their part while also hearing what it sounds like with the other part appropriately balanced.

Those are a few ideas, anyway. I’d love to hear others! Do you have any tried-and-true methods for helping piano students learn and achieve hand balance in their playing?

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!

Consecutive Club

In the latest e-mail from Yellow Cat Studio, Sarah shared her idea for the Consecutive Club, a simple way to keep students (and herself!) accountable for spending time at the piano every day. I really like this idea, and may try to incorporate something similar into my practice incentive theme next year! We did something similar quite a few years ago with The Box Club theme, but I’ve gotten away from an emphasis on/incentive for practicing every day and I think it’s something I need to reinstate. There’s just nothing that can take the place of consistent, daily practice!