Favorites On the Piano Rack

  
It’s our second week into the New Year and we are having a blast! It’s so exciting to watch students progressing and taking ownership for their own learning. I thought this picture of Stephanie at the piano was a great combination of some of our favorite materials here in the studio:

On Your Way to Succeeding with the Masters compiled and edited by Helen Marlais – This is a fabulous collection of music from every musical era with colorful introductions to give the students an overview of the various styles. I love that it even includes Medieval and Renaissance music! (Plus, this is a great supplement to Piano Safari Level 2.)

Piano Safari – This has quickly become my favorite piano method of all time! We love the music and techniques so much that Stephanie usually learns several new pieces on her own every week. We can hardly wait for Level 3 to be done!

Mini Music Manual – Of course I just had to mention this again. :-) It’s exciting to see the students continuing to turn to these manuals to take notes and refer to diagrams as they learn new music concepts, terms, symbols, etc.

It’s great to start the New Year with new ideas and renewed motivation! Hoping it continues for the rest of the year!

An Old Plan for a New Year

In addition to starting the New Year with the introduction of the Mini Music Manual, I also wanted to provide some clear structure for students and a way to them to work systematically on their musical progress. Instead of “reinventing the wheel” I pulled out my tried and true Music Progressions Curriculum Guide and decided that it was just what we needed!

Music Progressions Level Tracker

I compiled and printed off a modified chart outlining the first five level requirements for piano students in performance, music understanding and vocabulary, functional skills (rhythm and pulse, sight-playing), keyboard skills (scales, chords, arpeggios, intervals), written theory, and listening.

We spent time at each lesson today evaluating where the student was at, recording new information in the definitions and diagrams sections of their Mini Music Manual, and going over what was required for each level. I am starting each student at a specific level, but then letting them decide what level they want to work toward for this year’s Music Progressions evaluation event. It was exciting to see their enthusiasm ignited as they saw the potential for progress by learning systematic skills. And I was even more thrilled at how quickly they took ownership of writing things down in the Mini Music Manuals so that they could refer to it during the week. Here’s hoping that lasts through the rest of the year (and beyond!)!

Inspiration for the New Year – The Mini Music Manual!

 

One of my favorite things about taking breaks from a regular teaching schedule is the opportunity it gives me to evaluate how I’m doing as a teacher and how my students are doing learning and retaining new concepts and skills. I love pondering possibilities to help me be more organized and intentional as a teacher. And I love dreaming up creative ideas to inspire my students in their ongoing musical pursuits. From these musings the past several weeks was borne our latest musical resource: The Mini Music Manual!

The more time I’ve spent learning from and tutoring with Classical Conversations, the more I’ve become convinced of three important facets of a successful education: memorization, repetition, and ownership. Memorization is the first step of acquiring new information (a.k.a. grammar) that will serve as the basis for deeper understanding and application. Without an inventory of knowledge from which to draw, students are left grasping for random bits and pieces. In piano teaching I’ve become adamant that students memorize the essentials that they need for musical success. It’s amazing how easy it is to inadvertently move on to harder assignments when students can’t even readily identify notes on the staff!

Next, repetition is the means by which the memorized information is solidified for application. If I’ve learned anything over the last couple of years of homeschooling it’s that just because I said or taught something it doesn’t mean that the student learned it. Again, it’s easy to assume that if I know something and have communicated it to the student that they now possess that information as well. That couldn’t be further from the truth! The real test of whether or not a student has learned something is how well they can communicate that knowledge to someone else. If it can’t be effectively communicated then it has not truly been learned.

Third, ownership. So much education today is a spoon-feeding approach whereby the teacher feeds information to the student and the student is expected to receive, digest, and systematically regurgitate it (usually for the sake of scoring well on a test). I want my children and students to learn to learn. To think for themselves. To search out, process, and evaluate information. To derive well-informed conclusions and then use what they’ve gleaned to grow as individuals and then help others grow.

These three underlying philosophies are what led to the development of the Mini Music Manual: The Ultimate Reference Guide that You Create! I’m excited to begin using this manual with my piano students this semester to help them learn and memorize new information and take ownership for their music education. They’ll be writing their own definitions of musical terms and symbols, memorizing scale patterns and diagramming them with correct fingering, keeping track of their favorite repertoire, and more. I’m excited to see how it goes and will try to post updates along the way!

Linstead Market – a Fun Piano Ensemble for 5 People!

At the beginning of September I mentioned a cool piano book I had come across called 4 Afro-Caribbean Songs for 5 Right Hands at 1 Piano. After much sweat and many hours of counting I am happy to report that we were able to pull together the lively Linstead Market arrangement. I think everyone is beginning to grasp the necessity of learning how to count rhythms precisely while also listening to how all the parts work together to create the whole. Mission accomplished!

Hopefully there will be many more ensembles to come in the days ahead!

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!

 

 

A Fun Memorization Game for Piano Students

Have you ever had students completely blow the performance of a piece that they’ve played numerous times without a glitch? Or have you ever been that performer? I raise my hand. Learning how to memorize cognitively has made all the difference for me, and I’ve used it over and over again to help students (even those who thought they didn’t need it!) prepare for an effective memorized performance. One way we approach this is by determining the form of the piece and creating little cards with labels for each section.

Here, Robert is in the final stages of preparation for a performance of “Lights in the Water” by Robert Vandall (this has become his all-time favorite piece!). We quickly created cards with labels for each section and began by placing them in order on the music rack. I had him play through it once by memory, taking mental note of each section as he got to it in his performance.

After one run-through, we scrambled the cards and placed them on the music rack for a second performance. He got lucky starting again with A-B! After that, though, the order was mixed up, so he had to see if he could recall how each section started and ended in order to play them in the arranged order.

This is a very helpful tool for creating a mental road map that can guide the student during a performance. Plus, even if they do get stuck in one section, they can easily move on to the next section without panicking! Anything that engages the brain to aid in a memorized performance is a step in the right direction toward cognitive memory and not solely muscle memory.

A Fun Group Piano Class Rhythm Game

The last week of each month I hold a 1-hour group class in addition to the regular lessons for that week. This gives the students an opportunity to perform for each other, participate in ensembles, and play a variety of games to help reinforce musical concepts.

Since one of our primary focuses this year is on developing more proficient rhythm skills, my plan is to begin each group class with a fun rhythm game. This week we played, “Pass the Rhythm” – a variation on the old “telephone” game and adapted from the Rhythm Squeeze game on Teach Piano Today.

I split the students into two teams – boys v. girls in this case! They lined up front to back and the first and third player of each team was given a white board, marker, and eraser.

I began by tapping a 2-measure 4/4 rhythm pattern on the shoulder of the student at the back of each line. They had to notate the rhythm that they thought I tapped and then pass the board to the next player in line.

The next player looked at the rhythm pattern and then tapped it on the shoulder of the first person in line.

Finally, the one at the front of the line notated the rhythm pattern that they felt. After the rhythm was passed all the way to the front of the line, I had each team hold up their board and compare it with the rhythm I had written on my board for that round. Each team received one point for each correct beat. The students then switched places and we did the same thing for Round 2. We did several rounds and then tallied the points so that the team with the most points was the winner!

Everyone seemed to enjoy this engaging game, and it’s a great tool for determining where they are at in identifying and tapping rhythms!

A Simple and Fun Rhythm Activity for the Piano Lesson

Since one of my main objectives this year is to help my students master rhythm skills, we are finding a variety of ways at each lesson to help students decipher, play, and notate rhythms accurately. Here’s a fun multi-sensory rhythm activity we tried this week that was very effective!
This is adapted from Have a Heart – Feel the Pulse, but instead of using a page of hearts I drew four hearts across the top of a dry erase board and then wrote the 4/4 time signature on the row below the hearts. I played a simple 4-beat pattern of quarter and eighth notes and had the student place small magnets inside each heart to show whether each beat contained one or two sounds/notes.

After placing the magnets, the student translated them into notes, drawing quarter notes where there was only one sound and a pair of eighth notes where there were two sounds. This was a huge help in reinforcing the importance of identifying and maintaining a steady pulse while playing various rhythm patterns!

First Week of Lessons!

Some of you may remember my embarrassing confession earlier this year and my resolve to ensure that every one of my students becomes a fluent reader of music at the piano. I am happy to report that all of our hard work in the spring paid off! When I used our NoteStars game to evaluate where they were at this week, every student was still able to quickly and accurately identify and locate every note on the staff. They are also exhibiting a much greater level of independence in learning new music, which is exciting for all of us!

In our continuing quest toward playing the piano well, this year I am honing in on rhythm skills. Since note identification and rhythm are arguably the two most fundamental pieces of knowledge necessary to read music fluently, I want to equip each student to precisely execute any rhythm they come across in their music. Toward this end I have assigned each of them one part in an ensemble from the 4 Afro-Caribbean Songs for 5 Right Hands at 1 Piano book that I mentioned last week. (Note that you can download for free 4 of the parts from each song on the publisher’s website!) I introduced each piece by having the students look over it and tell me everything they could about the printed music. Then we discussed the time signature and used a rhythm instrument to play and count through the rhythm of the piece. At the end, I asked students which measure of rhythm was the hardest, then we worked specifically on that rhythm to make sure the student understood how to count it. I also had them count to see how many times that exact same rhythm was used in the piece, which led to the observation that musical pieces are usually comprised of repeating rhythm patterns. (Sometimes it’s amazing the things that I take for granted that students know or have somehow figured out on their own even though I haven’t made it a point to teach it to them!)

Part of my new resolve as a teacher is to take full responsibility for ensuring that my students have truly learned what I’m teaching them. Inspired by the following quote, my aim is to cause them to know the material and to essentially make it impossible for them to study piano with me and leave a lesson not having learned what I set out to teach them. It is such a wonderful responsibility and privilege to be a teacher!

“Teachers have redefined teaching as ‘the coherent speaking of an adult located at the head of the class to a passive gathering of students.’ They believe their primary responsibility is to cover the material in an organized manner.

They think about teaching as what they do–their focus is upon themselves. Many teachers cover their material and leave the room thinking they have taught. But if you gave their students a pop quiz, you would find out they hardly learned a thing. The divorce between teaching and learning is tragic and the root of many of our educational woes.

Obviously, the students are responsible to learn the material–but the teacher is responsible to cause them to know the material.”

~Bruce Wilkinson

Special Introductory Offer on Carnival of the Animals Music Camp!

Carnival of the Animals Cover

For all of you who have been anxiously awaiting (probably me most of all!), I’m excited to announce that the Carnival of the Animals Classical Christian Music Camp curriculum package is finally complete and ready for delivery! This extensive curriculum has been in the works for many years at a conceptual level, so it’s been thrilling to watch it fully come together this week as we’ve given it a trial run in the studio. And from now through the end of July, you can get your downloadable package for only $20 (that’s $10 off the regular price of $30)!

I’m amazed at how much the students grasped as we incorporated history, geography, rhythm, technique, music vocabulary, composition, science, art, and performance into our camp activities each day. It will also be exciting to see how the seeds sown this week continue to bear fruit in the years to come as the students draw on the knowledge and understanding they’ve gained through this experience.

The curriculum is designed as a 5-day music camp curriculum, but could easily be adapted for almost any setting and schedule. It has enough material to last for weeks! Creative music teachers could even use it as a springboard to delve into many other areas of musical study more extensively. Read a full description and view sample pages on this page.

I hope that this Carnival of the Animals music camp curriculum will be a valuable resource to help teachers and students around the world experience the enjoyment and enrichment of learning more about God and the world in which we live through the study of music!

Check out photo highlights from each day of the camp:

Day One: http://musicmattersblog.com/2015/07/13/highlights-from-day-1-of-carnival-of-the-animals-music-camp/

Day Two: http://musicmattersblog.com/2015/07/14/highlights-from-day-2-of-the-carnival-of-the-animals-music-camp/

Day Three: http://musicmattersblog.com/2015/07/15/highlights-from-day-3-of-carnival-of-the-animals-music-camp/

Day Four: http://musicmattersblog.com/2015/07/18/highlights-from-day-4-of-carnival-of-the-animals-music-camp/

Day Five: http://musicmattersblog.com/2015/07/18/highlights-from-day-5-of-carnival-of-the-animals-music-camp/