After one week back to teaching in the studio, I am reminded of the value of trying new ideas and approaches to connect with each student and engage them in the learning process in a meaningful and enjoyable way. The end result is that I love teaching more and they love their piano lessons more. A win-win! Here are a couple of new ideas we’re trying in the studio this year:
Have you ever wondered what to do with those high school students who love music, but struggle to make the time to devote consistent practice to their instrument? Well, this year two such students happen to be my boys. So, after a bit of brainstorming I decided to try something new to keep them engaged in learning and playing, but without the pressure of daily practice and progress. I printed each of them a For the Love of Music workbook and we spend about an hour each week going through it together. They are enjoying watching the video clips featuring a couple of my former students and deepening their own understanding of music. The only stipulation in addition to attending our weekly session is that they have to have something prepared to play for the monthly group class. It can be something learned by ear or from printed music, as long as it’s on the piano and ready to perform. Less pressure on them and less expectation from me and we’re all loving piano lessons more than before!
We lined up a column of flashcards with notes on the staff and another column with marked keys on a piano keyboard.
We each took a turn flipping over one card from each column to try to find a match. Whoever found a match got to go again, and then whoever had the most matches at the end won! This was a great quick game to reinforce note identification skills!
After learning how to count the half steps to construct major chords, I called out the name of a chord, Claire lined up the scale blocks beginning at that note, placed the magnets on the correct keys on the piano diagram worksheet, eliminated every other block following the first one so that she knew which three blocks it had to be, then rotated them accordingly to display the correct sharps or flats.
She loved doing this activity, and using both the visual and tactile teaching materials makes it much more memorable!
I initially created this worksheet to help students at a group class gain a better understanding of scales, but it’s great for a variety of activities including this one that teaches students how to construct chords. Click on the image below to download your free copy of the Scale Discovery Worksheet:
Every spring (for 12 years now!) we launch The Psalms Project in our piano studio. This has proved to be an anticipated and approachable opportunity for students to learn valuable skills related to composition. After selecting a verse (or several) from the book of Psalms in the Bible, we work through a series of steps to consider what they want the overall mood to be, what key it should be in, and what melodic and rhythmic motives to use. I encourage them to work away from the piano at first to focus on the natural rhythmic flow of the text, then to experiment with melodic and/or harmonic ideas. You can click the image below to download a free composition worksheet if you or any of your piano students want to try doing The Psalms Project.
Claire exclaimed, “This is actually fun!” while learning to notate her composition after taking some time to tap and write out on a white board just the rhythms for her melody. Once the composition is entirely notated by hand (a great way to reinforce theory concepts in a meaningful way!), the students get to learn how to use the Finale notation software to input their work.
Now that we have our new Nessie mic, we might try making vocal and piano recordings of our songs this year to go along with our published music book!
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!
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!
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!)!
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:
Mercy excitedly displays the Odwalla smoothie she earned by making it to the Jungle Juice Hut as part of our Jungle Expedition practice incentive theme this year! I am impressed at the incredible effort students have been putting in this year to earn tickets and gain admission to various jungle huts. The number one most-visited hut? The Snack Shack. Of course. 🙂
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!