We are officially two weeks into piano lessons for this fall, and everyone is off to a great start with our Vanishing Voices practice incentive theme! It’s fun to watch the students study the gallery of composers on the studio wall and learn how to pronounce their names.
I attended a training seminar this weekend for homeschool parents and especially appreciated a quote by Andrew Pudewa, a Suzuki violin teacher-turned Language Arts educator. He said, “Saturate the environment with what you want the student to learn and remember.” I can certainly see the value of this advice, as students absorb so much just by seeing the same posters. We’ve already had some great conversations about various parts of the world and how they relate to the composers we’re collecting.
Now, on to the real topic of this post! I thought I would share some of my indispensable teaching tools – things I turn to over and over again to help students understand and retain various musical concepts. After working through primarily Major scales last year, I decided to launch this year with a focus on minor scales. At her lesson, Stephanie and I discussed what makes a Major scale Major and what makes a minor scale minor. Then we learned the pattern for natural minor scales, which she wrote out in her Mini Music Manual for future reference. Then we used some little place markers to construct the scale on the keyboard. And finally, she arranged a set of scale blocks to depict the correct name of each key. (Side Note: You may notice on the fallboard a set of Level 3 Sight Reading Cards from Piano Safari. These are a must-have even if you don’t use the full method because they are such a systematic and effective way of helping students build sight reading and rhythm skills!)
In addition to the scale blocks, Daniel uses a magnetic dry erase board to jot down and compare the Major and minor scale patterns. I use these handy boards all the time for quick teaching illustrations and examples.
Finally, I can’t imagine how I ever taught without a video recording device (a.k.a. smart phone) at my fingertips! It’s only her second piano lesson, but Alyssa is already learning to express creativity through composition, and enjoying the opportunity to share it with others. Thanks to inspiration from this Piano Safari video (below), Alyssa and I played the Animal Improvisation game at her first lesson and then I assigned her to make up her very own animal piece during the week. She went from reluctantly playing a single note representing an animal to creating this entire composition, which she informed me was not just about one, but two animals: a dolphin being attacked by a shark!
What fun to watch students acquire deeper musical understanding, explore creative possibilities, and develop excellent skills through their study of piano. I am reminded anew of what an awesome privilege we piano teachers have to be a part of this learning and growing process!
The first prize winner, audience award winner, and press award winner was 38-year old Thomas Yu, a periodontist from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. It’s not hard to see why! Here’s his final round performance of the third movement of the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 5 in F Major, op .103 (“Egyptian”):
Sometimes I feel a bit like the odd one out as a piano teacher who isn’t equal parts animal lover. But it’s true. I’d probably rather practice scales than pet your cute little kitten, no matter how soft it is, or how adorable it sounds when it purrs. That said, there’s something different about a wild animal. Maybe it’s that it’s okay to observe and appreciate it from a distance without getting fur or drool all over my clothing or having to clean out a litter box. Whatever the reason, the use of animals in Piano Safari has resonated with me, and I really enjoy the animals they have selected to represent various technique concepts.
When I was recently exploring their new website, I was excited to come across this video clip that gives a brief overview of each of the concepts and how to apply them:
I even watched it with a student who has just completed Level 2 as a way of quickly reviewing all of the techniques and then discussing which ones would apply in her new repertoire piece. Even if you’re not using the Piano Safari method, this is a great resource for helping students visualize and practice essential techniques at the 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!
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!
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!
Sometimes when students are preparing for a performance I encourage them to “improvise” when they get stuck or have a memory lapse. Some students understand this, but for others who are younger or more concrete thinkers, I found a very simple phrase this week to help them keep going in a performance. Around 1:27 in the following video you’ll hear Claire say, “I forgot that part.” All I had to say was “Just make it up” for her to turn right back around and keep playing. For Claire, who is highly literal, this phrase made perfect sense and she was able to improvise some chords until she got back on track. It’s simple, but I have heard it said that it’s better to teach the same thing seven different ways than seven things one way. Now I have one more easy way to teach students to keep going through any performance!
Also, having just participated in George Litterst’s live webinar on Making Sense Out of Digital Scores, I resisted the urge to print out the 50 pages and instead gave them a run-through on my iPad mini. True to past experience, I thoroughly enjoyed the selection of very accessible intermediate arrangements. I particularly liked the cool factor of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” If you’ll forgive my less-than-stellar rendition of it, you can watch my recording of the arrangement (even though it’s not polished hopefully it will give you a good idea of the style):
Now, the moment you’ve been waiting for…James has kindly offered to giveaway one copy of Sacred Christmas, Volume 2, to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winners will be drawn on Friday, December 11, at noon (CST) using a random number generator. This will provide some great playing time for you or an intermediate level piano student in your studio!
The Science of Sound today explores two remarkable instruments – the piano and the glass armonica.
Students use their music vocabulary knowledge to attempt to translate the meaning of Cristofori’s original name for his musical instrument invention: the gravicembalo col piano e forte.
Next everyone gets to take a turn trying to produce a tone similar to one on a glass armonica by rubbing their finger around the rim of a wine glass containing water.
Wrapping up a fun week for a crazy bunch!
Reviewing proper performance procedures before the parents arrive. These admittedly cheesy performance signs still seem to do the trick of helping students visualize and remember each aspect of their performance!
Let’s practice bowing!
The parents are here and we are ready to entertain them with our own original Carnival of the Animals! Each student has written a brief narration to introduce their composition (ala Ogden Nash) – love the clever creativity!