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!

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!

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!

And the Winners Are…

Thanks to all who participated in our week of giveaways! Below is a list of those whose names were drawn for each prize. But even if you didn’t win, I have a special gift for you. You can get 50% off any practice incentive theme of your choice! Just enter the coupon code WINNER! when you checkout to have the discount applied. The coupon is good until next Saturday, December 19.

Winner of Compose Yourself: #7 – Sue

Winner of Musical U: #18 – Heidi

Winner of Sacred Christmas, Volume 2: #20 – Margaret

Winner of Piano Studio Practice Incentive: #24 – Tiffany

I know you’re all going to enjoy these immensely!

How to Get the Most Out of Online Music Resources – Guest Post by Christopher Sutton

[Note from Natalie: Be sure to enter the giveaway for a free Musical U membership!]


No matter what stage you’re at in your music education, there are countless online resources to help you grow as a musician and expand your knowledge and training. From video tutorials to user forums, and from how-to articles to training modules, there are all types of online learning tools to help you take your musical abilities to the next level.

But how do you find the tools and resources that will work for you, at your level of musical training? And how do you know if you’re really getting the most bang for your buck when you make use of those online resources?

Make a Plan

The key to getting the most from online music resources is to make a plan for how you’re going to use them. In order for online tools to benefit you once you discover them, you’ll need to stay involved and use them regularly. Decide how much time you’ll be able to dedicate to your online music training on a daily and weekly basis, and then stick to it. You don’t need huge amounts of time, you just need to ensure that you’re checking and using your resources consistently.

Maybe that means watching a YouTube tutorial every night after dinner, or catching up on recent blog posts every Sunday. Just as with regular music practice sessions, a small amount of time dedicated to learning each and every day will make a huge difference in how quickly you improve.

Ask Questions

Struggling with a particular concept or lesson? Having a hard time nailing that one song? Don’t wait passively for the answers to fall into your lap; seek them out yourself! Actively asking questions is a crucial part of making the most of online music resources. If something written in a blog post or article doesn’t make sense to you, leave a comment and ask for clarification. If there’s a particular video tutorial you’re interested in seeing but can’t seem to find anywhere online, submit a request.

Online communities for musicians are all about learning via dialogue; it’s up to you and your peers to make that dialogue happen. Teachers, moderators, and managers of online resources are there to help you and provide the content that you want, but it’s hard for them to know what you’re looking for and what you’d like to learn about if you stay silent.

Connect with Others

Musicians who learn to play instruments solely via online resources may at times feel isolated from the music community. When you’re spending all of your time learning to make music from your own home, you’re missing out on the experience of connecting with and learning from other musicians. Don’t make that mistake!

Guide to Finding an Online Community

If you’re just starting your search for an online musicians community, use these tips to help you get started:

Know How to Search

Spend some time browsing various online communities for musicians and try to find one that will adequately meet your needs at your level. You may find one that works for you by doing a quick Google search (for instance, “online communities for bass players”) or by checking with online resources you already use to see if they offer any forums or other methods of communication between users.

If you’re already a member of one online learning site and would like to join another, find out if your community has any partners or affiliates. Chances are, they have plenty of connections or recommendations and can point you in the right direction.

Know What you Need

Carefully consider which specific needs you want your online music community to meet. Do you want a group that will challenge and push you to grow as a musician, or just an outlet for staying connected to the music world? Are you looking for a site like Musical U which provides both training resources and a friendly supportive community? Would you prefer a community that is focused on your current stage of musical training (beginner, advanced, etc.) or one that will be suitable throughout your musical development?

Know Your Involvement Level

You’ll also need to consider what level of involvement you’d like to achieve within your community. Are you content with monthly emails, or do you want a space where you can chat with other users and members regularly? Check out your online community’s blog to see how often they post, and their discussion forum to see how active other users are. Subscribe to emails to find out how frequently you’ll receive updates. These should all give you an idea of how involved your community is and what level of commitment you’ll need to stay in the loop.

Don’t wait—start looking for your perfect online musicians community today, and start taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge and resources they have to offer to transform and accelerate your music learning.

If you’re ready to get involved and start making the most of online music resources, two great places to start are the Musical U community and of course the community right here on the Music Matters Blog!


Christopher Sutton is the founder of Easy Ear Training and Musical U, where musicians can discover and develop their natural musicality. Born and raised in London, England he lives with his wife and far too many instruments.

Just Make it Up

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!

[This is a lovely arrangement of The First Noel by Melody Bober in the book, In Recital! with Christmas Favorites, compiled by Helen Marlais]

Piano Studio Practice Incentive – Giveaway #4!

One of the highlights in our piano studio is the announcement of the new practice incentive theme for the year! This is something I started doing about 15 years ago and it’s amazing the excitement that it generates, along with the determination to work toward specific goals. I always incorporate 4 Components when I’m developing a theme that makes it accessible and appealing to students of all ages and levels. Even though I run mine through the entire year, if you’re looking for a way to jump start the new year after Christmas break, a new studio theme could be just the thing!

In light of that, I’m offering one free practice incentive theme of your choice to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing. A winner will be chosen on Friday, December 11, at noon (CST) using a random number generator. Check out the 10 practice incentive themes now to see which one you would like to use in your studio!

Sacred Christmas Volume 2 – Giveaway #3

Do you have those composers that you love to play? You wait expectantly for their next release? You know that when you sit down to play through their work that it will be a treat for your ears? Even though I am not a fan of hearing Christmas music ad nauseam this time of year, ever since I first played James Koerts’ Wondrous Christmas selections a few years ago, I approach playing his arrangements with more delight than dread, certain that it will be an enjoyable experience. And I was not disappointed when I sat down for an hour with his latest book, Sacred Christmas, Volume 2!

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!

Musical U – Giveaway #2!


With the whole world of music literally at your fingertips it’s never been easier to access all the resources you need to become the musician you’ve always wanted to be. Right? Easier, perhaps. Less overwhelming? Not by a long shot!

Recognizing the huge gap that many musicians (or wanna be musicians) face between who they are musically and who they want to be musically, Musical U has harnessed the effectiveness of their highly successful apps and website, plus a framework of guidance, structure, and support to help millions of people achieve their musical dreams! With an essential balance of expert training plus supportive community, Musical U provides an environment that is sure to help any dedicated learner succeed and reach new levels of musicality.

Musical U has generously offered to provide one free membership to a Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment below for a chance to be entered in the drawing. One winner will be chosen at noon (CST) on Friday, December 11, 2015 using a random number generator. Enter now to experience this incredible resource for yourself!