Welcome to My New Studio!

Whew! What a year this has been! After getting married last December, I continued teaching full-time through the spring semester while also adjusting to being a full-time wife and mother of four. For the sake of continuity for my students (and preserving my own sanity!), we opted to leave the studio at my parents’ house until this summer. I wanted to have a good chunk of time to go through the entire studio, get rid of things I no longer needed, and then move everything over to the new studio in as organized a manner as possible. Not to mention that the new studio still looked like this at the beginning of summer:

What, you don’t think that looks like an inviting studio, either?! :-)

Thankfully, my awesome and artistic husband had a vision for bringing life to our old, dark basement, and we employed some talented friends to help us make my new studio a dream come true! Now I get to enjoy this colorful and inspiring environment every day:

We have almost no natural light in our basement, so we wanted to use colors that would make the area feel bright and welcoming. The waiting area is just outside the studio and has lots of space for families to sit and play games, read a book, or hang out and talk. We’re hoping to put bi-fold French doors on the studio entrance, but that will have to be part of Phase II!

Here’s a closer look into the studio where you can see my desk along the back wall, the Clavinova and piano on the side wall, and then a beautiful entertainment cupboard that houses our printer and shelves with extra paper and envelopes. You can also catch a glimpse of this year’s practice incentive theme: C2: igniting the power within!

I just have to let you peak in my closet because it’s one of the most exciting parts of the studio for me! We picked up this handy shelving system at Lowe’s and some plastic drawer organizers at Walmart, and now everything is neatly organized and easily accessible from anywhere in the studio. I love being able to reach over and grab whatever I need while I’m teaching, but then close the doors and have a squeaky clean-looking studio at the end of the day.

Here’s a view of the other side of our waiting area/library where we have lots of books to peruse while relaxing in one of our comfy chairs. And in between lessons, feel free to plug in a guitar and jam away. :-)

I’m thoroughly loving my new studio and look forward to posting more now that we’re settled and full-swing into a new year of piano lessons. Hope you enjoyed the virtual tour and that your year of teaching is off to a great start!

 

Two Great New Resources!

Many moons ago I, like most music teachers, dreaded the “b” word. We love to teach, to play, to create. But, by and large, we do not like to do bookkeeping. I don’t mind finances at all, but I had such a difficult time collecting money from families or reminding them when they had overdue lesson fees, etc. Then in 2006 that all changed. Music Teacher’s Helper came on the scene and that has forever changed! This is probably the best money I spend every month because once I have everything set up for the year, I create automatic invoicing and the whole process is seamless. Families receive their invoice on the first of each month with their lesson fee amount plus any additional materials, book, or event fees. They can pay on-line or check their account at any time for details.

My posts about MTH always seem to turn into sales pitches, but the main reason I’m posting is because they have finally revamped their IOS app, and I am super thrilled! I do a lot of business from my iPhone, so it’s been a pain not having a working MTH app to record student payments, update info, etc. The new interface looks great, and I can highly recommend the whole MTH package to any teacher looking to make the business side of their studio operations a headache-less venture! (When you click on the links in this post for Music Teacher’s Helper, you’ll receive 20% off your first month and Music Matters Blog will receive a small commission that helps keep this site running.)

I am still pretty much in love with Piano Safari – the latest and greatest (in my humble opinion :-) ) piano method on the market! The students who started and are still working through it have done so well and truly enjoy making music at the piano. Even though they are learning more musically rich music via rote teaching right from the start, the approach to reading rhythms and notation is thorough and effective.

So I was excited to see that the Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards for Level 3 are now available! What’s even better is that if you order the package of all three sets of Sight Reading and Rhythm Cards (and believe me, you want these no matter what method you are using with your students!) are available for 20% off for a limited time. There are so many great ways to use these cards in the lessons (this week we’ve been having fun using rhythm instruments to play the rhythm patterns while selected rhythms from my keyboard provide a steady – but fun – beat in the background!) and the students enjoy having easy-to-manage exercises that they can work on and achieve success in their sight reading endeavors. I have a few students working through the Level 2 books and cards right now, so I’m excited to check out this new set of cards for Level 3!

The Beauty of Having a Digital Station in Your Studio – A Guest Post by Susan Nicholes

Do you want to have students who sight read well?  Students who get excited when they are given new and challenging assignments?  Students who are able to utilize the new technology available only on a digital piano?  If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions then you will definitely need to add a digital station within your studio.

Why have a digital piano station?

As you read about my digital piano station keep in mind that I have three stations in my piano studio configuration.  I have a digital piano station, a computer station and an acoustic station where I teach my students one-on-one as in a traditional lesson.  My students stay at each station for 25 minutes and then switch to the other two stations. They attend piano lessons for a total of 75 minutes.  Understanding my studio configuration will be helpful as you read the following reasons for having a digital station.   At one time I had two stations, a digital piano station and an acoustic piano station and my students attended their lessons for one hour total and spent 30 minutes at each station.  If you are interested in further information about having stations within your studio I detail how to do this in a series of seminars which I have titled Susan’s Seminars for Piano Teachers* which can be found at www.musicteacherstore.com.

1)    Students have time to prepare for their lessons at the bench with their teacher.  This time spent at the digital station is very useful in preparation for their lesson time as it provides a run through and a warm-up of their songs.  As a result, their private lesson goes more smoothly with less errors and problem measures or passages in their music .  Who doesn’t like a run-through before performing in front of any audience?

2)    Use of the digital station allows students time to become comfortable on the digital piano and allows more proficiency in using various settings and instrumentations on this instrument.

3)    Our students are millennials and they are very comfortable with using any type of computer-based equipment—and this describes a digital piano!

How to set up a digital piano station

1)     It is ideal if the digital piano faces away from any distracting scenery.  Place your digital piano carefully so that your students can focus on the assignments that you would like them to complete while at the digital piano.

2)    Make sure that your students have adequate lighting in this work space.

3)    If you choose to have a Music Library in your studio, it is convenient to place it nearby the digital piano so that students have access to the music as they spend time at this station.

4)    You can place an assignment board in front of the digital piano.  This can be very helpful in helping students see their expected tasks to be completed while they are at this station.

What are some possible student assignments at the digital station?

1)      Students can play at least 2 lines of sight reading.   I use “What’s That Note” Books 1 and 2** for my beginning through Level 2 students as sight reading curriculum.  I love these books written by my mother, Jane Calder, because they contain both rhythm exercises and gradual note reinforcement  through the grand staff.  For my more advanced students, Levels 3 – 5,  I use “A Line a Day”  books 1 – 4 for general sight reading assignments.  I have made midi recordings of the exercises in “What’s That Note” and also “A Line a Day” which students use as they play along with these recordings.  If the students are playing correct notes and rhythm they do not hear the recording which they are matching.  If they play incorrect notes or rhythm they will hear the correct teacher recorded part which will sound different from the notes or rhythm that they are playing.  Using these recordings as students play these sight reading assignments makes these exercises self-correcting.

2)    After completing their 2 or more lines of sight reading my students record their progress on a personal log sheet which they keep in their assignment binder.

3)    I am preparing my digital piano station at this time for my students to use the interactive Piano Marvel*** program to enhance their sight reading skills.  I currently have several students in my studio who have subscribed to Piano Marvel and use Piano Marvel in their homes each day as part of their assigned daily practice time.   My students who have used Piano Marvel in their homes have really enjoyed progressing through the various levels in Piano Marvel and have enjoyed being awarded trophies as they have improved their sight reading skills on various songs.  In studio I will provide each student with a log sheet where they will record their personal achievement using Piano Marvel each week during their digital station time in my studio.

Good luck with setting up your new digital piano station or enhancing your current digital piano station.   Your students will enjoy every moment that they spend at the digital station.   The musical experience at lesson time is enhanced with the technology of a digital piano and all of its capabilities.

*Susan’s Seminars for Piano Teachers can be located at www.musicteacherstore.com under Teaching Aids (main category) Teacher Improvement (sub category). Many topics are covered and include the following three topics  Maximizing one-on-one time with your students, Piano Camp is great for Teachers and Students, and Group lessons are fun and informative for both students and teachers.  Seminars are downloadable and available in 8 different topics.

**What’s That Note Books 1 and 2 are available in both book and downloadable format at www.musicteacherstore.com.

***Piano Marvel can be viewed at www.pianomarvel.com.  There is a discounted monthly subscription rate if you subscribe through www.musicteacherstore.com.


MusicTeacherStore.com is our newest advertiser here on Music Matters Blog, and we are grateful for their support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send me an e-mail and I’ll let you know about our advertising packages.

Review of Practice+

Lately, there seems to be a surge in mobile apps designed for musicians; or perhaps, music resource apps having been emerging in great numbers for quite some time and I’m just now aware of it because my job is to review the newest, greatest music products-and apps seem to be at the top of that list currently! :) Having this job of reviewing products is pretty fun at times because I get to experience firsthand the new inventions designed to be the next leading resource for various areas of music performance and/or education. It’s just so fascinating and inspiring seeing different individuals or companies recognize a need and then set out to create a product to help fill that need in a unique way. And from what I can tell, that seems to be one of the driving forces behind Practice+.

Practice+ was recently released by DynamicApp Design (creators of Metronome+) and has been featured on bulletproofmusician.com and susanparadis.com.

In the Practice+ app you will find a handy musician toolkit that includes a metronome, a recording mode (for self-evaluation and sharing), a tuner, a practice mode (for drilling a specific set of measures), and a setlist mode. Upon opening the app you will not be taken to a homepage, but rather, the mode you last used before exiting previously. This aspect of the app made it a bit confusing for a first time user because most apps or music programs I use have a homepage that allows you to select where you want to go from there, or if they don’t, when you open it for the first time, the app/program will pop up with introductory pages that help walk you through how it works.

Practice+ also has some special features such as multitasking between modes, hearing a specific pitch within the tuner mode, sharing through email or social media, etc.

I don’t want to sound overly critical of this app because I think that with the capabilities it has any musician would find it very handy; however, I feel like I would not be giving a completely honest review if I left out a few other things about Practice+ that caused me not to be thoroughly impressed with it.

Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to be nearly as intuitive as I thought it would be. The interface isn’t super intimidating to navigate, but I found it hard to figure out exactly how each mode or function worked to its full extent. For example, it took quite some time to figure out how to turn on the metronome because nothing had start/stop on it or on/off. You actually push the circular button at the bottom with the rate in it. I also didn’t understand how the practice mode worked and couldn’t figure out how to edit the name of a recording or setlist. The last thing I believe worth mentioning, is that I think I would’ve found it very helpful to have little pop-up “description bubbles” in the settings, to learn what the different settings were for and what they did.

I guess these issues wouldn’t be such a big deal to me if I felt like I were illiterate with apps, but apps are one of the few things I normally can operate pretty well. I honestly feel like if the app was just updated with more labeling of what things are/what they do or have introductory pages or a YouTube demo link it would help tremendously with understanding and being able to use all the features of Practice+.

(Note: Just now, I discovered after going back to the DynamicApp website, if you turn your phone so it’s in landscape mode, a “?” will appear in the bottom and if you push it “description bubbles” will pop up! However, this feature still does not appear to be anywhere when your phone is in the portrait mode. And there’s also nothing like this in the “settings.”.)

 

DynamicApp Design Website

Purchase the App and more info!

Review of eMedia Singing Method

Over the past few years I have worked to improve my singing abilities because…well..let’s just face it, I couldn’t hit pitches worth a hoot! And even if I did “happen” to sing the right note, it still wasn’t a pretty sound coming out of my mouth. I couldn’t figure out how to consistently hit pitches so I would end up straining my voice to reach them. This became increasingly frustrating because I wanted to sing songs, but was horribly afraid of someone hearing me and telling me to stop. So I set out to take voice lessons, and did so for about 3 months-even in that short span of time my understanding of “how” to sing grew exponentially! I’m still not amazing by any means, but I am “better,” and for that, I’m extremely grateful. You see, my voice teacher imparted 2 incredibly helpful things on how to improve my voice that even though I only took lessons from her for a short time I’ve been able to use these 2 things to continue training my voice.
1) Knowledge (breathing, speaking, how the voice works, techniques, musical concepts, etc)
2) Concentrated Effort (taking time to THINK about what you’re doing and how to do the exercise to improve)

After trying out the eMedia Singing Method program, I found that these two aspects of voice training seemed to be the foundation for the self-teaching software: 1) Imparting Knowledge and 2) Concentrated Effort through Exercises. I enjoyed the first ten lessons eMedia Singing Method offers, as well as the musical concepts each lesson introduces on the page preceding the exercise.

Although the program’s face seems outdated, it was easy to use and I liked the self-paced nature of it as well as the laid-back but in-depth feel. I also felt like-at least with the lessons I did- the instructions were very easy to understand and helpful. And you know what’s super cool?! If you prefer “visual” instructions, you can click on the video camera icon in the left sidebar area and voila! Video instructions before your eyes.:)

eMedia Singing Method’s target audience seems to be classroom teachers-or similar occupations-but I can see it being a great self-teaching resource for individual use.

Some other neat perks about eMedia Singing Method are…

…interactive feedback capabilities

…the icon with the face and exclamation point gives you brief facts about the music you’re using for the exercise.

…there’s a feature where you can hook up a guitar to accompany you.

…you can learn from over 230 voice lessons!

 eMedia Singing Method is produced by eMedia, the U.S. distributor for Ear Master Pro. This program is available for Windows or Mac operating systems.

To get more details or to download a free trial hop on over to their website: eMedia Music Corporation-Music Lesson Software for Individuals & Music Teachers

 

Overview of PRACTICIA (prac-TIS-ia)

PRACTICIA is an up-and-coming practice app designed to engage teachers, parents, and students in a new, revolutionary way. This app will not only be able to be used as a resource for private teachers, but also band instructors, choir directors, orchestra teachers, etc. Since I am not a music teacher, I don’t have any students to try the app out with…so I decided to do this review/overview a little differently.
First, take a look at PRACTICIA’S promo video on their site and then come back for a Q&A session with the app’s CEO and Co-Founder, Sam Rao, to find out more about what PRACTICIA is!
Q&A with Sam Rao
MMB: Does the app monitor how long a student practices or is that just based on what the student enters?
Rao: Yes! It actually records all practice and presents a live feed of all practice sessions to the teacher. The teacher can instantly give a “Thumbs Up” acknowledging that they noticed the student had practiced. Or they can even make comments on the practice sessions they choose to review…:)
MMB: Is this supposed to be a substitute for an assignment book?
Rao: Yes. It is meant to completely replace the assignment book. In fact, it will also enable the teacher to give Audio, Video instructions in addition to Text instructions. Also, the teacher can reuse the assignments for other students working on the same piece. The parents and students can elect to get email notifications every time an assignment is created or updated, or marked complete.
MMB: Will it only be able to be accessed through a mobile device?
Rao: In the BETA, the tool will only be through mobile device. Over time we will make more and more features available through the web until the whole tool is fully available on PC’s and Macs as well.
MMB: With this app, is your thinking and hope that many teachers will shift to using this approach with most if not all of their students and parents?
Rao: It is our hope that teachers will use this tool with all their students. The more students are participating, the more exciting the practice dynamics become. With PRACTICIA’s unique “group functionality”, teachers can divide their studios into “Practice Teams” and have the teams compete against one another for best average practice times and number of days practiced.
MMB: Do you believe that most kids will have easy access to a mobile device whenever they’re in need of inputting their data into PRACTICIA?
Rao: 
Yes. Most homes have multiple smart devices that they can use. And the number of smart devices in use is growing exponentially.
MMB: Do you think it will create any inconvenience for teachers if some of their students use PRACTICIA and some don’t?
Rao: It should not be inconvenient. Teachers can keep using the traditional ways for students that do not have access to mobile devices. However, more and more people are getting smart devices and this situation should only be temporary in most cases.
MMB: Does this cost anything?
Rao: 
The Beta version will be completely free. Once the full version comes out, there will be a nominal monthly fee for the student to use it. It will be free for teachers and schools.
MMB: I can see where this app could help improve a student’s quantity of practice, but do you think it will help improve the quality of their practice?
Rao: Because every practice session is recorded and can be heard and commented on by the teacher at any time, EVERY practice session becomes a work product that the student is accountable for. Teachers should see a dramatic increase in the QUALITY of the practice!
MMB: There are many teachers who have a large number of students, with the ability to constantly be in communication/interaction with their teachers, wouldn’t that create a much greater workload for the teachers?
Rao: The teachers are free to be as engaged as they feel like they need to be. There is no ability to message through PRACTICIA. Teachers can decide how much or how little time they want to spend spot checking practice sessions. With the ability to create automated Awards, leaderboards at the click of a button, and the ability to reuse assignments and instructions, teachers might find themselves saving time with PRACTICIA while keeping their students more engaged!
Note: Some teachers are excited about the possibility of offering “Practice Coaching” services to their students for a monthly fee. For a set monthly fee, to be determined on a case by case basis, the teacher can commit to commenting on every practice session submitted by the student. Food for thought..:)
MMB: How did you come up with the name PRACTICIA?
Rao: PRACTICIA was not the first name we thought of! We had many iterations. But we gravitated toward that name as our vision of PRACTICIA is that of a “global practice village” i.e a destination, where students go and practice (inspired by destination names ending in “ia” such as “Valencia”, “Iberia”, “Tanzania”, “Mauritania” etc.) Eventually PRACTICIA will become a global social network for practicing…
MMB: What are your top 3 hopes for this new app?
Rao:
-That it ENGAGES students and parents in practicing like never before.
-That it gives teachers (both private and classroom teachers) unprecedented visibility into what goes on in the practice room
-That practicing becomes as exciting, if not more exciting than anything else the students are involved in…:)
Click this link to check out the website for PRACTICIA: PRACTICIA.com
Thanks Sam for giving us a closer look at the PRACTICIA app!
Here are some screen shots of PRACTICIA–>

Review of How to Become a Confident Performer by Clive Stocker

To visit the book’s site click here

With his experience as a teacher and music practitioner, Clive Stocker offers his  expertise and self-help tips for those looking to improve their performance quality. The suggestions in his book range from simple breathing exercises to step-by-step approaches to becoming more confident on a small or grand stage.

The book is comprised of 31 chapters of illustrations and explanations of methods, and at the end of many of the chapters, it summarizes the explained method into an ordered list of steps. After chapter 31, you will find two chapters with references and acknowledgements.

While I do believe Mr. Stocker has some good, helpful approaches and thoughts to becoming a more confident performer and musician in his book like…

“The real truth is that you will never be like James Brown and nor should you be! We all need to be the best version of ourselves we can be on stage but we can borrow actions and ideas from other performers that we know will work for us.” (Page 111)

…I do take issue with a couple of major things about Mr. Stocker’s work:

1) One of the big things proposed about this book is that it offers quick fix solutions for your lack of performing confidence. While the book does have some easy-to-try exercises, I think it’s a very hard thing to claim that your approaches will provide easy fixes for performers across the board. Yes, they might have proven successful for some, but for many performers – young and old – there are just some things that will take time for them to work through in order to become more comfortable/confident in the spotlight.

2) To me, there ‘s a very strong underlying theme of hypnotic approaches in Mr. Stocker’s book, as well as connecting to your feelings/imagery-that you have the power within your mind to find the confidence you need. This is also very prevalent in his “Guided Meditation“ CD.

I am not a proponent of spiritualistic type approaches to music or life in general, nor have I been successful overcoming obstacles – specifically with learning and performing piano music – believing I can do it through myself. On top of being well prepared, I have only found complete confidence and peace during a performance when I quote these verses to myself from the Bible:

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
-Philippians 4:13

“…fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
-Isaiah 41:10

“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
-1 Peter 5:7

“In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence…”
-Proverbs 14:26

So in conclusion, I do believe Mr. Stocker is quite knowledgeable when it comes to enhancing your performance skills, but I don’t always agree with the avenues he takes or teaches to becoming a “confident performer.”

To learn more about Clive Stocker’s material visit his website: Confident Performer.

Review of Ear Master Pro


I have yet to review a product I liked better or found more musically resourceful than Ear Master Pro, an ear training & sight-singing software! This program is loaded with exercises to help improve students’-even teachers’-ear and sight skills, and I found it to be very nicely laid out, as well as user-friendly and effective.

Upon opening the program, you can first choose a mode and activity from the options pictured below. (Yes, there is even a “Jazz” mode! I’m not super familiar with the jazz style and I didn’t delve into that mode extensively, but I do find it pretty neat they have that as a feature.)

Within each activity, there are different modules you can choose from (some activities have over 20 modules while others have 1), and then you can choose what lesson of the module you’d like to start with. Once you do all that, you are set to begin your activity!

I found the interactive interface of Ear Master Pro to be pretty straight forward and easy to navigate which was really nice considering how many features it has. To be quite honest, I really enjoyed some of the activities myself. Naturally, I have a poor sense of rhythm and am definitely a “by sight” pianist, but I thought I’d give a rhythm dictation activity a try and…I ended up liking it. I believe some contributing factors to me liking this training program so much is 1) the good selection of activities, 2) how much you can customize the activities to fit your needs, 3) it has a fun, educational and techy feel, and 4) the fact that it utilizes so many different aspects on the computer: onscreen piano keyboard and staff, computer keys, the ability to use built-in audio functions or hook up a midi keyboard.

One thing I think is huge about this program is the clear sound quality it has. So often ear training games, sites, or CDs have very tinny or muffled sound, and that can really affect the listener’s ability to distinguish what they hear-especially if they are doing melodic dictation. I can see having Ear Master Pro in your studio as a teaching/training tool for your students being incredibly instrumental in helping them improve in areas from simple rhythmic dictation to chord identification.

Even if you’re not convinced yet to go buy your own downloadable copy, you should definitely download the trial version of Ear Master Pro and try it for yourself! There is also a Teacher Edition you can take a look at on the site.