MTNA Certification Renewal

After a year of just dumping various items I thought I might need when it comes time to renew my certification into a folder, I finally decided it was time to get organized! I firmly believe that taking the time up front to develop good organizational systems saves a lot of time and stress in the long run. Because I know that there are many teachers who have to keep track of renewal points, I thought I would post the system I came up with here, just in case it is helpful for anyone else.

1. I started out by printing out the Renewal Application and Documentation of Professional Renewal Activities Points Form from the MTNA Certification website. (Note: I am printing two copies of everything so that I have one notebook to send in and one to keep for my own reference.)

2. I placed the application form in the front pocket of a three-ring binder and added a sticky note with the date that I received my certification so that I can easily determine when I need to send in my renewal documentation.

3. I placed a list of Renewal Activities as the first sheet in the binder so that I have a quick overview of what kinds of activities qualify for renewal points.

4. Next come four dividers, labeled as Category 1, Category 2, Category 3, Category 4. Following each divider is a copy of the Renewal Activities Points Form for that category and then a handful of plastic sleeves. In each sleeve is where I place things like handouts from workshops I give, yearbook officer lists, convention programs, etc. Now I can record my activities as I go and make copies of necessary documentation and place it in the appropriate section right away.

5. At the back of the binder are a bunch of extra plastic sleeves so that I don’t run out and get behind in keeping up with the system!

Ideally this system will be easy to maintain and when it is time for me to send in my renewal documentation everything will be ready to go. No digging around in a folder at the last minute, running off copies and trying to get everything listed in the correct places. I’ll let you know four years from now how that works out… 🙂

Mystery Song Game

A while back I started instituting this Mystery Song Game idea and it’s been a ton of fun! When a student finishes one of their method books I give them one week to prepare for the game. The following week we take turns with one of us playing a song and the other one turning around or closing their eyes so that they can’t see the book. The one not playing has to guess which song the other one played. I give the student extra points (or balls, dollars, etc. depending on what our incentive program is for the year) if they correctly identify the song I play and if they play a song well enough so that I can identify it. This way they have the potential to earn quite a few points and they are very motivated to do a lot of reviewing that week, which, of course, is the whole point of the game! 🙂

Free Recital Program Template

Click here to download a free template that you can use when designing your own recital program. This template was created using tables in Microsoft Word. I made everything generic for this template, but usually use two contrasting fonts for the title of the pieces and the students’ names. You can adjust the spacing allowed for each line by hovering your mouse over the vertical line until you see the double arrows and then dragging the table border to one side or the other. You can also add or delete rows by highlighting the row and then right clicking on the mouse and selecting the appropriate menu option.

This design is for a sheet of 8.5×11″ paper, folded lengthwise. If you are interested in purchasing a complete package with a beautifully designed cover, customized message, and editable files, please check out this previous post.

Feel free to ask if you have any other questions about how to edit or adapt this file to suit your needs!

Updated Scale Chart

This year I included this scale chart (this is slightly updated from the chart I posted here – I removed the chord inversions and included more tempo markings for arpeggios) in the front of each student’s assignment book. What a tremendous tool it has been! We have gotten through so many more scales than we normally do (and I don’t have to constantly flip back through all the previous weeks’ assignment pages to recall which scales each student has already done!) and the students are much more motivated to learn their scales. They are taking much more initiative to increase the speed of their scales as well.

For the younger students, we do pentascales, but I still check them off on the chart. For most of them I just skip the eighth note column and have them use the metronome for the quarter note. I’ve also had my little ones start doing cross-over arpeggios where they just play the root and 5th note of each chord in each hand, then cross the LH over the RH, play the root and come back down. (i.e. for a C arpeggio, they play: LH C-G, RH C-G, LH cross to C, RH G-C, LH G-C…hopefully that makes sense…) They depress the damper pedal while they play and really love creating such a “grown-up” sound. 🙂

This is one page I plan to include in the student assignment books every year from now on!

Review of Practiceopedia: The Music Student’s Illustrated Guide to Practicing

Practiceopedia The moment it arrived, I was captivated by this full-color mammoth guide to practicing – Practiceopedia:The Music Student’s Illustrated Guide to Practicing. The 376 pages are chock-full of creative ideas to help students learn to practice effectively and conquer those tough spots in their pieces. I found myself reading through page after page, unable to resist the urge to read “just one more” idea. 🙂

Although it has the potential to be overwhelming, the book is very well organized and the layout is clean and attractive with a variety of clever illustrations that enhance the text without cluttering the pages. The “Exploring the Book” overview at the beginning of the book shows you how to find the practice help you need by starting with a problem, using cross-references or previewing each chapter. A handy “Chapter Guide” summarizes and directs you to each of the 61 chapters. The “Usher” pages direct you to specific practice suggestions based on the problem you are trying to solve. These are broken down into eight categories:

1. Not wanting to practice
2. Learning new pieces
3. Preparing for performance
4. Getting your piece up to tempo
5. Staying focused
6. Saving time
7. Managing deadlines
8. Dealing with problem passages

I’ve found it useful already in my studio – from giving it to a student after a lesson and telling her to come up with several ways to practice her piece that week to exploring it with a student to find ideas to deal with a problem we were trying to solve when none of our initial ideas were working.

There are so many great ideas and I haven’t even begun to implement them all, but here are a few of my favorites:

Blinkers – a page the size of the sheet music is placed over top of the page the student is supposed to practice with “windows” cut in the cover page to reveal only the measures the student is supposed to spot practice.

Defining Your Prototype – walks the student through identifying and listing specific qualities they want to be true of their performance and then how to work on developing those through their practicing.

Horizontal vs. Vertical – a discussion of the difference between practicing a piece in sections vs. practicing it as a whole and which approach is better.

Philip Johnston, author of Practiceopedia and also founder of the popular website, has put a lot of thought into producing this creative guide that should be in the hands of every dedicated musician. Mr. Johnston writes, “If you want to progress twice as rapidly, you don’t have to figure out how to do twice as much practice. Instead, practice twice as effectively.

That reminds me of a parallel principle I learned from a physical fitness trainer – if you learn how to work out properly and intensely you can achieve much better results than if you work out for long periods of time with no clear plan or with a poorly designed plan.

We all get in the habit of doing things a certain way and have a tendency to keep doing them that way regardless of whether they are effective or not. Practiceopedia will help students “Get rid of practice habits that don’t work – so they stop wasting their time – and replace them with a brand new set of carefully chosen practice techniques that do work.