Survey Question #8

Another random, non-musical question. These are fun just to get to know the students a little better! After this my creativity ran out, so this was the last of the survey questions for this year. If anyone has ideas for other survey questions, I would love to know what they are! A lot of my students really got into these and kept asking me about the survey question even after I stopped writing new ones. Several students started contributing their own questions that I can use in the future!

What person from history would you most like to meet if you had the chance?

* Jesus, Adoniram Judson, George Mueller, Lincoln.
* Ronald Regan.
* Amelia Earhart.
* John Adams.
* Abraham Lincoln.
* David.
* Washington.
* Beethoven.
* Jesus.
* The apostle Peter.
* Everyone!
* Paul.
* Babe Ruth.
* Jesus.
* My Dad’s Grandpa.

Survey Question #7

I decided to do a random non-musical question for number seven – partly just for something different and partly because I was running out of good ideas for lesson-related questions. 🙂

If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?

* Europe.
* 1. Ireland. 2. Prince Edward Island.
* Dubai.
* 1. Chicago. 2. New York. 3. Canada.
* California
* Probably to Africa to see my cousins.
* Too many to list.
* Canada.
* I would go to Europe.
* Italy.
* China because I want to see the Great Wall and learn about their culture.
* Italy and Paris.
* Oregon.
* London.
* Germany.
* Everywhere! Of course!
* Out of the USA.
* Europe.
* Hawaii.

Survey Question #6

You can see that I have quite a few less responses to this question than some of the others. I just left it up to the students each week to decide if they wanted to answer the question or not.

What performance tips have been the most helpful to you?

* Just focus on your piece and take a lot of deep breaths.
* Just keep going if you mess up.
* Take time before you play.
* Practice, Practice, Practice!
* Good job.
* Stand up straight and smile.
* Practicing.
* Practice it a lot before.
* Memorizing.
* Be prepared! Have your piece learned well enough to play in your sleep. (When you get nervous your brain won’t work – your fingers have to know what to do!!)
* To smile when walking up.
* Pretend the audience is not there.
* Focus on what you’re playing.
* Sit straight.

Survey Question #5

Here is the fifth survey question I asked my students, followed by their answers:

What advice would you give to a new piano student about practicing?

* Never give up.
* Never stop trying.
* Get your rhythm correct.
* Do it every day.
* First play it slow, then play it backwards.
* Play slowly when starting a new piece.
* To practice every day a week.
* Practice often.
* Try as hard as you can and if you can’t, take a break then try it later.
* Try to practice every day.
* Practice makes perfecto.
* Keep trying.
* Listen to your teacher.
* To learn all the notes and what they mean.
* Play slow.
* I tell them to practice each of their songs several times daily, and increase the amount of time they spend at the piano slowly.
* Practice all 7 days.
* The more you practice the easier the songs will become.

How to Transition to Longer Lessons

Several years ago I realized that 30-minute lessons were not enough for most of the students in my studio. We were always running out of time, things felt rushed, and the students would lose motivation because a piece they had worked on really hard to play for me would get a little star beside it to remind me to listen to it first the next week since we were out of time this week. I knew it would be incredibly beneficial to increase the lesson length to 45-minutes, but I wasn’t sure if parents would be willing to make the transition (since it would cost half again as much as 30-minute lessons). So, on the Year-End Parent Questionnaire that year I included this question:

If recommended, would you be willing to transition to a 45-minute lesson slot in the Fall?” The response options were: Yes, No, Unsure

Then, as I worked through the Student Evaluations in preparation for our Year-End Evaluations, I analyzed how each student’s lesson was playing out from week to week and whether it would be beneficial for them to switch to the longer lesson time. For all but a few, I made the recommendation that they transition to 45-minute lessons in the fall.

As the parents and I discussed their child’s progress for the year, goals for the following year and my recommendations, I was thrilled to discover that most of the parents already realized that their child would benefit from longer lessons and were more than willing to make the transition. Only one parent decided to wait until the following year before making the transition.

Now I only offer 45-minute lessons to new students and love, love, love having a longer lesson time across the board in my studio! It has made a huge difference in the amount of material we are able to cover in the lesson, the fun extras that we can do each week, the progress that the students make throughout the year…and the sanity of the teacher! 🙂

The Most Amazing Site for On-line Music Quizzes, Puzzles and Games!

Okay, so I think I’ve been living under a rock to have not found this treasure trove of on-line music quizzes, puzzles and games before now! Created by Ms. K. Garrett, a Music Tech Teacher in Birmingham, AL, this site is an incredible resource for music teachers!

I haven’t officially started working on my computer lab plans yet, but this site is going at the top of the list of sites to use as I begin developing my curriculum plans. I just got done playing a few of the quizzes and they are very well done. Check out this favorite! Fun, huh? I also love that at the end of each quiz there is an option to print the score. This would make it so easy for my students to keep track of which games they’ve played and how they did. Plus, I could allow them to play as many times as they wanted and then bring their best score in to their lesson – extra motivation to keep playing until they really know the answers!

I noticed that Ms. Garrett uses this Question Writer software, so I’m checking into that some more as well. It would be wonderful to use this to develop customized quizzes for my students! I’m getting more and more excited about starting a computer lab in the fall. We’ll see who has more fun – my students or me! 🙂

Survey Question #4

Oops! I kind of dropped the ball on posting my survey questions after the first, second and third questions. Here is the fourth survey question I asked, followed by my students’ responses:

If you could change one thing about your piano lessons, what would it be?

* The only thing I would change is having a longer lesson.
* Practicing more things.
* More games.
* The time.
* It would be longer.
* Nothing.
* Nothing.
* More fast songs and more scales and more theory books.
* I love them the way they are!!!
* To have a longer lesson.
* Make the lessons longer.
* Being able to play Entertainer.
* When I first come in I would get a piece of gum.
* Maybe a few more activities.
* I wouldn’t do theory.
* I don’t want to do theory book.
* I would have piano lessons more often and get rid of scales!
* Having to practice.
* Improve on Jolly Old St. Nicholas.

The Psalms Project

For the past four years, each Spring I’ve given my students the opportunity to participate in The Psalms Project. The first lesson of the year I handout The Psalms Project worksheet and encourage them to compose their own song to go with the words of one or more verses from the Psalms. Here’s a list of the step-by-step instructions I include on the worksheet for each student:

* Pick a verse from one of the psalms in the Bible.
* Compose a melody to go with the words of the verse.
* Figure out what the time signature and key signature are.
* Notate the melody on staff paper.
* Figure out what chords could be used to harmonize the melody.
* Notate the chords or a chord accompaniment to go along with the melody.
* Learn how to use the computer notation program.
* Transfer your composition onto the computer.
* Draw an illustration to go with your composition. (optional)
* Turn in your composition by May 10 to be included in The Psalms Project – Vol. 4 book

Once I’ve received all the contributions, I compile them into a book and send them off to the printer. Then, at our Year-End-Evaluations, the student plays their composition for their parent(s) and is the proud recipient of their very own published work!
The Psalms Project

It’s an exciting project that gives the students an introduction to composition and notation – both by hand and with the use of computer software. Many of the same students contribute to the project each year and it’s neat to see them grow in musical maturity through their composing. Plus, it’s proved to be a great way to not completely neglect the wonderful world of composition that often gets passed by for other more pressing assignments in my regular teaching routine!

Quotes from Music and Keyboard in the Classroom Teacher’s Manual

In the course of reading the Teacher’s Manual for my review of the Music and Keyboard in the Classroom curriculum, these are some quotes that I found particularly helpful and/or thought-provoking:

To further shape a music curriculum it is essential to know what we believe, as educators. Otherwise we will be irresolute in the delivery of our curriculum.” (Pg. 9)

Performing is essential as the primary mode of musical involvement for all students including general music students.” (Pg. 9)

In the arts, production should lie at the centre of any artistic experience: “verbal knowledge (or “talk” about music) is “an ancillary form of knowledge, not to be taken as a substitute for ‘thinking’ and ‘problem solving’ in the medium itself” (Elliott p. 42, Music Matters).” (Pg. 12)

It pays to remember that the primary function of evaluation is not to determine grades but to provide accurate constructive feedback to students.” (Pg. 19)

Music starts as sounds in the head, not signs on paper. But teachers and musicians who have gone through life recreating from notation and devoid of musical creative experiences perpetuate the myth of notational supremacy.” (Pg. 31-32)

We are all born with wonderful imaginations. Indeed, a child’s playtime largely exists in an imaginary world. Kids love to play, to make up stories and sing their own songs. Unfortunately, much of this creative tendency gets lost when children are required to conform to school bureaucracy. It gets sacrificed for more ‘academic’ pursuits like language, maths and science and gets relegated and related to a faculty with the lowest status in the educational system. However, many self-made successful people were not necessarily successful in the school system. This is because they had their own ideas and wanted to try things their way. New inventions and the solving of problems are dependent on creative thinkers. We need to encourage creativity in our
educational systems.
” (Pg. 32)

With ensemble activities, the students actually need one another’s knowledge and skills. Not all school group work demands this.” (Pg. 34)

Interview with Michael Griffin

Michael GriffinToday I am pleased to welcome Michael Griffin, author of the Music and Keyboard in the Classroom curriculum, to Music Matters Blog for an exclusive interview.

Music Matters Blog (MMB): What prompted you to write your own classroom curriculum for your music classes? Why did you choose to emphasize keyboard studies?

Michael Griffin (MG): For many years, I was teaching occasional lessons in a keyboard lab as part of a wider curriculum, and whilst each lesson I designed had a structure and purpose, I recognized the need for an over-arching curriculum design. It also occurred to me that I needed a differentiated curriculum to allow all students to work comfortably at their own rate. To my surprise, and despite a world-wide search, I could not find any suitable resources or models, so I decided to write my own.
The emphasis on keyboard studies was the natural result of witnessing so many general music kids respond and engage enthusiastically to learning through keyboards. Keyboards are a fantastic value for money these days, and I have tried to share many creative lesson ideas through my books. In my background, I studied classical piano at university for 4-years, and now play professionally in a jazz trio. Also, I have been a keen student of educational pedagogy, so all in all I felt I had something to offer the educational community.

MMB: I love your student teacher idea! Will you explain to my readers how it works and the benefits you have experienced in your classroom as a result of implementing it?MG:Thank you –I have to say that despite the simplicity of this idea, it has proven to be a fantastic motivator in my classrooms, yet somewhat surprisingly it is unique! Everyone who learns about this gets very excited about implementing it. I explain it fully in the teacher manual, but in a nutshell, this is how it works:
The first premise is that students need to learn self-evaluation. Hence after each exercise, there is a place for students to place their signature indicating that they believe they have played the exercise correctly. They are then free to move on to the next exercise. In the meantime, the teacher will also assess the student and sign off if appropriate. As you can imagine, there can be quite a disparity between student evaluation and teacher evaluation. This is where some wonderful learning opportunities arise as the teacher helps the student to discover necessary improvements in order to complete the task correctly. At the beginning of this expectation, I find many students reticent to evaluate themselves. They are more comfortable in the teacher evaluating every step of their progress. Maybe they are used to this, but we must try and lead them into these higher-learning processes. With practice and effort, they can all do this.
The second premise is that students enjoy learning and sharing knowledge with their peers, so I actively encourage this. I tell the students that I am not the only teacher in the classroom, and that if they can play an exercise particularly well, I may grant them ‘teacher status’ for that particular exercise. This allows them to do what I do: find students who have signed off on an exercise and are ready for a ‘teacher’ evaluation. I then observe their interactions with their peers and in a sense teach them how to teach. They love this aspect of the course and it excites me to see them respecting each other on these new levels. My students know that ‘teacher status’ can be revoked if abused, but I have only ever had to do this once!

MMB: Could you see your curriculum being successfully implemented by an independent music teacher who wanted to offer a group keyboard class for Middle School students?

MG: This course was designed with classes of middle school students in mind, and I have enjoyed teaching classes of up to 24 students in my keyboard lab, with one student to a keyboard. However, I have had independent music teachers buy the books and the feedback has been very positive. I know that some teachers have found the improvisation and aural exercises in Book 2 a useful model to copy. Also, I have an adult education version and I recently delivered this to a group of 10 parents from my school. They were inspired by their students learning my student course to take up keyboard themselves and they loved it! I see this as a springboard to learning with an independent teacher, not as an end in itself. The thing about adult learning is that many like to learn in groups, as long as they can work at their own rate. One of my prime aims with adults is to give them confidence in their ability to learn new skills. After the course, I encourage these adult learners to continue their learning and I have found that now they have dipped their toe in the water, many seek the private tuition model.

MMB: How well do you think a student would transition from this class-based approach into a private piano study setting? Do you think that delaying the introduction of the left hand and hands-together playing is an obstacle to the student’s progress if they desire to go further in their piano studies?

MG: Each year I do some action research to ascertain the success or otherwise of my courses. From recent data 72 % of my students (I presently teach almost 200 students this course) indicated an increased interest in music directly attributable to taking my course. 45% said they would consider private piano lessons in the future. These figures please me very much as I like to encourage all students to explore their musicality on an instrument that suits them, and with a teacher they can connect with.

As for your 2nd question, Music and Keyboard in the Classroom is first and foremost a general music curriculum as distinct from a keyboard skill development program. Students learn musicianship through practical keyboard activity. I delay the introduction of the left hand and hands together playing so as to focus on some very basic musical rudiments with a minimum of technical restrictions. There are many excellent beginner books; mine was not designed to compete with them.

MMB: In the Teacher’s Guide (pg. 39), you state that you spend about 20 minutes in another room before moving over to the keyboard lab. You mention that, “This time is spent doing the associated theory and listening exercises within Music and Keyboard in the Classroom, practising aural skills through the pieces and setting goals for their practical work.” I’m curious to know more about the goals that you have the students set for their practical work. Can you elaborate?

MG: My intention here is to encourage students to plan their learning and practicing session. Students will goal set for the lesson by looking ahead at what difficulties they expect to encounter, and how best to overcome them. We talk about chunking, practice tempo and things like that. Also, each lesson has some associated theory questions pertinent to that lesson. I might do some extra exercises on the board. As you said in your review, my books use many well known classical melodies so I often find examples on YouTube to help bring the music alive for the students and play them on the interactive whiteboard. I also use some of the exercises for sight-seeing and rhythmic reading. In other words, I try to integrate the exercises as fully as possible. So this is how the first 20 minutes or so is spent. Bear in mind, my lessons are for 1 hour, and for kids this age, that’s a bit long to spend at a keyboard in one session.

MMB: What are your future plans for the development of this curriculum (subsequent books, web resources, etc.)?

MG: Firstly, I wish to continue to add interesting and relevant support to my web resources page. I have started a 3rd student book which should be finished by the end of this year. I will also be presenting a paper ‘Creating Emotional Intelligence Opportunities through the Keyboard Laboratory’ at the ISME conference in Bologna, Italy in July this year. (By the way, this conference is a must for world-wide music educators; go to for more details).

My books are being well received in a number of countries now, possibly because the content is relevant to the music education aims of many countries, but due to my full-time commitments as a school teacher, and my part-time work as a musician, time is becoming more difficult to find to promote my materials. Therefore, I presently have a couple of publishers considering my work. But as for now, I still receive orders by email, and (for international customers) am selling the books in PDF format only.

MMB: Will you share a little bit about some of your other music work – your choral arrangements, etc?

MG: Choral music is another passion of mine. When I worked in Australia I was very fortunate to conduct some fine student choirs and I have made available many of the recordings on my website for free download. Hopefully, this is a useful resource of repertoire for high school and college choral directors. I’ve also uploaded about 50 YouTube videos of choir performances. I have done some choral arranging, but not as much as I would like due to time constraints.

One other area of interest is the use of background music in educational and other commercial environments. I did a Masters degree on this topic a couple of years back, and have given some seminars to various groups on the psychology and implementation for background music structures. For example, I have a presentation called Study, Stress and Music for senior students where I present and discuss with students how the music they listen to whilst studying can positively or negatively affect their learning. It’s a fascinating subject and I really enjoy learning about it. I think schools could implement music in a very positive manner through the entire school environment. Recently I’ve been interviewed in a few industry magazines on the same ideas, but applied to marketing and retail industries such as how to select appropriate music for various commercial scenarios etc. My Masters dissertation Background Music and the Learning Environment can be downloaded freely from my Background Music website page.

MMB: Any other comments you would like to share?

MG: I just wish to thank you Natalie for giving me the opportunity to discuss my ideas on your blog. It’s great meeting people like you who share the same passion for spreading the wonders of music education around the world. If your readers would like to discuss these issues further, they may email me. I am also available for school consultations and conference presentations.

MMB: Thank you so much, Mr. Griffin! It’s been a pleasure to review your materials and conduct this interview!