Audition to Study Piano with Mario Ajero

Check out this awesome opportunity that Mario Ajero is offering to anyone who is interested in studying piano with him! Mario is Assistant Professor of Piano Pedagogy and Coordinator of Class Piano at Stephen F. Austin State University and also hosts The Piano Podcast. He is one of the leading experts in the field of music technology today, so this is an incredible opportunity!

You can watch his whole video presentation for the details, but I’ll just point out that the deadline for submitting your video audition is September 1, 2008. Mario is also operating with a user-determined fee structure. He’s not setting a price for his lessons, but is leaving it up to each student to pay whatever they are willing for the privilege of studying with him. He is open to teaching students of all levels and lists the specific things he is looking for from each audition in his video presentation.

I think this would be the perfect opportunity for a teacher who is interested in furthering his or her own piano skills, but doesn’t have the ability or availability to study with a teacher locally. These lessons take place right in your own home and I suspect there is a great deal of flexibility in scheduling as well. If I wasn’t already studying with an excellent teacher I would be recording my audition video right now instead of typing this post! 🙂

Piano Practice Tips

This Piano Practice Tips E-News Archives page has some wonderful thoughts on effective practice methods. I’m guessing that the e-newsletter itself is no longer in operation, because the archives are dated 2000-2002. Here’s another page I just found with even more archives. I haven’t read through all of the archives, but it’s nice to know there are places where you can go to pick up a gem or two to spur on new teaching and practicing ideas!

Review of Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora, Vol. 3

I was thrilled when I received the announcement that this third volume of Piano Music of Africa and the African Diaspora is now available! I quickly made the arrangements to get a review copy and didn’t even care if I disliked every other song in the book, because I knew it had the one I’ve been waiting for – Jamaican Dance No. 2. This is the one I heard performed live by William Nyaho at a concert and I fell in love with it. I bought the CD (Senku) the night of the concert, but had to wait until Volume 3 for the printed music. It’s just beautiful and as soon as the book arrived, I had to sit down at my piano and play it. Now I’ve worked my way through the rest of the pieces and the 56-page book is packed full of great music. Here are my notes on each of the pieces:

Take Me Back – a fun, lively piece with a constant rhythmic motif that is easy to get the hang of. The catchy melody makes you want to hum along!

Deep River – a gorgeous, rich sound wafts from the pages of this Negro Spiritual. The arrangement employs a thick texture, including a section with a counter melody. A range of emotions makes this piece very moving.

La Dangereuse (Meringue Haitienne) – this piece also boasts a beautiful, rich sound. The time signature is marked 2/4 (and then 3+3+2 over a 16), so I didn’t even try to count and just made up a rhythm that felt right. 🙂

Juba Dance – lots of parallel 4ths give this piece a definite Asian flair. Very fun and playful!

Jamaican Dance No. 2 – Here’s my piece! Here’s my piece! 🙂 The sweet, delicate sound just grabs your heart. A passionate climax in the middle evokes even deeper emotion before returning to the simple sweet sound with which it began.

Didn’t It Rain – clusters in the low register of the bass clef set the mood for this very dissonant piece. Even the middle section, marked “tranquillo”, couldn’t convince me to like the piece (I’m not a fan of excessive dissonance…).

The Cuckoo – The LH plays a little “cuckoo” figure throughout the whole piece while the RH flits all over the keys like a little bird out for a morning excursion.

Scenes from Traditional Life No. 1 – another primarily dissonant piece with lots of contrasts in dynamic and register changes. Probably one of those that you’d have to play several times to grasp the structure and sound.

Scherzino – fun, with a mischievous touch! The piece is written in 2/8, but uses a 16th note triplet figure throughout that gives it a dance-like quality. A brilliant section in the middle and at the end are attention-getting and a fun contrast.

Nimble Feet – a lively, clear-cut dance (I didn’t feel like I needed to be a mathematician to count out each measure!). The structure is very chordal and little melodic ideas are woven into both hands throughout.

Papillons – just like you would expect a butterfly piece to sound – quick and delicate. Some changing of registers, with a section in the middle that uses three staffs to facilitate the reading of the quick movements between hands and registers.

Variations on an Egyptian Folksong – I could definitely picture myself crossing the desert on a camel’s back as I played this piece. Each variation is quite different, ranging from a gentle flowing style to a lively Egyptian dance. Well, the indication given is “in the style and rhythm of an Egyptian dance.” Since I really don’t know anything about Egyptian dances, I’m just assuming that it’s lively. If there are any Egyptian dance experts out there, please feel free to enlighten me. 🙂

I was pleasantly surprised at how much I like almost all the pieces in this third volume. Even if it didn’t have “my piece”, I would definitely recommend it!

Go to: Review of Volume 1 | Review of Volume 2

Wendy’s New Site

Today has been mostly occupied with lots of brainstorming, jotting down notes and putting together all the details for next year’s studio incentive. You can check out some of the previous practice incentives I’ve developed in the Practice Incentives category. Anyway, in the process of gathering some links for my student assignment books, I clicked over to Wendy’s Piano Studio website and noticed that she has completed redesigned it and it looks incredible! It’s still full of all the same great resources, but now they are easier to navigate. My favorite page, though, is the Links page. The layout is very cool!

It looks like Wendy used Google Sites to build her website. I haven’t explored it at all, but anyone wanting to build their own website may want to check it out. If you’re looking into setting up your own website, here are a couple of other helpful posts:
Get Your Own Studio Website! – This is a little outdated, since I wrote it almost 3 years ago, but some of the information is still relevant and helpful.
Music Teacher’s Helper – Another Review – A great option for a full-blown record-keeping system and studio website. Or you can just set up a studio website for free!

Flute Podcast

For any flute players out there, you may want to check out this great resource provided by David Summer. You can listen to and download recordings of the pieces from the book, Selected Duets for Flute, Volume 1 Edited by H.Voxman. You can also subscribe to his podcast via a feedreader or iTunes. What a great idea! I wish there were more piano podcasts like this that provided duet accompaniments for popular piano duet books…

Treble Clef Music Game

This is the first game I ever made for my studio and it is still one of the favorites.

I just cut a treble clef shape out of white posterboard and then cut orange and blue circles and placed them on the treble clef to create a path. Then I laminated it to preserve it (and it’s held up quite well! I “store” it by hanging it from a clip magnet on the side of one of my file cabinets). To play, each student places their game token on the start and draws a card from the draw pile.

(As you can see, I just handwrote the questions on little squares of yellow construction paper and then laminated them.)

If the student correctly answers the question, they get to roll either the orange or blue interval die to determine how many spaces to move (for the first roll, when they are on the start space, they can choose either die, but after that, they have to roll the die that corresponds to the color circle their game token is on). The dice are made from foam cubes and then I used a black ink pen to draw the keyboard or staff with a different interval on each side.

The students don’t even realize this is my clever ploy to drill them on interval recognition, because they’re too busy trying to figure out how many spaces they get to move! 🙂

Obviously, it’s a very simple game, but it’s fully adaptable to any age or level student and it works great for any number of students. I’ve even had students ask to play it on their own or with a sibling while they’re waiting for their lesson.

Piano Camp 2008 Q&A

First off, I must say that the general outline for the camp was put together by another teacher in our local association who is chairing the committee for our Music Olympics next week. This made my planning a piece of cake, since I really just had to fill in the specifics. Thanks, Sally! Now, on to the questions…

What was the treble clef game? This is the first music game I made years ago and it’s still one of the favorites in my studio. (I think I’ll just do a separate post with the specifics of how it’s designed and played.)

How did you use the rhythm cards? I lined four at a time across the music rack on the piano and then had the students clap and count or conduct and vocalise the rhythms. They actually really loved doing this and I love the rhythm cards!

Was that the Balloon Pop Polka? Yes. It’s a great ensemble piece!

What was the relay thing at the keyboard? One of the events for our Music Olympics is scale relays. A team of 4 students (if there are fewer than 4, they must still complete the requirements of a 4-person team) prepares 2 scales each according to the requirements of the level they are entering. The first student plays the first scale and then the next student immediately begins the following scale without missing a beat. The scales must be played in ascending order. The rotation of students continues until all 8 scales have been played. The teams are judged on correct fingering, accurate notes, steady beat and continuity between each student. This is sure a great way to help students polish their scales! I made them keep training over and over, even if they got it right. I think some of them probably played their scales more in those 4 days than they did the whole previous year! 🙂

Was there supposed to be sound? Yes, and I’m glad you figured out how to get the sound to work on your computer – it is amazing the difference music makes! The music I used is The Olympic Spirit by John Williams.

On videoing while teaching…this was a bit tricky! There are a number of activities I completely forgot to record at all. When I was highly involved in the particular activity, it slipped my mind, but anytime the students were working more independently on an activity or assignment I gave them, I usually remembered to pull out my camera and shoot for a few minutes.

What was the snapping fingers at the beginning of the video? That was 2 sisters trying to help their younger brothers learn the right timing for popping their balloons in the Balloon Pop Polka!

What were some kids writing on the clipboards while others did the relay? Since a couple of the students at the camp either weren’t going to be at the Music Olympics festival or weren’t entered in the scale relay competitions I employed them as “judges” to give them something constructive to do on the last day while the other two trained by themselves. I gave each one of the “judges” something specific to watch for – either accurate notes, correct fingering or steady beat. For each scale that was played, if the area they were watching for was performed successfully, they were to make one tally mark on their sheet of paper.

Did they prepare music ahead of time? A few of the students got music the week before at their lesson, but most of them sight-read it the first day of piano camp and had to learn it that week.

What were they painting?
Flags! Each studio participating in the Music Olympics next weekend got to design their own flag which we will all carry in during the Opening Ceremonies. Since I had 2 groups for piano camp, I let them each design one side of a flag and then I sewed them together.

On age integration…almost all of my group events involve a wide range of ages (from 5 year-olds to post-graduates) and I have found this to be very beneficial. I often pair older students with younger ones and have them work together on specific assignments or games. This gives the older ones a chance to be leaders and it inspires the younger ones because they really look up to the older ones.

Would you ever do a video just showing your studio? Yes! That’s actually something on my to-post list, since I’ve had other readers send me a request to do that as well. As soon as I get around to taking the video, I’ll get it posted and give you all a virtual tour of my studio!

When did you do it? June 30-July 3; 2 1/2 hours each day for each group – I had one group from 10:00-12:30 and the other group from 1:00-3:30 each day with an open lunch time in between so that anyone could bring a sack lunch and hang out here with the others.

How did you put the video together with a title page and rolling credits? Last year, for one of my piano camps I wanted my students to make a documentary, so I purchased the Adobe Premiere Elements software. It is pretty intuitive and has a lot of basic capabilities, including adding rolling credits. There are some features I would really like that it doesn’t have, so eventually I may upgrade to the full version of Adobe Premiere, but for now it is serving its purpose.

Piano Camps are such a fun part of summer lessons in my studio. If you haven’t already given it a try, I highly recommend it!

Piano Camp – The Daily Plan

Since many of you were interested in more specifics from my piano camp, I’ve copied my daily schedule below to give you a better idea of how I structured each day. I had 2 1/2 hours with each group (usually I do 2 hours a day and meet Monday through Friday, but since Friday was the 4th, I just increased the time for each of the other four days) and the students were grouped primarily by families. Since I have several sets of 3-sibling groups I knew it would make it easier on their parents to only have to schedule in one chunk of time for all of them. I’ll answer all the other specific questions in my next post.

Inspirational Reading and Discussion – Small Things Done Well
Warm-Ups – neck rolls, shoulder rolls, torso twists, arm stretches, finger O’s
Ensemble Practice – have all students sit in circle and count out loud while clapping the rhythm for their parts
Flag-Making – have all students draw design concepts
Team Competition Practice – Assign teams, explain rules, train for scale relays
Game Time! – Music Forte
Game Booth Design – Discuss and write down ideas
Rhythm Skills Development – Introduce conducting patterns, place 4 rhythm cards across the piano music rack, have all students clap and count out loud together

Inspirational Reading and Discussion – Spiritual Muscles
Warm-Ups – neck rolls, shoulder rolls, torso twists, arm stretches, finger O’s
Ensemble Practice – split the groups between the piano and Clavinova and begin playing parts together
Flag-Making – discuss favorite ideas and combine into one flag design
Team Competition Practice – train for scale relays
Game Time! – Tic-Tac-Toe (group one); Key Signature Dominoes (group two)
Game Booth Design – Finalize ideas, assign responsibilities
Rhythm Skills Development – Review conducting patterns, place 4 rhythm cards across the piano music rack, have all students conduct together while using designated vocal sounds for the rhythm

Inspirational Reading and Discussion – Perseverance
Warm-Ups – neck rolls, shoulder rolls, torso twists, arm stretches, finger O’s
Ensemble Practice – work separately on parts, then move pianos together and run-through with balloons
Flag-Making – start drawing design on canvas
Team Competition Practice – train for scale relays, work to improve speeds; train for arpeggio laps
Game Time!Affirm-a-Term
Game Booth Design – Start making pieces
Rhythm Skills Development – Review conducting patterns, place 4 rhythm cards across the piano music rack, have all students clap and count together; let students take turns conducting

Inspirational Reading and Discussion – Here Today
Warm-Ups – neck rolls, shoulder rolls, torso twists, arm stretches, finger O’s
Ensemble Practice – work separately on parts, then move pianos together and run-through with balloons
Flag-Making – finish drawing and coloring design on canvas
Team Competition Practice – train for scale relays, work to improve speeds; train for arpeggio laps; have observing students be judges
Game Time! – Treble Clef Game (group one); Stinky Sox (group two)
Game Booth Design – Finish making pieces
Rhythm Skills Development – Use rhythm sheets; go through all applicable levels; have students clap and count out loud together

Inspirational Readings taken from The Courage to Run by Jim Ryun

Look inside this title
Balloon Pop Polka - sheet music at
Balloon Pop Polka By Ruth Ellinger. For Piano. This edition: 2 copies included. Piano Quartet (2 Pianos, 8 Hands). Keyboard Ensemble Series. Late Elementary level piece for the Piano Quartet event with the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) Festivals Bulletin 2008-2009-2010. Level: Late Elementary (grade 2). 12 pages. Published by Alfred Publishing. (PA02202)
See more info…

Ensemble Piece – Balloon Pop Polka by Ruth Ellinger

* Dowel rod
* Canvas
* Fabric markers/paint
* Rhythm cards
* Paper and pencils
* Clipboards
* Games