Fresh and Fun! Feeling the Pulse #1

My first step with my students for our emphasis on Feeling the Pulse for this month is making sure that they understand the difference between rhythm and pulse. I want them to grasp the concept of the pulse being a steady ongoing beat, regardless of the rhythms that are played. I refer to pulse as “the underlying heartbeat of the music.” Here’s the quick activity that I’m planning to do at the start of each lesson next week:

Have a Heart – Feel the Pulse!
1. Print off one of these heart sheets.

2. Have the student sit on the floor and give them a handful of pennies.

3. Set the metronome at 80 and explain that this is the underlying heartbeat of the music (a.k.a. the pulse).

4. Instruct the student to place pennies in each heart according to how many notes they hear you play for each beat (for example, a quarter note would get one penny, two eighth notes would get two pennies, four sixteenth notes would get 4 pennies, etc.). You can tailor the complexity of the rhythms to the level of the student.

5. Play a 4-beat rhythm pattern. Check the student for accuracy, and then do the next row. Repeat for the third row. If the student demonstrates proficiency, increase the length of the rhythm pattern to two or three rows at a time.

I had my student James test drive this to make sure it would work, and so I could post a demo photo.

I’m also instituting a special deal with my students – every time they play a piece with perfect pulse at their lesson, I will give them one heart (i.e. I’ll draw a heart at the top of their assignment sheet). If they sight-read a piece with perfect pulse, they will receive three hearts! At the end of February, we’ll tally up the hearts and if they have 20 or more they will get a sheet music of their choice from my files for free!

I’m excited to see how things go this month, because my students can sure use a lot of reinforcement in this area! Do you have an idea that we can use for next week’s Fresh and Fun! idea? You can post it in the comments or send me an e-mail, so that I can post it next week for all of us to try. Same goes for any other suggestions, links, guest posts, etc. Let’s make this a group effort! 🙂

Review of Reflections of My Childhood

From the moment I heard the first track on the CD, I was hooked! I don’t know a word of Armenian, but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of this “collection of traditional Armenian children’s songs, rhymes, and poetry” one bit. The beautiful book and accompanying CD were produced by Houry Yapoujian Schmeizl in an effort to preserve her rich Armenian heritage and pass it along to her daughter and future generations. The project was a family affair, with Houry’s mom performing the arduous task of writing and translating the text, her sister contributing the lovely vocal parts and flute track, her brother-in-law recording and editing the CD, and her husband providing a guitar track.

The book contains an Armenian alphabet and pronunciation key, a guide for parents, twenty-five folk songs and poems, and a collection of children’s artwork adding color and personality to each page. The lyrics and text for each song and poem are written in Armenian, along with a transliteration and translation in English – very helpful! The printed music includes a melody line, lyrics, and chord symbols so that you can play and sing along. The layout of the book is clean and inviting, and the CD recording is very professional.

Whether you’re interested in exploring the music of another culture or just want to enjoy some beautiful music, you will thoroughly enjoy this collection. Visit Houry’s website for more information, to listen to sample recordings, and to order a copy for yourself.

Exciting New Developments for Music Matters Blog!

One of the ideas I’ve been tossing around for a while is the possibility of organizing a structured approach to focus on and evaluate specific skill development with our students. Based on the feedback I received from the recent survey, I’ve decided to give this a try for the next several months and see how it goes. I think it will be a lot of fun, and will produce some excellent results in our studios! So, here’s the plan:

For each month, there will be a specific emphasis.  We’ll all put our [virtual] heads together to come up with creative and effective ways to help our students improve in this particular area. There will be several different components to help us do this:

Fresh and Fun! – this should be a simple idea that involves little or no preparation, and that can be incorporated in private lessons throughout the week to help reinforce the particular emphasis for the month. I will post the idea on Friday and then we can incorporate that idea into our teaching the following week.

Guest Posts – anyone who wants to can write a short article pertaining to the emphasis for the month. Both bloggers and non-bloggers alike are welcome to contribute! The articles can be inspirational, philosophical, practical, humorous, or any combination of the above. 🙂

Progress Report – at the end of the month, I’ll have an open post where we can all share observations and reflections on progress that our students made in the area of emphasis, which activities were most successful, what didn’t work, etc.

So, to get started, February’s theme is: Feeling the Pulse. If you have something you would like to contribute for the month of February – a Fresh and Fun! Idea or Guest Post related to Feeling the Pulse, just send me an e-mail with your contribution. Also, if you have a blog or website with a game, worksheet, or other resource relevant to Feeling the Pulse, please let me know so I can post a link to it!

I’m sure this idea will continue to develop and evolve as we try it out over the next few months. If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to let me know. Now…let the brainstorming begin! What are your best ideas for helping students develop the skill of Feeling the Pulse?

Monday Mailbag

Thanks to the great input I received from the recent survey, I’ve decided to start a weekly mailbag feature here on Music Matters Blog. You can e-mail me any questions you have and I’ll select several that I receive each week and post them in my Monday Mailbag post. In addition, if you have any questions you want to submit for input from other teachers, I’ll also select one question each week to post for open discussion. That way other teachers can weigh in with their thoughts and suggestions on specific questions. When you e-mail me, just put “Monday Mailbag” in the subject line.

For starters, here are a few questions that I’ve received recently:

I would like info/help to get my own website started. What are the choices?
There are so many great options now to consider! I was going to type up all of them here, but I just gave a workshop last fall at our state music teachers conference on this topic, so I think it will be most helpful for you to download a copy of the handout from the workshop. Some of the information is specific to our state, but most of it is applicable to any music teacher. Once you look over this, if you have additional questions, feel free to ask!

How does a private music teacher go about securing a recital location? Typically, churches are free and super. What about when a teacher is new to the area, has called every church and the churches haven’t heard of this teacher before and won’t allow the teacher to use their church for a recital…what are good tips for locating hotels, nursing homes, malls (?…I’m desperate!) to allow a group of 25 piano students to give a recital?
Here are a few suggestions that come to mind:

  • Connect with other teachers in your area (do you have a local association that you can join?) and find out what venues they use. Then ask if you can use them as a reference when you contact the location to inquire about using it for your recital.
  • Ask your students’ families if one of them could be the liaison between you and their church facility to secure use of it for a recital.
  • If you have a college or university in your area, see if they have a hall or room that you could use for that purpose.

Your best results will probably come through networking and getting someone to put in a good word for you or make a connection on your behalf. That old cliche rings true, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

Open Discussion: Do most teachers teach their students to play black-key octaves with the thumb and 4th fingers (those students who can accomplish this stretch)?
What do you do? Weigh in with your answers and advice by leaving a comment below.

And of course, if you have additional suggestions pertaining to any of the above questions, feel free to chime in with that as well! If you have a question that you’d like me to include in a Monday Mailbag post, just send it my way (don’t forget to put “Monday Mailbag” in the subject line)!

Help Doctoral Students with a Research Project

I just received the following e-mail from some doctoral students at UMKC and would encourage you to take 10 minutes to help them with their research by completing the survey they’ve created. It’s very easy-to-understand-and-navigate, and I’m sure the findings of the research will be very beneficial!

We are Doctoral students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City doing research for a presentation at the 2009 Music Teacher’s National Association national conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Our research is about how the present economy has affected private music teaching.

We are looking for private music teachers of any instrument to take 10 minutes out of their busy schedules to complete an online anonymous national survey to help us with our research for our session presentation in Atlanta at the end of March. We would greatly appreciate it if you could participate in our survey and could also forward this on to your members and encourage them to participate as well.

We need several hundred responses from across the nation. Please feel free to send this link to any private music teachers that you know.

Thank you so much for your time and your responses!

Rhythmic Dictation Worksheet

One of the things I try to do periodically with my students is rhythmic dictation. Here is a really simple worksheet that I designed for this purpose. I just have the student sit in my chair with a clipboard and pencil. Then I play rhythm patterns and have them notate what they hear. You can adapt the difficulty of the rhythm pattern according to the level of each student. This is also a great activity for weeks when students don’t get in a lot of practice, or accidentally show up without their piano books. 🙂

Essentials of Music Website

This Essentials of Music website is a great place to get a brief overview of a variety of musical information. They have three primary sections on the site: Eras, Composers, and Glossary. The Eras section contains separate sections for: Middle Ages, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and 20th Century. Clicking on one of these leads you to further information about the Historical Themes, Musical Context, Style, and Composers of that era.

The Composers section includes a brief biographical sketch of the composer, a few musical examples you can listen to, and a list of works by that composer. The Glossary is a wonderful collection of all sorts of musical terms with little excerpts to further illustrate some of the terms. A wonderful resource for teachers and students alike!

Share Your Music at

I have been having way too much fun over at! A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from one of the site developers, letting me know about it and encouraging me to check it out and sign up. I just finished setting up my own page and uploading a couple of my own pieces.

The site is very well designed and very intuitive to use. You can upload your own songs, explore music shared by others, create playlists, and more! You can even copy and embed the code in your own website or blog.

Here is the song “One Heart” that I wrote for my sister’s wedding, taken from the words in Jeremiah 32:38-41:

One Heart by Natalie Wickham

This is a piano arrangement that I wrote for some friends who were getting married. I asked the bride and groom for their favorite hymns and then incorporated both of them into the bridal procession that I played at their wedding:

Tiffany’s Processional by Natalie Wickham

I’m still setting up a playlist and trying to figure out some other things on the site. There aren’t a lot of users contributing music yet, but hopefully we can change that! According to the developer who e-mailed me, they have plans to add many more great features this year. If you do some of your own composing/arranging, you should check it out and set up a page. Just be sure to let me know!

And the Winners Are…

Thanks again to everyone who filled out the Music Matters Blog survey! The three winners of the practice incentive programs are: Steve, Kendra, and Charcie. Congratulations! I’ve sent each of you e-mails with more information, but let me know if you didn’t receive it and I’ll get the practice incentive program of your choice sent right over.

Stay tuned for some new and exciting developments here on Music Matters Blog, thanks to all the great input and suggestions I received!