TCW Resources Workshop

This weekend is our Kansas Music Educator’s In-Service Workshop here in Wichita, so I’m attending a couple of the sessions by Charlene Zundel, of TCW Resources.

In addition to having a lot of fun, I’m also picking up some fabulous new game ideas! Charlene played Wacky Wanda with some of the attendees. I got in on the game when she used the Kreative Keyboard and had us place Hershey kisses on the staff to represent the letters of the words she showed us on the Wacky Wanda cards. My students would love this!

Charlene does a great job involving the attendees and is giving out money liberally to those who participate. (I’ve got over $100 so far! 🙂 ) At the end of the session, she said we’ll get to bid on items. I’m hoping to get a pack of Scale Scramble cards – it’s a Pit-like game that reinforces scale building. I think this will be a perfect addition to our Know Your Signature – That’s the Key! theme for the month of March. Even if I don’t get it, though, I’m taking away a cool set of Student Flashcards that was included for free in our attendee packet. If you ever have a chance to attend a TCW Resources workshop, I highly recommend it!

Fresh and Fun! Idea – Key Signature-Scale Matchup Music Worksheets

For the month of March, our theme is Know Your Signature – That’s the Key! My goal is to help students not only memorize their key signatures, but also understand the concept that key signatures indicate which scale forms the basis for a particular piece of music. In order to reinforce that concept, I’ve created these Key Signature-Scale Matchup Music Worksheets that I plan to go over with each student and have them complete at their lesson next week. (Actually, I’ll let them choose one to do at their lesson, and assign them the rest to do on their own and bring back to their lesson next week.) Feel free to download them for free and use them with your students as well!

There are four worksheets included in the set: Major-Sharp Keys, minor-sharp Keys, Major-Flat Keys, and minor-flat Keys.

If you have a Fresh and Fun! idea for the month of March that relates to helping students learn key signatures, please leave it in the comments below or e-mail it to me. Basically, a Fresh and Fun! idea should just be a simple activity requiring about 5 minutes that can be done at the beginning of a lesson to help reinforce the concept.

I’m a Twitterer

About a month ago, Mike’s blog post compelled me to finally sign up for a Twitter account, just so that I could own my own name. I wasn’t sure if I was really ready to jump on the bandwagon, so I haven’t updated regularly or announced that I was on board. However, yesterday someone started following me…so I figured I better make my Twitter feed worth following! So, consider this your official invitation – come follow me on Twitter! 🙂

Monday Mailbag – Studio Communications

Do you send out any kind of newsletter or communication to your students besides your blog and web site?

For many years I created and sent out a really nice printed newsletter called “Noteworthy News” with info about upcoming events, pictures and recognition of students, a question of the month, trivia tidbits, etc. Once I developed my website, I anticipated that people would just use that for keeping up with what was going on. However, I quickly realized that that wasn’t going to get the job done. So, I also started just printing out a text version of the latest updates to the website.

Now, since all my families have e-mail, I send regular e-mails announcing upcoming events and such. I usually attach registration forms to the e-mail, but also print out additional copies and send them home with the students just to make sure that they are aware of what is going on and can opt to participate if they are interested. I would like to develop a fully-fledged e-newsletter that I send to my families on a regular basis, but haven’t yet done so. Hopefully a project for this summer! Music Teacher’s Helper provides an excellent interface for this, so I plan to utilize that once I get my act together!

One thing that I have learned is the importance of lots of communication using a variety of methods. I used to just depend on people to read whatever I sent and then show up or participate in activities accordingly. As I’m sure you can guess, that was not very successful. I’ve made a concerted effort to become better at verbally communicating with my students and their families. I talk about various events for weeks leading up to them, ask the students and parents if they are interested and want to participate, remind them about deadlines, etc. This helps build enthusiasm, and has resulted in a significant increase in my studio’s participation in various events. Definitely worth it, because there are so many valuable opportunities that I don’t want my students to miss out on just because I didn’t do a very good job of communicating with them!

Natalie’s follow-up question for open discussion: I would be really curious to hear how other teachers communicate with their studio families. Do you send out regular newsletters? Does anyone send a full-fledged e-newsletter (and if so, can I get on your list?!)? What communication methods have you found to be the most effective in your studio?

Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail me sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Fresh and Fun! Idea #4

My students did much better with the “Rhythm Runs” than I expected. A few of them struggled, but most of them caught on pretty quickly. It proved to be a very effective way of getting them to really feel the pulse, too, which is great! This week will be our final week focusing on Feeling the Pulse. For this week’s Fresh and Fun! idea, I’ve decided to do a little combination of the Call and Response improv activity and last week’s idea. Using the same rhythm worksheets that the students used last week, I’ll have them set a beat and start by playing and keys or combination of keys on the piano for the first measure. Then, I’ll pick up with the second measure. And we’ll go back and forth through the entire sheet, with the goal being (of course!) to keep a perfect pulse from start to end.

Hopefully this will train them to look ahead and prepare for the rhythm that is to come, while keeping track of the pulse. I am just so excited at how much improvement I’ve seen in my students in this area throughout this month! It has been a fun and very worthwhile endeavor. Next month, thanks to a suggestion from Steve, we’ll be focusing on identifying key signatures. I’m really excited about this, and hope you all will contribute some Fresh and Fun! ideas. I would love to see my students really master the concept of key signatures and become experts at quickly identifying them!

Finding Time: Part Four – How to Avoid Sabotaging Your Efforts

Read: Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Each of these points below could be developed much more fully, but this is a brief overview of four things that seem to really eat up time and energy and sabotage our efforts to live productive lives.

Know Your Calling and Priorities
I already touched on this a little in Part Two, but it is essential that we recognize that every one is at a different stage in life, has a different set of circumstances, and different people and responsibilities demanding their attention. One of the most common hindrances to a productive life is comparing ourselves to other people and putting pressure on ourselves to do things like them. This usually results in neglecting or rejecting the opportunities we already have in favor of always striving for something more, something different, something better. As I recently wrote in our music association’s newsletter, “If the grass looks greener on the other side, it’s because I’m watering on the wrong side of the fence. If I would put as much energy into growing right where I’m planted as I do into wishing that I was someone or somewhere else, I would be enjoying a lush green lawn right now!” I have experienced incredible freedom and increased productivity since I stopped measuring myself against other people or their expectations. Instead, I try to continually learn and grow from the influence of others, but then pursue creativity and excellence in whatever areas I am already involved unless it becomes clear that I should take up another pursuit or assume another role.

Know Your Limits
One of the most crippling feelings is that of not having the ability to complete everything that I’ve committed to do. In fact, it causes me to basically shut down, and all I can do is sit on the couch, eat pretzels and peanut butter, and read a book (that’s my way of ignoring reality!). It was especially enlightening several years ago to discover that different people have varying levels of tolerance for multiple responsibilities. Some people can only focus on one project at a time (they tend to be very detail-oriented, operate in a thoughtful and methodical manner, and are very thorough) while others can juggle many different activities and projects (they tend to be more rash, value speed and efficiency in work, and easily visualize steps of action required to complete tasks). It’s important to understand your own style of work, and to have a clear idea of the time and skill that will be necessary to take on various responsibilities or projects.

No Whining
One of my biggest pet peeves is people who go around bemoaning their busy lives, then feeling compelled to recount their myriad activities and difficulties to anyone who will listen and feel sorry for them. They can be classified as “energy-takers.” You wouldn’t think of asking them to do anything because they already seem so overloaded and stressed out with life. The problem is that attitudes like this don’t only drain the people around you; they drain you too! Proverbs 11:25 says that, “he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” And we’re all familiar with the biblical principle that “it is more blessed to give than to receive.” A complaining, self-pitying attitude robs us of the blessing and joy we can experience if we instead look for ways to encourage and serve those around us. It may feel fulfilling to have people sympathize over our hectic lives, but real fulfillment comes from a deep-seeded contentment. If we are living to please the Lord, He sees the outpouring of our lives on behalf of those around us for His glory.  That’s what really counts for eternity!

No Making Excuses
Have you ever grilled a student about their schedule because they claimed they didn’t have time to practice during the week? The truth of the matter is that we all have the time to do the things on which we place the highest priority. I love the definition for dependability – “Fulfilling what I consented to do, even if it means unexpected sacrifice.” In my opinion, there is almost no legitimate excuse for neglecting to do something you have committed to do. Better to say “no” upfront than agree to do something and then not follow through. Sometimes it means sacrificing sleep; sometimes it means foregoing a fun activity in favor of a less-than-exciting event you’ve already agreed to attend; sometimes it means working on a mundane task instead of sitting in front of the television, etc. The important thing is to be a person of your word, and not develop a habit of making excuses for unfulfilled responsibilities. This is the underlying character that will drive us to find the time to do the things we need or ought to do in life.

And that’s the conclusion of our Finding Time series. I hope that it has been helpful to you. If you have any additional tips to share, please do so!

Finding Time: Part Three – 4 Principles for Making the Most of Your Time

Yesterday, we looked at the importance of Tracking Your Time to help determine how your time is being spent and what areas are/should be a priority. Once you have those determined, it’s helpful to have some guiding principles to help you structure your daily schedule. Here are 4 Key Principles that have made a huge difference in my life:

1. Seek the Lord first and be guided continually by His Word. There is a principle over and over in the Bible that God rewards those who make Him a priority in their lives. For many years now, I have made it a habit to have a quiet time with the Lord in the morning. Somehow, even though I spend a considerable amount of time each day just reading and studying the Bible and seeking to know the Lord more deeply, I always have enough time to do everything else that needs to be done. I absolutely love this time with the Lord! It provides me with the refreshment and guidance I need to live each day with joy and purpose.

2. Develop a lifestyle of discipline. I’ve tried to make it a habit to intentionally do things every day that I don’t feel like doing. My mantra is also, “do it right away.” Here are a few practical ideas that I implement:

  • Make my bed immediately every morning. (I know this is a really little thing, but there have actually been studies done that link productivity to whether or not you make your bed!)
  • Fold the clothes as I take them out of the dryer; put them away in the closet or drawers immediately.
  • Empty the dishwasher if it is full of clean dishes and immediately put in the dirty dishes; don’t pile up dishes in the sink.
  • Workout every morning. I usually run or rollerblade three mornings a week and do weight training two mornings a week.
  • Follow the 2-minute rule for e-mails. If I can respond in less than two minutes, type a reply and then file the e-mail.

Most of these are little things, but I often have to force myself to do them because I don’t feel like it. Expending the time and energy to develop these disciplines contributes to an orderly lifestyle and enables me to save time and energy in the long run that can be invested into more enjoyable projects.

3. Stay home as much as possible. It usually comes as a surprise to people when I tell them that I rarely leave the house between Sunday night and Friday morning (other than to do my morning running around the neighborhood!) since I’m a pretty social person and love being around other people. That’s one of the beauties of running a home-based business! We have people in and out of the house all day long and I don’t have to go anywhere. 🙂 Mondays through Thursdays are reserved for teaching piano during the day, then Fridays are open for meetings and errands. I do almost all of my shopping on-line, and save the rest for Fridays – compiling a list throughout the week of the things I need to do, and in what order I should run my errands for greatest efficiency.

4. Be conscientious about the use of time. If I have an obsession, it is probably the desire to be productive. I hate to feel like I am wasting time. If I’m working out or cooking, I listen to podcasts or messages on CD so that I am focusing my thoughts and learning instead of letting my mind wander aimlessly. If I’m riding in the car or sitting in my brother’s cello lesson, I work on a crochet project. If I’m driving, I pray or memorize Scripture verses. And so on. I don’t follow a strict schedule each day (other than my daily lesson schedule), but I have a short-term list of things that need to be done and I assign them to my daily to-do lists according to their deadlines/priority levels. I also keep a long-term list of bigger projects to tackle when I have bigger chunks of time available.

I’m sure there are many other tips for ways to make the most of your time, but as I thought through my own life, these are a few key principles that came to mind that have been helpful to me in this area. I’d love to hear some other ideas, though, as I can definitely still use work in this area! What great tips or principles help you make the most of your time?

Tomorrow, we’ll look at How to Avoid Sabotaging Your Efforts.

Finding Time: Part Two – Tracking Your Time

Yesterday, I mentioned that at the beginning of this year, I made up some little index cards on which I recorded each of the different roles that I fill and the responsibilities associated with each one. This was done in an effort to determine how to use my time more productively and to help me determine if there were certain things that were taking up my time that I could eliminate in order to channel my time toward other areas.

There are several ways this could be done. Some people might prefer to track how they are spending their time on a daily basis. Since my individual days tend to be so different because of a variety of different projects and such, I thought it would be more helpful to organize my time into the different roles. I tried to assign every use of time to some area and then arrange each area loosely in order of the priority I thought it should have in my life. Naturally, not every possible event or activity can be included in the list, but here’s what I came up with:

Role: Christian
* Daily quiet time (Bible reading and study, prayer, Scripture memorization)
* Journaling

Role: Daughter/Sister/Family Member
Participate in Wisdom Book studies
* Household chores – cleaning, laundry, etc.
* Weekly game night
* Fix Friday dinner
* Family newsletter and other design projects
* Weekly Bible study with Naomi
* Weekly cello lesson with Joey
* Special hospitality occasions

Role: Personal Development
Read/study books and topics of interest
* Daily physical fitness/workout
* Writing projects and personal blog upkeep

Role: Piano Teacher
Plan and conduct weekly lessons
* Plan and conduct monthly group classes
* Plan and organize yearly recitals
* Develop yearly theme
* Select student repertoire
* Update studio website

Role: Author/Publisher
Maintain websites: Pajama School, Sibro Publishing, Journey to Self-Publishing
* Oversee printing, orders, distribution of book
* Provide guidance to Marketing Manager for marketing of book
* Develop new articles and speaking topics
* Write and send monthly e-newsletter

Role: AIC Director
Attend monthly TPA Convention Committee meetings
* Conduct monthly AIC staff meetings
* Oversee curriculum, drama, and song writing
* Coordinate facility details
* Provide encouragement and direction for staff
* Update website

Role: Church Member
Calligraphy certificates
* Guest Services
* Welcome Center
* Sunday evening accompanist

Role: WMMTA President
Conduct quarterly board meetings
* Write column for quarterly newsletter
* Update website
* Oversee programs, festivals, and other events

Role: SCKMTA Secretary
Attend monthly meetings
* Type and disseminate meeting minutes to members
* Assist with student events
* Maintain website

Role: KMTA Technology Chair
Attend bi-annual board meeting
* Maintain website
* Provide technological support for members
* Conduct workshop at state conference

Role: Music Matters Blog
Write regular posts
* Review new resources
* Create new products
* Keep up with e-mail correspondence from teachers

Role: Piano Student
Attend weekly lessons
* Learn and practice new repertoire
* Perform at monthly group classes

Role: Precinct Committeewoman/Political Volunteerism
Attend Precinct Committee meetings
* Maintain State Rep websites
* Campaign season lit drops

Once I had these mapped out, I sat down with my parents to get some input and counsel from them on what they thought – what things were the most important to them, and whether they felt like I could or should relinquish any of these roles/responsibilities. Since I still live at home, my parents provide some needed objectivity and balance in my life and schedule. If you are married, I highly recommend involving your spouse in this exercise. Regardless of what state each of us is in, I believe that it is important that we are not neglecting our own families to pursue individual lives and interests. My family is a huge support and encouragement to me, and I want to make sure that I am investing in them and providing them with the same support and encouragement.

After you’re done Tracking Your Time and identifying what things are/should be a priority in your life, you can move on to the next step. Tomorrow, I’ll share 4 Principles for Making the Most of Your Time.