Why Should Wii Practice?

The same reason I deplore video games is the same reason that so many people love them. They’re addictive. Pianist and cellist, Erica Ann Sipes is on the same page as me, but she has some fascinating thoughts on capitalizing on the psychology behind video games in our music practicing. Her post, Tapping Into the Video Game World When Practicing, is very thought-provoking! Here are a couple snippets that I thought were very insightful:

“Part of the key to being successful in Tetris is learning how to spot patterns quickly and knowing what to do with them.”


“When I am truly playing the game, I succeed, and that, my friends, is addictive.”

I also appreciated this comment from Bob Woody:

“I think the main advantage of video games is the immediate feedback they provide. The goal is clear and the player knows, in real time, how well they’re doing.”

These kinds of discussions are fascinating to me because I love trying to understand what motivates my students and how to tap into that to help them achieve success as musicians. The thought of practicing being addictive, though, is a new one for me! It’s one thing to know what constitutes effective practice (which most of my students do when queried), but it’s a whole different thing to actually implement effective practice strategies (which most of my students don’t). The video game developers have figured out how to keep kids tethered to their screens for hours at a time, and I’m with Erica when it comes to figuring out how to employ similar elements to have them racing to the piano for as much quality practice time as they can get! This will take some thought, but I’m excited to ponder it more in the coming days and hopefully implement some related ideas into next year’s practice incentive theme. 🙂

Fun Ear Training Song for Young Students

Even though I don’t have a super good ear when it comes to music, I do know that quite a few years of being in choirs and taking voice lessons has helped develop a better ear than I would have had otherwise. I’m always interested in incorporating singing elements into our lessons, but sometimes it’s difficult to know the best approach. When I came across a couple of fun Children’s Ear Training Songs on the Easy Ear Training website, I knew I had to give them a try!

I decided to start with the Froggy Interval Hop. I love trying to incorporate as many different learning styles as possible into each activity, so I dusted off my large foam board keyboard that I made years ago and pulled a little stuffed monkey from my collection of mini stuffed animals. I didn’t have a frog, so the activity became Monkey Interval Hop for us! I also found a cute little monkey graphic on-line and printed off an octave’s worth of little monkey cards. After putting a little bit of sticky tack on the back of each monkey card, we were ready to go!

I sat at the piano and played the song while singing along and placing the monkey cards on the corresponding number of notes to represent the interval. My little student got to hold the stuffed monkey and sing along while hopping on the first and last monkey to represent the interval we were singing. For example, when we sang, “Hop, hop, hop, hop, three little monkeys hop,” she hopped like this: C-E-C-E-C-E-C-E.

We’ve only done it a couple weeks so far, but there are a ton of possibilities for using this simple, but creative song to help young students train their ears. Here are a few that I’ve thought of:

  • Include intervals all the way up to an octave.
  • Instead of always going in order, place the monkey cards on random notes to have the student develop an even better awareness of the different intervals.
  • Transpose to other major keys to develop familiarity with different scales.
  • Try using minor keys to develop tonal awareness.
  • The teacher plays and sings the first interval and the student tries to correctly identify it by placing the monkey card on the correct piano keys.
  • Use all sorts of different animals just for fun!

In addition to using this during private lessons, I think it would be a really great activity for a small group of young students – perhaps a perfect addition to a pre-piano camp! 🙂 Those are a few of my ideas thus far. Can you think of other creative ways to use this activity to help students develop a well-trained ear?

Creative Ways to Practice Scales

Ever since discovering Hanon online a couple months ago (and reading Heidi’s comment about how invigorating she finds a round of Hanon to start off her practicing each day!), I’ve been inspired anew to put more emphasis on technique – for myself and my students. I’ve been doing a variety of Hanon – in C and transposed – and scales. I have seen a marked improvement in my technical facility when playing repertoire (shocking, huh? :-)), but I have to admit that it does get pretty boring after a while.

I may pull out some other technique books soon, but I think the importance of knowing scales fluently cannot be understated – both for technical and theoretical purposes. Thus, I was thrilled to come across this collection of Creative Ways to Practice Scales at LaDona’s Music Studio Blog. I’ve heard several of these over the years, but it’s nice to have a bunch of ideas all compiled into a list. I’m excited to try them out and share them with my students. If you have any other creative ways that you like to practice scales, do tell!

Review and Giveaway of Talent to Treasure by Marcia Washburn

A second-generation piano teacher with many years of experience, Marcia Washburn sets out to help aspiring music teachers get started on the right foot in her book, Talent to Treasure: Building a Profitable Music Teaching Business. Many of the tips and principles she shares are ones that I had to learn the hard way! Although every teacher will have different approaches to the way they run their studio and do their teaching, Marcia’s book is sure to help new teachers think about issues that are all-too-often completely overlooked.

She covers a wide variety of topics, including: evaluating your motive for launching a music teaching business, preparing for the practical side of running a studio, establishing appropriate policies and practices, learning how to communicate effectively, and some of the nuts and bolts of what and how to teach. This is a great starting point for a teacher, and even experienced teachers will probably take away a few new ideas, tips, or insights that will help them become better teachers and business owners. I know I sure did!

Marcia has graciously offered to giveaway a free copy of Talent to Treasure to one Music Matters Blog reader! Just leave a comment on this post and you will be entered in the drawing. The winner will be selected using a random number generator at 12:00 noon (CST) on Thursday, May 5.

Monday Mailbag – Lesson Planning

I’m wondering if you have any way of tracking or planning what you’re doing with your students from week to week.  Do you keep a log or planning book? Any suggestions on the best way to organize lesson plans for each individual student?

If you promise not to freak out or turn me over to the pedagogy police, I’ll give you the honest, short answer. No. 🙂 At least not in the way that most people think of lesson planning. I have too many students and too many other responsibilities to make detailed lesson plans on a weekly basis for every student. However, for quite a few years now I have been doing something that works fabulously for my studio! I do all of my lesson planning for the entire year during the month of August.

Since I take off the month of August, I spend lots of time traveling, thinking, praying, and planning for the year ahead. I take into consideration the feedback I’ve received from the parents and students on their Year-End Evaluations, and contemplate what to work on with each student individually and with my studio as a whole. This is when I design the practice incentive program for the year. My goal is to develop a framework that we can work within all year long that provides guided structure toward skill progress while giving each student freedom to pursue personal areas of interest. Their assignments, goals, and progress are tracked week-to-week in the custom assignment books that correlate with the practice incentive theme. This serves as a record of what has been accomplished and what still needs to be done for both the student and myself.

Our state has a 10-level Music Progressions curriculum that has done wonders to help me learn to present concepts and skills systematically. This serves as a bit of a loose guide when I’m working with students and considering what the next step should be in their musical progress.

Other than this, I think about my students almost constantly and am always trying to figure out creative approaches to challenge them or help them grasp a concept more fully. I often jot down random ideas or notes in a plain spiral notebook just to help me organize my thoughts. This may lead to a search for a new piece of repertoire, concocting a fun game to play at the lesson (this is how the 5 for Fun! book idea developed!), introducing a new technique, etc. One thing to keep in mind is always be willing to go out on a limb and just try something new. If you hear about a new series of books, try it out with some students; if a workshop presenter shares a helpful tip, put it into practice that week with a student; if you discover a way to utilize technology, recruit a student to experiment with you.

When I first started teaching and had fewer students, I did a lot of weekly lesson planning and writing down specific notes of what we covered and what we needed to work on the next week. It was a super simple sheet that I created with the student’s name and sections to write notes for each week of lessons. Music Teacher’s Helper has a great system for taking notes. You can specify whether they are for the student (visible on the student’s account) or just the teacher. And you can e-mail the student a copy of the notes. At some point I’d like to give this a try just to see how it works!

I know some of you are way more organized than me when it comes to lesson planning, so if you have some tips you’d like to share, I would love to hear them! Do you plan each lesson on a weekly basis? Do you have a system that works really well for you?

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 sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!

Taking Time to Think

Sometimes things happen in life that make you step back, take a deep breath, and try to regain a right perspective. I feel like I’ve had one of those weekends. So I decided that instead of trying to churn out mindless posts for the sake of just getting something on this blog every day that I would rather not waste your time. 🙂 Instead, I’m taking a week off of blogging to spend some time thinking and re-evaluating. Hopefully I’ll be back next week refreshed and with something of value to share. I’m sure you all will understand, and I hope that you have a refreshing week as well.

And the Winners Are…

There are a lot this week, so check for your name and number below, then e-mail me with your full name and mailing address so that you can receive your free Cool Songs for Cool Kids book from Jerald Simon!

#10 – Liz

#49 – Brayden Walters

#53 – Amanda Hasnen

#65 – Sheila

#20 – Karla Conner

#22 – Karen

#38 – Sarah

#34 – Nancy Wang

#19 – Betty Lawson

#35 – Kendra

Even if your number didn’t get chosen, you can receive a 20% discount at the Music Motivation website by using this coupon code: MusicMatters2011

Stay tuned for another exciting giveaway next Tuesday!

Top 10 Ways to Make a Living While Making Music

One of the things that is emphasized over and over in the business studies I’ve done is the importance of having multiple streams of income. This is the same principle that King Solomon taught in Ecclesiastes 11:1-2, “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.”

This was the impetus behind the practice incentive that I developed for my students this year – Quest for Capital! I wanted to set their imagination free as they considered all the possible ways that involvement in music can be used to add value to society and to create marketable products. Those who develop an entrepreneurial mindset will always be able to find a way to use their resources and skills to earn money and contribute to the economy.

I recently ran across a helpful post on the So You Want to Teach blog called, Top 10 Ways to Make a Living While Making Music. For those who love music and want to make a living at it, there are lots of opportunities available! Sometimes you just have to think “outside the box.” These sorts of topics remind me of The Savvy Musician by David Cutler, one of the best and most inspiring books I’ve read on all the possibilities that exist for musicians who are willing to think creatively and try innovative ideas. This is the kind of thing that music students of the 21st Century need to be hearing and learning about!

Thinking about starting a blog? Read this first!

The other day I came across a post on the Social Media Examiner website titled, 17 Ways to Grow Your Blog from Top Bloggers. Although the title suggests that it is for those who already have blogs and want to increase their readership, the tips offered are wonderful for those thinking about launching a blog. In addition to picking up some great tips (e.g. Be Active in Other Communities First, Offer Real Value, Focus on Evergreen Content, and more!), you can click through to blogs that practice what they preach. In addition to following music blogs, it’s also fun and beneficial to follow blogs in other fields so that you gain a broader perspective of what is going on in the blogosphere!

More 2011 MTNA Blog Posts

Several other MTNA Conference attendees have posted notes on their blogs from sessions they attended. Here’s a quick link to the ones I’ve found so far:

Business Strategies for Young Professionals by Rebecca Baker, David Husser, and Kristin Yost – blogged by Joy Morin

Connecting with Your Piano Technician by Clarence Zeches, RPT – blogged by Joy Morin

Faber Showcase – blogged by Marcia Vahl

Henle Urtext Edition Session – blogged by Joy Morin

iPods, Guitar Hero, and YouTube. Oh, My! by Samuel Holland and Kristin Yost – blogged by Joy Morin

Liszt for the Advancing Pianist by University of Michigan and University of Oklahoma Collegiate Students – blogged by Marcia Vahl

Playing Your Best When it Really Counts by Dr. Bill Moore – blogged by Marcia Vahl

Stop. Step Back. Refresh. by Jane Magrath – blogged by Marcia Vahl (I have no idea how she managed to get all that repertoire recorded…please tell me there was a handout, Marcia!)

The Royal Conservatory Achievement Program – blogged by Joy Morin

If you know of any other conference bloggers, let me know and I’ll add them to the list!