Reaching the Younger Generation with Classical Music

Any outing to a local classical music concert will quickly reveal that the median age of attendees is somewhere around sixty, give or take a few years. But not anymore at the Utah Symphony thanks to the efforts of a group of high school students who have started their own Symphony Club. You’re sure to be inspired as you read about the initiative of this group of teenagers! Kind of starts to get my creative juices flowing as a teacher and symphony-lover, too… 🙂

Review and Giveaway of The Shape of Music by Jenni Fansler

Several months ago, a Music Matters Blog reader sent me an e-mail with a reference to a series of piano books for very young children called, The Shape of Music, by Jenni Fansler.

I contacted the author about the books and she kindly sent me a couple of review copies to look over. I am really impressed! The books are so colorful and fun! Influenced by American shape-note music, Charlotte Mason, and Shinichi Suzuki this series is an approach designed to enable children as young as two to enjoy musical experiences at the piano.

The books (so far Volume 1 and Volume 2 are available) are well organized and the layout is clean and beautiful. The three units in the first book cover: Notes, Tempo, and Melody. The second volume covers: Repeated Notes, Rhythm, and Octave. Students learn to play real songs like, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Jesus Loves Me,” “Jingle Bells,” Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and much more! Now…what little toddler (and their parent!) isn’t going to love that?!

I love how Jenni guides the teacher or parent through each unit and song step-by-step to make it a successful experience. I am really fascinated by this whole approach and can’t wait to find someone with a 2-year old who will let me try it out on them! 🙂

Now…for the best part. Jenni has offered to giveaway one copy of each volume! Two Music Matters Blog readers will be the special winners this time! Just leave your comment below, and the winners will be drawn using a random number generator on Thursday, August 4, at noon (CST).

Monday Mailbag – Advancing Students Too Quickly

What dangers are there, if any, in advancing a student too soon?

This is one of those lessons that I learned the hard way. There are a lot of disadvantages to advancing students too quickly. Here are some of them:

  • they often struggle with complex rhythms in the harder pieces
  • technique skills don’t match the level of repertoire
  • harder pieces take much longer to master than if they were approached systematically
  • the student has trouble fully mastering the pieces
  • the student may have an inflated sense of how good they are because their level is higher than their true ability
  • details in the music are overlooked or the student struggles to incorporate them appropriately

My philosophy now is that I would rather move quickly through books and make sure that we cover all the necessary material systematically without gaps than to advance a student past material that they haven’t studied. I usually tell it to the student and parent just like that. We can move through books as fast as they’d like as long as they learn all their pieces well. Maybe in the meantime they can be working on a harder piece that presents more of a challenge, but it’s just not worth it to jump ahead and realize later that they missed an important concept.

When I was a beginning teacher, I was afraid that my students wouldn’t like me if I was too hard on them or told them what they were doing wrong. I’m past that now. Now I want my students to be afraid of me. 🙂 haha! Not quite, but I do want them to know that I have a high standard for their playing and that I will teach them as well as I can so that they can be excellent musicians. I’m not doing them any favors to move them along when they are still struggling with a piece or a concept. Far better to be up front with them and work together to overcome, understand, and work through difficulties than advance them on with glaring gaps in their musical education.

I’m sure plenty of others could add to my list of disadvantages above! Feel free to share your thoughts. How do you feel about advancing students? Is there ever an advantage to advancing a student “too” quickly?

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!

Kick-It-Up-A-Notch! a one-week intensive piano course Materials Are Available!

After hours of writing, working, testing, tweaking, re-designing, and implementing, I am excited to announce that the Kick-it-up-a-Notch! a one-week intensive piano course package is now available!

This course is specifically designed for middle school and high school students who are serious about music. In order for students to participate, I required them to commit to an hour of practice between each of our daily 2-hour sessions. Some of my older students are used to this kind of practice schedule, but for some it’s an entirely new experience. But it gives them a glimpse of what they can accomplish when they work diligently to accomplish their goals! You can see a few photo highlights from our first week of Kick-it-up-a-Notch! in this post.

One teacher has this to say after receiving her package of materials:

“You are amazing, that’s all I can say!  It is so well put together.  I can’t imagine the time you have put into all of this.”

I am really excited to share these materials with other teachers, and hope that you and your students find the experience as beneficial and rewarding as we did!

And the Winners Are…

Six Music Matters Blog readers will be the excited new owners of one of two cool music apps! The winners of the drawing are as follows:

#24 – Bethany

#19 – Genevieve

#27 – Anna

#7 – Lacy

#32 – Kristi

#12 –  Wendy M

Congrats to all of you! I’m going to give away the codes on a first-come-first-served basis, so if you are one of the winners, e-mail me with your preferred app and I’ll send the free code your way. Thanks again to the app developers of Scales and Modes and Metronome Plus for sponsoring this giveaway!

Also, I forgot to announce that the winner of the Quest for Capital practice incentive theme studio materials was Janet. Thanks to all who entered!

Stay tuned for another giveaway next Tuesday!

Visit Music Museums Without Leaving Your Studio!

Anyone traveling to any cool places this summer? Will you be checking out any museums while you’re there? There’s so much to be learned by visiting museums and exploring the exhibits! That’s one reason I was really excited to come across this Virtual Museums post by’s Music Education editor, Espie Estrella. Here are a couple:

Music Instrument Museum – just click on the gallery links to view pictures and descriptions of all sorts of instruments designed and constructed by students. This could rally get the creative juices flowing for you and/or your students!

Virtual Instrument Museum – this place is AMAZING! There are way more instruments than I ever knew existed! If you ever need to look up or research an obscure instrument, this should be your first stop. Each instrument page includes images, facts, and all sorts of additional information. Check out the erhu page as an example of what you’ll find. And just for fun, here’s one of my favorite erhu performances (probably because it’s the only one I’ve seen…but it’s really cool! :-)):

Monday Mailbag – Letting Students Go

I need to let 5-6 of my 21 students go for next fall. How do I tell the parents of those I’m choosing not to teach next year? The ones I’m cutting are the students who don’t practice. I love the families, the kids, and especially the moms. We are good friends and I don’t want to ruin that relationship. Any advice you have will be appreciated!

Wow, that is really tough. I’ve only had to let students go two different times – once because a parent and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on an issue, and once because a student wasn’t practicing. Thankfully, in both cases we have remained really good friends. I think your best bet is to communicate as openly with them as you did in your question to me. Let them know how much you love them as people and want to maintain a good friendship, but that for personal reasons you’re having to cut back on your teaching load and just keep students who are serious about their music studies.

Perhaps you could share that the lack of practice is evidence that their heart is not really in it anymore, and maybe this will give the students a bit of a break and a chance to re-evaluate their own motivation and goals for taking lessons. it might be time to explore some other interests instead.

Also, even though it will be hard, I highly recommend having the parent(s) and student(s) come into the studio for a special meeting with you regarding changes you are making for the next semester. Talking face-to-face will give you a chance to share your heart and let them know how difficult this decision is for you and it will give them a chance to take in the news, ask questions, share any concerns, etc. I would offer to write up an evaluation of their current skills and recommend other teachers if they are interested in continuing to study with another teacher. If they are ready to give lessons a break but want to keep playing on their own, encourage them to stay in touch with you and contact you if they have any questions or need tips on a particular piece. The chances of this happening are pretty slim, but it at least keeps the relationship open and on good terms – hopefully!

You can never be sure how news like this will be received, but just pray and prepare a lot, take courage, and move forward. I would love to hear if anyone else has experienced a similar scenario! If so, how did you handle letting the students go? Anything that you felt worked well? Or didn’t work well?

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!

Do You Have an Adjective List?

I don’t actually know how I ended up on the 3-D Piano e-newsletter list, but an article in the recent issue caught my attention – Imagery, Emotion, and Imagination: Cultivating vibrant performance through descriptive adjectives and metaphors. This is a concept I’ve heard before, but I’ve never tried it out to this extent with my own playing or with my students. I’m looking ahead toward fall and brainstorming ideas that I want to use with my students. This is now on my list! I think it will be a very valuable exercise for all of us!

Review and Giveaway of Two Cool Music Apps!

When I got my new iPod Touch, there were several music apps at the top of my list. Here are two of them:

Scales & Modes

I have to admit, as a very visual person the first thing that attracted me to this app was the beautiful design. But if all it does is look good, an app will be pretty short-lived. Which is probably why this one is still around and going strong. The functionality is incredible! I love the fact that it has way more scales/modes than I will ever need for my own purposes or for my students. It’s not like I’m going to be teaching the Lydian Augmented scale anytime soon…okay, ever. But you know, it’s nice to have it there – just in case. 🙂

The navigation is super simple. Just select your root note, then your scale type and voila! you have a screen with the letter names spelled out, the notes placed on a staff, and the keys pictured on a keyboard. With a click, you can switch over to the guitar view and see what it looks like on the frets. And in either mode you can play the audio recording and hear what the scale sounds like. Super cool! And great for both aural and visual learners!

Metronome Plus

This sleek design is perfect for a metronome! With a quick tap you can change the tempo marking, alter the beat structure (to alternate sounds every 2, 3, 4, beats, etc.), or select a different type of sound for the beat. They are also currently working on a Tap Tempo feature and the capability to listen to your iPod while the metronome is going so you can check tempos, etc. This app is already becoming a must-have in my studio!

And now, for the exciting news! Both of these app developers have generously offered to giveaway three copies of their app to Music Matters Blog readers! Just leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway. The six winners will be drawn at noon (CST) on Thursday, July 21 using a random number generator.

Monday Mailbag – Listening to Great Pianists

And now…back to your regularly scheduled programming! After several weeks of neglecting the Monday Mailbag posting, here’s hoping the rest of the summer will go better as far as keeping up with it! I have a slew of questions to post, so I may even stick some in on other days, too. 🙂

As a piano student, I was never introduced to recordings of professional pianist and rarely encouraged to attend live recitals.  My question for you is: do you have a running list of great pianists that you encourage your students to listen to on CD or watch videos of their performances?  If so, are there ones that are most interesting to the younger beginners (age 7-9)?  I would appreciate any help you could give with this as I think it might be motivating for students to hear someone other than myself play – and of course much more convenient than trying to attend a live performance.

This question is especially relevant in our day of YouTube videos where anyone can stick a camera on the end of the piano and record themselves pounding out the notes of Claire de Lune with a television in the background and a toddler improvising in the lower register. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit extreme, but I think it is helpful to guide our students to excellent performers and performances, which can provide real inspiration (rather than perpetuate unskilled, unmusical playing). You can also download the free YouTube Performance Evaluation to use as a tool to encourage your students to listen critically and assess the quality of a performance.

This especially hit home for me a couple weeks ago as I was planning out each day of our Kick-it-up-a-Notch! piano camp and discovered just how atrociously some of the beloved great piano works can be performed. But I digress. 🙂 I don’t have a formal list of pianists that I recommend to my students, but I think it’s a great idea! Maybe we can all work together to compile such a list! I do, however, have some pianists that I turn to repeatedly when looking for a performance of a particular piece. Every performance is so nuanced, though; it’s not always guaranteed that I’ll like a particular pianist’s interpretation of a piece.

A couple favorites for younger students are:

Here are a few of my personal favorite pianists:

  • Van Cliburn
  • Valentina Lisitsa
  • Murray Perahia
  • Rafal Blechacz
  • Jon Kimura Parker

There are so many other great pianists out there, too! I’d love to know what some of your favorites are. When looking up a performance, what pianists do you automatically turn to for recordings? Do you have a list of favorite performers and/or performances that you recommend to students?

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!