Are You a Diametrically Opposed Teacher?

A couple nights ago I presented my workshop, Creativity on the Cutting Edge, to a music teachers association. In so doing, I was reminded of this wonderful statement about the teaching method of Theodor Leschetizky in an article about him in the September/October 2012 issue of American Music Teacher:

“The great quality of Leschetizky was his vitality…there is no Leschetizky method. It is a mere legend – an absolute fallacy. He never spoke, at least I never heard him to speak, of technique. Several of his assistants and some of his pupils have published books on his method which are all diametrically opposed. Don’t be misled by them. There was no method. His teaching was much more than a method. It was a current which sought to release all latent vitality in the student. It was addressed to imagination, taste, and personal responsibility.”

~Artur Schnabel, as cited in Defining the Undefinable: The Leschetizky Method In Vienna and Chicago by Christina L. Reitz

It’s so easy to feel pressure to adopt a system or a method that can be used with every student, but the reality is that every student is different, has different interests, different aptitudes, different ways of learning. What a tremendous privilege we have as independent music teachers to customize our approach to help each student realize their potential and achieve success. As overwhelming as it can seem, it’s also exciting to consider each student as an individual and tailor our teaching approach to their needs – identifying and working through their struggles, and capitalizing on their strengths!

[How to] Expand Your Teaching Practice Online – A Guest Post by Phil Amalong

It is now second nature to turn to search engines like Google and Bing to find just about anything. Guess what? Your potential students (and their parents) are searching for a music teacher online right this minute. There are over 1 million music-learning-related searches every month on Google alone!

There’s a growing wave of music teachers benefiting from this trend by moving their studios online: teaching students across the globe, filling slow hours with students from other time zones, building their rosters…and earning more income!

Is it for me? Can I actually do this?

You’re already a great teacher and that’s the most important thing! Here’s a checklist of considerations to begin teaching music online:

* Have you used your webcam for Skyping or other video chat applications?  This is your fundamental communication tool. Setup for live online music lessons is easy and generally just requires a laptop with a built in webcam. Here are some ideas on how to set up your online teaching studio.

* Do you have adequate high speed Internet? Great video quality needs at least 1 Mbps of ‘upload’ speed (test your connection speed here: If you consider that each online student spends at least $60 per month on lessons, upgrading your internet connection is well worth the investment.

* Are you active online?  Kudos to you if you’re already spending time building your online presence with a website, a blog, YouTube channel, or by participating in forums. Check out these 4 simple ways to build your online presence.

Does it really work?

Most emphatically, yes!  Many teachers report that students exhibit higher levels of concentration and faster progress when focused on a screen. Wayne Land, a saxophone teacher with 40+ years experience had this to say of online music instruction:

There’s no guarantee that any method of taking lessons will work unless the student is committed to practicing.  That commitment needs to come from a profound desire to learn.  When one has that kind of internal need to make music, the practice time is something the student looks forward to and enjoys.  Likewise, the lesson time should be something looked forward to and enjoyed.  With everything in music learning, lesson time and practice time, I strongly believe that if you aren’t enjoying what you’re doing you aren’t improving.  Conversely, if you are enjoying your effort you “are” improving.  It makes little difference whether the teacher is sitting in the room next to you or speaking to you via online video chat unless there is a difference in the level of enjoyment.  Considering the advantages of taking your lessons right in the comfort of your own home, the online experience may actually improve the level of enjoyment and that is a very good thing indeed.

Yes, it works.  In fact, if the student has a more enjoyable experience, is less apprehensive and more enthusiastic, it can and will work “better” than in person.

How do I get started?

So you’re ready to start building your online teaching studio. Now what? The web is a massive space and…chock full of great ways to waste your money and valuable time!

If you plan on going it alone on a platform like Skype, you’ll need to split your time between teaching and marketing. That’s a tall order when you consider that a website, blog, ads, and a Facebook page (among others) are essential to getting the word out about your service.

If that sounds like too much of a distraction from the teaching itself, consider joining an online music lessons platform like The ZOEN. Let the professionals make a daily habit of using their marketing tools to attract students so you can focus on what you makes you special and valuable: teaching music!

However you choose to slice it, online music lessons are a great opportunity for teachers, and the possibilities for online music instruction are endless.

Phil Amalong is a teacher, composer, performer, entrepreneur and VP of Community and Content at The ZOEN. For more insights into online music teaching and best practices, visit Phil’s Blog. To start teaching for The ZOEN, apply now.

The ZOEN is our newest advertiser here on Music Matters Blog and we are grateful for their support of the online music education community! If you are interested in finding out more about how you can promote your company, event, or product, just send me an e-mail and I’ll let you know about our advertising packages.

Theory Strips – An Ingenious Idea!

At the MTNA Conference I had the privilege of meeting Bonnie Slaughter, the creator of this ingenious approach to theory. I like to think of it as the text messaging approach to music theory. 🙂


Theory Strips are a 10-level program that organize music theory concepts into strips that can easily be completed one day at a time. I love this approach, especially for students who might be overwhelmed at the prospect of working through several pages at a time.

You can order these directly from Bonnie on her studio website. Or look for them soon at the Music Educators Marketplace, Music Teacher Store, or Riverton Music!

More 2013 MTNA Conference Notes

We should be back to the Monday Mailbag feature next week, but for this week, I thought I would direct you to several other teachers who have blogged about the conference:

If you know of any other conference blog posts, please let me know and I will add them to the list!

2013 MTNA Conference – Full Conference Blog Post Schedule

Welcome to Southern California!
Evening – Opening Session

Early Morning – Faber Showcase
Morning – Advanced Masterclass
Late Morning – Elementary Piano Technique by Nancy Bachus
Early Afternoon – Alfred Showcase
Afternoon – Ten Steps to Parnassus: The Keyboard Works of Johann Sebastian Bach
Late Afternoon – Variety
Night – Dinner Get-Together

Early Morning – Frederick Harris Showcase
Morning – Keynote Presentation by Rick Beyer
Late Morning – Intermediate Masterclass with Ingrid Clarfield
Early Afternoon – Hal Leonard Showcase
Afternoon – Creating Flow in Worship by Mark Hayes

Early Morning – Schott Showcase
Morning – Piano Duo Masterclass
Late Morning – Got Questions?
Early Afternoon – Willis Showcase
Afternoon – Inspired Uses of the iPad in Your Studio
Photo Highlights
Night – Anderson & Roe Piano Duo Concert

Morning – Sense of Rhythm and Timing with Latin American Music
Morning – Speaking Their Language: Teaching the Child with Autism

2013 MTNA Conference – Wednesday Morning – Speaking Their Language: Teaching the Child with Autism


Hannah Creviston, Victoria Jacobs, and Heather Wheeler presented this session, each coming from different perspectives and diverse experiences, but with a desire to help music educators best know how to teach children with autism.

Hannah began with a poem about someone planning a trip to Italy, but ending up in Holland. Dealing with children with autism is not bad, but just different. They have different ways of understanding and processing.

The incidence rate of autism is continually rising. 1 in 88 children currently are diagnosed with autism. This is a dramatic increase from 1 in 2500 in the mid-1980s. Autism is four times more likely to occur in boys than in girls. Some statistics show that many of these children will lose the diagnosis as they become adults.

Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that the severity of it can be drastically different in different people. Children with autism exhibit deficits in:
* Communication Skills – delayed speech, small vocabulary, difficulty understanding conversation, repeating words and phrases (many of these students have “steel trap” minds, retaining details of what they’ve been told)
* Social Interactions – no eye contact, lack of facial expression, playing on their own even in group settings
* Behavioral Skills – tip-toeing, focusing on parts of a toy rather than the whole thing, hand-flapping, obsessive compulsive organization in play

“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach…we must teach in a way the child can learn.” ~Dr. O. Ivar Lovaas

As teachers, it’s our job to find the “puzzle piece” to teach these children in a way that they can learn.

* See the child, not the diagnosis.
* Each child is different.
* Teach visually.
* Be aware of environmental distractions (ambient noises, rearranged furniture, etc.).
* Avoid multiple terms for the same concept (start with the desired end vocabulary right off the bat; be literal).
* Be structured, but flexible (routine and schedule and order are very important).
* Tackle one issue at a time.
* Be patient with yourself and your student (their behavior is unpredictable and should not be taken personally).
* Give the student time to process questions and concepts (don’t expect immediate feedback).

Victoria shared from her perspective as a mother as well as a teacher. She had never heard of autism when her son was diagnosed with it at the age of five. If you want to know how to structure a good music lesson, she recommends, “The Me Book” by Dr. Lovaas. Visit his website for more information. He advocates that these children can be contributors to society in a meaningful way.


Children with autism don’t usually recognize body language, gestures, or facial expressions. They often are not spacially aware, so if you come stand right next to them they won’t move over.

Executive Function:
* I can organize my stuff and yours, but I cannot mentally file information.

* need a menu of options to think through a problem.

Children with autism need a method that is incremental. Staying in the same position, using the same finger on the same keys is very important. Victoria recommends Leila Fletcher’s Music Lessons.

Focus on Rules…especially ones that don’t change:
* Begin with absolutes.
* Use the same music vocabulary that you would with an adult.
* Layer one concept at a time with lots of repetition and practice (consider which layer goes on the bottom – for note reading, think of the staff as the bottom layer, then the clef, then the notes, etc.).
* Keep the lesson routine the same every time.

Don’t let the child take charge of their own learning; they will make rules for you! Be clear about your roles as a teacher and student. Be firm in what you expect and require of them. Consider how to help the student be successful in the real world.


Heather shared about her experience with several students. Before she first met with her prospective student, she contacted Scott Price for advice and worked with the student’s mother to put together a lesson plan. This involved moving the piano (away from a mirror that would distract), directing him immediately to the bench when he arrived, putting together a page with velcro squares that identified each activity they would include in the lesson. As they completed each activity, the square was removed from the board.

The first major decision was whether to teach him by reading or by rote. Heather was more comfortable with reading, but could tell that the student would be more successful with rote learning. He could already play things by rote that he had learned from movies. His mom was very involved in the lessons, participating as much as possible to assist with learning and reinforcing specific techniques and skills. While he imitated tunes by ear, Heather and his mom worked to adjust his hand position and fingering.

When teaching reading, it is essential to assign only one absolute name to each note.

Recitals were a great opportunity for him to be successful. His mom had to help him stay focused on the playing rather than on the audience.

Her other student was high-functioning, and she didn’t even know for a couple of years that he was in the autism spectrum. Often, all it took was one simple instructive for him to stop burping or stop making a tick-tock noise whenever she was talking.

Once her student learned a piece, if he had learned it with an incorrect note and she corrected it, it was very traumatic for him.

The biggest challenge was teaching musicality. Conversations about tone, phrasing, dynamics, character of the music, etc. didn’t work. When she wrote very specific dynamic markings in the score, though, he was able to follow the markings and play musically. Being concrete is essential because they don’t understand abstract concepts and emotions.

An audience member asked about the model of weekly lessons and whether we need to re-think that for students with autism. The presenters said that the daily involvement and reinforcement of the parent is essential. Hannah video records her lessons and uploads them to YouTube and her student watches them over and over during the week.

A question was posed about the difference between autism and Asperger’s syndrome. Tony Attwood’s book, “Asperger’s Syndrome” is a good resource for understanding the criteria for different levels of autism on the spectrum.

Everything must be taught step-by-step. Children with autism do not learn environmentally, so they won’t connect the fact that no one else is doing something a certain way. They love rules and will thrive if they are given a rule that they can follow in the given situation.

2013 MTNA Conference – Wednesday Morning – Sense of Rhythm and Timing with Latin American Music


The final day of the conference began with a session by Alejandro Cremaschi, a specialist in Latin American music, group piano, and technology.

He will primarily be covering pieces from Mexico, Cuba, Brazil, and Argentina with different rhythmic energies – from elegant salon pieces, to wild toccata-like music.

What can you learn by studying these pieces?
* Embodied rhythm
* Different rhythmic energies
* Direction (a combination of rhythm and shape)
* Syncopation
* Irregular rhythmic groupings
* Layering of rhythms
* Effective management of stamina
* Flexibility

Thinking Rhythm
* First thing we teach: steady pulse and counting rhythm
* Counting and clapping
-unit (counting the length of each note)
-metric (counting the number of beats in each measure)
-Kodaly’s “ti-ti-ta-ta”

Rhythmic Words
* Use of rhythmic words to help internalization
-“walk” – quarter note
-“whole-note-hold-it” – whole note
-“half-note” – half note
-“moun-tain” – eighth notes
-“Col-o-ra-do” – sixteenth notes
-“buf-fa-lo” – two sixteenth then eighth notes
-“blueberry” – eighth then two sixteenths
-“rabbit” – dotted quarter then eighth note
“pineapple” – triplet

Teaching Rhythm
* Sightreading and Rhythm Every Day by Helen Marlais and Kevin Olson
* Rhythmic dictation from early on


Rhythmic Performance
* Clap and count
* Marching and stomping the beat
* Conducting the beat (rhythmic solfege)
* Scatting with direction

Alejandro displayed a grid and then pointed out that humans have an “organic rhythm.” No matter how hard they try, their rhythm will never be perfectly aligned. This is what gives it life.

He had the attendees sing “Yankee Doodle” as if we had been riding the rides at Disneyland and were a bit worn out. It was boring and not engaging. Then he had us stand and march, with extra emphasis stomping on certain notes and big breaths between the phrases. Much more interesting and vibrant!

Alejandro recommended a book by Pedro de Alcantra. Integrated Practice: Coordination, Rhythm, and Sound by Oxford University Press.
Building blocks result of three types of energy:
* Preparation (p)
* Release (r)


He related these rhythmic ideas to the ocean: you have a wave, then a bigger wave, then the biggest wave, then back down to a smaller wave again.

Latin American Music
* Dance and songs
* Origins
– Spanish/Portuguese

Habanera rhythm as origin of many 2/4 dances
-Tango, milonga, candombe, danza, danzon, cha-cha-cha, mambo, guaracha, maxixe, reggaeton, cumbia

For the remainder of the session, Alejandro played a variety of pieces from his handout to give us a musical idea of the rhythms he showed us and had us try clapping and snapping together.

He began by addressing the idea of rubato and tempo flexibility. Rubato is an oral tradition. You learn it by listening and observing; not by scientific explanation.

Alejandro played Odeon: Tango Brasileiro by Ernesto Nazareth (known as the Brazilian Joplin) to demonstrate how articulation can affect the rhythmic energy of the piece.

One idea for teaching cross-rhythms – march the eighth notes while humming/vocalizing the triplets.

The handout from today’s session is available at Alejandro’s website:

2013 MTNA Conference – Tuesday Night – Anderson & Roe Piano Duo Concert

The engaging pair took the stage again this evening, this time as the performers of a diverse selection of music, much of which they arranged themselves:

Papageno!! (a short fantasy based on arias from Die Zauberflute, K. 620) by Mozart, Arr. Anderson & Roe

Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, K. 448 by Mozart

The Rite of Spring by Stravinsky

Ragtime alla Turca (after the Rondo all Turca, K. 331) by Mozart, Arr. Anderson & Roe

Carmen Fantasy for Two Pianos by Bizet, Arr. Anderson & Roe

“Vocalise,” Op. 34, No. 14 by Rachmaninoff, Arr. Anderson & Roe

Three Waltzes for Two Pianos: a medley of waltzes made famous in Disney films arr. Anderson & Roe