As has been our tradition for many years, we launched our new year of piano lessons last weekend with the September Surprise!
Each returning student had a piece ready to perform for the rest of us we played a fun rhythm get-to-know-you game (in keeping with our rhythm theme for the year!), and we had the much-anticipated revealing of this year’s practice incentive theme: Beat the Pirates!
In between each of the student performances I played select folk tunes from the fun collection Old MacDonald Had the Blues by Rebekah Maxner and had everyone see if they could guess what song it was. Especially the younger siblings got into this game and were eager to call out the tunes they recognized!
We concluded the evening with a tasty ice cream bar! Thankfully, the evening wasn’t quite as surprising as last year, and we had a wonderful time with all the studio families catching up after summer break and anticipating a great year ahead!
To celebrate the launch of the brand new Musicality podcast (1st episode is going live on Monday!), MusicalU is offering a giveaway of over $500 worth of music-related prizes (including my For the Love of Music course!). I only listen to a couple of podcasts regularly, but I’m really excited to see what Christopher Sutton has in store for each episode. He is tapping into a variety of musicians and music educators all across the globe, and I’m excited that I was able to be a part of this first episode, sharing about some of my own experiences toward becoming a more musical musician. Be sure to enter the giveaway and then tune in for the first podcast on Monday!
Matt, of Music For Little Learners, recently shared a link to their Treble Maker game with me and it looks fabulous! They have several sets of colorful cards you can download and print, depending on what you want to review with your student – note names, key signatures, symbols, tempi. The directions are simple to understand, and the play is quick and perfect for a few minutes of fun review at the beginning or end of a piano lesson – or any instrument! I can’t wait to try this out with my students and see how it goes!
Sabrina Peña Young, of MusicalU.com, has just posted a fun and inspirational collection of 10 Mini Song-Writing Challenges that would be super fun to use as composition starters with piano students as well! Check out her list for details on suggestions like: superhero songs, using art for inspiration, finding random lyrics, postcard songs, and more!
Years ago, I subscribed to the Piano Explorer magazine for my studio, letting students take home a copy if they were interested and archiving the rest in a notebook for future reference. Eventually, I let my subscription expire and its existence faded from my memory. Something recently reminded me of the Piano Explorer and I decided to re-subscribe and give each of my students a copy this year to see if they enjoy it. (If you purchase a group subscription of 5 or more copies, it is only $6/subscription!) I’m also planning to incorporate some of the activities into our practice incentive theme for the year, so that might provide some extra motivation to check them out!
As I’ve been perusing the latest issues that arrived in the mail this month, I am reminded of what a great little gem this magazine is! Written especially for piano students, each 15 page issue has interesting articles, fun facts, engaging activities, and more. And now, there is even a companion Piano Explorer website that students can visit to watch pre-selected video clips of music from the composer of the month or listen to clips of the featured instrument. There’s also an online Teacher’s Guide with additional notes, a schedule of composers to be highlighted for the year, and answers to the kids’ activities.
There are so many things that are easy to take for granted as musicians. We are standing on the shoulders, as it were, of many who have gone before us, making observations and discoveries that have been instrumental (:-)) in the progress and development of music as we understand it today. Even this tidbit that Paulo Goncalves, of Do Re Mi Studios in Jannali, Australia, recently wrote regarding the relationship of math and music is fascinating!
Pythagoras, the Greek mathematician, discovered that notes that sound good together (i.e. are in harmony) are mathematically related. He also found that the sound of a note plucked on a string depends on its length and tension. In his experiments, he discovered that by halving the length of a string and plucking it again, you produce a sound that it is almost the same. However, this sound is higher in pitch. The interval between the original note and the note produced by halving the string is referred to as an octave. Mathematically, an octave is the distance between any given note with a set frequency, and another note with double that frequency. In music, both these notes have the same name but are written an octave apart on the staff.
Next semester, as part of our Classical Conversations homeschool program, we’re planning to go through a book called, Math in Motion: First Steps in Music Theory, so I’m excited to see what other interesting things we discover that go even beyond basic theory to a deeper understanding of the science and math of sound!
In conjunction with our rhythm-themed practice incentive, Beat the Pirates!, this year, I was thinking it would be cool to spend time at one of our group classes to make our own rhythm instruments. So I was thrilled to come across this wonderful page at DariaMusic.com that has dozens of musical instruments you can make using easy-to-find materials from your home!
Whether it’s a pair of bilmas to help you keep the beat, or a handy pie pan bodhran drum, Daria has pictures and instructions to guide you as you construct your own versions of each instrument. (Now if only I could find some real turtle shells, we could make authentic turtle shell rattles!) I’m excited to explore the possibilities, and would love to know if you have a favorite homemade rhythm instrument that students can make!
There are always a number of factors and considerations that go into developing a new practice incentive theme for our studio. This year, there were two primary inspirations. The first was a fervent request from one of my students (who also happens to be my daughter!) that we do a pirate theme of some sort. The second was a response by composer Wnne-Anne Rossi in the February/March 2017 issue of American Music Teacher. The question posed was, “How can you best assist a student who struggles with timing?” This paragraph from her response grabbed my attention:
“And yes, feeling rhythm is more important than thinking rhythm! The piano is a percussion instrument, and young pianists must act like drummers. Keep a drum on hand, and switch places at the piano. Assign sounds or words, like ‘boom-ditty-boom-yeah.’ Walk the beats. Enjoy rhythm as the ‘cool,’ playful part of the lesson.”
That last sentence, in particular, sparked an epiphany for me. “Enjoy rhythm as the ‘cool,’ playful part of the lesson.” This got my imagination spinning as I pondered the prospect of approaching rhythm in such a way as to make it the most fun part of the lesson. Rhythm has the potential to be so engaging and fun, and yet is so often relegated to the status of “necessary evil” in our effort to get our students to play a piece of music accurately. So…some of the details are still in development, but I’m super excited about how these inspirations are making their way into this year’s theme…
I’m planning to look into Wynn-Anne Rossi’s series, Latina Musica, and will be looking for lots of other resources and ideas to transform our studio into one where rhythm truly becomes the coolest part of every lesson!
If you’ve been around here for a while, you know that it’s no secret that I love moo.com. I first became aware of them when I won a business card redesign contest seven years ago. I immediately fell in love with the quality of their paper products and have used them over and over for various studio projects. Right now they are running a special 25% Off all MOO Print Products through July 25, so I’m putting together my wish list and piano studio practice incentive theme needs for next year so I can get my order in. If you’ve downloaded the free Composer Trading Game, now would be a great time to order your mini cards, too!
Please note: the links above are affiliate links, so if you purchase using them a small portion of the proceeds comes back to Music Matters Blog to help cover the costs of running the site. Thanks for supporting the music education community in this way!
Chris Owenby, founder of PracticeHabits.co, has been cranking out oodles of resources for piano teachers – from sheet music to technical exercises to helpful practice guides. He has put together a membership site that contains all of these and more. He’s offering a 30% discount for anyone who joins between now and midnight on July 21, so if you’re interested in checking out some of his creative works now is the time to do it!