Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Celebrate Piano!

Good morning, everyone! Another "spring" like morning here in Iowa; it's hard to believe that winter could still rear its ugly head. Yesterday, it got up to 45 degrees; we didn't need our snowpants outside!

I want to share with you a little bit about the series I use. It's a little bit unconventional, and a little bit eclectic. It's called Celebrate Piano! I can only find it online, and I learned about it when I was in college. I took a piano pedagogy class, and we had to review several methods. I chose Celebrate Piano!, mainly because I thought it looked "cute".

There are four levels in this series, and each level is divided into either one or two lessons books (1A and 1B, for example), and a solo book. You can also buy flashcards, cd's, and other accompanying literature. I mostly stick with the basics, and it works just fine.

The approach is very intervallic, meaning students learn to read notes by first learning intervals and reading by the distance between notes. Now, I didn't learn this way, so it was difficult for me at first to teach this way, but the more I did it, the easier it got. Now, I can consciously find myself reading intervallically when I'm playing. Students don't learn conventional note names until the 2nd level. Although, with struggling students, I do tend to introduce the naming phrases (FACE, etc.) a little earlier; for some students, it just helps. But, on the whole, most of my students move smoothly from reading solely intervallically to reading intervallically and naming notes simultaneously.

The other thing I really like about this series is that there is no theory book. The theory book is combined with the lesson book. In short, students DON'T EVEN KNOW they are doing theory. There are crosswords and games and fun little exercises mixed in with their songs. They don't realize it's work, and they like to do it. All the while, they are learning theory and learning to like it. Sneaky, huh?

Also, the solos in this series are superb, especially in the higher levels. I use their solos books during recital season to choose their piece. They like the songs, they are fun, centered around children, and are songs to which they can relate. Plus, they usually incorporate one or more skills that they just learned. This is often a difficult aspect for students- taking what they just learned in pieces, and combining it to make it whole. For example, in one unit, a student might learn staccato, seconds, and ties. They learn and practice each of these skills individually, but in the solo book, they put it together. It's difficult at first, but truly leads to mastery.

If you have time, check out the link to Celebrate Piano!. It's a wonderful alternative to Bastien or Alfred, and something kids really get into!

Thanks for stopping!


Friday, March 12, 2010

Interviewing New Beginners

Good morning! Happy Friday (finally!). We are supposed to get a little bit of snow here today, which, after the winter we've had in Iowa already, is a bit depressing news.

Today, I want to talk about how I interview prospective students and decide if they are ready for piano. I think this is a very, very important step. Even if all you do is ask their mother a few questions on the phone, you MUST screen students to make sure they are going to be ready to start.

I made this mistake with one of my first students. His sister was my second student ever. I was young(er) and only had one student at the time. This mother approached me wanting me to teach two of her children. She has five- three boys and two girls. So, I agreed to teach the two girls, one beginner and one intermediate student. About six months later, she asked me to start teaching her six year old. He was very, very enthusiastic. Totally excited. I met the child once, and agreed to teach him. BIG mistake. I still teach him, but I spent the first year pulling my hair out because he was not ready. Last year, he finally just had everything "click" and things are beginning to come naturally for him. That was a very exciting time!

Anyways, the point of the story was to show you that screening students is an absolute necessity! There are several important questions to ask.

1. How old is the student? {I never start children younger than 6. Ever. Suzuki method is for children younger than 5-6}

2. Can the child read?
(The child needs to be able to read directions, their lesson notebook, and have a very good grasp of the alphabet (backwards and forwards)}

3. Can the child count? {Obviously, for rhythm. They also need to understand repeating number patterns (1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4)}

4. Can the child sit for at least 1/2 an hour? {This was another dire mistake with that boy I spoke about. He still has trouble sitting for 1/2 an hour. My general lesson time is half an hour. I need full attention for that period so I can teach as much as I can and their little minds can absorb as much as they can during that time}

If the parent can answer yes to all these questions, you have a prospective student. If I am still leery, I will often go for the "first lesson" and just assess them. See what they can do, try them out on the lesson books, see if it will work. I NEVER charge for that trial lesson. Even if I continue on with lessons with that particular student, I don't charge. I just don't think it's right.

Screening your students is a definite must--it protects you and your reputation, and it protects the child's self esteem. It's never any fun taking lessons for awhile only to have to quit because someone else says you can't do it. Think about the children, and make your decision based on information.

Thanks for stopping!


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Studio Part II

Now that I've told you about how I run my "traveling studio", let's talk about how I got started.

I have taken piano lessons since I was in seecond grade (roughly 17 years ago; I know, I'm young yet, right?!). I took lessons hit-and-miss through high school, and then seriously took them in college. I studied under a small Korean woman with an amazing aptitude for performing and teaching.

When I went to college, I literally thought, "Well, there's not much more to learn, right?" WRONG! Everything is on such a deeper, in-depth level in college. I learned alot. It was hard. I practiced more than I ever had in my life. I minored in music, and majored in Elementary Education.

To culminate my music minor, I gave a recital. I played Brahms and Rachmaninov. I was also scheduled to play Bach and Gottschalk, but life got in the way and I had to back off. The Rachmaninov (Six Moments Musicaux) was the hardest piece of my life. It's a work with six small pieces, and I learned three of them. Difficult, difficult music. Rachmaninov had an extremely large hand span (if I remember right, it was like an octave and a half), and his music often reflected that. Large chords, wide range, the whole nine yards. But very, very fun. I played the 3rd movement at my recital. This movement was very showy, virtuosic, and exciting. And fast. Like, Presto fast. Whew. My hands have never been the same. :)

Once I was finished going to school, I had a small piano studio (4 students). I loved them (and still have them all!). After a few years of having only them, my name started to get around the area that I live, and things exploded. I currently have 15 students, and with two children and lots of driving, that's more than plenty.

I do play occassionally for pleasure. Not as much as I would like, but I'm usually busy playing Old McDonald for my beginners. They are sooo impressed that I know that song! I play quite a bit for the ladies at my church (I'm in ladies' aid), and I play for my family. This year, I'm accompanying for a choir in my area. They are singing Bernstein and Faure. Some easy music, but mostly 100 pages of difficult music. It took a little while to get back in the swing of practicing!

Thanks for stopping! Come by again and we'll talk more piano!


My Studio Part I

Welcome to my blog! I want to begin by telling you a little bit about my studio and what I do. I have about 15 students, ranging from beginner to intermediate. I finished college with a music minor, and I took several courses in college about piano pedagogy and theory.

Because I have two small children and our house is very small, I usually travel to my students homes to teach lessons. If this is ever possible for you, DO IT! I highly recommend it for several reasons:

1. It puts students at ease. They are much more willing to be compliant and work hard if they are comfortable. Being at their own piano, surrounded by their own things relieves some of the pressure to perform. I find that they often perform better. This is especially true for more introverted students.
2. Forgetting books and notebooks and other materials is not an option. All of their stuff is right there! Of course, YOU need to remember to bring all of your materials.
3. People are generally willing to pay more for the convenience of a traveling piano teacher. Simply put, they do not need to drag their kids all over the place, sit at someone else's house for a half an hour, and break up their day. Smaller children can still nap, no one needs to be taken outside during the cold winter, and the mom can still do something during lessons.

Of course, there are some drawbacks.

1. You have to be incredibly comfortable teaching in a foreign environment. At any point in time, mothers will be listening, younger siblings may wander over, and the noise level will generally be higher. If you cannot focus with noise and other distractions, this may not be the option for you.
2. You need to be very organized. You must remember to bring along new books, games, and other materials needed for your lessons. Usually, I make a list of things that I need to bring for next week as I complete lessons for the day. I transfer this list to my planner as soon as I get home, and then I am usually aware that I need to bring something next time.
3. Depending on where you live, this takes a far greater amount of time to drive everywhere than to teach at your home. I can usually teach almost 2 more lessons a day in the time I spend driving all over the place. I live in a very rural area. On Tuesdays, I drive to a town about 45 minutes away. On Wednesday, I'm local. On Thursday, I start in my hometown, and finish in a town 17 miles away. I spend A LOT of time on the road. Figure in your driving time when you are figuring out what time lessons will start. You will use more gas, and put more miles/maintenance on your vehicle this way. But, again, people are willing to pay for this convenience.

Overall, I enjoy driving to their houses, as I usually get better results from my students. When my students are at ease, lessons go better, and I walk away more satisfied.

Tune in again, and we'll discuss my methods and how I run my lessons.

Thanks for coming!