Get in the Halloween Spirit with this Halloween Practice Chart

I’m not sure what happened, but all of a sudden today, I’m obsessed with Halloween.  I’m paper mache-ing a costume (inspired by a costume seen on a televised opera production), I’ve bought goodies for students, and I have strung faux spiderwebs and orange lights outside my door.

So, while I was at it, I made this chart (click on link to download):

Screen Shot 2017-10-09 at 10.07.56 PM.png

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Video Tutorial: Penny Practicing Demonstration

This is my first attempt at making a video that required any significant film-making skills.  Please be patient with me.  I hope you find it useful.

 

 

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Free Notespeller Timed Test

I loved timed tests in math as an elementary student.  Maybe you did too.  One thing I’ve noticed teaching lately is that despite having students do sight reading assignments weekly (from Faber’s Piano Adventure’s Sight Reading books), my students in both my group classes and individual lessons are weak on quick note reading.  So, I’ve decided to start putting them under a little pressure with timed tests.

This one is aimed at students who can read both clefs, lines and spaces but uses little to no ledger lines.  Download by clicking on the image below!

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-27 at 4.35.25 PM

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How to Make a Studio Scale Challenge Chart

Hi everyone,

Today, I created this studio chart to help incentivize my students to learn their scales and I thought I’d share how I did it, in case anyone would like to make a similar one.

Piano Students Scales

Studio Scale Chart

 

 

Materials

  1. Poster board
  2. Word processor, computer, internet connection.
  3. Printer and printer paper.
  4. A yardstick or T-square to help you draw straightish lines.
  5. Spray glue and/or a glue stick.
  6. Scissors or paper cutter.
  7. Watercolor paints (optional).

Steps:

  1.  Take a normal-sized poster and cute in half lengthwise.
  2.  Follow this link to download the Chisel Mark font by SavanasDesign at TheHungryJPEG.com.  It’s free to download.  You just have to create an account (which isn’t so bad because they email you about free products that way!)
  3. Install the font.  If you are on a mac, you simply go to the font where it downloaded, open the file that is either .ttf or .otf and then click “install font.”
  4. Open your word processor.  Type in the text you want in your chart so that you can cut it out and paste it to your poster board.  If you’d just like to use mine, you can find it here, but please note it won’t look the same unless you’ve already downloaded the font.
  5. Decide on your background.  I chose to use this circus-themed background which I purchased for $1 on TheHungryJPEG.com.  They have tons of $1 deals as well as free graphics that you can use if you want to keep your budget low.  It’s one of my new favorite resources when I create things for my students (I used to hand-draw a lot of things! Crazy, I know.). NOTE:  When I used this background, I chose to set it at slightly transparent so it wouldn’t overwhelm other elements of the design. You might experiment with what you want.
  6. Take your background and open it in a different page in your word processor.  Size it to print to fill the whole page.  If you have a printer that can print legal-sized paper, use that setting.
  7. Now gather your materials to construct your poster.
  8. Cut out the words you printed that you intend to use as the Title of the poster and as the Headings for each column.
  9. Take your background paper and trim bleed areas so that when you layer on poster board it will not have extra white space.  I needed four pages of my pattern to cover my poster, for reference.
  10. Cover surface with newspaper or other protective layer.  Lightly spray poster with adhesive spray and position the background images so that the entire poster is covered with the pattern.  Overlap and trim as necessary.  Allow a couple of minutes to dry.
  11. Use glue stick to adhere the Title near the top of the poster board.  Be careful to make sure it’s relatively straight.
  12. Below the Title, use the glue stick to put your column headings in place.  If you typed up your students’ names to label the rows, also put those in place but make sure you leave room for names of any transfer or new students you might get in the coming  months.  (Also, pro tip, this is probably obvious but, when a student leaves, just white out their name and replace it with new name of student if you need room.)
  13. (Optional):  Use watercolor paint and a brush to lightly paint the background of each column heading and the title.  I found this helped them stand out a little better from the background.
  14. Use a T-square or ruler and draw your grid so that each student has a space under each scale where you could put an “X” or a sticker to show success.  I recommend tracing the lines in pencil lightly, then going back over with a sharpie.

IMG_6312

To use in your studio:

  1.  Select a prize or prizes that will appeal to all students that they can earn by completing the chart.  Add an additional prize for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd students to finish.  In my studio, I offer discounts to adults and special toys for children.  For the girls, they win a charm bracelet and with each new prize-winning feat, they get musical charms to add to it.
  2. Instruct students on the rules.  Important:  Make it so that the student must play the scale correctly multiple times before they pass on to the next scale.  I suggest five good repetitions to make sure the scale is truly ingrained in their memories.
  3. When a student “completes” a scale, put a sticker by their name under the scale.  Make sure to explain to them that the sticker does not mean that they will never have to play the scale again and plan to do a scale “check-up” a few lessons in the future.

This is my plan on how to encourage students.  We shall see if it works or not.  Please feel free to comment with tips, suggestions, questions or anything relevant!

I’ll update in a few weeks to let you know how it’s going!

 

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Music Theory Taboo Game – Intermediate (Free)

 

Musical Notes

Music Theory “Taboo” Game for Intermediate Piano Students

Today, I’m going to share a game that I originally created for my group theory class for 6th graders.  Piano students of this age are responsible for knowing the theory for Level I of the  LMTA’s Rally Syllabus, for reference.

The game goes like this:

You need an even number of players because the game is played in teams of 2.

First, place the Theory Taboo cards (linked below) in a bowl or hat.  Then, inform each team that they have 1 minute per round.  During the round, one team will play.  One of the partners picks a card and, not using any forbidden words,  tries to get the other team member to guess the what’s on the card.  For example, if the card has a G scale on it, the players couldn’t say “scale” or “ABCDF or G” to get them to guess.  They could say however, “a series of whole steps and half steps, 8 notes, 1 sharp, “which would of course narrow it down to the major or relative minor.  When the teammate guesses the correct term, the clue-giver puts the card aside and picks a new card.  Play lasts one minute and during that time, the clue-giver tries to get her teammate to guess as many as possible.  Then it is the other team’s turn to do for one minute.  The teams continue taking turns until the bowl runs out of cards (and the team members switch roles each time its their turn).

Players are allowed to pass the card, in which case the put it back in the bowl, and if players say a forbidden word (i.e. “scale”), then the card is also returned to the bowl.

At the end, whichever team has the most cards in their possession wins.

There are ways to make this game more elaborate, but that will have to wait for another day.

Note:  I did not write down the “forbidden” words on each card.  I would suggest before you print these (on cardstock) and laminate them, that you add forbidden words on each card.  And print on multiple colors of paper to make it look festive.

To download the cards for this game, please follow this link.  See a preview of cards below (and pardon my handwriting):

 

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Some of my favorite TED Talks.

From time to time in lessons, I refer my students to watch Ted Talks that I think might help them with whatever they are struggling with.  Today, I am doing a quick round-up of a few of these talks, why I share them, and what a music student can learn from them.

1.  Hard Work is more important than talent

The Power of Believing That You Can Improve by Carol Dweck.

I most often share this Ted Talk with parents of young students as a way to encourage them to foster good practice habits and a growth-mindset in their children.  The TL;DR version of this talk (although you should definitely take the time to listen to it) is that research has shown that children who are praised for their successes resulting from hard work tend to be more resilient in the face of challenges and failure than children who are praised for their talent.  When you think about it, this makes perfect sense because a child who knows that hard work results in success will blame his or her lack of hard-enough work when faced with failure; conversely, a child taught to value talent alone will give up, thinking he or she is untalented and cannot improve when things don’t go well.

This is especially important in a discipline like music, where talent tends to be over-emphasized as the most important factor in a musician’s success.  Even truly great talents will practice for hours a day, but that’s what audiences don’t learn about.  The hard work.  If young musicians were to know that very talented and successful musicians practice countless hours, then they might be more inclined to think that they too can reach that level of success with some grit and determination.

2.  How to practice each day without being intimidated by the enormity of the endeavor.

Your Elusive Creative Genius by Elizabeth Gilber

This wonderful and highly popular talk contemplates artistic success and artistic process.  I use this most often to encourage students who feel “stumped” in their music practice or playing without improvement.  The TL;DR of this talk is that the ancients used to believe that someone’s “genius” was not intrinsic to them; an artist was just a vessel or mouthpiece through which a higher power…”genius” spoke.  Ms. Gilbert concludes that if we thought of genius more in this way, and not in the modern way of emanating purely from an individual artistic talent, that art and creativity are not such scary endeavors that will leave individual artists constantly disappointed in themselves.  My favorite line of her talk is when she is chatting with her on “genius” and saying that she showed up to work and is doing her part by being with pen and paper in hand (as an author), and it’s not her fault if her genius isn’t pulling its weight.

So when a student finds that something isn’t clique-ing for them, I suggest that they watch this video.  Just show up to work at the piano and let your genius do the rest.  (Also not bad metaphor for why practice is again necessary even when you have oodles of talent).

https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius

3.  For Motivation, a Challenge to Establish a Habit, and a Can-Do Attitude

Try Something New for 30 Days by Matt Cutts

I love this talk for many reasons.  First, it’s great at helping people see that it can be a small thing to establish a habit of practicing and that even beginners of any age has nothing to lose by trying out a new skill such as piano.  Secondly, I love how the speaker challenges you to have a 30 day goal and just observe the result.

For my students, when they are struggling with establishing a practice routine, lack inspiration/motivation in practicing, or simply need a new challenge, this Ted Talk works wonders.

Challenge your students to 30 days of practice of no less than X amount of time per day.  See what happens.  Also, use a habit tracker so students can see their success on paper.  I made one for a Summer Practice Challenge that lasted 24 days that you can check out below.

https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/matt_cutts_try_something_new_for_30_days

4.  On Achieving Mastery through Near-Wins (And Appreciating Our Near-Wins)

Embrace the Near Win by Sarah Lewis

This talk praises the near-win, which we generally tend to under-value.   So the pretty good performance, rather than the flawless one.  This is useful in thinking about performances and about practicing.

First, she talks about how numerous near-wins bring us closer and closer to mastery.  This plays out in the piano practice context in the sense that numerous repetitions of a particular phrase, perhaps hands separately or at a less-than performance tempo for (i.e. not perfectly) brings us closer to playing the phrase perfectly the next time and the likelihood of flawless repetitions.  In performance, this can mean that each performance is merely an opportunity to do the best you can at the time – not necessarily perform note-perfectly.  When viewed this way, the best way to achieve mastery of performance of a particular piece comes from doing many, many performances.

She also discusses, more directly, how as a student of a subject gets better and better at a skill or more and more knowledgeable about a subject, the more likely that student is to judge his execution of the skill or knowledge of the subject matter as being insufficient.

This relates to music performance because, in learning music, we are always working on the edge of our abilities (or where we can’t be absolutely perfect) so that we might improve.  If we worked on Fur Elise only when we should be playing the Hammerklavier Sonata, for example, we might be very satisfied with our playing, but we wouldn’t be living up to our abilities.  Conversely, if we play the Hammerklavier Sonata, we might struggle, and we might miss some notes or have other difficulties, but one day, that Hammerklavier Sonata will become as easy to us as Fur Elise once was.  But of course by then, we will be giving ourselves grief over not being perfect at some more challenging piece of repertoire.  Ultimately, if we aren’t frustrated and feeling like we only have near-wins, then we are not learning, which is why I tell my students that they SHOULD make mistakes in lessons when I teach them something new.  If they weren’t making mistakes trying out some new endeavor, than that means we aren’t learning anything new or of any benefit to us.

Why take lessons if you can already (as if this were possible) play everything in the world so perfectly that you have nothing to gain from a teacher’s perspective.

https://embed.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sarah_lewis_embrace_the_near_win

I hope you enjoy these talks and that you can use them to motivate your own students.  Please feel free to comment if you find them helpful or if you have others you’d like to recommend.

PS) For some reason, my embedding of some of the videos is now displaying links.  Will try to fix later because I’m not sure what’s causing it right now.  Feel free to let me know if you, know how to fix!

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Announcement! Now offering instruction in additional instruments!

Announcement_new instruments

I’m excited to announce today that my studio has taken on some additional instructors and we are now able to offer instruction in the following instruments:  guitar, banjo, tuba, trombone, and trumpet.  We also offer accompanying services for vocalists or instrumentalists.

So excited I could burst!

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