Interviews, Rhythm

Teacher Feature | Mariel Mohns

It’s halfway through the month already, which means it’s time for a…

Teacher Feature!  :)  Meet Mariel from Mississippi!

Please tell us about your piano and/or teaching background!

I started taking piano lessons when I was 4 years old and loved piano, but when I was in the 5th or 6th grade, I quit lessons for various reasons.  I continued to play through middle school and high school, and started working on more advanced repertoire on my own.  Since I didn’t have a teacher, however, my technique was very limited.  I was accepted into the Lawrence Conservatory of Music for college, and with the help of my very understanding studio professor, learned proper technique skills I needed to really develop as a pianist.  During my freshman year of college, I taught a few students and HATED it. I never wanted to teach again (I didn’t have the patience for it), but after taking the piano pedagogy courses in college and learning how to formulate lesson plans and a bit more about childhood education, I absolutely fell in love with teaching and knew I wanted to start a private studio!! 

What is your teaching philosophy in a nutshell?

My goal is to actively engage students in reaping the joys of all aspects of music and encourage them to reach their full potential as artists. I also believe that formal piano study will prepare students for life lessons outside of the music studio. Each student is treated as an individual, and every lesson is catered to their specific needs and strengths.

What is your favorite thing about teaching piano?

I love seeing how excited students get when they master a new piece, or when they bring in their own compositions, or when they tell me about how they performed in the school talent show…it’s encouraging to me as a teacher to see them really ENJOY what music has to offer them.

Do you have any clever teaching tips you’d love to share with us?

One way I found to maximize teaching time is to eliminate hand writing in practice notebooks.  I was wasting way too much time writing instead of focusing on the student.  Now I set up my computer next to the piano, and type notes into a weekly practice document.  I do this because I type much faster than I write (must be those piano fingers!) and I can type while talking to the student.  At the end of the lesson, I print out the sheet, and put it in the student’s lesson notebook/binder/folder.  My notes are much more legible for the student, and I am able to give them more attention during lesson than if I was scribbling on a notepad.

How do you stay inspired as a piano teacher?

I have been so encouraged by technology and the internet.  Why some teachers stay away from it, I don’t know!  But I’ve learned so much from reading piano teaching blogs (like Color In My Piano!) than I could learn from a book (though there are some great piano pedagogy books out there).  The great thing about blogs, is we can see how piano lessons are relevant TODAY.  We get first-hand accounts of what is working/what isn’t working in the studio.

What is your favorite teaching game to use with your students?

One game that my students love is called “Poison Rhythm”.  I don’t remember where I learned this specific game, but it based on a common teaching game.  I clap various rhythms and the students must clap it back to me.  At the beginning of the game, I clap for them a “poison rhythm” that shouldn’t be clapped in return.  During the game, if I clap the poison rhythm and somone echoes it, they are “poisoned” and out of the game.  This really helps with listening skills, and the students get more excited as the rhythms get longer and more complex.

Tell us about a rewarding or humorous moment in your piano teaching career.

One humorous story will always stick out in my memory.  During a group lesson, we were learning about theme and variations.  I played Mozart’s variations on “Ah Vous Dirai-Je Maman” (what they recognized as Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star) and after each variation, asked them what mood or imagery came into their heads.  For the last variation (lots of 16th note runs), one of my students said, “Wow! That one sounds like a storm in the brain!!”  We had a good laugh over that one! Now anytime I feel stressed out, I refer to it as a “storm in my brain” :)

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Thanks so much, Mariel!  Readers —  feel free to send Mariel an email via the address listed at the beginning of this post, or leave your responses in the comments below.  :)

P.S. — I have another Teacher Feature interview ready for the beginning of next month, but after that, I need more from you folks!  If anybody is wiling to complete an interview, please send me an email at admin[at]colorinmypiano.com.  Thank you! 

4 thoughts on “Teacher Feature | Mariel Mohns”

  1. Lovely to “meet” you, Mariel! I love the idea of the Poison Rhythm game. I’m gathering ideas for my first group lessons (hopefully this fall), and that seems like a really fun one to play.

  2. Great interview Mariel! I also love that Poison Rhythm game – my students are used to the clap backs, but not to having one they have to “watch out” for. I’m going to use it today! Thanks for sharing your enthusiasm for teaching. Your students are lucky to have a teacher like you :)

  3. Thank you, Joy, for the opportunity to share!!

    Thanks Sara and Andrea – nice to “meet” you as well. I wish i could remember where I heard about the Poison Rhythm game so I can give that teacher/blogger credit. I love how we are a community that is willing to share ideas and help each other become better teachers! I hope your students like the game!

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