Group Classes, improving as a teacher

2017 Masterclass Exchange

On Saturday, my students and I held a masterclass event, as is our annual tradition in preparation for our upcoming studio recital.

This year, I invited Loretta Cetkovic, my friend from grad school who now operates a music school in Lansing, Michigan. She was so wonderful in helping my group of students polish and perfect their pieces!

In exchange, I drove to Lansing the following day and gave a masterclass for a group of Loretta’s students. So fun.

Now here is a blast from the past! This photo is from 2014, which was the first year Loretta and I did a masterclass exchange. Here is the related blog post.

Have you ever considered doing a masterclass exchange?

P.S.: Follow me on Instagram

Conferences, improving as a teacher, Music Learning Theory

2016 GIML Training (2): A Great First Week

[See previous post: 2015 GIML Training (1): The Adventure Begins]

I’ve had a great first week in Boston for the Piano Certification Course training sponsored by the Gordon Institute of Music Learning (GIML).

Here is a photo of Amy and I standing in front of Brookline Music School, which is hosting the training.

20160801_08-35-51 w

Continue reading “2016 GIML Training (2): A Great First Week”

improving as a teacher, Practice

On Establishing A Daily Habit (Practicing the Piano or Otherwise)

Establishing A Daily HabitFor a long time, I have identified myself as someone who is terrible at remembering to take my daily multivitamin pill.

I wanted to do better. I believe in the benefits of taking multivitamins, and I wanted to take them daily.

I was motivated, but I just couldn’t seem to do it each morning.

So, I started experimenting with putting my multivitamin bottle in a certain place in the house that might help me create a daily habit of taking my multivitamin each morning.

First, I put the bottle in the kitchen on the countertop, in plain sight. I hoped that seeing the multivitamins when I came into the kitchen for breakfast would serve as a good reminder every day. This worked for a little while, but I didn’t like having the bottle sitting out. I like having clear countertops. And I didn’t want my multivitamins sitting out when having visitors, so I tended to tuck the bottle out-of-sight on those occasions…which caused me to forget the next day.

Next, I tried putting the multivitamin bottle in the bathroom, near my toothbrush and other getting-ready-for-the-day items. This didn’t work, either. The problem was that it wasn’t convenient to get a drink of water for swallowing the multivitamin. I had to find my water bottle (which tends to travel all over the house with me) or go to the kitchen for a glass. Because it wasn’t convenient enough, I ended up skipping my multivitamin most days.

Then, I tried putting the multivitamin bottle in the kitchen pantry, on the shelf just below the cereal boxes. I tend to eat a bowl of cereal every morning, so I thought this would be a good place. And I liked that the bottle was out-of-sight instead of out on the countertop. As it turned out, however, my eyes did not always see the multivitamin bottle there in the pantry. There were too many other cans and bottles in the pantry.

So, what finally worked? How did I successfully create a habit of taking my multivitamin pill every morning?

I put the bottle in the cupboard, next to the cereal bowls. Why did this work? This works because I always take out a cereal bowl every morning, so I can’t miss seeing the bottle. Being in the cupboard means that the bottle is never in plain sight or in-the-way on the countertop. Getting a glass of water is easy, because the glasses are within arm reach and so is the sink. I am reminded to do it each day, and it is convenient. 


This experience made me wonder: What other behavior changes can I make in my piano teaching or in other areas of my life? How can I apply what I learned about my new multivitamin habit to other habits?

How about this one: How can I help my students become consistent practicers?

We piano teachers tend to cite a lack of motivation when it comes to students failing to practice regularly. But what about when the problem isn’t a lack of motivation? Many of our students want to practice, but there are barriers preventing it from occurring daily.

Remember, in my case with the multivitamins, I wanted to take them but it wasn’t convenient enough and I didn’t have a sure way to remind myself to do it in the first place.

Instead of focusing on motivating our students to practice, what if we helped our students brainstorm and implement practical ways to eliminate the barriers that make practice difficult or inconvenient? What if we helped them come up with effective reminder systems for daily practice? How can we help students create their own opportunities to achieve “small wins” on their way to establishing new habits?

Please share your input in the comment section below.

Conferences, improving as a teacher, Professional Development

Piano Pedagogy Seminar with Carolyn Miller

On Saturday, my local MTNA/OhioMTA chapter — the Northwest District OhioMTA — sponsored a piano pedagogy seminar with composer and teacher Carolyn Miller!

It was an honor to have her present for us. Her first session was entitled: “Matching Music to Inspire and Challenge Students.” She shared with us some helpful thoughts about choosing repertoire to suit students and demonstrated for us a variety of her compositions for students. Carolyn’s compositions are published with Willis Music, F.J.H., and others.

20160130_105452 NW OMTA seminar

Next, Carolyn led group discussion on “Why We Teach Music.” This session was particularly encouraging and rejuvenating to us as teachers!

My friend, Susan West, and I helped Carolyn demonstrate a number of her piano duet compositions.

20160130_113440 NW OMTA seminar copy

Partway through the day, we went to a local restaurant and enjoyed fellowship and conversation over lunch. Here is our group photo with Carolyn before lunch.

20160130_114010 NW OMTA seminar copy

During the third session, we learned about Carolyn’s series of books called: “Sportacular Warmups“. The Sportacular Warmups books were created after the example of the A Dozen A Day books (also published by Willis Music), but have a sports theme integrated throughout the exercises in a clever way.

51EV4eawVmL._SX373_BO1,204,203,200_

We wrapped up the day with a masterclass. Four student participants performed pieces written by Carolyn.

20160130_145917 NW OMTA seminar

It was a wonderful day. Carolyn was a gracious and engaging speaker. Teachers who attended remarked that they enjoyed the sessions, the information, and the fellowship with other teachers.

Thanks goes to Carolyn Miller and my fellow members of the Northwest District OhioMTA for a successful day!

improving as a teacher, Professional Development, Technology

Clavier Companion Nov/Dec issue: The Future of Piano Teaching

1622601_818136588208658_571019086351640113_nHave you seen the latest issue of Clavier Companion magazine?

The Nov/Dec 2014 issue marks the beginning of a series called “The Future of Piano Teaching.”  In this issue, you’ll find twelve short musings written by various pedagogues about their thoughts on the future of piano teaching.  These short musings will be followed by a series of longer, more in-depth articles in future issues.

I was proud to submit one of those short musings (you’ll find it on page 29) alongside my colleagues, including fellow bloggers Leila Viss, Mario Ajero, Jennifer Foxx, and Wendy Stevens.  My longer, follow-up article will be published in a future issue.

Not subscribed to Clavier Companion?  It is an outstanding, forward-thinking magazine for piano teachers.  Tell your family you would like to receive a subscription as a Christmas gift.  Request access to an issue free here.

improving as a teacher, Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

The Role of Intervalic Reading when Reading Music

A few weeks ago, I added a new game to my Shop called the Ice Cream Interval game.  In that post, I briefly mentioned the importance of being able to read intervalically when reading music and I’d like to discuss this further today.

blog-Teaching-Tip---Intervalic-Reading.png

While it is important for students to be able to identify the names of notes quickly, it is equally important for them to read intervals as early as possible in their studies.  While I am a big believer in drilling note-naming flashcards, I am an even bigger believer in drilling intervals.  Continue reading “The Role of Intervalic Reading when Reading Music”

improving as a teacher, Studio Business, Teaching Piano

Piano Student End-Of-The-Year Evaluations

I’m back!  I ended up taking two weeks off instead of one, I know.  :)  But it felt great.  It feels great to be back too.

At the MTNA National Conference in NYC this year, one of the sessions I attended encouraged teachers to do yearly or quarterly assessments/evaluations of their students.  Some teachers accompany these assessments with a parent-teacher-student conference.  A few of the session’s attendees raised their hands to comment on their method of assessment and the benefits they’ve seen.  I was quite intrigued with the idea, and decided I wanted to give it a try this year.

The only time when I’ve done something similar to this is when I was worked at a summer music camp in my hometown.   I was the Theory & Composition Instructor, and the camp director asked each of us instructors to create some kind of assessment that we could send home with the students for the teachers and parents to be able to see what the student learned at camp.  These assessments were very short and sweet, since we had only had contact with the student for four classes over four days.

I started looking around the internet for ideas, and eventually formed a template I’m pretty happy with.  This assessment is not designed to do that same thing that standardized music testing is supposed to do.  It’s much more general.  It’s about communicating to the student and parent about the progress the student is making in various areas and the goals that I have in mind for them in upcoming months.  It is a bit like a report card, but with no actual grades.   Continue reading “Piano Student End-Of-The-Year Evaluations”

Conferences, improving as a teacher, Professional Development

Forum Q&A | Attending Conferences

The last Forum Q&A post was about assignment notebooks/pages for students.  It was wonderful to read all the great responses!  Click here to read the comments, and click here to read my follow-up where I share my method of tracking assignments.

Being able to attend state and national-level conferences is one of the many benefits of being a member of MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) and other professional music organizations.  I am a firm believer in the importance of ongoing professional development for piano teachers (and any teachers, for that matter).  So, today’s Forum Q&A is all about conferences!

To you, what is the most valuable part of attending conferences?  What tips do you have for making conference attendance more affordable and feasible?  If you haven’t attended conferences regularly/before, what’s holding you back? 

Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

improving as a teacher, Professional Development, Teaching Piano

My Assignment Notebook Method

Last Thursday, we started a Forum Q&A discussion about assignment notebooks/pages for students.  Today, I thought I’d share my own method of tracking assignments — and, of course, also announce the winner of the giveaway!

The winner of the sheet music decorative balls is commenter #5… LaDona!  Congrats!!  (By the way, if you haven’t seen LaDona’s wonderful blog before, you can check it out here.)

My method of tracking assignments is very similar to what many of you do: I write in a journal-sized notebook.

I always start with the date and then I outline any warmup/technique exercises (5-finger patterns, arpeggios, scales, etc).  The photos in this post show a made-up but typical assignment page:  Continue reading “My Assignment Notebook Method”

Forum Q&A's, Giveaways, improving as a teacher, Professional Development

Forum Q&A: Assignment Notebook/Pages for Students

Today’s post brings a new Forum Q&A topic, and another GIVEAWAY!

Our last Forum Q&A discussion was about perfectionism.  It’s never too late to add your thoughts to the comments, so feel free to hop over there and join in the conversation!  I plan to follow up with an article on perfectionism to discuss this topic further at some point, but haven’t gotten to it yet!  So many ideas, so little time…  :)

Today’s new Q&A topic is about assignment notebooks.  I’m curious –

What is your method of writing down assignments for students?  Do you use a notebook (if so, any particular size/type?) or do you have a custom-made sheet you designed on the computer?  What kinds of things are usually included on a typical assignment? 

Today’s giveaway is a pair of decorative balls, decoupaged by hand with vintage sheet music: Continue reading “Forum Q&A: Assignment Notebook/Pages for Students”

improving as a teacher, Performances, Practice, Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Teaching Tip: Achieving Fluency

Have you ever have a student play a piece with frequent hesitations throughout, even though you know they can play much better than that?  This phenomenon can occur with all ages/levels of students.  Why does this happen?  What is going on when this happens?  This article will examine possible causes of and solutions for a lack of fluency.

A lack of fluency could be caused by a number of things:

  1. A lack of the proper technique required for the executing the piece;
  2. A lack of familiarity of the notes of the piece;
  3. A tempo that is too fast for the student’s ability at that moment; or,
  4. A lack of mentally “chunking” the information on the page properly.  The analogy I use to refer to Number 4 is that the students feels like they are wearing horse blinders, or are mentally experiencing tunnel vision.

Continue reading “Teaching Tip: Achieving Fluency”