Music Theory, Reviews

Review: Celebrate Theory Series from The Royal Conservatory

celebrate-theoryI’m so excited to tell you today about a fantastic series of theory workbooks called Celebrate Theory (Canada | U.S.), just released from Frederick Harris Music publishers. If you happen to already enjoy – as I do – using the wonderful Celebration Series (Canada | U.S. | Amazon.com) with your piano students, you will be especially interested in learning about Celebrate Theory.

Before talking about the specifics of the Celebrate Theory books, allow me to first briefly cover some background information about The Royal Conservatory and the revisions to the RCM Theory Syllabus, 2016 Edition.

The Royal Conservatory (RCM) is a music education institution in Toronto that has been in existence since 1886 and is responsible for a curriculum for music study that is considered by many to be the foremost music education system in Canada, the United States, and many other countries around the world. Exam centers for RCM (also known as the Music Development Program [MDP] in the U.S.) are available in many major cities a few times each year. RCM offers quality publications for music study through their non-profit publisher, Frederick Harris Music.

I have entered a few students in the RCM/MDP practical exams over the past few years and I consider the program to be absolutely top notch. (Check out my printable charts for helping students prepare for the technical requirements portion of the assessment.)

Whether or not your students participate in RCM/MDP exams, you will find the Celebrate Theory books worth your attention. Continue reading “Review: Celebrate Theory Series from The Royal Conservatory”

Reviews, Technology

Review & Giveaway: Note Rush app

13246163_248194038873284_8983692676277542062_oToday, I am so excited to introduce to you a brand new app for music teachers called Note Rush. As I have been experimenting with this app during beta testing, I soon discovered just what a useful tool this app is for my students. Note Rush has become my favorite app for piano teaching.

Note Rush is a note reading app that is simple, intuitive, and fun. Unlike other note identification apps that present a note and require the user to name the note by letter name, Note Rush “listens” using the iPad’s microphone to identify whether the user is playing the correct piano key. It’s so important for students to learn to associate staff positions with the corresponding piano key in the correct octave, and Note Rush encourages this!

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The app automatically calibrates to the piano, allowing the app to be useable even if the piano may be slightly out-of-tune.

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Allowing you to choose from a variety of levels — covering various ranges of notes in treble clef, bass clef, or the entire grand staff — the app is customizable to the user’s ability.

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Because the rounds are timed, students are invited to repeat the rounds to try to improve their times.

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The three themes appeal to a wide range of students while not creating a distraction through too many options.

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Tell your students to buy this app instead of a box of flashcards. Note Rush is available in the Apple App Store for $3.99 USD. Find it for Android here. Be sure to visit the Note Rush website and like their facebook page.

Note: I bought this app. As always, my reviews contain my honest opinion.

The Note Rush developer has kindly offered two promo codes for a giveaway! For a chance to win a free download of Note Rush, leave a comment below before Tuesday, June 28 at midnight (Eastern time) sharing your favorite aspect of Note Rush. Two winners will be randomly chosen and contacted the following day.

Performances, repertoire / methods, Reviews

My Favorite Sheet Music Solos for Piano Students

For our annual Spring Recital, I maintain a tradition of letting my piano students choose their own special piece to memorize and perform. In December or January, I restock my library of sheet music solos at all the various levels, so that I can demonstrate 3-4 pieces for each student to choose from.

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I’ve started to try to keep track of some of the pieces that I feel were favorites or especially successful in performance over the past few years. I think every teacher should keep track of their favorite teaching pieces! I suggest doing so using a YouTube playlist or a spreadsheet file (Excel or Google Sheets). In fact, I have started a Collaborative Repertoire List project here that you may be interested in viewing.

Today, I’d like to share with you a selection of favorite sheet music solos my students have played over the past few years. In this video, you will hear me talk about and play excerpts from 18 pieces. Below the video, you’ll find written comments for each piece as well as links for purchasing the sheet music. Enjoy!

Favorite Sheet Music Solos for Piano Students

My Fav Sheet Music Solos for Piano Students

Posted by Color In My Piano blog on Monday, March 21, 2016

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EARLY ELEMENTARY

  • 1:20 Dancing Drums, by Joyce Grill —  A lively piece in a minor key that has a catchy and interesting melody. Teacher duet.
  • 2:00 Japanese Garden, by Jennifer Linn — An expressive, pentatonic piece for beginners. Teacher duet.
  • 3:20 In My Dreams, by Jennifer Linn — This piece has an absolutely gorgeous melody. 36 measures in length. Teacher duet.

MID ELEMENTARY Continue reading “My Favorite Sheet Music Solos for Piano Students”

Reviews

App Review: Musiclock

Musiclock appI’m excited to write this app review, because it is one of the most well-designed and useful apps I’ve come across lately!

Musiclock is a $2.99 app for iPad and iPhone that provides a variety of backing tracks intended to be used while practicing scales or improvising.

The first step is to select a scale. The scale choices are: major, major pentatonic, minor pentatonic, natural minor, melodic minor, harmonic minor, blues, and dominant bebop.

IMG_5067 Continue reading “App Review: Musiclock”

Reviews, Videos

Teaching Tool Review: Wright Way Note Finder

wright way note finderWhen I am teaching piano, one of the teaching tools I use frequently is the Wright Way Note Finder (find it on Amazon). I love this tool because it is useful for building a stronger sense of staff-to-keyboard correlation in students in just a few minutes’ time during lessons.

Watch the video below to learn more about how I use the Wright Way Note Finder during lessons. In this video, I also describe what I consider to be the four steps that our minds go through when decoding music on the staff during sight-reading:

  1. Recognizing the note’s location on the staff (e.g., treble clef line #2).
  2. Audiating (hearing in your mind’s ear) the approximate pitch (how high/low is this sound?).
  3. Correlating the note to a specific key location on the keyboard (e.g., the G above Middle C).
  4. Knowing the name of the pitch (e.g., G or sol). This step is not nearly as important as the other three steps; yet, in practice, we and our students tend to overemphasize the importance of the note names. This step is not crucial during sight-reading.

I like to use the Wright Way Note Finder to help the student improve steps 1-3.

Where to find the Wright Way Note Finder and similar tools:

  • The Wright Way Note Finder costs about $12 on Amazon.
  • Alfred Publishing offers a similar tool called the All-In-One Flashcard for about $8. As the video on Alfred’s website shows, the tool is two-sided with letter names printed on one side. And the quarter note can be flipped upside down so that the stem is pointed the proper direction.
  • Slide-A-Note is a similar teaching tool, sold for about $7 at slideanote.com, that shows a sideways printed keyboard for the intent of further building the student’s sense of correlation from staff to keyboard.

Thanks for watching!Wright-Way Note Finger vintage

All past broadcasts are here: ColorInMyPiano.com/live/. To watch future broadcasts live, download the free Periscope app (for iOS or Android), search for @joymorinpiano, and hop online on Mondays at noon Eastern time. Hope to see you next time!

Do you have suggestions about what we could discuss in future Periscopes? Please submit your ideas by clicking here. I appreciate your input!

Reviews

Review: Rhythm Swing app

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 12.16.24 PMLuke Bartolomeo has done it again! The developer of Flashnote Derby and Dragon Scales has released a brand new app for iPad and iPhone called Rhythm Swing.

The image below provides a look at the levels available within Rhythm Swing: Basic Notes, Basic Rests, and Eighth Notes.

The app tracks progress by marking completed sections with up to three stars. This works great for students who own the app on their own device. Currently, the app does not enable teachers to track students’ progress from the teacher’s device.

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For each basic rhythm concepts, the app first provides video lessons.

screen520x924 (2) Continue reading “Review: Rhythm Swing app”

Reviews

Book Review: “The Practicing Mind” by Thomas M. Sterner

41sDvxx1mHLThe Practicing Mind: Master Any Skill or Challenge by Learning To Love the Process” is a bestselling book by Thomas M. Sterner that is applicable to non-musicians and musicians alike. The author happens to be a piano technician by trade and in the past held a high-pressure job preparing pianos at a performance venue for visiting concert pianists. The book provides helpful tips and strategies for anyone who is practicing in order to learn a skill, whether it be music, golfing, speaking a foreign language, or any pursuit.

I gained some very helpful tips and mindsets from the book. Here are two examples:

  • The author reminds us that we should remember to find joy in the process of the pursuit, rather than thinking that happiness will only come when we reach an identified goal.
  • He points out that a great deal of our stress is caused by failing to live in-the-moment. Meaning, when we find ourselves feeling stressed, it is often because we are thinking and worrying about other tasks, goals, or commitments at a time when we cannot do anything about them. When we become aware that this is happening to us, we can shift our focus to think only about where we are and what we are doing now. This releases the stress and can actually increase our productivity when we DO return to the task we were stressed about.

The book is under 150 pages and is fun and easy reading — yet thought provoking. I highly recommend this book to anyone who practices, whether it is music or other pursuits. I have recommended it to a couple of my adult students who likewise found it helpful and enjoyable.

Find the book on Amazon here.

Reviews

Book Review: “Playing Beyond the Notes” by Deborah Rambo Sinn

51Pm5KhjqXLDeborah Rambo Sinn’s Playing Beyond the Notes: A Pianist’s Guide to Musical Interpretation is a helpful and delightful reference for pianists and piano teachers alike. The book is organized into twelve chapters with titles such as “Boxes and Beams,” “Ornamentation,” “Deconstructing Phrases,” and “Pedaling.” The book systematically addresses common issues and helpful guidelines for performance practice in piano literature.

For every concept or principle addressed in the book, the author presents at least one example passage from a piece from the canon of standard classical piano repertoire. Readers can either play the passage themselves on the piano to experiment with the concept being addressed, or visit the companion website to listen to the provided sound recordings there. The referenced pieces include sonata movements by Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart; Romantic works by Chopin, Schumann, Brahms, and Mendelssohn; and Bach Prelude and Fugues; and more.

Playing Beyond the Notes provides the reader insight into the way that artists can and should examine the score to find clues for forming an effective and convincing interpretation. If you have ever wished for more clarification on the various types of staccato or other articulation markings, or wanted more insight into how to understand a piece of music from its most detailed markings, sub-phrases, and phrases, all the way out to the larger-structure sections of the piece, you will find this book to be a helpful guide. My favorite chapter was the final chapter, on pedaling. In that chapter, the author provides some very helpful guidelines to follow when using pedal, supported by excellent examples.

This book is a helpful resource for piano teachers seeking to gain more strategies for guiding their advancing students play more musically. It is also a good book to recommend to advanced-level high school and adult students to read for themselves. The book is also the perfect textbook for college-level courses, such as those that address piano literature or the topic of performance practice. At the end of each chapter, there is a list of questions that could be used as discussion questions or assignments.

This book is ought to be a staple on every pianist’s bookshelf and is bound to become a timeless reference on performance practice of the 21st century.

Find it here on Amazon.

Reviews

Book Review: “The Ways Children Learn Music” by Eric Bluestine

6152aQLvQMLThe Ways Children Learn Music is a book for music teachers written by Eric Bluestine. As the subtitle indicates, the book is intended to serve as “An introduction and practical guide to Music Learning Theory.”  Music Learning Theory, or MLT, is a set of theories about music learning developed by Dr. Edwin Gordon and others (click here to read a summary of Dr. Gordon’s written speech at NCKP 2015) . MLT is a fascinating set of ideas that strives to teach music based on how the brain most organically learns music.

Edwin Gordon has authored numerous books about music education and music learning; however, his writings are admittedly not for the faint of heart. It’s pretty heavy reading, and perhaps not recommended for someone new to MLT. Eric Bluestine’s book is intended to serve as a friendly introduction to MLT for the person with a casual or new interest in MLT. It is a thought-provoking book that will benefit music teachers of all instruments.

MLT itself is not a curriculum. It is a set of theories, as stated above. MLT tries to understand how we gain musical skills and learn content most effectively. From MLT, educators can form their own learning methods and a personal curriculum and teaching style. In his book, Bluestine makes an effort to show by his own example how he has begun to form his own “curriculum” of sorts, as every educator must, based on MLT.

When I was an undergraduate music major at Hope College, Edwin Gordon visited to give a day-long workshop and a series of guest visits into our music classes. He made a huge impact on me and my fellow music majors. One particular thing I gained at the time from Edwin Gordon’s ideas is the term he coined: “audiation.” We have known about audiation for centuries, but until Gordon, no one gave it a name. Audiation refers to the phenomenon of “hearing” music (either physically or in your mind) with understanding. Musicians audiate all the time. For example, we use audiation when we play a familiar tune by ear on the piano. I think that much of music education is actually about developing and increasing our ability to audiate.

Back to Bluestine’s book. The Ways Children Learn Music will make you reconsider some of the choices music educators traditionally make. For example, Bluestine discusses the fact that there are many concepts that music education traditionally teaches backwards: for example, teaching scales and intervals before students really understand what tonality is, or teaching what quarter notes and half notes are before students really understand the natural hierarchy of macrobeats and microbeats in music.

This is the kind of book that asks many questions and provokes deep thought, but does not necessarily provide all of the answers. This book will challenge you, cause you to re-think what you understand about music education, and help you grow as a music educator!

I highly recommend this book for any music teacher’s bookshelf. Find it here on Amazon.

To learn more about Dr. Gordon and MLT, visit giml.org. To learn about the only piano method to date that has been written based on the ideas of MLT, visit Marilyn Lowe’s website: musicmovesforpiano.com. (Note: Familiarity with MLT is recommended before using her method.)

Reviews

Book Review: “Coffee with Ray” by Nick Ambrosino

71yeS2ThmaLI have another review for you today! Over the last six months or so, I’ve made an conscious effort to try to read more books. I regularly read a lot of blogs and online forums, but had somehow gotten away from books. In upcoming weeks, I hope to share reviews about all of the books I’ve read recently.

Coffee with Ray is a short, inspirational yet instructive book by Nick Ambrosino written for piano teachers — or any teachers, for that matter.

The book is similar to an instructional dialogue: meaning, a work of nonfiction written as a dialogue, such as Plato’s Apology or Fux’s The Art of Counterpoint. The difference is that this book is written in first person, making it read even more like fiction. Coffee With Ray recounts the story of a piano teacher, Matt, who has lost his sense of purpose as a teacher and is dealing struggling with burnout. Matt has a chance encounter with a mysterious character, Ray, who imparts pedagogical wisdom and principles to Matt that help him regain a sense of fulfillment in teaching again.

Readers will relate to Matt’s frustrations with the profession of piano teaching and, along with Matt, learn or be reminded of certain teaching strategies and helpful perspectives for teachers.

I highly recommend this book, assuming you are comfortable overlooking a few instances of colorful language. The book is divided into eight chapters and is just over one hundred pages in length. You will probably find yourself reading the whole book in just one or two sittings — it is easy reading and you won’t want to put it down. The pedagogical principles are practical and applicable. It is light, entertaining reading with a big impact. Order a copy for yourself and a second for a friend!

Find it on Amazon here. And just so you know, a sequel has been released, too (I haven’t read it yet!) called Lessons With Matt.

Reviews

Review: “Fairyland in Treble” Duet Book

slyorig_40a3f4f94ef1b3aba8cbef2898f0ed9cI’m pleased to review a collection of teacher-student piano duets today called Fairyland in Treble by London-based Greek composer Nikolas Sideris.

I must first say, the book is gorgeous. The paper is heavy and a lovely creamy color. The cover design, as you can see from the photo here, is beautiful. The typography, layout, and notation is likewise top quality and pleasing to the eye throughout the book.

The book is a whopping 72 pages in length. There are eleven different pieces in the book, all written at a mid- to late-intermediate level and centered around a theme of fairy tales. As the Preface states, the duets are based on music the composer composed over the past eight years primarily for use in computer game soundtracks. Over the years, Nikolas adapted the music into teacher/student duets. To give you some idea, the titles include: A Playful Countess, The Bold Barber, The Duke and the Cook, Fifi on the Moon, and The Pirate Highsea Games.

Before each piece in the book, there is a written-out fairy tale story authored by Nefeli Tsipouridi. In addition, each piece is accompanied by a QR code which can be scanned using any QR code reader app to quickly pull up a recording of the secondo part (teacher’s part) for the student to practice along with.

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The duets are of good length, making them a nice option for recitals or other performances.

On to the music! Here is a lovely video of the composer performing the duets with another pianist/teacher, Miriam Kornberg. The pieces are beautiful, expressive, and enjoyable to hear and play. I love the variety of modes and moods used throughout the book.

One of my intermediate students and I learned the first duet from the book, The King and the Dragon, and we really have enjoyed the piece! I would highly recommend this book for you and your intermediate students. Another possible use: I like to use duets for sight-reading. If you have have advanced students, they might enjoy this book for that purpose during lesson time.

Order your copy of the book here.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book for review. However, as always, I write honest reviews. 

Reviews

Book Review: Intelligent Music Teaching by Robert A. Duke

I am excited to post this book review because this is one of the best books I have read in a while. If you are looking for a practical yet research-based book about piano/music pedagogy, get your hands on this book. This is my best book recommendation for any music teacher looking to improve their teaching.

Intelligent Music Teaching: Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction, by Robert A. Duke

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The author, Robert Duke, is currently Professor of Music and Human Learning at the University of Texas at Austin. According to his bio, his research on human learning and behavior includes studying motor skill learning, cognitive psychology, and neuroscience. He is also a former studio musician and public school music teacher.

Robert Duke’s book is organized into eight chapters or essays, with titles such as “Precision in Language and Thought,” “Sequencing Instruction,” “Feedback, and “Effecting Change.”

In the first chapter, the author makes a point about the ability to speak/write with precision of language being an important asset for any teacher. Based on the wonderfully clear writing is this book, I imagine that the author is an excellent teacher.

The book discusses how to think of the every day components of our teaching — instruction, assessment, evaluation, sequencing, etc. — with an awareness of how the human mind works and learns. Every page of this book contains a nugget of wisdom or practical tip for how to teach intelligently and meaningfully so that our students learn how to change and improve themselves.

Allow me to give you one quick example of a meaningful take-away from the book. During a section where the author makes a comparison to learning how to solve quadratic equations in math, he states: “The goal of instruction — the real goal, the long-term, far-reaching goal — is not to solve the equations, but to use what you know about solving equations to solve other problems that you may or may not have encountered before” (p. 29). Music teachers should have a similar instructional goal, as the author expounds throughout the book. The goal is for the student to gain intellectual, physical, or social skill rather than merely knowledge.

The writing is pleasant to read, being both intelligent and conversational. I think it is rare to find a book with such well-grounded information that is understandable by the layperson. The teaching/learning strategies and principles discussed in this book are backed by research. Yet, reading this book felt like having a thought-provoking conversation with the author over coffee. I could hardly put the book down until I finished reading it.

I highly recommend this book to any music teacher. It is a must-read for newbie and experienced teachers alike. My opinion is that it should be required reading in every piano pedagogy class. It will influence and change the way you teach. View it on Amazon here.

Edit: Ohio University sponsors a piano pedagogy seminar each summer in June and this year (2015), they have invited Robert Duke to be a speaker. I read Dr. Duke’s book in anticipation of attending this event. For more information about the event, visit oupianopedagogyseminar.com