Music Learning Theory, Teaching Piano

Piano Teachers as Music Educators

We’ve accomplished so much in the realm piano pedagogy over the decades. So many fine teachers, fine books, and fine pedagogical piano literature.

The music education community can tout similar advancements, and yet we piano teachers tend to know so little of them. We know little of the theories and recent research regarding music learning, and of the approaches music educators use in the school systems. Does anyone else find it odd?

There seems to be a certain degree of separation between the worlds of piano pedagogy and music education. We don’t interact much. We took separate courses while in college. We have separate professional organizations.

Do we piano pedagogues consider ourselves under the same umbrella as music educators?

Continue reading “Piano Teachers as Music Educators”

Teaching Piano

Teachers As Learners

I remember my band instructor from high school as the type of teacher who is always working to improve their craft. It wasn’t unusual during any given rehearsal for him to introduce and implement a new teaching idea or learning activity he had picked up, whether from a book or colleague at a music educator’s conference.

He was a wonderful role model for us students. Even as a high schooler, I admired his choice to consider himself ever on a journey towards self-improvement as a teacher.

As a music educator myself today, I am on that same journey. I want to be — and am — the kind of teacher who is always learning, always trying something new, and always improving.

No matter how new or already-experienced I am at something, I prefer to take this approach of striving for self-improvement. As my pastor sometimes says: “It’s fine to be where you are. It’s not fine to stay there.”

Learning involves experimentation and “it might not work.” There might be failures or less-than-successes. Mistakes.

Learning also involves possibility. The possibility of being able to do something you couldn’t do before. The possibility of insight, new skill, more ease.

Even though it’s a messy process and doesn’t (normally) go in a straight line, I personally choose to find learning enjoyable. No matter the topic area, I’m interested in opportunities to learn new things — although at times I must make choices about what I have or don’t have time to devote energy toward.

I know I’m not unique in this regard. When I talk to other teachers, I often observe a similar mental posture. A positive energy towards new ideas. An openness to change and the possibility of being wrong.

We teachers tend to be learners.

This, most likely, is why we are teachers: we love the learning process.

My thought for the day is this:

Do we consciously model for our students what it means to be an eager learner? How openly can we demonstrate being the sort of learner we want each of our students to be? How can we display our open attitude towards change and improvement, as my high school band instructor did?

After all, such is the purpose of a teacher:

The ultimate goal of the teacher is not to create those who have learned, but to create learners.

• • •

Call to Action:

Leave a comment: How can YOU openly model for your students how to be a learner? And what new things are you currently learning in your endeavors?

Finally, this: If you are interested in learning about the online courses I offer for piano teachers, please sign up for this email list.

 

Announcements, Teaching Piano

Piano Lesson Fun with “The Office” Theme Song

I just have to share this fun, spontaneous moment from a piano lesson yesterday. Check out this video:

My student surprised me by showing me that he had learned to play The Office theme song. I, in turn, surprised him by pulling out my melodica. :) I’ve been waiting a long time to be able to play that with someone!!

What is a melodica? It’s a cute little reed instrument that looks like a keyboard. I bought mine on Amazon (you can browse here) a few years ago. It is the instrument actually used for The Office theme song.

Group Classes, Teaching Piano, Worksheets

Worksheet: About the Piano Scavenger Hunt

Last Saturday, I held the last Piano Party (monthly group class) for the school year.  Our theme was to talk about the piano as an instrument: how it makes sound, types of piano, why the piano must be tuned, etc.

Here is a simple worksheet I used at the beginning of class to kick things off:

Piano Scavenger Hunt worksheet

I allowed students to work alone or in groups to complete this worksheet.  I told them they could get up and go to the piano to answer the questions if needed.

I think this worksheet would be a fun activity for a private student’s first lesson as well!

Download the free PDF by visiting the Printables > Worksheets page and scrolling down to “Piano Scavenger Hunt.”

Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Duet Recommendations for Sight-Reading

Yesterday’s blog post described the benefits of using duets in the lesson for improving sight-reading.  Today, I have a few recommendations for books that work well for this purpose.

“Improve Your Sight-Reading! Duets” by Paul Harris

19832058These books are gold, I tell you!  I found these books when they were featured on the “New Items” rack at my local music store a few months ago.  I purchased the Grades 0-1 book (Beginner to Early Elementary) and the Grades 2-3 book (Elementary to Late Elementary). I hope additional levels will be released soon!  This series is published by Faber Music (not to be confused with Nancy & Randy Faber’s materials).

Take a look at some sample pages below.  One page is marked as the teacher’s page and the other page is marked as the pupil’s page.  The sight-reading examples are short and sweet.   Continue reading “Duet Recommendations for Sight-Reading”

Reading Notation, Teaching Piano

Using Duets to Improve Sight-Reading

Most of the time, my students get plenty of practice sight-reading just from trying out their new pieces each week during their lessons.  If necessary, I will have students purchase a dedicated sight-reading book.  However, my favorite way to improve sight-reading with students is through frequent duet sight-reading together.  

At each lesson with students who need improvement with sight-reading, we save the last 1-3 minutes of the lesson for playing a duet or two together.  It is a wonderful way to end a lesson!  

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Why do duets work so well for improving sight-reading?  There are many reasons:  Continue reading “Using Duets to Improve Sight-Reading”

Composition, Teaching Piano

Now Available: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano eBook

Last week, I wrote a blog post here describing how I help my students compose their own pieces.  Today, I am officially announcing the release of a new e-book resource called: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano!

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Continue reading “Now Available: Composition & Improvisation Prompts for Piano eBook”

Performances, Teaching Piano

Audience In A Bottle

A couple of weekends ago, I attended a fantastic Piano Pedagogy Seminar at Ohio University.  The featured clinician was Dr. Peter Mack — an Irishman from Seattle who is a fantastic teacher with a wonderful sense of humor.

During one of the sessions, Dr. Mack told us that in his studio there are lots of teddy bears and dolls, as well as masks on the walls.  He told us that it was so that his students would always feel that they had an audience to play for.  Can you imagine having all those eyes watching you during a piano lesson?  haha!

While I’m not particularly interested in using masks or teddy bears to decorate my studio, I am interested in getting my students to listen to themselves more and play as if an audience is listening.  :)   Thus, I created this silly little prop.  What do you think?!

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I call it my “Jar of Eyes” or my “Audience in a Bottle.”  :)  I haven’t used it on any unsuspecting students yet, but I anticipate it will be highly effective to bring out the next time I think a student could use a reminder to play as if an audience is listening/watching.  ;)

I bought the little glass jar (it is only about 2.5 inches in diameter) at Hobby Lobby some time back for about $2.  I already had all those different craft eyes in my bin of craft supplies.  If you’d like to create your own jar of eyes, I’m sure you can find various sizes of googly eyes at any craft store.

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.

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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”

Games, Group Classes, Printables, Rhythm, Teaching Piano

Rhythm Train Game

I love being able to print out rhythm cards for my students to practice at home.  I can give them just a few cards to start, and add more advanced rhythms and time signatures as needed.  My students store their cards in a zipper bag and bring them to their lessons each week.

At first, I assign students to randomly choose a few cards clap and count at home each day.  When that becomes easy, we are ready to play the Rhythm Train game.  :)

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Rhythm Train game

a music game for 1 or more students

Materials:

  • Rhythm flashcards.
  • Printed train cards of the engine and the caboose (download the FREE printable on the Printables > Games page, under “Rhythm Train game.”)

Gameplay:

Ask the student(s) to randomly choose 2 or 3 rhythm cards with the same time signature.  First, make sure that the student(s) are able to accurately clap each rhythm card separately.  As they master each card, they may add it to the train behind the engine, with the caboose at the end. When all the cards have been added to the train, ask the student(s) to clap the entire rhythm.  Challenge the student to see how many rhythm trains they can make, or assign the student to make a rhythm train every day at home.

Playing the Rhythm Train game makes clapping rhythms just a little bit more fun.  :)  It works well both in the private lesson (it can be played at the piano on the music rack, or off-the-bench on the floor) or in group classes.

You can download the free pdf of the train cards and instructions on the Printables > Games page, under “Rhythm Train game.”  Enjoy!

Note: If you don’t have any rhythm flashcards, you can find a pdf download to purchase at ColorInMyPiano.com/shop/.  Your purchase includes a license to be able to print the rhythm cards as many times as you wish, as long as you are using them with your own students.

Teaching Piano

Dynamics & The Beginner Piano Student

Music-forte-pianoWhen I was a 5-year-old beginner piano student, I remember being re-assigned one-/two-line method book pieces when the only thing lacking was dynamic contrast.  And I remember being frustrated with this.  My frustration was partly due to the fact that I was bored with the music I was playing; I wanted to be reading staff notation instead of pre-staff notation, as my mother taught me to do before she found me a piano teacher.  Regardless, having to re-practice pieces that were already mastered, due to forgetting to drop from forte-piano to piano in one place was a hard thing for me to swallow.

Looking back, I do realize the importance of dynamics.  As a teacher, I am a stickler about them even with the most beginner of students.  However, as tempting as it is, I do not generally reassign a beginning-level piece from a method book if the ONLY thing lacking is the dynamics.  I have decided that holding a student back in their progress is not worth it, because learning to observe dynamic markings is something that can be mastered over time through the next few pieces in their method books.   Continue reading “Dynamics & The Beginner Piano Student”

Motivation, Practice, Teaching Piano

Forum Q&A | Keeping Teenagers Engaged

Our last Q&A Forum topic was about organization.  I loved reading your ideas — thank you all for your responses!

I had a great topic idea from a reader (thanks, Amy!) who asked:

How do you keep teenagers engaged?  As we know, sometimes they are taking lessons only because their parents want them to.  Or, sometimes they are over-scheduled.

Please take a moment to share your thoughts in the comments below — we would love to hear your ideas!

Photo Credit: easylocum