NCKP 2011 | (8) Why Didn’t I Think of That? by Dennis Alexander

Why Didn’t I Think of That? by Dennis Alexander.  Th @ 11:15am.

This session covered a variety of commonly asked questions from teachers that Mr. Alexander has received over the years.  There is a lot of good information here for teachers!

Q: Is it dangerous to play new pieces for beginners?  Won’t they learn the piece by ear instead of learning how to read?

A:  No.  It’s good to learn to play by ear!  We just need to expect reading to occur too.  Modeling (whether from a CD or from the teacher) helps students not come back each week with mistakes learned. 

Q:  Do you have any favorite technique exercises to use with elementary level students?  And do you have second-year students play their five-finger scales hands separately or together?

A:  Most of the pieces for second-year students don’t use hands together yet, so I don’t worry about getting hands together for their five-finger scales yet either.  Instead, we focus on beauty — creating a singing tone and shaping the line.  Some favorite books for technique include:

  • Dozen A Day series, by Edna-Mae Burnam.
  • Get Ready series (FJH).  Chord & Arpeggio Duets and more.
  • Pentascale Pro, by Bober & Kowalchyk.
  • Burgmuller, Czerny, & Hanon by Ingrid J. Clarfield.  For early intermediate; has three levels; is a great option for adult students.
  • And also try improvising with the student playing their five-finger scales.

Q:  What resources can you recommend for improving pedal technique?

A: The following:

  • Pedaling – Colors in Sound by Kathleen Faricy with music by James P. Callahan.  A self-published book for elementary-level students.
  • Artistic Pedal Technique, by Kathleen Faricy; published by Frederick Harris.  For intermediate/advanced students.  Discusses 4 depths of pedal.
  • The Pianist’s Guide to Pedaling, by Joseph Banowetz; published by Indiana University Press.  A reading book for teachers or advanced students.

Q:  How do I deal with teenager students who play sloppily and don’t practice much? 

A:  Teenager students need direction and structure.  Consider assigning fewer pieces each week to accomodate their busy schedules.  Help them bigin a practice diary for each day and go over it during the lesson.  Ask the student to list their top three goals for next week in their assignment notebooks.  And consider assigning at least one short, easy piece, maybe even 2 levels too easy.  If the teenage is losing interest in lessons, try spending 2 or 3 weeks on ensemble work.  Try pop or sacred music.  Try studying composers or music history topics.  Try exploring improv, jazz, or composition.  All of these things can help renew the student’s interest in music.

Q:  Is there a feasible way to offer scholarships to students during this economy?

A:  Yes!  Here are a few ideas that would establish scholarships without losing out on your own income.  Ask affluent families in your studio if they would be willing to contribute towards a studio scholarship fund.  Approach the piano professors at your nearby college and ask if together you could start a program with the pedagogy students that would allow them to teach some weeks, and you teach the others.  Ask your local piano teachers association, music retailer, civic organization, or church if they’d be willing to provide scholarships.

Q: What is an suitable (and easier) alternative to the Mozart Turkish March? 

A: The Kuhlau “Allegro Burlesco” in the Applause book Level 1, also known as the “Sonatina in A Minor” in Jane McGrath’s Masterwork Classic series Level 6.

Q:  Is technique a waste of time for “play for pleasure” students?  Can’t they just get technique from their pieces?

A:  In one word, NO.  They need technique exercises.

Q: Why are judges so fussy about performance tempos?

A: Performances at festivals must be at performance tempo in order to properly convey the character of the piece.  If the student is unable to reach performance tempo, that probably means the piece is too difficult for them.  For festivals, choose something attainable that the student can play well.

Q: What are some good resources for teaching first and second year adult students?

A: The following:

Q: How can I help prevent performance disasters, even after many performance classes and 3-4 weeks of memorization? 

A: One of the most important things is the purposely distract the student during the lesson & rehearsals.  Make sounds and move around so they are used to the normal distractions that occur during recitals/competitions.

Q: What do I do when the parent says: “Johnny wants to quit, and I don’t want to force him to take lessons.”  

A: If the parent is not behind the student, there is little the teacher can do.  Suggest that parents read the “Parent Pages” at the end of the “At-Home” books for each level of the Alfred Premier series.

Q: What kind of questions should I ask on the annual assessments? 

A: A few quick suggestions: Which pieces did you enjoy the most?  What do you like the most/least about practice?  What do you like the most/least about the lessons?

Q: How can I avoid burnout as a teacher?

A: Go to conferences and concerts regularly.  Try auditing a pedagogy course at the college or university in your area.  Be sure to be teaching new music constantly — don’t resort to the same music for all your students all the time.  Browse music stores to help get familiar with new music.  Try letting students choose pieces from the videos on the Dennis Alexander website, or on YouTube.

Dennis Alexander has a wonderful website with videos (as mentioned previously), links, and even a Teaching Tips page.  Check it out here.

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