improving as a teacher, Motivation, Teaching Piano

Teaching Tip: Engaging the Emotions

I read something this week that mentioned in passing the benefit of engaging the emotions for learning.  This idea really stuck with me, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.  It makes perfect sense, but I just never thought about it much before.  I think this idea is worth some consideration.

Neurologically, humans learn best when their emotions are engaged.  Various research has been done that suggests the benefit of learning when the emotions are engaged (see “For Further Reading” below).  An effective speaker will appeal to the listeners’ emotions in order to affect and influence them to agree with the points made, support the viewpoint, and maybe even motivate them to do something about it.  Similarly, an effective teacher will connect with the students’ emotions to make the student interested in the topic and motivated to learn.  When the emotions are engaged, the learning moment becomes both meaningful and memorable.

The art of music is very close to the heart and the emotions.  We music teachers are very fortunate!  And yet, how often do we encounter students who seldom practice?  How about unmotivated students who quit after just a few years?  And how often do we hear completely unemotional performances?  These things do happen, unfortunately.  We can help prevent this from happening.  Perhaps through engaging the emotions we can help students connect with the music and be interested/motivated. Continue reading “Teaching Tip: Engaging the Emotions”

Motivation, Resources, Reviews

Book Review: “Red,” “Purple,” and “Blue” by Dror Perl

A few weeks ago, I received a friendly email from composer Dror Perl asking if I’d be willing to write a review of his music books.  I, of course, said yes, and so Dror sent me complimentary copies of the Red and Purple books.  Here is my full review of his wonderful books!

Summary

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Studio Business

9 Ideas for Motivating Piano Students

I’m sure we have all had students who are low on motivation at one point or another.  It’s not always easy to keep students practicing week after week.  To make matters complicated, every student is different: something that motivates one student might not work for the next.

Here are some ideas for increasing motivation among your piano students:

  1. Take lessons yourself. Put yourself in their shoes.  Remember what it’s like to have a busy week and have a hard time finding time for practice?  Remember what it’s like to when your pieces don’t play as well in the lesson as they did at home?  You can be more genuinely understanding and make better suggestions for solutions if you are taking lessons yourself and going through the same situations that they are.  Think you don’t have time for lessons?  Try to find someone who’s willing to take you on every other week or even once a month.  Continuing your own piano lessons will probably benefit you in more ways that you think!
  2. Be sure to give them a good variety of repertoire. Make sure there is plenty of variety in the music they are working on.  Find out what types of music they like.  Supplement their method book(s) with new age piano (think Jim Brickman), hymn arrangements, jazz/blues, pop music, soundtrack/music theater music (think Disney, High School Musical, or Twilight – whatever is currently popular!).  No matter the student, however, I always make sure they are working on something classical too.  There are so many different types of great music within classical music – I truly believe there is something for everyone!
  3. Start an incentive program. Let’s face it: some students can be bribed.  =)  In all seriousness, though, some students truly thrive on being motivated through incentive programs.  Incentive programs can help to not only give your students a goal to work towards, but also to reward your students’ hard work and good behavior.
  4. Try playing more music games in the lesson. Obviously, not every student’s goal is to be a concert pianist.  For some students, it may more than enough for them to become functional pianists who have a strong, life-long appreciation for music.  With these students, try giving an extra emphasis on theory and ear training games.  This may help revive their interest in practicing their repertoire.
  5. Try doing more creative activities involving improvisation and composition. Sometimes we piano teachers fall into the trap of making piano lessons turn into learning how to follow directions on the page (check out this post about getting the focus back on the sound).  Composition and improvisation activities help communicate to the student, “creativity is important!”  Then when working on repertoire, try to capture the student’s imagination and get them thinking about what the composers’ creative processes might have been for their pieces.  Get them excited about creating a mood or story!
  6. Find ways to increase studio camaraderie. Some students thrive on social interactions.  Help them make “piano friends” by providing occasions when your students can meet and interact with each other.  Assign duets between students who have their lessons back-to-back.  And if you don’t already, hold monthly group lessons.  Plan games and activities that involve having the students work together in pairs or small groups of 3 or 4.  Building student friendships within your studio may help them look forward to studio events, lessons, and even practicing at home!
  7. Provide regular performance opportunities. I once had a student who loved playing in soccer games, but disliked soccer practice.  In much the same way, she thrived on piano performances but disliked daily practicing.  Having a recital to prepare for helped tremendously!  Some students need regular performances to keep them motivated.  In addition to your regular annual/semi-annual recitals, try adding other low-stress performance opportunities, such as a Halloween/Christmas Party or a recital at a local senior center.  In addition, try holding studio performance times during monthly group lessons.  You can even call them “Repertoire Parties” instead of calling them by the more traditional “Performance Class” name.  Set the tone by remarking how fun and imaginative each student’s piece sounds, and asking students which piece was their favorite.  Hearing other students play may motivate them to improve their own playing or to someday work on some of the same repertoire they hear from other students.
  8. Have a talk with Mom or Dad. Maybe the problem is simply that the student just needs to practice more.  Have a chat with Mom or Dad and ask if they would be willing to give the student a gentle reminder each day to get on the piano.  For some students, it’s not that they don’t enjoy practicing; it’s just that they need a reminder or a little prompting to get on the bench each day.  Suggest that they make a routine and designate a specific block of time for practice each day.  Ask the parents or older siblings to sit at the bench with the student occasionally and ask them about their pieces and what they enjoy about them.  Suggest that they walk through or sit and read a book/magazine when the student is practicing and occasionally give praise and compliments to encourage them.  These things show the student that practice time is both a priority and something worthwhile and even enjoyable.
  9. Have them sign a practice contract. Are they still not practicing?  If the positive approach in #8 above doesn’t work, it may be time to get a little more aggressive.  Have a talk with Mom or Dad again and tell them that a practice agreement is necessary for the student to continue to be a part of your studio.  Although you may not enjoy resorting to practice contracts (I know I don’t – click here to view my thoughts on practice requirements), students (and teachers too) generally find lessons are much more enjoyable when the student is prepared each week for lessons and is making progress week after week.  Making an agreement may be just what some students need to stay dedicated to piano lessons.

I find that positive reinforcements are best for creating students who want to be there and learn at lessons, but sometimes one must resort to more desparate means.  If you’ve tried everything you can think of and things are still not working, it may be time to say goodbye.  If you’ve been able to keep communication open with the parent, it should not come as a huge surprise when you let them know that it may be time for lessons to end.  Make it clear that they are welcome to find another teacher if they so desire and encourage the student to play piano on their own for fun even though you won’t be giving them lessons anymore.  Do your best to make the parting smooth and consensual whenever possible.

Anything to add?  How do you keep students motivated?

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks | CC 2.0

Forum Q&A's, improving as a teacher, Motivation, Studio Business

SUMMARY | The June Forum: Making Your Vocation A Vacation

The Way to Paradise June is over (summer is going by so quickly!!), and so is the June Forum: Making Your Vocation A Vacation topic.  Thanks for all the thought-provoking comments, all!  Here’s a summary of your comments, along with some thoughts of my own mixed in:

  • Teach only when you want to. Don’t overdo it.  Only schedule yourself what you can easily handle each day/week.  If needed, schedule yourself an occasional 15-minute break so you can chill out for a bit and perhaps get a bite to eat.
  • Teach only who you want to. Whenever possible, accept only the students who are motivated and hardworking.  I’d like to also add: only teach the levels/ages you are comfortable with.  For example, if teaching adult students isn’t your forte, don’t feel as if you have to accept them into your studio.  Recognize the areas where you shine and make those your focus!  Same goes with styles of music: if you aren’t comfortable teaching jazz, recommend those students to another teacher who is comfortable doing so.
  • Be firm on your business procedures. As teachers and musicians, we often don’t like to think about the financial side of things.  We like to focus on passing our passion for music on to our students.  The reality is, there will always be parents/students who show up late, don’t show up at all, don’t pay on time, etc..  Everyone handles these situations differently, but I would recommend never allowing yourself to be stepped over.  It will stress you out.  (I know from experience!)  Write up some Studio Policies and stick to them.  (This is an area I personally need to work on — so I’ve been brainstorming some ways to make “the business end of things” run more smoothly and efficiently.)
  • Keep it fun and fresh by varying up each lesson, and tailoring lessons to each individual student.  Be on the lookout for new music books or games to try with students.  Try to discover each student’s interests, strengths, and weaknesses so you can personalize their lessons to their individual needs.  Attend local/state/national music teaching conferences so you can continue your own education as well as network and exchange ideas with other teachers.
  • Find ways to make sure your students are making progress. When students are making progress, students are having fun, and when students are having fun, the teacher is having fun!  Decorate your studio, create an incentive program, keep communication open with parents to keep them involved, have a practice requirement — in short, find ways to keep students engaged and motivated to develop their skills at the piano and excited about lessons!

All these ideas above are part of being an effective, successful teacher — and that’s when teaching becomes a vacation rather than a vocation.  Great thoughts, everyone!

Stay tuned for the introduction of the July Forum topic, coming later this week!

Photo credit: nattu | CC 2.0

improving as a teacher, Motivation, Practice, Teaching Piano

My Thoughts on Practice Requirements

Many of you may remember being required by your piano teachers growing up to practice a certain amount of minutes each day/week.  Perhaps your requirement looked something like this:

  • 15 minutes a day,
  • 140 minutes each week, or
  • 45 minutes, 5 days a week.

One of my previous teachers built her incentive program around how much practice time each student completed each week.  She would set an amount for each student (15 minutes/day for the young ones, and then gradually increasing up to 60 minutes/day for the advanced ones).  If you completed all your practice time each week, you’d receive a sticker on your chart for that week.  When you received 7 consecutive weeks of completed practice, you were allowed to chose a prize from the prize box.  She used a system similar to the following:

  • Beginners: 10-20 minutes, 5 days a week (depending on their age).
  • Intermediate students: 20-45 minutes, 5 days a week.
  • Advanced students: 60 minutes or more a day, 5 days a week.

Personally, I use a simpler, more flexible practice requirement for my students.  I simply tell my students and parents that they are expected to practice daily.  And that’s it.  Here are my reasons why I like to leave it at that: Continue reading “My Thoughts on Practice Requirements”

Announcements, Group Classes, Motivation, Music Camps

A Peek into the Incentive Program Prize Box

Here’s a peek into the prize box I use for my incentive program.  In case you haven’t read about my incentive program before, here’s the lowdown:  I create an index card for each student, and when they pass a song, they are given a point/sticker for every page of the song learned.  They can also earn points/stickers for doing theory worksheets, memorizing their pieces, etc.  When they earn 25 points/stickers on their index card, they are allowed to choose a prize from the prize box.

I recently restocked the prize box with some cute new items.  Take a look!

The purple prize box.

It’s decorated with some cute music stickers!

Continue reading “A Peek into the Incentive Program Prize Box”

Announcements, Group Classes, improving as a teacher, Motivation, Performances, repertoire / methods

Listening and Communicating in 4-Handed Piano Music

A colleague of mine and I are planning to learn some four-handed piano music this summer, and perhaps do a whole recital together of just four-handed music in the fall semester.  So I’ve been digging around on YouTube, looking for repertoire ideas.  And I have couple of cool videos to share with you today:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=omuZF6oaCnw

What a great video to show students!  Everything is so perfectly synchronized, and their playing is so beautifully expressive.  They are AMAZING musicians.

Here’s another fine duo team.  Perhaps the coolest thing about this video, however, is the piano they are playing on: a Pleyel Double Grand Piano!  I’ve never seen anything like it!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjYfdB0CvSg

There are some important benefits of playing four-handed repertoire.  Both players must be actively listening and communicating with each other — not only so that they are together beat-wise and so that the melody and accompaniment ideas are balanced, but also so that they are playing musically together: shaping phrases together, executing rubato together, and calling and responding to each other’s melodic motives.  Developing these skills while working on four-handed repertoire can give a whole new perspective to solo piano repertoire!  Besides — working on four-handed music can be a lot of fun!  =)

Watching these videos looks like so much fun, I think I’m going to dig through the duet music on my shelf and find some duet pieces to assign to some of my students to work on over the summer too!

Announcements, Motivation, Performances, Teaching Piano, Technology

A Follow-up on Recording Students Before Performances

I don’t know about you, but I have some students who are participating in a spring performance coming up soon!  Last week, I recorded my student Jean playing her recital piece during her lesson (click to read more about recording students as preparation for performances).  Then we spent some time listening and discussing the recording.  Although it took a little bit of time to set up the devices need for recording ahead of time, I found that it was well-worth the time setting everything up and spending on doing a recording activity.

The set-up:

Using my digital recorder as an external microphone, I was able to capture video with high sound quality using iMovie software on my MacBook Pro.  Later on, I edited the videos using iMovie again and uploaded them to YouTube.  (If anyone would like more details about how exactly this is done, just ask! I can explain further.)

The result:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N56ZHpnWfnw

The piece Jean is playing is an arrangement of Borodin’s Polovetsian Dance, from Dennis Alexander’s book, Especially For Adults. Continue reading “A Follow-up on Recording Students Before Performances”

Games, Group Classes, Motivation, Music Camps, Music Theory, Resources, Rhythm, Teaching Piano

Group Piano Class Ideas

I recently came across this great video/podcast on Mario Ajero’s YouTube channel: an interview with pianist and piano pedagogue Dr. Julie Knerr.  Both Maria Ajero and Julie Knerr are graduates from University of Oklahoma’s widely recognized piano pedagogy program.  In this video, Dr. Knerr shares some of her game ideas for her group piano classes — which she holds weekly in addition to her student’s weekly private lessons — to build a variety of musicianship skills.  Check it out!

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_EbQDrLwkxo&feature=PlayList&p=F4AF6DA098C0399F&index=0&playnext=1

Most of these activities could be easily modified for use during a private lesson, music camp, studio party, and other settings.  You can visit Dr. Knerr’s website at julieknerrpiano.com.  She has recently been co-writing a new piano method series called Piano Safari (as mentioned back in this post) available by order via PayPal at pianosafari.com.

Be sure to also check out more great podcasts at Mario Ajero’s website, The Piano Podcast.

improving as a teacher, Memorization, Motivation

3 Benefits of Incorporating Improvisation | Part 6 of the series

We’ve arrived at the end of the series on incorporating improvisation!  We’ve already discussed the obstacles, history, and value of improvisation.  And in the last few posts, we discussed at length a practical, 4-part method for incorporating improvisation into the piano lesson.  Today’s consideration is the last of the series: what are the major benefits of incorporating improvisation into the piano lesson?  Here are the big three:

  1. Students are more likely to remember and understand concepts when learned creatively through improvisation.  This is largely related to the strengthening of the connections between theory and practice.
  2. Students are more likely to be motivated to take lessons when they are doing creative tasks.  There is so much more to music than learning to follow directions on the page!
  3. Students are more likely to memorize securely, and more likely to easily recover from memory slips.  Students who understand what is going on in the music (i.e., can identify the key, the form of the piece, and even some of the harmonic progressions) they are more likely to have their pieces memorized securely.  And in the event of a memory slip, students accustomed to improvising can simply improvise until they get back on track!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on improvisation!

What benefits have you found in conducting improvisational activities with your students?

Be sure to check out the rest of the posts in the series:

Series: Incorporating Improvisation into the Piano Lesson

  1. Creativity in the Piano Lesson – Introductory musings.
  2. Top 3 Obstacles when Teaching Improvisation
  3. A Brief History of Improvisation
  4. The Value of Improvisation
  5. Incorporating Improvisation:
    1. part a
    2. part b
    3. part c
    4. part d
  6. 3 Benefits of Incorporating Improvisation (now viewing)
improving as a teacher, Motivation, Music Camps, Performances

30 Theme Ideas for Music Studio Events

Here’s a list of 30 theme ideas for music studio events!  Themes can be used as the studio theme for the school year, or for summer music camps, or for studio recitals. If used for the studio theme for the whole year, there are a number of ways the theme can be incorporated: the incentive program, group lesson activities, worksheets, games, food, decorations, dress, recital repertoire, etc., can all be coordinated to fit the theme.

  1. Medieval Times | castles, knights, princesses
  2. Fantasy | same as above, plus dragons, wizards, etc.
  3. Mystery |detective, private eye, clues, magnifying glass, footprints, fingerprints, evidence
  4. International / Around the World | choose a specific country, or give a survey of a few different countries  (Egypt, Africa, etc.) world music, cultures. For example……
  5. Fiesta | sombrero, maracas, dances
  6. Tropical | surfing, luau, grass skirts, steel drums, Caribbean/Hawaiian music, palm trees
  7. Winter | snow, icicles, skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, cold, mittens, scarves, snowmen
  8. Carnival / Circus | ringmaster, tightrope walker, elephant, tickets
  9. Art | colors, brushes, make connections between art and music. Activity: compose songs named after colors.
  10. Roller coster park | use this theme to study musical forms (e.g., ABA), or musical styles.
  11. Animal Planet | animals galore!  Activity: try matching animal characteristics to how different music sounds.
  12. The Great Outdoors / camping | campfire, singing, woods, lantern
  13. Under the Sea | ocean, waves, fish, jellyfish, dolphins, sharks, seaweed, treasure, sunken ship, scuba diver
  14. Barnyard | farm, farmer, animals, fields, crops, harvest, tractors, seeds
  15. Construction | bulldozers, dump trucks, CAUTION tape, hard hats, orange cones, STOP, GO, workers
  16. Jungle Safari | lions, giraffes, jeep, binoculars
  17. Wild West | cowboys, saloon, ghost town, cowboy hats/boots, bandanas, sheriff, horses, saddles, lasso
  18. Pirates | pirate ship, pirates, buried treasure, treasure maps, scavenger hunt
  19. Desert Oasis | cockroaches, oasis, palm trees, sand
  20. Olympic Games | fitness, games, exercise, practice
  21. Going Green | recycle, be efficient (with practice time)
  22. Splish Splash | water bottles, droplets, river, brook, ocean, puddle, rain, hydration, summer, squirt guns, pool
  23. Outer Space | stars, moon, sun, rocket ships, astronauts, aliens, ufo’s.  Natalie is doing a space theme in her studio this year and it looks fabulous!
  24. Futuristic / Time Travel | contemporary music, technology in music
  25. Race cars | finish line, car, tires, gasoline, checkered flag, trophy.  Activity: do timed worksheets for naming note on the staff.
  26. USA / Patriotic / Stars & Stripes | USA history, fireworks, wear red, white, and blue, or wear stars/stripes! Activity: learn about American composers.
  27. The magic of music | magician, magic tricks, deck of cards, top hat, magic wand, rabbit, gloves. Activity: discuss how music has the power to affect your emotions, change your mood, influence you to do something, etc.
  28. Blast from the Past | choose an era of music history: Classical, Romantic, Baroque, etc.  Dress old-fashioned, eat popular treats from back then, etc.
  29. The Great Composers | choose a specific set of composers, and focus on one each day/week/month.
  30. Musical Instruments | learn about the parts of the piano, or the instruments of the orchestra.  Discuss timbre, register, range, tuning, etc.

Please share any additional ideas you have, or any resources you’ve found to be helpful for planning a themed event for your music studio!

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peasap/ / CC BY 2.0
improving as a teacher, Motivation, Practice

What Motivates Musicians and Music Students? – Part 2

This post is Part 2 of the two-part series: What Motivates Musicians and Music Students?  Here’s a quick recap and then the conclusion of the series:

This goal [creating students who can convey musical meaning] in itself is an intrinsic motivator, for even the youngest of students can appreciate the value of musical meaning and feel important as they learn to create musical meaning.  But to encourage this kind of mastery of the instrument, we need to make sure that our incentive programs are reflecting this goal.

Let’s first consider this:  What kind of student would be produced by an incentive program that is based upon the number of minutes practiced each day?  Answer: The student is motivated to spend more minutes sitting at the piano, but not necessarilyto spend their practice time efficiently and towards the goal of creating musical meaning.  To only encourage large amounts of practice time is missing the point.  So how do we create incentive programs that encourage students towards the goal of learning to communicate musical meaning?

The best idea I am coming up with right now is to base the incentive program upon how many pieces (or pages, perhaps, since some pieces are longer than others) the students “passes.” Since the teacher has ultimate control over when the student passes (or doesn’t pass) a piece, the student is encouraged to figure out what kind of things the teacher values in their playing in order to do well in the incentive program.  That is, the students are more likely to think about what the teacher wants them to improve on in their pieces while they are practicing (aka, the elements that contribute to communicating musical meaning in their pieces).  At this point, the student might even (**gasp**) crack open their assignment notebook and read what it says! — try to shape the phrases more, and think about using more arm weight in the forte section, for example.

What do you think?  Would an incentive program like this work?  What kind of incentive program do you find to be most effective for your students?