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

Reviews, Technology

Recommendation: Canva.com for Basic Graphic Work

Just a quick recommendation today:

For basic graphic design work, I highly recommend on website Canva.com.  Using a free account and the huge variety of templates available, you can create graphics for just about anything.  I’ve been using Canva as an inspirational starting point for many of my projects recently (Wednesday Words of Wisdom quotes, blog graphics, recital programs, etc) and I can’t say enough good about it!

Here is a screenshot:

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Within the site, you can use a large selection of graphics at no cost.  If you decide to use a piece of stock photograph/art within Canva, they each cost $1.  Very affordable, and the output looks great.

Happy creating!

Reviews, Rhythm

App Review: Petronome

petronomeApp Review: Petronome for iPhone/iPad (FREE, or pay $0.99 to remove ads and add additional “pets”).

Petronome is just what is sounds like: a pet + a metronome. :) It is a fun app to use for rhythm activities with preschoolers or any young beginner student. (Thanks goes to blog reader Elaine for letting me know about this app!)  Continue reading “App Review: Petronome”

Reviews, Technology

iPad App Review: Piano Maestro

App Review: piano_maestro_iconPiano Maestro for *iPad only.*  FREE and paid accounts available for teachers. Students who are connected to a teacher account have available to content for free.

I’ve been meaning to write this review for a long time.  I wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve already heard all about the Piano Maestro app for iPad!

If you are not already familiar with Piano Maestro, here’s how I would sum it up: Piano Maestro is an app for iPad that provides music for the student to play, listens to the student’s acoustic piano using the iPad’s microphone (no wires required, although if you prefer to hook it up to a keyboard with headphones, you can), and evaluates the student’s playing based on note accuracy and rhythm accuracy.  The student’s progress is saved over time and points are awarded, essentially “gamifying” the experience.  The developer, JoyTunes, is a team dedicated to piano education and listening to feedback from teachers.

Watch this 30-second video to see Piano Maestro in action:

When student accounts are connected to the teacher’s account, students have the flexibility of using their account via the teacher’s iPad during their weekly lessons or they can use their own iPad at home.

Piano Maestro has the potential to be a game-changer in your studio, depending on how you decide to incorporate it into your teaching.  Let’s first talk about the kinds of pieces available for students to learn in Piano Maestro.  Continue reading “iPad App Review: Piano Maestro”

repertoire / methods, Reviews

Review & Giveaway: Elena Cobb’s “My Piano Trip To London”

A couple of years ago, I reviewed some lovely sheet music by British teacher/composer Elena Cobb (read the review here). She is the author of the Higgledy Piggledy Jazz books, the “Blue River” book of solos, and more.

Elena has recently released a new book: a piano method called “My Piano Trip to London.”

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“My Piano Trip to London” contains 40 pages.  The pieces throughout the book are based on various landmarks and themes from London.

The first piece in the book is a black-key piece to be learned by rote.

Page 5 London Calling Student Continue reading “Review & Giveaway: Elena Cobb’s “My Piano Trip To London””

Reviews, Studio Business, Technology

App Review & Giveaway: Bobclass for Studio Management

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Note: As you can tell, this week I’ve been playing catch-up with a few apps I’ve been wanting to share!  Hope you don’t mind all of the reviews/giveaways this week.  :)

Bobclass ($19.99) — iPad only.

I’m so excited to share my review of this studio management app with you today!  Let me begin by sharing Bobclass’ description:

“Bobclass is an all-in-one productivity app for instructors, tutors, trainers, coaches and other independent professionals. It offers appointment scheduling, client tracking, progress monitoring and payment tracking from your iPad so you can get rid of separate agendas, clipboards and spreadsheets. With a fast & friendly user interface and a fully functional offline database you can do your client administration in the gym, class room, studio or park.”

I think Bobclass it is an outstanding studio management option for independent music teachers.  Here’s how it works:

First, visit the settings to set-up your basic information for you and your teaching.

2014-11-19 15.30.57 (1) Continue reading “App Review & Giveaway: Bobclass for Studio Management”

Reviews, Technology

App Review & Giveaway: Music Flash Class

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 12.44.33 PMMusic Flash Class ($3.99) — for iPhone/iPad.

Music Flash Class is an app developed by a piano teacher Henry Flurry.  It has been around for a couple of years now, but an update for iOS 8 was recently released.  The new layout looks good!

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Music Flash Class is an interactive note identification app.  The settings offer a myriad of options to customize the experience.  I love that you can chose to show or hide the timer.  And that you to choose a particular range of notes to practice.  Teachers can even customize and save their own “decks” of notes. Continue reading “App Review & Giveaway: Music Flash Class”

Reviews

App Review — MusicNotes Deck: Music Flash Cards

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 9.18.56 PMMusicNotes Deck: Music Flash Cards (FREE) — for iPad or iPhone.

This free app comes from the folks behind MusicNotes.com, which by the way, is an excellent website for purchasing arrangements of pop music at various levels for students.

The MusicNotes Deck app provides three decks of flash cards: (1) 50 music symbols/terms, (2) two octaves of treble clef note identification, and (3) two octaves of bass clef note identification.

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Please note that this app is NOT a game nor does it automatically correct answers in any way.  Instead, the app shows flashcard and allows the user to “turn over the flashcard” to see the answer on the back.  The app also can pronounce each term with either American or British pronunciation.

MusicNotes Deck

The flashcards are shuffled into a random order each time the app is loaded.

This app is a great way to study musical terms and symbols as well as practice note identification.  The graphics are gorgeous, too!

View it in the iTunes store here.

Reviews, Technology

App Review: SproutBeat for iPad

sproutbeatlogoA fantastic new iPad app was recently released.  I am so pumped about this one!

I am a huge fan of Eik Siang Mar’s website, FunAndLearnMusic.com.  She has a huge variety of free music worksheets that are both visually attractive and educationally effective.  I have some of my favorite worksheets downloaded on my iPad.  I like to be able to print them from my iPad during the lesson to send home with students, targeting a new concept we just learned.  And, once in a while, I ask students to complete the worksheet digitally during the lesson on my iPad by “writing” on the worksheet.

Now, this process is about to get a whole lot easier!  FunAndLearnMusic has released a companion iPad app called SproutBeat.  The app allows view to all the worksheets from FunAndLearnMusic, organized by category.

The free version of the app allows you to download 25 of the worksheets.  Purchasing the full version of the app for $19.99 gives you access to ALL of the worksheets, plus any worksheets released in the future.  Eik generally adds new worksheets every Tuesday.

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Continue reading “App Review: SproutBeat for iPad”