8:00am Taming The Jungle: Digital Management Strategies For The Independent Music Teacher, by Amy Chaplin
The first session of the day I attended was given by my friend and conference roommate, Amy Chaplin of PianoPantry.com. She gave an engaging and informative session about how to organize and manage your digital content, including your emails, files, links, and favorite blogs. I have to tell you, Amy’s tips about managing an email inbox have been a life-saver for me personally over the past year!
After Amy’s session, I packed up my things and prepared to take the Disney Magical Express bus to the airport. Near the bus area, we ran into Paula Dreyer, composer behind the Little Gems for Piano books. (Check them out: they are books of wonderful little pieces intended to be taught by rote.)
8:00am Exhibitor Showcase – Learn Piano As Naturally As A Child Learns To Speak: Introducing A Kodály-based Piano Method That Trains Both Ear and Eye, by Hoffman Academy
Joseph Hoffman, operator of the Hoffman Academy in Oregon, presented an informative session about his Kodály-based piano method. With most mainstream piano methods being heavily focused on the skill of reading music notation, I was fascinated to learn about an example of a method that is focused on first listening and imitating before reading and writing. Mr. Hoffman, sometimes called the “Mr. Rogers of piano”, also has a variety of great lesson videos for students available on YouTube as well as on his membership site.
The Willis Music showcases are always worth attending! This time, they showcased a new jazz piano method by Eric Baumgartner: Jazz Piano Basics. It looks like a great resource even for teachers with little experience with jazz.
At this point in the conference, the morning was devoted to intensive 20-minute sessions, called the Accelerate Learning Track. Here’s my favorite session from the morning:
Today, I’d like to share with you a game that has over the past two years become a favorite during my monthly group classes for my piano students (which we fondly call “Piano Parties”). The game is called “Tonic.”
This game is an effective way to encourage students to explore and be playful with sound. It opens doors of possibility for future improvisation and composition activities of a more structured nature. And it’s fascinating and just plain fun to hear what students come up with during the game.
On your turn, you choose a card from the deck and then improvise on your instrument music that is based on the prompt. There are many different kinds of prompts in the deck, as you can see pictured below.
My favorite cards are the “play this” cards that ask you to interpret the graphic shown on the card.
Other cards ask students to create using just one to three tones (rolling the music dice to determine which ones). Some of the cards ask students to choose a partner or two to aid them with their improvisation.
Although I believe the cards were created with advanced players in mind, I have found the game works quite well for young musicians with a few simple modifications. For example, I allow students to choose a different card if they seem stumped or overly challenged by a prompt they’ve randomly drawn. And I ask students to keep their improvisation short and sweet (30 to 60 seconds) instead of the 3 or 4 minutes some of the cards encourage.
I find that some students are naturally comfortable with improvising. Others are more hesitant. I’ve learned those students find it helpful if you begin the game by taking the first turn, providing a model.
I have a video to share of two of my students, improvising in response to the following card:
In this improvisation, I can hear both students drawing upon pieces they have learned in the past. (There’s even some “Heart and Soul” mixed in there…did you catch it??) It’s wonderful to hear students create something new using “ingredients” they’ve learned from other examples of music.
Here is the video:
Interesting in buying the game? Order it HERE. On his website, you’ll find that the game author, Scott Hughes, offers a free PDF version of Tonic that you can print out yourself. After testing out the game, be sure to purchase the real thing as shown in my pictures above. In my opinion, it’s worth every penny!
Thanks for reading my unsolicited review.
GIVEAWAY: Scott has generously offered to give away a bundle consisting of the Tonic game PLUS his more advanced Tonic Theory game! To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post before Sunday, March 25, 2018 at midnight EST, sharing either (1) your favorite improv activity for students, or (2) what you like most about the Tonic game. The winner will be randomly selected the following day. Good luck!
For the past four years, I’ve arranged a “masterclass exchange” with a fellow piano teacher to give my students an opportunity to receive feedback from someone besides me. I like to correlate the dates to fall within a few weeks prior to my studio recital, so that the event serves as a rehearsal for the students.
Last weekend, I visited my friend Christina Whitlock from Muncie, Indiana, to give her masterclasses to her students. We had such fun!
Each student performed a piece, and then afterwards I provided one or two ideas for the student to consider incorporating into his or her performance.
I hope you’ll consider joining us for my second annual Retreat at Piano Manor. This is a three-day getaway experience for piano teachers to connect, recharge, share, and learn from each another. During this unique experience, you will have opportunity to contribute and benefit from collective wisdom during group discussions, projects, and even relaxing downtime. While at “Piano Manor,” you’ll also enjoy deliciously healthy food planned by my foodie friend, Amy Chaplin of PianoPantry.com. Retreat at Piano Manor will leave you feeling inspired and connected, with newly formed friendships and fresh ideas for your teaching.
Retreat at Piano Manor will occur August 9-11, 2018, at my home studio in Northwest Ohio. This year’s theme for discussion will be announced soon. Please stay tuned.
Please visit pianoteacherretreat.com to learn more. If you are interested in attending, join the email list there to receive registration information when it becomes available. And don’t forget to mark your calendar!
Over the past two years, I have been using Irina’s self-published method book, “Tales of a Musical Journey”, more and more with my students. As I have become more familiar with the books and am seeing its results in my students, it has become my favorite piano method book.
If you’ve watched any of Irina’s teaching videos on YouTube, you have seen for yourself how Irina successfully develops in her students a healthy physical approach the instrument as well as expressive and sensitive playing — even in her youngest beginner students. Irina’s books are the result of combining what she feels is the best of Russian piano pedagogy and the best of American piano pedagogy. This makes Irina’s method unique and quite different from typical American piano method books.