Music Learning Theory

Recommended Reading From Edwin E. Gordon’s Books on Music Learning Theory (MLT)

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been reading my way through a handful of the dozens of books written by Dr. Edwin E. Gordon (1927-2015), thinker extraordinaire in the realm of music learning theory. Although I found his writing style requires some getting-used-to — due partly to the necessity of learning the terminology he uses — I have found it extremely worthwhile to do so as I strive to incorporate aspects of his Music Learning Theory (MLT) into my practice as a piano teacher.

In this article, I’d like to present a list of the Gordon books I’ve read so far, accompanied by brief descriptions what each book addresses. My hope is that this article will provide useful recommendations for those interested in Gordon’s MLT and wondering which of his book(s) to read first. For this reason, the books are listed in order by how highly I would recommend them to someone new to Gordon’s writings. Each review below includes a link to where the book can be purchased from GIA Publications or Amazon. As I read more of Gordon’s books, I plan to add more descriptions to this list.

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Before I begin, I’d like to preface by saying that there is a book about MLT that was not authored by Gordon that I would recommend reading before reading Gordon’s books. That book is Eric Bluestine’s The Ways Children Learn Music (GIA | Amazon). Bluestine’s book offers an excellent, friendly primer of the premises of MLT and the shortcomings of conventional music education. I consider it a must-read for any music teacher. Read my full review of Eric’s book here.

Now, let’s get on to discussing Gordon’s books!


Discovering Music from the Inside Out: An Autobiography – Revised edition, by Edwin E. Gordon

Published in 2006 and revised in 2014, Gordon’s autobiography is a wonderful read. It tells the story of his early life growing up as a boy, his careers as a working musician (including playing bass for the Gene Krupa Band), and his work as a professor and researcher. The book sheds light on the circumstances that prompted Gordon to examine the way music is conventionally taught, the nature of music aptitude, and how we learn music.

This book was fun to read, and I consider it a great starting point for anyone even mildly interested in Gordon’s Music Learning Theory. Bottom line: If you are interested in music education and you enjoy autobiographies, I would recommend this book to you.

Links: GIA | Amazon Continue reading “Recommended Reading From Edwin E. Gordon’s Books on Music Learning Theory (MLT)”

Teaching Piano

We’re Not Robots: Helping Young Piano Students Get “Beyond The Notes”

[Following up on the post from last week about helping students play with expression…here’s another analogy I use with young piano students who need to think “beyond the notes”.]

If playing the piano was about merely pressing the right buttons at the right time, we might as well hire robots to do it for us.

It’s funny to imagine, isn’t it? But really: Why would you bother taking piano lessons if you could have a robot play your pieces?

What’s the difference between a robot playing the piano and YOU playing the piano?

The answer has to do with the fact that music isn’t just about “the right notes at the right time.” Music is about expression. Instead of just learning how to get the notes and rhythm correct, we can learn how to make your piece sound like popcorn, or birds, or a storm, or thousands of other things. To me, this is the fun part! This is the best part of about making music.

So, let’s talk about expressive music making. How would a robot play this piece? How would YOU play this piece?

What can you do to make this piece sound more like the subject suggested by the title? Why do you suppose the composer chose these dynamics and articulations for this piece? What else can you do to make the piece sound more like the title?

Only YOU can play the piano like you do. Don’t be a robot at the piano!

Announcements

2018 Piano Teacher Retreat: Developing Piano Technique in Beginners

Hi there!

Today, I just wanted to share a little bit more regarding the retreat for piano teachers I’m planning in August 9-11, 2018.

The topic our retreat will be centered around is: Developing Piano Technique in Beginners.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always find it easy to help my beginner students form a happy, healthy technique. Sometimes, in those early years they play with awkwardness or too much tension. The tone they produce at the piano sometimes comes out weak-sounding, or harsh. If they form habits for playing this way, it could lead to tension or even pain down the road.

We all want our students to play comfortably, without struggle, and producing a beautiful sound. It takes a watchful eye, time, and patience to help them learn to play with ease, naturalness, and a beautiful tone. I’m always looking for tips and strategies to help my student with this, and I’m sure you are too! I would love for every one of my students to play comfortably and beautifully at the piano.
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Here’s a photo of my student, Robbie, playing his piece after we talked together about finding his “sit bones” and thinking about “head forward and up”. You can really see the difference in his shoulders!

These are the sorts of things we will be discussing during my piano teacher retreat this summer. I invite you to consider joining us! This is an experience designed around attendees sharing their insights and exchange teaching tips and strategies. Through combining our knowledge and experiences, we will all benefit from the collective wisdom. I can’t wait!

Here’s the full description of the event:

Retreat at Piano Manor is a three-day experience for piano teachers to get-away to connect, share, and become better teachers for our students. Together, we will explore how we can ensure our students each develop a healthy, happy piano technique from the beginning. Attendees will be expected to share their best tips and insights, and participate in group projects researching the various schools of thought when it comes to piano technique. A highlight of the retreat will be a session by guest speaker Nancy Crego disseminating the Alexander Technique. While at “Piano Manor,” you’ll also enjoy relaxing downtime and deliciously healthy food planned by my foodie friend, Amy Chaplin of PianoPantry.com.

At the end of three days, you’ll leave equipped with new perspectives and teaching strategies for not only avoiding playing-related injuries or discomfort down the road, but enabling even beginner students reach their fullest potential as pianists. You will know when and how to intervene with a student’s use of themselves at the piano, so your students develop musical skills without undue effort. You’ll be equipped with the confidence and strategies to help your students prevent discomfort and experience ease at the piano, so they can play happily and healthily. Retreat at Piano Manor will leave you feeling inspired and connected, with newly formed friendships and fresh ideas for your teaching.

If you are interested in attending the retreat, read more here and then please be sure to join this special email list. Registration information will be sent out in upcoming weeks.

If you can’t attend the retreat this year, don’t worry: I’ll be sharing highlights in weeks ahead — of both the preparation process as well as the actual retreat activities. Watch my blog or instagram for updates!

Thanks for reading.

Teaching Piano

Decorating the Cake: Helping Piano Students Play With Expression and Heart

For piano teachers, it’s that time of year: recital season! We are in the process of coaching our students to polish and perfect their recital selections.

Does it ever feel to you like sometimes students have set the bar at only playing the right notes? Haven’t our students realized there more to music than this? I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sign up to be a piano teacher to become the “rhythm police”. ;)

We want our students to realize there is more to sharing music through performance than “getting it right”. They’ve set the bar too low. And perhaps at times we inadvertently reinforce the idea that this is all there is to piano playing.

There’s no doubt it’s important to perform a piece with accuracy. But we don’t want students to think their job is complete upon merely being able to play “the right notes at the right time”, when the reality is that even our youngest students are completely capable of getting “beyond the notes”.

Instead, we want our students to play with heart, to play with expression and individuality. We want our students to be confidently play their hearts out, and deliver a performance that moves their listeners.

Today, I’ll share a simple analogy I use to help students (1) understand what it means to get “beyond the notes” and (2) become motivated to attend to the details of and add expression to their performance.  Continue reading “Decorating the Cake: Helping Piano Students Play With Expression and Heart”

General

Looking Back: 2017-2018 Speaking Engagements

There was once a time when public speaking was entirely unappealing to me. It’s funny how things can change! I now know that public speaking is not that scary. :) And I’ve always loved the process of researching a given topic and figuring out how to synthesize and organize the information. So, over the past few years, I’ve enjoyed being a presenter for various music teachers association meetings and conferences.

Now that the school year is wrapping up, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at the presentations I had the privilege of giving this year.

Over the summer, my buddy Amy Chaplin and I created a presentation for teachers new to Edwin Gordon’s Music Learning Theory (MLT). (Remember when Amy and I took our MLT certification training together back in 2016?) We first presented it for my local MTNA chapter, the Wood-Ottawa Counties MTA, here in Ohio in September. Then, we presented it again in Amy’s home state for the 2017 IndianaMTA state conference in Marion, Indiana. I’m proud of how our presentation turned out, and I hope we can present it more in future years!

Our session is titled: “Teaching the Way We Learn: Applications of Gordon’s Music Learning Theory”.

In October, I presented a presentation entitled: “Grounded in the Beat: Cultivating the Seeds of Rhythmic Fluency” to my state conference, for the 2017 OhioMTA State Conference in Van Wert, Ohio. This presentation discusses cultivating rhythm from an MLT-based perspective in our students.  Continue reading “Looking Back: 2017-2018 Speaking Engagements”

Group Classes

2018 Masterclass Exchange – Part 2

Last month, I visited my friend Christina Whitlock’s studio in Muncie, Indiana to give her students a masterclass. This month, she traveled MY way to give a masterclass for my students.

My students each performed their recital piece for Christina and received one or two pieces of advice for improving.

It’s so good for them to experience playing for another teacher. And it’s good for me as a teacher to hear another teacher’s perspective! Continue reading “2018 Masterclass Exchange – Part 2”

Teaching Piano

Printable: Recital Program List

Do you have “student recital” on your mind? Tis the season! I have a simple printable to share today that I use to help gather program information in the weeks prior to student recitals.

Here’s how I use it:

  1. After printing out the sheet, I write all of my students’ names — in order of my teaching schedule (Monday students, Tuesday students, etc.).
  2. Throughout the week(s), I write down the title of each student’s selected piece along with the composer and level. The sheet makes it easy for me to see which students have finalized their selections and which have not yet. The column for “level” makes it easier for me to create the performing order when I type the program information into the computer. Personally, I prefer to mix the levels instead of ordering students by beginning through advanced levels.
  3. The checkmark column can be used for various purposes. For example, it could indicate whether students have memorized their selections yet. Or, it could be used while typing each student’s information into your computer (see my recital program templates here). I like to use that column to track which students have and have not yet turned in their recital artwork (to be shown on the projector screen as they play their pieces).

To download the printable, click below or visit the Printables > Other Resources page.

  Recital Program List (38.1 KiB, 725 hits)

Games

Review — Tonic: The Card & Dice Game For Musicians

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!

Group Classes

2018 Masterclass Exchange

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.

Continue reading “2018 Masterclass Exchange”

Retreat

Save The Date: Piano Teacher Retreat 2018

Hello, friends!

I’m very excited to invite you to attend my second annual retreat for piano teachers, taking place at my home studio this summer.

In light of the success of last summer’s piano teacher retreat, I can’t imagine not organizing one again this year!

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!

Happy Monday to you!

Music Learning Theory

YouTube: Music as a Language by Victor Wooten

I recently came across this video by musician Victor Wooten on YouTube and thought to myself: the ideas expressed here fit very well with MLT (Music Learning Theory)!

Below are my favorite points from this video, along with some of my own commentary regarding the agreement with MLT.

1. Music is in many ways like a language. Think about the way you learned to speak as a child. 

MLT practitioners find it very useful to compare the process of language acquisition to music acquisition. It’s not a perfect comparison (as with any analogy), but I have personally found it to be an incredibly useful analogy to keep in mind as a piano teacher.

2. Imagine children being allowed to speak only with those at their same speaking level. It would stunt their progress compared to being allowed to interact with more experienced speakers such as their parents. It’s the same with music: it’s helpful for students to jam along with professionals. 

This is a good reminder to play often alongside our students, whether it’s informal duet-playing during lessons or preparation for a performance. And to have our students play together. And consider other ways we can provide opportunities for students to experience playing alongside professional musicians.

This is related to the reason why I like combining multiple ages/levels among my students at our monthly group classes, “Piano Parties.” Students already have individual lesson time instruction customized to their age and level, so why not combine levels for monthly group classes? They can learn so much from interacting with and watching each other. It’s about creating opportunity for the less experienced students to learn from the more experienced, and more experienced students to model for and mentor the less experienced. Continue reading “YouTube: Music as a Language by Victor Wooten”

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”