Reviews

Book Review: “The Ways Children Learn Music” by Eric Bluestine

6152aQLvQMLThe Ways Children Learn Music is a book for music teachers written by Eric Bluestine. As the subtitle indicates, the book is intended to serve as “An introduction and practical guide to Music Learning Theory.”  Music Learning Theory, or MLT, is a set of theories about music learning developed by Dr. Edwin Gordon and others (click here to read a summary of Dr. Gordon’s written speech at NCKP 2015) . MLT is a fascinating set of ideas that strives to teach music based on how the brain most organically learns music.

Edwin Gordon has authored numerous books about music education and music learning; however, his writings are admittedly not for the faint of heart. It’s pretty heavy reading, and perhaps not recommended for someone new to MLT. Eric Bluestine’s book is intended to serve as a friendly introduction to MLT for the person with a casual or new interest in MLT. It is a thought-provoking book that will benefit music teachers of all instruments.

MLT itself is not a curriculum. It is a set of theories, as stated above. MLT tries to understand how we gain musical skills and learn content most effectively. From MLT, educators can form their own learning methods and a personal curriculum and teaching style. In his book, Bluestine makes an effort to show by his own example how he has begun to form his own “curriculum” of sorts, as every educator must, based on MLT.

When I was an undergraduate music major at Hope College, Edwin Gordon visited to give a day-long workshop and a series of guest visits into our music classes. He made a huge impact on me and my fellow music majors. One particular thing I gained at the time from Edwin Gordon’s ideas is the term he coined: “audiation.” We have known about audiation for centuries, but until Gordon, no one gave it a name. Audiation refers to the phenomenon of “hearing” music (either physically or in your mind) with understanding. Musicians audiate all the time. For example, we use audiation when we play a familiar tune by ear on the piano. I think that much of music education is actually about developing and increasing our ability to audiate.

Back to Bluestine’s book. The Ways Children Learn Music will make you reconsider some of the choices music educators traditionally make. For example, Bluestine discusses the fact that there are many concepts that music education traditionally teaches backwards: for example, teaching scales and intervals before students really understand what tonality is, or teaching what quarter notes and half notes are before students really understand the natural hierarchy of macrobeats and microbeats in music.

This is the kind of book that asks many questions and provokes deep thought, but does not necessarily provide all of the answers. This book will challenge you, cause you to re-think what you understand about music education, and help you grow as a music educator!

I highly recommend this book for any music teacher’s bookshelf. Find it here on Amazon.

To learn more about Dr. Gordon and MLT, visit giml.org. To learn about the only piano method to date that has been written based on the ideas of MLT, visit Marilyn Lowe’s website: musicmovesforpiano.com. (Note: Familiarity with MLT is recommended before using her method.)

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To read next: What is Audiation, Exactly?

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, 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

“Un-Method” Books for Piano Students

Un-Methods for Piano StudentsAs a piano teacher, you have probably been in the situation where you felt that using your favorite traditional piano method might not be the best choice for a particular new student’s situation.

For example, perhaps you have a new student who already has experience reading music from school or band.  Or an older beginner with a great ear who is largely self-taught.  Or an adult student who is returning to piano lessons after a number of years.  Or perhaps you have an average-age beginner who isn’t thriving in their method books and would benefit from additional supplement.

For those special situations, it is useful to be familiar with some method book alternatives, which I fondly refer to as “un-methods.”  Un-methods are useful for creating structure in weekly piano assignments while maintaining the flexibility to round out the student’s curriculum with other styles of music they are interested in.  In my mind, an un-method must meet at least two out of these three criteria:

  • Uses on-staff note reading.
  • Little to no illustrations or text on the page.
  • All-in-one book, for the most part.

Below is my list of some un-methods that you might enjoy exploring!


Right From The Start, by Lynn Freeman Olson (Fischer)

3786474_01downloadAs the cover states, this thin volume is a “rapid piano reader.”  Teachers who appreciate a landmark (aka interval) reading approach will appreciate the way this on-staff book begins: by teaching Bass F, Middle C, and Treble G.  The book provides a solid, no-nonsense approach.  I think it is a great book that truly leaves the teaching up to the teacher!

By the end of this 30-page book, students are playing basic rhythms (no eighth notes, unfortunately) within quarter note meters (3/4 and 4/4 time), a variety of articulations (staccato, legato) and notes covering the entire grand staff.

View it on Amazon or SheetMusicPlus.com. Continue reading ““Un-Method” Books for Piano Students”

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

iPad App Review & Giveaway: MMF Piano Primer

app MFF piano primerMaking Music Fun’s Piano Primer — $1.99 for iPad only.

Many of you are perhaps familiar with the Making Music Fun website, which contains a variety of free worksheets and sheet music.  MMF created Andrew Fling has recently released his first iPad app, which is essentially a digital version of his Piano Primer PDF.

From within the app, students can read from the 19 pieces of sheet music, listen to recordings of each piece, and easily view a “Note Name/Keyboard Chart.”

MFF piano primer screenshots

A note about the pedagogy of this primer:  It uses the Middle C Reading Approach.  It begins with on-staff note reading with the thumb on C.  In all of the pieces, students play in C position.  Keyboard layout, rhythmic elements (rhythm values and time signatures), staff/keyboard correlation, and fingering are briefly taught during the four-page introduction.

Although I would not use this app as a core method book with a beginner student (due to its pedagogical approach), I do think the pieces from the app have practical use as supplemental pieces.  My only complaints about the app itself is that (1) one cannot print the music from the app, and (2) page numbers are missing.  I plan to download the PDF to my GoodNotes app so that I can conveniently print during the lesson.

I love the idea of having music available for students to play within an app, especially with recordings of the music so readily available within the app.

Disclosure: I received a free download of the MFF app but I was under to obligation to write a positive review.  I always write my honest opinions!  

Andy has offered two promo codes for a giveaway.  Leave a comment on this post to enter — tell me about your Spring Recital plans if you have them!  (My Spring Recital is tomorrow!)  The winner will be randomly drawn on Wednesday, March 19, 2014.

Reviews, Technology

iPad App Review: Piano Carnival

Check out this awesome, recently-released iPad app:

app Piano CarnivalPiano Carnival Interactive E-Book – FREE for iPad only.

This app was created by Sonya (a friend of mine) and her sister Elizabeth Schumann.  Piano Carnival is an interactive eBook that contains delightful illustrations, reads the poetry aloud to the view, and plays videos of the Schumann sisters playing Saint-Saens’ music “Carnival of the Animals.”

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Here is a quick video that demonstrates what this delightful app can do:

This trailer video gives some background into the app’s creation.  Sonya and Elizabeth have also created a companion page on their website that contains lesson plans and more resources related to Carnival of the Animals.  Be sure to take a look at all of the resources offered there!

It is exciting to see more apps released that take advantage of the full capabilities of the iPad!

Giveaways, Technology

NoteWorks app Giveaway and News: Now Available for iPhone as well as iPad

Screen Shot 2013-11-04 at 9.18.48 AMAbout a year ago, I wrote a review for the NoteWorks app for iPad (read it here).  The developers of NoteWorks have notified me that they have recently released an iPhone version of NoteWorks.  This is great news for any of your students/parents who own iPhones but do not own an iPad!

The iPhone version works very much like the iPad version.  The only possible downside I perceived is that because of the smaller screen, the size of the staff and notes is smaller.  The game still works very well, though.  With young beginners, I would opt to use NoteWorks on the iPad, though, for the sake of the larger staff size.

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The new iPhone version introduces a new way for students to select the range of notes on the staff they would like to practice.

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Here are links to all of the versions available:

GIVEAWAY: NoteWorks has generously offered promo codes for FIVE lucky winners to be able to download this app for free.  To enter the giveaway, leave a comment below before midnight EST on Monday, November 11, 2013 with a fun tip for teaching note names to your students.  (Note: the giveaway is for the iPhone version of this app.  However, the developer let me know that it is possible to use the iPhone version of NoteWorks on your iPad.)