Wall of Wow

The Wall of WowWhen my students complete a piece, we write the name of the piece and the student’s initials on a piece of paper and tape that paper to the wall (or the inside of the closet door – depending on which location I’m teaching in). The students have loved coming to lessons each week to see how the wall/door is filling up with the completed pieces from all the students in my studio.

I love this incentive for a few basic reasons:

1. The students practice to finish the piece! They want to hang up the papers with their initials.

2. We develop a sense of community within the piano studio. We are all working together to fill up the wall/door. In the solitary world of playing piano, this is very important!

3. We have a visual representation of the progress being made.

We have only been filling out papers since the beginning of our fall semester, which started three weeks ago, and I am excited to see how many pieces the students have learned already. This is definitely as much of a motivation tool for me as it is for the students.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes in your studio!

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The Sibling Spectator

Sibling Spectator2I love having sibling groups take piano lessons. Being able to teach more than one child from a family is wonderful for getting to know the family better, and through the different perspectives/personalities that each child brings!

When sibling groups take lessons, I actually prefer that the siblings come together and stay together for the entire length of the combined lessons. For instance, if two siblings are each taking 30-minute lessons, I prefer for both of the students to come at the beginning of the hour and stay for the completion of the hour, even though each student is only going to be engaged in a one-on-one lesson for 30 minutes.

Let us call the sibling who is not involved in the lesson the “sibling spectator”  and the sibling who is actively engaged in the lesson the “sibling participant”. Even though I do not have anything in particular planned for the sibling spectator, there are six benefits he receives just by being present.

1. Listening. Even if the sibling spectator is not involved in an active listening project, the passive listening that takes place is highly beneficial as well. The sibling spectator is taking in rhythms, melodies, harmonies, dynamics, articulations that the sibling participant is creating, which will become memories that come back to him when it is his turn to play the piece.

2. Learning how the piano works. I often have the sibling spectator stand at a vantage point to watch the inner workings of my grand piano as the sibling is playing his pieces. What an awesome way to learn how the piano is constructed and how it works. It is always good for a musician to know his instrument!

3. Play iPad/theory work. If I assign theory work, I will often have the sibling spectator sit at the table and complete the assignment during the other sibling’s lesson (if possible). Since I introduced the iPad into the lesson recently, many sibling spectators will ask to play the music games while they wait. Yes, of course! I would love for you to work on rhythm, note reading, etc. while you wait!

4. Play games together. The sibling spectator is the perfect partner for music games. Most of the games I play in lessons can be tailored to many different skill levels, so both students can play together and enjoy the fun together.

5. Heart of the teacher. This is an intangible element which is very important, in my opinion. The longer I get to spend in the presence of the student, the more the student and I can build a relationship. Even if I am not directly relating to the sibling spectator, he is able to learn who I am as a teacher, how I treat my students with dignity and respect, and become more comfortable in my studio and around me.

6. Studio community builder. Most students come and go from the studio and only meet other students who come immediately before or after their lessons. Often I will put out a puzzle for the sibling spectator to begin, which another sibling spectator can finish. This builds a sense of community, as they are working on a project together. I am also planning on starting a studio art notebook, which students can draw or doodle in as they are waiting.

Sibling groups are definitely welcome in my studio, and I try to take advantage of the extra time I have with the sibling spectator. Even time spent in “passive” activities can be valuable time for learning and relationship-building.

What’s On My Shelves

As we begin a new year of piano lessons, I naturally start thinking about restocking my supply of piano music. I like to have music readily accessible to hand out to students during the lesson as inspiration hits.

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The most basic books I keep on hand at all times are the method books. I prefer to use Faber’s Piano Adventures series. I usually will require each elementary student to have the Lesson, Performance, and Theory books in their specific level. Although each elementary student has those three books at any given time, we do not follow the performance and theory books through page by page because I like to supplement with other material that is interesting to the individual student. And, as for theory, I have been using my iPad a lot more lately to reinforce theory concepts during the lesson time.

One of the hardest and most rewarding jobs of a piano teacher is finding music for individual students. One must keep in mind skill level, amount of practice time available and student interest. While one student may love to play any Taylor Swift song out there, another student may roll their eyes at the mere mention of playing a Taylor Swift song. Hence, we are constantly on the search for a wide variety of inspirational pieces which will appeal to a huge range of tastes and skill levels.

Here are some of my favorite recent supplemental pieces:

Celebration by Anne Crosby – Read my blog post about it here. Simply a fantastic piece which can be used by multiple skill levels.

Bubble Blues by Ruth Perdew (Myklas Contest Winners Book 1) has been a huge hit especially with elementary boys. The jazzy style and repetitive sequences made it very enjoyable to hear and to play.

A few Robert Vandall pieces are studio favorites (anything by him is notable!):

Trumpet Fanfare (Myklas Contest Winners Book 1)

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That’s Cool, Sprite’s Delight, Spider’s Bite, Tambourine, Scherzo (all found in the book Celebrated Virtuosic Solos Book 2)

Triad Toccatina (Celebrated Virtuosic Solos Book 3)

Whirlwind (Celebrated Virtuosic Solos Book 5)

Recently Fur Elise has made a resurgence in popularity among piano students. This is wonderful because there is so much good teaching material in this piece which translates to other pieces later on.

Linus and Lucy by Vince Guaraldi has required some practice time at the piano, but it is well worth it when the student gets to perform the piece for admiring friends and relatives. This piece puts a smile on everyone’s face!

Other recent additions include:

He’s a Pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean

Misty Mountains from The Hobbit

What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction

I’m Yours by Jason Mraz

Love Story by Taylor Swift

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The Popular Praise series contains many books at different levels. It has been motivating for students to be able to play the songs they sing in their churches and hear on the radio.

I’m sure there will be many new additions to the our piano repertoire this year! I am excited to see where students take me on our road to finding great pieces!