Now Is The Time To…

calendarI recently received an email from my local gardening store reminding me that now is the time to divide my irises. I love to garden, but I don’t always do the right things at the right times. For example, this summer my husband and I moved some shrubs around in our front garden on the hottest day in June and scorched those shrubs to within an inch of their lives. But happily, they seem to be coming back to life.

I have a file in my computer titled “Task Calendar”. This is very helpful as I go throughout the year to remind myself that I should send a note to parents about the upcoming recital, or order Christmas books, or remind parents about spring break, etc. Usually I remember these things on my own, but you never know when brain block will hit.

At the end of July I sent out an email regarding scheduling for the fall semester. So the past few weeks have been filled with working out scheduling for 35 students. It’s a rather daunting task. Thankfully I think I have everyone in place and I will even be able to have dinner with my family every night!

Next week is the first week of the fall semester in the studio. My task calendar tells me to send an email to each family with the following:

  1. Reminder of lesson day and time
  2. Date of the first lesson
  3. What to bring to the first lesson
  4. How to reach me if you are unable to come to a lesson
  5. The studio policy (sent as an attachment)
  6. The lesson calendar for the year (sent as an attachment)
  7. Tuition costs
  8. Payment plans
  9. A warm welcome to new and returning students

I have also been busy preparing a new reward system for the year, updating the weekly assignment page to support the goals of the new reward system, and updating the studio website.

The students’ studio binders will be given a new front cover insert and cleaned out at the first lesson.

So there are a few things to do!

I love the freshness that comes with a new school year – setting new goals and planning a year of recitals and activities that will hopefully motivate and inspire my young musicians.

Happies, July 2017

20170725_094805It’s been a beautiful summer with beautiful things happening in the studio! Here are a few things that made my happy this month:

  1. The “secret garden” outside of my studio window is in full bloom.
  2. The shimmer of aspen trees outside my studio window provide beautiful accompaniment to our piano music.
  3. 6 year old student: “I smiled at your dog and she smiled back at me!”
  4. A student has been working on “Simple Gifts”, a piece which was played in our wedding. The student played the completed, polished piece in a lesson which happened to take place on our nineteenth wedding anniversary, July 25. It felt like the sweetest anniversary gift!
  5. New student learning “Old MacDonald” in Faber Primer Lesson book came to his lesson, sat at the piano, set up his fingers on the black keys, turned his face away and played the piece looking the opposite direction. He was so excited to surprise me with his trick!
  6. I was waxing eloquent as I related the facts of Haydn’s life to an eight-year-old student. I included exciting details such as Haydn living in a real castle, composing music for a real-live prince and for real kings and queens who came to visit. The student nodded with bright eyes. I was sure I was igniting his imagination and creating enthusiasm for the next piece he would learn by Haydn. The student responds by asking: “Yes, but do you know about the Emoji movie?” 🙂
  7. After offering a prize to a student who had practiced every day for three weeks: “Maybe I should have two.” 🙂
  8. A mother emailed to describe her children practicing at home: “Thank you for being such a great teacher!  My kids all love going to piano. Eddy is cracking me up…everybody else when they were starting would get frustrated when they’d make a mistake,  but Eddy just keeps saying “I’m getting so good!”
    So thank you!”

Bullet Journaling

20170702_073628Has anyone seen the new craze called bullet journaling? I started a personal bullet journal last September to keep track of my life, streamline my goals, accomplish my daily tasks, and record events and thoughts.

The system has worked so well that I decided to start a bullet journal for the studio. While I already have a notebook to keep track of thoughts and things I need to do (e.g. buy books, make flashcards, call so and so, etc.), I wanted a journal for tracking festival and recital preparation, noting books and repertoire commonly used, and keeping track of goals.

I know the bullet journal can get really in-depth, and some people thrive with a detailed journal, but I have chosen to keep my journal quite simple. Here are three ways I used the bullet journal in the studio:

Tracking Festival and Recital Preparation

20170718_130550The bullet journal helped to prepare students for Achievement Day. I used a separate page for each student and tracked the pieces they performed, the technique learned (including scales, arpeggios, chords), the tests they took and any extra options in which they participated. This will be so helpful next year when we prepare for Achievement Day once again and I can easily look back at what was accomplished previously (no searching for old judging forms or computer files!).

Noting Commonly Used Books and Repertoire

At the beginning of the repertoire section I have an index of composers, genres, publishers…any way I file it in my brain is how I filed it in the index. On the pages relating to the index is where I fleshed out the specific pieces used in recitals or festivals. For instance, my Vandall page is categorized by the name of the books, pieces from those books and names of students who have studied those pieces.

Although I also have computer files to keep track of commonly used repertoire, I have found a tangible notebook works better for me. I can easily flip through the pages to quickly reference pieces I am searching for.

Keeping Track of Goals

In the journal I have a section devoted to the “Happies” that happen in lessons. I write down comments or situations that make me smile. In my daily non-professional life, I do this in my personal bullet journal as well, and am a strong believer in the power of looking for the positive. It can change your entire outlook on life and teaching.

I also track the pieces I am learning, ideas for blog posts, summer goals, etc. It is a microcosm of some of the thoughts I scribble in my ongoing work notebook mentioned above, but in a much more organized manner.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you keep a journal? What works best for your organizational process?

Happies, June 2017

There is so much to celebrate!

Here are a few things that made me smile this month:

  1. Starting summer lessons – a more relaxed lesson environment with more student-choice pieces
  2. Starting siblings in lessons – always fun to see different personalities within the same family
  3. New student’s family sitting in on a lesson and exclaiming at the end “I learned so much!”
  4. Advanced student asking to play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” Of course you may!
  5. A studio puzzle to keep waiting siblings busy!20170718_124439

Practice Challenge

Each year I try to develop a new studio-wide challenge to reward and support my students to excel in one or more main aspects of musical development. Some of the reward challenges from previous years have been The Wall of Wow, Bead Chains, and Brag Tags.

This year my main goal was to promote healthy practice habits. My simple plan was to count and reward practice minutes throughout the entire school year (middle of August – middle of May) of piano lessons. 20160921_144109

I bought magnetic boards, drew straight lines on them and hot-glued them to the inside of the closet door; printed out and laminated keyboards to count minutes; and made magnets for each student. 20170523_142915

The plan

The simple plan was this:

1. Beginning and young students were asked to keep track of their practice sessions, or how many times (not how many minutes) they practiced.

2. Students in approximately second – eighth grade were asked to keep track of their practice minutes.

3. Students older than fifth grade were given the option of whether they would participate (most did choose to participate).

4. Students older than eighth grade did not count their practice minutes.

Younger students moved up a level (we called it leveling up 🙂 ) for every five practice sessions. They earned a prize from the prize bucket for every 25 practice sessions (or five levels on the magnet board).

Older students moved up a level for every 100 minutes they practiced. They earned a prized in 500 minute increments: 500, 1000, 1500, etc.

A special prize (Dairy Queen gift card) was awarded at the 2500 minute/125 session level.

The top of the magnet board was 4300 minutes of practice/215 practice sessions. Eight students were able to achieve that goal and received a special bag. Many of those students chose to start climbing the board again and were thus designated with a special blue ribbon.

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Results

The plan worked well. Most students were able to move up a level every week. I think it’s encouraging, motivational, and community-building for students to see the progress of their peers, which is why I always have the challenge results hanging somewhere in the studio.

Here are the stats from the end of the year:

There were seven younger/beginner students who counted their practice sessions. Collectively they practiced 753 times from mid-August to mid-May.

There were 23 students who counted their practice minutes. Together they practiced 87,555 minutes (that’s over 1,459 hours!).

Not only was the time spent practicing impressive, the results were impressive too. At the end of the year, I discussed with each student how their practicing directly improved their skills and applauded them for time well spent!

I believe it is invaluable to point out and reward practicing, or any other skill you as a teacher are seeking to improve upon in your students. When you draw attention to good behaviors, practices and skills, your students will begin to value those as well.

Spring Piano Recital 2017

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Our annual spring recital was a success! This year I divided the students into two recitals, with sixteen students performing in each recital. The recital had that fun, nervous and exciting feel at the beginning, then transitioned to jubilant relief at the end! We celebrated with ice cream for everyone in the lobby. 🙂

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I must say, the students played really well! Sometimes you don’t know how the nerves will hit. There was only one student who was visibly sick to her stomach because of nerves, but she mustered the courage to go on stage, and she played perfectly! What a little sweetheart.

We heard works from Bach, Rachmaninoff, Haydn, Imagine Dragons, Grieg, Henry Mancini, Martha Mier, Robert Vandall, Jennifer Eklund, Scott Joplin, Christos Tsitsaros, and Emily Elizabeth Black, to name a few. 🙂

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This year we started something new called the Recital Compliment Exchange. I found this idea on the ComposeCreate website (where I also purchased the beautiful recital template!)

The audience was given the compliment page with spaces to compliment nine students. Parent and grandparents did an excellent job of encouraging the students! Each student received from 4-8 compliments each, which I distributed at the next week’s lesson. The students were very happy to read their compliments. I think it really meant a lot to them.20170507_165718

This is the stack of compliments ready to be distributed to students.

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A sweet family wrote a compliment to me as well!

Another recital in the books.

And one step closer to summer!!!

7 Reasons Why I Love the Dozen a Day Series

20170424_125557Lately my favorite go-to book for teaching technique has been the Dozen a Day series. My teachers did not use the series when I was learning to play, so I had been unfamiliar with this staple literature until I was introduced to it in graduate school (way back in the early 2000’s). I still didn’t start using the series until just a few years ago after going through old piano books and re-discovering what I had in my collection.

I started out slowly, only trying the books out on a few students at first until I figured out if I really wanted to incorporate the books in a comprehensive way and until I figured out how to teach these little exercises well.

But once I started in, there was no turning back. I can see clearly why these books have stood the test of time and why teachers continue to use them. These little exercises are gems. These are some of the reasons I love them:

  1. They are repetitive. I assign 1-3 new exercises a week, depending on the difficulty of the exercises. Since it takes an average student about 4-5 weeks to complete one group, the beginning exercises of each group are played over and over again for 4-5 weeks. The exercises are also repetitive in the fact that you see the same exercise repeated in another group but at a slightly higher difficulty.
  2. The Mini Book does a great job preparing students to play steps and skips, introducing legato/staccato and two-note slurs, changing fingers on a single note, and beginning the practice of turning the thumb under scale-style.
  3. The Preparatory Book builds on the Mini Book by extending the teaching of the scale, introducing major and minor sounds, beginning chromatic scale studies and expanding the teaching of broken chords into arpeggios.
  4. Book One begins to teach spatial awareness at the piano by extending the range of registers in which the student plays. The book also builds upon the concepts taught in earlier books.
  5. The books comprehensively cover so many technical aspects, including: intervals, various rhythmic units, legato/staccato, two note slurs, chords and inversions, chromatic scales, C scale in parallel and contrary motion, arpeggios, pedaling
  6. The books are excellent for transfer students who may not be up to speed on reading or technique. They provide a terrific way to reinforce reading skills and/or technique without having a student perceive they are “going backwards” by taking out easier material.
  7. You can easily teach relational rhythmic values in the exercises containing quarter notes followed by eighth notes followed by sixteenth notes.

While I haven’t used Books 2-4 extensively in lessons, I look forward to introducing them to my advanced students and also using them with my younger students as they grow into them.

Do you use the Dozen a Day series? Feel free to share your comments and ideas!