Happies, May 2017

The month of May was filled with many happy events in the piano studio!

  1. Our annual spring recital was wonderful. The kids played so beautifully, and I was thrilled.
  2. Parents, grandparents and supporters filled out Compliment Cards for the students during the recital. The students then read their compliments at their next lesson. I love our community coming together to support and encourage each other.
  3. Many parents and students gave beautiful gifts and wrote sweet thank you notes.
  4. Last lessons of the semester. What a terrific time to celebrate the many accomplishments of each student – practice, improvement at the piano, pieces learned. Each student is amazing in their own way.
  5. The accomplishments of Achievement Day
  6. The fulfillment of a year well-spent.

Achievement Day, 2017

May is busy, busy! Our local chapter of Music Teachers National Association, the Boulder Area Music Teachers Association held their annual Achievement Day festival this past weekend. This year there were sixteen teachers and 108 students participating in the event.

I am a big fan of having some sort of outside evaluation for students at the end of the school year. While there are many festivals and competitions in which to participate, I tend to choose evaluations which are nurturing and instructional in nature. Of my 35 students, I entered eight in the Achievement Day evaluations this year.

Each student played two pieces, one of which was memorized. They all also entered to play scales and arpeggios, and took a Terms and Signs test at their individual level. Six of the students entered art projects:

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Aren’t they lovely?

One student played a second instrument, the banjo – which was adorable, by the way. And another student improvised for a minute in the style of a nocturne.

I spent the day in the testing room.

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All eight students passed with flying colors and earned the Super Achiever status. They earned medals and certificates for their achievements. It was a fun day to visit with other teachers and “talk shop”.

 

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. ūüôā

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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. ūüôā

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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!!!

Happies, April 2017

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

  1. Autumn, age 9: “I’m getting really good at this!”
  2. The aspen trees outside my window in full leafy bloom
  3. Preparing for theory testing – students learning and comprehending new theoretical concepts and applying them to their music
  4. With only a few weeks left until the recital, finding a quick-learn recital piece for a student who had been ill for four weeks. Thank you, Robert Vandall!
  5. Siblings of current students beginning lessons
  6. Laughing with students after finding a fly in my tea during a lesson!20170419_160759What are the things bringing you joy in your teaching? I’d love to hear about them!

Favorite Repertoire Spring 2017

My-favorites

As a piano teacher, it is so important to find good repertoire that suits the technical abilities of your student yet motivates their inner rock star. In the years I have been writing this blog, I have written several posts on the repertoire I have used which fits the criteria mentioned above. You can find these posts under the category “Great Student Pieces”.

I was very excited to find some new pieces to incorporate into our spring recitals this year. Here’s some of my current favorites:

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I was thrilled to find simple arrangements of popular songs in a compilation book. For years I would search for each individual piece I wanted to teach then simplify the songs with the use of Finale. The skill level in this book has been perfect for a number of students in the studio. The recital this year will include Demons and Counting Stars from this collection.

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The Piano Recital Showcase series from Hal Leonard has been a great addition. The pieces are fresh, attractive and great teaching pieces. My¬†students were able to learn pieces from this collection fairly quickly and have enjoyed playing the pieces because they like how they sound. That’s always a bonus! Students liking how they sound = more practice time!

Here are some of the pieces chosen from this collection:

  1. From Book 1:¬†B.B.’s Boogie, Monster March
  2. From Book 1 (Festival Favorites):¬†Candlelight Prelude, I’ve Gotta Toccata, Toccata Festivo
  3. From Book 2 (Festival Favorites): Sounds of the Rain
  4. From Book 2: The Happy Walrus, Shifty-Eyed Blues
  5. From Book 3: Jump Around Rag

20170427_135734As always,¬†Ocean Spray¬†from Anne Crosby’s book “Fuzzy Beluga” is always an excellent choice for an older beginning student. The piece is played on only black keys and can be taught by rote.

I have also really enjoyed using many of Jennifer Eklund’s pieces found at Piano Pronto. Her piece End Game has been widely enjoyed throughout the studio.

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Some of the¬†pieces from “The Kingdom Series” I keep coming back to. The Dawn,¬†especially. It has two attractive themes which are repeated and used in different ways. A 7th grade boy is playing this piece for the spring recital and has really been motivated to learn this piece. An 8th grade girl is playing¬†The Final Call,¬†which is also a terrific recital piece.

Robert Vandall’s Celebrated Piano Solos series is¬†still a go-to collection.

It seems as though good piano music is more easily available now more than ever. I am very thankful for that! With just the help of a good search engine, we can find the next great motivational recital piece for all our budding stars.

What pieces are your favorites?

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!

 

Recital Prep

20160501_133720Our studio piano recital is fast approaching. We have about three weeks left to refine the pieces chosen about a month ago. I love the excitement the students show in being able to choose and prepare a piece which (usually) become personal favorites!

These are some goals I have for my students upon the completion of a recital (or any other playing event):

  1. Learn a piece of music which is a bit more difficult than the week-to-week pieces, possibly developing new skills, broadening knowledge of music history, and learning how to pace the learning of a bigger piece
  2. Have a sense of accomplishment, even if the performance didn’t go as well as was hoped for
  3. Being a blessing to those who hear us play – parents, audience members, judges
  4. Showing traits of humility, gratefulness and joy in performing

How do we accomplish these goals?

  1. Discuss how to handle disappointment at the piano – what happens when I forget a passage? How do I keep going?
  2. How to talk to yourself Рonly kind and helpful self-talk is permitted access throughout the recital preparation process and the recital itself
  3. Practice your performance – no stopping is allowed during the performance – no silences (unless the piece calls for it). You must practice this at home.
  4. How to convey the mood/character of the piece – often the student and I come up with elaborate stories of what is happening throughout the piece – this is lots of fun!
  5. Several weeks ahead of the recital we record a performance of the piece in the studio. Then we get to evaluate (with positive comments) what went right and what we need to work on. Students are always amazed at what they can hear when they aren’t concentrating on actual playing.
  6. Play for other people!
  7. Remember the recital hall is bigger and you will need to adjust your touch. Usually this means playing more deeply into the keys to allow the piano to resonate fully.
  8. Listen to your playing!
  9. Relax – you have prepared for this day. Trust your preparation
  10. Enjoy! You are giving a gift of time and work to your audience to produce something lovely.

How do you prepare your students? Feel free to keep the conversation going by adding to this list in the comments section or linking to your own blog!