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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to SEOKHIAN who left the 2nd comment on my post Giveaway! Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops!  You are the winner of a free copy!

Seokhian, I do not have contact information for you, so please use the email link in the left sidebar to contact me with your email address so that I can send you the files.  You'll find it in the box labelled "connections." If I do not hear from you by 9 pm (ET) on Sunday, 4/19,  I'll draw another winner.

I hope you enjoy using the program!

On Sale Now! Piano Boot Camp: Special Ops

If you'd like to do a summer piano camp with your students who are ages 10-15, look no further! I've done all your planning!

Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops has everything you need in a 22-page teacher guide and a 30-page student workbook that includes a personal journal and musical exercises. The only materials called for beyond these books are things you are likely to have around the house already. Cardstock, envelopes, markers, etc. You'll also use your computer or tablet to access some YouTube videos and other free resources online. To read the entire 4-page introduction to the teacher's guide, click here.

This curriculum will allow you to conduct a five-day, one-and-a-half-hour camp for tweens and young teens, with classes for 2-3 students at a time, using one piano. If you have a piano lab, you can adapt it for a larger group as well. Special Ops is meant to be challenging, and students will sign a commissioning document promising to work at home in addition to their time in camp. When I held this camp last summer, I was heartened to see that my students were quite willing to embrace a lot of hard work in a short burst of time! Your students will rise to the occasion if you give them that occasion!

Sample page from the student book

The “secret mission” of this camp is metacognition. Metacognition is awareness of one's own learning or thinking processes. My goal in Special Ops is to help students learn to plan their goals for practicing and to think about what might be preventing or helping them to achieve their goals whether it is a mental roadblock, procrastination, or a technique problem. Students at the tween+ age are ready to think about their own thinking. Special Ops helps them take command of their own learning. 

Special Ops is appropriate for approximately ages 10-15. Students should be in at least a level 2A method book such as Faber or Alfred Premier, and should know their lines and spaces and basic theory up to that point. You can customize the levels of the literature and exercises to fit your students. Some of my students were in Alfred 2A, while others were playing sonatinas and simple Chopin. You choose the literature.

Before I went back to college to study music, I earned a degree in secondary education, and I am certified to teach English in grades 6-12.  I've had classroom experience, so I know what teachers need! This curriculum is practically scripted for you! The teacher's guide does not duplicate the student book - it is crammed full of highly-detailed instructions for how to conduct every activity, and even includes a suggested time limit for each one to be sure you can get all the material in to the lesson.

Sample page from the Teacher's Guide

 Special Price for a Limited Time!
From now until April 25th, Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops is available for download in my Etsy store at a special price of $25. This includes the rights to reproduce the student workbook for all of your students. The price will increase to on April 26th, so be sure to check it out soon!

There's still time to enter a giveaway for a free copy until noon on Saturday, April 18!  Visit this page and leave a comment to enter the giveaway!  UPDATE:  Giveaway is now closed!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Your Summer Piano Camp Is All Planned!

Believe me, I've done a lot of work planning your summer piano camp! Especially, if you have students who are at least 10 years old and older!

Last summer, I developed and field tested a summer camp curriculum with my own students, and this year, I'm making the lesson plans and student workbook available to you in my Etsy shop!

Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops is a five-day, one-and-a-half-hour camp for tweens and young teens, conducted as classes for 2-3 students at a time, using one piano. You can also pull off this camp with a larger group if you have the space.

Special Ops is highly customizable. You choose the literature that your students will work on during the week of camp. One of the challenges that the students face is that of learning their pieces mostly on their own, while your camp activities focus on learning the skills that help them with that independent learning. There are some technique exercises and sight reading selections included, but if you need material that is leveled differently, feel free to substitute other material!

Student "commissioning document"

Sample journal page from student workbook

To read more about Special Ops, read my previous blog posts here and here. Best of all, you can enter a giveaway for a free copy just by leaving a comment here!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Countdown to Piano Boot Camp: Special Ops!

Are you looking for something a little different to do with your piano students this summer? Are many of your students 10 years or older, and therefore, not as interested in the types of summer camp games and activities that excited them in previous years?  I hope you'll check out Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops!  It's available in my Etsy shop right now! (And you can enter a giveaway for a free copy here!)

Meet Max, my Procrastination Puppy! (Clearly, my artistic abilities do not extend to drawing.) Max is a great, fun pet, but he doesn't get to run my day. I'm the owner, and I'm in charge. Your students can draw, name, and discuss their own Procrastination Puppies in Special Ops! (In fact, my students drew some pretty great-looking puppies last year.) This program has been field-tested, and was a great success with my tween and young teen students! Max is featured in one of the "mental strength" activities included in the camp curriculum. Other activities include Physical Training (P.T. exercises to start every camp session - this is Boot Camp, after all!), Practicing Strategies, and Stealth Reader Training.

Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops is designed to work with 2-4 students at a time (approximate ages 9-15) for five 90 minute camp sessions with only one piano.  I did the camp last year as partner lessons with my students. When you download the PDF files from my Etsy store, you'll receive a 20+ page teacher's guide with all of the lesson plans for 5 camp sessions and a 20+ page student workbook that you can duplicate for all of the students in your studio. Before my music degrees, I majored in English and secondary ed. and I still have an active certification to teach grades 6-12. This knowledge and my former classroom experience helped me make this a content-heavy, well-planned program. To learn more about Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops,  read yesterday's post and be sure to enter the giveaway! From April 18-25th, Piano Boot Camp will be offered at a special price of $25. This is a great deal for over 40 pages of material and the license to reprint the student book for all of your students!

Monday, April 13, 2015

Giveaway! Piano Boot Camp: Special Ops!

Summer lessons are always a challenge.  We know that summer is an ideal time to boost our students' piano skills when they are not also encumbered with the stress of the school year. But, it becomes so easy for students to have 3-4 lessons, practice only little, and end up having only just avoided losing ground, not really moving forward.

In the past, I've held summer piano camps which were mostly entertainment. We played games which taught a little theory - a very little. We learned a little music - a very little. Last summer, with a studio that was growing out of the elementary years into middle school eye-rolling experts, I decided to do something different. I decided to challenge them.  The result was...

Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops

Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops is designed to be a challenging and motivating experience for your 10-15-year-old students. It is an ideal curriculum for a summer camp, but you can adapt the ideas and activities to use any way you like. Special Ops will improve your students’ reading skills, their practicing strategies, their technique, their fluency, their musicianship, and their attitude towards hard work. Hopefully, each student will discover that he or she can accomplish more than he imagined in a short amount of time, and this will spur him on to greater progress in the months and years to come! My boot camp classes met for an hour and a half each day for 5 days, but you can choose how long to make your own classes. Because you have more time with students, you can really dig into technique and artistry issues in depth.  The curriculum contains links to several youtube videos which your students will find inspiring and instructive, as well as many fun activities that are appropriate for your eye-rolling, hard-to-please tweens and young teens!

Special Ops lesson plans include sessions for technique, sight reading, and learning literature along with score study, learning to plan a practice session, setting and evaluating progress toward a goal, and journaling through the practice progress. (The student guide contains a daily journal with questions to guide their thinking.) The classes include a "mental strength" component that addresses procrastination, delayed gratification, persistence, and self-efficacy. There are also fun activities that boost artistry:  for instance, a dramatic monologue that contains musical dynamic signs to help shape verbal inflection.

The “secret mission” of this camp is metacognition. (Great word for impressing parents – wink!) Metacognition is awareness of one's own learning or thinking processes. My goal in Special Ops is to help students learn to plan their goals for practicing and to think about what might be preventing or helping them to achieve their goals whether it is a mental roadblock, procrastination, or a technique problem. Students at the tween+ age are ready to think about their own thinking, and this camp could be a turning point for some of your more reluctant students! By focusing on metacognition, you help them take command of their own learning. 

Student level

Special Ops is appropriate for approximately ages 10-15. Students should be in at least a level 2A method book such as Faber or Alfred Premier, and should know their lines and spaces and basic theory up to that point. You can customize the levels of the literature and exercises to fit your students. Some of my students were in Alfred 2A, while others were playing sonatinas and simple Chopin. You choose the literature.

Setup and Scheduling

The class sessions are designed to work with only one piano and 2-3 students - because I don't have a piano lab or a big space, and I know many of you don't, either! The classes work very well as partner lessons. Grouping students together makes the class more fun and generates more excitement about achieving and doing one’s best.  Students may also do the boot camp one-on-one with the instructor. If you have the equipment and space to accommodate a larger group, that works too! Adapt the material as you need to make it work. 

Special Ops was designed with the intent to meet every day for five consecutive days; however, you are free to schedule students as you need. The most important thing is to keep the momentum high by not letting an entire week pass between meetings.  

Student Commitment 

Boot Camp participants are expected to practice at home between each class session, and to sign a commitment form in the student workbook promising to do so. (A.K.A. commissioning form) There is also a place for the parent to sign. I was surprised to discover that my students were very receptive to the idea of an intense challenge over a short burst of time. When I raised the bar, they stepped up! Boot Camp is meant to be challenging, so don’t underestimate your students! At the end of each day of camp, students receive “sealed orders” for their homework. The homework includes practicing, studying scores, and reflecting in a journal about their work.

How Can I Get It?

Piano Boot Camp:  Special Ops will be available in my Etsy store on Saturday, April 18! It includes a 20+ page teacher's guide and a student booklet that can be reproduced for all of your students. Stay tuned as I'll be posting a teaser every day until then!


Of course, there has to be a giveaway! I'll be giving away a free copy of the Piano Boot Camp: Special Ops teacher guide and student book on Saturday, April 18 at noon (ET).  To enter, please leave a comment below. For extra entries, please share a link to this post on any social media site - your blog, your facebook page, your pinterest page, your twitter page, etc. - and leave a comment telling me that you did so. Every share is an entry! I'll use a random number generator to determine the winner on Saturday! Good luck!  UPDATE:  Giveaway is now closed.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Ten Steps To Hosting Your Own Piano Festival

Whether you call it a Piano Festival, Achievement Day, or something else, an evaluation event is a great way to motivate your students. There are lots of reasons why you might want to host one just for your studio. Maybe you live in a rural area without a local music teachers association. Or maybe the events in your area are not appropriate for your students, and you'd like an evaluation that suits your needs better. Maybe the date of your local MTA's event conflicts with another thing that your students are involved in. Whatever your reasons, hosting your own Piano Festival is a great way to encourage your students to work up their pieces and skills to mastery, to give them an achievement to feel proud of, and to get valuable feedback about your own teaching. And, it's easier to pull off than you might think!

Most of my students participate in our local MTA's annual Piano Festival at a local college. This involves playing two memorized pieces, a scale test, and a sight reading test before a visiting judge and taking a written theory exam. Students receive comments and a rating in each category:  Superior, Excellent, Good, Fair, Poor. While I've never actually seen a judge award a rating of Fair or Poor, the kids don't know that, and they work hard, hoping for a Superior. My students know that I consider Festival a mandatory event. But, this year, 4 of them had unavoidable conflicts. I did not let them off the hook. I just held THEIR Festival at my house, visiting judge and all! I'm fortunate to have several colleagues who are qualified to judge, and one of them was available. It all went well, and if I ever find myself living in a rural area again, I'll do this for my entire studio. If you'd like to host your own Festival, here are ten steps to organize an evaluation event. Of course, tweak these ideas to meet the needs of your own studio.

1.  Set a date well in advance, and get an an early verbal commitment from your students.

Check the school calendars. You'll want to avoid a long holiday weekend, or the All-State Chorus Festival, or whatever big event might be going on. Set your date far enough in advance to allow plenty of preparation. It's not too early to start thinking now about doing this in the spring of 2016. Set your date over the summer, and start talking it up at the beginning of the school year. Ideally, your students will be perfecting their performance literature, scales, sight reading, and theory skills all year long in preparation for the year-end Festival.

2.  Engage a judge.

Use a well-qualified judge. One of the benefits of having your students participate in this type of evaluation is the feedback you receive about your own teaching, so choose someone who can give expert feedback. If you're not as lucky as I am to have local friends to call on, start with the closest college. Even if the piano faculty there isn't able to judge for you, they are likely to have recommendations for someone else. Our MTA often uses doctoral students. Your state MTA may also have a list of judges who are willing to drive an hour or two to events. It's not too early to engage a judge in October for a spring event. There will be lots of events which need judges in the spring, and if you wait, you may have a harder time finding someone.

You'll need to decide how much to offer to pay your judge for time and travel. I'd offer a fee based on the approximate number of hours you'll need them for, and offer to pay at least as much as you'd expect for the same amount of teaching time. You'll be asking your students to pay registration fees to cover the expense.

3.  Decide what events your festival will include.

My students did sight reading, scales/cadences, and took theory tests in addition to playing two memorized pieces. You might also consider ear-training, arpeggios, etc., but keep your program small enough to be manageable. For each skill challenge, you'll need to create tests at various levels as needed for your students. (Keep reading for more on preparing these tests.)

4.  Set a registration fee for students. 

Find out what it costs to sign up for sports tournaments in your area. For instance, the fee for my daughter to participate in a local tennis tournament is usually at least $35. Fees for Piano Guild exams start at $26 and go up. Don't charge less than what the experience is worth!

5.  Consider T-shirts.

Our students love buying Festival T shirts. We sell them as a fund-raiser, but if you did this for your studio, you might just charge for the cost. When your students wear them, you get free advertising for your studio.

6. Sign up your students.

Make an information form that includes age and performance level of student, how long the student has studied, and what level of sight reading, scales, or other challenge the student will be doing. Keep it handy as a reference as you are preparing for Festival, and then include this in the students' folders that you'll be giving to the judge. Set a deadline about 6 weeks before the event and have them turn in their money. I recommend making the registration fee non-refundable. This guarantees that you can pay the judge even if the student bails on you at the last minute, and it keeps students from waffling around about their commitment to the event. Ideally, you will have already talked it up and received a verbal commitment long before this time. Ideally, they will have been planning to play at festival for the entire year, and working on their theory, sight reading, and scale skills all along.

7. Make adjudication forms and student folders.

You need adjudication forms for the performance evaluation, and one for each of the skills challenges except theory. Decide on your criteria for each event (other than a theory exam) and on the adjudication forms, include a rubric which will give the judge guidelines for rating the student. You'll need a photocopy of each form for each student. Make a file folder for each student, and put the forms for each of the events in which the student will participate inside of the folder along with the student's registration form. Here are links to some adjudication forms online that might give you some ideas.
Solo Performance 1       Solo Performance 2 (scroll down for rubric)   Solo Performance 3 

Criteria for judging scales might include steady tempo, even tone, correct fingering, and note accuracy.  On that form, you'll need a place for the judge to write which scale is being heard, and then a rubric for each scale played. For sight reading, good criteria might include rhythmic accuracy, note accuracy, observance of dynamics, and observance of articulation and phrasing.

8.  Create your skills challenges.

Sight Reading:  Choose a sight-reading selection for each of a variety of levels. Have these pieces bookmarked for the judge with sticky notes on the front of the book indicating which level it is. When the student enters the judging room, the judge will check their sight reading level, and pull the appropriate selection for that student.

Scales/cadences: For my 4 students, I provided the judge with a list of all the scales/cadences that each student was prepared to play and said "choose any 4." Another option is to create a list of required scales corresponding to levels as with sight reading. The judges guidelines can include instructions for how many scales the judge should ask for at each level.

Theory tests:  decide what you want students to know at each level, and then you can make tests yourself with a notation program or hand write them on manuscript paper. I made the ones for our MTA Festival, so I just printed those off my computer. (Sorry, I'm not at liberty to share them.) There are excellent sample tests that you can print off at some of the state MTA websites such as Texas (has an early level 1 test which includes naming keys on the piano and fingers on a hand) and Georgia (earliest level test is a bit harder than the one from Texas). You could use these sample tests as your festival test if the student has never seen them before.

9.  Certificates / Awards

Prepare your awards. Our big Festival (and my small one) is a non-competitive event. Students compete only against a standard of excellence, not each other. I gave a certificate for each skill challenge, reflecting the rating the student received. At our MTA's Festival, we award a gold seal on the certificate for a superior rating and a silver seal for excellent, so I did the same. Other good ideas include medals and ribbons. But, do give the students something to celebrate their achievements!

10.  Create a schedule and send it out to the students.

With your student registrations turned in, you're ready to create a schedule. Allow each student enough time in the judging room (your studio) to play their scales, their sight-reading, and their pieces.  This will depend on the student's level and length of their music. You also need to allow a few minutes for the judge to write comments. For an elementary student doing performance, scales, and sight reading, I'd allow no less than 10 min. (At my home festival, once the student had played for the judge, he/she took the theory test at my dining room table.) Instruct the students to arrive about 10 minutes before their scheduled time so there's no lag time for the judge - students are always ready to go. Remind them to be sure to bring their music so that the judge can follow the score while they play from memory.

NOW, you're ready!
My students arrive and check in, play for the judge in my piano room, take their theory test at my dining room table, and then leave. I collect the test and the adjudication forms from the judge, and later that day, I make out all of the appropriate certificates. The student gets their results at the next lesson and we celebrate their accomplishments.

If you don't have a local festival to participate in, I hope you'll take a stab at hosting your own. It's such a great motivator, gives your students a sense of achievement, and helps you to be a better teacher as well!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Theory Knowledge Knuggets

It's January, and in my studio, that means that we're doubling down on learning music theory in preparation for our local Piano Festival's theory exams. Even though I'm not using my pirate-themed incentive program this year (stay tuned for a new incentive program offering this summer!), I still use my Theory Knowledge Knuggets document as a guide when teaching theory. Now, this guide is available to you, too!

Theory Knowledge Knuggets is a comprehensive, 10-page collection of 46 Knuggets O' Knowledge about music theory, and it's available in my Etsy shop. This document is included in Findin' Buried Treasure, so if you own that, you don't need to purchase this as well. However, you can now purchase the Knowledge Knuggets separately if you don't want to use the incentive program. 

In my piano studio, I find that the theory books that correlate with the popular method books don't progress quickly enough to prepare my students for the theory exams we encounter at our local Piano Festival or our state exams. So, I created this Knowledge Knuggets document to serve as a syllabus for the topics we needed to cover in preparation for our yearly theory exams. These are knuggets of knowledge gold!

At the beginning of each school year, I decide how many knuggets I will cover with each student based on the theory level I feel he/she should achieve that year. With a beginning student, I may cover only Knuggets 1-6 in the first year, for instance. I then print off that much for the student to include in his lesson binder. When a student has mastered all of the knowledge described in a Knugget, we check it off, the student gets a small reward, and we move to the next Knugget. Learning theory in small bites at a time is really motivating to students since they get to feel a sense of achievement every time they move to a new Knugget. Even if you're using a theory workbook, you can use this guide as a testing syllabus. I prefer to teach theory without a workbook, going along in a topic-based approach and writing explanations by hand in students' notebooks, and then reinforcing with games.

The topics start at a level appropriate for pre-reading students. By the end of the syllabus, students will have covered topics such as writing key signatures; scales and cadences; identifying the key of a written passage; transposition up to a fourth away; and writing major, minor, augmented, and diminished triads. In addition, the student will learn a large number of musical terms. This document can serve you for years!

The Knowledge Knuggets document doesn't tell you HOW to teach the theory; it just gives you a great list of topics in a logical order. Feel free to skip around - you can choose for yourself what order to teach the knuggets according to your needs!

I hope you'll stop by the shop and browse around! I've also recently added an ebook which provides a schedule for keeping your house clean. If you teach from your home, you know how embarrassing it can be when students come in and you haven't had time to clean up. This guide will show you a painless way to keep everything clean and tidy. I've been using this schedule myself, and am very happy with the results!