Wednesday, July 9, 2014

A New Blog Series: MTA Festivals

By zaui/Scott Catron via Wikimedia Commons
I suspect that many of my readers are members of a local Music Teachers Association, as I am, and your group is probably doing its summer planning right about now! Recently, one of my readers discovered our local MTA's Piano Festival rules and registration forms online, and asked if she could borrow some of our wording. We had an extensive email correspondence about the various challenges our organizations have faced in managing our local Festival.  I was the Festival chair for our organization for two years. She had held the same position for five years (God bless her). I think it would be very helpful for my readers to have a chance to share our policies and practices regarding organizing our events! I know that when our group needs to make changes, I often search the internet to see if I can discover how other MTAs address the same issue. So, in order to get the best specific answers I can, I'm going to do a series of posts on Wednesdays, asking 3-4 questions about your Festivals in each post. Please share your answers in the comments so that we can all learn from each other! If you have a specific question you'd like to see answered, please send me an email using the email link on the left under the heading "Connections."

My local MTA sponsors a Piano Festival which invites teachers (both members and non-members) to enter students. The students play for a judge for a rating (Super, Excellent, Good, Fair) and comments. Our Festival is open to students of all levels and abilities. We have skills challenges such as a theory exam, sight-reading challenge, scales & cadences, and hymn playing.

1.  If your MTA hosts a Piano Festival, when and where is it usually held? What challenges have you faced in determining the best time or place, and what drives your final decision?

We hold ours in late February at a local college. Holding it in late February allows us to do it before our local Auditions in March. The date of the local auditions are dictated by the deadline for Regional Auditions applications. We like having Festival first because it provides a dress rehearsal opportunity. However, we schedule it as late as we can because students need as much time as possible after returning from Christmas break to be prepared.

2.  How many of your MTA members participate in pre-Festival planning and prep work? 

We have a Festival chairperson who creates a committee. In previous years, no more than 3-4 people have been involved in doing the pre-Festival work with the chair doing the bulk of the job; however, we are initiating greater involvement beginning this year. The chair will be delegating various components to more people. Of course, many hands will make lighter work, but the push to delegate is also to familiarize more people with the process of organizing Festival.

3.  How long does your Festival Chairperson hold that office?

We have a rule in our by-laws that offices may not be held for more than 2 years.

Thanks in advance for participating! I hope we'll create a nice reference here for organizations to learn from each other! Keep checking back for more questions.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Last Year's Incentive Program: Earning Composer Cards



I'm astounded to realize that it's been over a year since I posted here. I guess I was busier than I realized! Two part-time jobs, a middle school-aged daughter, and too much responsibility with organizations I belong to caught up with me, especially when I started to add more frequent trips out of town to visit with my parents. So, I've cleared out some space in my life, and I hope to get back to writing regularly here. I'm looking forward to reconnecting with the online piano teaching world!

Last year, I created a practice incentive program for my students that was fun, and a bit different. The students earned composer cards for various accomplishments. It was a bit like collecting baseball cards. Each student worked to earn a full collection of 40 cards, and once they succeeded, they got a $5 gift certificate to a local frozen yogurt shop. Here's how it worked:






For cards, I used the composer cards from Layton Music Games and Resources. There are over 40 free printable cards here with pictures of composers on one side and quick facts on the other. If nothing else, all of my students learned how to pronounce their names this year!

At the beginning of the year, each student chose a composer to make a poster about, and I featured a different student's poster on my bulletin board every few weeks. I made it a point to find a piece (simplified if necessary) by that composer for the student to learn.

Unfortunately, my incentive did require me to have a set of 40 cards printed and cut apart for each individual student. That's awfully time-consuming if you have a large number of students and no minions to do your grunt work. However, if you have a moderate  number of students and an 11-year-old daughter (aka minion), it's a bit easier. (wink)

My students bring a 3-ring binder to their lessons. Plastic baseball card sleeves provide a great way to keep up with the card collection.

This incentive worked quite well, and seemed to appeal across a wide variety of ages. Let me know if you try it!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thoughts On Marking In Student Scores


I have a colleague who does not put markings on her students' scores. She wants them to notice dynamics, etc. without marking. She's very successful with her approach, and it's gotten me thinking about whether I'm making my students dependent on me. I mark a lot! So, I've developed a new approach that works for me. See what you think.

I just can't join the pristine page club. I mark my own music all the time. So, I am now having the student always mark their own music. Having them mark for themselves encourages them to own the problem themselves. I do insist that they use pencil, not pen or marker.

I'm also now making it a point to communicate overtly what the ultimate goal is -- that they see the expression marks without needing to highlight them. This is a principle of teaching that I find so helpful in general. Always make sure the student understands what the ultimate expectation is. They need to know before beginning the learning process what success looks and sounds like.

Here's a real-life example of how it all works. I have a student who tends to sight-read through a piece making no distinction between the eighths and quarters unless I point them out. It isn't because she doesn't know the difference. It's because she's single-mindedly focused on playing the right note. I needed to find a way to get her to enlarge her attention to include seeing something besides the pitch. So, I had her use colored pencils in contrasting colors to highlight the beams of the eighth notes and the stems of the quarters. It helped!

I made it a point to communicate that the goal is that she actually see the difference without the markings. I called the marks "training wheels." You wouldn't want to ride for your whole life with training wheels on your bike! So, after two weeks of marking the pages this way, we stopped. For the next two weeks, I had her use a finger to "mark with invisible ink." She is the only one who can see her invisible marks! It's like having invisible training wheels on your bike!

After a couple weeks of this approach, I had her remove the training wheels altogether. No more marking of eighths and quarters, invisible or otherwise. I make a big deal of her "graduating" to the point where she is totally in charge of remembering the difference for herself. At this point, if she fails to make the distinction in her playing, I feel justified in saying, "Now, Susie, I KNOW you know the difference between eighths and quarters! You just fell off of your bike! It happens sometimes, but it doesn't mean we put the training wheels back on. You're too big for that now. Can you fix the problem yourself?"

So, rather than spend six weeks of nagging, either verbally or by mindless marking, we spent six weeks curing the disease. Of course, she'll still make occasional mistakes, but she's now driving her own bike, so to speak. We both know she can fix it. This approach works for me! What are your thoughts about marking students' scores?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Fun End of Year Rhythm Activity

It's summer, and that means I have time again for blogging! Sometimes I feel that the school year is like a steady crescendo of activity from mezzo forte in September to fortississississimo by spring. Whew! I'm happy to be back to the peaceful mezzo piano of summer.

A few of my students last week enjoyed a fun rhythm activity that you might enjoy using as well. Are you familiar with The Cup Song? My 10-year-old daughter recently learned this rhythm trick with a cup from friends, and here she is:




She told me that it came from a song in the movie Pitch Perfect, but a little research revealed that the cup rhythm actually originated with Rich Mullins, a Christian artist.



Wherever it came from, it's great fun! So, on our last day of lessons, I had my daughter come in and demonstrate the rhythm (most of my students had heard it before). Then, I surprised them by asking them to notate the rhythm on paper. Depending on the level of the student, I asked them to treat the first two notes as either quarters or eighths. I also asked them to put an accent mark on each note that called for the cup to hit the table. A few of them needed a little help, but it was a great learning activity!




Friday, November 2, 2012

Left-Hand Alone Repertoire for Intermediate Students

One of my early intermediate students has developed a chronic problem with tendonitis in her right hand. After months of babying it, she is still no better and will now have to wear a cast for a period of time. This means that we've been searching out and playing repertoire for the left hand alone. In case you find yourself in a similar situation, I thought I'd share some of the resources we've found.

Vagabond Clouds just happens to have been composed by a friend of mine, Judy East Wells. She is a member of our local MTA and has published several pieces with Alfred. This is a beautiful piece, long-lined and lyrical. Because it covers a wide stretch of the keyboard, you'd never guess from the sound that it was for left hand alone.

Broken Arm Blues by Carolyn Miller was one of my student's fall recital pieces, and is a surefire winner for a pre-teen or teenager. Nocturne for the Left Hand by Catherine Rollin in another beautiful, lyrical piece with great opportunities for sensitive dynamics and phrasing. Both of these links take you to sites where these are available as digital downloads, great if you need something in a hurry.

Left Hand Solos, Book 1 comes from a series by John Schaum. These are nicely-arranged classical tunes, and they're on the Federation list.

Grand One-Hand Solos for Piano, Books 3-4, by Melody Bober are just right for my student, and I'll be ordering these soon. Alfred has provided some nice videos for these which make it really helpful to choose the right level. There are now five levels in this series. Books 1 and 2 provide teacher duets, but starting with level 3, they contain student solos.

One Piano, One Hand by Paul Sheftel sounds interesting - you can listen to snippets here. I've always enjoyed teaching his pieces, so I think I'll order this one, too. Pepper has it, and has many of the other pieces I've mentioned as well.

I hope you'll find these resources helpful! I'm getting no kickback from mentioning any of these pieces, and none of the links are affiliate links. If you know of some other great pieces or books to add to my list, please share them in the comments!



Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Studio Makeover

I'm happy to break my long blog silence with some pictures of my newly renovated studio! The photography's not great. I need a new camera, but I'm not going to wait until I get one to share the pictures since I'm greatly pleased with my new space! I don't even want to post the before pictures. You'll just have to take my word for it that this looks MUCH better!


This needed to be a makeover on a budget. Thanks to lots of internet research that turned up great sales and D.I.Y. ideas from Pinterest, I kept the cost down. The draperies 75% off! We already had the paint. Keep reading for D.I.Y. ideas.



 





I'm not digging the lime green file boxes anymore. They're just cardboard file boxes I covered with fabric to hold music. I'll fix them soon.  The art above the piano is actually a super large photocopy of a Clementi manuscript. I glued it to black foam core. You can get extra large copies made at most office supply stores. The whole project cost less than $20. Here's a tutorial for how to do it, and here's a closer shot.



I'm really proud of how this wall came out. I sewed the table cloth to cover a folding table. The front panel lifts up, and I have plastic bins stored underneath. The bulletin board had an oak frame which I panted black. The bookshelf is actually particle board. I tried painting it via these instructions. The exterior of the shelves seems to be holding up well, but when I tried to put the inside shelves back in, they scraped the paint on the inside. So, Modge Podge came to the rescue! I decoupaged the inside of the unit with old sheet music - it's actually an ancient score of the opera Othello. I found it for 50 cents at the Salvation Army store. Kinda sad, eh? At least some music lover can know that their old score is now bringing new life to a room where children are learning to love music. I also used pages as the background on the bulletin board. The turquoise notebooks are covered with fabric, thanks to this tutorial. It was cheaper to buy some fabric than to buy all matching binders. Finally, the turquoise box on top of the book shelf is a tissue box that I covered fabric to be a check drop box.


The art wall above the sofa features photography by my friend Kay. You can find more of her work here. I fell in love with this study she did of an old Remington typewriter. Earlier, I had purchased (again from the Salvation Army) an old college typewriting textbook from the 1930s. I framed some of the pages to go with the photos. I suppose it seems a little strange to put a typewriter on the wall of a piano studio - I certainly don't want my students to sound like they're typing! But, my room combines my love of writing, old things, and music, so it seems perfectly appropriate to me.  

I'm feeling really excited to get started with my new teaching year! I hope your studios are shaping up, too.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Cristina Beck who was chosen by random.org to be the winner of a free download of Michael Dulin's Christmas At Our House! Cristina, you'll be receiving an email from Alberti Publishing soon!

If you really wanted this book, but didn't win, don't forget that you can purchase your own copy, or anything else you'd like from Alberti Publishing at 30% off until the end of December. Just use this code at checkout:  MDN280.

Thanks to everyone who participated!

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