Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thoughts On Marking In Student Scores

I have a colleague who does not put markings on her students' scores. She believes that if she does, she is teaching them only to pay attention to the score elements (dynamics, etc.) if she has marked them. She wants them to notice those things 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 am now having the student always mark their own music. Having them mark for themselves encourages them to own the problem themselves. I still mark my own scores all the time and find it helpful. I'm not in the pristine page club! 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 these things 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 process what success looks and sounds like.

I'm also constantly reminding myself not to mark mindlessly! Instead of using marks as a bandaid on a piece-by-piece, mistake-by-mistake basis, I'm trying to mark only within a framework of addressing the root cause of the problem.

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 note head. 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?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Piano Teacher Summer Project and a Review

Like many piano teachers, I slow down a great deal in the summer. Since my school year is crazy busy, I welcome the relaxed pace, but I don't necessarily welcome the reduction in income. So, I consider summer my "selling season." I sell vintage and handmade items on etsy. I've been slow getting my etsy store loaded up this season, but stay tuned! I'll be posting about it soon. In the meantime, I'm taking photos and getting ready, and I'm doing so with this 24" Photo Cube Studio Light Tent Box Kit that I got from the LA Shop. Good photography is essential to selling on etsy, and since I'm definitely not an accomplished photographer, I know I need all of the tools I can get to improve my pictures! For instance, I'm not sure anyone would want to buy my vintage soup bowl as a result of the following picture taken in my garage on a dirty cabinet with the doorbell in the background. It shows off much better in the second picture with a nice clean background and diffused lighting.

Without the light box.

With the light box.

This was my first effort using the light tent, and I think I can improve my camera settings to get even better pictures. It certainly beats what I was doing before, which was running all around my house trying out lots of different places to find the perfect lighting and background, or waiting for the perfect partly-cloudy day to take pictures outside! And you'd never guess that I'm still taking the picture in my garage!

If you sell items on the internet, whether they're vintage items like mine or musical teaching aids or used music on ebay, I think you'd enjoy having one of these light tents. It comes with four backgrounds in white, black, red, and blue plus 2 halogen lights with 2 spare bulbs, and a camera stand. It folds up nicely for storage and has pockets for holding the bits and pieces. Once I figured out how to set it up, I had no trouble at all using it. There were no instructions in the box it came in, but the item listing on the website provided some helpful diagrams. With it all set up and ready to go, I'll have my item listings done in no time!

The LA Shop carries a variety of items for home and hobbies including photography equipment, metronomes, office supplies, violins (!), and lots more! You're sure to find something useful there!

Disclosure:  The LA Shop has provided me with the item reviewed above in return for an honest review. I received no additional compensation, and my review is unbiased.

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.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Interesting Links

As you might have guessed by the lack of posts here, I've had a busy start to 2012! Today, I'll get back in the swing by sharing a few links to information that I've found interesting and useful in my piano teaching lately.

Why Extrinsic Rewards Are So Bad For Motivation - this post by Tim Topham is making me rethink whether my incentive program is a good idea.

Finale Notepad is now available as a free download.

As I get ready to start a spring composing project with my students, I'm enjoying using Susan Paradis' fun worksheets. Lots Of Goofs is a favorite.

This article is a great prompt for some discussion with older students: "Why does Adele's 'Someone Like You' make everyone cry? Science has found the formula."

I'm looking forward to attending a pedagogy symposium this Saturday at The University of Georgia:  Start Your Engines! Preparing Your Students For Success.  If you're nearby, come on over! It's free!

And finally, here's a funny picture that I bet many of you can relate to as well as I do!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Giveaway Winner

Congratulations to Cristina Beck who was chosen by 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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