August 2, 2011

Guest Posters

I am making my list, and checking it twice....

The app list is taking shape, and it sure is nice. Ok, cue the corniness....

Seriously, I am finding that there are a lot of great music apps out there!

One of my favorite sayings came from one of my college professors, "I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid!" Debatable, I know, but whenever I have a brilliant idea, I like to say that. It does happen once in a while. The brilliant idea thing.

Here is my newest brilliant idea: It came to me one day that there may be piano teachers out there who are using some great apps to teach piano, but don't have a blog to tell us about them. Sadness, right? That is where my brilliant idea comes in! If this description fits you, I would love to invite you to guest post right here on the 'ol blog. I think we could help each other out, seeming how I have a blog, but no iPad. Double, double sadness.

If you would be interested in being hosted as a guest blogger on Nickel Notes, please contact me by shooting an email to nickelnotes(at)gmail(dot)com. I would love to consider hosting YOU!

July 20, 2011

Neat Resource I Can't Wait to Try!

I recently was looking over the assignment book, The Right Notes, available through Alberti Publishing. Jen recently reviewed it, if you want to take a look at her post. This looks like such a fun resource! It looks like not only a fun, colorful assignment book, but also a great outline for talking about some of the details that tend to get left on the shelf. It has composer biographies, definitions and explanations of other musical terms, descriptions of eras, etc. Some of these things are certainly on my list of not-very-strong points! Just because they aren't my strong points doesn't mean that they won't me my student's, however. This assignment book will allow you to help you student learn about many different details from many angles.

The possibilities are endless with this book. If you use a practice incentive, you could use the topics on each week's page to earn your student some more points. You could give a younger student one oral question to answer from what he learned, or you could give an older student an extra-credit assignment to find out more about that certain subject. How fun! And who doesn't want a chance for some more points toward their ultimate goal?

The other great thing I see about this book is that even if you order the hard copy, it is surprising inexpensive for such a color-packed book. Making it super affordable for every parent! And what parent doesn't like that??

Enough rambling. Short story is, I am super excited to give this book a try. Try it and let me know what you think.

July 14, 2011

An App Giveaway

It seems like most piano teachers I read about these days are getting iPads for their studios. They sound like so much fun! I can't wait for the day that I can add one to my "teaching materials." (Solely for teaching, I assure you....ok, maybe not!) Actually my brother is entered to win one, and he is VERY sure he is going to win...and when he does he is going to give it to me, because he has no need for it, right? RIGHT?

Anyway, I enjoy reading about all the great apps that are out there in relation to teaching, and I can't wait for the day that I get to try them out. I have wondered, on earth will I remember all these great apps? I can just see myself doing searches for "apps" on all of your blogs to see the ones you use. I will probably post a question on my blog, "What great apps are out there for teaching? What apps do you use in your studio?" I will search high and low for the best apps, comparing all those metronomes, and finally settling on what I think I will use the most.


I could compile all of your "app" posts into one convenient list so that not only me, but other piano teachers who add an iPad to their studios will have a place to go read the reviews about teaching apps.


Much like I did with the recital posts, I can keep updating this list with apps that you all think are great. I am going to begin putting this list together, so if you have blogged about an app that you would recommend, please leave a comment and let me know!

And in the meantime, Natalie from Music Matters Blog is hosting an app giveaway as we speak! Not just one, but TWO great apps, with three copies of each being given away. So you have six chances to win! So head on over to her review to leave your comment to enter and (hopefully) win!

June 27, 2011

Recital Post Updated

A few weeks ago I posted some links to some great recital ideas. I have been updating that post to include more and more links, so click here to head to that post and receive some recital inspiration! Seriously, some of you have the greatest ideas. And if you are as un-creative as I am, you and your students will benefit from ideas gleaned from other teachers.

If you know of other recital posts that I don't have listed, leave me a comment and tell me about them so I can include them in this list. Hopefully this will be a resource we can use for years to come!

How did your year-end recital go?

June 24, 2011

Comment Moderation

I don't know about you, but one thing that annoys me is trying to comment on blogs with the word identification -thingy. You know what I mean, the place where you have to type in "farcey" or some other non-existent word to show that you are really an intelligent human being. Yes, typing in "farcey" really makes me feel intelligent.

However, due to the amount of spam comments I have been receiving on my blog, I've had to turn on the word identification. Thankfully my spam filter was catching all of these comments, but I was getting spam every day, so I decided to try this for a while and see if it would help. So far, so good.

So I just wanted to let you know that I am deeply sorry for having to put you through the torture of typing "farcey" and proving to me that you are a real, live, breathing, intelligent human being. I know you are all intelligent, you don't have to prove it to me. Hopefully this will all be cleared up soon and we can go back to normal. Whatever normal is....

Am I the only one that gets annoyed by the word verification-thingy?? Do you have word verification on your blog, and why or why not?

June 22, 2011

Goodbye to Jen's Piano Studio Blog

Yes, you read that right. Jen's Piano Studio Blog is leaving us. But never fear! It is turning into Pianimation instead!

Jen is combining the valuable resources found at her blog and her studio website into one great place, Pianimation. It appears that this will make it much easier for us to use her resources. Thank you, Jen!

And in honor of the move Jen is offering a discount and a giveaway! Go here for all the details. You won't want to miss it!

Check out Pianimation and be sure to update your information if you already followed her blog.

June 20, 2011

Exciting New Posts For Parents

I am super excited about a new series of posts that Laura is writing over at The Piano Studio! Today she started "Monday Piano Parent Tips." Her first tip for parents is to read your child's assignment notebook to stay in the know about what is expected of your student. SUCH a great tip! Something every parent needs to remember. Head on over to her blog to read what she has to say about this issue!

These posts will be invaluable to teachers and parents. Let the parents of your students know about these posts! If you send out monthly letters/updates, you could include a reminder for parents to check Laura's latest tips. Hopefully, if your student's parents read these posts, it will encourage them to start clicking around on other posts and other sites and learn more themselves! Parents do not need to be "musical" to read music blogs and websites....they can learn a lot that will simply help them help their children at home!

I would strongly encourage parents to read these other posts by Laura: "How I Became a Tiger Mom and Why" and "When Should You Let Your Child Quit Piano?" (Just the title is exciting!)

Thanks, Laura, for the great reads! We're already looking forward to next week!

June 16, 2011

Psalm 150: Ways To Praise The Lord

***The first musician in the Bible is: Jubal, in Genesis 4:21. He was the father of all that handle the harp and organ. Congrats to Sheryl for getting the right answer! It was also pointed out to me that really the Lord is the very first musician! So true! But the first human musician was Jubal. Great job!***

We have been discussing how to apply Psalm 150 to our lives as musicians. If you missed the other posts in this series, here is Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Most of the time on this blog, I focus on piano teachers, their teaching and their students. But praising the Lord with music is not limited to this group of people. What are some other ways that we can praise the Lord with our music?

Singing. We often joke that the Bible says, "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord," but it doesn't say it has to sound good! (Psalm 100:1) Anyone can sing to the Lord. I have known people who, shall we say, "can't carry a tune in a bucket," but they don't let that stop them from joining in the congregational singing at church. I deeply admire those people that are willing to sing from their heart and not worry about what other people think. We are all commanded to sing to the Lord. (Psalm 100:2)

Playing an instrument. It doesn't just have to be piano! Any instrument can be played for God's glory. Just be sure the focus is not on you, the musician, but on ministering to the hearts of the people listening. A good question to ask yourself is, "Will my "performance" (I don't like to use that word when we are speaking about playing for the Lord, but I trust you understand what I mean.) turn the listeners thoughts to God, or to myself?"

Playing the radio. You may have started to figure out that this radio thing may come up often in my posts. :) That's ok, because I think it is so, so important! Along with this we can include any music you play, on cds, ipods, and all the other gadgets that are out there today. Yes, even this music should be played to bring glory to God! I do not think that all music we listen to as Christians needs to be hymns played slowly on an organ. I love a good soundtrack every once in a while! The Irish Tenors + me = love. Are you getting the picture? I do think, however, that even this music needs to be glorifying to the Lord in its style. Think about it this way: we've all pulled up beside a car at a stop light and had our eardrums blasted out by the vehicle next to us. Usually this music sends a VERY clear signal - and its not a signal that makes me think any thoughts about glorifying God! So if someone else were to hear the music that I listen to, would it in any way hurt my testimony for Christ? Think about it.

Invest in others. Maybe you are beyond the age where you feel you can learn an instrument. Maybe you are one that can't carry a tune, or you've lost your ability to sing due to illness. Whatever the case, you can invest in some one else! Let (or make) your kids take instrument or voice lessons. Set an example to others by joining in congregational singing or some other involvement. If you are a man and you can play an instrument, please, please, PLEASE don't hide your talent under a rock! Little boys need to see that playing an instrument is not in any way "girly." You don't know the impact you could have just by your example. Perhaps you don't have kids or grandkids of your own, but you could provide a way for someone else to take lessons. Offer to help with a piano recital at your church (food, decorating, etc) or be a van driver for your Christian school choir or band. If you use your imagination and become intentional about music, anyone can find a way to participate. Be creative!

Those are the ways I have come up with. Does anyone else have suggestions? What are the ways you have found to praise the Lord with music? Don't be shy, we'd love to hear!

June 9, 2011

What I Heard On The Radio

Before I begin this post, let me remind you to be looking for the first musician in the Bible! See this post if you missed the challenge. Before I give the answer, I wonder if anyone else has any guesses? Have you been looking for him?

This post is a continuation of our discussion on Psalm 150 and applying it to our music. If you missed the other posts, here is the first one and here is the second one.

It is no secret that I LOVE to listen to Christian radio. I listen to the radio all day long, when I'm in my vehicle, over the internet while I am in the office, and its always going at my house. Yeah, you could say I'm addicted. That's ok. I believe that Christian radio is so, SO important.

But this post isn't really supposed to be about why I feel Christian radio is important or why you should listen to it or why I am in love with the radio. I would love to tell you all that, and I most likely will, one of these days. :) Don't say I didn't warn you! But today I'd like to share with you something I heard while I was listening to the radio. It just happened to go along well with our discussion of Psalm 150.

I don't even know what the program was or who the guy was that was doing the talking. I wasn't really paying attention to that part. But a mother wrote in to give this situation and ask a question.

She had a 16 year old son that was part of a hard rock band with his buddies. They had been together for a year and a half. She was a Christian and so was her son. They recently had an offer to be sponsored by XYZ person, with an "opening night" in conjunction with another, more popular band. This opportunity, as far as they were concerned was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and they couldn't believe their good fortune.

This mother's concern came because her son was kind of perplexed as to how to present their band. This other, more popular band used profanities in their lyrics. Being a "christian" group, her son and his band didn't know if they should appear with this band that uses bad lyrics. And if they did decide to accept this offer, how "hard" should they come on with their christianity, knowing that the rest of the crowd present would not appreciate their beliefs?

Can I just say that I spent the next 15 minutes forming my response to this mother! I had a few choice things I would have LOVED to have called in a said in response. But I refrained. Instead, I decided to pose my view of this to you, my wonderful blog readers, and get your opinion!

I do think it is neat that this "problem" goes right along with what we've been talking to praise the Lord and honor Him with our music, whatever venue we might be in. So here is my response to this mother and son.

The first concern is whether or not the band should accept this offer, based on the fact that the other band is profane. I think the son and his band needs to realize that if they are going to play hard rock music, they are going to draw a type of crowd that appreciates that music...and that crowd is going to be profane. Profanity and suggestive lyrics are a characteristic of rock music, and no matter how much they try to "christianize" their band, rock music has an understood message...and it is not christianity. As a rock band, they are not going to be associated in people's minds with "religion," but with the kind of music the world wants.

So the next problem is, if they do decide to accept this offer, how "heavy" should they lay on their christianity to this very un-christian crowd? Because of course, on their opening night, they don't want to be rejected. That would not be a very good start to their band.

This band needs to decide what they are most concerned about. Is their objective to become popular by man's standards, or bring glory to God? If they are out to be popular, then by all means they should accept this offer. If they want to focus on bringing glory to God, they need to be in a different line of work. A hard rock band is never going to bring glory to God, so maybe they need to try a different genre of music, one that will honor the Lord not just by its lyrics, but by its presentation, its style, and by the crowd it draws.

I think if this band accepts this offer, they need to leave Christ out of their performance, because the two things can never go together.

I would love to hear how you would have answered this mother's concern. Leave a comment expressing your opinion of this situation! And don't forget to leave a guess as to who the first musician in the Bible is!

May 31, 2011

Psalm 150: Where Is The Balance?

To read the first post in this discussion, click here.

We've established the fact that we as Christians are commanded to praise the Lord with music. As "professional musicians" (and I use that term loosely) I believe we have an even greater responsibility. The Bible says "And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily as to the LORD, and not unto men." (Colossians 3:23) So not only are we commanded to praise the LORD with our music, but we are to do it heartily, to the best of our ability. Depending on our area of expertise, that may mean playing an instrument, singing, teaching music, etc. We must give the Lord our absolute best

But how do we balance this as piano teachers? (or violin teachers, or trumpet get the picture.) How do we teach a piano lesson for the Lord without it turning into a church service? How do we focus on doing what we're supposed to do...teach piano....while doing the other thing we're supposed to do...praise the Lord? (Phew, this sounds complicated!)

1. Give God the Glory
Whenever you have the opportunity, give God the credit for what happens in your studio. The positive things and the seemingly difficult things! "Isn't it amazing that the Lord created our minds so we could process all this information at the same time?" "Isn't the Lord awesome for creating music all around us."

You students don't all have to be "religious" or church-goers for you to do this. Even "non-churched" students can hear these words! You most likely are not teaching in a public can mention God or you can pray and not get in trouble for it! If you know that the religious views of a particular family might be offended by this, then use discretion. There is no need to offend. There is no need to embarrass your student or make them feel uncomfortable. Give God the glory where you can, and then move on with your lesson.

2. Live it
Realize that whether you are in or out of your teaching studio, you are teaching by your example. When your student or their parent sees you in the grocery store, their eyes don't see you any differently than when they see you in your studio. You are a living advertisement for your studio. So if you are going to "bring God into things" by giving Him glory in a lesson, then the rest of your life must fall into line. In all areas of your life, you must give Him glory and live a life that points others to Him.

3. Apply it
Find small ways to praise the Lord collectively in your studio. As I mentioned in my last post, several of my students and I memorized Psalm 150 this last year. Did all my students participate? No. Again, I tried to use discretion and not cause offense. But many of my students did and now several have a new favorite passage of scripture. :) Another thing that many of my students did was to find the first musician mentioned in the Bible. They had to tell me his name and one thing about him. Believe me, this isn't as easy as you might think! (Hint: its not David!) For some, I gave them the book or even the chapter so they wouldn't be overwhelmed. This was a fun assignment! (Especially when I heard my siblings asking their pastor-dad...even he didn't know!)

On the surface, having my students find the first musician doesn't seem like an activity that praise the Lord. After all, they are just finding the verse in the Bible...thats it. But it does cause them to not only search the scriptures, but also to realize that music and God are connected. They can see first hand that God does care about music...after all, He mentions it many times in His Word!

You don't have to be a Bible teacher or graduate from seminary to bring praise into your studio. Just find simple ways to praise God while teaching your students about the music He created.

What things do you do in your studio to bring glory to God? Are you wondering who the first musician in the Bible is?? :) How about a little challenge!? Lets see who can find him first. If you think you know, leave a comment with his name and the passage. If no one can find him, I'll start giving clues. :) Ready, set, go!

May 26, 2011

Psalm 150: A Biblical Perspective of Music

The subtitle of my blog says this:

"A peek into my life as a piano teacher and my efforts to live out Psalm 150:6, "Let everything that has breath praise the LORD."

(See, right up there. Thats what it says.)

Why do I try to live out this verse in my music endeavors? This is why: it is a command. Simple as that. A command not just for piano teachers and their students, and not just for anyone pursuing any type of musical training. It is a command to everyone that is breathing to praise the LORD. (I'm really hoping that if you are reading this right now, you fall into that category. Breathe in, breathe out. Everyone good? Ok, moving on..)

Last fall, my students and I made it our goal to memorize Psalm 150 in its entirety. Well actually, I made it our goal, but my students were quick to latch on to this challenge. The encouraging thing is that this Psalm only has 6 verses, so it did not seem like a daunting task at all. I wanted my students to really embrace this Psalm and see that our piano playing and practicing is ultimately to bring honor and glory to Him, not for ourselves.

They did a great job. Several learned it even quicker than I had hoped. We talked about the different instruments mentioned in this Psalm, and often went over the correct pronunciations. :) But most of all, I pray that they grasped the concept, that what we are doing is all for God's glory.

I hope that it is important to you. I hope that you teach with this principle in mind. I do. I hope to take the next few blog posts to discuss (notice I said discuss...that means I don't want to do all the talking :) how we can have a Biblical perspective of the music we teach. If you are not a piano teacher, don't stop reading. You need a Biblical perspective of music, too, whether it be the music you listen to, sing, play, or whatever your case may be. I hope to present a balance between teaching our students music for education's sake, and teaching our students music for the Glory of God.

Because it is important to Him. If it wasn't, we wouldn't be commanded to do it.

Psalm 150:1-6

Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD.

May 23, 2011

Recital Links - Updated!

Its that time of year! Every piano student around the globe is either rejoicing in a recent successful performance, or still dreading performing in the next couple weeks. I think most students view recitals as a necessary evil. They know that it is good for them, but it is scary!

How can you take your recitals from the mundane tradition to an exciting experience that your students will look back on with regard? By keeping things moving during the recital, including fun elements, and using variety from year to year. All of this can be accomplished with a little effort and planning.

It also doesn't hurt to prick the brains of other piano teachers and see what they have to say! Ask them what has worked and what has completely flopped. Borrow ideas and tips to add some life to your recital. You can even cry on their shoulder when things don't go the way you expected them too. :)

Here is a list I've compiled of some recital-related blog posts. If you haven't had your studio recital yet, maybe it's not too late to implement some of these ideas. If you have, use this as a handy reference when you are planning your recital next year.

Recital Planning:
After The Recital:
I'm hoping to add to this list as I become aware of more posts and tips! If you have written about your recital planning at all, please let me know.

May 21, 2011

Hymn History - O Sacred Head Now Wounded

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

The words of this song have gone through many revisions and changed hands many times before coming to us in our English form as we know it today. It is thought to have its roots in twelfth-century monastic life.

The original poem was called “Rhythmica Oratio” by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. His father was a knight and his mother has been said to have been a person of radiant goodness. Bernard chose monastery life while in his early twenties. Martin Luther said of him, “He was the best monk that ever lived, whom I admire beyond all the rest put together.”

The original poem had seven parts, with each part discussing various parts of Christ’s body as He suffered on the cross, His feet, knees, hands, side, breast, heart, and face. Our hymn text is only the seventh portion of the poem, and was originally entitled, “Salve Caput Cruentatum”.

The German translation was done by Paul Gerhardt, a German man who suffered much heartache in his life. He went through the Thirty Years’ War, and while still a young man lost his wife and four baby girls. He is credited with writing 132 hymn texts during his life, which are said to be a reflection of inner spiritual wealth. One person has said, “Many were written under circumstances that would make most men cry rather than sing.”

James Waddell Alexander translated the English version of this song. He was a history teacher, but always had more of an interest in hymnology. He translated many German and Latin texts that were published in a book titled, “The Breaking Crucible and Other Translations.”

Although not much else is known about the history of this song, it has certainly been used of the Lord throughout the years, not only in the lives of these three men, but also in the lives of many more of God’s people. Philip Schaff said, “This classic hymn has shown in three tongues – Latin, German and English – and in three confessions – Roman, Lutheran and Reformed – with equal effect, the dying love of our Savior and our boundless indebtedness to Him.”

~Kenneth W. Osbeck, 101 More Hymn Stories

Lyrics (J.W. Alexander's version, 1830)

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down,
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn!

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered, was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

Men mock and taunt and jeer Thee, Thou noble countenance,
Though mighty worlds shall fear Thee and flee before Thy glance.
How art thou pale with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn!
How doth Thy visage languish that once was bright as morn!

Now from Thy cheeks has vanished their color once so fair;
From Thy red lips is banished the splendor that was there.
Grim death, with cruel rigor, hath robbed Thee of Thy life;
Thus Thou hast lost Thy vigor, Thy strength in this sad strife.

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,
For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.
I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.

My Shepherd, now receive me; my Guardian, own me Thine.
Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.
Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;
Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;
O Savior, do not chide me! When breaks Thy loving heart,
When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,
Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,
When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.
O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,
Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door;
Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!
When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,
But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;
Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.
Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,
My heart by faith enfolds Thee. Who dieth thus dies well.

For further reading:



May 16, 2011

Large Staff Fun - And A Printable!

I mentioned before how I made my large staff. Seriously, we use this thing all the time! It is great for working on space/line notes, note names, intervals, just about anything!

Today I'd like to show you how I use it to work on scale degrees and chords. I made these circles to fit on the lines and spaces so that we could "label" our "notes." Here we have a scale all written out (minues the accidentals, I know...we weren't too worried about that at the moment!) with the scale degrees, and we worked on building the primary chords for that scale.

As you can see in that first picture, I have more circles made out to cover every Roman Numeral that we might need. Or at least, all the ones I could think of! This way we can always use them to review major/minor chords, intervals, etc.

Now, to make mine, I just used card stock and some colored markers and did it all by hand. It was simple. Sometimes I like to do things by hand rather than print everything off the computer. But some of you may prefer to have these handy to print out, so I also made them into a printable for you. Aren't I nice? And I even have one in black and white, to be printed on colored card stock, and one in color, to be printed on white card stock. Aren't I even nicer?

Each file is two pages, one with Roman Numerals and one with numbers. The circles are 4.45 cm. in diameter, to give you an idea of the size.

I'd be delighted to hear how you use these circles!

May 13, 2011

Long Or Short Nails?

I do not regularly post questions for discussion, like some do. I really enjoy those discussions and fresh ideas to think about. I decided to post a random question for discussion, however. Because I'm a random kind of person. :)

My question is about fingernails and the piano. I know that some teachers insist on very short fingernails on all their students.

While others do not view it as such a serious detail.

I do think that the length of the fingernails affects playing. Long fingernails get in the way of playing with our fingertips. So how short is "short?"

I always have trouble finding the right balance with my own fingernails. They grow faster than weeds, and the nail bed is long, so it is hard to keep them "short." As a child I bit my nails, so they are misshapen as well, to add to the mess. Fun. If I had a camera right now I would take a picture of them for you, but thankfully for you, I don't. :)

So what about you? Do you ask for your students to keep their nails short? How do you enforce that aspect of your policies? How long does a nail have to be to interfere with proper playing?

*Note: none of the above pictures are my own. I just googled "fingernails" and that is what good 'ol google gave me. Boom.*

May 10, 2011

Guest Post: Enjoyable Piano Lessons???

Guest Post

Enjoyable Piano Lessons???

Discovering a Relative and Fun Method to Piano Teaching

By Emily Matthew

I believe a tragedy has occurred in both piano studios and student’s homes across the country. Piano students dread going to lessons because their teacher is “boring” or “strict”; teachers are unoriginal and rigid in their teaching styles; and parents are tired of the constant battle to practice. The result? More students discontinue piano lessons. This is a problem that I believe could be corrected by parents and piano teachers, both of which who will in turn influence the students.

This article is not intended for parents; however, I will quickly say this: I believe it is the parents’ responsibility to give their child the opportunity of music lessons. I believe that learning to play an instrument is a necessary discipline in the life of a child, both musically and otherwise. Learning an instrument instills in a child invaluable qualities that will benefit him throughout all his life. I believe it is the parents’ job to support piano lessons just as they do math, history, and science classes in school. If your child did not enjoy math homework, would you allow him to drop out of math class? Of course not! I’ve had parents tell me that they wish their child had a desire to take music lessons, but since their child isn’t interested in music or committed to practicing, they will not be required to take lessons. I really believe that is sad! While a career in music isn’t for everyone, I do believe that several years of musical discipline are necessary for a child’s education. However...that is another subject for another time!

Now for the teachers: I believe it is your responsibility to foster in your students a love for music. Let’s face it: many a student will end up in our studios who really doesn’t want to be there. He, in fact, is determined to hate the piano. Bravo to the parents who make him come! It is now the teacher’s job to convince him that music can be rewarding and even fun. James Bastien said, “The teacher, not a set of books, is the determining factor in quality results.” The teacher should demonstrate to him the great fulfillment and enjoyment that can be had from music lessons.

Private piano teachers today are competing with a multitude of other activities that are vying for their students’ attention. Sports, movies, video games, and other modern entertainment are FUN! Why would your student want to sit 1/2 hour with someone who is twice his age explaining to him how to interpret little black dots on a page full of lines? If you were in his place would that be fun to you? I believe it is time for teachers to step back and re-evaluate their teaching methods. I am NOT advocating reducing a high quality of a musical education. I am definitely not suggesting that you throw out theory, scales, and classical study or that you lessen your high standards for performance. My students spend plenty of time investing in these areas, and they also know that doing less than their best is simply not an option. What I am suggesting is that you adapt your presentation of these musical areas to make them appealing. Ignite your student’s curiosity about theory. Make him want to master the last scale in his book before anyone else has ever done. Fascinate him with the classical masterpieces and the men who wrote them. Make music come alive!!!

I believe piano lessons can come alive by the teacher being real, relevant, and enthusiastic about what he is teaching to his student. Get to know your students. Discover their learning style and use that knowledge as a stepping stone to bring them to the realization that music can be enjoyable. Do crazy things during your lessons to make your students laugh and relax. My students and I have come up with the strangest and craziest stories that express the mood of a song they are learning; but you know what? After coming up with those “silly” stories, they play the song better and they enjoy doing so! It’s amazing! Hold studio competitions for titles in the “Piano Hall of Fame.” Use colored pencils and highlighters in the child’s favorite color. Play musical games, with the challenge that you’re pretty hard to beat. I appreciate what a Chinese Proverb states, “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand.” Make each minute of lesson time count by actively involving students and doing your best to make lessons enjoyable. Be relative to your students, and please don’t lose another student simply because he was bored with you.

In my piano studio, I strive to give my students a quality musical education. We do all the “boring” stuff such as theory books, scales, arpeggios, Hanon, classical music, but *read* it is not boring to the majority of my students. Why? Because I have strived to make it enjoyable for them. I hold studio competitions year round (with fun names, of course). Last June and July, I hosted “Sizzlin’ Summer Studies”, where students could become “Piano Superstars” by completing some tricky assignments. During the majority of the year, I hold a much more in- depth competition. Last year, we embarked on “Treasures from the Past: the Lives of Great Composers.” We spent the year with an emphasis on classical music. My students had the options of listening to classical music, completing extra credit worksheets, playing additional songs at the foremost level of excellence, working extra hard on their given assignments, practicing extra time, etc. all for the purpose of earning “Treasure Chest Coins” which could be traded in for some awesome prizes. I hardly heard any complaints about practice time or scales. Two of my students were so competitive about the contest that they called each other during the week to see how many “Treasure Chest Coins” they were going to earn that week to see if they in turn needed to practice more or do some extra work. Those two students tied as winners of the contest. They surpassed my musical expectations for them! They learned so much more than I required of them and enjoyed doing so! Why? I suggest that it was at least partially because piano learning was made fun.

I believe another huge motivator is simply your praise. I can’t remember where I once heard this suggestion, but it has been a huge help to me! “Never let a lesson go by without praising your student about something they did well.” Now, I will admit, this can be very difficult at times! Maybe your student didn’t practice at all, missed most of the notes in his song, and completely ruined the rhythm...well, use your imagination to find something good that he did do! :) Time for some out-of-the-box thinking! What about his dynamics (on those few notes that were correct that is)...praise him for it. Try this, “Billy, you have some incredible dynamics while you’re playing! I especially like that forte at the very end! It sounded just like a lion roaring!” Of course we need to address the problems too, so then try this: “You know Billy, we really need to get these notes and rhythm right. I can’t wait to hear it next week! I know once you get those things right, it will sound amazing with those incredible dynamics I already heard today!” What do you think? I think that it helps your student see that you’re not “against” him. Find something he did right and tell him how much you like it!

You may be reading this and thinking, “This is all great, but I don’t think it will solve all my ‘bored student’ problems.” You’re right. It won’t. But, you’ve done your part; now, just keep trying! Keep getting to know your students as individuals, and find one thing that they enjoy doing that motivates them. Once you’ve found it, use your imagination and work with that knowledge! On my beginning student/parent questionnaires, I ask the parents their child’s learning style, temperament, and motivators. I have found those answers to be so helpful to me as I teach! If you have a majority of “bored students” in your studio, why not try a few new and innovative ideas? Those bored students just might change their minds!

Are your students having fun during their lessons, or do they dread them? I suggest that you re-evaluate your approach to teaching. Become a relevant teacher and motivator rather than a strict and strenuous instructor. It is our responsibility as music teachers to do our best to instill in our students a love and a passion for the instrument we teach.

Emily Matthews and her husband Jared currently live in Minnesota, where Emily enjoys being a homemaker and piano teacher. You can visit her piano studio website to see what she's all about. Emily is also an avid couponer and blogs about her homemaking and couponing adventures on their blog, Day by Day.

May 6, 2011

Why I Have Been Eating Skittles All Week

As a fun activity this week, my students and I played Susan Paradis Skittles game at the end of their lessons. It is a good thing that I don't have many students, or I would be fat! As it was, by the end of the week I felt "skittled out." :) But it is such a fun game that I don't mind.

All my students eyes light up when they see the skittles, and most say, "Are we going to eat those??" No, we're just going to look at them...

I was a little unsure about what I was going to do with my youngest student, who doesn't yet know the notes on the staff. I thought I would make cards for him that said "line note" and "space note" but that seemed a little boring and not too much of a review. Then, I read the great idea Sarah had about using a tabletop keyboard instead. Perfect! It worked like a charm. We just disregarded the "Treble" and "Bass" directions and went by the letter names. Here are some pictures:

You can get these tabletop keyboards here.

This is just one example of those fun games I talk about from time to time. It reviews and reinforces the notes in such a fun (and yummy!) way. I find it to be "the game that never ends," so we usually just have a set time to play it or play through the deck of cards a certain number of times. It is a great learning incentive!

Anyone else been playing any learning games lately?

May 4, 2011

Hymn History - Jesus Calls Us

Jesus Calls Us

Miss Cecil Humphreys was just 21 years old when her first book was published. Entitled "Verses for Holy Seasons," it contained a hymn or poem for each Sunday of the year, with special verses on holidays and special occasions. Written as a result of Miss Humphreys reading of "The Christian Year" by Rev. John Keble, it has been called "A Christian Year for Children."

In one of her Sunday School classes, her students were puzzled about the meaning of some of the words in the Apostles Creed. Unable to adequately explain to them in their terminology, she resorted to making her teaching in poetic form. For the first phrase, "I believe in God the Father Almighty," she wrote, "All Things Bright and Beautiful." For "Born of the Virgin Mary" she wrote, "Once in Royal David's City." And to explain the meaning of the death of Jesus who was crucified and buried, she wrote, "There is a Green Hill far Away." In 1848, the year she was married, she published her second book, "Hymns for Little Children," which included the songs inspired by the Creed.

One afternoon in 1852, her husband, Rev. William Alexander, found her writing a poem as a result of the sermon he had preached the Sunday before. He had preached on the burial of Moses, and she had been so inspired by the message that she wrote these words:

By Nebo's lonely mountain, On this side Jordan's wave,

In a vale in the land of Moab, There lies a lonely grave.

But no man built that sepulcher, And no man saw it e're;

For the angels of God upturned the sod, And laid he dead man there.

Her husband was so moved by these gripping words, that he asked her to write a poem for his sermon coming that Sunday. He was going to speak on the calling of Andrew by Jesus in Mark 1:16-18. After reading the passage through, Mrs. Alexander wrote these words:

Jesus calls us o'er the tumult, Of our life's wild, restless sea;

Day by day His sweet voice soundeth, Saying Christian follow me!

By her death in 1895 Mrs. Alexander had written over four hundred hymns and poems. Over a quarter million copies of “Hymns for Little Children" was sold, but nothing ever received the attention that her song, "Jesus Calls Us," has received.

~Ernest K. Emurian, "Living Stories of Famous Hymns"

  1. Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
    Of our life’s wild, restless, sea;
    Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
    Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”
  2. Jesus calls us from the worship
    Of the vain world’s golden store,
    From each idol that would keep us,
    Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”
  3. In our joys and in our sorrows,
    Days of toil and hours of ease,
    Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
    “Christian, love Me more than these!”
  4. Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
    Savior, may we hear Thy call,
    Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
    Serve and love Thee best of all.

May 2, 2011

Let's Play the Piano With Hammers!

A few weeks ago, I showed you how I take my piano apart and asked what you thought about including this in lessons. I decided to go ahead and give it a try! Last week, I took the front of the piano off before each student came to his lesson. It was fun to watch their eyes get big when they walked around the piano!

I would explain simply how the piano has strings and hammers to make a sound. Most are familiar with stringed instruments like guitars, so they quickly noticed that the piano was "the same." And they were all excited to find out that their piano has hammers inside! (Hence the title of this, I did not let them use real hammers on my piano!! Yikes!)

I let them plunk some keys and watch the hammers, and then I would also show them the dampers on the strings and how those work when you strike a key and when you press the damper pedal. Lights came on at this point with a lot of students. Which is a good thing. :)

When I was done explaining everything and they were done exploring, I had them play a song that they know from memory and just watch the hammers strike. They seemed to enjoy it! Here are a couple doing it:

Then I had to put the front back on so that they would have a place to rest their books for the rest of the lesson. One student was sure she could just lay her book down, but I didn't know how well that would work. :)

It was a fun experiment!! And now I have all kinds of ideas for a group lesson along these lines...a piano tuner could come and show how he tunes the piano and some of the ins and outs of tuning. What student wouldn't like to see his tuning fork?? Whenever anybody learns any other instrument....guitar, violin, etc....they learn how to tune it. Why is the piano any different? Obviously they can't tune their own piano, but I think they should know how it works, anyway. What do you think?

April 30, 2011

Practicing Followup

To follow up on our two-week study of the best and worst ways to practice, I made a simple sheet to ask my students some questions about their own practicing. This has given me incredible insight into how they practice at home, and how to help them enjoy it more.

If you remember, I had gotten the handout and idea for my “group” game over at Sarah’s blog. She also had posted a sheet of questions that she used to follow up on the handout, but I felt my students needed something a little simpler. So I just gave them five easy questions to answer, and crossed my fingers that it wouldn't take them long to fill it out!

Here it is, available for you to download.

I have one student that is 7 and can’t read very well yet, so I asked him the questions orally. Because they are such simple questions, he didn’t seem to mind answering them out loud.

Here are some of the eye-opening answers I’ve received:

1. What is your favorite part of practicing?

-Hymn Arrangements

-That after lots of practice I will be able to play without looking at the notes. (hmmm…)

-Exercises (Who would have thought? She does the Edna Mae Burnam prepatory book. And she actually spelled it “exersioses” - how cute!)

-Playing my songs

2. What is your least favorite part of practicing?

-hard songs that take a long time to learn.

-“Watch Your Step”

-You have to look everywhere (meaning there is a lot to think about and pay attention to!) (at least I hope thats what he meant!)

-That I have to keep switching my hands from left to right.

3. What makes it hard to practice?

-The lines and spaces

-Wanting to be doing something else

-Learning the new notes.

-To do everything right.

4. What is your favorite song to play?

-Love is patient

-Gypsy Rondo

-Yankee Doodle

-Wiggly Worm

5. Have these practice tips helped you?

-So far they have all said yes!

So here is my question for you: How do you help your students enjoy their practice time? I know that they are not going to enjoy every song they have to learn, but overall, do your students enjoy practicing?

April 28, 2011

Be Ready to Preach, Pray, or...Play the Piano???

Here in Canada, the flu bug has been rampant for the last month. There have been very few people that haven’t been affected by it. For most, it hits hard and lingers long. Recently the plight escalated when it reached our local nursing home. Last week the flu hit the residents, and I heard that seven have died. It has been tragic.

One man that passed away was a relative of some men in our church. We knew him a little bit, from our monthly services at the nursing home. He used to attend our church years ago, as he was able to. The funeral service was held at another church down the road, where he was a member for years.

Because of our connections with some of the family members, we were asked to provide some special music. A relative was supposed to sing, but was unable to at the last minute. So my parents and two of my siblings prepared two trio-style hymns, and I played the piano for them.

Why am I telling you all of this? To point out that sometimes, as pianists, we get unexpected and last-minute opportunities to play. We may or may not have a chance to practice adequately. In what ways can we be prepared for these situations?

1. Be mentally prepared. As a pianist seeking to honor the Lord, I know that I am not playing to “perform” or to impress people. I want to honor and glorify God, while doing the very best that I can. If I do my best, and keep in mind Who I am doing it for, it keeps everything in the right perspective, and keeps me from getting the jitters! :)

2. Practice regularly. If I am known locally as a pianist, chances are I am going to be asked to play for things like funerals when the need arises. For this reason, I should always have good practicing habits on a daily basis. Not just practicing the stuff that I “have to” (things for church, events coming up, etc.) but staying brushed up in every area so that I’m ready for anything at a moments notice. Some of what I include in daily practice are scales and technique, hymn playing, arrangements, classical, etc.

3. Compile notebooks. This could include a book of wedding songs, funeral songs, your “go-to” church offertories, a book of popular folk songs, the list could go on and on. From time to time review these notebooks and evaluate the songs. Make sure that the songs included are not extremely difficult, but easily manageable at your level of playing. Then when a need arises, you have songs at your fingertips.

4. Be flexible. You may start to play and find that half the keys don’t work on the 100-year-old electric keyboard you have to use. You may find that the damper pedal doesn’t work. You may find that you have to bang to get any sound out. You may find your book closing on you or pages fluttering to the ground. The vocalist you are accompanying may break down in tears...or laughter. The person leading the service may cut in on your arrangement, thinking you were through. (Hopefully you were on a tonic chord!) Whatever happens is part of life...and life happens! Learn to go with the flow, and make the best out of every situation. In a few years (even months!) no one is going to remember that your song was interrupted...unless you make a big deal about the situation and cause a scene. As the pianist, its not all about you...and people really aren’t paying as much attention to you as they are to the vocalist or song leader. 95% of the audience won’t ever know the difference! So learn to be as flexible as a slinky! (Yes, all of those scenarios have happened to me. And maybe that keyboard wasn’t 100 years old, but it seemed like it.)

Those are the things that I came up with while thinking about this opportunity. What did I leave out? Anyone else have any ideas? Or have you ever found yourself in a similar situation?

My friend Leah posted a while back about how to be prepared for funerals, specifically. She covered the topic very thoroughly, so I would encourage you to go read that post, found here.