January 31, 2011

Hymn History: I am Bound For the Promised Land

Samuel Stennett wrote the words for this song, and originally titled it, “Heaven Anticipated.” When he wrote it he had no idea that these words would comfort a dying man. But God used these words to work in a young spy’s heart.

Sam Davis joined the Confederate army when he was a student at Nashville. He was such a good soldier that he was selected to be part of the elite group of spies named “Coleman’s Scouts.” He proved to be a great undercover agent.

In 1863, Sam was thrown in jail in Tennessee. He had papers and maps under his saddle that proved that he was a spy. The captors promised to set him free if he would just identify the “Coleman’s Scouts,” and Coleman himself. Of course, Sam refused.

He was immediately sentenced to death. Private C. B. Van Pelt read his sentence to him. Van Pelt was later to say, “A reprieve was extended which I also read to him, if he would inform us as to where ‘Coleman’ was. He stood before me, an uncrowned hero, his eyes flashing, and he said, ‘I will die a thousand deaths rather than betray my friends.’ We were both moved to tears and remained silent for a time.”

What these men did not know was that ‘Coleman’ was really Dr. H. B. Shaw, who was at that moment in an adjacent cell and was later released. How ironic that this man lived, but one of his most faithful spies had to die.

The night before his execution, Sam wrote to his mother, “Oh how painful it is to write you! I have to die tomorrow morning – to be hanged by the Federals. Mother, do not grieve for me. I must bid you good-bye forevermore.”

The day before the hanging a chaplain by the name of James Young spent the day with Sam, praying and praising the Lord. That evening they held a small worship service. Sam requested them to sing, “On Jordan’s Stormy Banks.” Those present said they would never forget the sound of Sam’s voice as he sang, “I am bound for the Promised Land, I am bound for the Promised Land.”

There is a monument in honor of Sam Davis on the lawn of the Tennessee State Capitol. On the monument are these words inscribed: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)


January 28, 2011

The First Few Lessons

I started two new, beginning piano students this week, and while I was preparing for their lessons, I thought I may just share with you some of the things I do in the first few lessons.

They say, and rightfully so, that you only have one chance to make a first impression. That is true not only when meeting your students and their parents, but also in the first piano lesson that student ever has. We could re-word the saying for our purposes and say, “A piano student can only have one first lesson, and that first lesson could determine how they view piano for the rest of their lives.” So yeah, that first lesson is very important.

I talked here about the student/parent interview I have with each of my new students. I prefer for this to be separate from the first “real” lesson. This gives the student time to get to know me, and gives me an opportunity to observe him and answer any questions from him or his parent. Sometimes I begin a few introductory things with the student. It just depends on the situation, the method book he is using, etc.

So, depending on those factors, I use some combination of the following in the first few lessons:

Pre-reading songs. Susan Paradis has several of these. In some method books, the students does not have any songs to play for the first couple of lessons. I don’t like to overwhelm the student, so I generally go over a couple of pages of introductory material (Posture, hand position, highs and lows on the keyboard, black keys and white keys, finger numbers, etc.) and then give a couple of these pre-reading sheets. Susan has several of these in different levels...some that say the note name, some with just the finger you can easily find one that fits your exact need.

Activity Papers. (Not to be confused with worksheets, mind you) For young beginners, I use this one reviewing Left and Right hands, and this one, reviewing the finger numbers. These seem to be very effective. I also use this one as soon as they learn the quarter, half and whole note so they can begin to learn to draw them. This activity is great for enforcing which note is which. For older beginners, I use mostly the little worksheets that I put together. I have not yet been able to find much along these lines for adult beginners, because they comprehend and learn at a faster pace. Do you know of any for adults???

Practice Charts. I usually use these ones from Making Music Fun. Generally adults don’t need them, but kids seem to love them! My sisters have used every one of these, and still beg to use them over again. They seem to love the sense of accomplishment and satisfaction of being able to put a sticker on the chart at the end of a day’s practice. I think I can understand that. These have such simple but attractive graphics on them.

These are the ones I have found myself going back to for each new student. I know there are more options out there, but this is what has worked for me so far. What do you use in the first few lessons? What concepts do you teach in that first lesson? Leave us some feedback!

January 25, 2011

Making Your Own Worksheets

We’ve talked here about where to find some good worksheets, and we talked here about how to use worksheets and when to use them. Today I’d like to talk about how to make your own!

I often make worksheets that specifically fit a need for one of my students. It seems like I had a hard time finding simple worksheets for my beginning students. Each method book introduces different concepts in different orders, and it was hard to find worksheets that were drilling rhythm, but didn’t use dotted quarter notes, just for instance.

So here are a few of the ways I made my own worksheets.

Plain old staff paper and a pencil. These things can do wonders. I found an amazing site where you can make your own staff paper to fit your exact need. So when I wanted really large treble clef paper, I could just make my own. Its so easy, and so convenient. With plain old staff paper and a pencil we can review note names, intervals, learn to draw notes and clef signs, etc, etc, etc.

Keyboard worksheets. I googled “keyboard picture” and came up with the picture here.

I have used it for so many things! I made a whole sheet with several of these on it that I use to talk about major scales, chords, and such things. I have used them with beginners to talk about whole and half steps. I also took and put little white boxes on the black keys so that we could mark on those too. That looks like this:

I also made a simple beginner worksheet with instructions for them to circle the groups of two black keys and then the groups of three black keys. We can number the keys, name the notes, and a whole host of other things!

Here are pictures of some of the worksheets I have made:

I will tell you a little secret...I make most of these in Pages. (An Apple program that would be like Microsoft Word.) Wow, aren’t I techy??? But because I just keep things simple, it works well for me most of the time. I really think simple is key, you don’t want a student overwhelmed and feeling like they are taking a test. You just want to review or enforce a concept. So I keep it simple for the student and simple for me, and use Pages. And no one will ever know! Well, except for you, now you know. I guess I don’t mind if you know.

What worksheets do you use? Do you have some tried and true ones that I don’t know about yet? Please share! And if you would like to use or see any of the ones I have mentioned above, just leave me a comment with your e-mail address and I will be happy to send them to you.

January 17, 2011

Worksheets: Who Needs Them?

Last week I talked briefly about worksheets and gave you some resources for some great ones to use in your studio. Today I’d like to talk about actually using them with your students.

(Please be aware that all opinions in this post about worksheets are completely and totally my own. You may have your own opinion. I give you permission. You may also have a different opinion than mine. I give you permission for that, too. And I also give you permission to leave a comment below and share your opinion with me, because I love to hear opinions! From opinionated people. Moving on...)

I use worksheets quite frequently with my students. I used to think that every student needed a worksheet for every new concept they learned. I don’t overload them like that any more, but there are some I still like to use. Why?

I think that worksheets are a great way to enforce a concept. Heres an example: a beginning student is learning the quarter note. His teacher says to him, “This note with a "dirty face" is a quarter note. Now you must remember that 168 hours from now when you come to your next lesson and I ask you which note has a dirty face. Got it?”

No, he doesn’t got it. (Excuse the grammar.) Because this student is a he, said student learns things much more concretely if he is allowed to do, not just listen. So instead, his teacher gives him a simple worksheet asking him to draw 5 quarter notes. When he goes home, this students gets to leave the piano (walking=action=way more interesting and a change of pace) and draw (more action). While drawing, he has “quarter note” on the brain. (He actually might have fire engines or trash trucks on the brain, but lets hope for the best.) This is cementing the name of the note in his mind. Plus, he is coloring in each note head, re-enforcing the fact that this note has a “dirty face.” And an added bonus is that he is learning how to draw notes, which may come in very handy when he begins composing his own songs in like two decades (ok, it seems like it).

Is this reasoning only for those students called “him?” No, girls appreciate these things too. They just have Cinderella and lip gloss on the brain, thats all. No matter what the gender or age, students learn things better when they use more than one of their senses (touch) to learn how to play.

There are some instances when I don’t use worksheets. If the student is working through a theory or activity book, chances are they don’t need much more than that. If their theory book has them labeling all the C’s on the staff, then I don’t need to give them a worksheet that will repeat that activity. However, if a student is having a hard time remembering the Bass Clef notes in the middle C position, then I may give them a sheet that reviews those notes. Or maybe this student hasn’t reviewed their intervals lately, and I want to soon introduce minor scales. Out comes an interval worksheet!

There have also been times when I have printed off a particular sheet for a student’s lesson, but then during the lesson decide not to give it to them. Either I feel they don’t need the review on that particular skill, or I feel they have enough for one week, and I don’t want to overwhelm them. It just depends. As the teacher, I must have my eyes and ears open to what will be best for my student right now. None of my students were made by a cookie cutter, they all are different people with different learning strengths and weaknesses and need different teaching approaches. (Whew...that makes my job sound like hard work!)

So what is your opinion? Worksheets or no worksheets? Please, do share! Because I love opinions...

January 13, 2011


I'm going to write a few posts in the next little bit about worksheets...where to get them, how to use them, and how to make some of your own!

"Worksheet" sounds so formal and....boring. Doesn't it? Maybe we should call them "funsheets" or "activity papers" instead. :) Because worksheets/funsheets/activity papers can be fun! We'll learn in a future post just how fun.

For now, here are some links to some worksheets/funsheets/activity papers (oh for pete's sake) that I have used and enjoyed.

Here are a bunch of fun ones from Making Music Fun. They do make music fun! I use the note recognition timed drills the most often, but there are other great ones offered here. They also have some other resources, such as sticker practice charts, sheet music and composer studies. And they all have fun, ocean-themed graphics. Perfect for the area I live!

I just recently purchased and started using this rhythm workbook from Jen's Piano Studio. It is a workbook that is 100% reproducible. Not only are there some worksheets to be filled out, but other great hands on activities...and we LOVE activities!

Here are some great sightreading worksheets from Music Matters Blog. I haven't actually used these yet, but I am planning on using them SOON!

Stay tuned for some more posts about worksheets! Until then, I'd love to hear from you! What do you use for your teaching? What great worksheet/funsheet/activity papers are out there that I don't know about?? Let me know!

January 10, 2011

Hymn History: God Moves in a Mysterious Way

When I was in college, I took a class called Hymnology. I enjoyed that class, and one of the assignments was every week I had to turn in a hymn history story. I thought I would share some of those stories on here for you. This is the first one:

God Moves in a Mysterious Way

It was a dark night in 1774. A carriage driver stopped at a house on the side of the road to pick up a man who was obviously distressed." Take me to the river, driver," he instructed. The driver was confused. "The river? Where? And why?" The man answered, "Anywhere along the river bank. God has ordered me to take my own life, and I prefer to drown myself rather than hang myself."

The passenger in the carriage was William Cowper (pronounced “cooper”), a forty-three year old man who spent the last twenty-five years of his life convinced that "God was determined to betray him at every turn in this life and to torture him eternally in the next." A series of events led to this mental instability. His mother died when he was six years old, leaving him in quite a state of shock. He was enrolled in an English Boarding School while still very young, and was subjected to much ill-treatment at the hands of the older boys. He was mauled and mistreated so badly this could have been a cause of his insanity later in life.

When he was twenty- one he entered the legal profession, but the strain put on him when he was to be examined for a job caused the first of many mental breakdowns. He tried to commit suicide many times, but never succeeded. He bought poison, but couldn't take it; he bought a large knife, but didn't have the courage to send it to his heart. He attempted to hang himself, but the garter broke. After these attempts he was put in an asylum, where his fears that God "had it in for him" only grew.

When he was thirty-three, through a visit from a brother, he regained his senses for a time and came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This led to his writing, "0 For a Closer Walk With God." Soon after, his only romance was ended almost before it began. Only his close friend John Newton kept him from taking his life.

It was at a similarly low point in his life spiritually that he ordered the carriage driver to take him to the river so he could drown himself. The carriage driver was confused. "Did you say God ordered you to take your own life?" he asked. "Yes, Mr. Cowper answered, "God hates me. You see, I am not one of God's elect. And because I have not been elected to salvation I am to be eternally damned. And as my punishment God has ordered me to slay myself."

The carriage driver realized that his passenger was not in a right state of mind. Providentially, at this moment when he was trying to decide what to do with his passenger, a dense fog rolled in, so that it was impossible to see where he was going. He purposefully "lost" his way in the fog, driving up one street and down another until he realized that his passenger was asleep. He stopped in front of the house where he had picked up Mr. Cowper. "Here we are, sir."

Mr. Cowper woke from his sleep. "We are back home. How is that?" he asked. The driver answered, "Got lost in the fog, sir. Sorry." Mr. Cowper was confused. "Where did I tell you to go?" he questioned. The driver had to answer, "To the river, sir, so you could drown yourself, because you said that God told you to." "Then thank God for sparing me," was his reply. “God be thanked for having overruled my foolish designs. I must have been in one of my melancholic moods, but I'm all right now, thanks to His great mercy." That same evening, reflecting upon his narrow escape from death, He wrote these words in his autobiographical hymn:

"God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, And rides upon the storm."

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

January 3, 2011

Info Sheet for New Students

I have had people ask in the past, and someone asked me recently, about the information sheet I use for my new students. So I decided to write a post about it for you all!

Now you'll know my secret...I actually use these files from Natalie over at Music Matters Blog. I have thought about making my own that suit my needs, but for now these are working great. There is one for the student, one for the parent, and some activities to determine where the student is musically. She also has a similar file for transfer students.

What I usually do is highlight the questions I want the student or parent to answer. For each new student it has been different. For instance, some of my students are adults, and so they don't bring their parents to the lessons. No kidding, right? :) So in this case, I highlight things from the student sheet and the parent sheet for them to fill out.

Another thing that makes a difference is how well I know the student. I may not need to know some things about them, like their parents names. Just depending on the circumstance. Highlighting seems to work well. Maybe one of these days I will write out my own sheets, but I think these ones work great!

Do you have a method you use that you would like to share??