March 31, 2011

The 8 Days of Piano Practice

My siblings and I used to have a teacher that would talk about how every student has the same 8 days of practice a week. "8 days?" you say? Yes, 8 days. And I know there are only 7 days in a week, thank you very much. :) Here is how 8 days works out: Your lesson is on Friday, so on Friday evening when you get home from your lesson, you practice. Then you practice the other 6 days from Saturday to Thursday, and then before your lesson the next Friday, you practice again. See? 8 days. :) On that week's songs anyway.

Let me just say that I don't require my students to practice on Sunday. If they want to then that is up to them, but I believe that Sunday should be a day of rest and focused on the Lord, so I don't require it. There are, however, still potentially 8 days of practice available to each of my students.

Here is a little humor for you as you reflect on the 8 days of piano practice. :) Enjoy!

The 8 Days of Piano Practice

by Stephanie Risinger

Age 18

The first day of practice,

Though your lesson was long;

You rush home excited,

To try your new song.

The second is more fun

As new songs you play;

You practice and practice

That fun song all day.

The third day you realize,

That you were all wrong;

There really are sharps,

In that so called “fun song.”

So, the fourth day you labor,

That song you can’t play!

So you practice and practice,

You practice all day!

The fifth day you’re yawning,

While playing along,

But wait! You have skipped

That very hard song!

You’re bored of that song,

But I’ll give you a tip:

Your teacher will know of,

These days that you skip.

The seventh day you realize,

Your lesson's tomorrow!

So you practice that song,

That fills you with sorrow.

On the day of your lesson,

You practice all morn;

But your teacher does lecture,

And you leave forlorn.

So now learn this lesson,

And practice eight days;

For soon you will realize,

That practicing pays!

(This was written by my sister as a school assignment. The "lesson was long" part is no reflection of my teaching, just so you know. :))

March 28, 2011

Inside My Piano

Ever wondered what the inside of your piano looks like??

It doesn’t have to be a mystery! The other day I needed to take our church piano apart, and so I thought I would share a few pictures and explanations with you.

Let me say, first of all, I DO NOT recommend doing this by yourself. This post is by no means a tutorial, because every piano is different. I took a class on piano tuning and repair in college, so while I don’t know everything about it, I was taught how to safely take the piano apart. Doing something incorrectly could at best result in rattle sounds when you play, and what is more annoying than a piano that rattles?? If you want to learn how, ask your piano tuner to show you.

So the short story is, don’t try this at home, kids.

My purpose in taking the piano apart was to get underneath the keys. This is a great place to look if you need some loose change. Just kidding. :) There are all kinds of treasures to be found underneath our piano keys, however! Paper clips, money, paper, you name it. If you have keys that do not play well, this could be why! Again, go ahead and ask your piano tuner to pull these keys up and check for treasures underneath. I was lucky enough to find a mouse nest once. ((((((((disgusting!!!!))))))))

Here is how our piano comes apart:

After lifting the top, we had to loosen two screws to get the front piece off:

There’s the screw! Once these are loosened, it is a simple matter of lifting the whole front up and off. This reveals the action of the piano...the hammers, strings, and all that comes with it!

Then we took off the cover over the keys. It’s easiest to just get that out of the way. Ours comes off with just two small screws on each side.

Here are our piano parts all over the floor:

The last thing we needed to take off was the long wooden piece that sits on the top of the visible keys. That comes off with two of these:

and two long screws on the ends:

Ta-da! There are the long keys, ready to be carefully lifted out.

Here is a shot of the keys and the action of the piano:

Beautiful, just beautiful.

Here is the reason we took all this apart:

Each individual key rests on one of these green pads. If you look carefully, you can see that these pads have holes in them. That is because they are disintegrating! We are working on getting those replaced, and improving the “playability” of the piano.

I am interested in knowing if any of you piano teachers ever include “how the piano works” in your lessons? I am thinking of maybe taking the piano apart and showing my students how it works, and then letting them play without the front of the piano on. That way they can watch the hammers strike. I think it would be interesting, especially for those that only play on a keyboard. What do you think?

March 23, 2011

Hymn History - Come Thou Fount

Come Thou Fount

The year was 1773. A group of boys from one of the local gangs had cornered a poor gipsy woman and were drowning her in liquor. They were determined to get her to the place that she was so drunk that she would tell them their fortunes for free. Turning to one in the circle of young men, she told him that evil fortune awaited him. “She’s drunk, she doesn’t know what she’s saying.”

She then turned to young Robert Robinson, and told him, “You will live to see your children and grandchildren.” Robinson suddenly paled and said, “You are right, she doesn’t know what she is saying. Lets get out of here.”

Although he tried to act unconcerned, Robinson was haunted for the rest of the day. He could not get the gypsy woman out of his head. What she had said had scared him. If he was going to live to see his children and grandchildren, he was going to have to change his lifestyle. So that very night, he suggested to his pals that they go to a local revival meeting, on the pretense of making fun of the preacher. The preacher that night was George Whitfield. He preached from Matthew 3:7, and it deeply affected Robinson. He felt that the preacher was speaking directly to him. Over 2 years passed, however, before he accepted Christ as his Saviour.

After his conversion, Robinson joined the Methodist church, and soon after was called to preach. He was appointed by John Wesley to the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Norfolk, England. Three years after his salvation, to celebrate Pentecost, He penned his spiritual autobiography in this song.

The second verse reads, “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by thy help I’m come.” This phrase was taken from the book of I Samuel, in which Samuel raised up a stone after a battle fought with the Philistines. He called it “Ebenezer,” saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

Although he wrote many other hymns, “Come Thou Fount” remained the best-loved and most well-known. He died in 1790, at the age of 55, just as he always wished to, “soft suddenly, and alone.”

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

~Ernest K. Emurian, Living Stories of Famous Hymns

March 22, 2011

My Favorite Flashcards

I have mentioned once or twice my insane love of the color-coded flash cards that I use. Here are my reasons why!

They are colorful. I am all about anything colorful, and we all know that bright colors appeal to kids, and many times to adults, too!

They are inclusive. They cover practically everything a student needs to know for a very long time. In fact, off the top of my head I can’t think of anything else a student could drill! Here’s the breakdown:

Yellow: Clef signs and all notes on staff and ledger lines

Pink: Note values, time signatures

White: Musical terms, tempo marks, dynamic signs

Green: Symbols

Blue: Key signatures and intervals

They have more uses than just being boring flashcards. Because they are cleanly printed and large enough to be clearly seen, they can be used to play games as well. Use your imagination! Don’t let them seem like a drudgery, find a way to make them interesting for your students. I shared here how I am using them to help my students into the One Minute Club. They are working extremely well for that purpose!

They are inexpensive. I usually order mine through (Note: When you go to check out, will ask you to select a distributor in your area. I usually use or I hesitated at first, wondering if it was worth it to buy flash cards or if I should just print my own freebies, but the reasons I mentioned above sold me very quickly. I think I may have pondered it for about 3.5 seconds. It is a wise investment of a few of our dollars!

Here is how I present them to a student the first time. For a beginner, I usually go through the yellow and pink sections and select the ones I feel appropriate for the student. I usually will start with the notes in the Middle C and C positions. I don’t want to confuse the student by giving them ledger line notes, etc. Depending on the student I may just give them the notes in Middle C position and add the others as they learn them. I also select the pink cards that they will learn first - 4/4 time, 3/4 time, quarter, half, and whole notes, etc.

I put these selected cards in a binder clip and assign those to the student for the first few weeks. (I do send all of the cards home with them, though, so that if they get ambitious and want to look through them they can.) For a young student I assign 5 minutes a day/5 days a week. For an older student I assign 10 minutes a day/5 days per week. I encourage them to take them with them when they go places that they will have a few minutes of extra time - waiting rooms, car rides, etc. Unlike regular piano practice, these can go anywhere!

I don’t drill the cards at every lesson, but I do at most. I think that this gives a little motivation for the student to spend quality time with their flash cards during the week. They know I will be checking up on how they are coming!

I also supplement flash cards with games and activities that go over the same notes. More about that here.

I encourage you to check out these flash cards for yourself! I think you will quickly fall in love with them as I did! And I would love to know how you use flash cards in your studio.

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked in any way to give this plug about these flash cards. I just seriously adore them and wanted to share the love! There is plenty to go around!

March 17, 2011

Testing, 1, 2, 3...

I have just added a new element to this blog to hopefully aid in interacting with you, all of my illustrious readers! Thanks to Anne's post about responding to reader comments, I was able to figure out how to add a button to reply to each of your individual comments...I hope! It required editing my blogs HTML...which is s.c.a.r.y.! :)

So now I'd love to try it out. Leave me a comment on any post, and I will try to respond directly to your comment by using the new button. Let me know if it works on your end of things! I'm excited about the possibilities this holds.

March 14, 2011

Teaching Aids: Grand Staff

Someone asked me to share how I made my staff sheets mentioned in this post. I use these over and over while teaching, as there are always things that need to be reinforced on the staff.

Here is a picture of the treble and bass staves I made when I was in college:

All I did here was take a black Sharpie to a piece of white cardstock. I use a ruler to (try to) make my lines evenly spaced and straight. I penciled it all in before I made it permanent, as my artistic ability is as lacking as my creative juices! :) I find these staffs plenty big enough to fill in note names, practice drawing notes, teach the stem rule, etc. Because they are laminated, we can write on them with dry-erase markers and use them over and over. I also made these notes and time signatures out of cardstock and had those laminated as well. This way a student can arrange measures of their own and then play them.

Here is my large staff, drawn on a poster board. I made this the same way as the others, only on a bigger scale. I had to use a yardstick instead of a ruler. :)

I cut the circles you see out of colored cardstock to fit this staff. I put numbers on some of them for a student to make major scales with scale degrees, or to make chords and intervals.

If you need a smaller staff, Susan Paradis has some printable ones on her site. (Scroll down this page to find the different ones.) Some have fun graphics, but there are plain ones as well. I have several of these laminated as well. I often pull them out at a moments notice to be able to demonstrate things on the staff without messing up my student’s book.

Hope this information is helpful! Has anyone else done DIY projects like this?

March 11, 2011

Ways to Use Resources

In my last post, I talked about how to keep all the very helpful information we get of the internet straight, and how to decide what is best for your own students and studio.

Today I am sharing an example of how to make all of the games, activities, worksheets, etc. work for you in accomplishing your goals. This is just a suggestion, this may not work for you, but it may get some wheels rolling in your mind to help you along your way. At least, I hope it helps you along your way!

Note names and recognition is probably one of the most important things a student learns in their first months of lessons. So because most of my students fall into that category, I decided to take this semester of lessons as "Note Recognition Emphasis Semester." Ok, so I don't really call it that, blech, but we do have this as our emphasis.

My goal is to get all my students in the "One Minute Club", an idea and resource from Susan Paradis. This encourages them to be able to play and say all the notes on the staff in a minute or less. They already were using flashcards, so this just gives them an extra motivation to learn them! All of them have accepted the challenge and are making rapid progress.

So with this as our goal, I plan many note-related games, activities and worksheets to help drill those notes. Let me just tell you, the possibilities are ENDLESS!!! I have had so much fun brainstorming ideas and coming up with activities, or adapting activities to fit what I need. Here are a few resources I have used:

I used this sheet and the Shamrock cards in a variety of ways! Students can draw a card, and then put a small gem on the appropriate note until they fill in all the spots. I also used the cards to have a race against the student down the keyboard. (I believe I read about that activity somewhere, but I don't remember where! If you know, please remind me!) Susan has some suggestions of her own at the bottom of the post, some of those may work for you as well.

I have a large treble staff and a large bass staff that I made when I was in college. I use them again and again! For one activity, I gave the student the bass staff and I took the treble staff. We then rolled one of these dice from Joy that has the music alphabet, and we each tried to fill in our staff first. Bass clef always seems to be harder for the students to learn, so by giving them the bass staff they were able to concentrate on those notes.

Susan Paradis also has these cards with the musical alphabet on them, and these can be used in a variety of ways, as well as the way shown on this post. I have a large grand staff that I drew on a poster board, and these cards work great on that. Here they are again, only bigger!

I also use some timed drills every so often to give the students a bit of a challenge. Here are the drills I use most frequently, (scroll down to "Ready Set Go!" Speed Tests) but I also use these. Some students really like the challenge of getting them all right, and then trying to beat their time on the next line.

Oh, and in case you were wondering what flashcards I use....these ones can not be beat! They are my all time favorite and include many things for the student to drill, not just notes.

Well, there are oodles of possibilities out there! Did you get that picture yet?? :) And this is just in one area of piano! Hopefully this gives you an idea, though, of how to put everything together and make it fit your needs.

What other ways do you incorporate these things into your teaching??

March 8, 2011

Keeping It All Straight

Have you noticed that there are many great resources out there for piano teachers?? No kidding, Nicole, thats what this blog is all about! When I first began teaching my siblings, I felt overwhelmed with all that was available. You have to understand, when it comes to creative juices, mine don’t flow...I don’t even think I have any to flow! :) So I depend largely on those that do have creative juices. I do sometimes come up with my own things, but I don’t have nearly as easy of a time with it as some of you. How did you get all the creativity??

So I search. I search high and low for what would be most suitable for me. When I first began with my siblings, I loved everything I found, and wanted to print everything off and try it! Some of it worked, and some of it didn’t. At first I felt discouraged that my siblings didn’t absolutely heart everything that I did. Then I realized that I just needed to find what worked best for them and for me as I taught.

This resulted in more research and more overwhelming material! Fun, fun! Before you think that I’m complaining about it, let me assure you that I absolutely love reading piano blogs and websites and looking at all the great stuff out there! But it can be hard to figure out what I need for my studio. Here are a few basic points to keep in mind while doing that unending research and forming lesson plans.

Less is usually best. If you print off every great thing you see, not only will you use a ton of printer ink, but you will also have waaaay more material than you can use! Your lessons are only so long, and your students can only process and retain so much information. Use what will fit into the lesson, both time-wise and practically.

Consider the needs of your students. You may find a great game that reinforces finger numbers, but it is a waste of time and ink if this student knows her fingers like the back of her hand. No pun intended. :) Keep in mind the individual needs of your students. What concepts are they struggling with? What sorts of things do they enjoy doing? Your students were not all cut from the same cloth, and each activity is not going to fit them.

Example: I had a wicked fun game to use with each of my students. It was a quick race down the keyboard between the student and myself. It had worked well with several students so far! Then as I went to explain it to a beginner student, I decided not to play it as a fast-paced race at the last second. She was a beginning student, and since she was racing against me, I would have had to obviously “let” her win. I personally don’t think there is any satisfaction is being made to win. So instead, we played it at a slower pace, still between the two of us. And she won! Fairly and honestly. It was a much better way to play this particular game with her.

Keep your goals in mind. What goals are you pushing towards with each of your students? What goals do you have for your studio in general? If you have a theme for your year, find things that go along with that theme, or reinforce your main concept. This helps things to flow together in your students minds, not just, “here’s a random game.” Not like you would actually say that, but that message will be conveyed unless there is a purpose behind what you do.

Use variety. I think someone should write a book entitled, “101 Ways to Play Bingo-Type Games in Piano Lessons.” :) I’m not against bingo-type games. I have used a few of the great ones out there, and my students do seem to enjoy them. But I have also passed over a few I’ve found that may have been what I was looking for, but we had already played some of these type recently. I’m not picking on the bingo ones, I’m just saying that variety is best. There are many, many ways to reinforce a concept if you use your imagination! (An extra bonus is if you have some of those creative juices I talked about!)

Those are some of the ways I funnel and process all the great things I find on the web. I’d love to hear from you! Do you often use things you find from other teachers? How do you make it all come together in your studio? Most of all, do you have creative juices? If you do, are you willing to share them?? :)

March 3, 2011

Music Sermons

I recently listened to two great sermons from Ambassador Baptist College...which just happens to be my alma mater. :) The preacher was Tim doubt you recognize the name! If you don't, he is a singer who has recorded several CD's with his wife or Mac Lynch. He is also part of the SMS mens choir, who also has several recordings.

These two messages, one entitled "A New Song" and one entitled "Why Do I Sing" were both a huge encouragement and challenge to me as a musician! He really explored in detail why we as Christians have the musical standards we do, and how to use our music to honor and glorify God. Both of these areas should be vitally important to the Christian musician!

I would challenge each of you to head over to the ABC sermon page and listen to these messages yourself. (Scroll down on the page until you see those two messages) Listen with a paper and pen in hand, an open Bible, and an open heart to challenge you. Then please come back here and let me know what you thought!

March 2, 2011

Hymn History - The Ninety and Nine

The Ninety And Nine

D.L. Moody and Ira Sankey were holding one of their famous meetings in the British Isles in 1874. They were on their way to Edinburgh, after being in Glasgow. Mr. Moody was engrossed in reading and answering his mail, and Mr. Sankey got bored. He bought a newspaper and began to read the latest American news. It was while reading this paper that he came across a poem that changed his day.

In a corner of the paper was a poem entitled the Ninety and Nine. Mr. Sankey read it and was so thrilled by it that he exclaimed to Mr. Moody, “This is just what I have been looking for, a shepherd’s hymn.” Mr. Moody was so engrossed in his mail that he didn’t even acknowledge Mr. Sankey’s statement. He dropped the subject, but not before he tore the poem out of the paper.

During that week of meetings, Dr. Horatius Bonar was asked to participate with Mr. Moody in the meeting. He spoke on the subject of the good shepherd. Mr. Sankey knew that he would be called upon to sing the invitation hymn at the end of the message. He was accustomed to picking a hymn that would correspond with the message preached, sometimes using hymns that he had written. He was puzzled for a while as to what song to sing. Although he knew hundreds of hymns, he could not come up with an appropriate one for this message. Some titles came to mind, so he searched his pockets for a scrap of paper to write them on. While searching for paper, his fingers felt the poem he had torn out of the paper a few days earlier. He was later to say, “A voice seemed to say to me, ‘Sing that hymn.’ ‘But I have no music,’ I replied. But again the voice insisted, ‘Sing that hymn!’ It was then that I heard Mr. Moody say, ‘And now Mr. Sankey will sing.’ I arose, went over and sat down at the organ. As I touched the keys, there came to me, note by note, the tune as it is sung today. I must admit that as I finished the first stanza I wondered if the melody would stay with me for the remaining stanzas, but God was good. Nothing changed, not a single note. When I had finished, Mr. Moody came and leaned over the little organ. I could see tears in his eyes and I heard him say, ‘Where in the world did you get that?’ At the moment I could not reply for to me, also, it had been an unusual experience.”

For some time the writer of that poem was not known. It was several years later that it was found that it had been written by 21-year-old Elizabeth Clephane, and also that she had died a couple years before it was printed. She was the daughter of a sheriff and a devoted Christian. She had a prodigal brother who she prayed for constantly and about whom she wrote the poem. We do not have any account of the brother ever coming to repentance.

--Al Smith’s “Hymn Histories”

There were ninety and nine that safely lay
In the shelter of the fold.
But one was out on the hills away,
Far off from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.
Away from the tender Shepherd’s care.

“Lord, Thou hast here Thy ninety and nine;
Are they not enough for Thee?”
But the Shepherd made answer: “This of Mine
Has wandered away from Me;
And although the road be rough and steep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep,
I go to the desert to find My sheep.”

But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed;
Nor how dark was the night the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
Out in the desert He heard its cry,
Sick and helpless and ready to die;
Sick and helpless and ready to die.

“Lord, whence are those blood drops all the way
That mark out the mountain’s track?”
“They were shed for one who had gone astray
Ere the Shepherd could bring him back.”
“Lord, whence are Thy hands so rent and torn?”
“They are pierced tonight by many a thorn;
They are pierced tonight by many a thorn.”

And all through the mountains, thunder riven
And up from the rocky steep,
There arose a glad cry to the gate of Heaven,
“Rejoice! I have found My sheep!”
And the angels echoed around the throne,
“Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!
Rejoice, for the Lord brings back His own!