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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.

April 26, 2011

Star Players

When I was in college, I picked up these flashcards for my piano pedagogy file I had to build:
They are a lot of fun, because they are in the shape of stars. I have never used them as traditional flashcards, though, but always as special games or something different.

The trouble was, they were a little too see-through. They are yellow on the printed side, but the backs were just white. {boring} I did not want my students to be able to see through them! So I glued orange and pink cardstock on the back of them.

Because I'm weird like this, here is a picture of my work space:

I worked on these the same night that I worked on doing some more organizing, hence all the different things that are out. And when you are just gluing and cutting, a movie makes things go way quicker. :)

The first few I tried, I just used good 'ol Elmers to glue them on the cardstock. (As seen in the picture above.) I found that this made the stars curl and bubble. Not good. So I dug out a glue stick that I already had (and had forgotten about) that is made for scrapbooking, and guaranteed not to bubble. Bingo! Worked like a charm. I think that rubber cement would also work.

Here are the stars glued onto construction paper:
And then I just simply cut them out.

This week, I came up with a game to play with these stars. Since they have different symbols and music signs on them, I figured it would be a good way to review.

I laid a few out on the floor like this:
I pick new ones for every student so that they are mostly ones that student has already learned. Then the student and I take turns throwing a small beany ball and trying to hit a star. When we hit a star, we go turn it over and talk about what is on the other side. If we miss, the ball goes to the other person. Simple, but fun!

Don't you just love how the camera made them "shine" in this picture??

Since the stars have the answers right on them (grrr) I have the student say what that sign does or means or how many beats it gets, depending on what it is. It makes for a good review!

Its been a fun game so far, and all my students have loved being able to throw things. :) You could easily make this game using just cardstock, or foam shapes, and printing your own signs and symbols on them. I love activities and teaching aids like this where the possibilities are endless!

April 23, 2011

Organizing Some Teaching Materials

At the beginning of the year I shared a little bit about how I keep some of my teaching files organized. Keeping things organized in a way that works best for us is a never-ending process. As the weeks go by, things change. We get more students. We print off about a thousand more worksheets and games. What we tried before isn't working as well as we want it to. So its time to try something else. That is the key to organizing...finding what works best, even if it takes a bagillion tries. (Think Thomas Edison thoughts)

So I decided to get some of my games and teaching aids a little more organized. I already had this expanding file, and I was already keeping all of these same things in it. But sometimes it was hard to find what I needed, and I was often forgetting about some of the great resources I had. I wanted to be able to see at a glance what all I had available.

So, I added some file folders to the expanding file. I labeled them with bright colors (because I {heart} bright colors) and presto! It made a world of difference!


Now I have it mostly organized with one pocket for teaching aids, one pocket for games, etc. The front two pockets hold some miscellaneous things that wouldn't fit as well in a folder. I can easily see them, anyway. I found that adding the folders made everything fit into the file better, and it became less bulky.

Now all I have to do is glance through the file, take out the game that I am looking for, and pop it into my students folder to take with me to the lesson that week. Phew, isn't lesson planning hard??? :)
So rather than, "Umm, just a minute.....I have this great game I want to play....it was right here last week.....it really is a great game, you'll love it.....ah, here it is! Wait, wheres that other part....." You get the picture. This has made planning out my lessons much easier!

I have two other expanding files with teaching things in it, only they are the half-sized ones. I don't think they make half-sized file folders! Anyone have any other ideas??

Have you been doing any organizing? I would love to see how you keep your teaching aids and games organized and easily accessible!

April 21, 2011

Easter Activities

As a Christian, as Easter approaches, my focus should be on Christ and what He has done for me on Calvary. My focus is not on chocolate, bunnies, eggs, and the other things that the world traditionally hold to at this time. This time of year is such a spiritually refreshing time for me as I reflect on what Christ has done for me and look forward to living with Him someday.

That being said, do bunnies, chocolate and eggs have any place in our piano studios? This is the thought I have been contemplating this Easter season. I would like to share with you the conclusion I have reached, and invite you to share with me your feelings on this subject.

I feel that my purpose as a piano teacher is primarily to teach piano. Profound statement, ey? :) I also feel that as a Christian piano teacher, I have the responsibility to bring honor and glory to God in everything that I do. So I do not believe that bunnies and eggs should be the focus of this time of year. However, I do not think that using anything with bunnies on it is wrong, either. At Christmastime, I used things with Christmas trees on them, didn't I? So I feel that occasionally using something with bunnies on it or giving out chocolate is not wrong. I mean for real, I'm not going to argue with chocolate. :)

If I was teaching Sunday School, I would not have bunnies in my classroom. The purpose of Sunday School is to point us to Christ, and I believe that is what the focus should be. But as I already said, my purpose in piano lessons is to teach piano, and so I don't think that I need to treat it as if it was a Sunday School class. I'm not picking on Sunday School, mind you, I'm just using that as an example.

So with all that said, I did use one worksheet this week with some of my students that had bunnies and eggs on it. You can find it here on Susan Paradis' site. It was fun and, oh look, it drills notes on the staff, which is exactly what we are working on right now. For my younger students that don't know the notes, I had them write "L" for line or "S" for space. Here is one of my students working on it.


So I would like to know, what is your opinion? I would encourage you all to leave a comment expressing your views on the subject. Let's all just remember to keep our comments sweet and for the purpose of benefiting others, not dragging them down.

April 19, 2011

The Practicing Game

Recently I read a great list of 10 Best Ways and 10 Worst Ways to Practice, found on Marcia Vahl's blog. Sarah, from Discoveries Piano Studio, also read this list, and made this handout available for all of us. Thank you Sarah!

I wanted so badly to get this into my students hands, but how to do it in a way they would remember and that we could talk about it, without just giving them the handout they would probably not read thoroughly? Well, Sarah came to my rescue again with her ideas, but I adapted them a little to meet my own studio needs.

I printed both lists out on bright cardstock, and cut them so there was one practicing tip on each piece. I then put both headings on the wall with sticky-tack, and throughout the week, each student got to pick one tip and put it under the appropriate heading. Here are some pictures of how that worked. (Since my explanation just didn't make a lick of sense!)

See? Each student reads through the list (or I would summarize it for them if they were too young to read) and picks one to add to the appropriate heading.

By the end of the week, we had this:

So this week, as each student comes back, they are excited to see the completed list! Then I give them Sarah's handout and we talk about each one. It seems like it is making sense!

Click here, and you can download these lists for your wall, as I have done above. There are 6 sheets to this printable, and I rearranged the lists so that you can use multiple colors and mix them up a little bit. You will notice that I left out a few from the original lists - things like "Repeat Step 1" didn't seem like it would make sense until they saw the handout.

I hope these are a help to you!

April 16, 2011

Hymn History - He Leadeth Me

He Leadeth Me


On April 29th, 1834, Joseph Gilmore was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was the governor of New Hampshire. Joseph received his education at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. His higher learning was received at Brown University and Newton Theological Seminary. He had the knowledge and speaking ability to become a politician, but God called him into the ministry. After his ordination, he worked as his father’s secretary for a while.


In 1862 he was a guest speaker at the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia. That Wednesday night he spoke on Psalm 23, majoring on the phrase, “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” Because the Civil War was going on, this subject was dear to the hearts of many people, including his own.


After the service, he and his wife went to the home of Deacon Watson, who lived next to the church. They talked for many hours about the message that night and the subject of the leadership of God. As they talked he took out a pen and paper and began to write. Before the night was over, he had written all the verses of this song. He handed them to his wife and promptly forgot about them.


Three years passed. One night he had a speaking engagement at the Second Baptist Church of Rochester, New York, to candidate for a possible pastorate there. Their hymnal was one that was foreign to him, so upon entering the auditorium, he picked it up to see what kind of songs were in it. To his astonishment, the first song his eyes fell on was his own, written in the home of Deacon Watson. Unbeknownst to him, his wife had sent it to “The Watchman and Reflector,” a paper published in Boston. William Bradbury had set the words to music and put them in a hymnal.


In 1926, the church and Deacon Watson’s home were torn down, and an office building for the United Gas Improvement Company was put in its place. On the front of the building is a bronze tablet paying tribute to Joseph Gilmore. The inscription begins with the first stanza of Joseph Gilmore’s song:


He leadeth me! O blessed thought!

O words with heavenly comfort fraught!

What e’re I do, where e’re I be,

Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.


~Lindsay Terry’s Musical Memories

April 14, 2011

Drawing a Grand Staff

I've written some about how I make my own worksheets, and I thought I would expand on that a little more and show you how to draw a grand staff. There was a time that I would have stayed away from making my own worksheets because of the embarrassment of my treble clef signs. :) But with practice, and a knowledge of how to do it, I think that I have gotten much better. (Please tell me I've gotten better!)

So without further ado, here is a Grand tutorial...I mean, a Grand Staff tutorial:
video

(Contrary to what my voice sounds like on here, I am not 12 years old. Even though I sound like I am. Just wanted to get that straightened out.)

How do you feel about drawing a Grand Staff?

April 13, 2011

Musical Alphagems

I was finally able to make the Musical Alphagems that Joy shared several months ago. I had a little bit of a hard time finding the clear glass gems. The ones I finally found aren’t that great. I had to discard half of them because of imperfections in the glass, but I was able to do a few.

Joys tutorial was very easy to follow, and my gems came out just like I wanted them to! I am so thankful for the printable that Joy made to aid in cutting these little babies out. It makes for tiny pieces of paper!


I have already used them with a couple of students. I took two of each letter and shook them up and then had my beginning students see how fast they could put them on the piano. These gems are great because they fit easily on the keys. So far my students have seemed to enjoy them and did well with this little challenge.

If you have the resources to make these gems, I encourage you to do so! They are a great addition to any studio.

April 11, 2011

New: Printables!

I am happy to share with you today a couple of printables. I shared with you before about my keyboard worksheet that I made to help my brother learn the fingering for cadence inversions. Yes, you can now download it for yourself! Feel free to use it in whatever way it will help you...it doesn't have to just be for cadences.



I also just tried my hand at making a little composing activity for a little beginner. He is 7 years old, and I wanted something that fit in with what he has learned already and it doing in his lesson book. This is what I came up with. I plan to work on it tomorrow at his lesson, so we will see how it works.

Since we know how bad my creativity is, I totally bombed trying to come up with a little rhyme to go along with this rhythm. I plan on having my student decide what he wants his song to be about, and then maybe we can come up with words together. If any of you think of some words to this, please feel free to share them!

I am still experimenting and learning about how to get these so you all can download them, so if any of the links above do not work properly, please let me know!

April 9, 2011

You Guys Make Me Ink!

If you've ever watched "Finding Nemo," you know the title for this post is a quote. But seriously, you all do make me ink. Well, you make my printer ink. Because you all provide such great printable material that I can't help it! I am so thankful for all of the great resources.

No matter how great they are, we all know that all these great printables leave us a little lacking on the ink side of things. Which then leaves our pockets devoid of moola, because ink is expensive. Well, sorrow no further!

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of Printer Filling Station, a company that supplies ink and refill kits at a waaaaaay cheaper price. They have ink for EVERY printer imaginable! Betcha didn't know that your ink cartridges were refillable, did you? Neither did I, but I am happy to report that I am a firm believer in it now!

I bought black and color ink for my printer, and the kits came with very simple instructions and the syringes to fill the cartridges. Seriously, I felt like a mad scientist. It was great. I spent as much money as I normally do for a set of cartridges, but the amount of ink I got will refill my printer many, many times. Such a better investment for my money!

I had a little trouble with my black ink cartridge, but the folks at Printer Filling Station were very helpful, and we got the ink running after a while. I had let the cartridge go empty before I filled it, and I guess HP ink is kinda fussy that way. So now I just keep my cartridges topped off, and everything runs smoothly.

So give them a try! I am sure you will not be disappointed. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask! I can not say enough good about my experience with Printer Filling Station.

I hope to add a list to my sidebar soon of resources such as Printer Filling Station. Stay tuned!

April 7, 2011

Giveaway You Won't Want To miss!

Head on over to "Pianoantics", where Anne is giving away a set of "Barnyard Friends"

Ok, so she's not giving away her friends, but a packet of material that she has designed. I really like the look of these for young students, and I would be eager to try them out! Watch the video...this thing captivates me, so I can imagine how much fun this would be with my students!

Hurry over for a chance to win! Thanks, Anne!

April 6, 2011

New Lesson Props

I picked up a couple things at my local Dollar store that have proven to add some fun to lessons. Here they are, with some of my ideas to use them.

This big clothespin is inspiring! I have it displaying the coveted "One Minute Cards" right now, but it will change occupation soon. It sure catches my students eyes when they sit down at the piano.

This is a dry erase board. I have a 7-year-old student that speaks English, but has only learned to read and write French. So I picked this up to practice spelling some words like rhythm, slur, quarter note, etc. I would write the first letter of the word and see if he could guess what I was spelling. He guessed "rhythm" on the first letter. I got him on "octave," though. :) Then I had him copy each one. He seemed to enjoy it...and enjoyed showing his mother when he was done!

Here is what the back of the board looks like:

All my young students are really into Toy Story right now, so having this as an alternative to the normal "white board" will be fun.

Any suggestions on other ways I could use these?



April 4, 2011

Interview with Natalie

I recently read a very interesting interview with Natalie from Music Matters Blog. You can find the interview here at Easy Ear Training. I love reading anything Natalie writes about anyway, but I found this interview very thought provoking. I enjoyed reading more about Natalie's piano lessons as a child. I am hoping that none of us piano teachers fold laundry during lessons!

Another interesting part of the article was what Natalie had to say about helping students listen to their own music. This is a difficult concept to get across to students! (And I find, that just because they do it at the lesson in no way guarantees that they do it at home! :S)

Thank you, Natalie, for your insight! I hope to implement some of these things into my own teaching.