4 Ways To Turn This Puzzle Into A Piano Teaching Tool

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With a creative mindset, The Dollar Tree can be a piano teacher’s greatest resource! Here is my latest find and how you can use it to make your piano teaching life easier – and more fun!

With 5 minutes and a sharpie, you can transform this simple wooden puzzle into a visual tool for:

1. Teaching Whole Note, Half Note and Quarter Note recognition and their matching rests.

2. Help students understand the concept of REST in music by asking – What side of the house is quite?

3. Help students understand the concept of Symbols representing sound in music by asking – What side of the house do you think is noisy?

4. Reinforce the concepts above by sending an unopened puzzle home with your student (You can afford it – remember it only costs $1). Have your student draw the symbols on the  puzzle and take a picture of it at home to show you their creation at the next lesson.

Bonus: Use the back of the puzzle to write steps 1-4 down (with a sharpie) to help you remember for the next time you use this!

Here is what your final creation will look like – unnamed-22

I found a few other cool things at my last trip to The Dollar Tree which I’ll be sharing in my next post! In the meantime, what everyday things have you transformed into piano teaching tools? Share in a comment below to help other teachers make piano lessons fun!

 

7 Ways To Make Piano Recitals More Interesting

Piano Concert moment

Unfortunately, many people have negative memories centered around piano recitals. This can make it difficult to persuade Uncle Joe to come to hear little Susie play her piano piece at the annual recital. It can also make it hard to persuade little Susie’s mom and dad to stay for the entire recital. Even the fear of future negative memories centered around piano recitals can make it almost impossible to get little Susie to agree to play in the piano recital. So, what’s a piano teacher to do?

Here are 7 ways to make sure Uncle Joe, Susie, her mom, and her dad not only attend the recital, but thoroughly enjoy it as well!

1. Give your recital a “cool” upgrade and call it a CONCERT instead.

Let’s face it – most people associate the word recital with boredom. How many people do you know who are telling their friends they can’t wait for the next recital? On the other hand, how many people are proud to announce that they have tickets to see their favorite artist in concert? I’m just saying…

2. Allow students to play more than one song and put one song at the beginning of the concert and the other later in the program.

This will work especially well if the pieces your students play are short. Be sure to keep concerts no longer than about 90 minutes at the most.

3. Highlight other talents your students have.

If you have a student who loves to sing, have her sing while playing.

4. Encourage students to collaborate.

Have one student play the piano while another student sings.

5. Promote interaction with the audience.

In the picture above, a student and I get the audience to chant the main phrase of the song we had just performed as a duet.

6. Invite other artists to be special guests at your concert.

Dancers, singers, poets, and instrumentalists who play something other than the piano are good choices. It gives the audience a break from piano music, gives you time to get kids ready for whatever comes next, and exposes your students to the other performing arts.

7. Consider having parents and students collaborate.

You may have parents who sing, act, dance, etc. Ask them to accompany one of your students as they play the piano. This works really well when you pair parents up with kids other than their own.

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Non-Traditional Performance Opportunities

One of my goals in teaching piano is to help my students integrate music making with everyday life. When students realize that they can play their instrument for more than just an annual recital or formal concert, lessons become more meaningful. More meaningful lessons means more dedicated students!

As music educators we realize that music is everywhere. Our students, however, may not be consciously aware of this fact. It is up to us to help them notice music that is in their everyday lives. One way we can do this is to seek out non-traditional performance opportunities for our students. One of the best ways to do this is to consider the other activities in which the students participate. For instance, I have several piano students who are also studying dance. Dance classes are perfect performance opportunities for piano players! Who says dancers have to use pre-recorded music?

The picture above shows one of my students (in this instance, my daughter) accompanying at a dance class. This was a great opportunity to gain experience working with other kids in the arts. The fact that the dancers were friends of hers was also very encouraging and it made it seem more like “play” than performance or practice. (Isn’t that what music making should be?)

From a piano pedagogy standpoint, the piano student who accompanies dance classes can gain a deeper understanding of rhythm and the need to keep a steady beat. Watching and being aware of the dancers’ movements also helps the student feel the pulse of the music. What about helping with expression? Yes, of course! Having someone dance to the music as a student plays can help the student play more expressively and improves phrasing. These things are possible because suddenly the music has a purpose beyond the physical acts involved in playing the instrument.

An added bonus for this non-traditional performance opportunity is the student’s interaction with the dance instructor. In this type of situation the student must be able to receive direction from a teacher other than the piano teacher. This is so important for helping the student broaden his or her idea of what it means to take piano lessons. Sometimes students place their lessons in a box where they only use their skills for their piano teacher. Playing for a teacher in a different area of the arts forces the student to become the expert concerning the music they are playing. They must use the knowledge that they have about their instrument and apply to what the dance teacher is asking them to do. This translates into higher levels of confidence which of course makes better performances possible.

Finally, an added benefit of this non-traditional performance opportunity was that some of the dancers became interested in playing the piano!

If you teach music or have a child who takes dance classes, I would highly recommend you speak with a dance teacher in your area about the possibility of your students accompanying for the dance class. Accompanying for the warm up section of the dance class can be a great way to start.

What are some other non-traditional performance opportunities that you offer your students?

Let Them Have The Spotlight

Violin

When my son signed up for orchestra at his school a couple of years ago I learned a valuable lesson as a parent. It is a lesson that I believe that piano playing parents who have enrolled their children in piano lessons can benefit from as well. So here it is…

Violin was my son’s instrument of choice that year. He was very excited when we got home from the music store with his brand new violin. I was excited too! I had never played a violin before, but knowing that music is in the musician and not in the instrument, I decided to try playing a simple tune on it. Before my son could get in the house good, I was playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on his violin. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t perfect technique wise, but it was recognizable. I was proud of myself for being able to demonstrate that an instrument is merely a tool in a musician’s hands much like a pen is a tool in a writer’s hands. It doesn’t matter what kind of pen the writer uses – he can still write with it. Just as I was about to pat myself on the back for my musical genius (lol), I looked up to find that my son was less than impressed. In fact, he was upset.

Why was he upset, you may ask? The violin was supposed to be HIS thing, not MY thing! He wanted to impress me with his ability to play the violin and to show me that he could do something that I could not. He didn’t say this to me, but I realized it just from looking at his response. From that moment on, I did not pick up his violin  – at least not when he was home! He went on to qualify for the Honor’s Orchestra by the end of the school year and I went on being grateful that I have a healthy, happy son who is able to enjoy music all on his own!

So, what am I saying to piano playing parents? Let your children take the lead when it comes to whether or not you should play the piano with or for them. Resist the urge to show them that you can play the rest of the song that they just started learning. Give them the joy of inviting you to the piano to play along or sing along, or just listen! They will be much more cooperative because they can own their musical education. Once they feel that sense of ownership, they will be glad to share in many musical experiences with you!

How Do You Get Piano Students To Sing or Even Hum?

 

When it comes to music I am a firm believer that if you can sing it, you can play it. As a singer, I am completely baffled by the fact that students attempt to learn how to play the piano without being able to sing or even hum the tune they wish to play. Equally disturbing to me is the number of students who will sing the tune, but consistently do it without regard to the correct pitch. I’ve seen this over and over again in piano lessons. When I ask a student to sing the melody of the song they are learning, they look at me with a blank stare as if to say, “You can’t be serious”. Then when they realize that I am serious, they simply ignore the request as they continue to struggle through the tune. Try as I might to convince students that I am not asking for a polished professional, melodious sound they still cringe at the thought of hearing their own voice. I’m wondering what other teachers do about this. So, the floor is now open for suggestions!

 

Wisdom From J.R. Ewing of the TV Series, Dallas

 

“Never pass up a good chance to shut up.”

 

Those are the words I heard J.R. Ewing say as I watched the TV series Dallas a few days ago in an episode from this past season. You just never know when you are going to hear a bit of wisdom like that! It was such an unexpected comment – he was speaking to his son about business negotiations – that I had to rewind it just to hear it again!

Of course I relate most things to music, music teaching, and/or parenting. I think the statement applies to all three, actually. Great musicians know that there is much beauty in well placed silence. Great music teachers know that deliberate moments of silence allow students time to understand more deeply, to explore, and to create. These same moments of silence are what give life to music and allow the notes to breathe. Great parents know that when we are silent we can hear our children speak – not merely by their words, but by their actions and by the way they respond to various situations.

So, kudos to the writer or writers responsible for this magnificent line! And now here is my chance to shut up.

 

Tool To Help Students Considering Music As A Career

Majoringinmusic.com offers articles, advice, and links on choosing a music school, majoring in music, and building a successful music career. Listed in the most recent issue of American Music Teacher Magazine, a publication of the Music Teacher’s National Association, the site has a wealth of useful information that teachers can use as they help students develop the technical skills necessary for further study. There are articles for parents and students with practical real world implications of a career in music from financing your education and your life to honing your skills as well.

I might even do a studio wide project on becoming a professional musician using this site.  Any ideas? Share them in a comment!