Food For The Music Teacher’s Soul: Performing Live

As music teachers we spend hours preparing lessons, music learning games, and performances for our students. After doing an adequate amount of scouring music teaching blogs and piano teaching blogs, and attending student concerts and recitals there is little time left to devote to our own musical development. The interesting thing is that the missing ingredient in most music teachers’ studio marketing plans is consistent performance by the teacher!  I will speak specifically as a piano teacher, but what I am saying is true no matter what instrument the teacher teaches. The same thing we tell our students applies to us – in order to get better at playing your instrument, you have to PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT!

I know from my own personal experience how difficult it can be to carve out time to flex your performance muscles when you are a music teacher. I also know that carving this time out is absolutely essential. It is also life-giving! The video about is proof of that.

Last weekend I was blessed with the opportunity and challenge to play in the faculty concert for the music camp where I taught. Getting to this point took a couple of years of trying to find time to collaborate with the other teachers because our schedules are so varied. Thankfully one of the faculty members, Russell Ferrara (fabulous guitarist who is fluid in numerous genres) never gave up and simply insisted that we make it happen. Oddly enough it took his persistence to get me and fellow teacher Derwyn Browne playing together for the first time although we work together often and live near each other. Russell lives a thousand miles away!

I can definitely say that it was well worth the wait and that we should have done this sooner. If you haven’t played in a while, please let me suggest that you get out there and go for it! Why should our students be the only ones who get to play? Why should they be the only ones who experience the rush that comes from an audience erupting with applause? Why should they be the only ones who get that undeniable sense of satisfaction from having done their best onstage?

If you haven’t done so already, watch the video. I hope it will inspire you to go out and play!

Picture Book Recital Preparation:The Maestro Plays

The Maestro Plays

Performance season is here – is anybody feeling the pressure yet? I’ve certainly written a lot about performance season lately and here I am doing it again! I can’t help it! Today while shopping at a second-hand store I found this 1970 edition of a charming little picture book by Bill Martin, Jr. Although the story is not about a pianist, I’m going to share it with my students after the Thanksgiving break to help them prepare for their upcoming performances.

In The Maestro Plays,  we get to experience a full concert performance by a presumably super – talented violinist. With each page we are given new adverbs to describe how he plays  – wingingly, tingingly, drippingly. These are just a sampling of the buffet of picturesque words the author uses to arouse our imaginations. His words along with the colorful artwork in the book simulate a powerful, moving, and engaging concert performance.

I plan to read the book with each student and challenge them to apply the language used in the book to their own playing to help them experiment with different ways to convey their musical messages.

The book is recommended for ages 4-8, but I think there is still a bit of a kid in some of our older students as well. I have not been able to find many copies of the edition I purchased, however there is a newer edition with a different illustrator available as well.

I’d love to hear about things you do to get your students ready for performances! So, if you enjoyed this post and/or have performance prep tips to share please leave a comment below.

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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Secret Practice

  As we get close to Spring Performance time I am modifying what practice looks like for my younger students. They will be given the wonderful job of presenting a concert at home for family members! We’ll brainstorm ways to really ham up the performance with costumes, tickets, and maybe even snacks! I will tell them 1 or 2 songs that have to be part of the concert and they can add others if they like. Then at home they will give out invitations to their concert which can be printed here. There are two versions of the invitation. The first has a picture on the cover that they can color. The other one has a space for them to draw their own picture. Inside each invitation is a space to write the titles of the pieces they will play. You can download the files by clicking the images above. Once you print the file all you have to do is fold the paper in half horizontally and then fold again like a card. Presto! Instant kid concert invitations and a practice sessions with no tears!

If you want more ideas about how to make practice fun for kids see “Don’t Practice, Play A Game”