Ideas For Your Next Studio Performance

Big Dreams Concert Poster

 

So my studio concert is THIS SUNDAY! That is mainly why it has been so quiet around Kids & Keys lately. I have been deep in concert preparation mode. I decided this morning, though to take a moment to share some of what our concert will look like. Anyone who reads Kids & Keys most likely already knows that I prefer to give concerts than recitals. I believe that when most people hear these two words they see VERY different pictures of both in their minds. Here is what I believe they see:

Recital – Formal. Have To Be Quiet. Long. Only classical music. Itchy clothing. FREE. Boring.

Concert – Fun. Entertaining. Sing Along. Cheer for Performers. Purchase Tickets. Ability to get concert memorabilia afterwards. Wear cool fashions. Lights. 

I did not just make this up. Over the years I have collected responses and reactions from adults who had lessons as kids and these are some of the things they have said about their experiences. When I talk to adults about their idea of concerts this is what they said.

As a piano teacher who is interested in helping my students see the career possibilities in music performance I ask myself what is one thing that gets kids/tweens/teens excited about performing? I understand that not every student or maybe not even most students want to perform music professionally, but for the ones that do and for the ones who haven’t considered it certain questions have to be asked. When kids are learning to play a musical instrument are they envisioning themselves playing in a recital where everyone politely claps at the end of each song but doesn’t get to interact with the artist otherwise? Or do they envision themselves onstage like so many of the young pop stars they see on Disney Channel?

I am sure that my piano teacher friends can certainly weigh in on this! But before you do, please visit www.bigdreamsconcert.com for some ideas I am using in my upcoming studio concert. Afterwards, please come back and weigh in on the discussion.

By the way, if anyone is in the Atlanta, GA area this weekend please come be my special guest at the Big Dreams Concert! Tickets are only $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

Teaching, Performing, or Both?

Before I started teaching privately on a full-time basis it never occurred to me that teaching would interfere with me performing. Fast forward a few years and I can say without a doubt that teaching leaves me very little time for practicing and performing. Somehow the hours spent planning activities for students and trying to think of ways to help them “get it”  add up so quickly. A lot of times I’m just plain worn out after a day of teaching. How can something so life-giving be so draining at the same time? I thoroughly enjoy teaching young musicians, but it is very tiring. So, the performer in me has to fight for my attention. The above video is what happens when I do make time for practicing and performing  and creating. I hope you enjoy the music, and if you do you can download it free on SoundCloud.com/danaricemusic.

Now for the million dollar question, teachers. How do YOU make time for performing while teaching?

Grammy Awards for Private Teachers

If  you watched the Grammy Awards a few days ago you know that this year they made a huge announcement. For the very first time they are creating a GRAMMY for music teachers! Hooray! The GRAMMY Foundation and The Recording Academy  are recognizing the efforts of the people who teach artists the skills they use to make Grammy worthy music. That is something every music educator can celebrate.

Then came the slap in the face – only classroom teachers in a private or public school are eligible for the award.

Say what?

Regular readers of this blog know how I support the work that classroom music teachers do. So, please know that I agree that they deserve the opportunity to win a GRAMMY. The last time I checked, though, to get really good at playing music most people need a private teacher in addition to their school music teacher. That’s why school music teachers often give parents a list of private instructors when kids join orchestra and band.

So, I believe that it’s up to us as music teachers to say this to the GRAMMY Foundation and ask them to consider making the award open to private music teachers. If you’re willing to join me in this, leave a comment below. Tell us about the private teachers that have influenced you and how their contribution has impacted your musical skills. Share this post with your students, parents, and social networks. Let your voice be heard!

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?

What If I Make A Mistake?

Mistakes Are GuaranteedWith concerts, recitals, and holiday performances just around the corner both students and teachers are starting to feel a case of the butterflies. I know I am! Teachers wonder if they will have all the students prepared in time. We wonder if the programs will get printed in time, if the sound system at the venue will be working properly, if there will be enough food for the reception. Students wonder if they will mess up on stage. They worry that they might trip on the way to or from the piano bench. They are tortured by a multitude of what ifs – one of the worst ones being what if I forget my song?

It’s been said that there are no guarantees in life, but actually there is one! As I was re-reading the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of Making Music magazine, the words of Glenn DaGrossa- a music teacher in New York – jumped off the page at me:

“As human beings, mistakes are guaranteed”

Well doesn’t that just go against everything we are working towards in rehearsals and practice?

Actually, this fact – and it is a fact – must be at the center of our rehearsals and practice. We must prepare not only to play to the best of our ability, but also prepare to handle the inevitable mistakes we will make. Our goal must  not  be a flawless performance, but a fantastic performance! Flawless performances can be flat and sterile, whereas fantastic performances are those that may or may not have noticeable mistakes but definitely connect the audience and performer to each other.

So, let’s all do ourselves a favor and recognize that mistakes are guaranteed. With this thought in mind, let’s proceed to practice with a greater purpose than perfection in mind.

Let’s practice with the goal of communicating and connecting through the music. That’s the kind of music that brings people together!

A Staff Made Of Noodles!

I was inspired to create a 3-D life-sized musical staff after watching an episode of Quaver’s Marvelous World. I’m not crafty at all, but this is the result.

To make it I used:

5 swimming noodles purchased at Wal-Mart

4 plastic mini-basketballs purchased at Dollar Tree

2 Wooden Dowels purchased at Home Depot

Craft Paper

Tape

Now, all I have to do is figure out a way to make it free-standing!

Supply and Demand 101: Music Teacher’s Edition

 

This morning I received a very thoughtful email from a parent thanking me for the music books I had chosen for her daughter. As music teachers we spend a lot of time searching for just the right method books to use. I like to use Faber Piano Adventures, and I know that there are many teachers who would either agree or disagree with me about my choice for various pedagogical reasons. But this post is NOT about what method books are the best! This post is about why music teachers should be more concerned about the type of music their students want to play and the type of music the families of their students want to hear.

Now, the parent who sent me the email wasn’t concerned about the brand of method book. She was appreciative of the STYLE of music that was in the books. One of the first questions I ask parents and students when beginning lessons is, “What music do you like to listen to?” Another question I often ask is “What TV shows do you watch and what is your favorite movie?” These are research questions that help me determine what songs I will use to teach them how to play the piano. This approach to teaching piano is definitely more time-consuming than the traditional way of teaching, but it is absolutely essential for success with students and families. People want to learn how to play the piano in order to play their favorite music, not ours!

This is where the Law of Supply and Demand comes in. What do you think would happen if you got a student who always dreamed of playing Beethoven’s music but his piano lesson only consisted of learning blues songs? Or what if you had a student who loved pop music (and most students do), but the piano lesson only consisted of learning classical music? Well, the answer is simple – the student would most likely quit as soon as he is allowed to do so.

Now, as music teachers we have several clients for each student we teach. Yes, the student is a client, but the student’s family members are too! Remember that the family members have to listen to – or endure in some cases –  the practice sessions! Consider two scenarios – Student 1 is learning music that the family members enjoy   and  Student 2 is learning music that the family members either can’t relate to or don’t enjoy. Which situation would most likely result in more diligent support of practice at home? Of course it is the scenario where the student is learning music that the family enjoys!

So, the Law of Supply and Demand for music teachers –

Supply students and family members with music they love to hear and the Demand for your lessons will go through the roof!

 

 

Activities for Waiting Students and Siblings

One of the most distracting things that can happen during a music lesson is for a waiting student or a little sister or brother to interrupt and ask, “What can I do now?” To eliminate this problem, or at least minimize it I set up a Waiting Activity Area in my piano studio. Here is a mini tour of it:

For those who like to color, Hello Kitty music coloring pages. Kids can look inside the bag for more coloring activities.

Kids who like puzzles and challenges can choose this.

Great practice on staff notation. Color by Note sheets!

For those who love to build things, LEGOS! Of course they must build something related to music!

A game to practice the music alphabet. Kids can stack the cups in order or build chords!

Each of the activities in the center have something for the kids to show me when they have completed it, so they do get it done. I’ve also made my ipad or iphone available with music apps to play in the waiting center.

I’d love to hear what kinds of things you keep in your studio for waiting students and siblings. Make a comment below!

…Oh and come back tomorrow for the post about the music store field trip that I promised!

From Piano Parent to Piano Student – What My Mother Now Knows Part 1

 I was very surprised to learn a few months ago that my mother had decided to start taking piano lessons. After years of transporting my sister and I to and from piano lessons with various teachers (sometimes against our own immature wills), the music bug had finally bit her! Since she and I live in different states I am not fortunate enough to be her piano teacher, but this is probably for the better, right? I mean, can you imagine?!

When she told me the news, I had so many questions. Why? What is it like taking piano after having raised two piano players? Do you enjoy practicing? Is it easy to learn to play the piano? How does it feel to sit on the bench under the pressure of playing for someone? Underneath all these questions was the deep desire that maybe, just maybe this piano learning journey would help her to understand a part of me that maybe was inaccessible to her before because she had not sat on that bench as I had, didn’t know how wonderful being able to play music makes you feel after you finally get your hands to do it, and she hadn’t had to turn down social opportunities because she had to practice piano while others played outside. How would she be different as a result of this experience? How would I be different?

At any rate I have relished hearing about her experiences with piano learning and thought that you might enjoy reading about them as well. So, this week there will be a short 3 part series of posts about her piano adventures! If you are a piano parent, perhaps you will gain some ideas about how to support your child’s musical learning. And if you are a long time piano player like me, maybe you will get some satisfaction of knowing that there is a parent out there who can truly appreciate all the things you had to go through to become the player you are today. If you are a teacher, you will gain some insights on how to teach parents to best participate in the child’s music learning. Or if you are a student just learning to play, you will be encouraged to know that someone else is facing similar challenges as you concerning piano learning and yet they think it is worth it.