Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mother's Day Musical Tribute

This year I decided to make up my own video tribute to my mom to thank her for being such an amazing mother and shaping my life in meaningful ways through her example, sacrifice and patience.  Despite her fear of driving, she sacrificed to drive me across town in our huge yellow station wagon for years so that I could have piano lessons.  For the background music, I played "My Father's Favorite", which she still is to this day :)  I feel much gratitude for the privilege of being reared in a home with loving parents.
Mother's Day Video

My inspiration to create a video came from this Mother' Day Tribute from Calee Reed.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Review of Piano Boot Camp: Special Ops

What can you expect at Piano Boot Camp???....
Marshmallows, ping pongs, prayer stretches, thumb prints, Disney drama and procrastination pets in training, but PLEASE No Whack-a Moles!

I love the power of analogies in piano teaching, and these are a few of my favorites that stood out in Laura Lowe's new Piano Boot Camp plans designed for students aged 10-15 in a small group piano camp setting.

Laura's approach of structuring a small group piano camp for tweens is especially effective.  The small student teacher ratio allows for effective correction/attention to precise technical skills, but also provides the synergism and peer motivation that increase excitement and productivity at this age.  The plans for each day include a fun entrance activity, physical and technical training exercises, specific practice strategies, hands on student practicums and sightreading, as well as tools for developing mental strength and artistry.

User Friendly
The content of piano boot camp is very thorough including a very detailed, easy to follow teacher handbook along with a reproducible student handbook with worksheets and technical drills.
The teacher handbook is thorough, clearly organized, and full of helpful internet links for teachers and students that clearly illustrate the concepts.  I like how the piano camp is organized using the same order of activities each day making it easy for the teacher to implement, and yet the activities include a good variety of creative engagement elements to make learning memorable and fun for students.

As a visual learner, I appreciate the fact that the student handbook includes informative handouts outlining the main principles presented in the course so that students have something to refer to and review on a regular basis at home.  These include
  • Physical training-stretching exercises to strengthen and maintain flexibility
  • Steps to setting SMART practice goals
  • Rubric for evaluating practice prep/performances
  • Fingering principles
Other pages are "workbook" style that require the student to analyze their pieces, think introspectively regarding their own piano learning process and progress. The technical and sightreading exercises have clear directions for home review and effectively address some of the challenges students encounter at this level such as fingering changes, accidentals and balance between hands.

I found the material in the teacher handbook inspiring and came away with new ideas to incorporate in my traditional private lessons as well, for students who may not attend boot camp.   Many portions of the lesson plans could easily be used as off the bench activities to reinforce concepts of phrasing, dynamics, artistry and performance preparation.

I like the flexibility of allowing students to choose their own focus piece to master during Boot Camp, and thought it also might be an opportune setting for learning a simple duet or trio, either by rote, as sightreading,  or as their focus piece.  The Boot Camp Theme reminded me of one of my favorite supplementary books for this level -ChordTime Ragtime & Marches: Level 2B by Faber and Faber, which includes many fun pieces that contain the technical elements addressed in Boot Camp and match the theme as well.  It includes some great selections student's could use as their focus piece, or they can select from music they already have that suits their taste and ability.
When I tried out some of the boot camp activities with my teenager daughter who plans to teach piano in the future, not only was it an excellent way to review important piano pedagogy concepts, but she also recognized some fine-tuning she needed to do to improve her technique when playing slurs.  She suggested that it might be fun to have a few more games or competitive elements as part of the boot camp experience.

Creative and Engaging 
I was intrigued by the idea of doing a physical training warmup routine each day to warm up small muscles, increase body awareness and reduce risks of injury down the road.  I thought the "physical training" could be even more fun with some background music like The Marine's Hymn, Anchors Away The Caisson Song or other military-themed music. One of my favorite elements of piano boot camp is the focus on technical skills. The analogies described in the teacher handbook are effective and memorable for students such as transferring arm weight energy from heavy bricks to light ping pongs and avoiding "whack-a-mole" attacks and the internet links to specific examples provide great visual samples for the students to internalize the concepts.

Boot camp mixes in a great variety of fun engaging activities that have student appeal  - Disney Monologue in Dynamic Style, Marshmallows and Motivation, Procrastination Puppies.  But the unique content of this camp also offers an extra boost addressing life skill concepts that there typically isn't time to thoroughly address in typical private lesson settings.  The specific strategies for delaying gratification, prioritizing practice time and tackling performance anxiety are presented in an engaging medium suitable to this age group.

If you would like a user-friendly, creative and adaptable plan to intensify the learning in your music studio, head over to Laura Lowe's blog "The Piano Studio"  and check out her links to the camp introduction and blog posts  to purchase or learn more about Piano Boot Camp: Special Ops!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Creative Activities for Beginning Level Piano Lessons

After over 5 years of blogging, the posts are beginning to pile up and some ideas tend to get "lost in the crowd".  So today I organized my previous posts that pertain to beginning piano teaching ideas.  They are listed in the approximate order that I introduce the concepts in lessons.

High/Low Sounds
  Mason Jar Melodies
  Teaching Ear Training Through Song

  Piano Pokey
Piano Technique/Position Concepts
  Song: "At the Piano sit straight and tall.. "
  1st Piano Adventures Wrist Forearm Fingertips, Cat-Backs, Hangin' on a Fence Post
  Rainbow Wrist Ribbons
Finger Numbers
  Where is One?
  Cookie Dough
Steady Beat
  Steady Beat Elephants, Woodpeckers, etc.
  Trepak Baseball

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Practice Incentives & Group Piano Parties

Ideally every student would be perfectly motivated to practice consistently for the sheer joy of making music and the intrinsic satisfaction that comes from mastering challenging tasks.  But real life is not this picture perfect.  I use a variety of short term and long term practice incentives throughout their years of music study to recognize and track progress and reward accomplishments.  Some students respond well to checklists, others love positive peer recognition and competition, while some will soar to great heights for a coveted prize basket item or treat.  Following are some of the incentive programs I have enjoyed using with my students to help guide their success in a fun way.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Handel's Messiah Docudrama on Easter Sunday

Handel's Messiah

Special Encore Presentation Easter Sunday at 6 & 11pm ET/4 & 9pm MT

 I love the music from Handel's Messiah and found this docudrama on BYUTV  telling the story behind Handel's masterpiece both insightful and inspiring when I watched it a few months ago with my family.  I love how it incorporates a diversity of modern day performers as well as telling the less known story of the personal challenges he overcame to bring this inspiring work that testifies of our Savior Jesus Christ.
Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Gold Festival Choice Listening Samples

Bagatelle - Anton Diabelli Op. 125. No. 10


Ecossaise in G by Beethoven

Spinning Song by Albert Ellmenreich

Sicilienne by Johann Sebastian Bach
(version on video differs from adapted version of Sicilienne in Premier Piano

Sonatina in C Movement 2 by Muzio Clementi

Sonatina in C Movement 3 by Muzio Clementi

The Fifers by Jean-Francois Dandrieu

 Alfred Premier Piano Performance 5
Blues Toccata
Climbing the Pyrenees
Downtown Jazz

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Thoughtful Preparation in Piano Practice

 This month in my studio "Quest for Virtues" our focus is on thoughtfully preparing before playing pieces or technical exercises.
Its not easy for many students to resist the temptation to just jump into a new piece without first preparing mentally.  So each week during lab or lesson time I am challenging them to some preparation tasks that can hopefully pave the way for them to become more fluent at technical skills, sightreading, efficient practice and portraying their pieces more artistically and accurately.

  •    Before playing scales, identify the sharps or flats in the key, draw the scale and key signature on the staff and identify the correct fingering for each hand.
  •  Analyze a piece by identifying chords (I, IV, V, etc.), phrase endings (wrist float-offs), form, dynamics (color) and the climax of the piece. (See Hand Over the Pencil)
  • Imagine your piece is telling a story.  Divide it into sections and add labels that reflect characteristics of each section of the music. (See Practice Strategies)
  •   Follow the steps for mental preparation before sightreading a piece (See Developing Super Sightreaders)
    o   Identify key and music symbols 
    o    Look for patterns in rhythm and melody 
    o    Audiate (hear it in your head) the melody of the music before playing 
    o    Ghost play challenging spots.
Although thoughtful preparation requires discipline, it saves so much time in the long run as practice becomes more productive and efficient.

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