Friday, March 9, 2018

Musical Roots + Free Music Download

One of the most inspiring moments of my week was hearing the song "Army of Angels" sung by Evie Clair (America's Got Talent Finalist) at the Roots Tech session Music: A Bridge Across Generations.  I was astonished when I found out that the composer (her cousin) McKenna Mae has provided a free mp3 download of it as well as several some mp3 recordings and sheet music of her other songs.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Triumph of Achievement vs Never Enough

Comparison can be the thief of joy unless...

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Piano Technique and Artistry: Group Lesson Activities

For the month of March in my studio, since the focus is on playing more artistically with proper technique as students work toward their Technique Wizard Challenges, I've rounded up and created some group activities to introduce and reinforce these concepts in a memorable way.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Using Piano Safari Rote Pieces to Teach Composing in Piano Lessons

Teaching Composing with Piano Safari

My brain has been in the composition vein for a while, so I brainstormed some clever ways to extend their my student's learning beyond the technique of Piano Safari with some creative companion composing teaching applications.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Valentines Composing Piano Group Lessons

Some students are naturally enthralled with composing and can easily dive right in and create beautiful sounding melodies.  But some are much more comfortable with a step by step guided approach.
Using Susan Paradis's Valentine Composing Worksheets at group lessons I taught a mini-lesson on composition tips for younger beginners and then had students perform their creations on the spot.
1 - Start with a Scale "Recipe"
When you make cookies or soup you will end up with better results if you limit the ingredients to things that taste good together.  In music, a scale is like a list of ingredients.  Just as eating cookies with garlic powder doesn't taste very appealing, throwing random music notes together is not likely to sound amazing either.  It is easier to create good melody when you start by limiting your "note ingredients" to notes within a scale you are familiar with. For Valentine composing I had them choose a pentascale that could easily fit under beginner's fingers.
2 - Pick a Motif
Using language as a guide for the rhythm can be easier than "pulling a rhythm out of thin air." The repeating rhythms in "Roses are Red" set the stage for a repeating rhythmic motif.  I asked the students to write 4 of the letter names from their scale in any order for the first line to create a melodic motif.
3 - "Play" with the Motif
Although repetition can be a good thing, too much of the same thing gets old quick.  But a random assortment notes thrown together sometimes doesn't bring the best results either.  For the next 2 lines I taught students 2 easy ways to "play with the motif."
Line 2 - Write the letters of your motif from Line 1 backward (ex: CDGE becomes EGDC).
Line 3 - Repeat the first 2 letters from Line 1 and then change the ending.
4 -  End at "Home" Although this is not a "never break" rule, your song will sound more finished if you end on the tonic (do) which is the letter name of the scale you chose.
This Any Day Composing activity is a similar activity, perfect for beginning composing practice for any season of the year.

This Steal a Heart Staff Notes game elicited a lot of laughter as students reviewed the note names on the staff, a basic skill necessary when they transcribe their alphabet melodies into real music. My students loved this game so much, I decided to use it at my son's kindergarten Valentine Party.  I added some sight words written on post-it notes to several of the cards and the kids got an extra turn if they picked one and could read the word.  This extra twist could also be a fun addition if you add music terms or symbols to some of the cards.  Kids loved the playfulness of stealing and giving hearts!

It was hard for me to narrow down the perfect game with so many fun options from Compose on Wendy's Valentine Music Games post, but I chose an adapted version of Candy Heart Rhythm Dictation using Beat Boards from in sheet protectors with dry erase markers.  I wanted to emphasize counting as part of rhythmic dictation so students could more effectively dictate their own melodic creations using correct rhythms, so I added the "counts" below each heart.
1. Begin with Quarter Notes and Rests in 4/4 (1-2-3-4)- Remove the candy on the rests.
2. Quarter and Half Note Rhythms - Remove and eat the candy where the note "holds" and choose the correct note that can fill up the space.
Split each heart in half for more complex eighth note rhythms and subdivide the counting(1&2&3&4&).  Students point to the heart halves as they count along to the rhythm to determine which notes are held longer than 1/2 a beat.

We ended with some demos of Bradley Sowash's Easy Introductions. His post about improvising outros has some great ideas to help students complete their compositions with a fabulous finish.

Their take-home challenge was to choose an animal for the theme of their next Animal Menagerie composition project that they will be working on during private lessons this month.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Teaching Composing: Interesting Intros with Sowash and Faber

Teaching composing to beginners can seem like an enormous feat with a myriad of approaches.  There are many different pathways to arrive at the end result. This month I began with having students developing their "trash" motives into a short piece using the Trash to Treasure Composing resource on Teach Piano Today.  They loved seeing the printed score of their own creations from MuseScore!  Now we're moving on to the concept of adding an appropriate introduction to their pieces.
Bradley Sowash has some fabulous tips on how to create an interesting intro.  Using some of his concepts as a springboard, I created this listening lab to help my students hear samples of intro styles at work in pieces that are accessible to their playing ability.  Analyzing the composing elements within student's current pieces is a great way to extend their learning and wet their appetite for composing more artistically themselves.

Friday, January 26, 2018

BAPDARP - A Systematic Practice Approach to Expressive Playing

"If you give specific input you get specific results."  This was my favorite quotes from a UVMTA piano teaching seminar I attended last week by Stephen Thomas, a music faculty member at BYU-Idaho.
To start out the seminar  Thomas first gave a brief overview of score preparation and practice tips that he had covered in a previous seminar regarding score preparation and tempo.
Score Preparation -

  • Add fingering
  • Divide into sections and number (or name) them

Tempo Grid Metronome - Set specific metronome goals

  • Slow Tempo
    • Set Specific Standards (Measures 5-8 Slow Hands Separate @ X Tempo, then Hands Together)Medium Tempo

  • Medium Tempo
    • Exaggerate dynamics, articulation, and phrasing
  • Fast Tempo
    • Less repetition of small sections, more focus on larger sections and continuity
Once students can play the piece with reasonable fluency they move on to BAPDARP.   For me, I think of fluency meaning correct fingering rhythm and notes. BAPDARP requires a closer look and listen to the expressive details of the piece.