Thursday, September 21, 2017

Piano Scale Thumb Tuck Challenge

Last week I introduced the "Can Can" to one of my piano students with a focus on playing even one-octave scales without a wrist bump.  I started with a daring challenge that really intrigued him.  I asked him to try and crawl his hand up slowly all the way across the fallboard using thumb tucks while balancing a popsicle stick on his wrist before the video on this song ended.  After a couple of failed attempts, he really slowed down, focused and got just inches from the end before the stick fell. He was eager to keep on trying, so I sent the stick home with him so the Thumb Tuck Challenge wouldn't overtake all of our lesson minutes! And the bonus was, he became familiar with his song at the same time.

For more fun activities that prepare students for proper technique motions at the piano check out this post that combines several techniques including thumb tucks into one quick activity.
Caterpillar Crawl: Teaching Technique motions Creatively

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fidget Spinner "I Spy": A Piano Piece Prep Game

Training piano students to look before they leap can be a challenge. If you are going cliff jumping into the ocean its a good idea to survey your surroundings before taking a plunge.  Are there sharks, sharp rocks, other swimmers or shallow water? Despite these dangers, some unfortunate jumpers find the blue water just too appealing to take the time to scan their surroundings before jumping in sometimes with disastrous results.

Some students find a new piece so irresistible they just can help themselves from diving straight into a piece from start to finish with a lot of errors before checking it out to see what they are up against.  But just like with cliff jumping, this usually isn't the best approach.
Taking an off the bench approach when introducing new pieces can help them to see the patterns, challenge spots and details in their music that they may overlook if they just do the dive in approach. This fun "I Spy" game can help cure this tendency.

How to turn a piece into an "I Spy" Challenge:

Monday, September 18, 2017

Eighth Note lays down and stretches out for Eighth Rest

At our last group lesson I invited my students to create posters to illustrate music concepts, and later I was inspired to do a little designing myself. My natural artistic skills are nothing to brag about, but with a little help from Picmonkey the message looks a little more flashy.
Eighth Rest Poster with a little help from picmonkey!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Piano Safari and Teaching Rhythm: Sound before Symbol Makes Sense

I love using the Piano Safari rote pieces with my students!  They enjoy being able to play cool sounding songs from the beginning, and it allows them to really focus in on proper technique from the start. This video posted by Julie Knerr, one of the authors of Piano Safari, is a perfect example of how engaging playful activities in lessons delight students as the time just whizzes by. The order she introduces concepts in is very intuitive.

Sounds before Symbols:
Introducing rote pieces first really encourages students

Thursday, September 14, 2017

A Memorable Approach to Teaching Ties and Slurs

This week as one my students turned the page to unveil his next piece he said, "these lines are so confusing!"
His piece was filled with multiple ties and slurs on every line. So I handed over the pencil and had him color the ties one color and the slurs another after a brief explanation about the visual difference.

 A tie connects 2 notes that are the same pitch (same line or same space). To identify ties pretend you are walking on the noteheads in your music.  Imagine a runner staying in the same track lane (line or space) on the staff and touching the "target notes" in his lane.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Piano Studio Tour

I am so thrilled to now have a specific room in my home dedicated to music teaching!  I was a little hesitant to move my piano out of our family room, because I always envisioned the piano being a gathering place for my large family ... but being able to shut the door while I teach and while children practice has definitely been worth switching it to a smaller space.

I'm a big fan of a bargain, so when I saw this bulletin board at the thrift store I was excited to snatch it up.  You can read more about how I plan to use it on this piano bulletin board post.

Once I secure something to the wall, its likely to stay there until I move (which will hopefully never happen again!)  So the DIY photo collage above has velcro backed frames that I can swap out for different photos when I want some change without a lot of hassle. You can view more details on how I made it  here.
 I paired this dollar store quote plaque with an old "sand tray that I spray painted white and covered with music wrapping paper.  I can easily swap out the picture in the middle when I'm ready for a change.

The glass insert on my desk is removable, so I slipped some music wrapping paper underneath it to go with the music theme.

My piano game card storage pouch hangs inside the closet along with music, string instruments, my children's personalized piano bags, and storage drawers containing rhythm instruments (maracas, castanets, etc.), piano group game supplies and white boards.
Since large box style tvs are a thing of the past, I found this tv armoire for a great deal on craigslist several years ago.  It is perfect for housing my most often used piano library music, piano teaching binders and teaching caddy.  I made book organizers using Costco cardboard milk carriers covered with decorative contact paper to separate books into different categories.  The colored dot stickers on the spines make it easier for me to quickly find supplementary music appropriate for the student's level.  The caddy keeps silly putty, game pieces, dice, dry erase boards/markers and colored pencils with in easy reach when a student needs some hands on fun to ramp up the learning.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Proper Hand Position with Nile the Crocodile

As a child I became a master at the learn-regurgitate-forget method of acing tests and earning perfect grades in public school.  But unfortunately, much of the knowledge I was exposed to did not truly sink in to stick with me much after the test was done. As I teach piano to children, I want the learning process to be memorable enough that the brief interaction we have each week will stick with them easily enough for them to recall it at home.
Story telling is one of the powerful tools in my teaching bag that I often pull out because it creates vivid, memorable images in a listener's mind and often evokes emotions that make more connections within the mind. A good story can make all of the difference when retention and repetition is the goal. When teaching piano hand technique to young beginners I  have used this story to make the lesson more memorable so the concepts stick.  If their hand collapses or wrist droops it is much more fun and less threatening to dramatically say "Oh no an earthquake squished Nile," or "Nile's getting all wet" then to directly address the issue.  Of course some students will be more enamored with making a house for a cute little polar bear or teddy bear, so I let them choose from my mini erasers the perfect character to build their home for.

Once upon a time there lived a crocodile named Nile.  He was searching for the perfect home.  But Nile had one problem.  He was scared of heights!  So he didn't want to climb any mountains to find the perfect home. And he didn't want to go in a canyon, because he would eventually have to climb out.

He walked along the level ground