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Monday, May 30, 2011

Piano Teaching 101- Thirteen Tips on How to Begin

In response to a recent query from a friend of mine who is interested in becoming a piano teacher, I compiled this quick "to do" list of elements that have proven valuable in my own piano teaching adventures.

1. Purchase some beginning method books and become familiar with them. My favorite "teacher friendly" beginner level piano books are Piano Adventures by Nancy & Randall Faber. The wealth of online support ideas make this a great book to start with for teachers who are just starting out, and their songs are appealing to students as well. I have my students purchase the Lesson and Technique books. I teach them theory with online activities and games during lesson and lab time and supplement with other books from my music library instead of using the Performance book.
Another favorite method of mine is the Hal Leonard Series. The accompaniment CD's are especially motivating and engaging for the beginning levels and provide a fun support system for home practice to spice up the "simple sounding songs" at the start of music lessons. The presentation of concepts in both of these methods follows a similar order so I often interchange them to suit the tastes and needs of my students.

(Disclosure: I don't receive any monetary compensation for promoting any of the resources on this post-- they just happen to be some of my personal favorites:)! )

2. Watch the Faber Teaching videos for ideas on how to present concepts to your students. Their website includes step by step written directions and instructional videos for teachers for the entire Primer Level book to help students get off to a great start. I learn so much by just by observing the way Nancy Faber introduces concepts to her students in an experiential way. It's like attending a master class in the comfort of my home. Many of the printable duet activities are applicable even if you choose a different method book. They also have some excellent videos about the "My First Piano Adventures" books for younger (age 5-6) students.

3. Practice teaching piano concepts to someone you know to gain some experience. My first experience teaching was with my friend's daughters who couldn't afford lessons during a tough time of unemployment. I was excited and grateful for this experience to provide a service and practice my skills as a beginning teacher in a less pressured environment. The babysitting services they provided in exchange were an added bonus!

4. Practice regularly yourself and constantly set goals for self-improvement in the areas you are weak.

5. Attend local music teacher trainings/workshops often hosted by music stores or music teacher associations. I have met some great mentors at our local music club meeting and love coming home with fresh ideas after attending workshops.

6. Become familiar with online theory/ear training tools and utilize them with your students or to improve your own skills. A few sites to start with include:
Music Learning Community, Emusic Theory Drills, Pedaplus, Theta and Tonic Tutor
(Links to these (and more) are located on the right side of my blog.)
My Piano Lab Page is an ongoing project that includes online activity links organized by concept and level for my piano students to complete.

7. Check out books on piano teaching from the library and purchase your favorites for future reference.
One that I own and refer to often is
"How To Teach Piano Lessons" by James Bastien
Another great resource that I found very useful is Practical Piano Pedagogy. Click on the link for a helpful review from the Teaching Studio describing its contents.
Martha Beth Lewis's online site has some excellent ideas for prospective teachers covering a broad range of subjects including "What to Teach at the First Lesson," "Teaching Rhythm, Technique and Notereading", "Teaching How to Practice", etc..

8. Utilize online printable piano game ideas to make your teaching studio more appealing to kids (and fun for you too!). Following are a few blog sites with fun music games for almost every concept introduced at the beginner level - and a few intermediate level ideas too.
Jen's Piano Blog(Pianimation), 
Susan Paradis
Sing a New Song
Music Matters Blog
Notable Music Studio
Layton Music
Teach Piano Today
Colourful Keys
I recently compiled a resource list of my favorites organized by concept and level here.

8. Create a Studio Policy. The Teaching Studio is a very helpful piano teaching blog with a great post on this topic including a sample studio policy
This "policy" post on Color in My Piano gives an idea list of what to include.

9. Advertise and prepare a list of items to discuss when interviewing potential students. For me distributing a few flyers and word of mouth was all it took to fill my studio, but establishing a studio website can also be an excellent way to get the word out.

10. Have FUN teaching! Continue to evaluate your teaching, expand your repertoire and fine tune your skills. Try video taping yourself teaching lessons and identify areas for improvement.
I compiled a link list of some of my favorite ways to "Spice Up Piano Lessons" through creative activities, practice incentives and supplementary materials.  You can also view a video of my teaching workshop on "Maximizing Learning through Creative Activities or see links to technique, rhythm, theory, notereading, ear training and improv activities that I use in my studio on this post.

These next 3 excellent ideas were submitted in the comments by my readers. I didn't want these valuable ideas to be "lost" in the comments section, so I added them to the post. Thank you!

11. Kerri (my fabulous piano teacher in college) said, "Another option is to find a teacher you admire in your area and offer to pay to observe them teaching beginning students and to act as a mentor. Some teachers might accept studio help in group classes or as a substitute in lieu of payment for this kind of help. It's especially helpful to watch a teacher work with one student week after week for a semester. "
And Sarah added, " I agree with Kerri. The most valuable part of my teacher training was working under a student-teacher program with my then-current teacher. I taught each student for 3 weeks, and then they had a lesson with my teacher the 4th week of the month. I observed the lessons and then my teacher gave me feedback and helped mentor me as I learned how to teach. "

Finding a teacher in your area who is willing to be a mentor through letting you observe and maybe even watching you teach and giving you feedback is invaluable!

12. Wendy said, "I find I'm learning SO MUCH from the community of piano teacher bloggers. Might I add participation in piano teacher forums to discuss teaching topics, it's a good way of learning what others are doing and even seeking advice from fellow teachers on challenges we have to deal with. "

Of course, one of the obvious ways to prepare to teach piano lessons is to take lessons for many years from well-trained teachers and ideally earn a pedagogy degree or complete a music teacher certification program, but following these other tips can be a starting point to launch you towards your teaching goals.

13. LaDona said "I would add - join a piano or music teacher's organization in your area if there is one. If you're not qualified yet, this is something to work on. This gives you a lot more credibility, the opportunities for more professional development, a real-body community (as opposed to just online - which is also great, by the way!), more exposure, etc. "

What other tips do you have for beginning piano teachers?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hearing Half Steps Lab Assignment

1. Watch this video listening for the entrance of the "spooky sounding" character.
2. Create your own story composition that includes a "spooky" character and use half steps on the piano when he enters the story.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Composition as a Reinforcement Tool

"Can I compose a Sonatina???"
That was the question posed to me by one of my students today after I introduced her to this simplified version of Clementi's Sonatina . She has demonstrated amazing composing/improv ability and "WOW's" my other students with the compositions that she performs at group lessons.

Last week I decided to capitalize on this interest of hers - She'd much rather compose her own songs than play the ones in the lesson book. She hadn't quite mastered the a harmonic minor scale from the week before, so I asked her to compose a song including an a harmonic scale rather than giving her the same assignment again. This ended up being the perfect solution and I was pleased to hear plenty of broken primary chords in her song as well.

So in my efforts to apply the ideas I've gleaned from recently reading "Play it Again, Sam - What Why and When to Repeat" (by Marienne Uszler), I decided to let her give it a try. Uszler mentions that effective teachers can present the same concept in a myriad of different ways and thus appeal to the various senses and learning styles of each student and aid in reinforcement of concepts.

Sometimes it takes a little courage for me to think outside the box of tools that my teachers passed on to me... composition was definitely not one of them. But based on last weeks lesson assignment results, I discarded my previous lesson plan ideas. My student seemed pretty intrigued with the Sonatina which I introduced to her go along with our focus this month on the Classical Era, so I taught a mini lesson on Sonatina form and briefly reviewed identifying relative keys. I asked her to come back next week with the beginnings of her composition including the following components:

Exposition (major),
Development (relative minor)
Recapitulation (reintroduce the major theme)
Contrasting Legato & Staccato elements
at least 1 scale

After she listened to Clementi's original composition on CD, I let her loose on the Doodle Pad for lab time. After hearing her "beginning stage of composition" on the Music Ace Doodle Pad that I had her create during lab time, I'm excited for next weeks lesson!

For more ideas about encouraging Composition check out Wendy's blog at Compose Create. Her posts have given me the inspiration and motivation to utilize composition as a tool in my studio more often.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Piano Pencil Storage Solution

Inspired by this cute gift can tutorial on "Our Best Bites" blog, I decided to create my own unique decorative piano pencil storage can. Now that my little one has figured out how to open my piano cabinets drawer and doors.... I've had to become a little more clever at hiding my piano tools from her inquisitive fingers (and mouth).
I bought several small pop top fruit cans to fill with mother's day treats... but someone opened up one can the wrong way before I could transform it, so I enjoyed the chocolate that was supposed to fill it and came up with this new use for it instead. I use colored pencils a lot in my teaching when I "Hand over the Pencil", so now I can store them all beautifully within my reach....
and out of hers.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Piano Mom

By the time I was 10 years old I was pretty certain about what I wanted to be when I grew up....
a piano teacher and a mom. I feel fortunate to now be "living my dream" although I never realized what a challenge it would be to balance the 2 roles. Thankfully I have an amazing husband who is totally supportive of my "piano dreams" and puts his Saturday morning chores aside to watch our children so I can have fun teaching my students.

"As we age, we begin to realize the value of a mother's love and the enormous depth of her commitment to us." (Anonymous)

I think the older I get, the more this truth is confirmed to me. As I try to balance my role as a mother of 5 and a piano teaching enthusiast, I reflect on the many sacrifices my mom made for me - driving across town to take me to piano lessons, putting off her own educational interests to help encourage me in mine. She continues to be mentor and an inspiration to me.

So sometimes when I think of my long list of "potential piano blog posts" and my motherly duties that I struggle to squeeze into my schedule, I think of the cross stitched quote that my mom had hanging on our wall growing up.

"Cleaning and scrubbing can wait 'til tomorrow
For babies grow up we've learned to our sorrow
So quiet down cobwebs and dust go to sleep
I'm rocking my babies and babies don't keep"

Only for me I replace the "cleaning and scrubbing" part with "blogging and browsing"---- because that's way more tempting for me than housework! :)

So when my posts are bit sparse, its because my "other job" has taken precedence. But my favorite thing is doing both of my "jobs" at the same time!

So this mother's day I reflect on the great blessing it is for me to have an "angel mother" and to have learned so much from her. Last Mother's day she gave me a beautiful book full of quotes and artwork about Mothers entitled "Errand of Angels - In Honor and Praise of Mothers." Following is one of my favorite quotes from it that I find applicable to both piano teaching and motherhood.

"As I come to understand the many talents and characteristics of women, I realize how needed their strengths are in this dispensation. We must remember that we are daughters of God here to provide nurturing care for one another, family and friends- loving care to soften the changes of life felt by all.

What a great opportunity we have to fill our God-given role. He has given us the privilege to shape the lives of those entrusted to our care. Even those of us who have not been blessed to have children of our own can still be influential as trainers and nurturers. It does not matter where we live, whether we are rich or poor, whether our family is large or small. Each of us can share that Christ-like love in our "motherly ministry."
Barbara Winder, former General Relief Society President

I feel so thankful to have 2 fun jobs where I can hopefully influence others lives for good just as my life has been blessed by my mother and countless other teachers.

Happy Mothers Day!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sweet Variation on an Edible Piano Theme

After seeing this fun edible sandwich piano on For Love of Piano my creative juices started to flow and I came up with this simpler, sweeter version made of snack size Kit Kat's (cut in half) and wafer cookies for treats at my Baroque group lesson today. We'll be taking a little "field trip" to explore the organ at the church
And just for fun... I made this pink version for my little "think pink" preschooler.

How about a lesson on skips on the keys?
Maybe next time I'll add in a healthier version with celery sticks for the white keys and baby carrots or red pepper strips for black keys.