Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Christmas Canon Chords Improv Assignment

I absolutely LOVE Pachebel's Canon in D; in fact its on the CD I listen to each night at bedtime. The soothing repetitive chord progression is so calming. It also happens to provide the harmonic framework for some of my favorite peaceful Christmas songs:
"The First Noel"
"Guard Him Joseph" by Sally Deford
"The Christmas Spirit" by Lindy Kerby
and of course the well known more jovial song
"Jolly Old St. Nicholas."

So this Christmas season I've given a few of my students the opportunity to sharpen their knowledge of chord symbols and experiment with some improv accompaniment using the following chord progression:


(Its a lot easier to follow if you draw the chord symbols in relation to their pitch direction with arrows connecting them - but since my technical skills are limited on blogger... you'll just have to imagine)

I (down to )V(up to) vi( down to)iii(up to)IV(down to)I(up to)IV (up to)V

After identifying the letter names that match the chord symbols in the key they are assigned, they begin with a few of the following basic bass patterns:

Low Bass Note (LH) + Blocked Chord (RH)

Low Bass Note (LH) + Broken Chord (RH)

1 8va arpeggio (LH only)

Open 5th + octave (ex: if I is C Major = Bass C, up to G, up to Middle C)

Rolling Open 5th + octave (in C Major + Bass C, up to G, up to Middle C, back to G)

For those up to the challenge, they then vary the rhythm, come up with their own patterns, try transposing it to another key add a familiar melody in the RH or compose their own melody to match the harmony.

For those inexperienced with this type of transposition it is helpful to point out the pattern of the interval changes between chord roots:

Tonic - Down a 4th - Up a 2nd - Down a 4th - Up a 2nd - Down a 4th - Up a 4th - Up a 2nd

No wonder I love this brain loves order!

It was so invigorating to watch a couple of my students who are sisters play a lively little Jolly Old St. Nicolas duet together after just a few minutes of practice at their last lesson.

The pre-reading and elementary versions of Jolly Old St. Nicholas on Susan Paradis's website work great for the upper duet part for this assignment.

How do you teach improvisation in your studio?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Introducing Cadences with a Country Twist :)

Here's a fun little V7 chord song I stumbled upon while surfing YouTube

The V7 chord often "brings us home to I" and is heard a lot at the end of a song. Moving from a V7 chord to a I chord is known as an authentic cadence.
And just in case your curious....When a V chord does not resolve up by fourth to a I chord, but instead resolves up by second to a vi, it is called a deceptive cadence.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Musical Ornament Gift Idea

Imagine this ornament..... with some old music paper instead of book paper. Isn't it lovely? It might just make the perfect gift this Christmas for some music lovers I know.
My sister Kara has posted a tutorial on how to make it on here crafty/cooking blog
My daughter and I put some together last night for the "recycling themed" Festival of Trees ornaments she's making for school. They are pretty simple to make for an "uncrafty" person like myself.
If you stop by her site, you may also want to check out her recipe index. Some of my favorite prepare ahead dishes for piano teaching days are Really Good Crock Pot Roast, Cafe Rio Pork, Bajio Style Chicken and Dutch Oven Chicken. But watch out... you'll have to scroll past all of the mouth-watering desserts first and might get stopped before you reach your destination:)!

I actually have my older sister Kara to thank for my obsession with piano. She started lessons first but was not very interested, so one day I eagerly volunteered to go in her place which sparked the fire for me. When we were younger she thought she was lacking in talent since music, art & dance were not her "thing" but its obvious when you see the # of followers on her blog - she was wrong, her talents just lie in other areas!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Benefits of Piano Lab with Private Lessons

One of the best tips I received from a friend after relocating and starting up my piano studio was to incorporate a lab in conjunction with private instruction each week. I am so glad I followed her advice. Following are a few of the benefits I've seen from utilizing this approach.
  • Students receive extra reinforcement of theory, ear training, note reading, sight reading, music history and analysis to solidify concepts introduced by the teacher.
  • Learning music concepts in game format is more fun and engaging for children than the "study your flashcards at home" approach that I received as a child.
  • The teacher receives continuous feedback about how well the student has mastered concepts being taught during private instruction. Its easier to catch "gaps" in the students understanding quickly when you can assess them through multiple modalities.
  • Students have more time for technical and artistry instruction with the teacher. Often I find it a challenge to squeeze in all of the elements of piano playing (like ear training, theory and music history) in just a 30 minute weekly instruction setting. Having a lab provides students with the structured time to solidify their knowledge of previously covered material while freeing up more time during private instruction for elements best learned through imitation/feedback.
  • Overlapping instruction time provides opportunity for ensemble/collaborative work with students. Students scheduled during the same time block can practice duets or play interactive games during the first few minutes of lesson from time to time.
  • Including a lab is an extra benefit that sets my studio apart from many of the other teachers in the area. For now, I only take a very limited # of students so I can focus on raising my family so "filling" my studio has never been a problem - but for teachers seeking more students, this could be one more "selling" point for your studio.
  • My 30 minute lab/30 minute private instruction approach provides for flexibility in scheduling for me as a teacher when needed. Balancing my roles of mother of 5 (soon to be 6) children and piano instructor can be a bit tricky - especially with the unpredictable needs of infants. When a new baby comes to our family, rather than taking a long break from teaching for the adjustment(which could create some regression in student skills), I stagger my piano teaching schedule for a time. When necessary the student can do their lab activities first or last depending on the unexpected diaper blowouts/feeding needs of my newborn. I can still fulfill both of the roles that I love of mother and piano teacher without feeling like my children or students are being short-handed.

Look for more posts in the future on how to structure a lab, planning lab time lessons and links to my favorite online piano lab resources.