Thursday, May 28, 2015

Summer Piano Quest Candy Jar Challenge

To kick off summer piano lessons, I am having a summer candy jar challenge in my studio.  As students master skills and pieces they earn the opportunity to enter guesses for the candy jar of their choice filled with different candies.  In addition, everyone who completes the game within a month gets to pick a prize from the prize box.  The skills to advance one square on the game board for each piano challenge they complete are listed below.  Students choose a small sticker and write their accomplishments in the blanks as they work their way through the musical periods.  I chose to keep the tasks quite general so they are adaptable for my preschooler up to my teenage students.
·         Master 1 page repertoire (Notes, Expression, Rhythm, Fingering)
·         Complete Notes in the Fast Lane in 1 minute or less
·         100% Terms & Signs Quiz
·         Clap & Count Rhythm Challenge Sheet Accurately
·         Pass off keyboard skills in a new key
·         Master a Music Ace game during piano lab
·         Sightread 20 consecutive measures without errors

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!