Friday, July 26, 2013

Who Stole my Cheese Game

Here is my new game for my new piano step. Thanks to Mary at Cedar Grove Piano Studio for the mouse idea!
Game: “Who Stole my Cheese?”
Object:  Save your own snacks while stealing your opponent's snacks. The person with the most STOLEN snacks wins the game. 
Number of players: 2
Game pieces: 1 cat, 1 mouse, 13 pieces of cheese, 13 fish, 2 chromatic octaves of note name cards; include enharmonics. (I found the cat and mouse at Michael's Crafts and made the fish and cheese pieces out of modeling clay)
All the cheese and the fish pieces are placed on the piano keys by both players- at random -covering the entire keyboard before the game starts. (88 keys, 26 pieces)
Each player chooses a letter card (these include naturals, sharps, and flats) and moves their character to the key shown on the card. It can be in any octave. If there is a piece of cheese or fish on the key, the player keeps it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Surviving Piano Lessons

The following information is going into my Parent Handbook this fall. There are so many things I want parents to know and many of these items could easily fall under a FAQ category. Its long, and they might not read it all, but they will likely read what pertains to their situation and that's the idea. This is not my Studio Policy. It's just whats important to me. It's information for my parents to have...just in case. 

Surviving Piano Lessons (for parents)

Some Basics-

· What’s the secret to longevity in piano? If students have the ability to play the songs they like by the time they reach middle school, they usually stay in piano lessons. Elementary school-aged students, who practice consistently each day after school, without negotiating piano practice, are able to retain the information learned from lesson to lesson. The easier and faster they can read notation and translate it to a piano keyboard the faster they will progress to the type of music that facilitates the desire to play more, which makes them better at reading, which makes them play more.......ok, you get the drill.

· Rah, rah, sis boom ba! Nothing deflates a student faster than a disinterested home-audience (of course you’ve heard the piece at home a million times, but seeing them in action during a performance is NOT the same thing). Students get their enthusiasm from me in the lesson for only 45 minutes a week, and from you at home the rest of the week. Many students take piano at the request of their parents, so get out your pom-poms and become the “cheering squad” as often as you can. Piano is a “performance art” and as pianists, we are always looking for someone to play for and sadly, if there is no one listening, it quickly becomes a very isolating and lonely sport.

· What’s new and exciting? You’ll usually hear me ask this as soon as your child walks through my door. Spending a few minutes talking about what’s new helps us develop a good rapport for our future relationship and helps us to get to know each other more comfortably. Remember, I’m not just their teacher in 2nd grade; I’m their teacher in 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th, grade and beyond. Each week I’ll spend 45 to 60 minutes working one-on-one with your child. Developing a relationship with each other is crucial for longevity in piano lessons. Students are expected to treat me with respect, as they would their teacher at school, but they are also encouraged to speak with me openly. I want them to feel free to talk to me. Otherwise it would be an awfully long and lonely 44 minutes!

· Everybody loves a party! Recitals and parties are a fun addition to piano lessons. Students are excited to see each other and play their pieces at studio parties. Sharing their music with an audience is a high point of recitals and they can’t wait for “everybody’s favorite punch” after the recitals. Show your support by putting studio recital dates on the family calendar. Invite everyone in the family. Call your friends. Tweet it, text it, and post it on Facebook. Let them be the star in the family that day. Let your child stay after recitals as well to give them a chance to make “piano” friends with the others. Suggest a play date or sleep over- have them make a recital of their own at home by making some programs and popcorn!

· By the way, what other languages do you speak? If you are bi-lingual, you can think of learning to play the piano the same way you would learn a foreign language. If you don’t speak it everyday, you’ll never become fluent. It’s not enough to just speak individual words either, you have to be conversational, learn to read the language, write in that language, and use it in context. You should speak it well, understanding sentence construction and prose. And don’t forget to use proper grammar! Eventually, you’ll master the language just as the poet or novelist does. But as you know, this will take daily long-term practice.

· Summers off? Nope. You wouldn’t take 2 months off from speaking a second language- can you imagine how much ground you’d loose? Musicians don’t take 2 months off every year from practicing their instruments, so we don’t either. Students need to take as many summer lessons as they can to keep accountability and facilitate progress. School review in September that lasts only around 2 weeks can take almost 6 MONTHS of weekly piano lessons. Taking two summers of bare minimum lessons can cause a student to fall so far behind their peers they never fully catch up. But here’s the good news--lessons are flexible in the summer. You can easily plan the summer lessons around camps and vacations.

· Don’t forget to pay the teacher. As a piano teacher, I am a professionally trained musician and educator. The piano studio is my business and your tuition is my paycheck. Can you imagine what its like to have your boss forget his checkbook and ask, “You don’t mind if I pay you next week instead, do you?” Ouch.

Before the Lesson-

· It’s piano day! Regular attendance to a weekly lesson is crucial for a pianist’s accountability and continual progress. Don’t forget to put your reserved lesson slot on the family calendar and give it priority status. Reduce your stress by giving your child a few minutes before lessons to hang their coat, wash their hands in the powder room, and check their fingernails. Leave your work at home and bring a great book or magazine to read, take a nap, or just sit and enjoy 45 minutes of weekly uninterrupted relaxing “me-time” in the waiting room. Pretty soon you’ll be more excited about piano day than your kids are!

· Keep a bag devoted only to piano lesson materials. Even if an assignment was not given in a particular book last week, I may assign pieces in various books on various weeks depending on the student’s progress. Having a tote bag or backpack dedicated to piano materials cuts back to lost or forgotten materials. Teach your child to be responsible for his/her own piano materials and you won’t have to worry about frantically looking for their books just before lessons. Remind them that if they forget their books, they’ll lose a bead from their practice chain- its usually enough to get them motivated to remember the materials. This year a new piano tote bag will be provided to your child at the back-to school party! Hurray, that’s one less thing to put on your to-do list.

· Checking fingernails frequently. Train your child to check their fingernails each time they practice. Teach them to clip their own nails, but remember, clipping nails just before a lesson to only satisfy me won’t help to establish the proper hand positioning on the keyboard. The upside is that nail polish and nail stickers are ok, the downside is that improper nail length can negatively affect the pianist’s ability to gain speed and accuracy when learning more advanced literature. Don’t let your child miss this crucial first step in their piano career.

After the Lesson-

· Talk about piano on the way home. Ask your child about their lesson in the car- this sparks wonderful conversation and reminds them that you are interested in what they are learning. If they had a hard time, remind them how proud you are of all the great work and effort they are putting into piano and how you have really noticed their progress and how you can’t wait to hear their next recital piece. If they borrowed a CD, pop it in the CD player for some great tunes on the way home! Remark on your favorites.

At Home-

· Don’t put your feet up yet... Written work is usually best completed in the FIRST practice session following a lesson as the instructions will still be fresh in your child’s mind. Students generally remember 90% of what they were taught the next day, but only 70% the day after that. As each day goes by, more and more information is forgotten. Ask your child to play what they learned in piano when you get home- the encouragement feels wonderful and they will better retain what was just learned.

· Here’s where you come in. Supervise a daily practice regime at home early on so they can eventually practice on their own. Don’t offer negotiating rights or bribes, because soon they won’t practice without them, and then you’re cooked. Learning the piano takes effective daily practice and anyone who says differently is doing you a disservice. All beginning pianists (no matter how old) need help when setting up a good daily regime that will result in practice that is effective and produces progress. Your encouragement and attention to their piano practice will really lift their spirits and this can be wonderful opportunity to spend a few minutes of quality time together each day. Let them know about all the practice beads they’ll get at the end of their next lesson- these can really help to keep them accountable for their practice habits at home. Remain strong and firm and eventually, your child will be able to practice on his/her own and you can sit back and enjoy the wonderful music they bring to your life.

· Can’t read music? That’s ok- you have the best teacher in the world sitting right at your piano at home! And anyway, you don’t need to know how to play, just how to read the instructions on the assignment page to your child. They know how to do each task, but will need daily guidance by you. Wanting to quit piano within 4-8 weeks of starting is often due to frustration and confusion during home practice. Unlike sports, karate, or dance, piano students spend time everyday practicing at home for their next lesson. First year-students will require lots of help from you to complete their assignments effectively.

· Did you REALLY practice last week? When students practice on their own they may need reminders to follow the written instructions in their notebook. Now and then you may hear me asking them lots of questions about their practice habits that week and you are wondering how I could even ask this because you heard them playing every day. This is certainly not an accusation. I need to determine what they were playing in order to facilitate a more effective practice regime. Perhaps they were not following the directions or mastering what they were assigned. It can be tempting when they are not being watched or corrected to just “go through the motions” at home without focus, full comprehension, or mastery of the assignment.

· You can’t fool the piano teacher! Sometimes what students don’t realize is that I’ve been doing this for so long, I can tell almost exactly how many days they practiced and how long they practiced the second their hands hit the keys. I can recognize “going through the motions” immediately when they attempt to demonstrate what I assigned. Direct parental supervision while practicing or auditioning a few days before the next lesson will usually resolve this type of situation right away. If they refuse your “help”, don’t worry; I’ll assign it next week!

· Audition?? Yes, audition your teen or pre-teen a day or so before his/her lesson. Take the assignment binder, (which the older student may or may not have even looked at; they often need reminders) and run down the list of assigned pieces. Have them play each one for you. You may well discover that there are portions of the assignment they have overlooked. Some students “cherry-pick” assignments by avoiding more difficult material. Doing this a day or so before the lesson can eliminate a lot of stress on your child. If they’ve practiced effectively, they are usually excited to show me, rather than stressing over the lesson.

Having difficulty?

· Call or email me right away if your child is confused with an assignment. I may have written something that just doesn’t make sense...I’ve been known to do that... just ask your child! If you are encountering tears of frustration, encourage them to put away the assignment and pull out a fun book that they don’t have to bring to lessons. They can try the assignment again tomorrow. Maybe they just need your encouragement to get through a rough spot in their piece.

Feeling Discouraged?

· I hate piano. “I took piano lessons when I was a kid, but my parents let me quit and I’m so sorry they did.” I think every single adult student I’ve had has said this. Don’t let your child be one of my adult students who says this in 20 years.

Once students reach middle school, if their desire to play the songs they like, doesn’t match their ability to play those songs, they will likely want to quit. My job is to deliver that ability BEFORE they reach 6th grade. This is what you pay me to do and this is why I push my students so hard in the elementary school years. Your constant encouragement and support may provide their desire to continue. Children learn to take their piano lessons and their talent only as seriously as their parents do. Allowing your child to quit every time something isn’t easy may lead to big problems later on.

· Sometimes it’s not warm and fuzzy. Mastering anything in life isn’t always warm and fuzzy. I want my students to operate at their full potential and sometimes I push them to achieve this. I know their musical strengths and weaknesses after spending 45-60 minutes of one-on-one instruction with them each week. Some students are capable of more than they are giving and I know how proud they will feel once they are “over the hump”, so I work them just a bit harder to get there. You may hear them say that piano isn’t as much fun as it used to be or practice may be taking longer and the songs are not as easy to master. They may have been assigned the same songs for 3 weeks and wonder why I just won’t allow them to move on. You can assure them that I am seeing really fantastic progress and I can see them advancing as a pianist. But I will expect a little more at that level.

· Come and see where they are on the tree. This is what the “tree” represents on the studio wall. The “road” is bumpy- with times that are easy; smooth and gliding downhill. Other times are hard; trudging up to the next level. It is almost always the uphill moments when students want to quit. Sometimes, the closer they are to the top, they stronger the desire to quit can become. Even teachers and professionals experience this and feel discouraged sometimes. This feels hard to them but it’s a pivotal moment in their skill level. What a wonderful opportunity to let them know they are on the brink of something wonderful! Re-read The Little Engine That Could that night and remind them of how proud you are of their efforts.

· Parent/Teacher conference time. A good place to start is by asking yourself what action you would be willing to take if your child’s school teacher called you in for a conference because they were falling behind, not doing their homework, or because they didn’t “like” math. I’m sure we’ve all wanted to quit math a million times...But quitting math or quitting school entirely sure wouldn’t be your first plan of action, so don’t let quitting piano become your first suggestion either.

Well, we gave it our best-

· Maybe piano just isn’t for everyone. Some students genuinely loose interest, despite good practice and progress. Some don’t connect or feel inspired by their piano music no matter what they play, how many awards they’ve earned, or how many performance opportunities they have been given. Some don’t feel supported or like anyone is listening. Others just don’t want to practice anymore. This is a great opportunity to teach your child a life lesson and good character qualities; honoring commitments (trustworthiness), striving for a good work ethic, and determination. On the other hand, unfortunately, it may just be time to move on.

· Sure, you can quit if it’s too hard. Suggesting quitting as a solution to mastering something difficult is just a bad idea. And even though students won’t always talk to me about wanting to quit, once you’ve planted the seed at home that quitting piano will be entertained later, I can usually see the change in their attitude and the “writing on the wall” immediately in their next lesson and it tends to goes downhill from there. Speak with me about what’s going on at home and let’s find a good solution together. Teaching them to finish their goals and honor their commitments is the best lesson my students can receive!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Studio Policies

Policies and Parent Guide

Right now, I am preparing my program, events, and studio policy for the coming school year. 

Although I am careful to interview before I accept a new student, but unfortunately, I have had clients who make it necessary to become more specific each year in my policies. 

When this happened before, my studio policy became too long and too full of rules and regulations. So I cut it as far back as possible- even down to one page. Many teachers feel this is the best route, as a policy that is too long won't get read. Well, that didn't work either, because too many things were left out and if something happens, I find that I want to correct parents oversights by directing them back to the policy...the one page policy that doesn't include things that I feel are important.

What is important in a studio policy? Whatever I feel is important. 

The things I feel are crucial to my studio and the way I teach. Some policies may be generic, but they should also be designed individually- and creatively. Piano teachers are creative individualists and as such, we design and run our business very differently from one another. Our end results are the same; we put out competent, experienced, and skilled pianists. But how we get there is as individual as we are ourselves.

I insist that my students learn to play the piano. This seems simple enough, but I can't count the transfer students who didn't know the music alphabet, couldn't find middle C, and had no knowledge of what a treble clef was for.  And this was after 2 YEARS of lessons. Frankly, these "teachers" need to be sued so the parents can get their money back.  I've also interviewed the parents of potential transfer students who did not choose to study with me because they wouldn't [couldn't] enforce practice in their homes. Well, how else does one learn to play piano? Osmosis?

I've had new parents write out the check incorrectly for tuition, and some who just don't pay without reminders. I had a talented pianist quit this year because I wouldn't continue with piano competitions.  This was important to the mother, but I didn't feel it was in the best interest of the student.  I had another mother with 2 siblings suddenly withdraw both children from lessons because after a year of trying in a variety of ways, I was unable to make a connection with the younger sibling. It wasn't a good fit. It happens. After a conference and no subsequent change or improvement, I had to suggest they find another teacher for the younger student; she promptly removed both. My mistake was in letting it go on too long and not addressing the importance of relationship up front.

I like to think of my studio as a one room school house where all the students know each other and even become piano buddies. A place where piano is fun and parties are looked forward to by the students. A place where parents get to know each other and are happy to swap a lesson or two when someone else is in need. A place where teacher and student have developed a relationship and can talk about the music and its meaning. This simply cannot happen when students are isolated, don't come to events or promptly leave as soon as their child is done playing a recital, or when a student won't speak to me. So these things are important to me. 

If you don't want to do anything except take a lesson, go home and practice until your next lesson, then go to the local music store for lessons. My studio policy is written to reflect who I am as a piano teacher and what is important to me.

I won't avoid making rules and policies for my business. It's my livelihood; my paycheck. And when it is running smoothly, I can focus on teaching. So this fall, my studio policies will include the basic things that affect lessons directly- paying on time, lesson swaps, terminations, studio and recital expectations, and attendance. 

Within the same booklet as my polices will be a "Parent Guide to Piano Lessons". This will include how to handle practice at home, the importance of encouragement and building a good teacher/student relationship, how awards and testing work, and other services like Guided Practice Sessions. I'll also include practice suggestions, tips for parents in enforcing practice, establishing a daily routine, my philosophy on competitions, and what to do when they want to quit. 

I don't know if they will read it all, but its there for them to refer to. And its there for me to refer them to when something unexpected happens.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Practiz Pal Metronome

 This new Practiz Pal metronome has been calling me for a while now. I finally decided to spread the word with my students and place an order for those who wanted one. Out of 25 students only 6 opted to spend the money. But once everyone else sees this, more may eventually come on board.

I ordered one for myself as well and they were delivered today! :)

Here is my review-

The colors are cool. I like the Aqua. Although the Raspberry is really nice. (My camera didn't do it justice here.) Upon first glance, it larger than your average metronome- easy to hold in your hand. It also has a nice clip on the back to stand up or clip on a book. I think you'd have to clip it to a few pages or it would be too heavy. The buttons are big and easy for little fingers to press. It reminds me of that cell phone they advertise for Grandparents with the big easy-to-read buttons.
There is a switch on the top to prevent it from turning on in your book bag and a little built-in bar to attach a strap. 

The digital graphics are really old-school when compared to an ipad or other gaming device. But this was really easy to set-up and use. I just had to put in the date, time, my name and practice time and Voila, I'm ready to practice. 

I set up a 40 minute practice schedule and went right to the piano to work on my scales and arpeggios. I just pressed the treble clef and it started counting how much time I had practiced and counted down how many minutes I had left. When I pressed it again, it would stop and act as a toggle switch. 

To use the metronome, I just pressed the metronome key. (Press again to stop) If I want to adjust the volume of the metronome, I had to go back into set-up. I think I'd rather have a volume knob on the side, but in its defense, the metronome is pretty darned loud. You can play the Pathetique Sonata and still hear the metronome clicking. But going back into set-up was easy. The speed of the metronome is adjusted with the up and down arrows. 

When I was done, the device plays a chime and there is a little! 
When I press the button that looks like an equalizer, it shows me in a bar graph form, the practice time I have completed for each day of the week. I can toggle through past weeks and months, too.

Overall, I like it and will recommend this to all my new students. At $50 each, they aren't cheap- but its only $15 more than a cheap metronome.  This thing logs practice time for an entire year, acts as a timer and count-down device, and has the metronome feature. My current Seiko can't count down or log practice time. 

Oh, sure, you could beat the system with this device and just turn it on, watch TV and turn it off when it chimes and your practice time is logged for your parents to see, but the good news is that you can't fool the piano teacher!

It has a coupon on the bottom of the package for a free "Skin". These are wild and crazy covers for it like you would buy for your iphone with zebra stripes, or leopard spots, etc. There is a pretty cool one with a piano keyboard on it. I might get that one, since its free! 

Its really quite handy and easy for students to use themselves. I would order this directly from the Ye Old Piano Shoppe in S.C. Let's keep small businesses alive!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Piano-Key Chains for Fall

Here is my new fun activity for this coming academic year. 
This is our "Studio Piano Key- Chain"!
Students will keep their Piano Key-Chain in their NEW tote bags this year. 
On the key chain are 7 practice tip tags with 2 practice tips each, the circle of fifths, a set of mini flashcards (thanks to Susan Paradis!), a punch card for memorization bonus beads, and my new Fall Book Bash card.

Students will assemble their own key chains, at the Back-to-School party in August. Back to School Party Highlights

The Fall Book Bash card will be connected right to the key chain this year. As each student completes a lesson Fall Book Bash challenge, they will receive a hole punch. When all the leaves are punched, they will receive 10 bonus beads on their practice chains.

Practice tips will be also connected to their key chain this year. As each student explains AND demonstrates a practice tip using a lesson book assignment, they will receive a sticker on the tag. When all tags contain stickers, the student will receive 10 bonus beads on their practice chains. Here is the Practice Strategy Sheet (just the info, not a student printable).

The student will get their blue Bonus Bead card punched whenever they memorize a lesson book or solo book song. When they have memorized a song they get 3 bonus beads on their practice chain.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Projects 1&2

Here are 2 of my 3 summer projects for my studio. I've been talking about both for 2 years and finally got around to it! The first was to paint the walls and add curtains making the whole studio feel warmer and less "clinical".  The 2nd project was to paint a piano on the step between the waiting room and studio. Done and Done.
My last paint project will begin today...stay tuned!

Before (no curtains & white walls)

with curtains

Table area- Before
Table area- After

The step between the rooms
(french doors removed)


In progress...


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Organizing Keyboard Toppers

I used to store these items in my cupboard, in various tupperware containers, decorative containers, boxes, you name it, I tried it. Recently I found these spice containers at IKEA and knew right away they'd work really well.

Incidentally, the new marker board is also an IKEA product that came with a hidden bonus-- it holds my DIY keyboard PERFECTLY!!  Hurray!

The lids screw on, so they won't come off when stored vertically. The backs of the containers are magnetized.  

The wall mount is a giant knife holder that I bought at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for $15.00. I can buy more containers and easily by another knife holder to display even MORE fun keyboard toppers.

Happy Organizing!