Sunday, August 29, 2010

What do you get when you cross Orff with Piano?

You get....PianOrff!

For those who might be wondering what in the world is Orff, Carl Orff 1895-1982 believed that children learn best through movement and play.  He is best known for his work for children which combines movement, singing, playing, and improvisation.  Orff instruments  are designed to limit mistakes and increase chance for success. Each of the keys are removable so that wrong keys can be taken off and only the correct ones left on the xylophone-type instrument.  One of Carl Orff's great quotes is "Experience first, intellectualize later".

So let's apply it to can't very well remove some of the keys from a piano, (although we all would like to do that every once in a while!)

What can we remove? We can remove different layers of concepts during practice or introduction of a new unit. For example, if the student is learning a new rhythm, then take away the keys and pat the rhythm on the table or his lap.  If your student is learning a new interval, like a 6th or 7th, then as they learn the hand position, take away the rhythm until mastery of new concept is achieved.  Once achieved, then slowly the layers can be added back on.  The goal is for the student to reach different levels of success at each practice and each lesson. 

Keep playing!!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Favorite TV Show for Kids---Disney's Little Einsteins

Disney's Little Einsteins has been around since 2005, and it is by far my favorite TV program for young kids....especially young musicians.  They cover musical concepts like steady beat, loud and soft, higher and lower,  as well as musical terms like Allegro, Moderato, Andante or rest.  Some of these sound awfully familiar to my regular followers, because these are terms and concepts that I talk about quite a bit!
I have even been bold enough to encourage school music teachers to spend a few dollars of their yearly budget, to purchase the DVD set of this show.  While it is intended for a preschool audience, it easily carries over to a kindergarten and lower elementary school aged child as well.  It works especially well for those days that a school music teacher is absent and has a substitute.  This way if the sub has to play a movie, the students are still being exposed to music standards in the classroom.  This is another win-win situation!
To watch episodes online: go to

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How to Deal with Whining About Practicing

Let's be honest, all students whine sometimes.  The causes differ from not wanting to practice, to getting frustrated with a piece of music, to being frustrated with an instrument.  So what's a parent to do???

Here's some ideas.
First, try to get to the root of the whine.  Is it that they don't want to stop playing outside or with friends and have to come inside and practice? They are frustrated with the piece of music? Frustrated with the concept?  Frustrated with the instrument? Bored with the piece? Now address that root. 
Not wanting to stop playing: Change the time of practice.  If they want to play with their friends in the afternoon when they get home from school, change practice time to the morning after breakfast.  Or even give them the "treat" of being able to stay up a little bit later so that they can practice in the evening after dinner.

Frustration with piece of music: I have been teaching out of the same curriculum for quite a while and now know that some songs are just plain hard.  Students of varying degrees of natural talent will reach a certain song and no matter what, they will struggle.  That taught me that its ok to skip songs or to supplement with another piece that teaches the same concept.  That being said, as a parent talk to the teacher if the same song is being assigned for more than 2 weeks.  Ask what specifically the student needs to work on and what the teacher's plan is if the student continues to struggle in grasping the concept. One piece of music is not worth frustration.

Frustration with a concept: There are some students that really struggle with certain concepts.  I've had students who cannot seem to master the feeling of a 3/4 time signature or crescendo/decrescendo.  If your young musician is getting frustrated with a concept like one of these, during practice take the concept away from the piece and let the musician concentrate on the successful parts of the song, like correct notes, hand position, steady beat, etc.  Talk to the teacher at the next lesson and ask if there is another way to teach the same concept.  This is where the teacher's creativity can shine!  You as the parent see if you can apply the concept to the student in other non-musical ways. (Check out my other posts to see examples of these).

Boredom with the piece: 30 minutes goes by extremely fast.  If your young musician is getting bored with the pieces because they are mastering them quickly, ask the teacher for either a longer lesson (like 45 minutes) or even better, two 30 minute lessons per week. Some musicians are so very talented, that they really could master a concept and a piece of music in just a day or so.  Ask the teacher also for supplemental music outside of the lesson book.  The Faber curriculum that I use has many books that run parallel to the lesson book levels so that students can find matching music to their level of performance. 

Frustrated with the instrument: For some piano students, when they reach a level of performance but are still playing on a lower end keyboard, they can begin to get frustrated that their instrument is not making the sound that they think it should be making.  If that's the case, then its time to invest in a better quality keyboard. Also read my other post on practicing w/o a piano.  On the other end of the spectrum, I've had students whose parents own pianos that need to be repaired or tuned badly and that can cause frustration of the musician as well.  As parents, the ball's in your court for this one.

All in all, there is usually alot going on inside the musician's head when they start whining about practicing.  If you take the time to find out what's really going on, not only will you be able to beat the whining blues, but also your musician will be happy that you took the time to find out what they were thinking/feeling inside. Its a win/win situation!!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Say your ABC's....Backwards!

This is a simple, but important tip that will help all young musicians:  learn your ABC's backwards! 

The musical alphabet is only 7 letters: A B C D E F G.  As piano students learn to play the keys on the piano, it is often easy for them to figure out the letter names of the notes as they ascend.  Its easy because the music alphabet goes in order, but the tricky part is figuring the letter names as the notes descend.  Thinking about the music alphabet in reverse order, quickly, is often very challenging.

In order to help your young musician achieve success in this area, help them practice saying the letters backwards.  Start at G and work backwards to A, then ask what comes before the A....its G!  Then start at a different letter and work down, and so on and so forth.  This will help with the quick decision-making that they have to do when playing.

Happy Playing!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Slip in a Musical Term Here and There...

I love the idea of subliminal messages and "learning through osmosis"--especially when it comes to teaching kids words and ideas w/o them knowing it!

Sometimes music lessons or music class can be overwhelming to students of all ages,  when they see the amounts of terms, phrases, symbols, signs, concepts, methods, etc that are needed to be learned.
Some concepts and terms can be added to daily life, thus teaching the definition of those concepts and terms w/o ever using a flashcard or opening a book.

An easy term to start using with your children is "rest".  Now the musical definition of rest is, an interval of silence corresponding to one of the possible time values within a measure. I like to tell my students that it simply means silence. 

I started using the word "rest" as a buzz word meaning quiet, when I was teaching in an elementary music classroom.  There were 31 kids and they were all talking at once and not responding to my shush-ing.  I used my hands to make a "cut-off" motion like a conductor would, and said "rest" in a firm voice.  The combo of the hand movement and a different word than what they were used to, caught them off guard and silenced them.  From that time on, rest was our buzz word for quiet. 

I started using it with my own children when they were young and would bang on the table or their high chair tray.  One day there was so much commotion that I tried it and sure enough it caught their attention too.  So when those kids were old enough for me to begin teaching them piano, the concept of rest was already in their brain!

If you have an idea of a musical term or concept that can be used in daily life, please leave it in a comment.  I'd love to hear what you have to say!!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Get Motivated!

As a music teacher, I'm always trying to tap in to my student's intrinsic motivations.  But sometimes, those intrinsic motivators are not well developed...yet.  In those instances, I have to use extrinsic motivators (i.e. prizes, competitions, awards, certificates, grab bags, etc). 

For the majority of my students, I require a certain number of "good" practices per week. ("Good" practices are those that are conducted with a respectful attitude and appropriate amount of effort and time.  The parents must sign off that it was indeed a "good" practice.)  If the set number of practices is reached, then the students may pick a prize bag, and take it home with them.  Its amazing how excited the young musicians are when they go get to pick out their bag and take it home with them.

If your musician's teacher does not provide that form of extrinsic motivation, then you as the parent can definitely provide that.  In my house, with my own kids, I have a candy dish on the piano.  After the kids put forth a good practice, they may pick one piece of candy. They tried to practice all day long at first, trying to get many pieces of candy!  I did have to limit it to one piece of candy per day, but it has definitely been helpful in getting them going.

You know your child well, are they being adequately motivated? 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Piano Practice....Sans Keyboard

Wow, this one is a doozy.  There is nothing more frustrating for a piano teacher than to have a student not have access to a keyboard.  Now some would say that the student shouldn't be taking lessons if there isn't a keyboard readily available, but sometimes things happen.  In the military world, one occasion that pops up sometimes is that a family's household goods are packed out months in advance of a move, yet the parents still want the student to take lessons. Or a piano might have so many sticky keys that it is unplayable. Or a keyboard not working properly. So many what to do?
1. Check out your local chapels, churches, etc.  Ask if they have a piano on which your student may practice.  Some churches, especially if given the back story, would allow practice on one of their pianos or keyboards. 
2. Check with a friend.  Do you have any friends with pianos or keyboards?  Ask if you could barter babysitting services or hot dinner in exchange for some time at their piano for your student.
3. Check your local hotels.  Some of the nicer ones have pianos or keyboards.  Ask if your student could play on it.
4. Check with a local university/college music department.  Ask if they have practice studios and if your student could practice there.
5. Lastly, make do at home.  Print out a paper keyboard, set it on the counter or table and have your musician work their fingers on the keys.  Have them press harder with their fingers to build finger strength.  Use a ball of socks on the floor for a pedal. 

There are times that we must get creative for practice opportunities.  A brainstorming session with the teacher, student and parents would be very helpful.  Try to work together and figure out the best avenue possible for the young musician.  Anything is possible!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Purchasing a Keyboard - What to look for?

I've been asked by many people about having a beginning piano student learn on a keyboard vs a piano.  Of course true pianos or digital pianos are the best option, but sometimes they don't fit in the budget.

So if a keybord is what's in your budget, what do you need to look for?
These are big things that are must-haves!
1. Full size keys.  Notice I didn't say "keyboard".  The individual keys themselves need to be full size.  It doesn't matter as much if there are 88 keys on that keyboard, especially for the beginner.  But those keys need to be full sized so that the musician's fingers can begin to learn spacing and intervals.
2.Weighted keys - also called touch sensitive.  This means that the volume of the keys can be adjusted through the amount of force played on the keys, not just a volume slide or control.  To determine if the keyboard has it or not, try playing as lightly as possible and then as hard as possible. If you noticed a difference in the volume, then they keys are weighted; if not, then  its not.  :)
3. Port for optional sustain pedal.  Check the back of the keyboard to see if there is a port to plug a sustain pedal into.  While the sustain pedal is not a must-have for the first couple months, it is used within the first year of lessons.  Sometimes the pedal comes w/ the keyboard as a package deal, sometimes its something you have to purchase later.
4. Stand/Bench.  In the very front of the primer level piano lesson book (I use Faber's Piano Adventures), there is a page that describes how to determine the musician's seating at the piano--both how high and how close to the keyboard.  This need must be met by either the stand and bench to be bought w/ the keyboard, or a counter and adjustable stool/bench at home. 
5. Music stand/rest.  This is a place to stand up your music.  There have been many people who have forgotten all about that until they got the keyboard home, so just make sure.

These 5 things are must-haves and thankfully keyboard manufacturers are making keyboards that meet these needs in more budget-friendly ways.  The Yamaha keyboard in the picture is just one example of a keyboard that provides these things.  The pedal and bench are additional purchases.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Metronome Give-away Winner

The Metronome giveaway is over and we have a winner!  Regina from Accelerando is our winner!  Regina, I hope you enjoy the metronome!  If you find more uses for it, please share them with us.
For everyone else, thank you for your responses!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Back to lesson time! Ideas from Blog-world

Its almost time for music lessons to start back! As you and your musician prepare for another year of lessons, or year of band/chorus, here are some ideas for getting organized.
The first idea comes from Char over at She has put together an awesome tutorial for making bags to tote lesson books, flashcards, assignment books and more to and from lessons, always staying fashionable and organized!

Crap I've Made: Piano Bag Tutorial