If you had told me a year ago that I would be preparing for my second virtual recital this year, I probably would've laughed at the idea. And really, I never thought I'd be writing a post like this!
My first virtual recital was held back in June. As I began to prepare for our next recital in October, I started reflecting on the lessons I learned from that first experience. Hopefully, these tips will make your next recital a little easier!
Lesson 1: Prerecorded Performances Make It Flow!
I know for many people, the primary purpose of a recital is to perform live, but the reality of a live virtual recital has so many unnecessary complications — unpredictable interruptions (aka noisy siblings or pets), unreliable internet connections, poor audio quality, etc — that I decided to have all of my students prerecord their videos and boy was it the right decision for us.
Lesson 2: Send Very Specific Instructions For Recordings
Send families an email at least 3 weeks before the recital with specific instructions for how to record their performances. Here's mine. Feel free to us any and all of it in your studio.
Over the next 3 weeks you will be receiving several emails from us. Please take the time to read them all so you have the most up-to-date info on the recital as well as the summer schedule.
Below are tips and requirements for creating your recital video!
Experiment over the next week or two to practice performance and work out any kinks. Send Miss Christie your "rough cuts" for feedback. Remember, videos are due BY DATE YOU'VE PRESELECTED. If you get an awesome recording before then we'll take it early!
Remember these three words: “Lights, Camera, Sound!”
We want to see every performer clearly throughout the entire program, so when you’re setting up your lights make sure that there are no shadows over the performer and that the background is not washed out.
The easiest way to accomplish this is to set up lights behind & slightly above the camera.
If that’s not working, play around moving some lamps until you find the right setup for your space.
Camera angles will vary by instrument.
Pianists should have a side shot that leans a little toward the front of the pianist’s body.
Vocalists should use a 3/4 shot which means you’re far enough away from the camera that the bottom edge of the frame bisects the upper thigh.
Guitar & Ukulele players should have their stand off to the side so their entire instrument and face are visible to the camera.
The important thing with audio is to make sure that the performer is picked up by the microphone without any distortion or background noise. This means the microphone needs to be in the sweet spot, not too close and not too far away.
A Note for Pianists: If you are using a phone to record a pianist please DO NOT put the phone on the piano. This will cause major distortion ruining your recording.
A Note for Vocalists: Make sure that your backing track is balanced with your voice. You will need two devices to record yourself – one to play the track, and the other to record the video / sound. Explore sound balance with your teacher.
This might be one of the most important parts of your recording. Noise will disrupt any performance, so please make sure that any pets, young children, or young at heart adults are in a place where they can make as much noise as they want without disturbing your recording session.
This may be more information than your families need, so feel free to reduce the wording to suit your needs. I know I will be this time around.
Lesson 3: Google Slides Is Amazing
I spent weeks and weeks researching the best (and easiest) way to share students’ videos. I finally settled on Google Slides after my pastor included a video in the service.
We hold Zoom worship on Sunday and she uses Google Slides in place of the bulletin and hymnal. So, I played around with it and found out that you can embed videos from Google Drive, set them to auto-start, and then you just share you screen and start the slideshow!
Lesson 4: Allow Only ONE Method Of Entry For Videos
I allowed parents to use email, Dropbox or Google Drive to submit their videos. This made things WAY too complicated for me. Next time around, I'm going to require parents to email all videos so I can put it on my own Google Drive.
Lesson 5: Do A Complete Dress Rehearsal
This piggybacks on the last lesson learned. I allowed parents to share videos on Google Drive. I thought this would save me space on my drive and would make it easier for the parents as well. What I didn’t know was that if they delete it from their drive, I lost access to the file. The picture stayed on the slide, but the video wouldn’t play. If I had done a full dress rehearsal — making sure all of the videos played through completely — I would have seen that the video wasn’t available and could have reached out to the parents before the recital started.
Lesson 6: Send A Formal Invitation
So many students and parents missed the recital because they forgot to sign on. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around how that can happen, but one mom who missed it said that a formal invitation would’ve been a good prompt, so I’m going to give it a try.
Lesson 7: Do Your Welcome Live
I prerecorded my welcome schpiel so that it would match the students' prerecorded videos and even though it went well, I know it would've gone better if I had done it live.
Lesson 8: Take A Screenshot At The End
I found the biggest downside to a virtual recital (aside from not having a reception) is that I wasn’t able to take a group shot of everyone.
A few weeks after my spring recital I saw someone post screenshots they took of their students in gallery view and kicked myself for not thinking of that myself. I will not be making that mistake again.
Are you considering having a virtual recital? Have you already done one this year? Do you have tips or ideas that were not included in this list? Let's keep the conversation going in the comments!
Like many other piano teachers, I use the beginning of the school year to set goals for my students. I do a mid-year checkup in January and then set a separate goal for the summer.
I call my student's goals their "Mission Statement" and they are responsible for helping create it each year.
The Goal Setting Process
I highly recommend that you get your students involved in setting their goals for the year. The importance of having students choose their own goals cannot be over stated. When children are able to have a say their own learning, they feel empowered and take more responsibility in their studies.
But choosing goals can be really hard for a kid, because you don't know what you don't know.
I've come up with some questions to help my students set their Mission Statement for the year.
Questions for Young Beginner Piano Students
For young piano students (5 & under) I ask them these three questions:
Most of them don't give me a completely coherent answer - okay, let's be honest, the little ones ramble - so I listen and then rephrase their response to fit into a two to three sentence Mission Statement.
Questions for Elementary to Advanced Piano Students
For older students, we get a little more involved. They choose one "what" question and one "how" question from the following list.
Students choose one "what" question and one "how" question from each list to answer and together we create their Mission Statement.
I have them start their Mission Statement with "I (name)" then answer their two questions.
After they've written it down, we take it over to the Mission Statement board in the waiting room. Putting it on the board makes official and keeps them accountable. I've found it really helps my students stay on task throughout the year.
I've created this printable to help you and your students set their goals for the year.
Do your students set their own goals?
When do you set your student goals? Do you use a different method of setting those goals? I've love to hear your thoughts!
You know you're a music teacher when you're thinking about Halloween in August.
This year I'm planning a Halloween recital, so I've been thinking about it extra early. I love writing holiday music for my students and I have several Halloween pieces in my Teachers Pay Teachers store. Today I'll be discussing some of them, but also sharing music for other instruments and fun activities.
Songs & Improv
Midnight Masquerade is a song I wrote for a student who just discovered she could reach octaves! This piece comes with 3 versions, one with and one without octaves, as well as a simpler pre-reading version.
Halloween Piano Improv
I’ve been using this resource from Teach Piano Today since it came out 5 years ago. The simple teacher duet part combined with the creative phrases make for a fun time creating at the piano.
This song is perfect for beginner piano students! The simple repeated patterns make it easy to play and the minor key makes it sound especially Halloween-y. This piece comes with FOUR versions: two pre-reading arrangements in A minor position and two staff reading in D minor position. It's currently free on my TpT Store, but only for a limited time.
Activities & Games
Skin & Bones
Have you ever heard of the song "Skin & Bones"? I first learned this song when I was teaching elementary band. The vocal teacher in my school had her students singing it while playing a circle game. I've since found that it's wonderful in private voice lessons. The repeated "Ooo" is especially useful in helping students explore vowel shaping. I also found this Orff arrangement for classroom music teachers.
Addams Family Cup Passing Game
My students LOVE cup activities. I have no idea who came up with it, but it is brilliant! Someone created this visual and there’s a YouTube follow along video. This year I’m going to challenge my students to perform it with a frown like Wednesday Addams….and let’s be honest, there’s nothing funnier than seeing kids trying not to smile!
Weesing's Halloween song book includes a minor version of Looby Lou with new lyrics. It got me thinking about all of the other children's songs that can be sung in minor to make them sound "spooky".
Bats & Cats Notes
Oh my goodness, how my students LOVE this game by Susan Paradis. It’s easily adaptable to intermediate students. No joke, I had a student request it twice this summer. Definitely a must have!
We're about halfway through summer break here in New Jersey, but I know a lot of schools in other parts of the country are almost ready to begin the new year.
Even though I teach private piano lessons, my calendar is the same as the school calendar, so the start to our year is the day after Labor Day.
With all the uncertainty of whether or not schools are reopening, I've been making mental notes about what I will and possibly will not be able to use with my students.
Here are my favorite resources that will be usable regardless of whether we're in person or online this fall.
MusicTheory.Net/Tenuto - this website/app combination turns note reading into a game!
Rhythm Cups Explorations by Wendy Stevens - Seriously fun rhythm "drills". This comes as a digital file that you can screen-share or print out.
Teach Piano Today's Piano Game Club - 4 games every month delivered directly to your email. You can print and laminate these games for in-person lesson use or keep them as digital files and play during your online lessons.
Piano Pronto by Jennifer Eklund- My go-to for online method books. The variety and quality of music available is fantastic!
When most people hear the word diva they think of a strong, big-voiced female singer who is always demanding of those around her.
But, have you ever heard of a Piano Diva?
The first time I saw this phrase was in Erica Sipes' blog Beyond the Notes. She posted a great reflection on why one might need to be a piano diva now and again.
In this post, she offers the following definition:
"A pianist who demands that attention be paid to his or her needs,
especially without regard to anyone else's needs or feelings."
I have to admit, she really got me thinking about my own inner diva as a pianist, an organist, a congregational leader, and a choir director.
Because most of my performances are as an accompanist or congregation leader, I try to be a low maintenance performer. For the most part my flexibility has worked out well for me, but sometimes I feel like I'm viewed as a machine instead of a musician.
The piano for your wedding hasn't been tuned in 3 years? - No problem.
One of the black keys is broken off? - No worries, I'll work around it. (eep, all my pieces have 3 or more accidentals!)
You need me to sight transpose because last night you went to a concert, screamed your brains out, and can't reach the high F today? - Umm, okay. (*eyeroll* crap)
You want me to play this one piece on the piano at the alter, go to the organ upstairs at the back of the sanctuary during the prayer to play the next hymn then come right back to the piano for your candle lighting ceremony? - Sure, I could use a good workout.
Yes, these are all true stories...and that last question is exactly how I worded it to a bride, though my response to her excited "yes!" wasn't quite as cheeky. (I don't think she realized how unreasonable her request was.)
Fortunately, I haven't reached my breaking point, but who knows where that line is...
Do you have any stories of unreasonable requests on your talents? Have you ever had your inner piano diva emerge? Where's your line?
I wrote this cute little bunny song for one of my beginner piano students who started learning the staff a few weeks before our recital.
I've found that giving young students a prereading piece after they have started reading on the grand staff can be demoralizing, but it's quite difficult to find recital worthy music that has only two notes (and isn't a total snooze!).
This student loves to explore high and low sounds on the piano and she also loves bunnies.
So I give you "Bunny Hop"!
This piece has rests and octave leaps that can be taught by rote while your student reads the rest of the piece with their new found note reading skills.
I hope your students enjoy it as much as mine!
This song is free on my Teacher Pay Teachers store for a limited time.
How do you use the iPad during piano lessons? I use it as reinforcement for new concepts/skills or as a kind of reward.
Having an iPad has given me so many more options as a piano teacher. This summer I'm trying to use it to the fullest. As mentioned in my bingo post, summer is different for all of us.
And if summer is different, why shouldn't piano lessons be different?
In their first lesson of the summer we discuss their summer goals & wishes. Over the years I've found that my students' summer needs seem to fit 4 paths:
Some of my students, particularly the younger ones, need a little extra help with note and rhythm reading as well as ear training. Since summer is a great time to break away from their books and give them something new, why not use technology?
We're using apps like Ningenius, Treble Cat, Bass Cat, Note Rush, Tune Train, Blob Chorus, & NoteWorks.
2. No time to practice:
If you thought the beginning and end of the school year was busy, wait until you hear the summer schedule for some of my students:
They start at a full day camp at 7am, followed by sports (game or practice), then its home for dinner, promptly followed by bedtime. Lather, rinse, repeat - all summer long.
Now I know they get a break from running around over the weekend, but sometimes that's the only time the whole family is together. While I don't have kids of my own, I know I would rather spend time doing things as a family than making them sit at the piano alone.
For these students my goal is to keep them playing so they can retain as much as possible. Then in the fall we can pick right up again as if no time passed.
I primarily use Piano Maestro by JoyTunes for these students, but will also throw in a few board games to mix it up. If you haven't heard of Piano Maestro, I highly recommend you check it out!
3. Need a break, but still want to play & take lessons:
This year is different for many of my students who usually fall in the previous category. because social distancing requirements have made most camps shut down. Since they're not in camp all day, they're not as busy and theoretically have more time to practice.
But...not being busy doesn't mean a break isn't needed and sometimes not being required to practice is more motivating than pushing the same way we do during the year.
For these students I use any app that keeps them at the piano and engaging in music and music making.
Some favorites are Note Squish (which, sadly, I believe is no longer available), Flashnote Derby, and Rhythm Cat.
Several are taking this summer to focus on their sight-reading skills (their idea not mine #teacherwin!) We use ALL of the note reading apps listed above for their in-lesson sight reading and I send them home with a "Home Challenge" in Piano Maestro or different book to sight read each week.
Beyond that we have been using flashcard apps to hone their note reading and board games to keep other concepts fresh.
Many of these apps used to only be available on Apple devices, but now many of them are also available on Android and Amazon devices making them even more more accessible!
There are so many new apps coming out all the time, sometimes it feels difficult to keep up. The nice thing is you never have to do the same thing twice...unless you really want to :)
What are some of your favorite music learning apps?
We may still be in quarantine, but I'm thinking ahead to summer when, hopefully, we'll be able to see our friends and family and students face-to-face. It's at that time when I'll be kicking the practice incentives into high gear.
When I started teaching, I didn't have any trouble getting my students to practice over the summer. I'd give them an assignment, write a little practice log in their books, and they'd come back the next week with their work complete.
Then about 7 years ago, something changed and I started hearing excuses..."I didn't have time", "I was at camp all day", "We went away for the weekend"...instead of music.
So, over the past few summers, I've given my students fun and new ways to practice.
One of those activities is Summer of Music Bingo. I haven't done this particular program in a few years and I'm excited to be bringing it back!
How to Play:
To complete the challenge, students must get bingo - 5 in a row (vertical, horizontal, or diagonal). And of course I will add an optional challenge to finish the whole board by the end of summer!
Students color in the square when they've completed the activity and we go over the board together at every lesson to track their progress and answer questions. Once they achieve BINGO they are to take a picture of themselves with their BINGO board and send it to me!
It's up to you whether or not you want to give out prizes. Sometimes just letting the fun of finishing be the reward is just what kids need.
In years past, the student(s) with the most activities completed at the end of August would receive a surprise at their summer piano party (more on that later). Since I'm not sure whether or not we'll be able to have our summer performance parties, I'm doing rewards a little differently. This year, I'm doing a 3 part reward system.
Most of the activities can be completed within a day or two, but some of the activities will take them a few days or weeks to complete. My goal for this, as it is with all of my practice incentives, is to encourage consistency in my students practice habits.
Want your own copy of Summer of Music Bingo? Download the pdf here
Our nation is in turmoil right now for several reasons - pandemic, violence, protests, and an inability for our government to adequately lead us through these issues.
When thinking about what I could possibly write for today's post, I was reminded of something Mr. Rogers said. "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'"
Take that one step further. Be the helper.
Be the helper fighting injustice.
Be the helper fighting against indifference.
Be the helper fighting for the rights of all humans.
Be the helper that our children can look for in times of trouble.
Be the helper who is part of the solution.
My dad sends me a-joke-of-the-day every day. And I mean, who doesn't love a good joke? Even the groaners.
So here's one of my favorite "bad dad" jokes that happens to also be a music joke! :)