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! :)
Here in the United States, Memorial Day is celebrated on the last Monday of May. It is a time for us to mourn and honor those who lost their lives serving our country in the armed forces, but for many Americans, it's become a day off of work to play and eat with family and friends.
This year will be different since many of us are still in quarantine and are unable to gather. So, I'd like to challenge us all to treat the day with the respect it deserves. We can and should still enjoy ourselves, after all that's what those brave men and women gave their lives for, but let's take a moment to remember and be grateful for their sacrifices.
I've compiled a few playlists of music to help your weekend of remembrance. Some are traditional American songs, others more modern and contemporary. Whatever genre speaks to you, I hope you enjoy a wonderful Memorial Day weekend and God Bless America!
Instrumental Patriotic Songs
Country Music Songs
American Patriotic Songs and Marches
Memorial Day Weekend Playlist (Pop/Rock Summer Songs)
I love this little sticker more now than I did when I put it in my planner a few weeks ago.
I keep flipping back and looking at it because even though it's torn and wrinkled, it's still sunny and happy, and it brings me joy. (The picture really doesn't do it justice.)
It also serves as a reminder that no matter what life does to me, we can still shine through all the wrinkles and tears and messiness of life.
So let your light shine, even in your darkest days.
"You Watch Your Phraseology" has been a statement that I've thought of a lot over my career. (Btw, 2 points if you know where that quote comes from!)
A few of years ago, I was working with a young student on finger shape. I used all of the imagery I could think of, I showed him with my hand, I shaped his hand for him, and when he finally got it, I said, "Yes! Can you play like that forever?" His response, "Yeah!"
And you know what? He has!
Granted, he still needs reminders from time to time, but this one student, who struggles like all kindergartners do with their hand shape, has been more consistent than any other young student of mine.
That got me thinking - what was different? Was it the student? Was it the song we we working on? Was it what I said? Was it where he is in his studies?
After mulling over all of those questions, I decided to do a little experiment. Whenever a student and I fixed their finger shape I said, "Yes! Can you play like that forever?" That's when I realized that it was how I said what I said that made the most impact.
We all have been taught that our tone matters as much as our words, but I'm finding that kids are hearing the same phrases from every adult and they are starting to tune them out.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Rephrasing Common Statements
"Tell me." Instead of "Use your words." (This one has been HUGE! My students give clearer responses and actually think about what they're going to say.)
"Show me how you did this at home." instead of "Did you practice the way I asked you to?"
"I'm going to remind your thumb that he belongs on the keys too." instead of "Fix your hand please."
Replacing Statements with Questions
Asking questions makes us think. So naturally rewording a statement into a question will get your students more focused on what's going on rather that what you said.
"Did your eyes get lost on the keys?" instead of "Look at the music."
"Are your words confusing your fingers?" instead of "Don't stop playing when you count out loud."
Changing our wording also gives students the opportunity to think about their mistakes from an observers point of view. When we make poor word choices in our corrections, we make our students feel like they're failing or being attacked for making a mistake. But when we take the time to address the mistake as a learning opportunity, students are able to see that they are in control of the situation. They are empowered to make the necessary mistakes of learning and to take initiative to fix those mistakes.
Sometimes I blame their fingers for the mistake to help my students save face and give them the chance to get over the embarrassment of having a train wreck moment. I'll hold up the offending finger and have a candid conversation that goes something like this....
"What are you doing, finger 2? It's not your turn to play there. That's not fair to finger 4 who was supposed to play. Do you promise to let finger 4 have it's turn and to only play when it's actually your turn?" I then have the student tell me if their finger agreed and they happily play the passage again without finger 2 getting in finger 4's way. 🙂
Now, there have been some unsuccessful phrases, but sometimes rewording what we say reaches our students where they are in the moment and makes for a happier and more productive lesson.
What interesting phrases have you caught yourself saying?
Do you have a different way of correcting your students? I'd love to know!
Happy National Apple Pie Day!
Apple pie is said to be America's favorite dessert and today, May 13, 2020, is designated to be its nationally celebrated day.
How do you like your apple pie?
Warm or cool or chilled...
A la mode or with whipped cream or are you a purist who likes it plain...
Lattice pie crust, or a full double-crust or Dutch crumb topping...
Anyway you like it, I hope you're able to enjoy a slice today!
I love working with beginner students, especially little ones. Their creativity, imagination, and willingness to explore inspires & invigorates me. I particularly love the moments when they discover or master something new. The light in their eyes is beyond compare.
We as music educators know that those 30-minutes each we week spend with our students is crucial, but not enough to sustain growth in our students. Effective at home practice is essential to the development of every musician.
Practicing can be a little mysterious, especially for young beginners. And if mom and dad don't have much musical experience they might be unable to help, which can make it feel confusing or overwhelming.
Over the years I've come up with a variety of tools I use to help my students become independent learners, but practice steps have by far been the most helpful. Breaking down the practice process into easy, bite-sized pieces makes practice more manageable and helps beginner students develop successful practice habits from the start.
The cool thing about these practice steps is that your beginner students will experience success with their new pieces before playing a single note.
Two quick notes about counting and repetition of steps.
Counting is essential through all of these steps!
To count during every step, I have students say the finger number/letter name of the note then count the beats the note is held. For example, a whole note played on C would be said "C-2-3-4".
I encourage my students to repeat each practice step at home only moving on to the next when they know they've mastered the previous enough to (almost) guarantee success. If they struggle too much with a step, I have them go back to the previous one and review it before trying again.
Okay, now onto the Practice Steps!
1. Point & Read
I've found this step to be the most crucial step for student success. This is the most basic form of music reading broken down to letter names (or finger number depending on their level) and hands. I have my students point to the notes with the matching hand and read the letter name out loud.
There are a few things that I think lead to student success with this step.
First, they're isolating the notes that they'll be playing without having to think about finger shape, fingering, rhythm, steady beat, dynamics, or any of the other technical necessities of playing the piano.
Second, they are able to analyze their mistakes more quickly. Since their finger is right on the note on the page we both can see what they're looking at, I know whether or not they're looking in the right spot, and we can easily compare the current note to the ones around it making correction a breeze.
Third, they're learning how to track the music on the page. How many times have you said, "Look at your music" or "Keep your eyes on the page" or "Stop looking at your fingers"? By bringing both the hands and the eyes onto the music itself, you're starting the connection between all working parts before they even play a note.
And lastly, they're making associations between the notes and the hand (fingers will come later). I insist that my students point to right hand notes with their right hand and left hand notes with their left hand. This physical reminder translates seamlessly to their playing.
2. Tap & Read
Tap and read is everything from Point & Read with one change, they're tapping the rhythm instead of pointing to the note.
This step brings the rhythm to life without overwhelming your student with keys, fingers, technique, dynamics, etc. They're still saying the letter names and counting the rhythms AND they get to feel what those rhythms by tapping.
This is where I start getting creative in my teaching. I've had students tap on drums, on tambourines, with rhythm sticks, on their shoes, their head, their bellies. Heck, I've even had students stomp the rhythm in her bare feet. All I ask is that they say the letter name, count the rhythm, and tap with the correct hand. Beyond that, anything goes with this step!
I usually have my students do this and the first step a few times during their lesson and I'll sing the note names to help their ear hear what they'll be playing!
3. Play & Say (HS/HT as needed)
Now they're ready to start playing!
By this point, my student has read the note names, identified, tapped and counted the rhythms, and heard the piece through my voice. Even the most timid or perfectionistic learner will have enough experience to be able to play the new piece.
When students play & say, they are saying the note names the same way they did in steps 1 and 2 and playing. It's completely okay if this step doesn't happen during the lesson. Setting up the student's base knowledge of what they're playing will enable them to achieve this step in their at home practice.
This final practice step is one that my students look forward to because I tell them they aren't allowed to do this step until they have masters steps 1-3!
Once the first 3 steps are mastered, playing their piece will be so easy, they won't have to worry. They'll know when they're right and when they've made a mistake. They'll also know how to fix their mistake and learn from it!
Here are two free resources to help get you started using practice steps with your students.
Practice Step Post-Its are easily moved from piece to piece
Practice Step Stickers are smaller
Try using these practice steps with some of your beginning students and let me know how it goes!
Looking for more resources? I'm adding more to my Teachers Pay Teachers Store all the time!
It's no secret, I love to bake. I love to bake as much as I love my job, maybe even a little more sometimes (shh, don't tell).
I haven't baked much over the last few years. Between starting & running the academy, getting married, and trying not to put on any more weight than I already had in my 20s, I didn't have much time or energy for it.
We've had a stay at home state-mandate for almost 8 weeks now and being home has given me the urge to be in the kitchen more. Don't get me wrong, I still don't have much time, but "where there's a will, there's a way" is a saying for a reason.
Last time I experimented in the kitchen, I learned how to bake bread. This time I wanted to try something different, so I started experimenting with aquafaba.
What is Aquafaba?
You may not have heard the word before, but if you've ever eaten beans, you've definitely seen it. Aquafaba is the liquid left in a can of beans. Most baking is done with chickpea aquafaba, but depending on the application, it is my understanding that any bean "juice" can be used.
What do you use Aquafaba for?
Aquafaba is primarily used as an egg substitute. It's a very popular ingredient in vegan cooking and baking. I've seen recipes that use it as the base to a sauce, ice cream, butter cream, and much more!
I made coconut macaroons and "vegan" brownies with aquafaba instead of eggs. I put vegan in quotes because the recipe itself had all vegan ingredients, but my chocolate chips are not vegan.
Here's my coconut macaroon recipe. Enjoy!
Aquafaba Coconut Macaroons
¼ cup aquafaba (or 2 egg whites)*
¼ tsp. vanilla extract
dash of salt
⅔ cup sugar
1½ cups unsweetened coconut (sweetened coconut can also be used)
Preheat oven to 325°
Beat the aquafaba, salt, and vanilla until soft peaks form. (This can take 10 minutes to achieve with aquafaba)
Gradually add sugar, beating until very stiff and glossy.
Gently fold in coconut; drop by rounded teaspoons about 2” apart on parchment lined cookie sheet.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until set and golden brown.
Let cool on rack.
*One 15-oz. can of chickpeas yields about 1/2-3/4 cup of liquid