Yes, Wonderful Wednesday is back!
I needed some time to focus on other aspects of life for the last few months, but we're back and ready for the wonderfulness of Wednesdays.
Today I'm sharing one of my favorite slow cooker soup recipes. It was given to me by the mom of some former students who, very kindly, fed me one October evening when she heard my stomach growl over her daughter's piano playing. (that's not embarrassing at all!)
This recipe is my spin on the original based on our personal tastes. I've included the things I personally leave out at the end in case you do like mushrooms and cheese. :)
Slow Cooker Italian Sausage Soup
1 lb hot or mild Italian sausage, casings removed**
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
4 cups low sodium chicken stock or broth
1/2 tsp dried Italian herb seasoning
1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
8oz homemade tomato sauce (or 1 can)
1 can (19 oz) diced tomatoes, drained - reserve juices
1 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Cook sausage in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, 8-10 minutes or until browned, stirring to break up the meat
Transfer to slow cooker with a slotted spoon
Add onion, carrots, broth, seasoning, salt, pepper, tomato sauce, tomatoes, and zucchini to slow cooker
Cover and cook on HIGH 3-4 hours or on LOW 6-10 hours, or until vegetables are tender
Add parsley to slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 15-20 minutes
Ladle into bowls and serve immediately
Optional, top with Parmesan and more fresh parsley
Let's talk planners!
I have had almost every kind of planner out there.
No, really, I have.
I call my planner my Brain Book because everything that's in my brain goes into that book.
Before I started using planners, I used $0.99 notebooks to keep my life in order. When I realized I needed more, I explored as many options as I could before spending any money.
I decided to start with a basic $4 dot-grid notebook from Walmart and I was very proud of the fact that I didn't spend a lot of money on it. Then I went with an Erin Condren dot-grid notebook (wow expensive) and have since tried every notebook/journal in between, except for the the Leuchtturm1917. One thing I knew was that a bound notebook wasn't going to work for me.
So I continued with my dot-grid pseudo-bullet journaling and my Brain Book became a creative outlet.
But then I got tired of having to draw out everything every week and wasting tons of Post-It Notes waiting for the right pages on the right week to put my notes into my Brain Book and completely messing up my lines and having to start all over again and problem and problem and time-consuming problem.
My Brain Book was becoming a project. Instead of serving me, I was serving it.
I was at my breaking point. I had spent 4+ years using a dot-grid notebook for my Brain Book and now it was time for something different.
So as 2019 started wrapping up, I did some more research. I decided a notebook wasn't going to cut it anymore and I had to upgrade to an actual planner. This time I was more careful about determining my requirements before researching options.
Here are my planner requirements:
I get all these things with the Classic Happy Planner from Me and My Big Ideas.
I purchased it for $14 on a Black Friday sale event. I tell you the price so you know that using a mainstream planner doesn't have to be expensive. Something I wish I had known sooner!
Yes, I now spend money on stickers to make my planner pretty as well as functional, but that is completely optional. The planner works just as well without them.
This 7 x 9.25 inch book (#1) is a disc-bound planner (#2 & #5). I chose one that has a little color, that isn't intrusive (#4) and the vertical layout has 3 boxes per day (#3).
This year has been the first year that I've liked my planner for more than 3 months. It's not perfect, and my planner works well, yet I still feel like it could be more functional.
So, there will be changes for my coming 2021 planner and I can't wait to show you everything!
If you follow me on Instagram, you've seen my planner. I have a full post about my planner that will come later, but today I wanted to share this week's before the pen spread.
I did it back in September because I plan out a few weeks in advance. Well, over those last few weeks, I haven't been able to stop myself from flipping to this one because I love it so much. And now I finally get to use it!
All of the stickers come from Happy Planner's Squad Goals sticker book, which I got on clearance. Yay!
Please let me know if you'd like to see more of my planner spreads. You can also follow me on Instagram @misschristiemusic
It's barely October as I sit here putting the final touches on this post about Thanksgiving - a post which I started in August - and frankly, it feels surreal to be thinking about resources for a holiday that is still 8 weeks away, but that's what we music teachers do right? We plan Halloween recitals in July and sing Christmas carols in September all in the name spreading the joys of each season through the gift of music.
Christmas is starting to pop up everywhere this time of year. Walk into any store and you're bombarded with a combination of ghoulish and adorable Halloween decorations along with red and green lights, cinnamon brooms, and gigantic blowup Santas.
Now before you think me a Scrooge, I LOVE Christmas with every fiber of my being. But Christmas is at the end of December and there's another holiday between then and now that I also love.
Oh yes, I love Thanksgiving.
One of the main things I love about Thanksgiving is that it hasn't been commercialized to death...granted Black Friday has been creeping it's way in the last few years...but it is still all about family, friends, and above all thankfulness for all the many blessings we have.
Today I'd share a few of my favorite Thanksgiving piano activities, music, and of course recipes.
Piano Activities & Worksheets
Susan Paradis (SusanParadis.com) has a plethora of Thanksgiving themed games, activities, and worksheets. My personal favorite is Color Mr. Turkey
Andrea and Trevor over at TeachPianoToday.com have a great Save the Turkey practice tool.
Piano Sheet Music
Wendy Stevens of ComposeCreate.com has composed a beautiful elementary piano piece called A Thanksgiving Prayer. It's available for purchase as a single use or studio license for this digital download.
Kristin over at EarTrainingAndImprov.com has a cute composition activity that gets kids thinking about what they're thankful for.
Pineapple Lime Cranberry Sauce
I came across this recipe several years ago in an old Country Home magazine and it has been a perennial hit. It also bakes nicely into cupcakes. Yum!
Honey Garlic Chicken Thighs
Not everyone is a turkey person. This slow cooker recipe can be made as written to create a beautiful standalone meal or you can eliminate the veggies, add a few more chicken thighs and you have a non-turkey meat option for your guests.
Looking for more Thanksgiving activities for your lessons or music classroom? I recently created a Thanksgiving Pinterest board with many games, songs, and activities that I will be trying this year and in the future.
What are some of your favorite Thanksgiving Resources? Let's keep the conversation going in the comments!
This October we will be having our 7th annual Candy Corn Challenge! I know candy corn is a hotly debated candy, but I promise this is a challenge that works!
A little while back I wrote about how I use sticker cards as an ongoing incentive program.
This program had worked splendidly for 5+ years of my teaching, but I was noticing that several of my older students were getting frustrated at how long it took for them to complete 25 pages of music...especially compared to the little ones.
Then, something I've known for a long time finally hit me. If I'm to reach my students where they are, I must acknowledge the importance of instant gratification in addition to delayed gratification in their lives.
Every generation experiences a faster paced and more stimulating world than the one before it. It's only natural that this generation needs immediate feedback more than I did growing up. Now I run a studio-wide incentive program every few months that provides them with instant feedback.
For the first Candy Corn Challenge, I put together personalized theory packets for each student. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but putting them together took ages and keeping track of those packets turned out to be a nightmare.
Last year, I overcompensated for my mistake and played Halloween themed games. It was fun and the planning was easy, but in addition to taking up a lot of lesson time; the older one's were bored with some of the games and the little one's hadn't learned many of the concepts yet.
This year's version of the Candy Corn Challenge is a hybrid of the last two. I've laminated some of the theory sheets I created that first year and added some letter name and interval cards. Starting next week, all students of the academy will start their lessons with a level-appropriate theory task. Every correct answer and every wrong answer that they fix on their own earns them a piece of candy corn!
Still wondering why candy corn?
1. You get a lot of candy for a little money. 4.5 pounds for under $10 at BJ's. Score!
2. They're small candies, so I don't feel badly giving even the little ones a few pieces.
3. I don't like it, so I won't be tempted to eat it. :)
Head over to my Teachers Pay Teachers store on October 1st to get your own copy of these Halloween themed worksheets & games.
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?