I started my career as an elementary band director. A far cry off from where I am today, but not far off from where I wanted to be (or so I thought).
Sadly, those first two years of teaching in public schools were the only two really good years for me. This is not at all a reflection on my students or the programs.
When I graduated, public schools were at the beginning of their difficult times and music and art teachers were bearing the brunt of it. Needless to say, I got out.
One of the things I took away from that experience was how much kids benefit from little snippets of information combined with instant gratification.
We all know how long it takes to get to the point in learning an instrument where you can make music that's fun and recognizable.
To encourage my students along the way, I decided to start posting a "Music Question of the Week" on the white board in my band room. Students would come in for their lesson and get a piece of candy (something I hear you can't do anymore) for knowing the answer.
I've altered this for the academy to "Music Symbol of the Week". It works the same way as the question, but is a little more focused on music symbols rather than general knowledge.
And if they don't know the answer because they haven't learned it yet, students write it down and learn about it before going into their lesson.
Get your copy of the 2021 Music Symbol of the Week Calendar here.
Setting Goals in Piano Lessons
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!
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!
Over the past several weeks, I've been sharing several resources I've created and used in my music studio as we transition to online music lessons.
In March, I shared 11 benefits of online music lessons. Last week were student and parent guides to online lessons.
In today's post, I'm be sharing dynamics practice sheets.
These fun llama-themed sheets - from my "Llama Hear Ya Play!" series - will help your students understand reading and playing with dynamics on the piano!
The theory sheets can be emailed to your students or printed and put into their piano practice packets!
Using the packets
There are 3 versions of the dynamics practice sheets: Pre-Reading, Beginner, and Elementary.
Each packet has an informational page that introduces the dynamics forte & piano, their definitions, and a description of how to play them properly on the piano. The next page provides your students the opportunity to practice these dynamics with easy to read and play exercises.
Packets can be used as an introduction to dynamics in your students' lessons or you can send it to your students as a fun supplement to their daily practice routine.
Click the photo to download the Llama Hear Ya Play! Dynamics Packets or on the link below.
I, like you, have been a busy bee these past few weeks.
In addition to teaching, running a multi-teacher business, transitioning my other teachers and their students to online lessons, and transitioning church services to an online format, I've been hard at work creating teaching materials.
You may have noticed there wasn't a post last Friday. That's because I chose to use that time to create new resources that I think will benefit you more than reading me ramble on about being a piano diva.
Don't worry that post will come! :)
Back in March, I shared 11 benefits of online music lessons with you. If you haven't read it and grabbed your freebie, head over there now before continuing on!
Got your freebie? Great, here are the next ones!
After creating that download, I realized that very few of my parents needed convincing about how good it is for them to continue lessons and needed more guidance in how to help their children succeed, so I created a guide, or cheat-sheet if you will, for parents and students to help with having successful online music lessons.
You can get your free guides here:
I hope your families find these resources as useful as mine found them!
Hello my friend. I very much hope you, your family, your friends, your teachers, and your students are healthy and well.
Today’s post is not what I had originally planned, but given the unprecedented time we’re in, I felt it would not be prudent to share what I had originally planned. It’s day will come, but for now I’d like to discuss online lessons with you.
My entire studio (5 teachers and myself) will be transitioning to online lessons next week. We’ve done online lessons before for students who are sick or who’s parents aren’t able to bring them in, but never to this scale. And I’m finding that a lot of teachers who don’t specialize in online lessons are struggling to wrap their minds around how this can be beneficial to their students, so I polled some online music teachers about the benefits of teaching online. Here are their top 10 responses.
1. Continuous Learning
It’s well established that music is best learned uninterrupted, continuing online when not able to meet in person keeps students from losing progress that they worked so hard to achieve.
2. Keeps normalcy
With so many other things changing in their world, children appreciate their normal lesson with their music teacher. And this is one of the few activities right now that some children CAN continue.
3. At-Home Set Up
You get to see their at home set up and offer suggestions and guidance for improvement.
Parents & kids, and adult students, love how easy it is to jump online. A 30 minute lesson takes 30 minutes, no drive time no waiting because you had to get there early. Parents can make dinner or do household tasks. Student’s get to play in the comfort of their own home, where they practice…which leads me to my next point.
5. Playing Their Own Instruments
Unlike other instrumentalists, pianists almost NEVER get to play their own instruments. With online lessons, however, their playing on their piano in their practice space. How much better does it get than that?
6. Playing an instrument eases anxiety.
I’m just gonna leave that one here.
7. Online Lessons Can Feel Different
Stay with me here, it’s not a bad thing. A change like this can put a spark back into their lessons. If you have a student who has been blasé, this could be the change they need to reignite their love for their instrument!
8. Attention and Focus Are Developed
Students engage differently with teacher, music & instrument. They have to listen carefully & watch more more attentive & aware. We as their teachers have to choose our words more carefully. It actually motivates the students to stay more focused and pay better attention to the details.
9. Independence Skills
You are not there to physically point to a note on the page, so they have to learn to find the note you're talking about. Students have to turn their own pages, they have to learn to count measures, write their own assignments and notes. It seriously ups the responsibility game.
10. It’s Super Fun
No really, it’s so much fun! As one teacher said, "Kids are amazing and funny and creative. Run with that!" Play games using their instruments as the game board. Have flashcards dance across the screen. Be silly. Be enchanting. Be compelling. Be YOU!
One Word: Pajamas!
You get to wear pajamas and you get to wear pajamas and you get to wear pajamas and you get to wear pajamas!
Which benefit do you like the most? Which one do you see fitting your students/studio the most?
Download a PDF of this list to share with your studio parents and teachers.
The Great Snowman Challenge
I love giving my students in lesson challenges. Sometimes they run for a month or two, sometimes a couple of weeks. This is a one lesson challenge.
Wendy Stevens has a number of great resources on her website ComposeCreate.com. I found her set of snowman flashcards several years ago and have used them every winter since.
The basic principle is to match the top to the correct bottom. This set covers many levels of learners. They come with intervals, white keys, note names on the staff (up to 2 ledger lines!), and steps & skips.
Best part? They're free!
When I first used these flashcards in lessons, I didn't think to time my students until a little one asked how fast he did it compared to himself previously, and his 2 sisters.
And so, The Great Snowman Challenge was born!
I created a simple spreadsheet to track my students' times and had each student choose two categories to complete.
Here are a few things I love about this challenge:
1. It takes less than 5 minutes of lesson time including setup and cleanup.
2. My students get instant feedback about their learning.
3. I get a good view of my students current strengths & weaknesses.
An extra bonus is my kids seriously love this challenge!
Wondering about rules? I only have 1: Everyone must start with their hands on their heads!
If you're looking for an alternative activity, Sara Campbell over at Sara's Music Studio uses these flashcards to play Go Fish with her students. You can find more about it on her blog post.
Here's a link to the free snowman download: Snowman Flashcards
Here's the link to my tracker: The Great Snowman Challenge Tracker