Wisdom for Your Wednesday

“Young people can learn from my example that something can come from nothing. What I have become is the result of my hard efforts.” — Franz Joseph Haydn

The Making of a Movie

Over the course of the last couple of months, we have been having a lot of fun in our lessons and classes. Including a week of fun masterclasses. For a while now, I’ve been wanting to capture a sample of our fun and share it….but my iPhone never seems to do it justice and the sound quality is not great (it could be time for a new phone now).

This summer, I had the privilege of attending many different professional development sessions and was even more inspired to embrace technology (which sometimes is very intimidating for me!). My husband is a big believer in using technology, having the right equipment…and always learning. So, with those things in mind I decided that one way I could keep on with my life-long learning goal was to try my hand at getting to know iMovie a bit better and utilizing it in a fun way for my studio and to inspire my students.

I still have a lot to learn and a long way to go, but my first attempt has been a lot of fun. It will be very interesting to have this to look back on when I get to know my way around iMovie just a little bit better! But, in the meantime, this gives you a little glimpse into the world that is our music studio!

When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect

I have written numerous emails, newsletters and blogs about creative ways to get students to practice or how to encourage regular practice and often it’s been geared towards my younger students. This week, I have been thinking about my older students who do regularly practice but aren’t always seeing the progress or “perfection” they are hoping for.

My own daughter has begun work on a Christmas recital piece (yes, I did say Christmas). She chose a piece that was near and dear to her heart, but it is NOT an easy piece! She’s now been working on it for a couple of weeks but not a lot has been accomplished. We had a frank discussion about this at our last lesson. Being that I am her teacher AND her parent I get a rare insight into her practice habits that I don’t always get with my other students. She often practices downstairs in the wee hours of the morning while we are bustling around getting ready for school/work. I don’t hear everything but I do eavesdrop a little AND I did notice that she would head down for practice around 7:10 and resurface around 7:30. Is this a sufficient amount of practice for a piano student at a grade 6/7 level? Hmmmmm…let me think…probably NOT! Though I want my older students to think about practicing smarter, not harder, the truth is the further along you go the more time you are going to need to dedicate to practice….unless you just want to work on one piece at a time…..for a very long time….a very, very long time.

So, we talked about time, time management and goal setting. I really don’t like to assign a certain amount of time to practice because I think it is so easy to go on auto pilot, set the timer and just “git ‘er done” (although, I often tell my students who are grade 3 and higher that if they add a “0” to the grade they are in that is a pretty good indication of the MINIMUM amount of daily practice they should be logging). Instead, I like to talk about setting goals for each practice session–just little ones– and practicing until that goal is reached. But this is kind of general and kind of vague. So this week, Delaney and I are trying some specific strategies that I stumbled across (yes, I practice too and I am trying these too!) Though, these are geared towards advancing musicians, the younger students can certainly use these ideas as well!

Break piece into 5 sections
Practice section 5 to end, 5 times
Practice section 4 to end, 4 times
Practice section 3 to end, 3 times…..and so on

For those fast and tricky passages
Practice with staccato
Practice in a swing or dotted rhythm
Practice both staccato and dotted rhythm

For more information on Backwards and Precision practice check out this awesome blog post by Anne Crosby (yes, boys and girls, this IS the composer of that awesome grade 1 piece that you love so much: Celebration!): http://pianoanne.blogspot.ca/2011/03/practice-tips-for-teens.html

To keep your brain alert
Take 3 small sections and label A B and C
Practice A section for 3 minutes
Practice B section for 3 minutes
Practice C section for 3 minutes
repeat two more times either in same order or mixed up

For more information on Random practice and more great practice how-to, check out the Bulletproof Musician: http://www.bulletproofmusician.com/why-the-progress-in-the-practice-room-seems-to-disappear-overnight/

Above all, I like to remind my students that practice does NOT make perfect—a better saying would be PERFECT practice makes perfect! In other words be engaged, alert and practice with care rather than rushing through quickly just to get it over with.


Video of the Month Club

In my last post, I mentioned how inspirational it can be for our budding little students to get out and see some performances. It can really make the music come alive and be a giant motivation to keep practicing those skills! It works that way with most everything, not just music! In fact, one of the biggest inspirations and motivations for my own little aspiring lacrosse player was getting to see the Edmonton Rush play at Rexall last spring. However, not everyone has the time or money to get out and experience these wonderful opportunities. And so, inspired by a mention made by a teacher in my Pedagogy Etude group and a mention in a blog post by Anne Crosby Gaudet, I’ve decided to start a Video of the Month Club for my studio. Each month I will be Facebook-ing, blogging and emailing a video of the month.

I hope these videos will inspire, teach and entertain and that through them my students will be able to experience many different and wonderful styles of music as well as meet some new instruments!

My debut video for the month of October, 2013 is The Piano Guys One Direction – What Makes You Beautiful. I am introducing this video this week at our master classes and giving out an active listening journal sheet for them to read and fill out at home. I chose this video because the lid and music desk on the grand piano have been removed and a camera placed above and it gives an awesome view into the inner workings (I called them “piano guts” during the lesson to much uproarious laughter or..all out groans!) of a grand piano. I also love it because it shows the individuality of all these parts and the amazing sounds they can make when a little creativity is added….and frankly, I just think it’s the COOLEST!

I played this video for both master classes yesterday and I was astounded at the reaction. I knew they would enjoy it, but I worried that maybe most had seen it and would think it passé. In fact, only 2 of yesterdays 20 students had seen it before (but were excited to see it again) while for the rest it was a new and exciting experience. They all watched with rapt attention. I have never seen 10-12 children so focused and quiet for that length of time….they were glued to the performance….and at the end they had so much to share. Their reactions were so exciting, I wished I could’ve captured them all on video!

And so, I will share this YouTube video here with you and hope that you find it as enjoyable as they did!

The Lonely Pianist

This past week or so a last minute email from the Alberta Piano Teacher’s Association went out to all the area piano teachers saying it was very short notice but just wondering if anyone would like to get together for a pedagogy discussion and some coffee. Though it was only a few days notice, we had the best turnout ever for our monthly meeting we call “Pedagogy Etude”. Why? We all decided that maybe it’s because being a piano teacher in an independent teaching studio can be a bit of a lonely job. Sure, we have wonderful students and families who enter our studios each week bringing smiles and enthusiasm, but there is a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes that is very solitary (like practicing, writing blogs, newsletters, lesson planning, book-keeping, emailing, etc). It’s so nice to be able to get together with other teachers and collaborate and encourage.


This, in turn, brought the discussion around to our students and how piano, being a solo instrument, can be a lonely road to travel. And, though we discovered that most of us like to incorporate little practice and performance incentives, we started brainstorming ideas that could help motivate and encourage our students.

I was asked to share a little bit about how I regularly group lessons (masterclasses) into my lesson calendar and how it provides a practice incentive through the performance aspect of the masterclass but how it also fills that social need we all have through ensemble playing and games.

Another idea that was expressed was “seeing it live”. We talked about how important it is for our students to regularly see music performed. Not just our own studio recitals and seeing and hearing their peers play or listening to their teachers play for them (though that IS important) but getting out to live performances. My own mom made it a priority to get me out to various productions of live music, whether it was the community Singing Christmas Tree or a trip to the next town over to see a travelling production of “The Sound of Music” or “Amal and the Night Visitors” and I will never forget those special times. Here in the city we are so fortunate to have so many opportunities around us with The Citadel Theatre and the Winspear Centre and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. We also have great schools like Edmonton Musical Theatre, Strathcona Christian Academy, Eastglen High School and many more arts schools that regularly put on musicals each year like “Phantom of the Opera” or “Oliver” or “Once Upon a Mattress”.

I would encourage you to get on google and find a live performance at some point this fall or winter, many are inexpensive and some are even free. My family and I have already enjoyed a fantastic Broadway Revue by Edmonton Musical Theatre and an outstanding production of Oliver by SCA this year and are looking very much forward to seeing:

2 Pianos, 4 Hands at the Citadel Theatre (October 26-November 17 tickets start at just $35) The Citadel also puts on the most amazing annual production of A Christmas Carol which we generally attend every couple of years)http://www.citadeltheatre.com/events/

Cats, Festival Place in Sherwood Park, AB (December 19-30, tickets are $24-37) http://www.festivalplace.ab.ca/festivalplace/boxoffice/showinfo.php?id=699

Symphony Cirque, Esso Symphony for Kids, Winspear Centre (May 11, 2014, tickets are $13-29) http://www.winspearcentre.com/symphony-for-kids/2012-2013-symphony-for-kids/symphony-cirque/