February Piano News

Here we are almost one full week into February!  We made it through January and I have been quite impressed with both the practicing and the composing that has been going on!  Each and every student whether in the MYC program or private lessons has been creating their very own composition and it’s been delightful to see their enthusiasm as well as their astounding creativity.  We are going to wrap up our compositions over the next two weeks.
There’s not always a lot of news at this time of year but there are a couple of important upcoming dates to go over including another all studio master class session.
SUNRISE PRESCHOOL CLASS
First and foremost is an upcoming Sunrise class for preschoolers.  I will be starting a Sunrise music class for ages 2-4 this month on February 15th.  This class will run on Wednesdays from 11-11:45am until May.  If you know of anyone in that age group who would be interested, feel free to share.  I’ve created an event on the Facebook page that can be easily shared. There is still time to register! Sunrise kids will play a special part in our Spring Recital. 🙂
FAMILY DAY MASTER CLASS SESSION
We will be having another masterclass session immediately following the Family Day holiday weekend.  February 21-24 there will be NO regular lesson schedule, instead we will be having all studio master classes.  I’ll be sending out a sign up sheet similar the one I sent out in December shortly, this way you are able to see that you signed up….and also change times if needed all on your own.  The theme of this master class session will be “Creative Keys”  and focus on creativity through improvising and other fun AND it will be a chance for all the students to show each other their very creative compositions as those will be their solo pieces.  Keep your eye out for that sign up sheet!
SPRING RECITAL
I am still working on officially booking our Spring recital, but there is a very good chance is will be May 5th.  I will let you know as soon as it is official!  It will be in the same place as Christmas!
SPRING BREAK
It is still several weeks away, but there will be no lessons during March 24-April 2 for Spring Break.  The studio will be closed and I will be away.
Well, that is all for now!  Have a great day….and stay warm!!

Piano Pajama Day Master Classes

Happy Family Day!! I hope you have some time today to spend with your family!  Just a quick reminder that this week we will be having Piano Pajama Day Master Classes in lieu of regular lessons!  If you haven’t yet signed up, there is still lots of room on Thursday at 4:30pm as well as some room on Wednesday at 5pm!

Pajama’s are absolutely OPTIONAL but we have a lot of fun PJ party themed activities (including performances, improvising lullabies, ear training, sight reading and theory games!) as we kick off a fun morning practice challenge.  With Spring approaching and the days getting longer, I will be challenging students to do more of their piano practicing in the morning.  They will be challenged to collect 7 morning practices (a full week’s worth!) OR MORE over the next few weeks. Once they reach the 7 morning mark (not necessarily in a row!! Each week they come to lesson they can put a sticker on for each MORNING practice they did!), they will receive a LEVEL ONE morning practice super star certificate! 🙂  Let’s see who can get to level 3 by Spring Break!  Of course, they may continue to do after school or evening practices too, we still want those 5 practices a week….this is just a fun challenge that shows them the benefits of morning practice and how it frees up the  rest of the day!  And may develop a great habit for when soccer season arrives or warmer weather and more after school and evening activities begin!  Teaching colleague from BC, Andrea Dow, shares why she believes in morning piano practice!

“I was in Grade 11 (at exactly the same time I met my most massive time-stealer… Trevor) when I realized there was no way I was going to accomplish anything with my piano if I didn’t practice. And with homework, singing lessons, musical theatre, sports and… Trevor… it truly was impossible to get anything done after school or in the evenings.

So I did the one thing I absolutely hated to do; I got up earlier to practice piano. And it did wonders for my progress.

Why does morning practice work?

  • Studies have shown that sleep directly (and positively) affects the learning of a fine motor skill. We actually did an interview with Dr. Karen Debas on this topic.
  • No matter how many activities your students have scheduled after school, morning practice ensures their piano is never forgotten, crammed in or done haphazardly. Frenzied or rushed practice results in negativity towards the piano, practice fights with parents and other things we piano teachers would rather avoid.
  • The excuse of “no time” is completely eliminated. With a simple adjustment to the morning alarm, your piano students can have all the time they need.
  • The discipline of getting up early and practicing every day establishes habits that are pro-active and that will carry over into other areas of your students’ lives as well.
  • The likelihood of parental involvement in practice increases, as your students no longer practice alone while parents are at work, driving siblings to other activities etc.
  • As your students become teenagers, homework, jobs, friends and other extracurricular activities no longer pose a threat to their piano progress (none of those things happen in the morning!)
  •  The parental “guilt” from daily practice being repeatedly forgotten is eliminated, taking one more stressor away from busy families.
  • Starting a day off with music starts your students’ days with all of the wonderful benefits that music has been proven to provide such as mood improvement, stress-reduction, and mental alertness.

All of these factors combined means morning piano practice is one of the most powerful ways you can ensure that your piano students are practicing and progressing.”

Welcome, February!

Well! We made it through January and are on to a new month and already into our second half of the year.  In fact this week marks week 19 of our 34 lessons already.

I feel like January, though still kind of a long month, went by at a frenzied pace!  In fact, I planned to have a new practice incentive ready to go for February but just had no time!  So, I think I will plan to start up a new incentive after the Family Day week of Master Classes. One that can perhaps lead us right up and into our May recital once again.

So, what’s happening in these upcoming weeks?  Well, during the week following Family Day, we will have another Master Class session featuring fun with composers!  There will be no regular lessons from February 16-20, instead I will be sending out a sign up email next week for Master Classes.  I am in the middle of choosing the composer that will be featured (how to choose just one???) and some of their music to study and we will, of course, prepare a piece to play from what we’ve been currently working on.

I’ve been teaching piano lessons and music classes in Edmonton since 1998 now and I have always found January to end of March to be the most difficult months to get through with a high burnout for kids.  Maybe it’s all the cold snaps we get that just sap all energy and motivation right out of us.  Holding fun filled master classes during this family day week helps to break up that long stretch from January to Spring Break.  Also, this year, because Easter immediately follows Spring Break again, I have decided to try a TWO WEEK spring break.  I am hoping this will give a chance for some real rest and refreshment for the students before we begin our April focus of preparing for our May Recital.

Also, just a reminder that tax receipts were emailed out a couple of weeks ago.  Happy Tax Filing!

Well, bundle up today and stay warm and keep your eyes posted for the Master Class email next week!

My Young Composers

I find this a little bit hard to admit (and almost even believe now) but up until about 7 years ago, I never really taught composing to my students! I used to think that I didn’t have the time, creativity or real talent to compose…so how could I possibly teach it? Then, in 2007, I took the Music for Young Children certification and found out that if I wanted to be a certified MYC teacher, I’d have to suck it up and just do it…because part of the curriculum each year is composing! And, not only that, but MYC has a huge international Composition Festival each year and MYC teachers are expected to have their students participate! No pressure…right???? That first year of teaching composing and mailing off compositions to a festival was terrifying for me.

But I discovered something: Composing can be easy….and FUN! And now, years later, I look forward to every January because that’s when I start my annual composing unit with my students. We spend about 6 weeks working little by little on a composition. And how do we begin? Well, I tell my students that each composition starts with a teeny, tiny idea. In music we call this a MOTIVE. A motive does not need to be big, in fact look at Beethoven, he started an entire Symphony with a super tiny motive that went something like: duh, duh, duh, duuuuuh (Symphony no.5) and look where that led to!

So, our first week of composing is spent just on creating a little motive. Sometimes, I’ll throw a few ideas out to them like choosing a sentence to determine your rhythm and then adding notes. We did a little exercise with this. One student chose to use the sentence, “Ninjas on the rooftop”. Once we figured out that rhythm was just titi titi ta ta, she was free to add notes to it. 5 minutes later she had a motvie!

Each consecutive week, we learn a “trick” to add to our motive to expand our motive. Like this:

Repetition: easy! Just repeat the motive!
Sequence: move the motive up or down (did you hear this one in Beethoven’s Symphony?)
Retrograde: play it backwards!
Inversion: Turn it upside down!
Diminuation: make the rhythms shorter! (did you hear this in Beethoven’s, too?)
Augmentation: make the rhythms longer

composing

Before they know it, that one tiny motive has become a full page of music! As my students grow and mature in their composing, they don’t always do it “by the book” and that’s okay, too. But knowing these little “composer tricks” and finding out even the “big guys” like Beethoven used them too, makes the whole composing process much less intimidating. And guess what else? Knowing these little tricks can also make IMPROVISING a lot less intimidating. Getting that creative process going starts with just an idea!

And now, we are done our composing unit for another year and the compositions have been shipped off to the MYC International Composition Festival….but I don’t think my students are done with composing….just yet! 😉 And that makes me extremely happy, because really, shouldn’t it be my goal to slowly be working myself out of a job by creating happy, independent musicians who can create their own music?

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Master Classes and Merry Christmas

Christmas break is here! We’ve had so much fun this week in our master classes and are now officially finished until January 6th!

We started each master class with a short Christmas carol sing (this was the students’ idea!)

Then we spent part of our class composing. The older students were able to review what a motive was (a musical idea) while the new students got their first taste of composing…a great jump-start to our January composition spree!

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The students were also given a Christmas fun handout I received as a gift from Teach Piano Today, designed to keep them playing the piano over the break–not practicing–just playing! 😉 If you missed the master class due to illness or otherwise but would still like the handouts to try out over the break, please let me know! You are welcome to come by and pick them up.

We had solo time, of course, and then played a rousing game of Stinky Stocking with a musical theme that involved sight reading, ear training and musical charades! The students just loved this game and I was so glad I purchased it from composecreate.com. We also chose gifts from the Food for the Hungry catalogue. Thanks to 10,000 minutes of practice and extra pledges, the students raised $295 in just three weeks!

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stocking

The students practiced over 10,000 minutes during the three weeks prior to recital. They were practicing for pennies in order to raise funds for Food for the Hungry. I sponsored each child at one penny per minute but thanks to extra pledges from Brennan, Rowan, Hope, Patience and Caleb, we raised $295!!! So, each master class got to spend a few minutes choosing and voting on gifts to send from the Food for the Hungry gift magazine. What fun we had choosing chickens, fruit trees, school supplies, sports equipment, art supplies and clothing to send!

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We also had a peek at the final installments of the December Videos of the Month! And we took our practice snowflakes off the tree to take home…hopefully they will be a reminder of all the hard work that has been accomplished over the last several weeks!
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I was overwhelmed with love and gifts and thank you all for the beautiful treasures and delicious treats! I hope you all enjoy a well-deserved Christmas break filled with love and family! I am looking forward to it myself but I also look forward to seeing you all back here again in 2014!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!