Summer Reading for Piano Parents and Teachers!

One of my favorite things to do in the summer is read!  Well, I love to do that all year round, but I usually have a little bit of extra time in the summer so I like to create a summer reading list.

This year I began with a book I read last year, Coffee With Ray, and then followed up with it’s “sequel”, Lessons With Matt.  They were both such a fun and enjoyable read that I thought I’d share, especially as they are both so applicable to both piano teachers and piano parents.

Here are the two books I started with this summer, I highly recommend both!  They will inspire you and leave you feeling a bit refreshed whether you are a teacher or parents.  In fact my husband really enjoyed them as well.

Happy Summer Reading!

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“In Summer”…what this piano teacher does with her summer off!

While there are a few piano teachers out there who teach all year long (I like to call those people crazy…er…I mean DEDICATED!), I take the summers off. We (my students and I) work pretty hard all year long with many practice challenges, recitals and exams to prepare for and conquer and taking the summer off seems to save both my sanity and that of my students! 🙂 I’ve often been told I am so lucky to have summers off. Well, luck has nothing to do with it. In fact, I make no money during the summer by taking it off. None. Zip. Nada. And yet, because I have my own music business, I am actually never completely not working. It takes some careful budgeting to be able to have this slightly more relaxed schedule, but it’s worth it. Not only do I approach September feeling refreshed and with new ideas, my students do as well! Actually, to be honest, by the middle of August I am dying to get back at it…and that’s a pretty great way to feel about your job!

So, just what do I do with a summer “off”?

1. I read. I absolutely LOVE reading! I could read endlessly….but my schedule during the year doesn’t often allow this extra time and when I do get the chance to read it is often teaching blogs or pedagogy books or researching new practice incentives. So, when holiday time comes along I devour books like chocolate! So far this summer I have read:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn….a twisted psychological thriller having absolutely NOTHING to do with piano teaching. It was a delicious, albeit somewhat trashy, read! A fantastic start to my summer!

Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom…this would be the complete opposite of the above book! Delightful and inspiring. I’ve seen it on bookshelves, known they’d made a movie of it but never, ever got around to reading it until now. Beautiful!

Deeply Odd by Dean Koontz…okay, true confession time: I LOVE Dean Koontz! Seriously, really love him! This book I read aloud to my family in the car while traveling on long stretches of Wyoming highway. Reading Dean Koontz aloud to one’s family might seem odd to you, but my children are a little older and the Odd Series is such a fun series. Not to mention, Koontz is an extremely descriptive writer. I’ve always enjoyed the detailed pictures he paints with words, but appreciated it even more once I started reading his books aloud. They are challenging to read aloud, at times, getting your mouth around words like “jacarandas”, “narcissistic self-righteousness” and “paramecium”. And those are some of the easier ones! Sometimes I felt like I should do vocal warm ups before reading all his descriptive tongue twisters…red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather…

I have now moved on to book number four: The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Ted Carhart. Another book I’ve been meaning to read for a while. Just like Tuesdays With Morrie, it’s autobiographical and absolutely delightful! It’ll want to make you dust off your piano and play (or buy a piano) eat fresh baguettes, drink French wine….and possibly even move to France! I am about halfway through!
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2. I vacation with my family! What would summer be without a little bit of a family vacation! Dexter’s field lacrosse team was one of two Canadian U-11 teams privileged to play at the FIL World Lacrosse Championships in Denver, Colorado. We took this as an opportunity to do a fun, family road trip and make an extended family holiday out of it. On our way to the Championships we made a stop at my parents in BC, then it was on to Lewis and Clark Caverns in Montana and Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming before arriving in Denver. After 6 days in Denver watching his U-11 team play, meeting Team Canada and watching an intense game between the men’s Team Canada and Team USA and making many great memories, we left for South Dakota and Mount Rushmore before slowly making our way home. Two Provinces, Five States, Eleven Days and over 5000km. It was so much fun and the memories will last a lifetime!
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3. I answer emails and phone calls and meet and interview new students! During the summer, I receive lots of emails and phone calls about available classes. My more relaxed schedule allows me the chance to not only answer these emails and phone calls but also to have the prospective parents and students come and see the studio and meet with me. Often when a parent comes with a student, I have give them a sticker or tattoo or coloring page, but I took a day this summer to put together a little “Meet and Greet Goodie Bag” and am excited to give them out to the interviewees (is that a word?) that I have scheduled to come for next week. My little goodie bags will include a pencil, a cute little ring puppet I found at Dollarama, some music stickers, my card and a little lollipop treat. Putting a few together ahead of time, so they would be ready to go whenever needed, was yesterday’s task.
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4. I order, purchase and shop for books and supplies for my students. Then I sort them and get them ready. My studio and the spare bedroom downstairs will soon look like I have my own music bookstore! As I was unpacking and checking my lists, I thought I’d do a bit of a photo shoot with the books for my website. That way, rather than just describing what comes with registration, parents will also be able to see it too! I love visual aids and pictures so this was a lot of fun for me!
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5. I chauffeur! I love doing this “typical parent thing”. Running my kids to daycamps, playdates, water parks and any other fun activity we can come up with in the summer.

6. I learn! I have two teacher conferences lined up for the summer. One this week and one at the end of August and am excited to learn and grow as a teacher even more. And, I have a whole pile of podcasts and blog reading to catch up on from some of my favorite pedagogues. I am looking forward to having oodles of new ideas for the new teaching year.

7. I give lessons to my kids. Have you heard that saying that goes something like, “The shoemaker’s kids go barefoot”? Well, I teach my own children. I always have and, until the day they move out of the house, I always will. Many piano teachers think I am crazy for doing this and I will admit that it isn’t always easy, but teaching my own children has made me a better more understanding teacher with my other students and my kids tell me they wouldn’t have any other teacher….really, I am not making that up…believe me I have offered (threatened?) to send them to another teacher but they refuse. Anyway, because of my hectic schedule, their lessons land on the weekend. I tried Saturdays for a while, but it was so hard to get them up and going on that first sleepy day of the weekend. So, I moved their lesson time to Sunday afternoons as my hubby usually takes supper duty on that day so we can enjoy a full Sunday of church, relaxation and fun and then during the hour he is preparing and making supper, I give them their lessons. In theory, it works fairly well. Especially during the cold winter months when we mostly just want to hibernate at home. But in warmer months, when there is so much fun to be had outside or BBQ’s to attend, or lacrosse season, when we take off for weekend tournaments every other weekend, it does not work so well. So at the end of the year when I opened up their homework books and counted all the attendance sticker MISSING from their treble clef and realized there were TEN out of 34 missing (I hang my head in shame that I cancelled 10 of their lessons when some of you didn’t miss a single, solitary lesson with me this year!), well, I decided that I would have to make up most if not all of these lessons over the summer. And so, once (or sometimes twice) a week, these lucky ducks get to have a lesson with moi! I bet you wish you lived with the piano teacher, too, don’t you! 😉

8. And, of course, I blog, make and prepare videos (in fact, I am working on some technique videos for the youtube channel) and write newsletters and keep in touch with all of you every now and then and put together practice challenges (there’s a SUPER-FUN one coming out for August so keep your eyes on your email!!!)….hoping to keep you inspired and excited for when we meet again in the fall….but for now, it’s time to go enjoy that beautiful Edmonton sunshine!

Summer Fun and Preparations for the Fall!

Wow! I can’t believe it’s August already! Where is the summer going? I had all these plans and so many things I wanted to do. And I have done some of them, I suppose. I completely re-organized all of my music and now everything is neat and orderly in Magazine folders with labels on my bookshelves. My registration binder (or bible!) is all cleaned out and organized with the registration for the fall and ready for even more new registration!
Last summer I made a floorstaff carpet and, this summer, I still hope to make a floor keyboard carpet! But there are already so many exciting things around the corner that I’m not sure I’ll have time! Next week is the MYC teachers semi-annual professional development meeting in Red Deer. Then the following week I am hosting the Edmonton APTA teachers for a coffee meet and, the day after that,  participating in a Royal Conservatory iScore webinar and, before we know it, lessons will begin on September 10th–the very same day Paul Coates and the Practice Monster should be arriving in our city to do a fun-filled and inspiring workshop about turning practice into exploration!
It’s not the summer of lounging and reading that I thought it would be, but is sure has and will continue to be crammed full over fun over the remaining three weeks!
And for those of you still on the fence about piano lessons or music classes, check out the schedule on my MYC website: http://www.myc.com/teacher/MMiller

Music Theory–Do we have to?

It seems that with my piano students, they either love theory…or hate it….or THINK they hate it actually!  So many of my students ask me why they need to learn it.  Can’t they just play the piano with having to do that theory? But how can you really enjoy making music or succeeding in your piano performance if you do not know how music works. The study of theory helps with sight reading, technique–those scales won’t seem so confusing if you know how they work and how to write them, and with memorizing your music. Music Theory is the study of how music works and without this knowledge a student is missing a big piece of the pie!

I have always incorporated theory into each and every lesson.  All of my students learn to harmonize scales with primary chords—this is theory!   I also usually assign a page of two of theory each week–this is sometimes met by limited success so I have had to take a step back with some of these students and think about what music theoyr should look like in order to make sure it is a part of each and every one of my student’s education.  If not, then I am not doing my job!  So, here is how I try to make sure each and every student is getting their dose of the Music Theory Vitamin:

1. Pointing out Theory elements in their assigned pieces:  identifying the key, the primary chords, naming intervals, naming notes, clapping rhythms, covering up the time signature and letting them tell me what it is by looking at the measures.

2. Games–yep, even when it looks like I am just playing a game with the student, it really is learning…and they love it! (and here they thought they hated theory!)

3. Group Lessons–I try to incorporate group lessons into the schedule throughout the year and they are perfect for incorporating music theory through games and partner worksheets and activities–it’s also a great time to add in some music history…again the students enjoy them.

4. Theory books–I still think that incorporating a page or two from a theory book is necessary.  Even the smallest student should be able to write a quarter note or draw a bass clef–but hopefully through the games and activities they will begin to realize that music theory really isn’t that bad after all! 😉 My MYC students have H pages of a Bright Ideas book and do a page of two of theory a week.  For my private students I use Piano Adventure Theory books corresponding to the lesson book they are in OR if they are a little older I use Ultimate Music Theory books.

For some of my students, that theory component is vital.  This year several of my students are working towards intermediate and advanced level national exams with the Royal Conservatory of Music.  These piano exams have theory co-requisites.  Which means:  if the corresponding theory exam is not completed along with or prior to the piano exam, they will not receive their certificate.

Since I had four students needing to do their Basic Rudiments theory exam this year, I decided to offer a Saturday morning class.  It was a bit of an accelerated program using these incredible new Ultimate Music Theory books by Glory St. Germain–we completed all the concepts for the exam along with a few weeks of review in only 12 weeks!  And I think they actually enjoyed it! 😉  My own 12 year old daughter was a part of the class–she was one of those students who thought music theory was a bore–and she told me she loved the class and feels she knows so much more about music.  She is convinced that she is a better performer because of it, and that her sight reading has improved immensely by being able to easily identify chords, intervals, notes and key signatures.

These students just wrote their Basic Rudiments exam on May 12th and are waiting anxiously to hear their results!  As their teacher, I am confidant we are going to see some great marks as they were all getting First Class Honors on their practice exams, one student even earned 99.5% on his last practice exam.  But, no matter what the mark, I know they have gained so much knowledge and confidence from our class and I will definitely be offering another one in the fall!

If you are looking for a great theory method check out:

https://www.ultimatemusictheory.com/umt/