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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May News and Year End Dates

Hello, Everyone!

It seems like just yesterday we had our lovely April recital and now we are in the second week of May with only 5 weeks of lessons left!

Our recital went so well and I cannot thank everyone enough for the help you gave and the many ways you all contributed!  It was our earliest ever Spring recital this year (one week earlier than last year) and because I was away for all of Spring Break, it felt like a short time to get organized, but with your help I think it came off better than ever AND I think the early time ended up working out really well as it kind of pumped us all up and has given us extra enthusiasm and a renewed energy for the remaining weeks of lessons! Something that will be especially great for those doing Conservatory exams in June…and for those that aren’t doing exams there is a renewed enthusiasm for getting some extra pieces learned before June! Some students have challenged themselves with learning 30 pieces this year! Phew!

A couple of you have shared a picture of the recital, but I would just love to see more–pictures or video.  I was not able to get pictures or videos taken myself as I have in the past and I missed getting a picture of all the MYC grads.  So please feel free to share!!

YEAR END DATES AND FINAL MASTERCLASS
The kids have all been asking when the next master class is.  Normally I have done a master class as the very last class of the year because I am often away during the May long Weekend week.  However, this year I am not going to be away!  So, I am changing up the schedule just slightly this year.  We will have our last master class of the year during the week of May 24th, immediately following the long weekend.  Then we will have two more regular lessons/classes before finishing up for the year on June 9th.

I will send out the master class times for May 25, 26, 27 in the very next email…expect that in the next day or so.  And you will be able to indicate the time you wish your student to attend, but putting it in the subject line of your reply to that email.

PRACTICE CHALLENGE
Also starting next week will be our final practice challenge of the year.  It’s going to be a lot of fun and offer some more creative ways to look at your piano practice to keep the energy going right to the end of the year…when I issue this year’s Summer Practice Challenge!  A handout will be coming home with each student next week and the summer practice challenge will go home with them at the last lesson of the year, so be sure to continue checking those music bags regularly over the next few weeks!

In the meantime, have a lovely day!  Looks like we’ve got some sunshine again!

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.”

“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 Practice Inspiration and How to Keep On Keeping On

Summer Practice. Do those words strike dread and fear in your heart? Practice is the key to piano success…and that includes summer practice! In fact, if you are taking the summer off of piano lessons, summer practice goes a very long way in making certain the return to the lessons in the fall in a positive and enjoyable one. Our fingers are muscles and need to be exercised, and so does our brain! Regular practice keeps our fingers dextrous and “in shape” and sight reading and learning a new piece or two keeps our brain and our note reading skills sharp.

Having two children of my own means that I am continually look for creative ways to keep them inspired….especially when it comes to my son who is always trying to tell me now that he is a lacrosse player NOT a piano player. I don’t see what he can’t be both! 😉 Anyway, quite by accident I came across this pin on Pinterest (oh, how I LOVE that site…it’s made me a better teacher, mom and wife….but again, I digress) that was created for summer reading. I looked at this little craft and thought, “That is SO fun, if only I’d seen that years ago when I was sweating so hard to keep my own kids motivated to read over the summer!”….and then it hit me: “That would totally work for piano practice!” So, I took the little poem about reading and changed a few words to make it about practice and this is what I came up with to send home with my piano students at their last lesson:

gumball practice

Into each little bag, I put approximately 20 gumballs…20 little practices are the MINIMUM I hope to see my students practice over the 10 week period of no lessons. I am hoping that maybe the bag might get mysteriously refilled over the summer! 😉 For children who don’t like gum, lifesavers or hard candy could be put in a little bag….I thought of that but had a hard time making the poem work. With a little bit of inspiration I CAN be creative… but there is a limit.

I’m hoping this little idea will inspire students to keep going while enjoying a little treat for their efforts.

Looking for more ideas to keep that Practice Tank full and the motor running? Take a little field trip out to downtown St. Albert and enjoy hunting down and playing on the beautiful street pianos that are spending their second summer out!

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And here’s another post I shared with more ideas to keep practice inspired and fun and a lot more like play than work. Have you made your way through some of these over the past year? Candle light practice was definitely a favourite here!

https://mmmusicstudio.wordpress.com/2014/02/08/perspective-making-practice-more-like-play/

Master Class Mayhem and Wrap Up Fun

This past week we wrapped our another great year of piano with one last set of Master Classes and oh the fun we had. To be fair, our regular weekly lessons are always fun and energetic but our bi-monthly master classes allow every student young and old, tall and small, the opportunity to meet together and perform for one another outside the twice yearly recitals. They have truly helped boost students’ performing confidence and helped them be better prepared for both recitals and exams. In addition to performing for each other, master classes include games and lessons that help students better understand theory, improve technique, and learn about composers, musical genres and history. Here’s a little peak at our most recent master classes:

We had three separate master classes this week with each class having approximately 12 students in each. As each student arrived, I gave them paper and a pencil case and they created their own little poster of what they thought made their year of piano lessons really ROCK. They we had a little “photoshoot” with each of them at the piano. Here’s a sample of some of our pictures (the rest are posted on our Facebook page):

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I even made my own poster…art is not my strong point as you can see. Okay, AND I was in a bit of a hurry! 😉

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Next on the agenda was “Solotime”. Each student prepares a piece to share with the class and be given positive and encouraging feedback from both teacher AND peers.

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After the solos were performed, we had a bit of a little awards ceremony. I presented students with awards for the most recent practice incentives.

The first was our Rockin’ the Practice Challenge that was sent out to all 45 of our students. This was a fun practice incentive I received and then adapted from my favorite teacher resource site Teach Piano Today. I gave my students 4 big challenge to complete by the end of the year. Those that made it from Dusty Dan’s Coffee Shop all the way to Radio City Music Hall received a little treat. I’ve never seen kids so excited to get Pop Rocks! It was fantastic!

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The other challenge had been given to all the older student in private lessons. Their challenge was to learn 30 pieces this year….not an easy feat for students in the early intermediate and higher levels. Congratulations go to Brianna, Vian and Brayden! That was a lot of hard work and dedicated practice!

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And what would a master class be with out a treat!? We enjoyed peanut-free (a couple students have severe peanut allergies and wear an epi-pen to each lesson) ice cream sandwiches while watching a The Piano Guys video! 🙂

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We finished up the last half of our master class with music games. We had two days of beautiful sunshine and played our games outside in my yard, however one day was rainy and the games had to be adapted for inside.

Our first game was Music Theory Beach Ball. Students threw the ball to each other and then named the note, clapped the rhythm or defined the musical term closest to their RH thumb:

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The next game was Sidewalk Chalk Rhythm stories. This is a rhythm dictation game. I sang a two measure rhythm and then they wrote it on the sidewalk with chalk. Excellent ear training! The rainy day students were a little ripped off as they had to write it on paper.

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Our final game was Spell-A-Keyboard, a game I adapted from fellow piano teacher, Joy Morin. First, teams created a “lollipop” keyboard with their sidewalk chalk. Then I called out words that each group had to work together to spell with little beanbags. They really enjoyed competing to see which team could find the keys the fastest. Great for drilling that keyboard geography. Here’s a little video of the fun!

And with that we are all wrapped up for the summer! Enjoy the sunshine but don’t forget to keep that practice tank full! I’m looking forward to getting in a little more practice time myself! 😉

Video of the Month ~ June 2014

Well, here we are: June! Can you believe it! And here is our last Video of the Month for our 2013/14 year. How fun it has been to share these incredible videos over the past year with my students. They’ve enjoyed them, been inspired by them and developed a deeper appreciation for many different styles of music because of them.

Our last one is a very fun one. As musicians, I think we live for drama, intrigue and mystery….I know my students do, so I thought this would be a great fit! I love how the Mission Impossible Theme is merged with Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C. I played this particular Sonata for my grade 8 Royal Conservatory exam, by the way….good memories, good memories….but I digress…Anyway, they merged the MI theme with the Sonata however, they did what only the piano guys seem to be able to do: sped it up, transposed it to a minor, changed the time signature to 5/4 and made it a villain theme. Strangely enough, I kind of think Mozart would approve!

So here it is, our June Video of the Month, our last one of the year and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have the most amazing summer yet! See you in September!

PS….if you want to hear the original version of the Piano Sonata, take a listen to this….this is more like what I actually played for my exam 🙂