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Should you let your child quit music?

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Hello tired. discouraged parent,

 

If you clicked on this blog, you probably have been through this argument in your mind. It is a valid argument to have. Your child loathes his or her piano lessons. (or any music lesson for that matter) and you’re trying to decide if you should let him or her quit. Your child has shown interest in other activities, but music is a drudgery. I have seen it as a teacher and have listened to many a parents worry about what to do. I can only imagine the struggle it is to get them on the bench at home to practice.

I did not grow up having piano lessons. (surprise, surprise). No, I was mostly self-taught. I don’t say that in boast I say it in regret. It saddens me that I did not have that opportunity. Would my mom and dad have had a hard time getting me to practice? Probably not. I loved to practice because I loved music. There were many reasons why I loved it. For one, I was older. I didn’t necessarily see the value in practicing but I enjoyed it and because I was older, it was my decision to learn. No one was forcing me.

Now I realize that an 8 yr old is not going to have the same determination as a 12 year old. Another reason I believe it was easier for me was that there came a certain point where I used my gift regularly. I played in church. A lot. I was 16 and was the main church pianist as well as accompanying pianist. There were plenty of things I had yet to learn but the fact that I was challenged to use my ability was enough to keep me up on it.

Everyone’s story is different. Not everyone is like me. Some start when their young and still have no problem practicing. Some have a terrible time no matter what. I can say that every student hits a wall. Even the really good students. I hit discouraging pits many times in my college career studying to become a better musician. At times I felt like I would never dig myself out. Eventually, I did. If it wasn’t for my teachers I would have never found my way.

I’m writing my story to say that even accomplished musicians have struggles. So obviously, a learning musician is going to as well. The teachers and parents job is to guide and encourage them along the way. One of the main reason why students “quit” or begin to have disdain for their music lessons is one of the following reasons. 1)Their discouraged 2)They are distracted 3)They are bored.

All are very bad! It could be 2 out of 3 or even all 3 reasons! There may be more reasons but any student I have ever talked to it is usually one of these three. Knowing what to do in these situations can help tremendously.

If they become discouraged, obviously we try to encourage them. Parents often forget to do this. It is important that you show your support with words of praise. Show your enjoyment of their playing not “you need to work on that a little more”. They need to know what they are doing well on first. Be specific about what they did well on too. “You did a great job” sounds different from “Wow! You played that scale so smoothly!”

I have seen some students shut down after a recital usually because they compared themselves to someone else. I have to remind them, this is not about “so-and-so”, it’s about you and how much you want to learn. Our job is to get their focus off of everyone else and on the subject of “learning”. For my perfectionist students that are just so hard on themselves for not being…well perfect..I remind them they are a student and it is ok to mess up. That’s how we learn.

I want to focus on their progress not their skill. Every student has a different skill level not to be compared to the other. When I see a student trying, my response is “You did a great job practicing this week” or “Well done working on this harder section”. Some children are easily encouraged and others you might think I might as well be talking to a wall. But it’s just not true. They are listening. Regardless, it is still our job to encourage them.

When they are distracted, we have to find out what that distraction is. I mentioned before students compare themselves to other people. Maybe a 10 year boy has a hard time because he compares himself to the 8 year old who is more “accomplished”. This is always a tough situation. It could be that they would rather play soccer, or do karate. Maybe they think that they won’t ever be good enough in piano but could be in sports. (By the way, this is totally typical of boys!) I’m just going to be excruciatingly blunt here, they are children. (If it is a teenager, same applies!) They do not know what is best for them. They will not be playing soccer when they are 60+ years old. (most likely not!) And while sports is a great thing that I believe every kid should have a chance to be apart of, it is not a lifelong skill whereas learning to play a musical instrument is. Sorry, I know I’m a little biased. But I have a story to tell concerning this point that I will leave for the end.

Again, pinpoint the distraction, whatever it is. It could be something as important as homework. It may be that they are extremely busy that week and can’t fit their practice in that week. Life is about managing your time. They have to learn how to do this. They have to figure it out. They need their parents help, not just to remind them of their priorities but to enforce an expectation. When they fail, let them fail. But don’t let the failure be the expectation. A few weeks of bad practice will not completely devastate their musical education. Quitting will. If they can learn how to focus when distracted, it will help them immensely in life.

And finally, when they are bored, challenge them. Boy oh boy this happens often. I have seen a student make a complete 180 when I tell him or her, “If you can get through these next few pieces, you will be done with this level of books.” Their eyes widen and I see immediately they’ve taken on my challenge. Incentive programs are great for this. There is nothing wrong with rewarding them. It doesn’t have to be a toy from Toys R Us, in fact, it doesn’t have to be much. Most times, when the reward is self gratification, appreciation or visibility, it is enough. I challenge all my students to work on their scales but when I started putting up boards of each level and listing each name as they worked through their level, the visibility they received from others seeing their name up on the board but enough to get them to learn their scales even faster.

It is not always the same for each student. I have some students that could care less about incentives. They may still struggle with making music their own. That is ok. I believe if we keep doing these things, encouraging,  helping them focus and challenging them, eventually they will get it. Maybe it will take longer, but it is important to understand they will get it someday.

Something to keep in mind is that they are still learning. We all are really. We as teachers and parents are learning more about them while they learn more about life and the hurdles they have to overcome. Another great thing to do is review with them what they HAVE already learned. Sometimes we push, push, push. Then we take a step back and realize, wow they have learned a lot the last year or so. I like to remind students of how far they have come. They then feel proud of themselves and say “I want to do the next thing”.

Parents have to see the value that music lessons will have. Over time. It’s doesn’t happen over night. Quitting is never the answer. When we tell them it’s their choice, we are saying, “When life gets hard, you can just give up.” We would never say those words but making music optional does often increase the probability of failure. And later on regret.

I worked under a successful manager for 5 years at a mortgage company. I was going part time to teach piano students at a college. When he found out what I was doing he said “I took piano lessons when I was a kid.” My first inclination was to think cool, he knows how to play! Unfortunately, he told me he started around 8 years old but quit when he was 11 or so. I asked him why. He said that he was starting to get into sports and boyish things and decided he didn’t like it anymore. So his parents let him quit. I asked him if he wishes he had continued and he said “oh yeah! If I could go back, I would’ve continued. I wish I could remember how to play but it was so long ago.” At one point, he did enjoy it and then he got distracted or discouraged or both, and decided it wasn’t worth it. A man in his late 30s told me he regretted a decision he made when he was 11 years old. Imagine that. Quitting is not the answer.

I wanted to quit many times in school. I was working nearly a full time job, with a full credit load and the amount I had to practice for my private lessons was insane considering the amount of homework I had. Usually 7-8 hours per week. I literally did not have a life. Naps? Psh, not when I had to be at work by 1:00pm. Each semester the amount of free hours I had seemed to vanish. But I did it knowing it was required. I hit a few walls but I figured out how to climb over them. It made me a better person. My orchestra instructor asked us one time in class “Why do you take lessons?” Most students response was “to get better at that particular instrument.” He simply shook his head no and said “It’s for discipline.”

I don’t think my list covers all students/children, nor does my list of remedies, but it speaks for the majority of students I think. Parent, decide that music lessons are an important part of life and will help your child in the long run. Don’t let them quit.

 

 

Music Camp

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We had such a wonderful week at the “Carnival of the Animals” Music Camp. Students enjoyed learning about Mr. Saint-Saens symphony Carnival of the Animals, while also learning the history of that time period, geography surrounding the area it was written, the animals for each movement and so much more.

I usually create and plan my own curriculum for camps or group classes but because I decided to split my camps between the younger children and the older children (or those that have had piano lessons before), I purchased this curriculum on musicmattersblog.com. Natalie Weber did a fantastic job on this curriculum with design and the organization aspect of it. I highly recommend!

The first thing I did after purchasing the curriculum, after studying it of course, is go to Staples to estimate the cost of binding the student workbook. Surprisingly, it was not too badly priced considering I needed a bulk amount. I am so glad they turned out well and the students can keep them and they will hold up really well!

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For the gift, I wanted something that would have a practical use. I have done t-shirts in the past and really enjoy them, but this year I wanted something a little different. Instead of t-shirts, I purchased these canvas bags and had them embroidered by a very talented business lady in my church. She custom designed them for me and they turned out beautiful! I loved that the students could not only use them for the week but for their piano books in the future.

 

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Set up was very easy, as it was held at my church. I used this awesome blue tooth speaker  that Natalie recommended along with youtube to play on the pieces. I also had a projector and iPad to project images or vocabulary definitions on the screen. It made everything so easy!

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Students enjoyed coloring the different animals and writing the different rhythms down notated in the curriculum. They absolutely loved listening to the different rhythms and sounds each movement produced. We talked about  imagery and how music creates pictures in our minds about God’s creation around us. The main idea of this camp was that every part of our study, whether it be history, science or music, centered around one idea: that God is the Creator of it and knowing those subjects helps us understand more about Him.

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As you can see from the top picture of the group, students are holding up an opened page in their workbooks. This is their composition. (except for Aeyla, she is holding up her piece that she practiced that week. silly girl.) Each learned how to compose their own motive and create a melody from it. Each student participated whether they knew how to play piano or not. It was so awesome to see their creative minds enjoying making music. I had almost all of them that could play through their composition at our “mini-recital” at the end of the last day. I did not get everyone’s picture but they all did a really great job!

FullSizeRender.jpgFullSizeRender2.jpgFullSizeRender3.jpgMy only regret was not getting more pictures. Here is the art project we did together. I failed to get pictures of their artwork but here is one of my own. My awesome husband cut all of these squares of wood and sanded them for me. The students loved this project. It was the highlight of the week! They chose which animal silhouette they wanted to do and after nailing all the nails in to create the shape they selected their colored string and made designs of their animals. Super fun!

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I say it was a week, but it was really only 4 days. I had to cram a little bit to cover everything. Even still, there was so much we had to rush through. We had a blast though. I enjoyed it myself and the students seemed to love it. I will post about the younger kids music camp soon!

Superhero and Princess Spring Recital 2017

 

On June 2nd, we had a wonderful Spring Recital with the theme “Superhero and Princesses”. I have to say this has been the most fun recital to prep for. I wanted something both the boys and girls could enjoy. Something they could really really love to play. And they did a great job! All of them.

The food was amazing. I am very blessed with wonderful parents who are willing to chip in. Of course, I couldn’t have done any of this without the wonderful Gabby, another parent who has done more of her fair share of “giving her talents”.

My absolute favorite part of the Spring Recital are the Awards. To see the students faces light up when they are honored for the achievements is amazing! Recital are such great learning experiences for so many reasons. They learn how to face challenges, how to work hard for something, and they realize how many family and friends are supporting them. I love to see their proud smiles when their done performing their piece. Many long hard weeks of practice went into each piece and I am continually amazing at each students improvement every year.

 

Enjoy some memories captured of the evening! (Thanks to Courtney, another one of my awesome parents)

 

Teaching adults or teaching piano to adults?

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Teaching children has been one of my passions since I decided to pursue teaching as a career. There is really nothing like seeing a child  make music. There is nothing like seeing them grow and learn. There is really nothing like being taught by that child how to be a better teacher. While teaching children is most definitely beneficial to both parties, teaching adults is another animal, yet just as rewarding.

I have had the privilege to teach quite a few beginner, intermediate, and advanced adult piano students. By far the most challenging of these has been the beginner adult. (a clip of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony should be played right about now). As challenging as it can be, it is, I think, far more rewarding than it is challenging. It is a humbling experience for the adult who is fully competent at many things except for this skill they are trying to learn. As a teacher, I spend more time trying to convince them “yes, you can do this” than actually teaching them the concepts behind playing the piano. Why is this?

Adult students understand more than we realize but the actual “doing” part is difficult. One of my students told me they found it was easier to read the notes than to play them. The process that happens with first seeing the note to transferring that information to the brain to their fingers is usually the biggest hurdle for adults to overcome. The reality is that adult students will not be able to learn something overnight. But can they learn and play? Absolutely yes. And most adults will question whether it is worth it. Again, it absolutely is.

As a teacher there are 3 things to overcome with adult students.

1. I’m not talented enough.

I can’t even count how many people, not just students, have said this to me. This misconception that you have to be talented to play an instrument is false. Obviously we all have strengths and weaknesses but just because a skill has been developed in someone for a number of years does not mean they are “more” talented than the average person. It is just not true. Sure, we are not all Beethoven or the next American Idol contestant but anyone can learn something new. It requires work, not talent.

2. I am too old.

My current adult student is 52 and she has amazed me with her determination to learn just because she wants to learn. She has not let her age or life stage stand in the way. Like most adults, they may be insecure about starting to learn an instrument. They will most likely compare themselves to someone who has been playing for years but it is possible at an older age to learn. I found quite a few gentleman here learned to play instruments proficiently at an older age.

3. I don’t have the time.

Adults do have more responsibility than children. I have taught a mother of 3 and college age adults and both led busy, busy lifestyles. Whether from work, school or family, everyone is busy. Of course, we all have a hard time finding the time to do “one more thing” but as the saying goes…you make time. Of course, it depends on the person and the life stage they are in. Two hours of practice each week could replace the time wasted on Facebook!

 

Find a purpose and stick with it!

I have always tried to bring students back to a purpose. Often, the purpose of learning the piano as an adult is to PROVE to themselves that they CAN do it. This is not a bad purpose, but focusing on it can lead to frustration. The purpose I try to bring adult students back to is to first enjoy what they are doing. It is then when they will grow in their ability and knowledge which is a clear definition of learning.

Learning is a touchy word. We learned to read in Kindergarten, we learned our multiplication tables in 5th grade, we learned Chemistry in high school. We graduate, go to college, start a career and learn our new job. We automatically think “Welp, I’m done learning!”. That’s where we have to grow. We CAN learn something and we end up growing from it. Then we start to create this inspiring thing called music. And let me tell you, just like there is nothing like seeing a child smile after accomplishing a difficult piece, there is nothing like seeing an adult smile with pride and say “I can’t believe I just did that!”. They have learned to create music.

Thomas Edison, one of the most brilliant men who lived, said “If we all did the things we are really capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves”

I have learned a few things in my short teaching career. Both what to do and what not to do to get adult students to a point of learning, growing and creating.

Be patient

Like I said, don’t expect to being able to play a Mozart Sonatina by next week. It takes a great deal of time to reach that level of skill. Don’t lower your expectations but DO be patient with yourself. Give yourself time.

Be proud

When we reach the adult age we’ve been taught to not show any sense of self gratification. We tend to play down what we’ve accomplished whether it’s a job promotion or major accomplishment. There is nothing wrong with being proud about musical achievement. Why do kids keep going when they don’t want to? Because they soon learn that the feeling of accomplishment is a better feeling than that piece of candy or prize they get each week for practicing. Be proud of what you have accomplished.

Be willing to mess up

We don’t like to mess up. We really, really don’t like it when we are not good at something RIGHT AWAY. It’s kind of embarrassing! I get it! The most important thing about learning to play any instrument is to accept the fact that YOU WILL MAKE MISTAKES! Mistakes are apart of learning. If you are a perfectionist, that’s great, but don’t let perfection drive you insane. It would be impossible to learn without messing up every now and then.

 

All these points could actually be applied to young students as well! I would say this post is from a teacher’s perspective but it is also for that adult out there who is thinking “maybe I can learn to do that….”. We may learn through different modes but each of us has to be patient with ourselves, learn the right balance for being proud of our accomplishments and being humble enough to make mistakes. Once we do these things we can grow and then begin to create our music!

Snow Day Class

I am so thankful I found this from another piano teacher’s blog about the inevitable “Snow Days” we teachers have to find the time to make up! The idea is to combine those students into one group class. We had so much fun! My first Snow Day Party was a success!

First we played  the game BUSTED found from a fellow piano teacher here.

 

Next we played a few note reading games….

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and some listening games.

I had the students color a musical frog with dynamics to match the colors they use (found here) and had them listen to a few pieces by Beethoven. In between pieces I asked questions like “What did you think about the dynamics of this piece?” or “What is the mood of this piece?”

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Finally, I served them popcorn for a snack and had each student play their favorite piece while the others listened. Once each student finished I asked each of them to give the performer a compliment on what they did well on their piece. I was very impressed with some of their answers. The whole point was to get them to listen to music more critically and cultivate confidence about their performances!

 

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I can’t wait until another Snow Day Class!

Incorporating Sacred Music Into Your Studio

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I have been playing in church since I was 16 years old. I would have started earlier had it not been for my self-consciousness. Either way, I was able to get a lot of experience through those years and developed a strong sentiment for hymn arrangements. So much so I have arranged quite a few myself.

Of course, classical music is imperative with musical learning. Someone once said that “We make rules so we can break them” and that is true of classical repertoire. The famous mastermind behind all those masterpieces invented the structure and “rules” of music. We have based our theory on their musical ideas. If you have ever heard medieval music before the classical era came into existence, you’ll know there was nowhere near the structure and harmonious sounds in those songs. In fact, they were not even transcribed. They learned by rote because there was no form, no rules. That’s when these famous “old guys”, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Clementi and many others that perfected their art and invented the classical sound. By doing so it has allowed us to build from their foundation. We are still playing their works today, as we should!

As a christian, I believe sacred music is some of the most beautiful music of all. It is simple compared to a Mozart Sonatina or Chopin’s Etude but it has unexplainable meaning and depth. The simple harmony of “Amazing Grace” or “It is Well with My Soul” bring to our minds the words we all know and love. The stories behind the men and woman that have composed these songs are incredible. The melody, the harmony, the words and the stories touch our hearts in different ways. Some speak simple truths such as “Trust and Obey” while some have thoughtful, convicting words like “Come Thou Fount”. I have so many favorites I could give as examples. So how could we make this useful in musical education?

As a teacher, I have tried to give a well-rounded musical experience. I wouldn’t necessarily encourage ALL musical repertoire but an occasional Pop/Jazz/Ragtime piece is good for anyone! It shows appreciation for all music. I focus on the classical, but as students work through their method books I try to incorporate something not in their books every 2-3 months. Supplemental music is what we call it.

I start with the FUN PIECE. I have had kids choose a song of their choice. I don’t even care what it is! It is something fun for them to do. I have had one student pick Star Wars, another teenage student picked a modern day pop piano arrangement (I’m not exactly sure what to call it!). As long as it is something they enjoy–go for it! Along with their fun piece, we will pick a sacred piece. It can be of their choosing or I will assign it to them. What is nice about the curriculum I use is they make the same Hymn book to go along with their level. If a student is not in a the same curriculum I will let them pick something from my stash and spend at least 5 minutes on it in every other lesson. Here is the process we usually go through.

  1. Choose a hymn/scared piece
  2. Teach the background story/reflect on the context of the time it was written.
  3. Learn the arrangement
  4. Find opportunities to perform!

Just a few tips…..

  • Focus on the piece for short periods of time during the lesson that way it doesn’t take away from their regular repertoire.
  • Make sure the student knows this piece has to be left until everything else assigned has been practiced.
  • If a student really loves it, sometimes it’s good to do this first before anything else in the lesson. If you can hook them with something they love, they will more than likely be willing to work on the stuff they don’t want to!

Once the arrangement has been perfected with expression and delivery, if the student has an opportunity to perform this piece for a gathering or church service, I try to push them to do that! There is nothing more rewarding that performing not just for a crowd so they can applaud your skill but to perform a piece that brings the audience closer to God. Whether believers or not, the audience will recognize an individual that does not seek their own glory in a performance but rather humbly offers their talent and gifts to praise Him.

These opportunities build upon each other and teach a student that music lessons are more valuable than just being able to enjoy it for one’s self or for others. It truly is a gift from God that we have the ability to play, sing and make music. Once students have realized this, I believe it makes teaching them so much easier. I don’t have a problem getting a student to practice or to learn their scales for the week! Incorporating hymns into my teaching has had a way of keeping music in perspective. Why are we taking so much time to learn how to do this? Because there is a greater purpose that is more meaningful when you are doing it for the Lord.

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15 down, 350 more to go!

What a great first two weeks at Timeless Harmony Studio!

I am thankful for my throw blanket and moccasin slippers these days! Boy, has my electric coffee warmer come in handy lately!

Before moving on to 2017, let us review year 2016 first.

What a wonderful recital we had this past Christmas. I can’t say how proud I am of each student. And the decor was by far the most beautiful I had ever seen. My friend, Gabrielle, did so much of the behind the scenes work. She and her mom own an event stylist company called Market 31. You can see some of their work here. I know it’s about the kids, but just look at these pictures!

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I tried something a little different at the recital called the “Recital Compliment Exchange.” I got the idea from here.

It’s amazing what can be done with 3×5 cards. I basically had each student write three compliments for three different student’s performances. I wanted them to be conscious of others and encourage one another in their music learning. Some didn’t know exactly what to put (don’t you just love the misspellings?) but I really think the majority loved it and really enjoyed reading their compliments afterwards. I cut them into pieces and pasted them to a piece of paper and gave it to them at their first lesson of the year.

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Pictures of the recital are on Facebook here. And the video recording of the night is here.

As for what is coming up this year, I can definitely say I have a few things up my sleeve! Students have already begun lessons and we are working on individual goals for each to improve this year. It has been a great start so far.

I would have to say this is one of my favorite times of year. The holidays are over so things have slowed down, the house is cozy, and we seem to appreciate life just a little bit more than usual. The New Year always brings memories and new beginnings. It’s refreshing. And nice to look back on the previous year and say a prayer of thanks to God for all He has done.

The New Year brings the goal-setting mind set which I love because I am quite a planner and organizational guru. It’s fun to me to curl up in my reading chair and write my “goals” for the year in my journal. My husband laughs at me. Ok, it may be a little strange.

One of the goals I would love to accomplish this year, and I hesitate to type this out, but would be to “write” a few of my own arrangements. I have the equipment, I just need the software program and I’m set. I have taken classes on this, and dreamed of it for years but the dream has never taken shape yet. This is year! I hope…..

No, really. I am making myself do it. Once I get a tax return….haha!

Anyway, I have many more things to post about but I have to pace myself. Another one of my goals would be to keep the blog updated! Seriously, I am planning on making a schedule and sticking to it!

That’s all for now! I will write shortly. Happy January everyone!