I hope all of your New Years are getting off to a great start!
I did a lot of reading over the break, and one book in particular really got me thinking about how I am communicating with and motivating my students.
Tell me if these students sound familiar:
I am an admitted personality typing geek. When I was an R.A. in college, I took a class on the different types of personality typing and how they can help up to better understand ourselves and communicate with others.
When I meet you at a party, you can pretty much be assured that I am silently trying to figure out your Myers’-Briggs type.
I LOVE frameworks, and I think they are really useful to us as educators. The Four Tendencies is no exception. In fact, I would argue that it may be one of the most important because it involves how people respond to expectations, and we as teachers set a lot of expectations for our students.
The Four Tendencies is a framework created by writer Gretchen Rubin in the course of her study on habits. Through the course of her research, Rubin observed that people tend to fall into 4 categories when it comes to meeting expectations, both internal and external:
Upholders respond readily to both outer expectations and inner expectations. They like to know what's expected of them, and they don't like letting people down--including themselves. They are self-starters, self-motivated, reliable, and thorough. We love these students! They can, however, be uneasy when rules are ambiguous or undefined, and they often struggle with changes in schedules and routines.
Questioners question all expectations; they meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect they respond to only inner expectations. They are data driven and inner-directed. They may find it difficult to move on when they have unanswered questions.
Obligers respond readily to outer expectations but struggle to meet inner expectations. This is the most common tendency. Obligers are responsible, willing to go the extra mile, and respond well to accountability. They can be susceptible to overwork and burnout and have trouble saying no.
Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike. They are independent-minded, and able to think outside the box. They're spontaneous! They are likely to resist when asked or told what to do (a headache for us teachers!). They struggle with routines and planning and can be restless. They like doing what they want to do, when they want to do it.
So how can we use this framework to inform our teaching?
While it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint a child’s tendency, understanding the Four Tendencies can still have a huge impact on our communication with our students.
Upholder students are fairly easy to deal with. They are self-directed and reliable. They will meet expectations without much supervision. They do tend to hate making mistakes, which means they may become angry or defensive at the suggestion that they've made one. They may also struggle with changes in routines, so these are things to watch out for.
Questioners always need to know why you are asking them to do something. If they don't think it seems important, they will not do it. Reason and explanations work well with these kids. Explain to them why it's important to practice every day rather than just for 3 hours one day. Show them how learning scales applies to everything else they are playing and gives them freedom to create their own music.
Obligers probably make up most of our students, but it can be difficult to tell if a child is an obliger or not. These students will respond well to accountability and incentives. It's important for them to meet other people's expectations, so if they know that you will be able to tell that they haven't practiced, they will practice.
We probably need a whole book on Rebels. Rebels put a high value on freedom, choice, identity, and self-expression. They are likely to resist doing anything they are asked to do.
Gretchen Rubin offers a useful formula for dealing with Rebel: information, consequences, choice. Instead of nagging them to please observe the key signature, try something like this: "This is the key signature. It tells us that all of the Bs should be flat. If you don't play B flats, the piece won't sound right, but you can certainly try playing it without them if you like." Sure, they will probably play through the piece without the B flats, but they may decide they actual like sounding good and add them back in.
"Rebels will meet a challenge, in their own way, in their own time."
If we go back to the example from the beginning of this article, rather than giving this student an assignment based on the piece they brought in--that will totally ruin it for them--point out how much they really love playing this music. Appeal to their identity as a musician. Musicians work hard at their craft. For a Rebel, identifying as a musician can be a really strong motivator.
I've just scratched the surface here in this post, but I hope this gets your mind whirling a bit about what tendency your students fall into, especially the ones that may be getting on your nerves!
I HIGHLY recommend that you pick up of copy of The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin, and check out her website for more information.
This is the second post in a series. Check out Day 1 of the 12 Days of Inspiration over at Colourful Keys!
Check back for links to the rest of the days at the end of this post.
Who else was sooooo ready for this break? I definitely found myself spread a little thin these last few weeks, and I'm really excited for my vacation...which has technically already started...but this is a short post, and I'm writing it in my pajamas with my cat in my lap.
Breaks are great! Taking vacations has been proven to reduce stress, keep you heart healthy, improve mental health, and improve relationships (source). Vacations are also shown to increase productivity and creativity (source), two things that are vitally important to us working artists.
A number of surveys have shown that Americans don't take advantage of all of their paid days off, and I know from experience that it's even worse for those of us who don't have traditional paid vacation time each year. The thing is though, we entrepreneur/teaching artists need to take time off! Without it, we will suffer from burnout, decreased creativity, and compromised mental and physical health.
I hope you just decided that you are on vacation with me now. If you somehow end up in Pasadena, let's get lunch!
Ok, so you're on vacation, but you want to make the most of it, right? You want to come back from your break refreshed, reenergized, and ready to take on the world. How do we do that?
Yes, there will be quite a bit of sitting on the couch with your cat and a book (for my fellow introverts. You extroverts out there are probably going to want to do all kinds of exhausting things like having lunch with your friends and taking your kids to Disneyland. To each his own.) But if you really want to make the most of your time off, I'd like to suggest that you do 2 things:
Take some time to look back at this past semester. What went well? What got you excited? What were some of your favorite moments? What are things you're never going to try again? What caused you stress and anxiety?
This is not a planning session. You should set aside some time at THE END of your vacation, after you've read all your books and your cat has grown tired of you, to do some planning. I have my planning session scheduled for next Monday.
This is mental and emotional unloading.
Write these things down, get out your journal/notebook/computer/this handy pdf, and let it all out. This is especially important for external processors who don't want all of their friends and loved ones to avoid them because they're unloading everything on them (I do this all the time. My cat doesn't mind. The humans in my life tire of it quickly.)
This one is multi-faceted. There are many things in our lives from which we can become disconnected when we're busy. Time off is the perfect time to reconnect with those things, and you will be much happier for it.
Reconnect with loved ones. The holiday season can get really busy, and it can be really easy to lose touch with the people we care about the most.
I hope you got to spend some quality time with your loved ones over the holidays. Keep reconnection in mind over the next few days. Have lunch with a good friend you haven't seen in a while. Call your mom. Put your phone in the other room and actually talk to your family. Relationships enrich our lives. They give us a sense of belonging. Take some time to nurture them.
Reconnect with your art. We are music teachers. We are artists sharing our art with the next generation. I don't know about you, but when I get busy, the first thing that goes is my piano time. I might practice things that I need to learn for performances, but I don't play for fun. I don't spend time being creative at the piano, and my students can tell!
You can't pour from and empty cup, so spend some time at the piano. If you're on vacation away from home, play the piano in the hotel lobby until someone asks you to stop, or find another creative way that you can reconnect with your art.
I'm not just a pianist, and I imagine most of you also have other creative outlets and crafts. Spend time doing those things too. Crochet a scarf for a friend, write a new song or poem, spend some time working on that detective novel. Whatever you do, let your creative juices flow!
If you spend some time doing these two things over your break, I can guarantee that you will feel refreshed and ready to go when you get back to work.
One last thing: Don't think of these things as chores, or things to check off your to-do list. This is what vacation is for. If should be fun, relaxing, and on-going.
Need a little help getting started? Here's handy pdf to get the juices flowing:
Check out the rest of this series here:
Day 3: 3 Simple Ways to Reduce Stress at Music Educator Resources
Day 4: New Year's Resolutions for Your Studio at Violin Judy
Day 5: 5 Ways to Reset Your Music Studio After the Holidays at Pianosaurus Rex
Day 6: 6 Things That Should Happen at a First Piano Lesson at Pianissimo: A Very Piano Blog
Day 7: 7 Tax Deductions for Music Teachers at Sara’s Music Studio
Day 8: 8 Questions to Bring Your Studio into the New Year at Fun Key Music
Day 9: 9 Ways to Increase Your Studio Retention at Woods Piano Studio
Day 10: 10 Impressive Benefits of Learning Piano By Ear at Piano Picnic
Day 11: 11 Finds for the New Year at Piano Pantry
Day 12: 12 Tips for Teaching Tricky Personalities by Tracy Selle
Recently on social media a fellow teacher expressed concern that she was wasting time this holiday season because she was spending most of her lesson time on holiday music, games, and fun activities, rather than moving forward in the lesson books and introducing new concepts.
I understand the inclination to feel like you're wasting time if you're not moving forward, but I'd like to argue that, with most students, it's a waste of time to introduce a lot of new things in December. When the holiday season kicks off after Thanksgiving, children are overwhelmed and distracted by everything else that's going on around them:
Families are shopping and participating in holiday traditions.
Kids are busy making wish lists and Christmas cookies.
They're rehearsing for plays and school programs.
They're planning for trips to visit relatives.
And then there is the recent trend of giving final exams to children in Elementary and Middle School!
Adding to this overwhelm with new musical concepts and practice demands can be counterproductive, so let me offer an alternative: Review Season!
In my studio I do review season twice a year in December and in June. Review Season is two-fold, and here's what it looks like:
1) We take a break from lesson books and concentrate on fun repertoire that is not overly challenging.
This usually means a Christmas book or a few engaging holiday pieces.
For Christmas music recommendations, see my previous post here.
Some students aren't interesting in playing holiday music, and that's totally fine, but I still like to give them something fun to work on this time of year. Here is a great collection of "wintery" pieces by Dawn Ivers that your students will love!
Christmasy or not, I want these pieces to review concepts that students have been working on this year. They should present some sort of challenge, but nothing that can't be worked through in a week or two.
My goal is for students to have a handful of pieces that they can play for their families over the break.
2) We play LOTS of games!
My favorite way to combat Holiday Season Overwhelm is by making learning extra fun. We normally play games frequently in lessons, but this time of year I make sure to have lots of holiday-themed fun with me at all times. I always play at least one game, sometimes more, in every single lesson, even with older students!
Games can be a great way to review reading concepts, musical terms, rhythm, and all kinds of other theory concepts. Here are a few of my favorite free games to get you started:
Heave Ho Ho Ho! from Teach Piano Today to review Cs on the grand staff
Reindeer and Elves Keyboard Race from Susan Paradis to review piano keys
Gift Grab from Colourful Keys to review musical terms and symbols
These are not necessarily games, but they are great activities to include in your Holiday Review Season as well:
Holiday Rhythm Cup Explorations from Compose Create. (this is not free, but it is SOOOO worth the cost!)
Top 5 Christmas Piano Printables from Teach Piano Today. Follow this link for some fun holiday composing, improv, and practice activities.
Before I instituted Review Season, I had to spend a lot of January reviewing concepts students had learned in the fall. Spending December on review helps students to solidify their learning. They come back from the break confident and ready to push ahead.
What are your favorite review activities?
Sorry I've been away for so long. Life happens, but I am super excited about this new series: A Christmas Season Survival Guide for Piano Teachers.
We all know how it goes, Halloween is over, it's time to print out 25 copies of Jingle Bells for your beginners and 15 copies of Carol of the Bells for your Intermediates.
People tend to fall into 2 categories when it comes to Christmas music: 1)Those who LOVE Christmas music and can't wait until their spouses and roommates will allow them to turn on the Pandora Holiday Playlist, and 2) Those who absolutely hate listening to the same 5 songs in various arrangements over, and over, and over, and over throughout November and December.
I happen to fall into the former category, but I have plenty of empathy for those who do not.
These categories easily flow into Piano Teacher-hood. There are those of us who love shopping for new collections and arrangements each year, who can't wait to start helping students prepare for holiday recitals and playing for family. Then there are those who don't teach holiday music at all and go about November and December as if the whole world has not been covered in glitter and twinkle lights. Many may fall somewhere in the middle. I'm a big fan of spectrums when it comes to categorizing people.
Whether you're a Buddy or a Scrooge or something in between. I hope this series is helpful for you.
The first topic I'd like to address is a big one. Repertoire.
Now, I know many of you have already had your repertoire selected for months and your students are soon going to be wowing their families at Holiday recitals, but I'm sure there are others out there like me, who have started handing out holiday pieces but could still use some fresh ideas. It's still a week before Thanksgiving after all!
Here are a couple of tips, ideas, and repertoire suggestions that have me really excited this year:
1. Have your students make their own arrangements this year!
I'm sure you've figured out by now that I love giving students ownership of their own music, and I love giving them the tools to make pieces there own. Christmas music is a great place to have students warm up their creative muscles. The songs are (for the most part) familiar and a lot of them are hymns that follow fairly simple chord progressions (although no one says they have to stay simple!).
The simplest way to do this is to give your student a lead sheet of a Christmas Carol and help them to use it to create their own arrangement. Have them learn the melody and the chord progression, test out a few accompaniment patters, maybe add and introduction or a flashy ending. Ta-da! They have their very own Christmas Carol arrangement that I'm sure they'll enjoy playing much more than anything you give them that's been arranged by someone else. This one is THEIRS.
Follow your student's lead on this. Push them to use what they know to get creative. If they're far enough along in their studies, help them to change a few of the chords, or maybe change the progression all together! The sky is the limit here.
It's pretty easy to find lead sheets of Christmas carols online, but if you want something with a few more resources and a bit more instruction, I really like this little booklet from Anne Crosby Gaudet: Chord Town Christmas
2. Seek out fresh arrangements.
Sometimes the solution to repertoire boredom is simply finding something new. How many times have you taught that same arrangement of Jingle Bells from the book that goes along with your method series, right? Let go shopping! Here are a few of my favorites lately:
Jazzy Jingles by Jennifer Edlund
If you're reading this on the day I've published it: November 17, 2017, follow that link right now. It's on SALE!
This is my absolute favorite collection of Christmas pieces that has come out in recent years, and there is a second volume that was just published this year. These pieces are really simple to play. Late elementary to early intermediate students will find them really accessible, and they sound so grown up! The harmonies are sophisticated and interesting, and the pieces fit really nicely under even small hands (I don't think there are any intervals over a 7th). Your contemplative students will love Silent Night and He is Born, and your fast fliers will eat up Patapan. This is my go to early intermediate students, and I love playing these pieces too!
Up on the Housetop by Wendy Stevens
Do you have some beginners this year? Please give them this instead of Jolly Old St Nicholas. There are 4 versions, both on staff and off, with 8ths notes and without. Wherever your new littles are at, they can handle this, and it is SO MUCH FUN!
The teacher duet is upbeat and exciting, and the students get to play all over the piano and glissando! Have you ever met a kid that didn't like playing a piece with a glissando? I haven't. Wendy's trick to use an index card helps protect little hands from getting hurt so the fun can continue while you play this over and over!
The Christmas Waltz by Yours Truly
Shameless plug: I made this arrangement. It is one of my FAVORITE Christmas Songs. This arrangement is easy to play with some nice sounding harmonies, and it's not Jingle Bells. It's a perfect fit for tweens and adults and anyone else playing at a late beginner, early intermediate level.
What are some of the ways that you avoid repertoire boredom this time of year? Let me know in the comments!
Piano teachers' views of popular music seem to run the gamut.
Some think its garbage akin to slang and curse words when compared to real literature (aka classical music). Some don't mind it and will allow students to play a "fun piece" from a score occasionally, to keep them motivated.
Others see value in it for teaching theory.
Personally, I think pop music is valuable in a few different ways:
1. It is the music of our time. It's what students are listening to, and it's a way to meet them where they are.
2. It's extremely useful for ear training and theory.
3. It's an outlet for students to be creative.
4. It's useful and marketable. If students are well versed in improvising, arranging, playing from lead sheets, chord charts, and simply playing in a popular style, a wide world of job opportunities opens up to them that they wouldn't have with mere classical, score-reading, training.
5. It's fun!
I'm happy to see a trend among music teachers to embrace pop music, but have we ever taken the time to think about what our goals are in teaching it?
There are a lot of approaches we music teachers can take to teach popular music to our students.
-finding a good arrangement and playing from a score
-playing from a lead sheet and improvising different left hand chordal patterns
-playing from a chord and either working out the melody by ear or singing along
-figuing the whole thing out by ear from a track
If we have goals in mind, it can help shape our approach. These are mine:
1. To introduce students to the characteristic aspects of pop music: syncopation, driving beats, strong melodies, interesting licks, those dreaded earworms!
2. To strengthen students' understand of keys, chords, and chord progressions.
3. To develop students' ears and abilities to play by ear.
4. To encourage creativity, and to give students to tools to create their own arrangements and original compositions.
With this in mind, here's how I typically teach pop music:
If a student asks for a specific song, I'll check to see if there's a good arrangement available at their level. If there is, we might learn the song from the score while discussing things like the form, chord progressions, rhythmic elements, technique involved, etc., much in the same way you might approach a classical piece.
The benefit of this is exposure. The student gets to the chance to see what a solid piano arrangement of a pop song looks and sound like. It gives them vocabulary that they can use in their own arranging and composing.
If there is no good arrangement, (or sometimes if there is, but I don't feel like using it), I'll look for a lead sheet. I probably teach 70-80% of pop music from lead sheets. They allow students to see what the melody looks like and how it lines up with the chords, and of course, it gives us lots of opportunities to discuss chords, accompaniment patterns, and arranging.
Lead sheets are great for all levels too! Young students can usually get away with open 5ths on the roots of the chords, while using their ear and knowledge of the song to aid in the rhythmic reading of the melody. As students grow, they can begin exploring what the rest of the chord symbols mean, improvise interesting patterns with their left hand, and even add some harmony notes to the right hand or give the left hand a chance at the melody.
Lead sheets give students a framework on which to build their own arrangements.
If I can't find a lead sheet, or the student is really interested in playing along with themselves while they sing, or perhaps want to play in a band or at church, I'll either find a chord chart, or we'll make one together. Making chord charts with your students is an awesome way to work on their ear. If students can figure out what key a song is in and hear the chord changes, they are set to be able to basically play anything they want.
A lot of popular musicians and even church musicians can't read music, but they read chord charts. It's an important skill, and actually a pretty easy one to master.
Something I've been doing a bit more of lately is a hybrid arrangement/lead sheet. It sort of a super simplified piano/vocal/guitar score. Basically I'll half-way arrange a song to the point where it sound good, even if you just play what I wrote. I'll highlight the important elements of the song, bring out some of the rhythmic patterns, etc. I also include all of the chord symbols, lyrics, and guides to the form (chorus, verse, interlude, bridge, etc.).
These are useful when students are still working on voice leading in chord progressions and when they are starting to work on more sophisticated arranging. It gives them some of the vocabulary, like a scored arrangement would, but it leaves room for them to get creative and make the arrangement their own, like a lead sheet.
I recently made such an arrangement of Don't Stop Believing' for a student who asked to play it. We started out working from a lead sheet, but he was having trouble placing the rhythmic chords against the syncopated melody and also with the places where he wanted the melody to be in the bass, so I notated it for him. He's already got some ideas for making it his own once he gets the basics down. I also left the guitar solo section blank, so he could improvise his own solo.
If this approach sounds like something your students would benefit from, and you have some Journey fans, you can purchase my arrangement here: www.sheetmusicplus.com/title/20527616
What are your goals in teaching pop music? How do you approach it with your students? Let me know in the comments!
I was recently gifted 2 heavy boxes full of music books and sheet music by one of my former piano teachers. A lot of it will be very useful to use with students, but some of it is just plain fun!
I got a lot of vintage Century Music Publishing Co. sheet music, and I though I'd share a few gems with you.
I know you're supposed to save the best for last to keep readers engaged until the end, but I just have to start with this one!
There's these to technical sheets:
and this 1960 edition of Glow-worm:
If you've never heard this fun piece, you can listen to it here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XpaEmEizXqg
There's lots of Chopin and other great pieces. I'll share more in future posts. For now, do you have a vintage sheet music collection? What are your favorite treasures?
I know this topic sounds super boring, but hear me out.
Over the last few years I have made a MESS of my Dropbox folders. Sure, I at least had the foresight to have a Dropbox, which allowed me to keep all of my teaching resources and digital sheet music in one place that I could access from any device, but that's where my forethought ended.
Does this sound familiar?
When I first started teaching I started following a few blogs and teachers who would offer up cool resources from time to time.
Every time I saw a new free resource, I'd download it and save it to Dropbox. If I didn't have a folder that it seemed to fit in, I'd create a new one.
A few years go by. Now I'm following about a million blogs that all offer the most AMAZING resources, many even for free! I see some really cool free resources, and I download them. If I don't have a good file for them, I create a new one.
As time went on, I was filling my digital file folders with hundreds of awesome resources, but I NEVER USED THEM!
There are a few reasons for this:
1. I didn't know what all I had.
2. I couldn't find things that I was looking for.
3. I never downloaded anything with a purpose.
So what did I do?
1. I went through every single file folder and deleted everything I'd never used, and never planned to use.
2. I made a Master List for every file with brief descriptions of each resource, for easy searching. (This is an idea I got from the Upbeat Planning Academy!)
3. I made myself a promise: I will not download anything that I doesn't currently fill a need in my studio.
If I see something really cool that I don't have use for, it goes on my "Cool stuff I don't need yet" list. Sure, I run the risk of it not being there when I want it, but if I don't have a use for it now, there's a possibility I never will.
So how does this work for me practically? Let's consider the following example:
I have an intermediate-level student who is working on left hand accompaniment patterns, and wants something more modern-sounding than her classical repertoire.
I open my Digital Sheet Music Master List, sort by level, and browse through the "Teaching Points" column to see if I have anything that fits the bill.
Want to try creating a Master List of your own? Enter your email below, and I'll send you a template for a Digital Music Master List in both Excel and Numbers.
A common question I've seen posed by traveling teachers is: What do you carry with you?
Teachers tend to fall into 3 camps:
1. The Empty-Handed Ones: Some teachers take nothing but their bodies with them to lessons. I once heard a teacher describe how he carried an empty bag with him because he didn't really need anything, but he felt like he should carry something!
2. The Minimalist Ones: Others don't need much, and they have shaved their materials down to the bare minimum: pen, iPad.
3. The Ones with Back Problems: Then you have the teachers who take everything with them everywhere. They have all of the latest and greatest resources, games, manipulatives, rhythm instruments, fancy writing utensils, post-it notes...you get the idea.
I used to fall into camp 3. Every time I got something new, I would just add it to my bag. Overtime, my bag got bigger and heavier and messier, and my back started to ache from all of the weight I was carrying around.
It was a piano parent who saved me. One afternoon, as I was hoisting my two-ton tote bag into the back of my car she asked, "Why don't you just keep everything in your car, and only carry in what you need?"
Holy Mozart! Why had I never thought of this? I like to think of myself as a gifted problem solver, and yet, here I was, giving myself scoliosis from the weight of my teaching bag, and I'd never, ever thought to do this! That day I had what Oprah would call an "Aha Moment."
As soon as I got home, I got to work. I dumped the entire contents of my bag onto the floor of my living room and started sorting into two piles: 1. Things that I need to carry always (pencils, my iPad, assignment sheets, etc.) 2. Things that I could grab as I need them (games, rhythm instruments, etc.)
I also gathered together things that could serve multiple purposes like generic flashcards and these little foam beads that I found at Big Lots for a dollar and I still use for everything.
Today, I'm happy to say, my bag is much smaller and lighter, my games and resources are much more organized, and my back is recovering from all of the strain. Here's a look at what I carry around on a typical day of teaching:
-Accoridan file for the day
-A few games
-a couple pens
-game pieces and dice
-generic flash cards
Which camp do you fall into? What do you carrying in your bag? Let me know in the comments!
I was born into a family of musicians, and began studying piano with my father at age 4. Along the way, I’ve also studied cello and voice, and I’ve performed with many different ensembles and bands. I opened my mobile studio in the Pasadena, CA area in 2012. I have a passion for teaching preschoolers, pop, show tunes, and composing. When I’m not teaching, you’ll probably find me in the kitchen.