Tag Archives: Piano Pedagogy

Sorting Out the Piano Classics

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I’m proud to announce I am an affiliate for the Piano Teachers Academy. If you have ever wished you could attend Elizabeth Gutierrez’s workshops but lived too far away, now is your chance to attend online in the comfort of your home. I would like to invite you to attend her online course: “Sorting Out the Piano Classics.”

Elizabeth is my friend, but more than that, she has been a mentor to me as a piano teacher for years. She is the piano teacher’s piano teacher. Not only has she taught piano pedagogy at the college level and given many workshops, she also teaches private piano students. Elizabeth knows how to explain things and she knows what works. She has a knack for giving practical advice that you can easily carry over to your lessons.

This workshop is for piano teachers who want a guide through teaching the classics. So many times I would like to give a classical piece to students but I’m not sure if they are ready for it. There are books but they only give a list, not a discussion on how to teach the music. There is great music out there that students throughout the ages have enjoyed and we owe it to our students to expose this music to them. I polled my students and over half of them said they wanted to play classical music. Students often go through stages with what they like, and when the time is right, we need to be there for them.

I was fortunate that my piano teacher introduced me to classical music early. I fell in love with it. My teacher even called up my mother to tell her I was “special” because I appreciated good music. Well, I don’t think I was special. I enjoyed all kinds of music, and good music is good music. One minute I was playing Bach and the next I was playing pop music with lead sheets. But there was something special about the sound of the classics and how the notes fit under the hands that I enjoyed. But if my teacher had not introduced me to classical music at an early age, I don’t know if I would have majored in music.

Elizabeth’s course has over seven hours of video that will guide you through teaching classics at all levels. There are demonstrations on how to teach the most common classical pieces as well as some lesser known music. She will give you tips that you can use right away with your students. The course includes handouts to match pieces with the method books students are in, as well as other helpful handouts.

When I signed up for the course, Elizabeth told me teachers will have lifetime access to the videos and the hand outs. That means I can go back and watch it again if I need a review or lose a handout.

Right now the course is offered at the introductory price of $120.00 until October 1, so don’t wait to check it out!

Here is how to view a free sample class.

  • Click my link here.
  • When that opens, click on the image.
  • Scroll down to “Class Curriculum.” Click the small down arrow under the 3 modules (before the FAQ).
  • This will open the entire curriculum. Scroll down to “The Black Hole: What to do at the Intermediate Level.
  • The third chapter is free. Click the “Preview” button.

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The Berry Basket: The Story of a Rescued Piano Book

BerryBasket

One of the perks of having my own blog is that I can sit at my computer and ramble on about anything. Today, I’m going to tell you about a little out-of-print piano book I found on the internet.

I’m not sure what sent me to a site on Etsy that sold vintage ephemera, which is a fancy word for old printed collectables.  Somehow I found myself looking through a selection of used vintage piano books the shop was selling to cut up and use for crafts. How sad, I thought, that these old books, once lovingly handed to young children and toted back and forth to piano lessons with the hope that the children would fall in love with piano, are now reduced to being cut up for who knows what.

As I was looking and reminiscing, I came upon a 1953 piano book that looked so charming I had to take a close up look. It was named The Berry Basket, and it had the cutest vintage art on the cover. The seller had some pictures of the inside art (with no mention of the music), and I knew I had to get it.  The price was only $3.00 so I clicked the buy button. In a few days, there it was in the mail, saved from destruction and in the hands of someone who could appreciate it!

The book is written for beginners, and the first pieces are only 8 measures long, with sweet, vintage drawings on every page. Each little piece has simple, child-like lyrics.

I was happy to discover the music is in different 5-finger positions and keys. There are no C position pieces in the entire book!  The lyrics are very simple and childlike, back when young children were more innocent and didn’t know the questionable lyrics of today’s popular music.

Since this is a previously used book, there are markings from the teacher.

“Work out notes H.S. Don’t Guess.”  

“Count.”  

“Slow.” 

Some things never change in piano!

According to the preface, the music and words were written by the Sisters of the Holy Cross attending a music workshop in Salt Lake City, conducted by Bernice Frost, a well-known composer of piano teaching music last century.

I wonder what Bernice Frost said in her workshop that inspired the Sisters of the Holy Cross to compose this music? The preface says the book offers, “… development in the basic requirements of elementary musical training. Foremost among these are ear-training, singing, keyboard range and feel, essential points of technic, and pianistic style.”  Maybe Bernice Frost gave them ideas of all the many things that can be done at a piano lesson besides just playing the music. I like to think so.

Maybe the child who used this book is now a piano teacher in his or her golden years, with hundreds of former students who love piano music! I like to think that, too!

The Berry Basket Published by J. Fischer Bros

The Berry Basket
Published by J. Fischer Bros

 

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Piano Play-Along With Elizabeth Gutierrez

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Piano Play-Along

There is a wonderful new resource that Elizabeth Gutierrez has put on her blog, freely available to anyone who wants to take advantage of it.

It is a Piano Play-Along on her website Piano Camp for Piano Teachers. This wonderful resource will help us be better teachers by virtually working together on the same music.  If you have heard of an internet “sew-along”or “quilt-along,” well, this is the same thing, but for pianists. There are videos of children demonstrating on the piano, and lots of explanations and helpful hints to help your students play with artistry. I am very impressed at how well-done it is. It is like a high quality piano pedagogy class!

The music we are going to work on is Kabalevsky’s 24 Pieces for Children Op. 39. This is a collection of quality short pieces at the late elementary to early immediate level.

Now don’t dismiss this because you don’t like contemporary music or you think you don’t like Kabalevsky! Students love to play his music and can relate to it. I think every composer who writes for children at will say that Kabalevsky is an influence. And even if you don’t plan to give your students his music in the future, learning the secrets to playing it well will help with everything else your students play.

How many times have I heard students play the notes and steady beat correctly, and even some p’s and f’s, but the piece just isn’t there yet. It’s not polished; it’s not what the composer wants. But the teacher is not sure how to get the student to take it to the next level.

I always tell my students that learning classical music correctly is like what good jazz dancers do. The ones who study classical ballet are such better jazz dancers. They have more finesse and are technically better than the students who only study jazz and tap. The same is true of learning classical music.  Not only that, but Kabalevsky’s music makes sense and it is easy to understand. Every little piece teaches something, but it is still fun to play because of the way the music fits under the hands.

Because of copyright restrictions we don’t see too much of Kabalevsky in our method books, so this is a great way to learn about this wonderful master composer. You can take the ideas and apply them to your recital pieces or your method book music.

Even though I am really busy now, I went to my local music store and picked up a copy of the book and I’m going to be playing along. The fact that it is being offered as a free resource is just an amazing opportunity for teachers and even amateurs who want to learn more about how to play with artistry. On top of that, Hal Leonard has generously donated a prize that will go to some lucky participant.

If you want to get your students excited about Kabalevsky’s  music, go to YouTube and let them listen to Kabalevsky’s Gallop, such as this version. It’s short and fast, you can move and dance around to it, and it is something that no child can resist.

Elizabeth is truly a teacher’s teacher, and all you need to participate is the music and a piano! For a while this summer, let’s forget about policy sheets, tuition, how to get kids to practice, and just focus on playing the piano.

[Disclaimer: this review is my personal opinion and I was not compensated or solicited in any way. I am posting it because it is an excellent resource for pianists.]

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One Minute Challenge

OneMInuteClubPP2014One Minute Challenge 2014

Jane Bastien,  composer, method book author,  and piano pedagogy expert talked about an idea that I use with my piano students. This post explains how I do it. 

I thought up the idea of a different card each year when I noticed my elementary students liked to collect cards and put things in scrapbooks. You can watch a video here of my students saying and playing flash cards.  If you need little mini cards, click here for mini grand staff cards and here for mini ledger line cards. If you use different color card stock for each level, it makes it easier.

Teachers who do this each year have their own way of doing things. Some tell me they have different sets of cards for each level. Some use less cards for younger students and more cards for high school students.

Included in this year’s PDF file is the set of “membership cards” that are made to be printed on pre-perforated business card stock, a large certificate for those of you who like to give out certificates at your recital, and a chart to post each student’s time, as they try each week to improve.

Since I’ve written at length about this over the years, here are some frequently asked questions from the past.

What is the One Minute Challenge?

This is a way for students to learn to say and play notes on the grand staff. If they can do it in 60 seconds or less, they get this membership card. Once a student is the fastest in my studio, they win a gift card (my students like iTunes or restaurant cards) and “retire.”  This is something that my students look forward to each year.

What is the age of students who participate?

I made the cards for children about age 8 to 11, but most my older students participate in the contest, unless they were the overall fastest in a previous year.  In my studio, it takes several years of lessons before a student can do this in less than one minute. Only a few students in grades 3  can do the entire grand staff, so I don’t try that with younger students. This year, I am going to try something different and use just the 9 cards around middle C for my K-grade 3 students. They asked to join in the fun, so we’ve been preparing all year. Use your judgement as a teacher.

How many flash cards do you use?

I use 21 cards, the entire grand staff from bass G to treble F. As I said above, this year I am trying something different. 

What do they do with the cards?

I give my elementary age students a plastic badge holder with a chain and attach it to their music bag. I ask middle school students if they want one. Some teachers post them on the wall.

Why do they have to play the note as well as say it? Isn’t it enough to know the name of the note?

Piano students need to know where to quickly move their hands when they see a note that is not in a five-finger position. This is not a cure for students who can’t sight read because they have difficulty tracking notes on the staff and/or other problems that often seem insurmountable. However, for average students, I notice sight reading skills improve as they learn where to move their hands. Good sight readers do not think of individual notes as they play, but in patterns of intervals. This is just one part of the difficult skill of sight-reading.

How much time do you spend on this at a lesson?

I run the challenge for about 2 months. I don’t think a lot of time should be spent on this. Just a couple of minutes each week can reap great rewards if the student is prepared in the first place. If students take over 2 minutes, I usually need to prepare them better before I start timing. Often the problem is simply developmental. Students need to learn gradually and in a child-centered manner. That takes time and patience on the teacher’s part. Before you start flash cards, use a lot of activities and games to learn the note names. There are many free resources on my website and other sites in the links on this blog. Don’t let this turn into drudgery!

I gave up on this because my students don’t like flash cards. Do you have any suggestions?

Some teachers can make this fun and some can’t. If you still want to try, make sure they are old enough, know all their notes, and have the potential to be successful. Do a lot of note naming activities before you start. Prepare them well. Realize that not everyone in your studio has to participate.  There are many pages of note naming resources on my website and other websites. If your student has a learning disability, tread very carefully. Not every idea works with every student. I have had students who freeze up when they are being timed, especially if they are older beginners.

These cards are not centered correctly when I print them out on my blank business cards. What am I doing wrong?  

When you print the PDF file, under “size options” select “actual size.” You need the latest update to Adobe Reader for it to print correctly. This is a free download you can get at the Adobe Reader website.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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