Monday, October 8, 2012

Practice time

I addressed this issue earlier, but I return, because it is an on-going concern.  Both the teacher and the parents are key elements in the practice routine, at least with younger students.

I'll address the teacher first.  How many times have your students made no progress between lessons?  You know it's all about the practice.  Talk to the child. Ask him or her what else is on the plate that keeps him from the piano. A lot of kids are over-scheduled any more. "If it's Tuesday, it must be piano" kind of week. Ask him why he takes lessons in the first place? Remind him that mom and dad are paying real money for the privilege (yes, it is a privilege) of taking lessons. 

Does he like sports?  Is he an athlete?  Remind him how the team has to practice in order to improve; same with musicians. 

Practice with her at the lesson, and write down exactly what she needs to do over the next week. Have her repeat the assignment to you, in mom or dad's presence. Do mom and dad understand the assignment?  Write it out clearly, so there are no questions.

Ask him if there's a specific piece he wants to learn, and find it at his level.  Not always as easy as it sounds; you might need to edit it a bit to fit his abilities.

Assign 3 or 4 short pieces she can read through at home, then have her pick her favorite piece to practice for the next lesson.   What about that piece does she especially like?  

Perhaps you need to lessen the assignment. Or have him keep a daily record of his practice time. 

Parents, I have less suggestions for you.  I actually don't like parents to push too hard; that often results in angry practice, which accomplishes very little.  At least in my house, the more I pushed, the more she pushed back.  My own daughter learned to hate the French horn.   

Does she watch a lot of TV? Does she have an electric keyboard?  She can play that during commercials. These days, I think there is more time spent airing commercials than the program.  

Is the piano in a busy section of the house? He can run through a scale or a quick passage when he walks past the piano.  

Even my committed adults have weeks where there really isn't time to practice. The lesson is a time to slow down, to enjoy the process of making music. 

More than just a few thoughts. Sorry. My goal is not to make masters at the keyboard, but to encourage a love of music. Beat the rhythm on a drum, play the melody on a kazoo. And don't forget to laugh during your lessons.  Remember, it's really not "work" you're asking him to do; he gets to "play" the piano. Such fun!   Good luck.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Adult Soiree

I had 6 adult students at the community college this past summer.  I love teaching adults.  They take lessons because they want to, not because mommy wants them to.  They take practice time seriously, and admonish themselves when they don't meet their own expectations.  Makes my job easy.

My adult students are at both ends of the experience spectrum, and all are enthusiastic about their progress over the summer session.  The absolute beginner learned Jingle Bells, and given the extreme temperatures this summer, it helped her to cool down each evening.  A more advanced student worked on Grieg's Norwegian Concerto.  When she and I first met over the phone, she exclaimed that she wanted to play "that piece that goes buumm, bump bump buumm,"  I knew exactly what she meant, and actually have 2 copies!  Not the whole concerto, but a piano reduction.  She read through it gloriously, but the rhythm just wasn't there.  With some clapping exercises, bongo drums and rhythmic poetry, we conquered that challenge.  May I add, a good time was had by all.

I hosted an adult soiree at the end of the summer term.  One student had to back out at the last minute for work.  The others arrived, amazingly all at once.  My living room was chock full.  Everyone played beautifully, and confidently.  When the performance segment of the evening came to a close, we moved over to the dining room to share stories over wine and cheese.  Everyone had a great evening.

I am hoping to make the soiree a semi-annual event.  I have hosted soirees in the past, and get the most pleasure from watching the faces, of performer and audience alike.  The pride both in and out of the limelight is palpable.  Let's do it again!

September First

School started this past week, giving me a week to prepare my studio for the piano year.  I like to give my students and their parents the first week of school away from the piano, enabling them to make the transition from lackadaisical summer to structured school year as smooth as possible.  My lessons will recommence on Tuesday.

In the meantime, I am sprucing up my studio.  Fresh paint on the walls and ceiling.  Yes, the Teletubby water stain above the piano will soon be a thing of the past.  I am very excited about the studio up-do.  The shelves that house all my music are not big enough to hold the books vertically -- I'm getting that changed.  New wall color to coordinate with the re-upholstered furniture, and new curtains.  I'll even wax and polish the floor.  When all is said and done, I hope to find my camera and post a picture of the finished product.

All that being said, I am still accepting students for the coming piano year.  The first lesson is complimentary; we need to make sure we fit.  I am currently teaching Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons for school age children; adult lessons are any time of day.  Give me a call, or shoot me an e-mail.  I will be happy to discuss my philosophy and studio policy with you.  Remember, you are never too old to learn to play an instrument.  Or too young, for that matter.  I love what I do, and I do it well.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Summertime, Part II

Last week I had the privilege of volunteering at an arts camp here in Annapolis.  Arts Mentorship Academy, run by Creating Communities, is a weeklong camp for underprivileged youth in Anne Arundel County.  Interest and participation this year was so great, 2 camps ran concurrently; the 120 students, ages 7 - 17,  divided to small groups, enjoyed learning various art forms taught by master artists and teachers.

Each morning started with a short meditation, where the children quieted themselves, read affirmations and poetry, and prepared for the day ahead.  One class taught the art of journaling and book-making; another featured origami.  I assisted in the painting room, where we painted picture frames and created a 4 panel mural "Life Is Art Is Life," which was the theme of this year's camp.  

The dance portion of the camp was especially noteworthy.  The 10 or 12 students in each group collaborated on a dance, each group creating its own ballet, hip-hop, or blues expression.  The children work together to develop a theme, offered suggestions, and chose dance steps and gestures to express their theme.  The final product was a beautiful portrayal of cooperation.

As do many arts camps, Arts Mentorship Academy brought the week to a close with a performance.  The campers invited family and friends to Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, to see and enjoy all that they had learned over the week.  I have already doted on the dancers.  Some children displayed their journals, and shared some of their entries, specifically a day or experience in their life that is etched upon their heart.  The stories all told of the love of family, and brought a tear to many an eye in the audience.  Others read affirmations and poetry they had written.  Two boys spoke on what this camp experience meant to them.

At the close of the program, all were invited to share a meal before heading home.  These kids took home with them great experiences of leadership and cooperation; they learned to calm themselves when all around them is wild; they learned to express themselves through dance, words, music and art.

To learn more about the Arts Mentorship Academy, and to see how you can support this and other various  on-going projects and programs, please go to  There you can also see pictures from camp.  What a great week it was! 

Sunday, June 17, 2012


...and the living is easy.  With fewer students in the summer, I have extra time to consider volunteer options in the community.  I had run a piano class at the Stanton Center in Annapolis last year.  Seven girls on seven keyboards.  We all enjoyed the camaraderie and the creativity.  Not sure I can beat that.

So, I've offered to return to the Stanton Center, and perhaps the LightHouse Shelter as well.  I love teaching, and I love sharing the joy of creating music with others.  Wish me luck.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Spring Soiree

I hosted our annual spring soiree last night.  I think this is the kids' favorite performance opportunity of the year.    First they play whatever it is we've been working on these last few weeks, then it's cookie bedlam and open-piano, when they get to play anything and everything.  It is always a pleasure to see the parents' faces when their child is performing, a privilege I am denied at the formal Spring Recital.

No, the soiree is an informal music party, where we gather around the living room, and enjoy the children's successes.  I had one adult student join us this year.  Not to play, oh, no.  He had a much more important role, that of drawing the name of the next performer.

Yes, the students perform in random order.  No time to get nervous.  Just walk on up and give it your best.  One of my youngest students, just 5 years old, fractured his wrist last week.  He still wanted to play!  He performed the Ode to Joy, from Beethoven's 9th, and The New World Symphony, by Dvorak, right hand alone.  And no music!  He got up from the bench, bowed very confidently, and rushed back to his mother's lap.

I'd stated in an earlier post that The Bow needs attention.  We worked on that last night.  Funny thing, the kids seem more self-conscious with The Bow, they feel silly and the subject of possible ridicule.  They are very comfortable at the piano, even when they forget where to start, even when they make mistakes, even when I ask them to play it again.  The Bow has been my most challenging lesson -- go figure.

I love the soiree.  I love the kids' confidence and enthusiasm.  I love the parents' pride and satisfaction.  I love that they can see how I interact, a little differently with each child.  Oh, I love my job!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Spring Recital, I

The end of the school year is in sight.  Recital season is upon us.  I hold my recital in April, actually.  Spring sports, ballet recitals, school concerts, warm weather all tend to keep my students from regular practice, so the April recital.  I then hold an end-of-the-year soiree where the kids play whatever they want, and we celebrate with cookies and drink.  The kids love the atmosphere of the soiree; the parents appreciate the early spring recital.  

Starting in January, if not before, we choose recital repertoire. This year, all my students are in elementary school, a first for me, actually.  For the older students, I pushed a Mostly Mozart theme.  We worked diligently on their Mozart compositions, most of them adapted for younger fingers.  By early April, the kids were tired of Mozart; they knew all the notes, the rhythm, the tempo; they wanted to play something else.  I too was ready to move on, but they had yet to perform!  So, instead, we worked on subtle nuances in the score, and you know, they caught on!  They got into it, the crescendi, the diminuendi, and they played music, not just notes.  Come recital time, the young pianists are well-prepared for performance.  I too know every piece inside and out.  I play along (on my imaginary keyboard) as each student performs.  I hold my breath at each difficult phrase.  

This year I was so proud of one boy in particular who has a penchant for playing loud, always loud.  He was the most vocal about moving on.  Until that little spark, that little something in the music that grabbed him.  He noticed the dynamic markings, the quiet first theme, the louder repeat, the build to the climax and the release.  For the first time, I think he heard the music.  He knew what he wanted to produce, he listened and worked until he got it.  And he got it!  

They all did well.  The soiree is in 2 weeks, and everyone is getting excited about performing again, and then to summer break.  I am also looking forward to a week or 2 off.  Ah, summer.  But I want everyone back on the piano bench before too long.  I love teaching!  

Saturday, April 14, 2012


I have not been a good blogger, now have I?  I intend to amend that situation, starting today.  I intend to write something at least once a week.  All "the best laid plans" aside, I hope I can meet my challenge.  Too often, the computer means Spider Solitaire and FreeCell.  I hope to amend that practice as well.

My Spring Recital is just a week away.  In past years, my student base included elementary to high school students.  This year, I find all my students are elementary age, and most are beginners.  I'm working on the program tonight.  My theme this year is Mostly Mozart.  A relatively seasoned student complained he'd been "working on that Mozart piece for so long", why not something else for the recital?  It's a thin line, between introducing recital material too early or starting too late to master for performance.  And yes, we have been working on Mozart for quite some time, but there is still room for improvement, still need to practice and review, to polish for performance.  He gets it; he's just ready to move on.  One more week...

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My Quiet Winter

You'd think I'd forgotten about my blog, it's been so long since I've posted.  

It's been a quiet winter.  Oh, wait!  Did I say that?  No, it's been a magical winter!  Going into the Christmas holiday, I had 6 students.  Coming out of that same holiday, I had 18 students!  I still don't know what happened, but I am ever thankful, and extremely happy.  

I had the honor of accompanying at a few elementary school holiday concerts, both in December and in January.  Chorus, band, and strings, depending on the school.  I've got to commend our young, aspiring musicians.  They worked very hard for these concerts, coming to school early for rehearsal, giving up recess for rehearsals, and most importantly, practicing at home!  Yes, even the chorus members had homework -- all their songs were performed from memory.  I was so happy to have been at each performance,  to accompany these groups, and mostly to have experienced their pride in their success!  

My own students are preparing for a mini-recital, to be held this next Saturday for the Alzheimer's residents of the nearby assisted living complex.  There are times when it is quite obvious that someone hasn't practiced since his last lesson.  Not so recently however!  The improvements these kids have shown this past month is remarkable.  We are concentrating on Mozart this year: not your standard elementary level repertoire.  I am so proud of the progress they all have made, learning new notes, new rhythms, dynamic shadings.  They have worked hard, and I can hear it.  I think they can hear it too, and are anxious to perform.   If I remember to take pictures, I'll post a few here next week.