MTNA Conference; Tuesday, March 23, 2015: Creative Chords

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Bradley Sowash’s showcase was one of the most entertaining showcases I think I have ever attended. The pictures below will give you a taste of that entertainment.

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Bradley Sowash has a brand new book that was featured at this years MTNA Conference, Creative Chords.

Screen Shot 2015-05-07 at 12.12.31 PMBradley says “Our goal as teachers ought to be comprehensive musicianship. Both eye and ear skills are essential.”

And then asks the question, why have the eye/ear approaches remain separated? Answer: Pride and Prejudice. Each camp (eye and ear) is secretly jealous of each other.

In this showcase, Bradley teaches us the steps to teaching “off page” creativity

S-C-A-T

*Specify

*Compliment (the ember of creativity is important, easy to squash it out)

*Ask Questions (I noticed… are there?….)

*Turn them loose

The Creative Chords book balances both the eye and ear. Students can learn familiar tunes reading and by ear. They can personalize melodies and improvise variations. They can interpret pop/jazz chord symbols, apply stock accompaniments in a variety of styes and use music theory to enable their creative ideas.

The Creative Chords book is unlike anything I have seen out there. It has a look and feel where it can be easily used as a main method book, but opens itself up to use along with your main method. It  begins at a mid-late elementary level. Students should have some basic music theory knowledge when beginning Creative Chords.

In the book students will find:

  • PLAY Steps when learning a piece. Prepare, Learn, Add, Your Way
  • Work Out- Technical Exercises
  • Creative Concept- Creativity with the technical exercise.
  • Extra Challenge- An added challenge to the technical exercise.
  • Theory Tools

Along the way there are little tips and fun little characters (including a cartoon version of Bradley!) scattered throughout.

Broken up into 5 units students will learn about:

  • Sweet Harmony
  • Transposing
  • Scaling the Chords
  • Accompanying
  • Encore- Applying it all.

Creative Chords is an IPS- Interactive Practice Studio book. Which means, inside the back of each book there is a special code to download backing tracks, video lessons and other documents and files such as worksheets, musical examples, etc. Creative Chord is published by Kjos and is available at your favorite music retailer. You can find a little more information on the book at the Kjos website here.

Tech Tuesday Review: My Music Staff

mymusicstaff-logo-2015My Music Staff is a web-based resource you can use on whatever device  you have. Just log into your account online wherever you are and manage your studio.

My Music Staff is super easy to set up. Simply input your students and family details (you can do this by importing your contacts if you wish) to set up their account. Have multiple teachers in your studio? No problem, My Music Staff makes managing easy for you too.

MMSHome-1024x640 MMSStudent-Details-1024x640 MMSStudents-1024x640Once that is done you will be able to include and access attendance notes, practice log, repertoire and email history.

Next you can schedule events, group lessons, camps and more to be added to your calendar (in addition to regular lessons). The calendar will even show students birthdays!

MMSCalendar-1024x640Easily keep track of your lending library…

MMSLibrary-1024x640… and send invoices to families. By the way, My Music Staff is working on an exciting update (currently in beta). “Now, when a student/parent clicks the “Make Payment” button (or uses the “Pay Online” link in an invoice), they’ll be taken to a new payment page first that displays your invoice logo and a few other details about their payment before they’re taken to PayPal.” That is coming soon!

MMSFamilies Invoices-1024x640Expenses and income log, very helpful at tax time! And don’t forget to keep track of your mileage.

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You can even set up a website page and posts. If you already have one, they have some widget codes you can add to yours.

MMSWebsite-1024x640When you log into My Music Staff you not only see your agenda for the day, but you can see the latest “staff room news” so you are always updated with the latest.

My Music Staff has a clean interface that makes managing you studio super easy for even the tech challenged teacher! My Music Staff is just $12.95 a month no matter how many students you have.

My Music Staff does not do an affiliate program like some of the others. Keith Russell stated “We believe in offering the lowest price possible to everyone without compromising features, benefits or service.”

You can check out My Music Staff here and sign up for a month trial for free.


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Review: Piano Boot Camp- Special Ops

Do your students need a little kick in their playing skills? Are they getting lazy with their technique and practicing? Are they just feeling unmotivated to do their best? If you answered yes, to any of these questions, the solution is ahead…

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 9.46.46 AMLaura Lowe of The Piano Studio Blog, has developed a piano “boot camp” geared to students 5th-9th grade in at least level 2A or above. This camp will focus on technique, practicing and mental strategies.

The sessions work best with 2-3 students at a time. Only one piano is needed. The lesson plans are easily adaptable to use one-on-one as well. Camp session layout is for 5 days for a minimum of 1-1/2 hours each day. (Though you can easily take more time.)

I have to say when I looked through the camp, I immediately thought, darn it! I wish I would have known about this camp 6 months ago as the general ideas and planning are very similar to what I’ve been planning with my students this year. I could have saved a lot of time! But no worries, because you can bet I will still be using some of the ideas and resources with my students. A big part of what I wanted to do with my students this year was to improve technique and performance skills and Laura addresses these things (and more) each day.

I love the boot camp theme along the way. It immediately shows students that you have high expectations for them. Each day at camp students can expect an Entrance Activity (getting started for the day…), Physical Training, Technical Training, Practice Strategy and Practicum, Sight-Reading, Mental Strength and Artistry. Sum Up and Orders are included for the next day. The last day focuses on performance skills and ends with students performing for their parents.

When students begin Piano Boot Camp: Special Ops they will receive a student workbook… I enjoyed the introduction, “Welcome to the piano training that will kick your skills up a notch and turn you into a lean, mean piano-playing machine.”

The student workbook includes:

  • An agreement students will sign with expectations for the next 5 days.
  • PT for Pianists exercise descriptions
  • Survey the Terrain” sheet (A Repertoire Survey)
  • A schedule priority sheet
  • Practice Goals
  • Piano Rubric
  • Persistence Sheet
  • Dramatic Monologue
  • Fingering Principles
  • Develop a Can-Do Attitude
  • Performance Anxiety
  • Journal pages for each day
  • Inspiration page

In addition, a certificate of completion is available to give to students after their performances on the last day. You can find out more information about Piano Boot Camp: Special Ops including some sample pages in Laura’s Etsy shop here.


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Supersonics Piano: Flowing Fantasies

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This morning I listened to each piece in Daniel McFarlane’s new releases in the Flowing Fantasies MegaPack. You can say I started my morning off right. If you have a student that gravitates towards lyrical pieces you will want to take advantage of these packs.

While you can buy the individual packs, I would highly recommend getting the complete MegaPack. If you don’t have intermediate to advanced students you will want those pieces for yourself. The MegaPack includes:

Flowing Fantasies Pack 1 (Early Intermediate – Grade 2 Australia/UK)

Flowing Fantasies Pack 2 (Early Intermediate/Intermediate – Grades 2&3 Australia/UK)

Flowing Fantasies Pack 3 (Intermediate – Grade 4 Australia/UK)

Flowing Fantasies Pack 4 (Late Intermediate/Early Advanced – Grades 5&6 Australia/UK)

All the pieces are studio-licenced and on sale for 50% off until Wednesday, May 6th! WOW!

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After listening two the last two pieces in the last pack, “Lift Me Up” and “Light Up My Life” and I can officially say I am now motivated for my day. Start your day off right by taking advantage of the sale on these beautiful and uplifting pieces here!

You may also be interested to know about a couple of other recent releases, both of which are duets. Check out Brother John Duet and London Bridge duet. Both fun duets are perfect for a beginner to play either with the teacher or a sibling. Enjoy!


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Review: Sight Reading Academy

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Do you have your students sight read everyday? Colin Thomson has created an effective Sight Reading resource for students called Sight Reading Academy.

As Colin was preparing his audition at the Wheaton College Conservatory of Music studying music composition, he would spend countless hours prepping the 3 pieces he was going to perform. While he definitely worried about the sight-reading portion, he put almost no time into preparing for it, considering it impossible to really prepare for sight-reading. He shared with me that he showed up, played his three prepared pieces, and they all went quite smoothly.

Then… a professor handed him one page to sight-read. He knew it was coming, so he nervously took it and started in. About halfway through the second line the professor stopped him and said, “Colin, do you want to take a quick look at the key signature, and try again?” He had been reading it in a completely incorrect key.

He continued to share, “Considering how intensely I had prepared for the audition, this was a bit of a traumatic experience for me. I started back in, and fumbled through the piece. I honestly don’t really remember anything after that. But thankfully, I was still excepted to the school, so the story has a happy ending! But ever since that time, I have wondered how a student is supposed to prepare for sight-reading? Does one have to own a library of music, in order to have access to new music for every day of practice? How can a student effectively practice sight-reading, as well as the disciplines (like looking ahead in the music) that play such an important role in sight-reading?

What I’ve developed is meant to function as a sight-reading method book for teachers to use with students, and to allow students a never-ending stream of level-appropriate sight-reading material, as well as innovative video exercises to help them read ahead. I often consider how my own sight-reading abilities could have been transformed early on through the use of a program like this, and I plan to start a revolution in the extent to which music education focuses on one of the most practical skills a musician can have: sight-reading.”

Sight Reading Academy includes sight-reading exercises from levels 1-8. Here are some notation samples so you get an idea of leveling…

Level 1

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Level 2

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Level 3

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Level 4-5

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Level 6-7

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Level 8-9

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The Sight Reading Academy exercises does not give feedback or scores, it is simply a sight-reading tool. At first I wasn’t sure how I liked not having any immediate feedback for students, however I have had a chance to take some time with SRA. I quickly realized that when students are playing their pieces at home, they are not getting immediate feedback from me. They need to learn to listen and watch carefully. The purpose of sight reading everyday is to improve reading skills (not focusing on mistakes) and become more fluent in the language we call music.

When students learn how to read words and sentences in school, they are required to practice their reading daily. I really believe if we as teachers required a daily sight-reading assignment at home in addition to learning their pieces, our students would become much more fluent readers of music.

Sight Reading Academy has done all the work for teachers, all the assignments are done and ready for students to begin. An optional feature that will be coming eventually to SRA will be for students to opt in to receive encouraging emails when the assignment is complete with the next assignment waiting for them in their inbox. Stay tuned for that feature to be function-able.

Each level includes a video where tips and tricks are shared to help them with their assignment. Students receive positive reinforcement, reminders and tips along with their daily exercises.

Some of the exercises a student will see in a lesson are:

Quick Mem– seeing one measure at a time

ForeSightReader– practice reading ahead of the bar (memorizing as you are moving forward)

Blackout– blacks out the measures as you are moving forward

Some of these exercises, especially the foresightreader and blackout were a bit tricky for some of my students. But they quickly understood why it was important to read ahead.

“Sight Reading Academy is a way for musicians to get new, unseen, level-appropriate music in their email inbox every single day, and includes innovative exercises to help them read ahead. It is my belief that a considerable amount of time should be spent in sight reading exercise. The student who neglects this aspect of study will be woefully unprepared for many of the challenges that will come both during more advanced study and any further performing that may be done later in life. I have gone so far as to say that it is probably the most practical skill that a musician can acquire.” Colin Thomson

How it works for teachers:

The teacher account is always free. After you sign up with your account you can either signup your students or invite them to sign  up themselves. Either way you can track their progress.

Not sure if Sight Reading Academy is right for you? Colin is giving a limited time offer: Get your free teacher account and signup 1 student for a full month. Completely free. The limited time offer for the free student expires in 6 days so don’t wait to sign up for your free account and 1 free student. You can check it all out here, be sure to watch the video to really get an idea of what SRA is all about. And while you are there, you may want to take some time to read some articles on his blog.

Review- Purrfect Practice: Technique Trainer 1

Jackie Sharp, author of Purrfect Practice: Technique Trainer 1 has published an e-book that I promise you will want to to use with your students. When Jackie sent me the book to review, I mentioned to her before I looked at it that I just had a dream about her book and I have never dreamt about something I was going to review before actually seeing it so that had to be a good sign. After going through her book, to say that it is “good” would be a drastic understatement. Technique Trainer is an absolute must own.

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As stated inside the book, “Technique Trainer 1 is the first in a 3-part series of books of technical and musical exercises that develop the many skills necessary for achieving excellence at the piano.”

Inside Technique Trainer 1 you will find:

Engaging Content: In this level, Jackie explains the focus is on maintaining joint stability, appropriate hand position and understanding the involvement of wrist and arm in piano playing. Beautiful illustrations by Suping Xu are found at the beginning, showing correct and incorrect positions and movements. Following the helpful illustrations the exercise and activities begin.

Exercises: There are 25 technical exercises including in this book. The layout of the exercises are clean and include clear instructions on how they should be played.

Self Assessment: As we know, self assessment is an important part of engaged learning. As students are accomplishing and ticking of clicking goals they become more efficient in their learning and practicing skills.

Bonus Learning Activities: In addition to the exercises, there are 25 bonus learning activities. Students are given activities to increase their awareness and apply the technique to their practice.

Video Demonstrations: One of my personal favorites. Each exercise page includes video links, with a total of 62 videos in the book. In the video clips, Jackie explains the technique and how to achieve them. These are especially helpful for students to watch when they are not with their teacher at lessons. Because most of us our visual, I really LOVE that Jackie has taken the extra time to make these videos. Having this helpful tool, is a big part of what sets this book apart from other technique books.

Jackie has spent a lot of time and careful planning, providing excellent material and techniques for students while making it easy for the teacher. Whether you are a brand new teacher or a novice in teaching technique this book is chock full of goodies for your students! Now I can’t wait until book 2 and 3 in the series are released!

You can purchase and view samples of every page including the table of contents of Technique Trainer 1 here. Technique Trainer is available for $25.00 (Australian, which converts to approx. $19.08 US). Jackie has offered to give a copy of Technique Trainer to a very lucky teacher! To enter to win, just leave a comment below by Friday, April 10th; 10:00pm (AZ MST). Good luck! GIVEAWAY HAS EXPIRED.

Be sure to like Purrfect Practice on Facebook and join the Mastering Piano Technique with Technique Trainer on Facebook!


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Review: Learning for Little Fingers

Have you ever had a parent of a 3 year old ask if you could teach their child piano lessons? I know I have. While I do begin piano lesson with students as young as 4 years old there are a several requirements they need to be able to do before I will accept them as students. The two main things that I have required are 1) They must be able to recognize letters A-G and 2) They must be able to recognize numbers 1-5. This is mainly because of the materials I have used.

Well, now there is material that makes those two requirements unnecessary! Laura Brothers, creator of Learning for Little Fingers has developed a curriculum with those tiny fingers in mind. (3-5 years) Students set the pace in the books they use. It is recommended that they just work on one song a week, though some may be fine with two.

FullSizeRenderThe first book in the series is Tiny Fingers: Under the Sea. One thing that surprised me is all the pieces are on staff! But because the little one’s probably don’t recognize their alphabet and numbers quite yet, the note heads are actually animal heads that represent the notes on the staff. The thing I like best about this is it sets up for a beautiful transition into regular on staff note reading. Students will already be familiar with where the letters/notes belong on the staff when they transition over without the character heads.

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In the first book, students will become familiar with the characters and where they belong on the lines and spaces. The cute character illustrations from the Learning for Little Fingers materials are designed by Claire Stamper. Meet the animals…

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Helpful technic tips are given in this book that apply specifically for these little learners. Rhythm is not touched on quite yet, except to keep a steady beat. Gaps that are seen in the measures can simply represent holds or rests. Teacher duets to help with steady beat and fun are available as well!

The second book is Tiny Fingers: Into the Jungle. Students are now introduced to rhythm but again, assuming they don’t recognize their numbers yet. Rhythm is introduced with syllabic pictures. “Biscuit” represents half notes/minim, “Cake” represents quarter notes/crotchet and “yummy” represents eighth notes/quavers.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 11.56.01 AMMy Monster Scales is a supplementary exercise book that is designed to be used alongside the Tiny Fingers Curriculum. “The purpose of this book is to help students develop control of individual fingers and can be used to illustrate and help students to recognize the patterns of moving up and down the staff.”

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There are quite a few games on the Learning for Little Fingers website that help reinforce what students are learning in the curriculum. “Rain, Rain Go Away” is a simple and quick matching game where students are adding “sun” over the “rainclouds” by matching the animals to their home on the keyboard.

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IMG_4692You can find all the Learning for Little Fingers curriculum and supplements on their website here. And the Facebook page is great for teacher support!

Now when you are asked, “Can you teach my 3- year old how to play the piano?” The answer can be “YES! I have just the perfect curriculum to use with them!”

Not sure quite yet if this is something you want to try? Well, Laura understands that jumping into a brand new curriculum is a big decision, so she has made a free trial pack available to download. Everything you need to teach your first lesson including games! You can download the trial pack here.

All of the Tiny Fingers books are now available as physical books, as well as unlimited studio licensed digital downloads. The games in the Tiny Fingers curriculum are currently available as digital products but may be available as physical products in the future.

Laura has offered to give a very lucky teacher a digital copy of Under The Sea (the first book in the series) with an unlimited reproduction license! What is the youngest age you have taught in your studio? To enter, answer that question and any other comments you would like to make in the comments below. Deadline to enter is by Saturday, March 28th; 10:00pm MST. GIVEAWAY HAS EXPIRED