Summertime Piano Fun!

During the summer months, some students take time off from piano lessons to have a little break, and others continue. While a break is definitely deserved, how do we ensure fingers keep moving so they don't become too rusty?

A fun thing to look into are the the outdoor pianos that pop up starting in July around Vancouver and in nearby cities (eg. Deer Lake Park in Burnaby).

An idea would be for students to learn 1 piece (or more!) of their choice and as a goal to play it on these outdoor pianos!

If they enjoy this unique experience, it could be turned into a summer game to see how many of these outdoor pianos they can find and play their pieces on through the months of July-August-September :)

Usually the organizers of the outdoor pianos offer contests where you can record the playing and win prizes!

Keep checking these websites as they will be updated with the locations of pianos to roll out sometime in July ---
 

Outdoor pianos around the lower mainland, including Vancouver:
http://www.pianosonthestreet.com/

Outdoor pianos mainly in Vancouver:
https://www.facebook.com/keystothestreets/

 

Happy Playing! :D

Tuning: Keep Your Piano Happy!

Pianos usually cost a pretty penny or two - and if you do receive/find one for free, please make sure to check it before accepting/buying the instrument. Pianos are an investment in money, as well as space.

 

Scenario One:

I purchased a second-hand piano off Craigslist from a very kind lady in North Vancouver, as she had purchased it from another family whose children were no longer using it. This kind lady's intention was that her own children would learn how to play the piano, this did not happen.
That is how I came about finding it on Craigslist -

I did my in-person check:
- played every single key to ensure each one felt proper, and to hear the sound - was I happy with the touch and overall sound?
- pressed each pedal and then again with the keys to listen to the sounds - where they doing what they're supposed to do?
- did a very superficial inspection of the front and back to see if there were any cracks in the wood

I thought this was good enough and was indeed happy with the instrument - she had several inquiries, and I was the lucky one she sold it to.

I hired piano movers to have it moved from her home to mine, and I then had a beautiful instrument in my new space :)

Second-Hand Piano: $1200.00
Piano Movers: $200.00
Time spent arranging appointments: priceless
-----------------------------
$1400.00 + time

Finally, I booked an appointment with a piano technician, Hiroki Uchino, to tune this piano, as it was drastically out of tune and needed a little care in the sound department. It had already been sitting in it's new home for a few months - as suggested before having it tuned so it can acclimatize.

Upon arrival and a few questions, Hiroki mentioned that anyone purchasing a second-hand instrument should always have it looked over for interior damage that cannot be seen from the outside. To be honest, at this point, I was pretty scared it was damaged with $1400.00 down the drain!

He inspected the piano's soundboard and pins, luckily nothing was cracked or loose. *phewf!*

Lesson learned: ALWAYS book an appointment with an experienced and certified piano technician to inspect the piano before acquiring it. If the soundboard or pins were loose, then there's nothing that can be done. If a string breaks, that is easily replaceable - but a soundboard is essentially a whole new piano.

Scenario Two

My grandparents gifted me a piano after a few years of taking lessons, as they saw potential in me. It's a beautiful upright Kawai. Because I've been through so much with this piano, ups and downs, I've grown quite attached to it. So, after not having a consistent piano technician service the piano regularly at my parents home, and after one not so great experience with how it was tuned this one time - I never had it tuned again. It's a challenge to find a qualified and trustworthy piano technician!

A good friend and colleague of mine, recommended Hiroki Uchino, who had been tuning her upright and Mason & Hamlin grand for years. So after a couple years of procrastination, I finally booked an appointment with Hiroki. (I now wish I had booked sooner!)

He is very professional, attuned to details, respectful of all instruments -whether it be a grand or upright- and extremely knowledgeable in his profession.
I highly recommend him for all your piano needs:
- Piano Appraisal - I wish I had known about this before I purchased the second-hand piano, thankfully it was not broken! 
- Piano Tuning - fine tuning, as well as DEFCON 5 (aka pitch based tuning; basically, when the piano is so out of tune it needs 2 rounds of tuning to stay in tune)

It's also a very small world, Hiroki also tunes my childhood piano teacher's grand pianos :)
This, to me, is the solid seal of excellence -

Thank you, Hiroki, for saving my pianos!

 

Hiroki Uchino
http://hirokipianoservice.com/
604-780-2871

 

 

Piano Practice Motivators!

How do we help the aspiring pianist practice at home between lessons?

Things I hear most often regarding not having practiced from...

Parents of students:
"________ didn't practice very much ... "

Students of all ages:
"I forgot to practice."
"I had too much homework."
"I was busy this week."
"I didn't have enough time to practice."

This is heard between weekly lessons, and after coming back from small holiday breaks.
Yes, everyone needs a break (even teachers!), and I too am a culprit of not practicing everyday.

Growing up, I loathed having to practice.
It was a struggle, and sometimes even resulted with fighting with my mother about practicing piano on several occasions within one week. First of all, this doesn't lend to a loving relationship between parent & child, I know this first hand. It develops anxiety, non-love, even animosity because of all the negative experiences developed, albeit small, but it gradually builds over long periods of time into this incredible ball of negativity. DO NOT LET THIS HAPPEN. A loving bond between parent & child is more important than getting them to practice. Trust me.

Looking back and having taught for several years, witnessing the similar "I don't want to practice" pattern, I feel like I did not enjoy practicing because I felt like I was forced to. There was no fun element, flexibility, or meaningful connection to myself. All I knew was: I have to practice because so-and-so says I have to, or, I have to practice to play without mistakes. This is not fun at all - especially for a growing child!

 

SOLUTIONS!

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For Parents:
- please remind your loved one to play piano once in awhile during the week
- remind them 3-4 days in advance that piano lessons are coming up!
- if you had music lessons or a music background:
use that to your advantage and suggest to play music with them! Pick up your guitar and strum along as they play their pieces assigned that week, play the harmonica while they play! Any instrument is able to play along with your child as they play (...practice ;) ) their pieces. It takes a little improvisation on your part, perhaps polishing up on a few basic chords, but it will benefit both yourself and your little one :)
- if you have a piano background:
sit down at the piano side by side with your loved one and play their song with them, as a duet, or even just the same notes :) Count out loud with them, perhaps even point out different elements in the music such as dynamics, or details to spark awareness of these tiny details in music
- if you don't have a music background:
don't you worry! you are still able to sit down beside your loved one and ask them to teach you their song. Ask them a few questions about what you see in their music, "how many counts does this note get?", "what note is this?", "what does this picture mean?". Even without knowing how to play an instrument, you are able to clap along or try to sing the words in the music while they play :)
- suggest to "surprise" the teacher with their best playing of one item at the lesson (eg. the scale we've been working on, their piece of choice, even a song they've made up!)
- try using words other than 'practice' to get them to the piano, such as "play"
- there will be days when they just don't want to play anything assigned for the week, if this is the case, suggest making up or creating their own song as a surprise for the teacher! :)
- the bottom line: it's wonderful if your child practices what is assigned, but the main goal is to have them spend time at the piano, to move their fingers, to explore the different sounds, perhaps even discover sound combinations that they enjoy hearing, and reporting these finds at the lessons!
- sometimes, you encounter a child that wants to practice alone, and that is perfectly okay too. Some like a little privacy when practicing, perhaps because they will feel more okay making mistakes without having someone right there to hear it, as they learn :)

For Students:
- practicing is not torture, at least, it's not supposed to be :)
- do your best to be mindful of sitting at the piano for 4 days, MINIMUM per week. Everyday is the best, even 5 days is still pretty good, but 4 days will make sure things will progress forward instead of falling backwards
- when you practice, I understand we do not all have 60 minutes -even 30 minutes- to dedicate to piano practice (although, if we use some video game playing time, iPad game time, even computer time... I'm sure we could make 60 minutes open for piano practice ;) ), think to yourself to practice for about 120 minutes - DO NOT SET A TIMER, this is useless because you will be focused on the timer instead of putting your brain energies into meaningful piano time. And if you happen to sit there for longer than 15-20 minutes, WONDERFUL! :)
- choose 1 or 2 things to do from the list, and focus.
Tell yourself: "today I will focus on this _______, I will play it about 6-10x, and my goal for today is when I finish 6-10x I will feel more confident with this part", or, "I will feel I improved on this finger pattern/technique/trill/dynamics, etc. when I finish my practice today" ---- if you do this each time you sit down to play, you will feel the improvement, and feel more successful every practice session.
- create a brain shield, or a force field around yourself when you sit at the piano, what I mean by this is, do not let any other outside thoughts distract you from what you sat down to do.
Block out thoughts like: "what's for dinner?", "I have so much homework to do", "What am I doing this weekend?" - these other thoughts will still be there when you're done, and if you feel it is something very important, write it down so you know you will remember it. Then, you can block it out :)

DEFCON 5

Sometimes, nothing seems to work.
No amount of kind reminders, even strategies set up by the teacher to motivate practice.

It's time for DEFCON 5:
- MONEY: set up a jar on top of the piano, every time your sweet child practices for 15 minutes, put in a quarter (or any other combination of time and $). This is a concrete way for a young one to see the results of practice in the form of money ... that they are able to spend on whatever they like. Almost like an allowance, earned through practice.
- TREATS: if candy or other sweets are not usually allowed too often in the household, consider having treats as a reward for x amount of time practiced. Eg) 30 minutes of practice = treat (bite size, full size... you decide!)
- Other Rewards: clothing items, coveted Shopkins - Hot Wheels - Lego - other toys or items that are wanted and you're okay with purchasing before their birthday/Christmas/gift giving holiday. Make sure that the amount of time practiced is equal to what you feel is deserving of the price of the reward! Perhaps your child doesn't fancy toys & items, but values experiences instead: consider these as rewards as well - a family outing to a waterfall, an extra trip to their favourite nature park, etc.

REWARDING THE SELF-DRIVEN STUDENT

Rewarding RCM Exams: usually students who choose to go down the path towards accomplishing an RCM Examination all on their own is unlikely to need too much coaxing to practice using rewards or outside motivators. Due to their awesome drive to succeed, they too should be rewarded for their independent efforts! Surprise them with a gift of some sort for outstanding accomplishments they chose to do all on their own, for achieving a wonderful mark and for their continued dedication towards becoming a self-driven musician :)




WORDS OF YES!!

To be fair, I don't only hear words of "____ didn't practice".

There are parents who do report their lovely child practices all on their own without needing to be reminded to do so! These self-driven students are quite amazing, as they know what they are aiming for with goals in mind, very self-sufficient in following weekly notes and accomplishing the small tasks and goals discussed at the previous lesson, and self-motivated to learn more and more!

"_____ is practicing a lot more, and I don't have to remind them at all."
"_____ practiced for over an hour one day!"
"_____ practiced all on their own! Without needing to be told"
"_____ learned a song all by themselves!"

 

Give these suggestions a try :)
Let me know how they work out for you and the aspiring pianist!
 

 

"Help! I've lost my place, where am I?"

A question I've heard more than once during lessons over the years :)

First, it's okay!
I've searched the internet world for articles, blog posts, resources... results were far and few but I did come across a few that could be helpful to you -

Let's start by addressing the very basic foundational skill: reading music

Yes - I know it's not a directly talking about finding your place in music, but if you know how to sight read well, I feel it would help the overall issue: 5 Steps to Mastering Sight-Reading by Jazz AdviceThis is worth a read because the musical visuals provided makes it easier to understand the practice tips, the tips are transferable to your own home practice and you should try it out!

Next, the post Help! I'm Lost! Refinding your Place in the Music by eLessons directly addresses the issue of finding your place in music, but from a band/ensemble perspective, where you are playing with fellow musicians, and have a conductor to help keep the time. In a way, it makes it more challenging to find your place! And in others, easier to find your place. Regardless, piano is usually a solo instrument and when we're practicing at home, we are our own conductors.
This is a useful read because it brings light to playing in an ensemble, if you're strapped for time or want to get straight to what helps you, scroll down to "Watching the Conductor" - Practice Looking Up at Home.

Another useful post, Reading Music by Timerens is helpful because it's from a personal perspective with concrete suggestions. This post also gives tips and reassurance that if you stick with practice, with a plan and solution, you'll overcome a block and breakthrough. I found it to be an interesting read!

Happy practicing :)

image from www.symbols-n-emoticons.com

image from www.symbols-n-emoticons.com

Assessment Ideas for Piano Lessons

image from www.livinglaughingandloving.com

image from www.livinglaughingandloving.com

In the school system, there's somewhat of a divide between individuals who believe in Report Cards, and those who do not. Particularly, providing a number or mark associated to how well students are doing.

I fall somewhere in the middle of this divide-
While I feel it's important for both students and parents to know how the individual student is progressing from lesson to lesson, I do not feel numerical or letter grades reflect the progressive path of learning music. Instead, I've always loved Parent-Teacher Conferences as everyone is able to speak face-to-face in a comfortable setting to discuss the student's works and progress. This time is also great to establish goals together so everyone involved in the students learning is aware of what to work on.

Currently (and in the past), I have set goals with the student at the beginning of the year (September), review the goal by December and decide whether we should extend the time frame to fully meet the goal, or if the goal has been met. 80% of the time, parents are not aware of these goals -even though it's been discussed after setting said goal and the goals are taped into their music books (parents are busy!), and students usually forget about the goal.

In the near future, I would like to organize Parent-Teacher Conferences to discuss the student's progress, areas to work on, as well as strengths and High 5's :)
To use this scheduled time (not-charged) to ensure positive support is understood between parent and teacher, to ensure the best learning outcome for the student.

Working together! ...over tea and probably some yummy treats :)

There is nothing wrong with grading or marks, from experience I know some students thrive on this type of assessment! But, I will leave the numerical grading to the RCM Examiners, unless strongly suggested by the student - I may provide a general idea of how the student is doing in terms of a letter grade or mark :)

Cadenza vs iScore: integrating technology with piano practice!

This past week, a parent I've been working with for many years brought to my attention a neat online notebook called Cadenza.

Optimal for use on the iPad or iMac, this online notebook replaces the handwritten notes of piano lessons (my hands are thankful because my fingers move quicker on the keyboard than handwritten notes!)

This is a very cool concept, because students nowadays, are ALWAYS using an i-Device of some sort, and I find that 1/3 of students DO NOT read the notes I leave in their notebooks!! ...even after reminding them time after time ...after time...

My experience so far:
I have signed up for a teacher account
In order for Cadenza to work, students also need to have a google account, the teacher would then send an invitation to the student's email and they would accept (or decline).
This would then connect the accounts allowing for weekly interaction pertaining to piano lessons, the student would keep track of their practice on the iPad which the teacher is able to view.

Use of emoji's, categories allowing for specific practice strategies and focuses ... this sounds like a neat tool to try!

My only skepticism is that students may not remember to log into their account to log their practices each time they sit at the piano ... I have practice calendars in place, and only 50% of those come back complete each week... Perhaps this will reach out to the individuals highly connected to their devices ?

Regardless, I will give this a try and see how it unfolds :)

(Learn more about Cadenza!)

  • EDIT: (December 11, 2016)

Upon more searching about online tools to complement lessons, I forgot about iScore offered by RCM!

Signing up for a free account with RCM allows you access to a free account to iScore as well. This platform seems to be very similar to Cadenza. It's a little more involved from what I can see from the Teacher's end, which I prefer. I can front load Practice Tips and other information before students join.

I'd like to become more familiar with both platforms in order to compare the two, but first I will need to have students be on board with this idea :)

  • EDIT: (December 12, 2016)

Dived into both Cadenza and iScore!

Cadenza: requires students to be connected to the teacher's account prior to seeing how the platform works...
It does also seem like it would be easier on the student's end when logging in - they would just go to www.cadenzamusictool.com, use their Google account and they're in.
1 step - Simple.

iScore: I created a customized welcome page, and added some practice tips -without having any students connected yet.
If I was a student, I don't think I would be keen on having to log into my RCM account every single time I wanted to use iScore - after logging into the RCM Account I would then find iScore and load the tool. Essentially a 2-step process.

Comparing the user interface:
Cadenza: looks and feels more lighthearted and approachable, if I was a younger student I would be keen to use this because of the friendly font and happy colours
iScore: while colour is used to represent different categories, it is quite gray. The font is small and it feels more for the teenage + learner.

I also reached out to the RCM Community of Certified Teachers of both Elementary and Intermediate Specialists, feedback from a few other teachers noted that Cadenza is more for the private studio and individual students, whereas iScore was more used for Music Classrooms, as well as more for High School, University/College, Adult learners.

EDIT:

There is a free iOS app for Cadenza called "Notemaker - Cadenza"

 

CONCLUSION

Even though I've already prepared iScore with tips, etc. I feel I will try out Cadenza with a few students to see what they think.

In the end, it depends on if the student themselves will use the tool! :)

The Metronome - A Musicians' Best Friend :)

Let's start with being honest: when I was learning the piano and beginning to use the metronome to help keep a steady beat I thought it was much more frustrating than helpful!

But as I kept at it, practicing smaller sections with the focus of attempting to play to each "click", one day it finally clicked and over the years of playing a multitude of pieces with the metronome, it's become almost second nature.

To this day, I still practice select pieces with the metronome to ensure I'm playing at the tempo the composer intended his piece to be, as well as keeping myself in check with the various rhythmic patterns.

Some students have already been introduced to this wonderful - yet can-be frustrating- tool, and I'm noticing that more and more students are ready to use the metronome with their pieces.

Parents have asked what to buy and what is best and most cost effective, so this post is to address the types of metronomes out there and my personal recommendations based on experience using the various options available (all prices are in Canadian dollars & current listed retail price) :)


 
 
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image from www.allthingsemily.com

image from www.allthingsemily.com

Let's start with the MOST BASIC Metronome:

Korg Digital Metronome
- Model: MA1
- retail: $24.99
Review: a low price point, and it does the job. But if you're always playing and using the metronome, it can become overly time consuming pressing the up/down buttons adjusting the number -one at a time. I like how it allows for multiple click-track options including a single tone. It does take batteries, so take this hidden cost into consideration! Batteries are expensive and not the most environmentally friendly.

Seiko Quartz Metronome
- Model: SQ50-V
- retail: $51.50
Review: A step up from the Korg digital! I like the simplicity of this model, and how easy it is to use. The musician is also able to change the tempo much more quickly, simply by twisting the front dial to the desired number. This does also take batteries though, so keep in mind the hidden long-term cost, and not being environmentally friendly.

Wittner Metronome
- Model: Taktell Piccolo
- Retail: $54.99
Review: This is the metronome I have been recommending most to students who are beginners and early intermediate. It is an affordable price point with long-term savings as it is entirely run on internal mechanisms (no batteries!) Kids love this metronome because it's available in a rainbow of different colour choices so they can choose their favourite ;) The swinging of the pendulum is also helpful for the visual learner. Very straight forward and easy to use. The only tricky part may be figuring out the location of the key to wind it up (located on the front, mid-right. the key just pulls out and you gently screw it into the opening on the right side of the metronome). This metronome, properly cared for, would last a very long time.

Wittner Metronome
- Model: Mahogany Matte Finish
- Model: Walnut Matte Finish
- Retail: $150.00
Review: For adults! or the very passionate student showing consistent practice ;) It works the same as the Piccolo, but with a beautiful wooden finish, it also accentuates the piano as a beautiful visual piece. Not that you should buy a metronome just to sit there and look at. During the first 5 or so years (maybe more!) of taking piano lessons, I remember borrowing a Wittner metronome with some type of wooden finish, to use during my practices. I remember enjoying the visual swing of the pendulum as it gave me a warning of when the next beat would occur or how much time I had left to fit in the group of eighth or sixteenth notes. This metronome would last a lifetime.
(please note: Wittner has a range of other finishes not mentioned in this particular post)

Franz Metronome
- Model: LM-FB-4
- Retail: n/a - a recent search has noted that Franz metronomes are no longer available in stores as the company has gone out of business.
Review: I'm assuming I showed great potential growing up with piano lessons because I received a Franz metronome later in my years as a gift from my parents. My piano teacher owned a Franz as well.  I love the ease and quickness of using this metronome and the options of turning the click on and off. The light at the top is also helpful as a visual -but I would only recommend this metronome to the seasoned musician, as an innate feel for rhythm needs to have been developed first with the Wittner. The only downside with this, is that it requires an electrical outlet for power which incurs hidden costs.


I hope this post has been helpful and that it will help you decide on the right metronome fit for you, or your child! If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out and ask. I'm happy to help as much as I can :)

Happy School Year!

image from: www.musicroom.com

image from: www.musicroom.com

The first day back at school usually signals the first week back at most extracirricular activities as well.

As a piano teacher, I find that even though lessons are taught once a week to most students, piano lessons should be seen as a part of routine -which includes practice! ;)

Today, I'm reflecting on the first days of school... how in the classroom teachers are scrambling to get activities organized, making sure the classroom environment is welcoming to past students as well as new students to come through the doors. I do not have the luxury of having my own studio space yet, but I do want to promote a warm and welcoming feeling to my piano students to have a wonderful and productive start to the new school year. 

For first lessons, together with each student, I love brainstorming various goals to be set, reviewing technique, encouraging students to show me what they have been playing during the summer months, what musical adventures they had, etc. Perhaps setting up with a new piano technique (scale, triad, arpeggio, etc) as well as a new piano piece or two for the week to come. Making sure everyone is aware of the importance of daily practice and setting the routine nice and early!

I hope everyone has a wonderful start to the year in school, piano lessons, other music lessons, and everything inbetween :)

This year will be a rather busy one with an anticipated move to a studio, changes to offering lessons from a home studio, as well as balancing this current career as a piano teacher and beginning in another creative career as an artist.

*NEW* RCM Theory Syllabus (2016)

Perhaps only fellow music teachers can relate to my excitement of the new/updated RCM Theory Syllabus & Celebrate Theory workbook series!

I visited a music store yesterday to purchase books for students in anticipation for a fresh year in September, and notice a couple boxes sitting on the side of the checkout counter ... I begin to slowly walk towards it as it draws in my attention, sneakily peer into the boxesand ..... THE NEW THEORY SYLLABUS AND THEORY WORKBOOKS.

image from colorinmypiano.com

image from colorinmypiano.com

 
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The reason why I'm so thrilled about this, is because prior to this change, RCM Theory Workbooks did not exist. Yes, they had the Official Practice Exam Booklets containing previous years examinations, but no formal/official practice books - this meant that teachers had to scour their preferred music store's print department, spend money on various theory methods (Sarnecki, Wharram, Vandendool, to name a few), try it out with their students and with trial and error - find their favourite workbook.

I myself attempted to avoid spending too much unnecessary money by visiting my parent's home to find my own previous theory books on a bookshelf. As I flipped through the pages of each book, memories of terror, tears, and boredom flooded my mind. Needless to say, I did not choose to recommend those books to my own students. Instead, I knew what I did not want. Yes, some are "classics", but it doesn't necessarily mean that it's an absolute must. You will find something that works for yourself, and your students.

Mark Sarnecki's Elementary Music Theory series worked the best for myself, as well as my younger students. There are 3 books in total covering all the aspects of basic music theory in a forward flowing, cohesive manner, while including some FUN elements for kids (wordsearch, matching). All 3 books also feature various instruments and composer biographies, touching a little on history and learning more than just their primary instrument -in my case, the piano. There is also an extra "Note Speller" for those who need a little extra review with their music notes :)
I love how students become well-rounded musicians, ask questions and become curious about all aspects of music.

For students undergoing theory exams, I was drawn to Mark Sarnecki's Elementary Music Rudiments for Basic, Intermediate and Advanced.

A close friend and colleague of mine enjoys using Grace Vandendool's Keyboard Theory books with her younger students, and Barbara Wharram books for those needing extra review and practice to reinforce theoretical concepts.

But, from seeing those brand new books yesterday, I am so thrilled that RCM finally decided to create their own theory books to co-ordinate with the practical levels. It makes everything so much more cohesive and draws up less confusion to new teachers, parents, and students.

However, even with all this said and soon-to-be done, I may still continue with Sarnecki's series with some students depending on their learning style but I am so excited to begin RCM's Celebrate Theory series in September!

FREE .pdf file download of 2016 Theory Syllabus

Crossover plan for Teacher's Info.

 

**Sidenote: theory examinations still take place parallel to reaching practical level 5, there are theory books for Preparatory through Level 4, however no examination is required.

EFFECTIVE 2017: BC Children's Arts & Fitness Taxes Eliminated

Just a heads up to all families, as this relates to piano and music lessons:

For the past several years, BC has had a Children's Arts & Fitness Tax Credit of $1000 per child, however for the tax year of 2015 onwards, this has been reduced to $500.

Effective 2017, the BC Children's Arts & Fitness Tax Credit will be phased out completely. 

This may seem like a complete outrage, but remember that this year there was the increase in the Child and Family Benefits via Justin Trudeau's Canada's Child Benefit plan.

Music & Art: A Direction Correlation

Oh, beautiful art. Every single person I have met so far enjoys art in some form or another. Street art, museums, art galleries, independent art shows, creating art (yes, kindergarten and pre-school counts!) My personal self-realization of a love for art did not manifest at a young age, it wasn't until my late teens/early 20's that I developed a more universal understanding of art, and expanded my mind towards the question posed: "what is art?" Since then, whenever inspiration arose, I would take out (a usually) unfinished canvas, paint brushes, water, and some colours on hand to express my feelings through colours, lines, and shapes. ...Although I must admit, it has been quite some time since working on a canvas piece (there are currently 2 unfinished sitting in the crafting room)

image from: /www.theartofed.com

image from: /www.theartofed.com

Music was always a part of my life - no, my parents weren't musicians, but my dad loved music. He introduced me to The Beatles, and Japanese Folk Songs for Children at a very young age. After beginning piano lessons just before I turned 4, I was thrown into a whole different world of music: classical, baroque, romantic. Piano music, orchestral music, chamber music, even operas. As a child, I didn't have a single clue -

Yesterday, I attended a workshop presented by Alfred held at Long & McQuade Vancouver. I like to know what's available out there in terms of music, educational thoughts, new ideas, piano methods, etc. USUALLY 1 out of 3 workshops I attend there consists of the author/publisher attempting to sell their books. Yes, this workshop was more or less around that same framework, but there was something that kept me engaged throughout the entire duration: Catherine's passion about the connection between music and art, her knowledge from over 20 years of teaching piano, her genuine kindness and sincerity, and her wonderful break-down of explaining technique to students! YES!!!!! Pathways to Artistry (books 1-3, with supplemental Masterworks & Repertoire books) did you know there are 3 different types of staccatos?? Portato, quick/short, down-lift (she also explained how to physically play each one with specific wrist and arm movements to create each precise sound)

Catherine Rollin (I've seen her name by original pieces she's written published in the RCM repertoire books) was the presenter and she did a fantastic job captivating the audience while introducing and playing through her Museum Masterpieces Collection (books 1-4). It's a beautiful collection of original works that really helps students connect the best of both worlds, her pieces are beautifully written, pieces are accessible with technical teaching moments, lovely to listen to, and impressive for student concerts. Each book has a beautiful full-colour insert of the paintings she drew inspiration from. This is a wonderful way to inspire young ones to compose pieces of their own, while adding more artistry and musical colour by way of imagery.

She also accented on duets and ensemble work. I've always felt that piano is a rather lonely instrument, while almost 99% of other instruments are usually playing with fellow musicians in orchestras, there is only 1 piano. It will be a mission of mine to try at least one duet with some students, it's just a huge scheduling challenge when you're not yet at your own music studio!

Yay for a workshop well worth the time, and super thanks to Catherine Rollin for being such an inspiring music educator!

What to Expect from the RCM Curriculum

"What level are you?" --- the most frequently asked question to people learning how to play the piano.

What most people don't factor in is the whole picture to do with learning music: music is a language. What should be considered is Music Literacy.

Remember in Primary School (Kindergarten to Grade 3) when you (or your child) had Literacy Circles in class? Learning music is exactly parallel to that structure, in the sense that there are many components: Reading, Writing, Listening. And thus, the marks received or "levels" assigned were based independent to those specific subjects within the whole of Literacy.

So with that question posed, parents and students begin to question themselves, "what level am I?" because so many people ask. When this question reaches me, I let them know about Music Literacy, and grade them accordingly. Some students are very proficient at playing by ear -but are very slow to read music, along with never having written music. How can a teacher possibly give this entirety ONE "level"? I usually split it up. It confuses them a little, but they need to know the facts.

This begins exploring options to become a well-rounded pianist, to become sufficient in all areas of Music Literacy.

The Royal Conservatory of Music: this has set standards for YEARS, throughout my entire lifetime, and then years before I was even born. Yes, the Syllabus has changed, but it is to reflect today's modern society, changing ways and thoughts. Tradition remains with a more flexible outlook.

Several students that have started with me 2-3 years ago are now on the RCM path, because they want to be. Not because they were forced to do so. Learning a Mozart, or Beethoven piece excites them! It's thrilling to hear children excited to learn more technically demanding repertoire, and have them realize that all the Technique Exercises exist in music too (not just for "boring" practice)

A few of these students then become interested in earning certificates and being officially in a piano level upon undertaking an examination with the RCM. This is a huge level up on their part, usually it is unknown all the hard work, dedication, and time required, along with endless repetition of items to be polished to a fully satisfactory performance!

With all this being said, the main purpose of this post is to draw the attention of parents to the requirements of the RCM - they have book sets within each level that are required, along with co-requisite Theory Exams that need to be taken upon reaching Level 5 of Practical Piano.

This blog post (RCM Guide to Piano via Leading Note Blog) I've stumbled upon breaks it all up very nicely, including visuals! :)
Please take a moment to review the page as the information displayed is cohesive and easily understandable.

"The Simpsons Scale"

image from: blogs.wfmt.com

image from: blogs.wfmt.com

A friend and colleague sent me a link to an interesting blog post (What Does a Piano Lesson Cost) written by Elissa Milne, her views on piano lessons resonated with my own and thus, I kept searching for more posts... eventually leading me to find: Scale of the Day #2: The Simpsons Scale

It's interesting to think of music as more than the well-known "major" and "minor" ... growing up, I don't remember my teacher ever introducing the other scale pattern types (aka modes)! (...or rather, perhaps she did, but it was WAAAAY beyond me and it didn't process -at all.)

To bring up other scale types to students is a challenging thing for me, personally. Because I was not exposed to this way of thinking, or had my ears attuned to their sounds. But more and more I find that it's important to at least let students know that other scale types exist out there in the world, other than just the 2!

One thing I will try in my teaching beginning as early as upcoming summer lessons, is to introduce this concept of having more than just the 2 scales, and have students improvise within each variety- this will be a challenge and will take some experimenting (oh the lucky students who will be subject to this!) but I'll make it work ...eventually.

Vancouver Public Library: Borrow a Musical Instrument!

Exciting news out last week about VPL launching a new program where library card holders are able to borrow musical instruments (Borrowing a Tune, Vancouver Sun article)

image from: bclta.com

image from: bclta.com

This wonderful thing will allow VPL Patrons to try out different instruments at no cost, no rental fees, no commitments. This would make learning a new instrument much more accessible and cost friendly! Children would be able to take trial lessons to see if they enjoy the instrument before committing to a full rental, or even a purchase.

To take advantage of this superb opportunity, visit the Central Library or visit their webpage :)

My guess would be that there will most likely be a wait-list forming, if it hasn't already ... similar to the Vancouver Inspiration Pass

A Light-Hearted Perspective

image from: /www.allposters.com

image from: /www.allposters.com

While searching for a recording of Debussy's Clair De Lune (listening to various recordings and videos are important to developing your own voice in pieces, as well as respecting and upholding the composer's structure), I stumbled upon a light-hearted video of Victor Borge on how he teaches piano to various pupils with different professions in life. It's quite entertaining :)

 

* side note: these are the Clair de Lune recordings I ended up listening to...
Victor Borge
Vladimir Ashkenazy

Performance Anxiety as an Asset

This wonderful article is worth a read if you have a student and/or child who gets very nervous and anxious before and/or during performances.

I personally know this mixed feeling from various performances throughout my life -I wish this article was around when I was younger so I could have tried these 7 steps!
It's lovely because it helps curve that anxiety that takes over your performance into fuel for focus and energy to convey your musical story to the audience instead.

How to Make Performance Anxiety an Asset Instead of a Liability

 

If you found that article helpful and interesting, take a look through the rest of the blog of The Bulletproof Musician !

image from: sites.psu.edu/jordanf/

image from: sites.psu.edu/jordanf/

TED Talks on Musical Improvisation

Inspiring -
Encouraging -
Educational - 

TED Talks put out a series of talks for Jazz lovers, within this compilation was one that just stood out for me, highlighting improvisation and the effects on the brain: 

Charles Limb: Your Brain on Improv
- particularly in my field of work with about 75% of students learning a classical curriculum, there is not a lot of wiggle room within the already compact lesson time to cover technique, ear training, aural exercises, pieces, etudes, AND have fun with improvisation (unfortunately!) 
I do my best to incorporate improvisation whenever possible -as in, if there's 5 minutes to spare, the student never leaves the lesson early -ever, instead, we fill that time with unwinding the lesson (a "cool-down", if you will) by 'playing together'. Where the student has creative freedom with no worry about playing something "wrong" -only focusing on movement of the fingers, using some technical aspect to help guide their melody, and/or playing whatever they feel that sounds good to their ears. 
- this talk by Charles Limb is truly amazing and fully supportive of the benefits of improvisation, either at home and/or during the lesson :) Scientifically backed by experiments including brain scans! 

Other TED Videos that are worth a watch :)

Charles Limb: Building the Musical Muscle

Tim Hansen: How To Read Music

Anita Collins: How Playing An Instrument Benefits Your Brain

image from: www.lifehack.org

image from: www.lifehack.org

MORE Fun Online Music Activities!

About the Symphony: includes clips of music with historical facts

Music Match: music symbols

 The Piano Player: fun note reading review!
***Virtuoso Level: it might be a little bit of a challenge at first, but it is to understand the specific places of note placement on the staff connected to a specific place on the keyboard in relation to middle C. VERY USEFUL!!

General Music Theory Review: covers all the basics, online music theory lessons :)