Category - Fresh Ideas

How two teachers created a dynamic Baroque Bash and guess what’s coming soon!

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How do you invite 21st-century digital natives into the culture and music of powdered-wig times? You hold a Baroque Bash! I did last year and blogged about it. It never dawned on me that other teachers would follow suit and amplify my ideas into something bigger and much better!

Here’s Hannah Greiner to tell us more about the Baroque Bash she produced with fellow teacher, Susan Hamblin-Dennis.

Make sure to watch the video at the end of the post…there’s something coming soon that will help your studio GO Baroque!

-Leila


For most piano teachers, their personal experience with piano lessons as a child probably revolved around learning technique (scales, chords, arpeggios, etc.), repertoire, sight reading, and ear training. These lessons would be at a teacher’s studio, and these activities would occur on the piano bench.

In my lessons, a teacher would sometimes offer stickers for playing a piece well. One of my teachers even offered a “treasure chest” with goodies from the dollar store if I earned enough “A’s” on my assignments (this was such a highlight for me!).

Any historical information was generally taught from a textbook or from the teacher explaining the background behind a piece.

As a piano teacher now, there are SO many resources and ideas from creative teachers around the world, and many activities can happen “off-the-bench.”

My colleague, Susan Hamblin-Dennis, had an idea to implement Leila Viss’s “Going Baroque” idea for our piano students.

We loved Leila’s idea of exposing students to what is typically a “boring” era in music. We wanted to find ways to immerse our students in the Baroque environment and make it fresh and relevant to them.

There were several important aspects we wanted our students to experience: Read More

Group Piano: What it IS and What it ISN’T

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On the fence about whether group instruction is right for you? Not sure what format you should use? Good friend and colleague, Marie Lee has some strong opinions on this topic as she should. I consider her an expert in group piano instruction–check out the programs at her Musicality Schools. You can learn more about her experience here or just keep reading and hear what is and what isn’t group piano class.

-Leila


As piano teachers realize that YES, they can make a good living teaching piano, the subject of group classes comes up as a way of increasing studio size and income. But what exactly IS a group class? And what is it NOT? Read More

Feeling the BEET with Edwin Gordon’s Music Learning Theory

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Edwin Gordon’s highly recognized and esteemed research leading to the Music Learning Theory (MLT) is defined as

“An explanation and description of appropriate ways students learn one or more styles of music.” p5 of Quick and Easy Introductions by Edwin Gordon

It is not a teaching method that you purchase and follow exclusively. YOU can apply and integrate MLT into your current teaching method, NOW. This is great news! You don’t need to reinvent your approach to enhance it with the MLT philosophy. Keep reading and I’ll explain how. Read More

What happens when the regular recital venue isn’t available?

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When God closes a door He opens a window.

It’s a cliche, I know, but it seems so fitting for my recital experience this spring!

Two composers holding their original cover art and recital trophies

Two composers holding their original cover art and recital trophies

Earlier this year, I learned that after a decade of presenting recitals at the church where I hold a full-time organist position, I would not be able to this year.

After I calmed down and stopped fuming about it–my friend and I made a pact that you can hold on to feelings like this for no longer than a week–I told myself I had to begin thinking outside the box and beyond the closed door.

My thoughts

Another church sanctuary just wouldn’t be the same.

I’ve held informal recitals at the local Whole Foods but it’s noisy and not the intimate setting I wanted for my event.

Then it came to me Read More

Marie’s Secret Sauce for Getting New Students

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NEWSFLASH! Marie Lee (good friend and featured here at 88pianokeys.me) is writing a happy-music-camp-01group teaching resource for the Piano Teacher Planning Center! I, along with many others, can’t wait to learn from this long-time expert in group teaching.

In this post, Marie gives us a taste of what’s to come.

Even if you are not interested in teaching piano in groups, you will want to read Marie’s article for great tips on how to grow your studio during the summer. She shares her “secret sauce” –a brilliant way of getting more students in the door during the summer months. Also, keep reading so you learn how to market this “secret sauce.”

Take it away, Marie… Read More

What’s a Senior Showcase and How Do You Plan One?

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What do you do when you have have four marvelous, faithful, dynamic and long-time pianists who are graduating from high school and leaving your studio?

You throw a Senior Showcase.

What’s a Senior Showcase? I held one other such event about 7 years ago when I had three dedicated seniors graduate in one year. I did the same for four seniors last year. This show included considerable “upgrades” thanks to the latest tech tools and my ongoing desire to provide creative-based teaching.

Perhaps you have dedicated seniors that deserve recognition for their time spent with you on the bench? If so and if you care to follow through with holding your own showcase, here are the steps I took to make it a reality.

Meet for coffee

During the spring, all the seniors met me at Starbucks and we brainstormed ideas of what the showcase could be. They didn’t hold back and imaginations ran wild. In the end, we made a list of what they wanted. Of course, I guided them in their thoughts and we trimmed it down to these tasks and decisions:

  • Nail down a date that all could attend–this was tricky working around 4 img_4393-2families, different schools and their spring plays and proms and programs…
  • Secure a date at my church where all the past recitals have been.
  • Feature favorite repertoire and original compositions and songs of the seniors.
  • Invite friends and/or family members to sing or play along with them.
  • Hold a reception that could double as a grad party if they prefer.
  • Choose one piece that they would play together as a quartet.

Prep before the show

  • Collect digital life time pics of each senior
  • Collect digital senior pics–they usually have tons of poses!
  • Ask them to write a 50-word bio including plans for the years to come.
  • Take pictures of them together wearing their college t-shirts.
  • Design a program cover.

Plan program detailssenior-showcase

Ask each senior to place their pieces in order of how they’d like to perform them

Order gifts and or flowers for each senior. As a studio tradition, I gave each one a piano music box purchased here.

Set agenda for the evening

  1. Offer a knockout printed program featuring dazzling photos and important info about the seniors. TIP: Canva.com is amazing! Make sure to check out this free graphic design program.
  2. Prepare pianists to perform around 5 of their favorite current or past pieces that best represent their playing AND their creativity.
  3. Present a projected slide show featuring snap shots of “lifetime” pics of each senior to loop prior to the showcase.
  4. Include a projected slide reflecting the mood or style of the piece as each pianist performed.
  5. Meet a special-request for one of the seniors by displaying slides with variousimg_4534 movie posters as he played a tribute medley honoring all his favorite film composers.
  6. Set up cool lighting to provide sophisticated staging.
  7. Ensure outstanding and confident performances from each pianist showing their unique personalities and skills sets.
  8. Create an opportunity for each pianist to read a score on an iPad and turn pages with a blue-tooth pedal.
  9. Design a pop medley collaboration featuring all the pianists using the piano and the impressive voice selection of the Clavinova.

Shift from teacher to tech support

I’m pleased (and relieved!) to say that the above agenda pretty much happened as img_4512planned even though I unexpectedly took charge of all tech support. I was given a crash course and learned how to run the projector, lights, and mics.

The state of the art tech center at my church runs EVERYTHING through apps. I could even mute and change the volume of the mics on the iPad! I called my designated workspace in the back of the sanctuary Mission Control. Below is a pic of where I sat for a good part of the evening changing slides and running sound.

Revisit mission statement

What does all this agenda and tech stuff have to do with a mission statement and a senior showcase? With such a profound occasion at hand, I felt it necessary to write something “important” to my students and families so I included my statement in the printed program at the beginning of my short essay.

As a prompt for where to begin with this task, I revisited my mission statement posted on my website. I haven’t read it in quite some time (it really should be memorized!) and I was curious if these four seniors being sent off into the “real world” matched up with my intentions as a piano teacher.

Here’s what I placed in the program:

Students of any age will develop the necessary skills to become independent pianists allowing them to enjoy making music on the bench for a lifetime.

– Mission statement of Ms Leila

Abi, Kenna, Sarah and Addison were drawn to the piano for different reasons and followed a path as unique as each of their individual personalities.

The dedication each pianist demonstrated from week to week, year to year—img_6551showing up for lessons on time (even early in the morning) practicing with diligence, reading and following my long lesson notes—shows their remarkably loyal dedication to 88 piano keys. They spoiled me!

Music is something to be made. These four seniors are what I’d call high-functioning music makers. Each pianist has worked to learn favorite repertoire of the masters as well as compose and improvise away from the page. They are comfortable playing from chord charts and collaborating with other musicians.

Tonight is a celebration of Sarah, Kenna, Abi, and Addison putting into action all their music-making skills. In addition, it is a testament to their drive to develop dynamic and creative voices at the keys.

I’m thankful for the parents of these four seniors and their support of lessons with “Ms Leila” and this somewhat eclectic approach to learning the piano.

Although I’ll miss seeing these students, I’m extremely grateful for the time I had with them and know they will cherish making music for a lifetime.

Mission accomplished.

-Ms Leila

Realign mission statement

There was no mention of technology or creativity in the statement–the two things I integrate into just about every lesson! But then it dawned on me that these two essentials could be thought as “necessary tools” so it still covers my intentions as a piano teacher. However, I will be making of a point of revising the statement to something like this:

Students of any age will develop the necessary skills to become creative, tech-savvy, comprehensive and independent pianists allowing them to enjoy making music on the bench for a lifetime.

Put mission statement into actionimg_4509

One way this updated mission statement is portrayed in the senior showcase was the “Pop Medley” that concluded the show.

The seniors took turns playing solos from all styles like Debussy, Chopin, Gershwin, Line, Mier and also played original compositions and songs. They wanted to play something with all four of them at the keys.

Since they enjoy playing pop music and because I wanted to provide a chance for them to collaborate like a band, we created a medley of four pop pieces.

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Each pianist took the lead for their choice piece and made decisions regarding who would play what. They worked from iTunes, the Yamaha Chord Tracker app, YouTube videos and hand-written lead sheets.

In the video of their showcase performance, you’ll hear and see how they

  • Listened to each other.
  • Transitioned between new tunes.
  • Had incredible fun playing “drummer” and “back-up synth” on the Clavinova.
  • Wore some crazy glasses and their t-shirts sporting their college choice for the next year.

How about you?

Do you have a mission statement?

Does your mission statement need some updating?

If so, will students leave with music skills that are in line with it?


Do you want more super ideas and an organized planner for your Senior recital? Stay tuned for a detailed resource packed full and carefully packaged by Heather Nanney and coming SOON to the Piano Teacher Planning Center!

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How to create a recital program and amplify your graphics

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In this post you’ll learn how to create a smashing recital program from pro graphic designer, Andrea West. Plus, you’ll learn how you can amplify and use her graphics purchased at the Piano Teacher Planning Center to make stunning student gifts and to market your studio. 

When’s your recital?

This week I’m starting a countdown. It’s 39 days until mine on May 19th.

Perhaps your recital check list looks a little like mine?

  • Venue: Neighborhood clubhouse. Whoa, did mine change this spring–more on that later!
  • Repertoire: Students will perform their original compositions and duets.
  • Well-rehearsed students: They will be equipped to perform with the Five P’s of Performing: Get your free download on these essentials for young performers here.
  • Food for afterwards: In the spring I like to prepare items that students can grab and go as my recital will be informal and students can come when they can and come as they are: (Like I said, more on that later!)
  • Student gifts: Keep reading for some terrific ideas, I think I’ve decided on t-shirts.
  • Program with a cool cover: If you need cover art for your program, Andrea West has created lovely options for you. Thanks to those who have already gotten theirs!

Get your recital program cover art here!

Once you purchase one of Andrea’s graphics, you’ll need to download the graphic and transfer it onto a document to create the program. For those who are uncertain about how to do this, I’ve got great news! Andrea has generously spared time from her busy schedule and agreed to share a step-by-step process on how to create a program in Word.

Don’t use Word for generating documents? Neither do I BUT, you’ll want to watch the video any way as this pro graphic designer has dynamite tips on how to organize and format your recital information so you can spare precious time when it’s the week of the recital. Plus many of the tips she shows are similar to what you’d use in Pages or Google Docs.

On more thing, save on ink and spare yourself from printer frustrations by joining MTNA and taking advantage of their member benefits card. Show up with your “magic card” and you’ll get close to 60% your printing costs! Learn more here.

Learn now to create your recital program in Word

Andrea guides you step by step with clear, succinct instructions. You DON’T want to miss a thing. Her tips on design, fonts, formatting are golden. Watch the video below (or click here) and download her instructions as well, so you have plenty of guidance as you create your own document. Read More

Use a Green Screen for Virtual Performances

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The recital venue that I’ve enjoyed for years is no longer available for me to use. It’s a long story so I’ll save it for another post. This turned my world upside down and has had me looking for other possible venues and performance opportunities for my students. When I saw Amber post videos of her students playing piano “virtually” anywhere with the help of a green screen, I had to learn how she did it! Amber has generously written down the steps she took to make this a reality. 

Take it away, Amber…


I love sparking imagination in my students! One of the ways I do this, is to let them perform virtually anywhere! It’s surprisingly easy to create these virtual performance videos.

Here is what you need:

  1. Green screen background: You need a green background of some sort. The best background I have found is the large green canvas sheets that come with the green screen studio kits. You can find the kits, or canvas backgrounds on Amazon. In a bind, I have also used a green plastic tablecloth from the Dollar Store! It worked! Check out the green screen kit here.
  2. Good lighting: I cannot emphasize this enough. Lighting will make or break your videos. Shadows will produce a pixelated effect. The best lighting I have found are the lights that come with the green screen studio 41tntsirx1l-_sx355_kits. I have used table lamps before but, they just cannot produce the same effect.
  3. A green screen app: My favorite green screen app is Green Screen by Do Ink. Once you get the hang of it, it is very easy to use.
  4. Garageband: I use Garageband to record the audio portion of the video.
  5. iMovie: I import my green screen video and the audio into iMovie to edit and create the finished product!
  6. Intro app: I like creating a fun movie intro with Intro Designer Lite.
  7. A keyboard that can be hooked up to an iPad.
  8. A tripod, or other support to hold your iPad for recording. [Leila likes the Manos Mount.}

Now on to the fun part! Read More

Make Recitals Easier with Ready-Made Cover Art

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It’s been a pleasure getting to know Andrea West. She’s a piano teacher and a graphic designer who created wonderful cover art for your winter recital programs last year. She’s done it again and created marvelous options for your spring recital programs! I’m pleased to be selling them in the Piano Teacher Planning Center. Learn a little more about Andrea and why she creates her designs below. You’ll also get a chance to vote for your favorite design and it could go on sale IF you spread the word!

-Leila


Preparing for recitals and concerts requires more energy and skill sets than most people imagine.  Not only do we prepare each child for a successful recital experience, but we have to be master event planners as well. The solution for me has been to outsource those things I cannot do (like tuning the piano) or don’t have the time to do (like baking all the recital treats), and to focus on what I do well.pop-piano

Since I have a lifelong background in the arts, I use that ability to create memorable recital programs for my events.  The students have worked unbelievably hard to prepare and present their pieces to the audience, and I want to showcase those pieces in a recital program that parents can take home and put in their child’s scrapbook. 

Because I love it, I spend much of my free time designing cover art.  It starts with a simple idea, and then slowly it evolves into a finished piece.  I’m often inspired by a piece of music a student is playing, or something they say about their piece.  These designs are all created in 5.5” x 8.5” format that are ideal for putting on the front of a folded program.  They insert perfectly into your favorite program like Publisher, a Word document, Pages, or even an Excel spreadsheet. And the best part is, it will save you many hours of work and provide your families with a beautiful recital keepsake.

Take a moment to vote for your favorite design by putting the name of the design in the comments section below. The design with the most votes will go on sale for $.99 from March  17-19, 2017.  Voting ends March 15th!

-Andrea

There are TWO pages of designs so make sure to look at them all.

Click on the page links below or click on the image to view all the covers.

Page One   Page Two

 Remember to let us know which is your favorite in the comment section here, or on either program page by March 11th and watch for the sale!

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Have a ball at group lessons!

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Starting a composition and naming it can be tough. To charge up the creative juices, we played a game called “Would You Rather” with the help of a groove and a beach ball at this week’s group lessons.

When I rang the bell, they had to stop and whoever was holding the ball had to answer the question under his/her right hand.

“Would you rather eat dinner in a castle or breakfast in a hot air balloon?”

“Would you rather eat three live worms or a tunafish and peanut butter sandwich?”

They didn’t want to quit…

The video explains it best. Click here if you can’t see it.

Sometimes it’s just hard to get to know your students when they’re sitting on the bench next to you. They may feel a little shy about sharing their thoughts, their likes, their dislikes, etc. In a group setting and with an icebreaker like “Would You Rather,” all those inhibitions get tossed aside–yes, pun intended!

How will this contribute to an upcoming composition project?

After a student answered the question, most everyone else chimed in with their answer and we discussed why they chose what they did. They were eager to start making connections with what they like to what they will be creating at the keys.

Bonus: did you notice that this is a great activity to get them moving to the beat?

WARNING: Stock up on beach balls…more ideas to come. Here’s a screamin’ deal on them if you can’t find beach balls in your local stores right now. Remember to look for them on sale at the end of summer!

What questions to include on your “Would You Rather” beach ball?

Here’s a start. Begin each statement with the words Would you rather

  • Run a mile or swim a mile?
  • Go to a movie theatre or watch Netflix?
  • Stay up late or wake up early?
  • Have a robot or a monkey in the house?
  • Sleep on a hard pillow or a soft pillow?
  • Eat pepperoni pizza or sausage pizza?
  • Eat breakfast in a hot air balloon or dinner in a castle?
  • Eat a hamburger or a hotdog?
  • Paint a picture or take a picture?
  • Do word finds or crossword puzzles?
  • Do math homework or science homework?
  • Have ten brothers or ten sisters?
  • Go to school on Saturdays or go to the dentist every week?
  • Ride a bike or a skateboard?
  • Color a picture or draw a portrait?
  • Drive a self-driving car or a spaceship?
  • Become a famous singer or a famous actor?
  • Shop at the mall or play at the park?
  • Snowboard or ice skate?
  • Have a fish or a bird?
  • Eat mac ‘n cheese or spaghetti?
  • Play at the beach or in the snow?
  • Live on the beach or on a mountain top?
  • Have a cat or a dog?
  • Live without music or without TV and movies?
  • Talk on the phone or go out for ice cream?
  • Be a super hero or a villain in a movie?
  • Wear running shoes or flip flops?
  • Eat a bug or get stung by a bee?
  • Cook dinner or clean up?
  • Take a walk or a bike ride?
  • Go out for Mexican or Italian?leila3d
  • Read the book or watch the movie?
  • Eat 3 live worms or a peanut butter and tuna sandwich?
  • Take a vacation or $1,000 in cash?
  • Eat chocolate chips or gummy bears?
  • Take a road trip or a stay-cation?
  • Ride in a plane or a train?

For more “Would You Rather” questions, checkout my Pinterest board.

Need a fresh way to determine who performs first at the group class?

To review the sound and look of intervals, students were asked to read my e-book Understanding Intervals last week during Off-Bench Time. During the group lesson, everyone spun to see who would play first. I created three wheels in the Decide Now app, with level-appropriate intervals.img_3645

  • Wheel #1: Intervals Repeat-5
  • Wheel #2: Intervals Prime-8
  • Wheel #3: Major 2nd, 3rd, Perfect 4th, 5th, Major 6th, 7th, Perfect 8va.

After the student spun, he/she was asked to play the interval on the piano and try to recall the tune that is associated with that interval in Understanding Intervals. For example, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” begins with a 2nd. The student was then asked to sound out more of the tune. Naturally, everyone sang along!

The student who landed on the smallest interval performed first and others followed according to the size of their interval.

Need to build up knowledge of key signatures?img_6027

In preparation for upcoming theory tests at the local Federation Festival, students identified specific key signatures within the Challenge Mode of the app called Tenuto. They took turns naming the key as the key signatures flashed before them. After each drill was completed, they were challenged to reach a new high score. Music Money awarded to the whole group for beating the prior score. I’m never above bribery!

Note: you don’t need to hook your iPad to an HDTV in order to play this game. I like to reflect my iPad during groups lessons to show videos or to explain theory concepts with an app called Octavian.

Need one more winner for your next group lesson?

Make sure to get Rhythm on a Roll.

This game was developed for my group lesson week last December. I brought it out for group lessons this week and everyone was excited to play it again.copy-of-rhythm-on-a-roll-3 That was good news to me because you know how some can moan about doing anything more than once.

My students also enjoyed the new score cards with the rests and playing the variations I mention in the resource.

Tip: we played this as students were performing for each other. It works well as the audience is quiet, listening and thinking at the same time. This keeps them from getting restless.

It’s still on sale until March 11th. Get it now and your activities for group lessons will be set!

-Leila