Category - Who’s on the Bench?

What does GRIT look like in the music studio?

Believe it or not, talent has little to do with success. The extensive research by professor Angela Duckworth has found that those with grit will have more success.

Watch the video (found on the Facebook page of ) to hear more.

After watching Duckworth’s video, it got me wondering what grit would look like in the music studio and made me want to dig deeper into the topic.

“Grit is the combination of passion and perseverance.”

According to Duckworth, “grit has a more significant correlation to high school graduation rates than things like family income and social status do.” Read More

Keep Your 2015 Studio Relevant with Pianoflix

After you received your undergrad music degree, performed a stellar recital of the classics, turned in that lofty thesis, passedIMG_2492 a professional accreditation exam or somehow earned shiny, new initials behind your name, you probably felt a great sense of achievement. Perhaps you felt like I did? After I received my Master of Arts in Piano Performance and Pedagogy, I felt my career was professionally wrapped up and ready to launch.

IMG_2496Although my intent is not to discount the importance of the academic achievements listed above, I’m wondering if you–like me–had your bubble burst, your box tipped upside down and your bow unraveled when you entered the real world of piano teaching? Yes, I could play and teach Beethoven and Ravel, I could design a sequential curriculum for early learners but when asked to read from a lead sheet, my skills fell embarrassingly short. Read More

Need to Pin Down New Students? Try Thumbtack!

It would be irresponsible of me not to let you in on a site I recently stumbled upon called Thumbtack.thumbtack Irresponsible and selfish as a fellow teacher as I’ve discovered Thumbtack to be THE most promising lead to future piano students.

Thumbtack is like a double-sided bulletin board. On one side are professionals looking to find future clients and on the other side are consumers looking for professional services. Thumbtack is an internet marketplace that locates and pins down the right professional for interested customers. Their services are available for customers and professionals in all 50 states. You can join Thumbtack if your business/studio is located in the United States.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works

Read More

One App at A Time: Tim Topham’s Favorite

Let’s face it, which one of YOUR students is headed to Carnegie Hall? Let’s go toolkit-small-PNG1further and ask the question: how many parents who contact you about lessons are hoping their budding musician masters a Bach fugue–especially those who begin a little later? One more: how many of your students around the age of 12 or so decide to stop lessons because they have lost interest?

Digging even deeper, although you would love to have students willingly practice everything you assign, teaching piano is not always that easy. In addition, if you hope to develop a thriving studio, it’s not always about your desires and tastes but more about pleasing the local customer base. This may require an adjustment from your past lesson experience and pedigree. A typical, traditional approach may not match those who warm your bench. I dare say that if you want to be profitable and run a successful business, it may be necessary to make some changes, take time to understand the motivation behind teens (and really any age) at the keys and carry additional strategies up your sleeve.

Tim Topham has recognized this deficit between the training of most piano teachers and the expectations of today’s potential students–especially those in the teen years. His practical e-book called Teen Teaching Toolkit provides tips that promise to help you deal with the delicate teen psyche.

“Teenagers don’t quit piano because they don’t like music, it’s much more likely to be due to ineffective teaching and/or a lack of connection with their teacher.”

– Tim Topham

Make sure to order your free copy by clicking here! Read More

Leia’s Corner: What’s on Your Shelves?


Wondering what lives on those shelves? Does this pic look familiar? It was featured in the February issue of Clavier Companion.

If you’re new to or need a refresher, click here for the history behind “Leia’s Corner”.

Leia has been incredibly patient waiting for the answer to this question (slightly abridged):

How do you choose repertoire?

Before I share my answer, I thought it fascinating what she told me about her experience in India:

“I struggle most with finding repertoire for my beginning students. It’s even harder with my singing students because I don’t use a method book with them, but even with piano students it’s difficult. What supplementary repertoire should I use while they are still on the method books? When should I stop using method books? (A friend of mine makes her students complete every course from start to finish, but I like to move out of books once they’ve learned the basics and start working on stand-alone pieces.) What should come after the method books? 

 It’s quite tough for me as quite a new teacher, because there does not exist a ‘serious’ music community where I live. While there are hundreds of piano teachers and music schools, the teachers are not very highly qualified (usually they learn how to play for 3-4 years and then decide to make a career out of it), their curriculum is highly centered around the Trinity exams, and they teach by having the students copy their fingers rather than teaching them how to read music. It’s very frustrating for me, because I often get a student who has 4 years’ playing experience, but I still have to teach certain things from scratch, and often have to undo quite a lot of mistakes!”

Won’t go to the exam issue right now, later (whew…definitely another blog)!  My answer to her question concerning repertoire is completely dependent upon student preference as this is clearly connected to motivation levels. Read more about that here in my past blog.

A more specific question might be:  How do I choose repertoire for students that motivates and still provides the basics I deem “essential”? Better yet: What books live on my library shelves? Here’s a sneak peek. Read More

Integrating Pop and Jazz into your Lessons?

Some Questions to Ponder

Have music lessons changed since you were a child?

Do you sense a shift in your teaching because of  iTunes, iPads, YouTube, Spotify…?

Have you modified your daily lessons to accommodate the interests of your students and their desire to play in today’s styles?

Do you intend to buck the cultural trend and stay true only to your “classically-trained” roots?

Do you carry a wait list because you offer lessons in the jazz/pop styles?

Regardless of your answers to the questions above, please take a moment to answer a few more in a brief survey.  Before you click on the link and take the survey, keep the following definitions in mind.

Clarifications of Styles

What does “Classically Trained” mean?

“Classical” instruction uses traditional method books that focus on reading from the grand staff, technique, and careful interpretation of the written page. Emphasis is on mastering and memorizing repertoire of the Baroque, Classical, Romantic and 20th century style periods. Theory is included but the overall approach includes little or no improvising.

What is  Jazz/Pop Training? (as defined by Bradley Sowash)

composer, performing artist, educator

Dixieland, Big Band, Small Group in a club? All of these constitute jazz genres but jazz is not a style or sound. Jazz is an approach to making music that involves reading and improvising over specific rhythmic feels within a given  harmonic context. Born in America, the roots of jazz lie in:

  • African Rhythms
  • European Harmonies
  • Ethnic Influences

For pianists, “pop” could be defined similarly since most pianists read. One big difference is that with jazz you are expected to personalize the music. That’s why people like to hear the same standards played by different artists: because every jazzer brings their own perspective to the interpretation.

Student bands playing music, however, usually try to sound exactly like the recording.Pop music is actually defined as a subdivision of rock that is watered down and designed to appeal to teenagers. [For the purpose of this survey], the term popular means popular in the same context as “pop” at the symphony.

To boil it down–I’d say we are actually talking about “non-classical” or American styles. That would include bluegrass, folk, cajun, cowboy tunes, rock–basically anything that grooves, uses chords and is not through composed. Maybe the best strategy is not to separate them; pop/jazz always together.”

Thank you in advance!

I greatly appreciate your participation in the survey. Please, share this link with your fellow teacher friends so that a large cross-section of participants’ answers can be collected. Results will be shared with intentions to invite more dialogue as we all ride the tide of teaching in the 21st century. Change–something that we can always count on.

Click survey to begin.

World War II Vet Still at the Piano

In honor of Memorial Day and a very special Veteran…

It has been my privilege to see Don Fullerton for a good number of years at my piano bench. He usually arrives every other week and we spend the hour rehearsing ensembles with his friend Stuart. Here’s a video of one of their latest accomplishments as the self-named “Octogenarian Duo”. Don is in the blue playing the secondo part.

At 85+ years old, Don not only enjoys playing duets, he plays Chopin, Gershwin and others, and can also play any tune by ear (especially those from the 40’s and 50’s) with style and pizazz. His smile and enthusiasm for life never stops even though his body doesn’t always enjoy “keeping up” with his activities.

Don is a World War II vet and has many stories. As an 18-year old, he rode past German camps on a tank and his right ear (his riffle ear) suffers from significant hearing loss.

As I walked out with my cart of groceries today–the Friday before Memorial Day, two fine gentlemen were collecting money for Veterans of Foreign Wars and handed me a poppy after I gave some pocket change. It reminded me that this is not just another holiday weekend, this is a time to remember those who have served our country…

Don playing at Whole Foods, entertaining the crowd

I am privileged to honor Don for his time as a soldier for this country and grateful that he continues to pursue his love of music at my piano bench.

Thank you Don for you service, your smile and your inspiration.

Motivation and More

Jeff Vankooten | Motivational Keynote Speaker.

Check out Jeff’s blog. He is a friend and an amazing speaker. He also instructs others on how to write and deliver speeches–I LOVED his seminar I attended.

I gravitate towards blogs that are not necessarily music related but somehow cast light on something that is helpful in my daily teaching, planning, performing and personal life as well. Jeff provides a unique perspective on so many areas. It is a blog worth following.