Lesson Planning

Drowning in Music Lesson Planning

Once again, summer has flown by. My big list of summer projects? Pfft. Don't ask me about them and we'll be fine.


I'm currently in the throes of planning the group class schedule for my music studio. One idea launches into another idea and so forth and so on. The result is that I can barely get my ideas committed to paper (or in this case, the screen) quickly enough.

I'm quite excited about the activities that I have nailed down so far. Thanks to the staff at Caffe Crema, our first Studio Winter Music Showcase will be held there. My students will perform a set of contrasting selections. They will have to script their patter. I can hear them now, "It'll be like, a real gig!" Well, yes, kids. You'll be performing in public, so it will be a real deal gig. They'll have two "Open Mic Days" at my studio to get a feel for it all.


The year-end recital has been booked too. We have a few things planned to make it less recital-ish.


My students also be heading off-site for a few studio events too. So far, St. John's Music and Steinway Pianos of Calgary are booked.


But now, it's back to planning for the music group classes happening next week. My brother will be teaching my students about all the multimedia projects they'll be working on throughout the year, while I'll be doing a few interactive workshop-style classes with his students on practising, conducting and rhythm.


I suppose I should get back to figuring out why Libre Office refuses to print my handout with my stick-girl conductor properly.


© 2012 by Musespeak. All rights reserved.

Music Group Classes Musings

Although summer has just begun, my mind is already focusing on the upcoming teaching year. I've made a few changes to my studio, which are both exciting and scary. Some of the ideas are inspired by music teacher, author and savvy entrepreneur Kristin Yost.
  1. Moving to a year-round curriculum: My colleagues in the US have taught year-round for many years and have found that it really works. I know I'm not the only Canadian music teacher to hear, "I didn't practice at all this summer," from a student. It takes them months before they get back to where they were the previous June. Truly, what a waste.Summer-flex lessons make it easier for families to work around their summer activities but still provide the students with that needed consistency at their instrument.
  2. Teaming up with another studio to provide more: It pays to have another music teacher in the family. I shall be teaming up with my brother's studio, To the Wind, to offer our students a wider range in their music studies. He has sound engineering and multimedia design under his belt.
  3. More group classes and more varied ones: Group classes have been extremely popular at my studio. Up to this year, they've had between three and four a year. However, starting next year, they will get six. These are just some of the ideas To the Wind Studio and Musespeak Studio have up their sleeves: Introduction to Conducting, Video Games Live - mini version, So You Want to Play and Sing at the Same Time, improvisation, piano combos, composing, Design and Produce Your Own Radio Show, essential grooves, etc.
  4. Cafe Performance: Most of our students are studying piano for cultural enrichment and recreation. Many of them loath the traditional recital format. So, shy not make it more IRL (in real life) and head to a cafe? The students will prepare a set of music, script a little patter; and their family and friends cheer them on while enjoying a delicious latte and dessert. The cafe performance, combined with adding the Video Games Live and Radio show projects to the year-end recital promise to make for exciting performances.
  5. More Optional Activities: Depending on how our students respond, we will be offering a variety of optional activities to our students, as well as opening these up to our colleagues' studios. Some examples: tour of the Cantos Keyboard Museum, tour of a piano refurbisher's workshop, How to Make a Multi-Track Project, Live Interactive or workshop with some of our colleagues from other places in the world, like David Story in Ontario,  Bren Wrona Norris in California and Liam Walsh in the UK. My involvement with Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir has opened the door to unlimited partnership possibilities with my Virtual Choir friends and colleagues.
Some of these ideas are merely an expansion of things I've already been doing at the studio. However, this is taking things to a much higher level. That's what makes it so exciting. However, to make it work, a lot of planning is needed right now. On the plus side, this planning can take place outside where we can enjoy the sun.
© 2012 by Musespeak. All rights reserved.

On Falling in and out of Love with Music

Last night, one of my students came in to announce that "piano just isn't fun anymore" and that he wanted to quit. His mother and I pressed for a few more details. His family and I aren't convinced that he really wants to quit. He regularly picks challenging pieces one or more grades above his level, he signed up for band and is enjoying it. I think he just fell out of love with music because now, he realizes that he has to work.

It's a plateau many students hit once they reach a certain level. This student whizzed through the beginner levels. Now, he's learning that it takes weeks, if not months, to master a song. Gone are the days when it only takes a few days to whip something into shape. When students hit this plateau and realize that they have to work harder and longer to get results, they become discouraged.

We've made changes last year to his programme to incorporate a much wider mix of music, which he chose for the most part (with just a little guidance from me). Last night, I realized that I'll need to start throwing some easy quick studies his way - some easy conquests. There are a couple more students I should try that on as well, but I digress.

His mother and I talked about how he will always find that there are aspects of his job, school, etc. that he dislikes or hates. Music is no different. The trick is finding the balance, between the fun songs and the "meat and potatoes" songs and studies, between repertoire and technical exercises, between performing and practicing.

Before wrapping up the conversation, I told him that music is his gift. We can help him to a degree, but he has to take responsibility also. If music isn't fun anymore, he must also seek ways to make it fun again - or to ask for ideas.

Hopefully, he'll take his parents and my words to heart and find ways to fall in love with music again.

Here's one way to fall in love with music again. Read Chris Foley's article Find Your Repertoire.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Piano Pedagogy Links

I haven't started lesson planning for the 2007/08 year yet. I planned to catch up on my bookkeeping and registrations this week before moving onto to lesson plans; but I am taking longer than I thought I would on updating my address book. Of course, it doesn't help that this is the worst month for me and allergies. I refuse to do any bookkeeping when my head is in a perpetual foggy, sniffly, snivelly and sneezy state. However, I'm almost done my address book project and I think I finally found an allergy/sinus combination that is breaking through that fog; so I'll have no more excuses. I will have to do my bookkeeping.

For my colleagues who are doing their lesson planning now (or plan to do so soon), here are a few online resources I've stumbled upon. Hopefully, we can gleam some gems from these:

  1. Piano Pedagogy Forum
  2. Can-Pno-Ped
  3. Music Pedagogy

I may have posted a couple of these in a previous entry, but it would have been a while back.My apologies for the list being piano heavy. Feel free to write submit websites, book titles, periodicals that you use to help with lesson planning - all instruments welcome.

(c) 2007 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.~

An Adventure in Piano Lesson Plans

I'm in between temping assignments at the moment. Maestro and I did enjoy some time off but it's now time to start planning ahead for the 2006/07 year. If I can get everything done in the beginning of the month, then I can relax for the second half. At least, that's the plan. I am always looking for ways to improve how lessons are planned and run. I was at an educational store with a friend/fellow piano teacher the other day and got some ideas for games, lesson plans and materials.

I have also revised the practicing contract, inspired by a goal sheet posted online by another teacher and created a Practice Journal/Assignment sheet (new). I will ask all the parents to copy enough of these sheets to last the school year. The incentive program will be tied more closely to how much and how well they practiced. I did have something like it last year but things did get out of hand with students earning as much as two swanky prizes every lesson because they improvised six songs and memorized one. Progress wasn't as steady for some of them because of this. I guess I was too easy them.

Now, they will have to work a little harder for their prizes, which will be much easier on my wallet. If they complete 90 - 100% of their homework, they will get three stars. If they complete 80 - 89% of their homework, they will get two stars and if they complete 70 - 79% of their homework done, they will get one star. Stars will be given to students who practice more than the recommended guidelines and the parents must initial the homework sheets for kids to cash in on the goodies. My hope is that this will get them to practice more often and strive towards balanced practicing - not just doing what they like to do.

The two things that will elicit gasps from my returning students is that now, they will have to earn 15 stars to get a prize, instead of last year's five and that the prizes will regrettably, be smaller.

Here are some of the sites I scoured to look up teaching materials such as incentive programs and lesson plans:

Now that the templates are done, it's onto the next step - planning out 40 individualized 10 -month curricula and creating some note value, note name and rhythm supplemental material.

(c) 2006 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

Planning & Research: A Look into a Music Teacher’s Day

The students in public school have this week off. It also happens to be Group Class Week at the Studio (group class in lieu of a lesson), A.K.A. “catch-up” week for me. I have spent most of my time working on the advertising campaign for Calgary ARMTA’s newsletter and finalizing my 2006/07 Studio Registration Package (studio calendar, policies, registration form, letter to students, policy agreement). Some policy changes have been made, which may or may not go over well. It has all been for the sake of improving business operations. Less time on troubleshooting or putting out fires equals more time and energy to put into being a better teacher.

Having a well-defined standard set of studio policies and practices is essential to the survival of any business. Everyone – the students, parents and teachers – will be operating within the same set of rules and regulations. Each year, teachers improve upon their policies and practices (or at least, they should).

I am also writing an online Studio Handbook, which contains everything from lesson protocol to practice tips, and from teaching philosophies to how parents can support their child’s music studies. Working on the policies and the handbook is energizing. After all, it’s a chance to do some reflection on what’s important, on what I want to accomplish and look at areas that can be improved upon.

I took a break from it this morning to go shopping. My theory students will soon be working on practice tests, so I needed the latest set to go over myself. I also found some funky music class resources for the upcoming group classes: Music Listening Bingo by Cheryl Lavender. I hope the students enjoy them.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find everyone on my shopping list today. Try as I might, I couldn’t find piano music for an AC/DC song that I’ve been asked to play as a wedding recessional song. The wedding isn’t until August, so I have time to research it a bit more.

© 2006 by Musespeak™, Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.