motivating students

Piano Pedagogy & Studio Technology Musings

I recently attended the Piano Pedagogy Workshop presented by the Calgary Arts Summer School Association, featuring Paul Sheftel, American composer, teacher and pedagogue and his wife, Dr. Sara Sheftel, Ph. D. Students can improve their note reading, ear training and more on the computer,  Photo by R-M Arca.

Paul shared with us the various techie toys and gadgets he uses in his studio, from PowerPoint to Home Concert Xtreme (click on the link for more info). He also touched upon audio recording, video recording and the use of webcams in lessons held with his students in another state. He also ran a couple of sessions on "Performance with Commentary", which I unfortunately was unable to attend.

Sara held open forums for teachers to discuss the challenges of keeping students motivated, handling teacher burnout and knowing when to let go of a student. Sara would add her comments and share her advice as we spoke. I would have liked to hear more of Sara's insights before going into an open forum set-up.

I walked away with two kernels that are percolating in the back of my mind:

  1. Protect yourself. If you're too run down or your life is out of balance, it hampers your ability to teach and help to others.
  2. Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS). Make the most of the technology you currently have at your disposal first before adding a whole bunch of gadgets and programs you are unfamiliar with (and don't have the time to get familiar with).

Immediately after the workshop, I sat down to redesign Studio Central, the mircosite for my students. Gone are the pages they never looked at. It's now streamlined to house things to download.

The Dazzling Downloads page remains, containing handouts and studio forms. New is the online A/V Library I'm building. When complete, my students will be able to download funky grooves at various tempii and time signatures I've recorded from my drum machine, to use for improvising or as an alternative to the metronome. Scales will be more fun to play with a rock or funk groove, right?

On the video side of things, I'm recording a series of 12 Practicing 101 demos, so when my students forget how to do the Countdown Drill or drill their memory stations, they can watch the video.

Then the piece de resistance, the Student A/V Lesson Files pages. Gone are the days where we're fiddling with ProTools, exporting a .wav file and burning it to CD (only to find that they can't play the CD in their CD player). No more transferring of mp3 files from my audio recorder to the computer to a student's memory stick. I'm just going to upload the A/V snippets of their lessons to Studio Central for them download. Each student will have their own page, their personal A/V library collection.

Back to my point of just keeping things simple. I have Finale Notepad, Sibelius, ProTools, a stage piano and drum machine. I have yet to find the time to sit down and explore each to their fullest, or to explore their connectivity capabilities. A friend just told me about Audacity, a free audio recording and editing program. However, that will have to wait for another time. I have figured out how to connect my drum machine to my Mbox to record using ProTools and I already know how to transfer audio and video files taken by my portable audio recorder and camera; so that will do until I figure out the rest of the techie toys and invest in a really good video recorder.

Who knows? Maybe sometime in the not so distant future, music teachers will be holding an Open Chat Night once a week on one of the ISM programs or Skype for students to pop in and ask questions. Teacher PodCasts. Studio Parent Chat Nights. Virtual concert nights. The sky's the limit.

(c) 2009 by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. 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.