Ideas Worth Noting

On Student Music Reports

To give my students and I a break from music rudiments, I assign them music reports. They are a great way to give students a deeper understanding of the music they are working on and to let them explore areas of special interest. I used to just ask them to research the composers of the pieces they are working on. Now, I've been getting a bit more creative.

Below are some of the topics my students have been researching:

  • the story behind a song that they like (this was particularly fun with Christmas songs)
  • information about the style or form of the music they are studying
  • composer reports
  • album reviews
  • concert reviews
  • performer reports
  • music instrument profiles

Some have created some lovely poster boards, like this one: image

My latest twist has been to tie music to another activity. For instance, two of my students study Aikido. Last week, I asked them to research five points about the samurai Musashi and his concept of rhythm-timing. Another is plays competitive soccer. She's going to research some information about some of the World Cup songs.

I've got a few more ideas up my sleeve. I am thinking of asking them to research music careers, music genres and local musicians.

The Cafe Studio Showcase Experiment

In "Drowning in Music Lesson Planning" (August 2012), I mentioned some of the ideas I had for studio performances. One was the idea of having a performance at the neighbourhood café in lieu of a winter recital. Image source: Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/williamnyk/

Last week, we had our Studio Winter Showcase at Caffe Crema. I have heard back from all students and families who were part of the event, and have taken some time to reflect on the experience.

It was a good thing I confirmed my booking from August. My contact quit her job and didn't pass the details to the remaining staff. My worries intensified when I overheard the sound technician complain about a booking that fell through the cracks.

We got everything sorted out more or less. There was a bit of miscommunication about the layout. It was workable though, so not a big deal.

I booked the café from 1:00 - 4:00 PM. The afternoon was comprised of three sets, with 10-minute intermissions to allow people to come and go, place their orders and visit. One of my students came early to help with the set up. She also volunteered to emcee as well. Another student relieved her when she got ready to perform. Other students, along with their parents, helped out with setting out the programmes and packing up. That worked out beautifully.

Feedback has been overwhelming positive. Many enjoyed the cozy atmosphere of the cafe. They liked the "come and go" casualness and found that it was easier to get family and friends to come.

Hands down, everyone enjoyed the food and drinks. I am willing to bet $1,000 Maestro Bucks that some of them will become regular customers at Caffe Crema.

Everyone did admit to feeling more nervous than they do at recitals. This can be attributed to three factors:

  1. Uncertainty over a different venue
  2. Uncertainty over playing a different instrument
  3. Fear over playing in public

For most of my students, this was their first public performance. Studio recitals and examinations are private. Music festivals are semi-private. The idea of playing for a bunch of "random" people with absolutely no connection to my studio or their families was terrifying for some of them.

My very first performer of the day walked in with tears streaming down her face. She absolutely didn't want to play in public. For a fleeting moment, I thought, "Oh no! Should I have made it a private performance? Did I introduce this change too abruptly?"

Several of us gave her hugs and encouragement. She got up there and played her entire set of five songs. Her voice didn't betray how nervous she was when she introduced each piece. She was able to smile after all was said and done.

Was it a perfectly clean performance? No. Was it a fluent performance? Yes. Then that's all we can ask for.

I only heard one negative comment. That's bound to happen with any public performance. My knee-jerk reaction was to never have my students do anything like this again - to protect them from ever hearing such criticism. Later, I came to the realization that it's not my job as their teacher to shield them from criticism but rather, to help them deal with it - to use the constructive criticism and discard the rest.

Will I do something like this again as a performance opportunity for my students? Probably. Only two said they would rather not do it again and I have a couple of options for them. Would I go back to Caffe Crema? It's a definite possibility.

Most of them enjoyed performing on a different stage. They gave me variations on this theme, "I was more nervous than usual, but as you said not everyone was listening. I'll never see those random people again." That showed in their playing, enough for some of the "random people's" kids to inch closer to the action. Clear enough for my friend and fellow teacher, Sharon Fast to say, "It's great to see what other teachers are doing in their studios and you are really bringing out the creativity in those kids! And they really seem to enjoy music making!"

Sheet Music Plus and Passive Income Streams

I like to shop locally whenever possible. However, sometimes it's just much more economical and just gosh darn convenient to shop online. Digital orders are just a couple of clicks away. You see with the ads on the side that I'm affiliated with Amazon. If you check out the ads, you'll see that I'm actually able to tailor them so that you will see music related items. Teachers, you can do this on your studio website and/or your blog, providing that your account allows you to host ads (for instance, Wordpress.com blogs don't allow ads but Wordpress.org blogs do).

Now, there is another joint in town though that sells a great selection of print and digital sheet music, learning aids and other musical goodies - Sheetmusicplus.com , This is the place that Rideau Music directed their customers to when Gill brothers closed their doors last year.

One of the cool things is that music teachers can create music lists for their students. Anything to make it easier for our busy piano parents to buy the right materials, I say. Some of my piano parents already shop online for sheet music.

Here are my lists:

Fellow music teachers, if you sign up for a teacher account, you can register for their Easy Rebates for Music Teachers program. You can earn 8% cash back on your sheet music purchases. Not only that, by creating music lists and sharing them with your students, family and friends, you will earn a little bit with every sale.

If you're looking for an additional income stream that requires very little effort, check this out. Just bear in mind that as with any passive income stream online, it does take time to build up your presence. You will need to go in an occasionally tweak the keywords and update your lists. You will also need to remember to periodically share the lists with your network of family, friends and students via print, email, your website and/or social networking.

Good luck and happy shopping!

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.

Colored Mechanical Pencils - A Musician's Dream

Pilot makes these colored mechanical pencils (Pilot Color Eno), which I stumbled upon at my local Staples. Many of my students (including myself) are visual learners so color-coding dynamics, sequences, trouble-spots is just a treat for us. Since they are pencils (and not pencil crayons), they are erasable - just in time for music festivals and exams!

 

Google Docs Makes Music Reports Easy

Two ways that my students can earn bonus points (and thereby Maestro Bucks) through my incentive program is to do a research project or concert report. One of my students, Grant, is pretty technologically savvy and has been using Google Docs to complete and submit his reports.

He simply emails me the link, I print it off to store in my Student Composition and Projects Binder and he gets his bonus points and Maestro Bucks.

Here's an example of just how simple it can be.

(c) Copyright by Musespeak(tm), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved. Grant owns the copyright on his report.