Group Classes

Ensemble Musings

No world exploration clip this week. My students and I have been reviewing video of their performances at last week's recital. There were many strong performances. However, I think the ensemble numbers really got the crowd going.


Those ensemble performances were a great prelude to what coming up at the studio. Next week is Group Class Week. The kids have been working hard since September on two or three ensemble pieces. Instead of their regular lesson, they will have a combo class. Next week is the first time they will meet as a group to work on their pieces. It's hard to tell who's more excited: my students, Maestro or myself!


I've split my students into eight ensembles. We have a varied line-up:


  1. "Mission Impossible" (for sax, clarinet, keyboard and cajon)
  2. "Numb" by Linkin Park (for voice, keyboard, cajon and bass)
  3. "Under the Sea" for 4 hands/1 piano, cajon and hand percussion
  4. "Super Mario Overworld Theme" for piano, cajon and hand percussion
  5. "Lady Bird" for piano and cajon
  6. Pia no Jac's version of "Ode to Joy" for piano and cajon
  7. "Edge of Glory" by Lady Gaga for voice, keyboard, cajon and hand percussion
  8. "The Athletic Rag" from Super Mario for 4 hands/1 piano, cajon and hand percussion
  9. "Bless the Broken Road" for piano, guitar and cajon
  10. "Gerudo Valley Theme" from Zelda for 4 hands/1 piano and cajon
  11. "Floral Heartstring" by Pia no Jac for piano, cajon and hand percussion
  12. "When You Believe" for voice, piano and cajon
  13. "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 for voice, keyboard and cajon
In addition to the studio combos, I've been preparing for my submission to Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir 3.0. This is undoubtedly one of the most difficult works for voice I have ever worked on. With it being a "virtual" choir, I do not have the benefit of having a stellar singer beside me to follow. I need to know my pitches! Not only that, but I have to work tremendously hard on breath support.
It's been a wonderful challenge though. I got goosebumps when I first heard Virtual Choir 2.0 and am excited to just be a part of it.


Solo music making is fun but I'm finding that there is something magical and energizing about music making in an ensemble.
(c) 2012 by Musespeak(TM), Calgary, AB, Canada. All rights reserved.

On Group Classes & Boomwhackers

On the weekend, Maestro and I held two intermediate group classes for the piano kids. Although I'm sure we all would have loved to sleep in on Saturday, it seemed like everyone was having a good time. There were seven junior intermediate students in the morning class. They introduced themselves by setting their names to a rhythm and joining in one person at a time. The polyrhythms meshed together nicely.

The kids then played a song they are currently working on - a kind of "show and tell". The student in the audience, armed with markers, wrote down words or sketched something to describe what they were hearing. Two students played their songs twice - once according to the original score and a second time with their version; a shy pixie who played The Mouse in the Coal Bin by Charles Peerson and one of my hardest working students played The Prowling Pussy Cat by William Gillock. They succeeded in their performances as the others described them as "sneaky", "sly" and "mysterious."

The afternoon class was comprised of four of my senior intermediate students. They enjoyed playing with the Boomwhackers (far more than they enjoyed playing for each other). I jotted down the letter names of the notes to a famous tune on the whiteboard, such as Aloha, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Mary Had a Little Lamb. Each student was in charge of two notes. Without speaking, they had to sightread the notes and come in at the right time. We had to repeat the songs a few times before they became recognizable, but it was a fun process.

Maestro was in seventh heaven. He managed to steal the bongo drums a couple of times in class and play them with his paws. He has this "scratch, scratch, pat, pat, arf arf, flip the drums over"rhythm that he likes. He snagged the tambourine once as well. Yes, Maestro is a bit of a show off.

I wish my piano teachers held group classes when I was younger. The social interaction and the music games really get the kids going. At the end of the last class, I overheard one of my students asking the rest of the students for their e-mail addresses so they could keep in touch.

Now that's a great idea.

Boomwhackers and Resources:

Boom 'n' Tunes: Just for Fun look inside


Boom 'n' Tunes: Just for Fun By Linda Forrest. For Boomwhackers, Unison choir. Novelty. Book and accompaniment CD. Published by Heritage Music Press (LO.30-1946H)

...more info

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

Not exactly a week off

It’s Group Class Week, which has altered the studio schedule. In lieu of regular piano lessons, the students attend a group class this week. I tried something different this year by spreading the four group classes over three days. I used to run them on a Friday/Saturday of one weekend. I found that I spent the whole week conserving energy for those two days and needed (but couldn’t have) another week to recover. Thankfully, my brother is available to help out with the beginner classes tomorrow and I have hired two of my older students as teaching assistants to give them some experience.  


There are a few bugs to work out since a new system and it’s the first group class for the year, but the first one last night went all right. My intermediate students performed for each other, improvised and figured out what do in a 10-minute practice session if that’s all the time they have (see my earlier entry on this for more info).



With the studio running at full capacity, I’m constantly thinking of ways to make the group class schedule work more effectively. I’m already thinking about how to structure it next year, believe it or not.


It hasn’t been a week off, as my heading implies. I am still teaching theory lessons this week and doing “make-up” lessons. There was the Alberta Registered Music Teachers’ Association (ARMTA Calgary) meeting on Monday. Maestro helped me with the filing and bookkeeping. Now it’s off to do some administrative work (receipts to couples whose weddings I played at, finding a venue for the winter and spring student recitals, preparing for the lessons and group classes today).


© Musespeak, Calgary, Alberta, Canada. All rights reserved.


The Countdown is On!

The new teaching year begins on Tuesday and it has been a mad race to get everything ready by then. Bookkeeping has been postponed to contact my students’ families to confirm their lesson times (and yes, to see if they're still coming for lessons. You never know). The prize drawer and sticker tin are overflowing with the latest and greatest that's out there. All prizes have been inspected and approved of by my trusty assistant Maestro. I'm trying out a few new piano and theory books and had to buy them for planning purposes. While I was at the store, I perused through the clearance sections and found the funkiest rhythm puzzle. It was originally $35 and it was on sale for $5. When I saw it, I could picture myself clapping a simple rhythm to a young student and having him/her grab the appropriate foam pieces to create the pattern s/he heard. I also added a small set of cymbals, which the kids will fight over at group class.

I had coffee yesterday with a teaching colleague who specializes in Musikgarten and adult workshops. I had a brief introduction to Musikgarten at the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers' Associations' (CFMTA) national conference held in Calgary in July. Dr. Lorna Lutz Heyge, the President and co-founder of Musikgarten gave the clinic.

My colleague gave me a more in depth look at the curriculum and I must say I like it a lot. Musikgarten is an introductory music program for children aged 5 - 9 years. The curriculum is set up so the students learn music as they learned their mother tongue - by listening, babbling, using bigger sentences, storytelling and finally, reading. The group lessons are filled with singing, dancing and clapping. The kids don't even touch the keyboard until they have internalized the song.

I can't say that I am up for teaching the program but I will definitely recommend it to parents with young children. For more information, visit the Musikgarten website.

Well, my time is up here. The piano is calling me to run through some of the intermediate repertoire. I actually have to practice some of that stuff.

(c) 2005 by Musespeak(tm). All rights reserved.