Tag Archives: collaboration

June Inspirations

I just returned from the  Ohio University (Athens) Pedagogy Workshop.  It was inspirational, transforming and FUN!   Better than a vacation in every way, but now my To Do list is twice as long as it was before I left.

There were many, many workshops from which to choose in other places (Chicago, Toronto, Norway).  This one called to me because:

  1. One of the workshop presenters was Christopher Norton, whose pieces students repeatedly select from the Royal Conservatory program as part of their assessment repertoire,
  2. The other workshop presenter was Kristin Yost, who wrote an edgy book for private studio teachers about business practices, and
  3. There was an intriguing workshop on a new, holistic way of teaching beginners called Piano Safari.

The sessions were all practical  (I love practical).  Every speaker was tuned into teaching in the real world (which includes soccer games, too many other activities, and the “most kids don’t like Bach” syndrome).   It’s my hope that if we keep students engaged in piano, someday maybe they’ll actually like Bach.  And if not, at least maybe they’ll still be playing the piano and listening to great music!

Although most of the audience consisted of classical music teachers, the workshops and seminars were about thinking outside the box, using pop and jazz pieces and breathing new life into lessons.   People came from as far as New York and Nebraska to delve into these new ideas.

  • In Piano Safari, Julie and Katie have developed an original system of teaching children to play and feel music while still (sneakily) learning basic gestures and skills needed to master the piano and “own” their pieces.
  • Christopher Norton has brilliantly developed materials that introduce beginning pianists to jazz and popular styles so that they are accessible, emphasizing  rhythm first, then notes, technique and skills needed for basic jazz improvisation.
  • Kristin Yost reminds teachers that they are the CEO of their studios and should run them accordingly, and suggests that having a live rhythm band in recitals will add considerable panache to the most basic pieces, and get students inspired to practice and perform.

One of the highlights of the weekend was a masterclass with Christopher Norton and a Pop Showcase Recital with 10 students accompanied by a live rhythm band.  Three of my students performed (the 4th was in France)  and had a wonderful time!  All of the student performances were vibrant, and everyone left with new ideas for practicing, making music and teaching.



Spring reflections

I’ve always admired my instrumentalist friends’ rhythmic  ability.  They seem to have a built in sense of maintaining the tempo through dicey passages, which I assume is from their experience in ensembles.  As young pianists, we tend to slow down or stop when we get stuck, without immediate feedback that’s inherent in an ensemble (i.e., nobody else is slowing down and you’re no longer with the group) so it’s easy to be unaware that you’re not counting correctly. Yet rhythmic vitality is as important as playing the right notes!

Since it’s nice to have a change of pace in the spring and summer, it seems that a duet boot camp might be fun for the students and a chance  to sneak in work on new skills:  counting, collaboration and listening, sight-reading, and recording (so that they can create accompaniment tracks for themselves and others).   By using music that’s a level or two below  playing level, students can also reinforce technique and musical concepts learned over the past year.

I love the Norton Microjazz duets – they come with a CD accompaniment track recorded as an ensemble;  a hit with the kids!   Solo beginner pieces in a number of series (e.g., Waxman, Faber, etc.) offer an opportunity for slightly older students to test their composition and keyboard harmony skills by creating secondo parts and playing with  younger students.  It would be great to get students who are learning other instruments to play melodies with solo piano pieces, and help piano students understand which instruments have to be transposed and can’t play from piano score.

What are your favorite duet series and stories?