The Summer PracticeFest was a good step toward getting students and families to really think about practice, and also whether it absolutely had to be done at the piano (since many took time to travel during the ‘Fest).
- “Brain Practice” can be done anywhere with the music and is very important – so many young students rush into playing a piece without settling down and thinking first. Dr. Noa Kageyama from Julliard suggests that each practice start with a few deep breaths to get focused.
- Rhythm or Theory Practice can be done anywhere with the exercise sheets and reinforces basic skills needed for learning pieces,
- Listening Practice can be done anywhere with a CD or iPod (extra credit for tapping or dancing to the CD).
- Fun Practice: At the end of the summer I learned about a book called “Ssshhh! Your Piano Teacher Thinks This is Practice” which has 88 pages of “fun” activities for elementary musicians to do that can constitute part of their daily practice requirement. The activities not only make the student accountable for different types practice requirements (e.g., not always starting at the beginning of the piece!), but engage the family and others into what is otherwise a solitary (and therefore potentially unpleasant) pursuit. If we can find ways to build the social aspects of music into lessons in the early years, perhaps we can keep more students involved for a longer time so that they can develop their musical and artistic sensibilities fully and give their friends, family and community the gift of performing.
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:
- One of the workshop presenters was Christopher Norton, whose pieces students repeatedly select from the Royal Conservatory program as part of their assessment repertoire,
- The other workshop presenter was Kristin Yost, who wrote an edgy book for private studio teachers about business practices, and
- 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.