Archive for the ‘Teaching Tips’ Category

How to Stay Productive: Part 2-Keep a Calendar

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

By Andy Zweibel
Republished with permission from Music Major


Electronic Calendar

In the age of technology, there are tons of great electronic ways to maintain a calendar. Here are a few tips for staying organized using an electronic calendar:

* Use Categories – One of the standard features of many electronic calendars is the ability to categorize appointments. These categories can usually be color-coded, and make a great way to visually see the different types of activities that you will be taking place in. As you can see below, my Outlook calendar is like a rainbow. Some of the categories I use include: practice, rehearsal, concert, class, and band events.

* Use Multiple Calendars – Another great feature of electronic calendars is the ability to have multiple calendars overlayed on top of each other. This is another way to separate different types of commitments, but for a more general set of topics. For example, it may be helpful to have separate calendars for work, school, and personal commitments, so it is easy to see only one set of appointments at a time. Google Calendars is great for this, because with one click you can choose which calendars are displayed and which are hidden.

* Take It With You – The one downside to having an electronic calendar is the fact that without preparation, it can be difficult to update this calendar if you commit to an appointment while away from your computer. There are, however, a few ways to solve this problem. If you are fortunate enough to have a “smart phone” (iPhone, Blackberry, etc.) or another type of PDA (iPod Touch, Palm Pilot, etc.), make sure the calendar you keep is in a format that allows you to sync from your computer to this device. Otherwise, print a copy of your calendar out before you leave your computer, so that you can jot down any appointments you make in the proper place and then make the electronic update yourself when you return. For me, printing out my calendar in weekly view worked best; I would print about 6 pages (with one week per page), and keep them in my bag at all times, so I could see a minute-by-minute breakdown, while still having a wide range of dates available to see.

Andy’s Calendar

Here is a list of just a few of the many e-calendar options that are available:

* Outlook Calendar-Lets you sync to a Microsoft Exchange server if your school provides one

* Google Calendar-Web-based application that has both an online and offline mode, provides multi-calendar overlay and email notifications

* iCal-Mac OS application for managing calendars with sync capability

* Yahoo Calendar-If you use My Yahoo as your start page, this can be a great option for managing your calendar

Written Calendar

There are many people for whom pen and paper is still the best way to keep track of things. For those people who prefer to keep their calendar on paper, here are a few tips for keeping a written calendar:

* Get a High-Quality Calendar – The best thing anyone can do to set themselves up for success with a written calendar is have a good starting point-a high-quality day planner or assignment notebook will do wonders for your calendar’s organization. Many schools have their own “branded” assignment book, which includes school events and holidays already. If this isn’t something you need, be sure to get a datebook that leaves enough room for you to not only write school assignments, but also to keep track of personal commitments. Also, make sure the planner has ample space to write on weekend days; just because there is no homework assigned on these days doesn’t mean you won’t have many commitments and appointments to take care of.

* Separate Different Types of Commitments – It can be a helpful strategy to split each day on the planner in half with a vertical line down the middle. Use the left side for school-related assignments, or more “standard” commitments, and the right side for additional commitments that come up, and less formal events (study groups, movie nights, etc.). This way, you will have an easier time locating the information you need.

* Color Code – This strategy can be just as effective on paper as it is on a computer. Use different colored pens (or highlighters) for different types of commitments, so when you sit down to study, your eye is able to catch on quickly to the homework assignments you need to complete as opposed to seeing the date you have planned for later that night.

* Take It With You – The same principle as above applies here, and once again there are different ways to keep track of this. If your planner is portable, as many will be, make it a habit of taking it with you wherever you go, so you always have it as a reference. If you choose to not take it to classes with you, jot down the homework and any other important dates in your lecture notes, and then transfer them to your planner when you get home. This strategy has the advantage of serving two purposes, as it will also give you an opportunity to review the notes you took.

Which Way to Go?

So do I keep an electronic calendar, or get a day planner and keep track of my commitments by hand? The answer to this question is simple: do what works for you! As someone who is almost always glued to some type of electronics (be it laptop, iPod Touch, or phone), the electronic calendar was the logical way to go. If you’re a more tactile person, or don’t generally bring a computer with you when you go somewhere, keep a day planner instead. The only way you’ll know, for sure, however, is to try, so pick a method, and start keeping your life organized today!

What About You?

Do you already have a method for organizing your calendar? What tips have worked well for you to keep track of you appointments and commitments? What is your favorite calendar application? Share your thoughts in a comment, and maybe someone else will gain from it!

How to Stay Productive: Part 1-Set Goals

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

By Andy Zweibel
Republished with permission from Music Major

stay-productive-set-goalsSet Goals
One of the best ways to be sure you are focusing on the right things is to set goals for what you wish to accomplish. This strategy helps you keep yourself in check and avoid distractions, so you complete the tasks you need to in the appropriate time frame. The two types of goals that can most help you in your productivity are short-term and long-term.

Short-Term Goals

Another word for a list of short-term goals is a “to-do list.” These goals should be created on a weekly (or even daily) basis, and should be based on the tasks that need to be immediately accomplished. This could include anything from studying for a Music History exam to spending 45 minutes practicing your lesson assignments. Whatever they are, these goals are best if they are able to be completed in one sitting. Items should not stay on this list for very long (generally no more than a week), and should be considered top priority when you have time to work.

Long-Term Goals

Long-term goals can have a much wider range, including year-long, semester-long, or monthly. I prefer to set semester-long goals for myself, and now is the perfect time to put together a list of semester-long goals. These goals should be based less in school work, and more based in your development. Examples of these goals are diverse and could include performance-based goals (be able to play excerpt X at 120 bpm by November 1 in preparation for my jury), professional development-based (update my resume by September 15 in preparation for a fall conference), or personal (lose X pounds by October 10th). Whatever they are, check up on them often! In fact, it’s a good idea to check up on the status of your long-term goals each week just before you create your short-term goals for the week.

It is also advisable to set short-term goals in advance for long-term projects. For example, if you read on your Music Theory syllabus on the first day of class that there is an analytic paper due on a Beethoven Symphony on the day of the final exam, outline at the beginning of the school year what goals you wish to have completed and when. You might want to make sure you have chosen which symphony you will write about by the second week of school, acquired a copy by the 4th, done an analysis of form on the first movement by the 5th, and so on. This way, you will never be caught writing the entire paper the night before it is due.

Suggestions For Setting Goals

Whether your goals are short-term or long-term, here are some tips for setting goals that will enable you to maximize your productivity:

* Make Your Goals Attainable-Whatever time frame you are setting goals on, they need to be attainable. It is completely unrealistic to set a goal of playing the most difficult piece of repertoire for your instrument perfectly by the 3rd week of school. While ambitious, this is an unattainable goal. Your goals need to be realistic, yet challenging.

* Be Specific-Create very specific goals, which will challenge you to maintain the high standards you have set for yourself. For example, instead of setting a goal of “play half of my jury piece well by midterms,” consider instead something like “play from the beginning to letter L in my jury piece with no technical mistakes by October 15.” This erases the ambiguities left by the first option in the words half, well, and midterms. It will help you keep yourself on track. Also, always set specific dates by which you wish to have your goals completed. Instead of saying “by the end of the semester,” put an actual date to it. This will make the goal seem more real as it approaches, and ensure that you complete it in a timely manner.

* Don’t Procrastinate-While this obviously applies to carrying out your goals, it also applies to setting them. Don’t put off setting your goals until tomorrow–do it today! In fact, go set your goals right now!

* Write Them Down-And not just on a scrap of paper! Have a journal or notebook you jot things down in? Write your goals and dates you want them completed by in there! Use the computer a lot? Save your goals to your desktop. Writing them down isn’t the only step, though; your goals need to be visible, or you will forget about them. Put them on a post-it note on your desk, or if you used the computer, save them as an image, and make it your desktop! This way you are constantly reminded of your goals.

* Prioritize-Once you have your goals written down, put them in order of their priority to you, and when you have time to work, work from the top down. This way, you will complete the most important items first, and if you should fall behind schedule on your goals list as a whole, you know the highest priority goals are already finished.

What Are You Waiting For?

There is no better time than the present to start setting goals! Have 10 minutes to kill? Start writing a set of goals for the coming school year right now! Be sure to keep them close by as the weeks and months pass by!

What goals have you set for yourself? Do you have other suggestions for setting great goals to maximize productivity? Leave a comment and share your experiences regarding this topic; let’s continue the conversation!

Teaching Lessons through Online Video Chat: An Interview with Kathy Parsons

Monday, December 7th, 2009

By Kathy Parsons
Republished with permission from Music Teacher’s Helper

In case you haven’t heard, it’s a WONDERFUL time to be alive and involved in the world of music!

With the continual advancements in technology, the way that we create music, share it, and teach it is so incredibly different than how it was only just 10-15 years ago.

kathy1Meet Kathy Parsons – a piano teacher from Florence, Oregon who recently relocated from the San Francisco area. Not only does she teach, but she heads a website called where she writes music reviews for a plethora of renowned musicians. She has had the pleasure of working with artists like David Lanz, Suzanne Ciani, and Spencer Brewer to name only a few.

And what is even more intriguing, is that despite having recently left California to move an entire state away to her Oregon coastal home, Kathy still teaches a good number of her Californian students by way of modern technology and the internet.

How is this done? Find out as I share my interview with Kathy Parsons on how she utilizes technology to advance her teaching studio…

JT: You have been teaching piano for many years. How did you decide to become a teacher, and was it something you had always planned to do?

KP: As a young person, I divided my time fairly equally between the piano and visual arts. My plan was to teach piano and continue doing my artwork part-time, but, as so often happens, life had other plans. I have been a full-time piano teacher for 27 years and part-time for the past two. I’ll have my 29th anniversary in January. I’d say it was more of a calling than a plan.

JT: You recently relocated to the central Oregon coast. While this was a huge undertaking for you, you managed to come up with a way to retain some of your piano students despite living in a different city. Can you explain how you were able to do this?

1KP: When I decided to move from the San Francisco Bay Area to the central Oregon Coast, I knew it would be difficult to find new students and I hated to leave some of my students in CA. I was talking to one of my adult students about moving one day, and she told me about her video chat conversations with her brother in Spain over Skype. I had never heard of video chat at that point, so I started doing some investigating since this student was confident that we could continue lessons that way. I have some good contacts at Yamaha in the academic division, and they were kind enough to put me in touch with their “internet guru,” who was doing online lessons. He sent me some very helpful info and once I understood the basics, it was actually easier to work things out on my own.

I started talking up internet lessons with my students and their parents before I moved. When I left CA, it sounded like close to twenty of my existing students would continue lessons over the internet, but once we got down to reality, only a few followed through.

JT: Did the thought of using the internet and video seem intimidating at all? How was the learning curve?

KP: Starting anything this new and different is intimidating, especially when so few other people have tried it. At the same time, it is very exciting to be a trail-blazer of sorts. Learning how to do remote lessons was really fairly easy – it was convincing the parents to try it that was difficult. Early on, the pianos sounded like they were under water, which was obviously a big problem. The video feeds had good and bad days, and initially, the service froze up quite often. The service has improved tremendously over the past couple of years.

2-300x225JT: Is there a specific internet service or software that you use in order to teach this way? Can you list the equipment involved?

KP: I have been using Skype, iChat, and Google video chat services. They all have good and bad points. iChat has the clearest video by far, and the sound quality is usually quite good. For Mac users, it seems to be the best option. Google’s video chat seems to be very stable and the sound quality is really good. The video is so-so, but adequate. Skype is very good, but is prone to freezes and dropped calls from time to time. Skype and Google are both free services.

Most laptops now come with cameras built in, so that makes it easy. Students who don’t have those use the separate webcams. On my end, I’m using a MacBook laptop with a 13” screen. I hope to upgrade to a bigger screen next year, but the 13” screen is fine. The most important ingredient seems to be a fast internet service. I’m using wireless broadband and am very lucky to be working with a small local company called OregonFast. They are very interested in what I’m doing with the technology and have been extremely helpful and supportive.

JT: Okay, so I’m starting to understand what equipment it takes to do this, but, explain this to me: How do you have this set up? Both you and the student have pianos at each end of the camera. The student plays as you watch, and vice versa?

KP: Yes. When I am talking to students or watching or listening to them play, I have the camera aimed at my face. When I am playing for students, I angle the camera so that it is on my hands. Students have their cameras positioned so I can see exactly what they are doing. On the screen, from my end, the video of the student fills most of the screen, and then there is a smaller box inset so I can see what they are seeing from their end.

Piano2JT: Do you charge the normal amount for these lessons? I thought perhaps they might cost a bit more because of the equipment involved, but I don’t know.

KP: I have been charging the same rates I was charging before. I used to travel to lessons, so even though there are some expenses on this end for lessons, I’m saving a lot of travel time and gas.

JT: Do these types of lessons take the same amount of time as traditional in-person lessons?

KP: Yes. I still do 45-60 minute lessons weekly.

JT: How do your students enjoy doing lessons this way? Were they pretty open to the idea?

KP: My students seem to really enjoy online lessons. One of my adult students absolutely loves that she can do her lessons in her pajamas after work! My youngest students right now are twelve, but they have been doing lessons online for a couple of years. At least for now, I wouldn’t take any very young beginners. I think the teacher should be there and very hands-on for beginners. The kids I have now started with me when I was in CA. My adult students say they think this is just as good as having me in the room with them. In some ways, it ’s actually better since it is so focused and adult students don’t seem to get nearly as nervous.

JT: Have you obtained new students through this method, or do you only retain the previous students?

KP: I started the mother of one of my younger students online once she could see that it was working well for her daughter. So far, I have only started one student who found me on my website. He is a retired man who lives in Wisconsin. We’ve been doing lessons for about eight months, and he says he just loves it.

JT: Do you feel that you are able to teach as effectively using this method as you would if you were right there in person? For either/or, can you please explain the differences, pro’s, con’s, etc.?

KP: It’s a little hard to say because I was getting very discouraged as a teacher in CA. There is just too much competition for time and students seemed to be less and less willing to practice enough to advance very well. I’m not sure if I’m enjoying teaching online more because it is going well or because I’m no longer teaching 43 lessons a week! For adult students, I think this method is just as effective as being in the room. They don’t seem to get nearly as nervous, which is a plus. I feel there is still a very big distrust of the technology from people who have not tried it. This will change over time, but right now it’s a bit of a hard sell.

JT: Do you think that this method will be the “way of the future” in the teaching world? For example, perhaps instead of searching for a local teacher, a person would just be able to go online and take piano lessons from a music professor in Italy.

KP: I think that’s possible, but piano teaching seems to be very tradition-bound in a lot of ways. I saw a demonstration awhile back where a pianist in NY was playing a Yamaha piano with a computer hook up to a piano in Los Angeles with the same hook up. The pianist in NY was actually able to play the LA piano remotely. It was astounding! The keys on the LA piano moved, as did the pedals! With that technology, there would be very little difference in doing lessons in person or remotely, but not a whole lot of people have the kind of money it would take buy the equipment.

JT: Well thank you for taking the time to talk with me, and for giving your perspective and valuable insights to the readers of The Music Teacher Helper’s Blog. This has been very fascinating for me, and I think it will be equally so for other piano teachers out there as well.

If you have any further questions for Kathy Parsons, you can contact her via her website at