Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’

Creative Christmas Carols

Friday, November 27th, 2009

By Nicole Murphy
Republished with permission from Music Teacher’s Helper

CarolingIt’s that time of year again, when all my students are begging to play Christmas carols. If your students are anything like mine, they start requesting carols around October (possibly coinciding with the time that shops start putting up their decorations – I’m sure the requests are coming earlier every year), and no matter how long you manage to delay it for, it is inevitable that there will be some weeks when student after student turn up to their lessons, proudly displaying their version of Jingle Bells. So, how do you find pedagogical value in Christmas carols, and how do you keep it interesting for both student and teacher?

I find that books of Christmas Carols aimed at students are usually only useful for one or two years at the most, before students have made too much progress to find much enjoyment in sight-reading music that seemed like such a challenge a year ago (although it is a wonderful way for them to see how much they have progressed). So I prefer to approach carols differently than merely learning them as additional repertoire.

Depending on the capabilities of the student I use all or a selection of the following steps.

Younger students are given the melody of the Christmas carol in a simple key; while more advanced students aurally dictate it. Once the melody is written down and the key is established, we build triads on each scale degree, and play through the primary triads, discussing the function of each chord (for example, the tonic sounds like home, the dominant 7th acts as a signpost pointing towards home). For younger students I discuss how a chord progression can behave like a journey – starting at home, traveling away from home, exploring a new area, finding signs that point us towards home, and finally returning home.

Once the student is familiar with the harmonic language, we examine the melody and allocate chords that are appropriate. Each chord is checked for its effectiveness in the context of the preceding and following chords.

We discuss inversions of chords as a way for making block chords easily playable and then discuss a variety of styles of piano accompaniment, which are then applied to the chord progression. Students enjoy inventing their own variations on given formulae.

For more advanced students, the final step of the process is sight transposing their arrangements into different keys.

Hopefully these are some ideas that other teachers can employ in the lead up to the festive season this year.

What 10 Things Do I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Teaching?

Friday, September 25th, 2009

By Leah Coutts

This blog was inspired by an article with the same title that I read in the Autumn 2001 Keyboard Companion magazine as part of my studies. As I was reading through the article, I noticed that my list of things I wish I’d know was quite different. I thought I’d share the 10 things that I wish I had known before I started teaching:

1. That my studio would grow so quickly – I could have been more selective about the type of students I decided to take on.

2. That teaching is my livelihood and that it is vital to have a steadfast policy from the start – this would have saved so much hassle with lack of payment and ridiculous catch-up schedules and missed lessons.

3. If you lower your expectations, so will your students – if you keep saying it is okay when no practice has been done, students will not start to practice efficiently.

4. Importance of educating parents as much as the child students – parental involvement is critical for a young child’s success.

5. Play up to natural motivations rather than trying to bribe students to do just what you think is important.

6. It’s not all about the written music – from the start it is about exploratory games and the essence of music, not just learning the notes on the pages.

7. You can say ‘no’ to students – whether it is taking them on as a student, requests outside of your studio policy, or requests for pieces of music that are obviously outside of their current playing standard – and your reputation will not be brought into question, as long as you are reasonable in your response.

8. A student’s goals do not have to match yours. If you understand their motivations for wanting to learn, your relationship will be a lot more successful.

9. You can’t practice for the student. This is one that I still have trouble with – even though it is such an obvious statement. I guess that only those who have been there know how much you can actually achieve when you put in the effort. All we can do is help to motivate and cultivate the desire to want to play.

10. Have designated ‘work’ hours, or it can totally consume you.

If I had known all these things from the start, I don’t think I would have been as good a teacher as I am now through learning these things along the way, as it is experience that shapes you more than knowledge.

Now it’s your turn – are there any things that you wished you had known before you started teaching that aren’t listed here? Do you agree with the above list?

Invest In Yourself So You Will Have More To Give To Your Students

Monday, September 21st, 2009

by Amy Gould

Republished with permission from Music Teachers Helper

Being a teacher requires you to give a lot of your energy to your students. If you don’t spend time taking care of yourself and replenishing your own energy levels, you may get burned out. Summer is a great time to focus on yourself. Here are a few ideas that I’ve come up with to help you replenish your own energy. If you add a couple of these to your weekly schedule, they will pay off big time.

Start or make over a work out

Any way you can take time for yourself is a good thing, but working out is good for a lot of reasons. It raises your endorphins, which are the feel good hormones. It helps reduce stress. Plus you will increase your lung capacity and stamina. Even getting out and going for a bike ride or a walk will improve your outlook.


Meditation helps you to relax it has been shown to increase immunity. The best part is that if you have a regular practice, the effects last longer. I’ve noticed that when I regularly do yoga and meditation, I experience less performance anxiety, less stress in rush hour traffic, more patience in lessons or stressful situations and more.


Yoga has many benefits. Some of them are the same as meditation. Since yoga requires diaphragmatic breathing, it is great for breath support. It also helps to improve range of motion and flexibility. It has helped me to get rid of tension in many places. Deep breathing for an 20 minutes to an hour helps to reduce stress as well. Yoga is a moving practice, so it is great if you aren’t good at sitting still for meditation.


Massage is great for reducing stress and getting rid of pain or stiffness. Some forms are even good for improving flexibility. I know that I feel like a million bucks after getting a massage (even if I was in complete melt down mode when I went to the massage.)

Mini Vacation

Take a day off. No cleaning, studio work or anything allowed. Sleep in, go somewhere fun or just stay home and watch all the movies that you have been dying to see. Sometimes a real vacation can cause more stress then it alleviates. A day or two off at home can make you feel like a million bucks. If staying home is too stressful (with all of its visual reminders of things that need to be done, phone calls and chores), stay for a day or two at a hotel nearby. While you are there book a couple of hours at a spa.

Inspiriational CD, book or seminar

Listening to inspirational books on CD, reading a book, or going to a seminar on motivation are all great ways to improve your outlook. Here are a few to get you started.

Zig Ziglar – Better Than Good, Creating the Life you Can’t Wait to Live.

Anthony Robbins – Awakening the Giant Within.

Julia Cameron – The Artist’s Way

Eloise Ristad – A Soprano on Her Head

Read for fun

Take a look at the list of recommended books from your library. Pick something fun that you might read if you were a kid. (no self help books, educational reading or anything else applies.) Spend as much time as you can getting lost in the book (no guilt allowed either.)

Try to pick one or two of these to add into your week. If you add them in weekly or daily, it will help you to avoid burn out and have more energy to give to the others in your life.