Friday, December 7, 2012

First lesson jitters... not just for students!

I currently teach in three different locations: Home, a local music store and a church in a nearby community.  Recently I was giving a lesson at the church when a young girl walked in. I asked if I could help her and she said, "Ms. --- told me to come here." I said, "She should be here soon. I'm finishing a piano lesson right now but you can wait over there for her," and pointed to a pew. She said, "No, she told me to be here to take a piano lesson with YOU!" Uh oh. Ms. --- had forgotten to tell ME that she had gotten a new student for me (and felt terrible about it later!). Needless to say, because I wasn't at home, all I had with me were flash cards (not a complete set mind you because I had let a student borrow them), a book of manuscript paper (out of which I had just used the last sheet), a few sheets of notebook paper, advanced music and a level 2 piano book that someone had given me to add to my collection of various instructional books. This teacher who has been teaching for 20 years began to slightly panic! I asked her if she had taken lessons before, if she had an instrument to practice on, etc. and learned that we were starting from ground zero here, though she knew a little bit about the treble clef staff due to being in beginning band.

I told the young lady to have a seat and I would be with her as soon as the current lesson was over. When it was her turn, she walked up to the piano with a smile on her face, while I was trying to figure out how I could gently explain that I simply wasn't prepared for this today and that we would have to just go over a few basics and then begin "normal lessons" the following week. Then I saw it. She had such excitement and expectation in her eyes and I could tell she was so happy to finally learn how to play the piano. That is when it dawned on me: This is my one shot to give this child a glimpse of how fun making music really can be, that all of the things that I had running through my mind of how ill-prepared I was really didn't matter in this moment. So, we began with the basics of fingering, hand position, layout of the white keys, etc. and then got down to the fun stuff. She already knew basic rhythm (thank you, beginning band teacher!) so I took a piece of notebook paper, wrote out the note names for "Mary Had a Little Lamb" with quarter notes, half notes, etc. over them and she played her first song. By the end of the lesson she was playing the treble clef melody of one of the songs in the level 2 book I had with me and telling me how much fun she was having.

I'm really not sure who learned more that day - the student or the teacher, but I do know that I left with a renewed sense of purpose and a reminder of just why I so love what I do!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Changes, changes, changes....

"Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are." - Bertolt Brecht

I can truthfully say that next to my faith, the only thing that has been consistent in my life over the past year has been change. From losing my mom to cancer, to my closest friend moving 2000 miles away right afterward, and most recently my packing up and leaving the church and students I love so that I could move back home to be with my dad and start a brand-new piano studio, there has been a LOT of change! However, I am excited to see what the future holds and very excited about teaching at home. Though I have been teaching for 20 years, this is the first time that I have actually taught at home and I am really looking forward to it.

I'm still in the process of unpacking and sorting all of my music (who knew one person could accumulate SO much music over the years?) and getting everything settled in so that I can begin lessons in two weeks. I've created my studio policy, started signing students up, and still tried to come up with studio goals for the upcoming school year. Although I will say, those are the most difficult to create since I don't yet know anything about the students with whom I will be working! I currently have just two goals for my studio this year. Goal number one is: "Aim for having 40 students enrolled by Spring!" I have posted flyers around our small town advertising lessons, have relied heavily on word-of-mouth advertisement, and of course relied on Facebook for a little help in that area as well. I will also be creating a studio website very soon. My other studio goal is: "Make sure that I am doing my very best to make each student's learning experience a good one!" For me this means paying careful attention to students' learning styles and introducing new concepts while integrating activities that will make the learning experience more enjoyable.

I know that there will be a few challenges with keeping home life and lessons separate but I truly believe that it will be a smooth transition. I have several ideas that I hope to try with my younger students, those who learn in a more tactile way. I also hope to help my older students establish goals and work dilligently toward those goals. If any of you currently teach at home I would certainly welcome advice concerning challenges or even benefits that I haven't thought of. And I promise to start blogging regularly when everything gets settled!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

It's so simple, really.....

 "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Henry Brooks Adams

I have been teaching piano for 20 years now and have tried all kinds of things to enhance my students' learning experience. What I have learned during all this time is no matter how lofty my goals as an instructor may be, at the end of the day it is about making lessons enjoyable and teaching concepts in a way that the students will understand AND enjoy the learning process!  Effective instruction involves much more than merely explaining a concept - if the student can learn the concept interactively they will retain it much more easily. I enjoy creating games or learning activities that reinforce whatever the lesson is about. I have found that this can often be accomplished easily and affordably by using simple items that most of us have on hand!

A while back I heard about a teacher using Scrabble tiles to teach beginners about locating various keys on the piano. The tiles fit perfectly on standard-sized piano keys and children greatly benefit from tactile learning. I located an old Scrabble game, pulled out all the A,B,C,D,E,F and G tiles and began using them with my beginner students. They LOVED it!  We then began playing a game where I put all of the tiles in a bag and put game markers at each end of the keyboard. The student and I would take turns drawing letters and moving our marker to whichever key name we drew. The first person to reach the middle of the keyboard was deemed the winner. Later, when we began learning about sharps and flats, we used these tiles again in a similar manner, except they had to put their marker on the key that was a half-step higher or lower than the letter they drew. I have a few students who are siblings and it is always fun to let them compete against each other with this one!

I am an advocate of using flash cards to help students learn note names, key signatures, etc. but I have found that if I help them create the flash cards themselves (using colored index cards) they retain the information even better. We have created flash cards for everything from note names to key signatures to primary chords and they always enjoy doing it. Then of course once they have created the flash cards and reviewed them we have various games and activities that help them remember each concept.

I would love to hear from other teachers about creative things you do with your students to reinforce musical concepts!