Saturday, October 3, 2009

A busy fall so far!

August and September have been very busy. The new semester began in August, with our combined teaching load at 39 hours. With several tunings a week for me and with Robyn's job at Mountain View Academy, this is normally a very manageable schedule, but a couple of things have made the last two months extra busy. The first is our rehearsal schedule for our upcoming duo recital. The second is that the piano we have been piano-sitting for the past 7 years has been called home to its owner in Wisconsin. That has meant piano shopping and piano moving. The third, is that UNC has yet again lost a piano technician, which meant that I had more tuning work than I expected. All of the above has conspired to steal away every bit of down time we would have had over the past two months.

Putting together a Duet recital has been lot of work. Practicing, rehearsing, booking the hall, and advertising have kept us quite busy. We are really enjoying playing together though, and have already begun planning our next recital which will be for two pianos.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Private Piano Lessons vs. Online Piano Lessons

There are easily more than 50 different websites offering some form of "online piano lessons". There must be a fairly large number of people attempting to learn how to play the piano this way and my ears hurt just thinking about it. But, who knows, maybe in another 10 years, we will be hearing great things from countless performing artists who have learned to play only by taking piano courses online. I highly doubt it, though. Here are some reasons that I think private lessons are still the best way to learn how to play the piano.

1. Private lessons provide intelligent, instant feedback.
Once computers achieve sentience, online lessons may give traditional teachers a run for their money, but until then, the best that a program of online lessons can provide is information, video, and recordings. While these are great tools for enhancing one's knowledge and understanding of music, there is no substitute for a thoughtful and observant teacher who can catch problems as they are happening and correct them.

2. Expression!
Music is best when played with appropriate expression. Good luck getting any feedback about this aspect from online lessons.

3. Customized Experience.
Teaching privately involves a lot of give and take. A great (or even a good) teacher can evaluate your current skill and knowledge and help to fill your most immediate needs immediately. Online lessons are not able to do this in any real way.

4. Personal attention.
The value of a working student/teacher relationship is one that is difficult to overstate. A full hour of personal attention every week from a teacher who has no other interest than to help you become the best at playing a musical instrument that you love has tremendous psychological benefits. Even a simple pat on the back for a job well done is something that online lessons can't duplicate.

5. Non-verbal transmission of skills and knowledge.
My most effective teaching occurs without speaking a word. There is no faster way to fix technical issues or to communicate interpretive subtleties than to show the student what they are currently doing, and then show them new possibilities for movement or expression. In fact, frequently, this is the only effective way to address musical and technical problems at the piano.

6. Creative give and take.
Playing piano is an interpretive art. It is not an exact science. If this were not the case, then there would be no reason to play the piano in the first place. What would be the point? Even the simplest of pieces offer many possibilities for interpretation. A teacher can help you decide which of your ideas are worth exploring, and which ones test the limits of good taste. Furthermore, a teacher can help you discover ideas that you would never have thought of on your own.

The value of private lessons far exceeds anything online lessons could hope to offer. There is no substitute for a great teacher.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Top ten reasons to stick with piano over the summer

Every year we have a few students that decide they want to "take a break" from piano for the summer. The upcoming summer activity schedule can quickly get pretty thick. First there is that trip to the Caribbean coming up, then baseball, or swimming, or tennis, or soccer, or all of the above. Well here are some arguments for sticking with piano through the summer that may have slipped your mind while you were off shopping for shorts and sun-tan lotion.

  1. Competition! Students who continue with piano lessons over the summer have a huge edge over those that don't. Consider this: Our summer session is 2 months long, and it takes about a month (sometimes two) to get back into the swing of things after such a long break. So every year, the students who continue with lessons over the summer will be 3 months ahead of where they would have been if they had taken a "break". That means that a student who misses every summer for 4 years will be a full year behind where they could have been if they had continued through the summer.
  2. Maintenance. Think about other things that without a certain degree of maintenance would simply fall apart, or worse, if we decided to "take a break". Have you ever quit a membership to a gym with the intention of starting up again? How did that work out? Well, students who don't have lessons all summer not only lose momentum, they get really rusty. Muscles used in creating music at the piano atrophy and the patterns of fine motor coordination begin to fade. In fact, after two months of neglect, their playing can take two months to recover. Two very long and painful months for all involved. I'm sure you can imagine what this might do to a student's motivation.
  3. Focus. Even though summers can be filled with lots of extra activities, think about all of the things you don't have to do! No school and no homework means 6, 7, 8 or more hours a day suddenly free! What are you going to do some of that time? Practice! Not only that, your practicing won't be constantly interrupted by thoughts like, "I have to remember to finish my science project", or "How on Earth DO you spell 'podzolization' anyway?" Summer is likely to be the most productive 2 months of practicing all year!
  4. Fun! Student's schedules are generally much more relaxed in the summer, allowing for the possibility of more group activities like duets or chamber music. Since students have more time available for practicing, they might add that fun Star Wars or Hannah Montana piece they have always wanted to play. As long as you commit to practicing your regular lesson stuff, your teacher should be on board!
  5. New Projects. Summer is the perfect time to start projects that, for many students, just aren't feasible during the school year. Students may decide to compose a piano sonata or start work on playing a piano concerto. They could pick a composer and listen to his or her complete works. The possibilities are endless!
  6. Extra lessons! Another possibility is scheduling up to 6 extra lessons during the Summer. But the cool thing is, these extra lessons can be totally different than your regular lesson. Students can use this extra time to get help with their summer project (see above), or we could spend those extra lessons focusing on a special area of interest. Some ideas include intensive studies of rhythm, sight reading, composition, music history, improvisation, listening, harmony, Beethoven, technique, tuning, and more. The important thing to realize is that your hour a week lesson really only allows us to graze the surface of the great depths of music. We could easily fill several hours a day just covering essential musical skills.
  7. Keep your spot! Some of our students don't realize that if you quit piano during the summer, you run the risk of losing your spot permanently! We have a maximum of 50 hours a week (although we try to keep it down to 45 or so) to dedicate to teaching students after school, and we always have students waiting to get in. So when a student leaves, the spot goes to the next person in line. Just like everyone else, we have bills to pay and we need to keep our studio full in order to keep our rates low and our heads above water.
  8. Camp! Camp is one of the funnest things about taking lessons with Gould and Fall Piano. Just ask our students who do it every year! We offer two, week-long summer camps every year available only to students registered for summer session. While we have made exceptions to the registration rule in the past, we are no longer allowing students to quit for the summer and still do camp. If you are not registered, you are no longer a student of Gould and Fall Piano, and you lose any benefits that go with registration.
  9. Continuity. The loss of structure that comes with summer vacation can be a challenge. "Huh?" you say, "what can be better that no school?" Well, after a couple of weeks, having little or no schedule can mean boredom. Furthermore, continuous piano lessons can provide a bridge that makes the transition from school to summer and back again a little less shocking. It also helps students stay motivated, because they don't have to deal with the atrophy that occurs with an extended vacation. (see Maintenance above).
  10. We miss you if you leave! Believe it or not, we like you. We love teaching our students, and we miss them if they leave. Teaching and playing piano is not just our livelihood, it is our life. When students leave, our long-term dreams for them are at best postponed, and at worst cancelled. We invest not only our time and money into teaching our students, we invest ourselves. We ache when students leave.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Piano Olympics

In August, our students began the tenuous track many Olympic athletes have to endure.  Long hours of practicing, and many more spent studying music theory.  The last Saturday of each month, our students who are in Kindergarten - 5th grade, have had a heart pounding, edge of your seat competition brewing with the  "Gould and Fall Piano Olympics".  
Each class came up with their own team/country name. The boys class came up with the "Do Re Birds" vs. the "Musical Demented Doom Chamber" or MDDC for short.  The girls class has a heated competition between the "Egyptian Tones", and the "Bass States".  So far, the "MDDC" is in the lead for the boys class, and in the girls class, the "Egyptian Tones" have a hefty lead over the "Bass States".  We have one Master Class left this semester and anything can happen!
The winners from the GIRLS class will compete against the winners of the BOYS class on Saturday, May 16th from 11:00am - 1:00pm.  We will know which teams will compete after April 25th.
The winners competition will be a non stop hour of fun activities including:  Note naming, rhythm bee, animal antic improv's, do re mi watch your step, and more....

Achievement Day

On Saturday, April 18th, many of our students will take part in the annual Greeley Area Music Teacher's Association Achievement Day.  This is open to students of all levels, and from Kindergarten to 12th grade.  They have the opportunity to hear feedback from another teacher, polish and prepare 2 pieces, and complete at least 2 music related options.  Our students receive positive feedback from their evaluator, as well as suggestions for improvement.  Once all the requirements are complete, students receive a Colorado State Music Teacher's Association certificate of participation.