Book Review – Atomic Habits by James Clear

If you enjoy self-improvement and are looking to build some good habits into your life, then consider picking up James Clear’s famous book Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.

When this book first came out, I immediately put it into my Amazon shopping cart. A year later I finally purchased it, and a year after that I finally got around to reading it. (That’s par for the course for me. LOL) Of course, as soon as I read it I kicked myself for not reading it sooner.

In this post, I’ll share with you one big reason why I love this book, seven of the most impactful points I took away, and a few habits I’ve built both in my piano studio and personal life.

 

One Big Reason I Love This Book

One big thing I love about this book actually has a lot to do with its layout. 

Every chapter has a summary at the end that highlighted 6 major points to take away. This was an incredibly helpful visual recap. I tried to force myself to highlight just one or two of those points in order to focus my takeaways even more.

At the end of the book, he even provides bonus chapters for how you can apply these principles to business and to parenting.

Application, application, application. Check!

 

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Book Review – Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World

Do you have a stack of books you purchased (like two years ago) that you’re excited to read but never seem to get the time?

Yeah, me too.

Today, I’m soooo excited I can finally share thoughts from one of those books in my stack:

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant

I first heard about Originals when current MTNA President-Elect Karen Thickstun did a presentation inspired by it at MTNA Spokane 2019 (The Curious Careers of “Originals” and Independent Music Teachers).

Since I’ve always considered myself somewhat of an “original”, my curiosity was piqued and I immediately threw it into my Amazon cart.

In this post, I’ll share brief thoughts on why I love this book, why this non-piano-teaching book can still inspire us in our profession, and a few key quotes.

 

Why I Enjoyed It and You May Too

The biggest reason why I love this book is that the author, Adam Grant, manages to take what could be boring case studies and research and presents it in an engaging story-driven manner. You’ll read about anyone from Michelangelo to George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., and (of course) Steve Jobs.

He often debunks common misconceptions about what it means to be a purveyor of change. In eight chapters, he covers:

  1. The risky business of going against the grain
  2. The art and science of recognizing original ideas
  3. Speaking truth to power
  4. Strategic procrastination, and the first-mover disadvantage
  5. Creating and maintaining coalitions
  6. How siblings, parents, and mentors nurture originality
  7. The myths of strong cultures, cults, and devil’s advocates
  8. Managing anxiety, apathy, ambivalence, and anger

Often times, books give us all of this great information, and then you’re left trying to figure out for yourself what to do with that information or how to apply it to your situation.

Adam Grant has you covered. At the end of this book, he has an entire section titled “Actions for Impact.” He goes the extra mile and gives you practical applications. Broken into three areas, they are:

  1. Actions for individuals to generate, recognize, voice, and champion new ideas
  2. Actions for leaders to stimulate novel ideas and build cultures that welcome dissent.
  3. Recommendations for parents and teachers to help children become comfortable taking a creative or moral stand against the status quo

If you consider yourself an original “thinker” and love growing, learning, and thinking outside the box, or you’re looking to grow a music studio and need inspiration for what it means to be a non-conformist, then this book is for you.  

 

Taking Application as Studio Teachers

It really is true that no matter what our profession is, we can learn so much from other areas of life that apply to what we do on a daily basis. This is one of those books.

One of the biggest points I took away as a teacher came out of chapter six, where he addresses how siblings, parents, and teachers can literally mentor originality – it doesn’t just have to be innate. 

By explaining moral principles, parents encourage their children to comply voluntarily with rules that align with important values and to question rules that don’t. Good explanations enable children to develop a code of ethics that often coincides with societal expectations; when they don’t square up, children rely on the internal compass of values rather than the external compass of rules. (Page 165)

He also discussed the importance of highlighting how what we do affects others. Here are a few examples (pages 170, 169, 166 respectively):

Not this: “Don’t drink and drive.”
But this: “Don’t be a drunk driver.”

Not this: “Please don’t cheat.”
But this: “Please don’t be a cheater.”

Not this: “Hand hygiene prevents you from catching diseases.”
But this: “Hand hygiene prevents patients from catching diseases.”

(The last one is, of course, an ironic example at this point in our history. LOL.)

Children were found to do better when having their character praised rather than simply having their behavior praised.

So, as a teacher, perhaps one quick example we could reword would be something like this:

Not this: “That was very creative.”
But this: “You are very creative.”


P.S. I would love for us to all share some examples in the comments of how we can turn our praise from behavior to character!


 

9 Key Quote(s):

I was really hoping to share just 2 or 3, but I just couldn’t cut them down!

“The hallmark of originality is rejecting the default and exploring whether a better option exists.” (Page 7)

“Advocating for a new system often requires demolishing the old way of doing things.” (Page 13)

“They [originals] feel the same fear, the same doubt, as the rest of us. What sets them apart is that they take action anyway. They know in their hearts that failing would yield less regret than failing to try.” (Page 28)

“When we bemoan the lack of originality in the world, we blame it on the absence of creativity. If only people could generate more novel ideas, we’d all be better off. But in reality, the biggest barrier to originality is not idea generation—it’s idea selection.” (Page 31)

“It’s widely assumed that there’s a trade-off between quantity and quality—if you want to do better work, you have to do less of it—but this turns out to be false. In fact, when it comes to idea generation, quantity is the most predictable path to quality.” (Page 37)

“Many people fail to achieve originality because they generate a few ideas and then obsess about refining them to perfection.” (Page 37)

“Exposure increases the ease of processing. An unfamiliar idea requires more effort to understand. The more we see, hear, and touch it, the more comfortable we become with it, and the less threatening it is.” (Page 78)

“Being original doesn’t require being first. It just means being different and better.” (Page 105)

“In the quest for happiness, many of us choose to enjoy the world as it is. Originals embrace the uphill battle, striving to make the world what it could be.” (Page 242)

 

I hope you will find this book an interesting and inspiring read as I did! You can find it on Amazon or any other place that sells books! 🙂

 

Book Review – Discovering Music from the Inside Out: An Autobiography by Edwin E. Gordon

Are you interested in music education?

If so, you may consider adding Discovering Music from the Inside Out: An Autobiography by Edwin E. Gordon to your reading list.

In this review, I’ll briefly share why I love this book, a few key quotes, and some fun and interesting facts. 

In this autobiography, Dr. Gordon (1927-2015) shares his journey as a musician, music educator, and researcher. Through these experiences and influences, he began to question how music is conventionally taught, ultimately leading him to become the “founding father” of Music Learning Theory (MLT).

If you’re looking to learn more about Music Learning Theory, then this book should be one of the first books you grab. Hearing Dr. Gordon talk about his own experiences and thought-process that brought him to research more deeply how we learn music is a lovely soft primer into what can often feel like the “daunting” world of MLT.

That being said, I strongly believe that you don’t have to be interested in MLT or even necessarily enjoy autobiographies for this book to be a really good choice.

Anyone who is simply a curious music educator will find his journey inspiring, thought-provoking, and even relatable.

I found it to be quite a delightful read and loved that it was an easily-consumable 130 pages.

 

Key quote:

Teaching is from the outside in whereas learning is from the inside out. (Page 102)

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Three Books Every Piano Teacher Should Read

Did you know there was a whole page devoted to books for piano teachers on Piano Pantry?

It includes more than 30 books that can help you in your career as an independent music teacher.

I’ve divided them into seven categories to make your browsing easier:

  • Music Education and Teaching Inspiration
  • Music Business / Entrepreneurship for Independent Music Teachers
  • Elementary-Intermediate Piano Pedagogy & Repertoire Guides/References
  • Intermediate-Advanced Piano Technique & Repertoire Guides/References
  • Music Learning Theory (Introductions)
  • Music Learning Theory (In-Depth)
  • Faith and the Arts

In this post, besides letting you know about the Books for Piano Teachers page, I thought I would share more details on the three books that are not only my favorite but are ones that I strongly feel every piano teacher should read.

Basically, if you were only to read three books on music teaching in your lifetime, let it be these three.

I’ve included three things for the three books I’m highlighting in this post:

1. The book descriptions are directly from Amazon. (Yes, I am an Amazon affiliate, which means I will earn a small percentage if you purchase through the link, but it won’t cost you anymore.)

2.  A statement on why I love the book.

3.  A listing of 6-7 of my favorite quotes/excerpts that I feel best define the content of the book.

 

#1 Intelligent Music Teaching

Intelligent Music Teaching:  Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction by Robert Duke

Description: In this collection of insightful essays, the author describes fundamental principles of human learning in the context of teaching music. The individual essays are written in an engaging, conversational style and outline the elements of intelligent, creative teaching. Duke effectively explains how teachers can meet the needs of individual students from a wide range of abilities by understanding more deeply how people learn. Teachers and interested parents alike will benefit from this informative and highly readable book.

Why I love it: The first sentence to the preface of this book says it all. “This collection of essays is not about how to each. It’s about how to think about teaching and learning.”

Favorite Quotes:

Teaching is neither necessary nor sufficient for learning. People can learn without being deliberately taught and a teacher can inform, instruct, explain, and demonstrate in the presence of students without the students’ learning what the teacher intends to teach. (Page 10)

Learning to play or sing any scale, any exercise or any piece is never the real goal of music instruction…The real goal… is for students to become superb musicians, doing all of the things that superb musicians do, irrespective of what is being played or sung at the moment… The far-reaching goal remains the same from the first day of instruction to the time when the student reaches the highest levels of artistic musicianship. In this sense, the goals of the lesson plan never change, regardless of the skills or experience level of the students you’re teaching. Only the contexts in which the goals are taught (i.e. the activities, the music) change over time. (Page 29)

Students need to learn to study effectively, to practice effectively, to think effectively. So, when and where will they learn that? In class, with us. Not by our telling them what to do when they’re alone in a practice room or in a carrel in the library, but by our leading them through the very activities that we expect them to do on their own in our absence. (Page 61)

…the decisions of what to teach when are central to artistic teaching. (Page 103)

In order to become independent thinkers and doers, learners must eventually use information and skills in situations in which they have had little or no prior experience. (Page 141)

All of this suggests a redefinition of what it means to learn something. Much of what we learn as part of formal education is presented to us in very limited contexts, and we have few opportunities to practice applying what we know and can do in contexts beyond those in which the knowledge and skills are initially taught. But if the goal of educaton is that students learn to use knowledge and skills effectively in the future, even in unfamiliar circumstances, then transfer must be definited as the goal of instruction. The goal is no longer the acqusition of knowledge and skills but the application of knowledge and skills in situations that have not been taught explicitly. For the developing musician, the goal is no longer to play a given piece beautifully, but to play beautifully (period). (Page 157)

 

#2 The Ways Children Learn Music

The Ways Children Learn Music: An Introduction and Practical Guide to Music Learning Theory by Eric Bluestine

Description (from GIA):  The perfect introduction to Edwin E. Gordon’s music learning theory!

With clear and compelling language, Eric Bluestine sheds light on the most vexing issues in music education—all the while drawing from the contributions of perhaps the most influential thinker in the field today, Edwin E. Gordon. In the process, Bluestine unlocks the mystery that frees a child’s mind to think on its own musical terms.

Why I love this book: Please don’t let the fact that it’s an “introduction to Music Learning Theory” deter you in any way! Even if you weren’t necessarily looking to learn more about MLT, music teachers of every instrument and philosophy will get great value from and depth of understanding of how to teach music from this book.

In all my years of music education, this is the first book I read that really addressed how to teach “music.” That is, how to understand the sound that music is and not just the symbols (a.k.a. music “notation”) that we often define as teaching music.

Favorite Quotes:

I hold the elegantly simple belief that learning to understand music is its own reward. (Page xiv)

One of the basic tenets of Music Learning Theory is that children do not audiate intervals; they audiate functional tonal patterns made of intervals…In short, we don’t audiate pitches, or even intervals. We audiate structured pitches, pitches that we organize into functional patterns that relate to a tonal center. (Page 42)

Music education could be separated into four topics. They are 1) the musical and pedagogical principles that give rise to Music Learning Theory “irrefutable truths about music and music education”; 2) Music Learning Theory itself; 3) learning methods; and 4) classroom teaching (techniques, musical examples, and materials).  Now, think about these in a pyramid shape with #1 as the larger foundation and #4 as the top of the pyramid. (Page 60)

The nature of Music Learning Theory is that one cannot use it directly. To use it, a music teacher must design a method based on it, and then use techniques, materials, and musical examples to get the method off the ground. (Page 75)

A child is not a miniature adult! (Page 88)

If we are to help our students to become independent musicians and musical thinkders – our most important task – then we must encourage them to generalize what they hear. (Page 149)

 

#3 Coffee with Ray

Coffee with Ray: A Simple Story with a Life-Changing Message for Teachers and Parents by Nick Ambrosino

Description: Through the eyes of a simple piano teacher, learn the strategies to remove any self-made learning obstacles so that you can achieve all you put your mind to.

After ten years of teaching piano, Matt had become completely disillusioned with his career choice. Teaching was increasingly more frustrating, students were more difficult to motivate, and coping with the stress had become much more challenging. He was on the verge of quitting until he decided to have a cup of coffee at a café suggested by his GPS. That’s where he met Ray, and everything started to change.

An engaging, funny, and thought-provoking parable written as creative non-fiction, Coffee With Ray will introduce readers to revolutionary ways of communicating that will help make students become more accountable and teachers more skilled at facilitating learning.

Why I love the book: I especially love the fact that this book is an easy read. It’s simply a direct peek into the life of one teacher and is a beautiful example of how we can learn to be better at our profession by learning from others, not in our profession. This would be a great summer read. It feels casual but is still directed toward being a better teacher.

Favorite Quotes:

Teachers tend to think about teaching a subject. When you redefine yourself as a facilitator, you become responsible for facilitating your student through the learning of how to teach himself. (Page 61)

Instead of telling my students what they should do, I offered suggestions and asked them to take responsibility for choosing goals that felt best for them. (Page 102)

I asked her what she had accomplished this week that she felt proud of (I found that to be a better and more effective way of starting the lesson than asking them if they had practiced.) (Page 102)

[The last four excerpts are focused on using “but” vs. “and”.]

I like the way you made contact with that pitch, Mike, and now you’re ready to turn your back foot. (Page 74)

The point is that if you validate someone’s performance, as Dominic did, and then you use the word ‘but’ to create a change in the performance, the student never remembers what came before the ‘but.’ “If, however, you use the word ‘and’ as the invitation for change after the validation, the student feels he has earned the right to go onto the next part of his training and he will both remember the validation AND create the change. (Page 75)

You feel as though there is always something to fix. While that may be true, the word ‘but’ creates a feeling of ‘less than.’ It creates a closed condition for learning as well as an ‘undesirable’ feeling. The word ‘and,’ however, creates a feeling of greatness, of progress. It creates an opening for learning and that is a much more desirable feeling. (Page 76)

Everything you have ever accomplished was at one time outside of your comfort zone. Yet, by labeling it as hard you put a question mark on your ability to learn or accomplish it. By labeling it as new you never question your ability but, instead, actually acknowledge that you are capable. (Page 78)

 


Do you have any favorites? Share in the comments!

 

Recommended Reads 2017

Although I am an avid reader, several years ago, amidst grad school and the early years of opening my piano studio, I found myself reading very little (except what was assigned in school). A few years following, I still found myself continually saying how much I missed reading, so I finally set my foot down for myself and said – no more.

Each year, I set a goal for how many books I want to read and increase it by 1-2 books per year. In 2017, the goal was 20, and I hit it spot on. Next year, the goal will be 21. See? Baby steps are manageable. Before I know it, I’ll be reading 30 books a year.

After being inspired by the following quotes…

“If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ~Oscar Wilde

“It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.” ~C.S. Lewis

…I vowed this year to begin including re-reads in my list. The goal was to re-read five books (25%), but unfortunately, I only re-read one (Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert). That’s OK, though; I just reminded myself that it’s about baby steps. So, my goal for 2018 will be that 2 of the 21 books will be re-reads.

I hope you can find some inspiration for your own personal book list below. Let me know what you’re reading and some of your top recommendations from this past year in the comments!

 

The Savvy Musician by David Cutler

Beware, this book is more of a manual than a pleasure read. 🙂 It is absolutely chock full of ideas for thinking outside the box as an independent music teacher. New teachers and those looking to build their businesses or explore new income streams will find this book useful.

 

The Success Factor in Piano Teaching by Elvira Pearce

This is another book that is especially good for new teachers. For seasoned teachers, it will feel like a good refresher course.

 

Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire by Mirelle Guiliano

I really enjoy Mirelle Guiliano’s style of writing. Years ago, after reading her first book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, I wanted to read her two follow-up books, French Women Don’t Get Facelifts (listed below) and this one.

While Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire was geared toward women, specifically in the business world, I still found it an enjoyable and interesting read.

A popular and best-selling novel and now a major motion picture, Wonder is a beautiful story of a little boy with facial anomalies. We can all learn something by seeing life through his eyes. I even keep this one in my little studio library for students to check out.

 

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (re-read)

This was my first “re-read.” I read Gilbert’s book when it first came out in 2007, and while I already knew the stories in the book, they still came to life and were as pleasurable to read as they were ten years ago.

 

This has been on my to-read list for a while. It’s a very motivating book choice – especially for the beginning of the year when many set their sights on goals for the new year.

 

Intuitive Eating by Elyse Resch and Evelyn

A friend recommended this book to me. While I don’t agree with their philosophy of food and eating completely, there’s a lot of practical advice and principles for having a healthy relationship with food I gleaned from this book. P.S. It’s one of those books I didn’t read in full but skimmed a lot of sections.

 

Again, I like to stick with the same authors, hence book #2 in 2017 by Ms. Guiliano. She has a lot of great suggestions for personal care in general, including specific products.

Those that I purchased and LOVE include this hairdryer (which is so sturdy I’m convinced it will last me 20 years), this apple cider shampoo that I use on the weekends as a sort of “cleanser” from my regular shampoo, and this foundation makeup brush.

 

Unceasing Worship: Biblical Perspectives on Worship and the Arts by Harold M. Best

The first book I read by Harold Best was in an undergrad music and worship class I took. I remember thoroughly enjoying the book Music Through the Eyes of FaithThe author is Dean Emeritus at Wheaton College Conservatory of Music and a Past President of the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). The book took me quite a while to get through as it requires deep thinking and slow reading to help you absorb all he is saying, but it is very worth reading. It is already on my read-again list.

 


What are you reading?

 

My 2016 Reading List

“I wish I had more time to read.”

Have you ever had this thought?

 

I do. All-the-time. If we’re being really honest here, I’ll probably always feel this way because as far as reading goes, I simply love it.

As we were closing out 2015 and about to enter 2016, I decided it was time to put a stop to my continual pining over this same thought.

“I wish I had more time to read.”

“I wish I had more time to read.”

“I wish I had more time to read.”

OK – time to do something! What? I had to get intentional. Continue reading