Music Labs in the Independent Studio: A Brief History

(and a big announcement!)

Do you remember when you first started hearing about the idea of including music labs as part of private music instruction in the independent studio? Is the idea something you’ve always been aware of or do you recall a certain point in time when you noticed the idea emerging?

Depending on how long you’ve been teaching, I’m sure each of us will have a different answer to this question.

From my own recollection, my piano lessons growing up were fairly traditional. When I first started teaching piano right out of high school (ca. 1998-2001; I can’t remember what year I took my first student! 🙁 ), I had never heard of music labs.

Since my first degree and career was in choral education, not piano pedagogy, I’m not aware of the exact point in history when music labs became popular to include in the independent music studio. I recall being vaguely aware that it was a “thing” around 2005.

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What I Learned in my 11 months as a Worship Team-Leader

I’ll never forget that day. I was at the 2017 MTNA Conference in Baltimore, Maryland when I got a text from a good friend letting us know that a big announcement would be made at our church that Sunday. It sounded really, really serious.

Since I wouldn’t be there, I called him immediately and was shocked to hear that our Senior Minister, who had been with nearly 30 years, was being let go. (The nitty-gritty of the reason why, of course, is not pertinent to this story, so we’ll skip over those details.)

After hanging up the phone, my next outing at the conference was brunch with my good friend (and author of The Varsity Musician’s Playbook), Christina Whitlock, and Wendy Stevens.  Bless their hearts, they were very sympathetic to my blubbering shock at the information I had just received.

That is one of my life moments I will never forget.

Fast-forward just over a year. It’s now the summer of 2018.

Our church was going through a formal “transition” process with a company called Interim Pastor Ministries. It was a long process, but the results were well worth it in the end.

During this time, a person in our congregation who had been a worship leader in a previous career had been filling in as our worship leader. After a year he was ready to step down, but our church still had not hired a new pastor and wanted to wait until the new pastor came before hiring other staff.

Thus, I was next in line as the most obvious person to ask to lead the worship team.

This is another one of those life-moments where it throws you a complete curveball.

MY plans for 2018-2019 were to vamp up my work here on Piano Pantry, open up a shop, etc. His plans were otherwise, however, and I am so glad I took the fork in the road.

 

The Job Situation

Since this was a temporary situation and I already had a job playing for a small Lutheran church in our town, the elders wanted to ensure I did not have to quit my job to take on this role. Thus, it was set up that I was the “coordinator” of the team, not necessarily the weekly “up-front” worship leader.

My duties included scheduling the team, choosing music, putting together all the chord charts and sound files, and rehearsing the band and vocalists every Thursday night and Sunday morning. (Plus all the other little things that get wrapped up into it that you can’t really articulate).

On Sunday mornings, I would arrive at our church at 7:00 am to prep, rehearsed the worship team from 8:00-9:15, left to play at the Lutheran Church at 9:30 (while our worship team led the 9:30 service), then came back and attended our 11:00 service with my husband.

Every 6 weeks or so, I would take a week off from the Lutheran Church (I just recorded the music for them on a Yamaha Clavinova) and would lead worship at my church. Otherwise, we had 3-5 team members we rotated as worship leaders from week to week.

It’s been a whirlwind, but the past 11 months has taught me a lot as it’s been a new and unique experience for me. The only other time I’ve been in charge of music in a church was for two summers after I graduated high school. I moved out of my parent’s house and lived with my aunt and uncle so I could lead music at my uncle’s small church. That was 20 years ago though, and things have changed quite a bit!

This week is my last week in this role and I thought it might be nice to share with you some of the things I learned not only so you might glean some tips, but as kind of a final recap for myself mentally.

It’s that whole “putting a period on the end of a sentence” thing in life where you mark the end of one venture before moving onto another.

Here are a few things I’ve learned over the past year:

 

1) Appreciate the person who is leading.

Just like a lot of things in life, it’s easy to nit-pick and finds fault if things aren’t exactly the way you would like them. We tend to like things catered to our exact tastes.

There is so much more that goes into the role of worship leader – I had no idea. I learned that I need to appreciate the person who is in that role more and be positive and supportive of that person, even if their “style” or the way they operate things is not exactly the way I would do things.

 

2) Plan with Planning Center Services

Planning Center is a website for churches focused on managing different areas of the church such as member databases, check-ins for child programs, church event management, and so much more.

One of those areas is Planning Center Services which is designed to organize all things worship-team including team schedules, weekly planning, and file-sharing. We have our own song database, can organize our songs with tags and can see a history of when and how often we’ve done each song. I don’t know what I would have done without it!

Planning Center Services also has a sheet music app called Music Stand that links to your P.C.S. account and syncs your Order of Service playlist so it will create a set list from your service order. The best part is that if you make any updates to the files, it will automatically update in Music Stand as well.

It even has the ability to connect everyone’s iPad on the team to one “session” so one person can turn everyone’s page at the same time. (This feature never worked for us quite the way we wanted but it’s still a cool feature!)

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Giveaway!

Piano Lessons: Music, Love & True Adventures

Today I have a giveaway for you!

A few years ago I read the book “Piano Lessons: Music, Love, & True Adventures” by Noah Adams. In my quest to always minimize “things” in my possession, I was looking over a few books I owned and asking myself whether they were ones I would want to read again and take with me into my future.

This book, while I recall enjoying it, is not one that I necessarily would need to read more than once.

It’s a memoir by Noah Adams, long-time co-host of NPR’s All Things Considered. He writes of his journey with learning to play the piano over the course of a year.

I’m not a big reader of memoirs and biographies, but if you are, I’m sure you will find this book delightful!

Please keep in mind, what I’m giving away is my used copy. It’s paperback with slight wear on the outside and a few highlights throughout.

Rather than just donate it to a bookstore, I thought one of my readers might enjoy it. (It will be mailed within two business days of the giveaway ending via media mail at no cost to you.)

In order to enter this giveaway, please comment on this post and answer the simple question: Do you enjoy memoirs? (Even if you don’t, you can still win! 🙂 )

You can gain an extra entry by visiting the Piano Pantry page on Facebook.

Only those with a U.S. mailing address can win.

The drawing opens at 12:00 am on Tuesday, April 23 and ends at 12:00 am on Tuesday, April 30. The winner will be randomly selected.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Are you a reader? Check out more recommended resources on Piano Pantry!

Books for Piano Teachers

Books for Piano Teachers interested in Music Learning Theory (MLT)

 

147 Tunes to Harmonize

Traditional, Popular, and Christmas

Over my years of teaching, I’ve come across several lists of tunes to harmonize using primary chords. Often, however, they’re either not very comprehensive, or they include a lot of tunes that students these days have never heard because they only include folk tunes and a couple of Christmas songs.

Last summer I started a studio-wide harmonization focus that lasted through the summer and fall. After continually having students look at the song list and shake their head that they didn’t know many of the songs, I finally decided it was time to compile my own list.

This comprehensive list includes 147 tunes (traditional, popular, and Christmas). The list progresses from tunes you can harmonize using only the tonic chord, to tunes that use four chords (I, IV, V, vi).

The tunes are, of course, mostly in major (because, well, we live in the Western World), but there are some minor tunes as well.

Keep in mind, these are not tunes tied to any particular chord progression such as I-IV-V-I or I-vi-IV-V. It’s up to the person harmonizing to figure out what chords to use and when.

First, let’s talk a little about what it means to harmonize and how to teach harmonization.

 

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Top Posts from 2018

The Best of the Best

 

It’s that time of year! Yep, it’s time for a recap of life, including the life of Piano Pantry! In this post you will find:
  • Most popular posts written in 2018
  • Most popular posts/pages of all time
  • Most read Friday Finds of 2018
  • My personal favorite from 2018
  • A month-by-month recap of posts from 2018

 

Most Popular Posts Written in 2018

#1 Piano Teacher Must-Have’s: A Minimalist’s List

#2 Candy Jar Contest Printable

#3 Manipulatives and Games for Private and Group Lessons: A Master List

#4 One-Click Calendar: Your Annual Studio Calendar Simplified [Video]

#5 Back-to-Teaching: Six Easy Recipes for the Week Ahead

 

Most Popular Posts/Pages of All Time

#1 Assignment Sheet Central

#2 Piano Safari Stuffed Animal Shopping Guide

#3 Piano Teacher Must-Have’s: A Minimalist’s List

#4 Candy Jar Contest Printable

#5 Evernote: An Independent Piano Teacher’s Handbook, Part 1

 

Most-Read Friday Find of 2018

#1 = Friday Find #100 (of course, it was the big recap and giveaway winner announcement! 🙂 )

 

My Personal Favorite From 2018

While this was not one of the top posts, the addition of the monthly “Secret Letter” was the biggest addition to Piano Pantry this year and the one thing that has excited me (and still excites me) the most.

Writing them is a highlight of my month (and hopefully it’s a highlight for readers as well!). They feel like a special piece of me delivered right into your hands.

If you would like to subscribe, you can do so here.

 

Month-by-Month Recap of Posts from 2018

January
March
April
May
June
July
August
September
October
November
December
  • Piano Teacher World: A Year in Recap: 2018
  • This “Top Posts from 2018: The Best of the Best”  🙂

 


If you want to check out the recap posts from previous years check out:

Piano Pantry’s Best of 2016.

Piano Pantry’s Top Posts from 2017

 

Piano Teacher World

A Year in Recap: 2018

 

Last year (2017), after being inspired by a post written by Leila Viss in 2016, I decided to sit down and think through everything that happened not only in my world as an independent piano teacher but just in general in what I would call “Piano Teacher World”.

Writing posts like these the last couple of years have been very enlightening, encouraging and really just a healthy exercise in gratitude in general.

The idea behind the “Piano Teacher World” recap is to take a look back at significant news, happenings, and impact in the world of independent piano teachers. The final part of this post also includes resources that have made a direct impact on my own teaching.

I tried to be as thorough as I could and will admit that the list is much smaller than it was last year. Be sure and share in the comments if there was anything you would add to the list!

For the sake of being thorough, I asked for recommendations on multiple Facebook groups and received a lot of excellent feedback on The Art of Piano Pedagogy group regarding overall trends – all of which I agree with. Let’s start with those. (If you’re interested in reading all the comments, which are much more specific, check out the full post here.)

 

2018 Trends

1 | Declining or leveled-off interest in iPads and apps. Better balance and understanding in the role they play in lessons.

2 | Teaching and learning piano online is becoming more and more viable and easily available.

3 | A shift in attitude and growing excitement toward rote teaching/learning.

4 | Increased curiosity and interest in Music Learning Theory and how it can impact piano teaching, not just Early Childhood Music.

5 | Continually improved quality and ease-of-availability in regards to self-published material.

6 | Rising interested in quality blogs, podcasts, and online communities.

7|  Continual professionalization of the field.

8 | A renewed interest in pedagogy outside of academia.

9 | Ongoing concerns with declining membership in professional organizations such as MTNA.

Also mentioned in the list, while not a “trend,” was Brenda Wristen and Lora Deahl’s book Adaptive Strategies for Small-Handed Pianists (Published November 2017).

 

In Piano Teacher News

ELISA MILNE opened a shop on her website.


Launch of CYBER CONSERVATORY that accompanies the app Super Score.

A teacher friend shared this one specifically with me. She has always loved Marvin Blickenstaff’s method “Music Pathways” and Paul Sheftel’s MIDI accompaniment for the series. She says there are lots of good compositions by Lynn Freeman Olson. 


THE FRANCIS CLARK CENTER is continuing to see changes as Dr. Pamela Pike was named the new Editor in Chief/Chief Content Director and Dr. Andrea McAlister was appointed as the new Director of Content Curation and Senior Editor for Clavier Companion. 

They also launched a Facebook group for subscribers called Piano Teach Learn.

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Teaching Syncopation with Rocket Man

On the assignment sheet I’m currently using with students there is a practice reflection that also includes a space for students to write down a piece they would like to learn.

“What piece would you like to learn?” is one of my favorite questions on the practice diary. Not only is it an opportunity for the student to communicate their musical interests with me, but it’s opened my eyes to new music. It’s amazing to see how many students push themselves to learn to play repertoire much harder than their “level” – especially when it’s a song they really want to play.

Giving students some autonomy and choice in music is also important for retention. For more on that, check out the post: A Picture Number is Worth a Thousand Words: Studio Retention-Rate Marketing.

One of my students who plays around the late-intermediate level recently wanted to play Rocket Man. Musicnotes.com is my go-to place for all individual song requests. The arrangement I found for her has proven to be an excellent study in syncopation and is challenging her rhythm skills.

Perhaps you have a student who may enjoy it as well?

Here is the arrangement of Rocketman on Musicnotes.com.

Just for fun, here’s the Offical Music Video for Rocket Man.

 

Christmas Collaborations

Recommended Piano Ensemble Music

Perhaps more than any other time of year, Christmas is a time when we, as a society, make music together the most. Whether it’s caroling, singing Christmas music in church, or as a family in the car while you drive to grandma’s house, there’s just something about Christmas music that encourages music-making together.

So if with our voices, why not also with our instruments? Each year, the week before Christmas we have group classes in my studio. These classes are the perfect opportunity for ensemble playing.

In this post, I will share a few go-to resources I use in my piano studio so my students can make music as a group. The books and music mentioned in this post do not include duet repertoire, or piano trio’s (such as piano, cello, violin), only piano ensembles of three or more.

I’m lucky enough to have four keyboards in my studio we can use which is, of course, ideal but not always realistic. If you don’t have four keyboards, don’t despair – there are options here for you and ways you can equip your students to make music together!

Speaking of Christmas piano ensembles…perhaps one of the most watched on YouTube (with currently 18,950,525 views), is the Piano Guys’ version of Angels We Have Heard on High with 32 fingers and 8 thumbs.

Granted, this is exactly a “piano ensemble” but it felt fitting to include in this post because it’s so incredible.

 

Downloadable Sheet Music Ensembles

Susan Paradis

Susan Paradis has several Piano Trios available on her website.

 

She also has a Jingle Bells Duet with Rhythm Ensemble that, while it’s a piano duet, includes an ensemble of 4 rhythm instruments. This is a fun ensemble to use during group class with elementary students especially.

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Fun Postcards for Marketing Your Studio

Do you want a simple and effective way to market your studio?

Here it is…

Postcards. 

That’s it. Simple, right?

You’re probably putting the brakes on right now thinking…

“Now wait a minute, Amy, why in the world would I bother with snail mail? What do postcards have to do with me getting more students?”

It’s called in-studio marketing – building rapport with the families you have.

I’m not here to talk specifics about why you should send postcards to your students today (you can catch more details on the “why” in the post Marketing with Postcards: It’s Not What You Think!)

What I AM here to do is to share some fun postcard ideas I came across in my quest for this years postcards!

 

Colorful Mandala Postcard

The first few years of sending my student’s postcards, I just bought packs of postcards from Arts United Supply.

Last year though it was time to change things up, so I used Susan Hong’s beautiful Mandala Postcards. It’s a downloadable studio license for $10 and you get both the color version and the black and white version which would be fun for students to color.

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New Sheets Added to Assignment Sheet Central

(Including My Favorite!)

Do you get tired of looking at the same assignment sheet week after week?

I do!

You no longer have a good excuse to use the same-old boring assignment sheet week after week, year after year.

Why?

You now have 21 – yes, that’s what I said – 21 different assignment sheets to choose from in one location here on Piano Pantry as I just added six new assignment sheets to Assignment Sheet Central.

To make it easy for you, I just copied them here!

Psst…the last one (#21) is my current favorite. I’m using it for the second year in a row (after tweaking it of course! :-))

 

Assignment Sheet-16 | Sticker Boxes

Assignment sheet for younger students includes a fun clip art images, six practice items, and an area for additional assignments all with sticker boxes.

Includes:
  • 6 Practice items
  • 4 Extra activities
  • Sticker boxes for days practiced
  • Student and parent practice reflection with sad face or smiley face

 


Assignment Sheet-17 | Piano Safari

This assignment sheet is for students using the Piano Safari method. Includes clip art of animal technique exercises as well as sticker boxes for practice.

Includes:
  • Clip art of technique exercises
  • Sticker boxes for practice days
  • Area for other activities
  • Student and parent practice reflection with sad face or smiley face

 


Assignment Sheet-18 | Easy as 1-2-3

This assignment sheet is great for adults. 10 practice tips included as well as an area for warm-ups, songs, other items, and notes.

Includes:
  • 10 practice tips
  • Warm-up, songs, other, notes

 

 


Assignment Sheet-19 | Student-Driven

This sheet is great for older teens. It serves not as an “assignment” sheet but a “what did I do” sheet where students take charge of their own learning.

Includes:
  • Student goal(s)
  • Practice-focused accomplishments from most to least
  • Smart practice tools
  • Practice reflection

 


Assignment Sheet-20 | Versatile

This assignment sheet is very versatile and could be used for students of any age. It includes practice tips, an inspiring quote, and daily practice boxes.

Includes:
  • Smart practice tools
  • Inspirational quote
  • Open-ended practice items
  • Daily practice boxes
  • Practice reflection

 


Assignment Sheet-21 | Practice Rating-Scale

This sheet includes indicator for the status for pieces: new, in-progress, review, memory as well as a practice-rating scale for both student and teacher.

Includes:
  • Status of pieces: new, in-progress, review, memory
  • Practice goals for each piece
  • Daily progress
  • Practice reflection with rating scale from both student and teacher