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Piano Miniatures

What are piano miniatures? My definition would be any piece that’s no longer than five minutes and unmistakably describes its composer. You might think of these as piano encores, and you would be right. The only difference is that I don’t want to save them just for the end of a recital. They can stand on their own, and deserve to be shared whenever the opportunity arises.

I am going to be learning and memorizing these to be shared in a variety of places, including where I am the church organist and where I teach piano. However, I’d also like to share them in other places, wherever a piano is found and I have permission to play. I would like for these to be my calling card! In order to keep track of my project, I will be posting both my repertoire and where the performances took place, on this page.

What’s your reaction to my experiment? Will it be well received? Would you welcome a piano miniature in your life?

Miniature Pianist

Last Updated 2018-06-21 | Originally Posted 2018-06-04

Piano Teaching Philosophy

Introduction

From time to time, people ask about my piano teaching philosophy. As a response to this, I wrote the following thoughts months ago but never published them. However, there’s only so much you can learn from a conversation. When you’re near the end of your interview process, I strongly suggest that you schedule an evaluation lesson. Both teacher and student should be comfortable before beginning what could end up being years of learning together.

Piano Teaching Philosophy

I believe that art and music are important to the education and enrichment of the lives of children and adults alike.

Piano lessons are expensive, so they should be undertaken with a commitment to get the most out of them, for the time that they’re pursued.

Learning to play the piano should be fun, though it’s not always easy. Proper technique, good rhythm, and sight-reading are necessary through all stages of learning. Written music theory and ear training are also important to round out all of the concepts learned at the keyboard.

Each student has his/her own needs, and I accommodate those as part of the learning process. Some pursue piano for recreation, others are more serious and ready to score high at the upcoming festival. Stickers motivate some but not all. In other words, lesson plans are tailored to the student’s ability and goals.

The process is as important as the final result. Learning how to break down a new piece of music and put it back together, and then doing it all over again, is what inspires me. Humility comes from realizing that there never will be a perfect performance. There is always an opportunity to learn something new from a great composer!

Posted 2018-05-29

Summer Project – Online Lesson Academy

This post, Summer Project – Online Lesson Academy, is the second in a two-part series under the category of Piano Teaching. I invested in a reasonably priced online course given by the Upbeat Piano Teachers, a team of two – Sara Campbell and Tracy Selle. Sara was mentioned in a Webinar given by the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA). As a result, I listed her as a piano teaching resource in this post, which speaks about her own site and blog, Sara’s Music Studio.

So far, so good! All of the information was helpful and well put together. Now it’s time to do the homework assignments during the short window of time the course instructors are available to facilitate. There are two Q&A sessions, after which we are on our own.

What is the point? Technology has made online lessons possible. There are just several pieces of equipment needed to get started, including a laptop and a Webcam, or just a tablet with its built-in camera. Add high-speed Internet and you’re ready to go! It’s not much more complicated than that.

So why use it? The most obvious reason is to eliminate the need for makeup lessons when the problem is getting to the lesson. It could be inclement weather, a transportation issue, or even minor illness. Makeup lessons are the bane of music teachers everywhere, so why not try online lessons to teach during the allocated teaching time? There are some instructors who extend this technology to provide distance learning. This can occur if either the student or the teacher moves away, but both parties want to continue lessons. It also allows a teacher with special skills to teach outside of her geography.

One of the surprises of the seminar was the idea of video learning. This is offered where the student can’t show up for his lesson and isn’t available for an online lesson. The teacher can use the lesson time to create a customized video with specific instructions for the student. The student then has to watch the video within a short window and perform the assignments to be ready for the next lesson. It’s also possible to create a series of generic video lessons ahead of time to be offered to a student when it’s not possible to create a customized video.

That’s it so far! I’m excited to do all of this work, and then engage with parents and students to get started!

Posted on 2018-05-28

Summer Project – Music Apps Review

This post, Summer Project – Music Apps Review, is the first in a two-part series under the category of Piano Teaching. I have been inspired by my membership in the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) this past year. One of the highlights of the year was the webinar titled Fresh Approaches to Old-School Teaching, presented by Peter Oehrtman. Part of the focus was on apps, and that is the entire focus of this post. I have chosen the following five iOS apps to review. Android versions of these apps may exist but are out of scope for this review. Since some of my students will be taking the summer off, I’ll dedicate that teaching time to researching the following apps. I’ll update the post to provide my own opinions, but for now, they are of Mr. Oehrtman.

I’d love your feedback as well! I’m excited to find new tools to recommend to students as there is so much to learn, and so little direct teaching time. What apps have you found helpful?

Note Rush: Learn to Read Music

Flashcard drilling. Notes pop up on screen, student plays notes on the piano. The app identifies that you are correct by using the microphone on your device.

Price: $3.99

Simply Piano by JoyTunes

Tons of material (Bruno Mars, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift) at the beginning to mid-intermediate level. You have to play the notes as they approach the blue bar. The app identifies that you are correct by using the microphone on your device.

Price: FREE with in-app purchases

Super Metronome Groove Box

A more fun type of metronome with different instruments, beats, compound meter.

Price: Lite – Free; Pro – $6.99

Garage Band

Another metronome possibility, though Mr. Oehrtman liked Super Metronome Groovebox better

Price: Free (no in-app purchases mentioned)

ScaleTracks

Aids with scales. Not bad, but a little hokey.

Price: Free with in-app purchases

Last Updated 2018-05-26 | Originally Posted on 2018-05-22

Give Yourself Permission To Suck

It’s said that perfectionists never get anything done. Despite that somewhat true saying, the expectation is often that we shoot for perfection. There are even expressions for those who don’t, like “close enough for government work or jazz.” Fortunately, there are enough folks who see that lie for what it is. As Sierra Teller Ornelas suggests in this article (h/t Kara Cutruzzula), give yourself permission to suck!

I remember trying this on for size as a freshman at New England Conservatory of Music. I took a class in violin, which was offered primarily as an introductory class for music education majors. For me, a performance major, it was just for fun. I learned first hand why it’s virtually impossible to learn violin, with any proficiency, as an adult: we know how bad we sound! Learning to draw the bow in a pleasing way takes months for everyone, whether child or adult. Fortunately, children don’t know (or care) how bad they sound, until they sound good. Henry, a double-bassist down the hall in my dorm, reminded me in case I wasn’t sure. He demanded that I go down to the basement practice cells because I was that bad!

That doesn’t mean we should purposely do badly. What it does mean is that you can’t possibly do something extremely well, without lots of experience doing it badly at first. As a professional musician, I know that my first performance of any new piece, despite thorough practice, will always be the worst performance. Hopefully, my worst performance will still be good enough to be perfectly acceptable, maybe even better! Ms. Ornelas explains this in her work as a television writer and producer:

You’re taught this insane work ethic, so if it’s not perfect, it’s garbage. And the way you actually create art is by making garbage first, and then getting better and better. And so giving yourself permission to suck is such a hard thing to do.

Legendary salesman and motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said basically the same thing decades ago: “Anything worth doing, is worth doing poorly…until you can do it well.” And I’m sure plenty of sages have said similar things. As Ms. Ornelas said, “Make mistakes in front of as many people as you can.”

Posted on 2018-05-21

Want to Be Rich?

Do you really want to be rich? What does that even mean?

To the author of this New York Times article, Jessica Knoll, it’s clear we are talking dollars, not cents! (h/t Kara Cutruzzula) It’s not often that a writer has this much self-confidence, coming out swinging about money as though she were an investment banker on Wall Street!

Though I don’t measure my artistic success purely in terms of dollars, I do like that she explains how she wants to attain her goals through a multi-stream income. Instead of just getting paid for writing a book, she wants to make royalties from selling her book. Plus, she is pursuing getting that book optioned to a television or movie studio, and even to get paid again for adapting it to a screenplay.

Success, for me, is synonymous with making money. I want to write books, but I really want to sell books. I want advances that make my husband gasp and fat royalty checks twice a year. I want movie studios to pay me for option rights.

I’m very intrigued by this author and will study her career. Though the article is deadly serious, there are twinklings of humor to be found. I like where she pokes fun at a male author who errantly thought he sold in the most foreign territories as a first-time novelist.

What are your thoughts about measuring artistic success solely on capitalism?

Posted on 2018-05-15

Gig Economy Advice

HBR Speaks Artist?

I didn’t expect to find gig economy advice for artists in this article from Harvard Business Review (HBR). It’s true that HBR focuses a lot more on the employed world, where most of the jobs still exist. However, with the increasing outsourcing of work to independent contractors, it’s up to the worker to structure her situation in the best way possible.

McKinsey found that knowledge-intensive industries and creative occupations are the largest and fastest-growing segments of the freelance economy.

Produce or Perish

The brutal reality of Produce or Perish makes sense. I very much agree with one of the main points of this section that “sustaining productivity is a constant struggle.” Even when I am productive, I don’t have the security that comes with a pre-determined paycheck. Freedom to do your job your own way comes with this very large downside. Even when you land a good contract, that’s no guarantee you’ll land the next one. “There’s no arriving. That’s a myth.”

Even the most successful, well-established people we interviewed still worry about money and reputation and sometimes feel that their identity is at stake.

The Four Connections

The thesis of the article is that all four of the following connections must be created and sustained by the independent worker to survive.

  • Place – Even for work that could be done anywhere, or any number of places, one place tends to work best. For me, when I need to practice the piano, the church sanctuary works perfectly. At home, the piano and the television are in the same room. When I’m tired, practicing isn’t the choice I make.
  • Routines – Even though work can be done at any time, it turns out that self-imposing a practical schedule works best. When it’s practicing the piano or organ, I always attach it to times I will already be at church. I don’t call it a day (or night) until the work gets done.
  • Purpose – This digs a bit more into interests and motivations. I try to accept work or pursue projects that connect deeply with my long-term goals, over just trying to make money.
  • People – This is one of the hardest for me. It’s really necessary to build a community with those in my profession, but it turns out that most of these folks are also extremely busy and self-focused.

In Conclusion

I highly recommend downloading this article, whether or not you have an annual subscription with HBR. You get a few articles free per month – make this one of your choices! I only scratched the surface of the article; I’m sure that you’ll find additional insights and inspiration.

Posted on 2018-05-14

One Thank-You Note

One thank-you note. What made it special? It was the only one!

I recently agreed to take on a block of accompanying for juries at the University of Arkansas. Fourteen to be exact. For each student, there were two half-hour rehearsals, plus playing for the jury itself, about 8 to 10 minutes long. The pay was decent, and really there was no need for a special thank you other than the check I will eventually receive. However, one student S took the time to handwrite the thank-you note below. The stationery on which it was written was accordion folded with each of the letters from the words “thank you” represented.

I wish I could say I practiced the art of saying thank you, whether in written or email form, as often as I should. Cheers to S! She has this part of life down pat!

thank you note
A Special Thank You Note
Posted 2018-05-12

Where Music Notation Fails

Have you ever faced a situation where music notation fails to convey the essence of the music? I routinely find this when dotted rhythms and syncopations enter the curriculum I use to teach piano students. Of course, preparatory activity like tapping, clapping, and singing the tune can be especially helpful. After all, any pre-school kid can sing London Bridge Is Falling Down. If I can convince an eight- or nine-year-old to sing, the teaching becomes much easier. Syncopations, especially those that cross the bar line, are another matter!

YouTube to the rescue! I always remind my students that the music came first and that the notation is just a necessary shorthand. Here is a short list of videos of innovative music that requires more complicated notation and time signatures.

La Bamba – Sing and clap where the words are just “La La Bamba”

America – Tap foot on the beat and clap off beat

Take Five – Feel and clap the innovative five beats per measure

Posted 2018-04-30

Disinclined to Activity

Do you ever feel disinclined to activity? In what parts of your life? In case you haven’t caught on, I’m asking about where you are lazy! It’s really impossible to do everything, so it’s actually quite natural to focus intensely on the most important things. Then, you find a way to get the necessary things done. The rest, well, it gets done…or not!

I noticed a certain degree of laziness when it comes to pursuing the business side of music. I work hard to get my church work done, teach my students, and do well at whatever gigs I accept. However, I don’t have a good game plan when it comes to marketing myself.

I am participating in an artist development program called Artist INC. Our marketing instructor mentioned that we need to spend between 20% and 40% of our total work time in marketing ourselves. Based on this simple calculation, if I spend four hours on my art, I should spend at least one additional hour marketing it. Though that sounds excessive, I know it’s not based on everything else I’ve read.

Perhaps the most jolting aspect of the Artist INC experience is that most artists don’t have a true home base. Even the part-time church job I have gives me some stability that others don’t have. Granted, I don’t have the financial security of those few musicians who land full-time work in church music, orchestras, or university professorships. Even though some of these folks may not be doing their dream work full-time, they can always do their soul-nourishing work on the side!

Meanwhile, independent artists have to hustle for every opportunity. I recently noticed a vacant storefront where a photographer had placed several samples. This photographer probably worked hard to build a relationship with the property agent so that when the opportunity knocked, he got the call! Although it’s romantic to think of the artist sequestered in his studio, diligently painting all day, and having adoring fans, that’s not the reality for most of my friends. Sure, they spend lots of time in their work. However, they also carefully cultivate relationships outside of the studio in a myriad of marketing activities. It takes a lot of time, and some things work, and some things don’t.
You have to refine the process. What do you stop, start, continue? It’s exhausting just thinking about it!

So there is my call to action. I need to start with purpose cultivating relationships that can lead to recitals, teaching, and even one-time gigs. I will update this post or write a new one when I have some progress to report!

Posted 2018-04-23