Same As Last Week

Every teacher has written “same as last week” in a student’s assignment book many times. It happens when your student hasn’t practiced a bit – or very little.

You give the lesson, and maybe you touch on some different topics that you didn’t get to last week – like technique, scales, or theory. But when it comes to writing in her assignment book, you cross out the old date, write in the current date, and write same as last week. But what happens when you find yourself doing this a second or third time? How do you help the student get unstuck?

Here’s the letdown – I don’t have the perfect answer. I think one of the answers has to be to get the parents involved. It’s important to let them know that progress has stopped since they are funding the lessons. There is some risk in this approach, in perhaps losing a student sooner rather than later. However, this approach keeps my reputation intact.

I think another answer is to dig deeper to uncover the issue. In my experience, it rarely is pure laziness. It might be the repertoire, and that can be remedied by assigning a piece of a different musical style. I was about to quit piano lessons when I was about 13, though I had progressed quite far and had even played for church services and weddings. A book of highlights from The Sound of Music kept me going.

For younger students with difficulties learning how to read music, I have a different approach that works. I take a short break from the method books and design some activities using colored pencils.

Sadly, the main reason a kid gets stuck is that she is overbooked. She really wants to do better, but just doesn’t have enough time left over from school and all of her other activities to practice. Sometimes this leads to her quitting the piano altogether, but more typically it just results in a long plateau that has to be suffered by both student and teacher until a spark happens, practice picks back up, and growth resumes.

What have I missed? What are some other approaches to getting unstuck? What is your experience with this issue, whether in music, school, or even life?

Last Updated 2018-11-28 | Originally Posted 2018-01-15

Learning MailChimp

One of the many items on my social media list was to write a monthly newsletter and to organize it via MailChimp, a leader in email campaigns. Each task in its own way was daunting. However, by staying at it over a number of days, I got it done and learned a lot along the way. The good thing about doing most complex things is that it will be easier the next time. Or so one hopes!

That said, please check out my January 2018 newsletter via this link. I’ve found that some experience subscribing through MailChimp to be challenging, so please contact me if you’d like to be added manually.

Please let me know if this newsletter is helpful, or what I may change to make it more effective. Constructive criticism is welcomed!

Last Updated 2018-02-19 | Originally Posted 2018-01-11

Learning YouTube

As a performing artist, it’s important for me to be able to share video recordings with others in an organized way. Sure, friends and family will appreciate it, but so will colleagues and anyone to whom I want to market my services. For me, this includes parents looking for piano teachers, people hiring for gigs, and potentially those hiring for bigger opportunities.

The only way you used to be able to access these recordings was via a Google search, or via a nested menu on my church’s Website. Currently, all of the recordings on my YouTube channel were made at church as part of some live event, whether it be a church service or a concert. Thanks to Troy Jorgensen and Alan Yount for recording and uploading these videos.

Though it took awhile to figure out how to do this, it’s possible to create a link to these recordings, and organize them in a way that makes it very user friendly. Currently, I have three listings (YouTube speak for categories) of accompanying: vocal solo, choral, bell choir; and two solo listings: piano and organ. In each of these, I decided to organize the recordings by the date descending, so that new recordings always appear at the top of a listing. It’s my intention that over time the older recordings should fall to the bottom and potentially be removed.

The only thing I wasn’t able to do is to get a nice URL since YouTube requires you to get some notoriety first, namely 100 subscribers. That might take awhile. Until then, I’m identified as UCVxDCUK8217ovuc3dSDOwNw – that’s at least three license plates long! The actual hyperlink is much longer, so I just made this link.

So, please check out my YouTube channel, subscribe to it, and tell me what you think! Would you consider putting together something like this for yourself?

Last Updated 2018-02-19 | Originally Posted 2017-12-21

Sonatina Festival Success

Two of my students from the Shepherd Music School participated in the annual Sonatina Festival held at NorthWest Arkansas Community College (NWACC) on November 11, 2017. The group sponsoring this, the NW Arkansas Music Teachers Association, is a local affiliate of the Arkansas State and National Music Teachers Association.

Each of the students must perform a piece with Sonatina or Sonata in the title and must perform two contrasting movements by memory unless the piece is of significant complexity, in which case only one movement is required. Since this is essentially a public performance, with parents, teachers, and a judge in the audience, even the most confident kids will admit to being a little nervous at first. However, it helps that the end goal is not competition, but to play the best possible since everyone has the possibility to attain the highest ribbon and score.

Below are those students, playing a four-hand arrangement at a piano lesson, who earned the red ribbon (excellent) and the blue ribbon (superior).

Sonatina Festival participants

Please Note: A version of this article was first posted on the Shepherd Music School Website
Last Updated 2018-02-19 | Originally Posted 2017-12-17

Beethoven Bagatelle Strikes Gold

As part of my job as a church organist, I occasionally program a series of piano pieces.  Frequently they will be a series of compositions by the same composer, such as the Impromptus of Schubert or Songs without Words by Mendelssohn.  For the month of November, I planned a number of unrelated pieces that I wanted to play.

Since I haven’t played a lot from memory recently, I went with the easiest from the set of pieces first, the Bagatelle “Für Elise” by Beethoven.  I expected that it would receive at best a few pat compliments since it is not a difficult piece for a professional musician.  My surprise was how much I connected with people by playing this.  My only reasoning is that it’s a piece many adults know first hand since it’s one of the first pieces played past the beginning level.

Still, in my mind, the compliments were outsized compared to other pieces where the difficulty was so much higher, yet didn’t connect in the same way to my listeners.  It even sparked the interest in an adult who came up to me afterward to say he was considering taking lessons again.

I’m sure there are many lessons to draw from this, but the most obvious one is not to be afraid of doing something simple or easy, as long as you do it well.  In retrospect, the reaction I received shouldn’t have been a surprise.  I had a similar reaction when I heard the piece on a CD played by Claudio Arrau, one of the great pianists of the 20th century.  It was the inspiration for me to re-learn this piece!

Last Updated 2018-01-15 | Originally Posted 2017-11-07