September is here and that means it's time to get organized and ready to teach. Sometimes it can seem overwhelming because there is so much to do. In this blog post, I'd like to share with you four awesome organization ideas that can help you prepare for the fall. I've also included some free downloadable files.
#1 Using an iPad (or other device) for Scheduling
There are so many different devices available with built-in calendars. If you haven’t done so already, now may be the time to embrace some of that new technology. I can only comment on Apple products because that’s what I have been using. My iPad has really changed the way that I organize my teaching schedule. The calendar works so much better than my previous hand-written sheets. Here are some of the advantages of this amazing tool.
- You can set up your teaching schedule for the fall (lesson times and students). Once you have entered a student in the first week, you can have that event repeat throughout the year. Just make sure you go through the calendar and delete the lessons from the holiday weeks!
- You can colour-code the entries. I use different colours for regular lessons, missed lessons, part-time lessons etc. (You'll have to delete that week's repeating entry and re-enter it if you want to change colour). As with any app, there's always a learning curve as you try to adapt the program for your own needs. But I can tell you from experience, it's well worth the effort!
- At the beginning of each lesson, you can set an alarm to sound when the lesson is finished (with a 5-minute warning). This really helps you to stay on time.
- You can add comments to specific lessons using the notes at the bottom of each event (i.e. reasons for missed or changed lessons)
- Lessons can easily be moved around making re-scheduling a breeze.
- The search function is fantastic. In an instant, you can see all the lessons for one student for the entire year.
- The entire calendar is backed up in the cloud, so you won’t lose any information.
- The calendar on the iPad syncs through the cloud with any of your other Apple devices.
#2 Studio Events Calendar
Another great tool is my one-page Yearly Studio Calendar. You can use the same chart each year. Just change the dates and add all the important information that your students and parents need to know for the whole year (i.e. master classes, recitals, festivals, holidays, deadlines, exams, upcoming events, vacations, etc).
This Calendar can be e-mailed to your parents. I place a copy of the Calendar on the bulletin board in my waiting room. I also tape a copy in the back of each student’s Organizer so that we can refer to it at their lesson throughout the year.
This year, I have 3 PDF fillable versions of the Yearly Studio Calendar to share. All you have to do is download the file you want and then add the information for your own teaching year.
File #1 - Studio Calendar with all RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) dates and Canadian holidays.
File #2 - Studio Calendar with Canadian holidays only (for teachers who do not use the RCM system).
File #3 - Studio Calendar with US holidays only.
Note - PDF Fillable files that are sent by e-mail need to be opened with a program that reads the filled-in information such as Adobe Reader. Some e-mail programs will not show the filled-in information, however the information is still there.
#3 Yearly Student Performance Tracking Chart
I would also like to share my very handy ‘Student Performance Tracking Chart’ (Excel file) for organizing student performances throughout the year. You can add the student’s names plus all the dates for master classes, recitals and other performances. Then print this file and put it on a clipboard in your studio. This chart can then be used for performance planning throughout the year for your entire class.
You can add pieces (in pencil) to the chart as they are chosen throughout the teaching week. I find that it’s faster in the lesson to work with a paper copy. Every 2 weeks or so, you can update the chart on the computer and print it again. That way, you'll know exactly what is being worked on for performances at all times. There's a special column in the chart for keeping track of total playing time for some of the pieces. This is useful when it comes to timing recitals, competitions or master classes.
Here's the original file for my Student Performance Tracking Chart. You can download it and then add the names, dates and events from your own studio. I've also included 11 other worksheets for master class and recital program planning (see tabs at the bottom of the downloaded excel sheet).
#4 The Student Music Organizer - The Complete Dictation Book
Here are some of the benefits of using the The Student Music Organizer:
- Saves time in a lesson. The book is so easy to use….all you have to do is fill it in and it’s designed to last for the entire year.
- 8 1/2 x 11” format - there's lots of room for writing on each lesson page. Manuscript is also included at the bottom of each page.
- Some sections included: Goal Setting, Favourite Pieces, Exam and Practice Planning.
- Lots of History Reference Material: Composer Chart, Summary Sheets for Musical Time Periods (Baroque, Classical etc).
- Also includes Music Dictionaries (with terms grouped according to style, speed, touch, etc), Basic Music Theory Reference Guides and a very handy Comparative Fingering Chart for keyboard scales.
Organization is the key to having a well-run studio. My students and parents especially appreciate it when they know exactly what is happening throughout the year. With a little planning ahead of time, you can sail into the fall knowing that everything is ready to go.
♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎
Piano Photo by Miki Yoshihito
Fall Photo by Darlene Irwin
Spring is in the air and many music students are busy preparing for practical exams.
As the exam approaches, quite a lot of time is spent preparing and memorizing all the required pieces. However, it is VERY important that students also take time to work on their scales, chords and arpeggios. Successful technique requires great perseverance, patience and preparation.
Here are seven teaching tips that have helped my students to do their very best on the technical portion of their exams.
Take Time to Learn Correct Fingering
Fingering matters. Learn the correct scale fingering from the start. Fingering is also essential for fluent triads. Watch the 2nd and 3rd fingers in the middle of the triads.
Say the finger numbers out loud as you play scales hands separately. This will help to reinforce fingering. Learn to play one key correctly before attempting to play the others.
Drill, drill drill. Muscle memory takes time. Playing scales correctly is like learning to ride a bicycle….with enough practice, they eventually become second nature.
Skeleton Scales are a fun way to help students learn fingering and visualize patterns. Play a C+ scale (RH) - 1 on C, 2 and 3 together on D and E, 1 on F, 2, 3 and 4 together on G, A and B, 1 on C and so on up and down the scale. Repeat with the left hand. Once you have mastered C+, try this exercise in different keys.
Take Time to Use The Metronome
The Metronome is your best friend. Play scales with the metronome from the very beginning.
- The metronome is also 'The Great Controller'. You must learn to control the notes…..you can’t let the notes control you!
LISTEN carefully and make sure you are not going faster or slower. Try to ‘Catch the Beat’.
- Slow practice gives you time to listen and think about arm weight and tone production. The scales need to be played consistently and correctly. Only then can you start to increase the speed.
- Remember…..Slow practice is really Fast Practice in Slow Motion.
Take Time to Discover Patterns
- Know your key signatures. Watch for and compare Relative Major and Minor scales. Did you know that the descending Melodic Minor scale is the same as it’s Relative Major?
- Watch the 4th finger in hands-separate scales. It is almost always played on the same key. The 3rd and 4th fingers generally take turns.
- In the hands-together scales with the pattern 123123412312345, the 3rd fingers generally play at the same time.
- Identify all of your required scales that have the same patterns and practice them one after the other.
- Memorize these three tricky scales separately (f#-, g#- and c#- melodic). Be careful because the pattern changes on the way down.
‘The Student Music Organizer’ has a very handy Comparative Fingering Chart on the back inside cover. This can be colour-coded to show which scales share the same fingering patterns.
- For hands-together scales, watch the right hand on the way up and the left hand on the way down.
- For scales containing lots of black keys, watch black and white keys for patterns. i.e. G flat+ - play the white keys closes to the 3-black keys. D flat+ - play the upper white key each time. B+ - play the lower white key each time.
- I call d- and g- harmonic the ‘Grand Canyon’ scales. You have to jump from black key to black key across the canyon (2 white keys). The f#- harmonic scale has a white-white canyon!
- Dominant and Diminished 7ths also have patterns with the white and black keys.
- When arpeggios start on black keys, the thumb generally comes on the first white key (unless the notes are all black).
Take Time to Practice Technique All Year Long
- Technique will not cram well…..practicing all year long builds confidence and finger strength.
- All technique should be up to grade speed before applying for an exam.
- Challenge yourself - strive to have your technique at the speed of the next grade.
Take Time to be Organized
The Student Technique Organizers are a great resource for both teachers and students. These handy Scale Charts are one-page practice guides for the RCM (Royal Conservatory of Music) technical requirements.
- Scale Charts save time. You can tell at a glance what’s hands-separate, what’s hands-together, what’s one octave or what’s 2 octaves. The major keys are in upper case and the minor keys are in lower case.
- The Scale Charts are colour-coded and easy-to-read: green for hands-separately, white for hands together. Diminished 7th are also colour-coded. There are only 3 of them…the rest are inversions of the originals.
- Scales are listed on the top of the chart, chords in the middle and arpeggios at the bottom.
- The charts are also Weekly Practice Guides. (divided into six days)
- You can write specific information in the boxes i.e. key signature, raised notes, fingering etc.
- On-Line digital Scale Charts or regular charts will be available shortly for the new 2015 requirements.
Take Time to Plan Your Exam
- Start your exam with technique. This helps to warm up your fingers. It also lets you get a feel for the piano and the arm weight required to produce the sound that you want AND it gives you time to relax and feel comfortable in the room before playing memorized pieces. When you start with your technique, you are telling the examiner that you are well prepared….go ahead, ask me f#- melodic….I CAN DO IT!!
- Mock Exams help. (See previous blog post - ‘8 Essential Keys for Successful Exam Preparation’). Scroll to the bottom of the blog post for lots of great ideas on doing Mock Exams with students.
Take Time to Listen and Think Before you play
- In your exam, mentally prepare to play each scale, chord or arpeggio. Pre-think the patterns and where you are going before you start.
- Listen carefully to what the examiner has asked for…then repeat it over in your mind. Is it right hand or left hand, Harmonic or Melodic, legato or staccato? Don’t be afraid to ask the examiner to repeat the request.
Successful exams require strong technique and strong technique takes time. Work on your technique all year long, not just before an exam. Practicing technique every day is like going to the gym for your fingers.
Take time to prepare and you will be rewarded with a greater technical facility and you will have the confidence you need to do your very best on your exam.
♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎
Photo credits: Playing Piano, 12-2009, Time, 01-2008
The holidays are over and life is slowly returning to normal.
I’m sure that everyone is anticipating the return to teaching this week. I think that one of the biggest challenges teachers face is trying to keep students motivated and excited about practicing, especially after they have had a break from their normal routine.
I have several incentives in my studio to help motivate my students. Some of these have already been outlined in a previous blog post entitled “Stickers, Charts & Rice Krispie Squares—Strategies for Practice Motivation”.
My students record their weekly practicing on their assignment page in their Student Music Organizer. If they have met their practice goals, then they receive a special Sticker of the Week. They can also put a special sticker on the wall chart in the studio. And I have treat week every 5 weeks.
All of this helps to keep them on track with their goals. However, I was concerned that they weren’t always focusing on and completing their weekly assignments. And so I came up with a fun program that I called 'Reach for the Stars'.
This program works especially well with junior students. It’s important to note that it is not mandatory. I give each participating student a 'Reach for the Stars' Information Sheet explaining exactly what I require for each star. Some of the requirements may not apply to all students. For example, some students may not be yet working on technique. I take all of this into account when assigning stars.
Here’s how it works:
Each week, a student receives a coloured star at the end of their lesson. The colour they receive will depend on how well they have prepared for their lesson (SUPER GOLD, Gold, Silver, Blue or Red). I assign points to each coloured star and keep track of their scores throughout the year using a special 'Reach for the Stars' Tracking Chart. (Click here to download my original Excel file). I do not share their actual accumulated scores with each other.....this information is kept confidential. However, my students do know exactly what I expect from them each week because I write detailed notes in their Organizers.
I usually start this program in October after we’ve had a few lessons together. However, it works just as well starting in January and running until June. The important thing is that they are not competing with each other, but with themselves and how well they have prepared for their lesson each week at their particular level. That way a beginner has equal opportunity to receive a Super Gold Star if they complete their weekly assignments.
Here are the criteria for each star:
SUPER GOLD (20 points)
- A Super Gold star is saved for something amazing.
There has been an extra special effort.
Something has really impressed me.
- (Extra theory, pieces memorized, musical playing that gives me goose bumps)
A very organized, musical and well-prepared lesson.
Gold (15 points)
There has been a Special effort.
ALL assigned pieces are played VERY WELL. Some may be memorized.
Playing is excellent and musical.
- Theory is completed and well done.
Assigned scales are played well with correct fingering.
All required practice time is completed and noted on their chart (see Organizer).
Silver (12 points)
- There has been a very good effort, but not quite GOLD.
- Most assigned pieces are played well.
- Theory is completed.
- Assigned scales are good but still need some work.
All required practice time is completed and noted on their chart.
Blue (10 points)
There has been a moderate effort.
- Assigned pieces are better but some still need work.
- Theory is completed or almost completed.
- Assigned scales have improved but some still need work.
- Required practice time is completed or is almost completed.
- 1 point deducted if theory is not completed.
Red (7 Points)
- There has been some effort, but there is room for improvement.
- Most assigned pieces need more work.
- Theory may not have been completed.
- Assigned scales need more work.
- Required practice may not have been completed.
I have a very cool Musical Treasure Box in the studio filled with goodies. The Dollar Store is a great place to buy things for the Treasure Box. My Treasure Box was a gift from a student.....it looks like a musical book! This gives students an added incentive to try their best each week. Students can pick something from the Musical Treasure box each time they accumulate three gold or super gold stars (they don’t have to be in consecutive weeks).
At the end of the year I total all of their earned points. I then give Star Awards at the recital in June. First place receives a small trophy. I give ribbons for 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th place. I will give ties if the scores are close. Every student receives a participation ribbon.
'Reach for the Stars' is a fun way to start the New Year with a fresh and interesting approach. This program helps my students stay motivated. It also helps them gain confidence for upcoming performances and exams. They really try to accomplish what is expected each week. They think about what they are practicing instead of just playing something to fill in time and they strive for perfection in their work. In short, they start to find the music hiding in the notes!
Have fun trying something new in the New Year…..have fun Reaching for the Stars.
♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎
Photo credit: "Star Walkers" by Paul Kline
"A goal is a dream with a deadline."
This is a quote from the early 20th century American author Napoleon Hill. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest writers on how to be successful in life. Another of his hallmark expressions was, "Anything the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."
The beginning of the piano year is an ideal time to talk to our students about musical goals. It’s important that the teacher knows what the student would like to accomplish in the year ahead. The student also needs to know what the teacher believes they can achieve.
Here are some simple goal-setting strategies that you can use with your students:
I always take a few minutes at the first lesson to discuss and record each student's goals. This gives me the opportunity to suggest an appropriate amount of practice time per week. Even beginners can have musical goals. For them, it can be something as simple as 'This year I’m going to love music!' On the Forbes website it states, "Creating clear and measurable goals and writing them down is the key to success."
- Communication between parents, students and teacher is very important. Make sure that the parents have the same expectations as the students. Problems can arise when the goals of the parents are too difficult for the student. You may need to speak to the parent alone to express these concerns and come to a compromise.
- Goals for more advanced students might include finishing a level or grade (practical or theory), doing an exam or taking part in a competition. If students don’t want to do exams, then their goals could be to improve their sight reading by completing a certain number of classical or popular pieces. It helps to be specific. For example, a good goal might be to learn a number of scales or pieces by a certain date.
- Musical goals will depend upon the students' abilities and also on how much time they can devote to practice. It’s important that their goals be achievable so they don’t get discouraged.
Having said that, sometimes I've had students set a goal that I thought was too difficult. I try to support them and so we discuss the practice time required to reach their goal. For example, last year I had a student who was working at a Grade 3 level. My goal for her was to do a grade 3 exam. However, she expressed a strong desire to complete Grade 4 by the end of the year. We adjusted her practice time and came up with strategies to accomplish this. She worked very hard and did complete her grade 4 with an excellent mark.
- Once we have set some attainable goals for the year, then we discuss how much time they will need to practice each week to attain those goals. Students are juggling many things—school, sports, their social life, family commitments and other activities. The list is endless!! I usually write 3 different daily scenarios on the practice page at the front of the Student Music Organizer....for example: good (30 minutes), better (35 minutes) and best (40 minutes). The length of time will depend on their grade and their goals. Once we have decided on their practice time, I require that they practice that amount 6 days a week...they can have one day off! We then break the time down even further. (i.e. 5 minutes for Sight Reading, 10 minutes for Technique and 15 minutes for pieces).
- Review the student's goals throughout the year. This helps to ensure that they are still on track. You may have to adjust the goals from time to time depending on the progress of the student.
- There is such a great feeling of accomplishment when students are able to reach their musical goals. A Musical Report card is a wonderfully positive way to finish the year. I always list goals that have been completed. I also recognize students at the year-end recital who have completed all of their practicing for the year. I call them my “Perfect Practicers” (see blog post entitled It's June - Musical Report Cards and a Fond Farewell).
'The Student Music Organizer' has a special spot on page 2 at the front of the book for listing musical goals. This makes it very easy to review these goals regularly throughout the year. This page also includes a place to keep track of favourite repertoire and a section for exam planning. On page 3, there is a very handy place for planning and organizing the student's practice time.
Teaching is like a triangle. The parent and the teacher are at the bottom supporting the student at the top. Working together as a team is the best way to ensure musical success for the student. Remember - The First Step to Reaching your Goals is Believing You Can Get There.
♥︎ Great Music Comes from the Heart ♥︎
Photo credit: mindfulwishes.com
How do you motivate students to practice?
This is one of the biggest challenges for a piano teacher. We want our students to love music but they have to practice if they are going to progress. And practicing is work! How can we motivate our students to practice more effectively?
My goal for my students is for them to have what I call "no nag" practice.
I want them to enjoy their practice AND I want them to progress. Here are some of the strategies that I have used in my own teaching to help my students meet their musical potential and have fun doing it!
#1: Set Goals
I always take a few minutes in their first lesson and talk to them about what they want to accomplish in the upcoming year. It's also a good idea to speak with a parent so that you know what they are expecting from their child's music lessons. I write these goals on a special page at the front of the Student Music Organizer. For a first-year student, their goal might be something as simple as becoming a better note reader, to learn lots of new pieces and, of course, to love music! For an older student, maybe they want to do an exam or finish a grade. Some students may have upcoming auditions or competitions. Each student is unique. Setting goals helps to ensure that the teacher, parent and student are all on the same musical page!
#2: Set Daily Practice Time
Once we have set some attainable goals for the year, then we discuss how much time they will need to practice each week to attain those goals. Students are juggling many things—school, sports, their social life, family commitments and other activities. The list is endless!! I usually write 3 different daily scenarios on the practice page at the front of the Student Music Organizer....good (30 minutes), better (35 minutes) and best (40 minutes). The length of time will depend on their grade and their goals. Once we have decided on their practice time, I require that they practice that amount 6 days a week...they can have one day off! We then break the time down even further. (i.e. 5 minutes for Sight Reading, 10 minutes for Technique and 15 minutes for pieces).
#3: Have Students Record Their Practice Time Each Day
There is a great chart on each assignment page of the Student Music Organizer where they can keep track of their practice times. If they do extra time, I write this below the chart. We call this a "Musical Bank". Then, if they have a crazy week and can't complete all of their time, they can 'borrow' some time from their bank! Students love this idea. I've had students competing to see who can get the biggest bank....it's a very sneaky way to motivate them to do more practicing!! For younger students, I usually have the parent fill in the practice time or have them initial it.
I have found that all students love stickers, not just the younger ones! I always have a special "Sticker of the Week". If they have completed their practice time for the week, then, at their lesson, I will put this sticker on their Assignment page. If they have a 'musical bank', they know that they can borrow from that bank and still receive their sticker.
#5: Studio Practice Chart
In September, I make a large chart on a piece of Bristol board and place it on the wall in the studio. If the student has completed all of their practice time, then they can put a special sticker on the chart for that week. Just knowing that they will be able to put their sticker on the wall really helps motivate them to complete all of their practice time! I also encourage them to try to spread their practicing out over the week. Consistent daily practice is much more effective than a marathon just before the lesson!
#6: Treat Week
If students have completed all of their practicing for the last 5 weeks, then they receive a treat. You wouldn't believe how motivating a Rice Krispie Square can be! My teaching year consists of 35 weeks, so that means that there are seven treat weeks in the year. I use a different sticker on the studio practice chart after each treat week. At the recital, I honour those students who have completed all of their practicing for the entire year with a special certificate. I call them my 'Perfect Practicers'. Most of my students will receive this honour.
Both of my recipes for these delicious and simple Rice Krispie Squares are shared with this post - 2 separate files. (Chocolate-Peanut Butter Rice Krispie Squares and Regular Rice Krispie Squares).
Have fun helping your students to achieve their goals. Please feel free to share any motivational ideas that you have used in your studio.
♫ A SPECIAL NOTE ♫…The Student Music Organizer Website is having a fantastic 15/15 sale! For the entire month of August, teachers will receive 15% off of their entire order if they order 15 organizers or more. Use the discount code AUGUST at checkout to take advantage of this terrific deal.
♥︎ Remember, Great Music Comes from the Heart ♥︎
Summer is a great time to relax and enjoy the nice weather. But for music teachers, summer is also the time to prepare for the fall. There is always so much to do before regular lessons resume. Organization is the key to having a well-run business. With a little planning ahead of time, you can sail into September knowing that everything is ready to go! That way you will spend less time worrying about all the things that you have to do and more time enjoying the time off. I would like to share with you a few great organizational ideas that have worked for me.
One of the first things that I do when preparing for the upcoming season is to work on my Yearly Studio Calendar. I have an Excel chart that I use to generate a one-page Calendar for parents and students. I can use the same chart each year. I just change the dates and add all the important information that I feel my students and parents need to know for the whole year (i.e. master classes, recitals, festivals, holidays, deadlines, exams, upcoming events, vacations, etc). In late August, I e-mail this to all of my parents along with a reminder of their first lesson date and time. I place a copy of the Calendar on the bulletin board in my waiting room. I also tape a copy in the back of each student’s Organizer so that I can refer to it at their lesson throughout the year and highlight any upcoming dates. I've included a link to my original file for the Yearly Studio Calendar in this post. That way, you can download it and change the information to suit your own teaching year.
- The iPad is an amazing tool. For me, it was definitely worth the investment. (See previous Blog Post called 'The iPad and the Music Teacher'). The Calendar App is one of the best studio organization tools on the iPad. I love how it backs up automatically to the cloud so that I don’t have to worry about losing my information. Entries can be colour coded to keep track of lessons that have been changed or missed. You can also write notes pertaining to a lesson directly on the individual entires. The search function is fantastic. In an instant, I can see all of the lessons for one particular student for the entire year. I also find the Contacts App very useful for keeping track of all student information. My iPad has revolutionized the way that I organize my business. Here's a link to help you get started. This article will help you with the basics of using the calendar App.
- I have a very handy ‘Performance Tracking Chart’ (Excel File) that I use to organize all student performances throughout the year. Once I’ve completed my yearly calendar, I set up this chart with student's names and dates of all master classes, recitals and other performances. Then I print it and put it on a clip board that I keep beside me in the studio. I can use this chart for performance planning throughout the year. In September, the first thing we do is pick a Master Class piece (for the end of October) and a Christmas recital piece. I will also use this to help plan performances for exam preparation. I can keep track of all performance pieces for all students throughout the year on these sheets. I find it easier to work with a paper copy in the studio. I can fill it in as I’m teaching. Every two weeks or so, I will update the chart on the computer with any changes or additions and print it again. This gives me a running list of all performance pieces being worked on by my students at all times. I also list the students' pieces in their own Organizer. There is a column in the chart for keeping track of the total playing time for pieces which is useful for timing recitals and Master Classes. Here is the original file of my ‘Performance Tracking Chart’. This will allow you to input the names, dates and events to suit your own studio.
The Student Music Organizer is another great time-saving teaching tool. Each September, my students start a brand new book. The book is written on 8 1/2 x 11” paper so there is lots of room for writing notes. It is is designed to last for an entire year of lessons so you don't have to buy 2 or 3 smaller notebooks. At the end of the year, you will have a complete record of what has been done for the entire year. Parents love it as well. If they have a question, I can tell them to check the Organizer! Here are some of the sections included in this great resource:
Goal Setting Section — I do this on the first lesson so that we know how to plan for the year.
Favourite Piece Section — This is very helpful when planning recitals, festivals or exams.
Exam Planning — for students doing an exam in the upcoming year, we start planning right away.
Practice Planning — after we have set goals for the year, we then decide together how much time they will need to practice each week to attain these goals. This time can then be broken down into smaller sections so they know how long to spend on each aspect i.e. pieces, technique, sight reading
The Organizer contains 35 Assignment Pages. These sheets can be filled out during the lesson. Each page contains a chart for recording weekly practice. There is also manuscript across the bottom and the pages are numbered so you can refer back to a scale or exercise assigned earlier in the year.
The back of the book contains lots and lots of valuable reference material. You will find extra manuscript paper, a composer chart, summary sheets for musical time periods (Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Impressionism and Modern), music dictionaries, basic music theory reference guides and a wonderful comparative fingering chart for keyboard instruments.
- ♫ A SPECIAL NOTE ♫…The Student Music Organizer Website is having a fantastic 15/15 sale! For the entire month of August, teachers will receive 15% off of their entire order if they order 15 organizers or more. Use the discount code AUGUST at checkout to take advantage of this terrific deal.
Have a great rest-of-the summer AND have fun getting organized for September.
♥︎ Remember, Great Music Comes from the Heart ♥︎
♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎
Photo credit: "Over the River and Through the Woods" by garlandcannon
Intervals are like Ice Cream, they all have different flavours! I have said this many times to my students over the years.
Ear Training is an essential part of a music exam. And intervals (above and below a given note) are usually an important part of the entire ear training mark. But naming those intervals can be a daunting task for some students. I have found that, even if students have a good ear, they can have difficulty with this portion of the exam. The problem is that when a student is nervous or feeling stressed, they can leave their musical ears in the waiting room!
I would like to share with you some of the teaching strategies that I have used successfully in my own studio.
First: Play the notes of the various intervals together on the keyboard for your students. You can discuss the different flavours of each interval. Have them come up with ideas to describe the sounds as well.
- 2nds: (Steps). The -2nd sounds very close and very harsh (fighting notes). This is a semitone (the smallest distance on the piano). The +2nd sounds very close but not too harsh. It's also helpful to know that it is a whole tone or whole step on the piano.
- 3rds: (Skips) The -3rd sounds sad and not too big. A -3rd contains the first 2 notes of a minor triad. The +3rd sounds happy but not too big. It contains the first 2 notes of a major triad. With either one, if you continue humming to the 5th, you will have a root position triad. It sometimes helps to relate the -3rd below to a doorbell (ding dong!)
- 4th: The Perfect 4th sounds different - it is not part of the root position triad. However, it is a pleasant sound and it is not too big. It also has kind of an open sound, but not as open as the P5th.
- The Tritone (aug 4th or dim 5th) is one of the most tension-filled intervals, but it is not as big as a +7th.
- 5th: The Perfect 5th sounds open, but not too big. It contains the outer notes of a triad.
- 6ths: The -6th sounds kind of sad but it is bigger than a -3rd. The +6th sounds happy but it is also bigger than a 3rd.
- 7ths: The -7th is not so harsh but it is large AND it contains the outer notes of a Dominant 7th chord. The +7th is a very harsh interval AND it is large. I tell my students that this interval should hit you across the face!!! Be careful not to confuse this interval with the tritone.
- 8th: The Perfect 8th is an octave, meaning that the notes sound similar and very big like a rainbow! It also sounds open and can easily be confused with the P5th.
Here are some other simple and effective ideas to help students with naming intervals:
- First and foremost, make sure that they know which intervals they have to know for their grade so they don't guess one they don't even have to know. Have them memorize this list. Review it every time you do intervals in the lesson and have them say it out loud as you play the notes together on the keyboard. One of my students is doing a Grade 5 exam in June. Here is her list: ABOVE +/- 3rds, +/- 6ths, P 4th, 5th and 8th. BELOW: -3 (this is a single....NO +3rd), P5th and P8th (no P4th). When reviewing their list, have them listen carefully as the notes are played together. Have them describe the flavour as you play each one. Review this list every time you do intervals and before you begin testing the student.
- Identify the 'singles' so that they don't guess the wrong one. For example, don't guess a +3rd below if you only have a -3rd!
- If they can, always have the students hum the notes softly immediately as they are being played. Their voice will help then to identify the sound as smaller or larger. They are hearing the interval inside their head and physically feeling the distance with their voice. Work with them so that they can tone match the notes. This doesn't work for every student, but it is helpful if they can do it.
- If a student is a good "hummer", then have them also try to hum the notes in between. But be careful. This is harder than it sounds. Some students can add or take away notes when doing this. Only use this strategy if they can consistently hum the notes in between correctly. I also find that generally, the boys have a harder time humming the notes. They sometimes feel self-conscious, especially if their voice is changing.
- Naming an interval below a given note seems to be more difficult than above. This is especially true for the 3rds. If students can't hear an interval below the given note, have them try humming it softly the other way (forwards). Sometimes that is all they need to identify it. Again, this only works if they are a good hummer.
- It is very helpful to have students associate songs with the intervals. This is especially useful when the student is under pressure or if they can't hum the notes. It's also a good back-up plan even if they can hum! However, the songs become absolutely essential for students who do not have a strong ear and cannot hum.
- I use the Small Interval Cards found on The Student Music Organizer Website. This reference card is so handy. There is a good variety of songs for all of the intervals above and below. They can pick the song that they know the best. Highlight the intervals on the card that they have to know for their exam. The Above intervals are on one side of the card and the Below intervals are on the other side. Turning the card over as they name the intervals is good because they really have to listen to know if the interval is above or below the given note. Having them flip the card is part of the training. If they aren't familiar with any of the songs on the card for a particular interval, then have them learn the first couple of bars of that song. They can also try to come up with a song of their own and write them on the card.
- Make sure that they have the songs memorized for their required intervals. Review these songs every time you work on ear training. You don't want them to know the song and then guess the interval incorrectly!
- I put a pocket in the back of The Student Music Organizer for their Interval Card so that they know where it is!
- There is also a Large Teacher's Version of this card available. It's a great resource to keep by the piano in the studio.
Have fun teaching intervals and remember to savour the different flavours of each one!!
♥︎ Remember - Great Music Comes From the Heart ♥︎