Piano Teaching Tips from Carol Matz

Carol MatzAs piano teachers, we’re always looking for ways to keep today’s piano students engaged and interested. It seems that today’s piano students are busier than ever—not only with increasing scholastic demands, sports, and other extracurricular activities—but now we find ourselves competing for our students’ time and attention against so many new distractions, such as the internet, text messaging, video games, etc!  One of the most important things we can do as teachers is to be sure that our students keep studying music, and that they stay interested in their piano studies.

Famous & Fun Deluxe Collection, Book 3

Famous & Fun Deluxe Collection, Book 3

My Famous & Fun Deluxe Collections helps us teachers do just that, by providing arrangements of pieces that students know, love, and are motivated to practice. Each book in this series contains a mixture of well-loved selections drawn from Famous & Fun: Pop, Classics, Favorites, Rock, and Duets. When creating the Famous & Fun books, my main goal was to use a very careful leveling of concepts within each book, so that we teachers can successfully and easily use the materials. Below is a handy leveling chart that outlines the concepts within each of the five levels of the series (Early Elementary through Intermediate):

Famous 7 Fun Leveling Chart

Whether I’m teaching a pop arrangement, classical piece, or duet, I have an activity that I like to use with my students to familiarize them with their new piece. I create a short “Composition Outline” that students can use to explore different concepts in the piece they’re learning. This outline can be a list of activities such as: mapping-out the form of the piece, putting a checkmark over measures with recurring rhythms, circling dynamic changes, identifying intervals and triads, etc. Doing this activity will help “demystify” any new piece before the student even plays the first note. This will lead to better sight-reading and more efficient practice. Click the image below to see how I might ask a student to mark-up the piece “Spring (from the Four Seasons).” (From Famous & Fun Deluxe Collection, Book 3)

Spring

Below are several sample pages from the Famous & Fun Deluxe Collections, Books 1–5. As you can see, there is a fun mix of pop, classics, favorites, and rock, which I hope both you and your students enjoy!

Sincerely,
Carol Matz
Arranger, Composer, Editor—Alfred Music

“Over the Rainbow”
Book 1, Page 8

"America the Beautiful" Book 2, Page 30

“America the Beautiful”
Book 2, Page 30

"Blue Moon" Book 3, Page 36

“Blue Moon”
Book 3, Page 36

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music)"  Book 4, Page 20

“Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music)”
Book 4, Page 20

"Beauty & the Beast" Book 5, Page 8

“Beauty & the Beast”
Book 5, Page 8

 

You Want Me to Teach What? Transitioning to the Elementary Music Classroom

By Mari Schay and Michael TolonSchay

You’re a secondary instrumental or choral specialist, newly assigned to the general music classroom. What now? First, take a breath, calm down, and then read this book. Two experienced teachers who conquered this challenge offer practical advice with great care and wit. Chapters of the book address attitude, school environment, classroom management, curriculum and assessment, and student performance. Read on for an excerpt from the opening chapter.

Director/Conductor vs. Teacher

Many middle and high school music educators refer to themselves as “director” or “conductor” as in, “I’m a high school band director” or “I am a middle school choral conductor.” When you move to elementary school, though, you become a teacher. The key difference between a director/conductor and a teacher is that a director is refining existing skills and working toward beautiful performances, while a teacher is developing new skills so a director can eventually take over.

Elementary music is not just pre-band, pre-orchestra, or pre-choir training. Your primary job is to instill a love of music, as well as to develop musical skills, in kids who may walk in the door with no musical experience whatsoever. Singing a simple song may be a completely new experience. Keeping a steady beat may take time. This can feel overwhelmingly slow to a teacher used to conducting nuanced ensemble literature; however, if you plan well and deliver lessons with joy and enthusiasm, the kids will love music … and, as their music teacher, you will begin to see the necessity of a great teacher in the early years.

The importance of professional development cannot be stressed enough. I will admit that as a high school band director, I did not seek out colleagues or attend my state music conference often enough. I learned the hard way that by skipping professional development opportunities, my effectiveness as a teacher was lessened. Not only did my skills suffer, my standing with my fellow directors was hurt. My sense of isolation was of my own doing.

The ability to attend a conference, find professional development opportunities, or simply sit and share with another colleague will become vitally important in helping you gain new skills, sharpen old ones, and meet fellow music teachers. Ah! Yes, young grasshopper, you are not alone in the universe. Inspiration will come in many, many forms.

Helping Drum Teachers Teach Special Needs Students

Pat Gesualdo

Pat Gesualdo

As drum teachers, we all know that teaching learning disabled students can be quite a challenge, even for the most experienced teachers. My pioneering techniques of drum therapy are used on a global basis to help the special needs population. All teachers, especially drum teachers, will have a special needs student at some point in time. Some teachers push these students aside, while others try to face the challenge of helping these students straight on.

Teaching special needs students is not for everyone, which I totally understand. It is extremely difficult.

Some teachers might think that their student is “just being difficult,” as opposed to understanding that the student really has a problem. Disabilities can appear in many ways, and can affect the student’s attitude, coordination, and retention. If you have a student with one, or many issues, you need to know that there are certain ways to deal with each specific disability. Drum therapists are highly skilled, and trained to deal with all of these issues.

Special needs students can be very high functioning, or extremely low functioning, depending upon the severity of the disability. Sometimes it is very difficult to help these students, as they can have several kinds of disabilities at the same time. It takes time to work with students who have numerous disabilities, because as the drum therapy intervention starts to help fight one disability, there is another disability which is right behind the first one, then possibly one or more behind that. It can take an extended amount of time to help students with numerous disabilities.

Drum instructors should use specific lesson plans and outlines in their drum lessons. Although the mainstream drum instruction, and drum therapy intervention outlines are completely different, they are still related in some way, because they help students reach even the most basic drumming and cognitive milestones at the same time.

Drum instructors and the drum therapists should always remember the following when teaching special needs students:

  1. Extreme patience at all times.
  2. Start all lessons slowly.
  3. Increase the speed of exercises, rhythms, and patterns slowly.
  4. Repeat exercises and patterns slowly and often, at the end of each lesson.
  5. Make sure the student knows the material before they leave the lesson.

These strategies will definitely assist you in helping your special needs students to develop physical and cognitive functioning.

About The Author:

Celebrated drum virtuoso Pat Gesualdo made drumming, medical, and education history with his pioneering techniques of Drum Therapy, and his non-profit organization D.A.D. (Drums and Disabilities). Senators and Congressman throughout the United States call on Gesualdo to help them write disability legislation. Gesualdo’s most recent Legislation was signed into law by Governor Chris Christie. Gesualdo was invited to the White House to meet the President, in an effort to help wounded troops with his D.A.D. program. The U.S. Department of State brought him to the West Bank region of Israel, to help disabled Israeli and Palestinian children with the D.A.D. Program.

Gesualdo’s solo project Iceland, recently debuted #9 on the U.S. Radio charts, and features Iconic rock guitarist Michael Romeo of SymphonyX, eminent guitarist Metal Mike Chlasciak, from Rob Halford’s band Halford, among others.

Various celebrities, sports stars, community leaders, and law enforcement agencies join with him to help special needs children and adults fight disabilities throughout the world. He is the author of the groundbreaking drum instruction book Drum Therapy (Alfred Music). Gesualdo is a contributing writer to Modern Drummer Magazine, and is an artist/clinician for Pro-Mark Drumsticks, Evans Drumheads, ProLogix Percussion, and Zildjian Cymbals.

Official Pat Gesualdo websites:
www.patgesualdo.com
www.dadprogram.org
www.icelandnj.com
www.facebook.com/patgesualdo
www.promark.com
www.zildjian.com
www.prologix.com
www.moderndrummer.com
www.alfred.com

Groovin’ with Your Strings Class: Thoughts on Using the Mandolin as a Teaching Tool

bradphillipsphotoBy Brad Phillips

Artistic Director of The Saline Fiddlers
Music Producer for Jeff Daniels

One fine day in the mid ’90s, I was a young fiddle nerd in the 6th grade orchestra in Saline, MI when my director Bob Phillips came to class with a peculiar-looking instrument case. It was the size of a violin case, but was shaped like a distorted mini-banjo. As he began our daily tuning routine, he opened the case and revealed an instrument I had never seen before. It was a tiny, fancy, eight-stringed instrument with a black and white paint job that sounded like nothing I had ever heard before.

Mr. Phillips (no relation) proceeded to lead us through class that day playing this mysterious little instrument. Without changing instrument, he could seamlessly move back and forth from picking out melodic lines and accompanying us as we played our Twinkle variations and fiddles tunes like “Cripple Creek” and “Old Joe Clark.” I was completely captivated by the sound, energy, and versatility of what this small wonder was capable of. At the end of class, I fought my way through the chaos of kids ferociously packing up their things to find out more about this new fixation of mine.

“It’s a mandolin,” said Mr. P. “It is tuned the same way as your fiddle!” Armed with this new knowledge, I was allowed to borrow a mandolin from Mr. Phillips that night, and I never looked back.

All these years later, the double-stringed (GG-DD-AA-EE) mandolin is an integral part of my musical life. I am a violinist first and foremost, but the mandolin is an extremely close 2nd, as I have maintained my involvement with it since that day in 1996. Today, I use the mandolin both as a performer and as a music educator. In terms of the mandolin as a tool for string education, it serves a number of helpful purposes. I have found that the characteristics of the mandolin add up to a combination violin-piano-metronome, all in one. Having all of these elements in one instrument saves time switching between instruments and helps keep the flow going.

In addition to being much more compact than a piano or a guitar, the mandolin is fun to play and is fascinating to young kids. I have found the mandolin to be useful in both large ensemble rehearsals and private lesson settings. The sound of the mandolin is bright and percussive. This percussive nature makes for a unique metronome of sorts that helps drive any group of young players. The contrasting sound of the pick shooting across the high-tension strings, (or the characteristic “chop”) has a way of capturing the attention of students and is heard clearly above the soft edges of a string ensemble. This “chop” combined with chords provides an energetic, driving accompaniment. In my experience leading the Saline Fiddlers and other groups like them, the mandolin often saves the day in a frustrating rehearsal when the robotic metronome just won’t do the job. It is as if the mandolin creates the perception of jamming or playing in a band.

Learning to play basic mandolin is fairly easy to do, especially if you already play an instrument tuned in fifths. All the notes are where you would expect, and violin fingerings tend to transfer in most cases. Learning half a dozen chords would be a good first step. Once you’ve learned your basic chords, consider challenging yourself to learning the diatonic chords in a few common keys. The more you play, the more your calluses will develop to handle the double steel strings. (Fair warning: Violin calluses aren’t enough. It does hurt at first. You’ll need to develop your thicker skin.)

In my experience, aside from the throbbing fingertips, the most challenging part of doubling on the mandolin from a strictly bowed-strings background is learning to control the pick. Not unlike learning to use a bow, creating a rich, full tone with a pick is a challenge at first. You’ll want to use a thicker pick (around 1 to 2 mm) with rounded edges. Anything too thin or pointy is just noisy. When holding the pick, being loose is key. Fit the pick between your thumb and first knuckle on your index finger in the most natural way possible. Apply only enough pressure to the pick to keep it from falling out of your hand. Anything more is a waste of energy and will hinder technical development with the right hand should you decide to try and further your skills past the basics. Tension is the enemy! Stay loose.

I highly recommend taking up the mandolin and using it as a tool for teaching music. Its unique characteristics can enrich the environment of any strings classroom. It is tremendously useful rhythmically and as a way of implementing harmonic support while captivating your students’ interest. It truly is like a musical multi-tool, combining aspects of the violin, piano, and metronome all in one small, snazzy little instrument. And who knows…maybe you’ll inspire a career mandolin player the first day you take it to class!

Great mandolin players to check out: Sam Bush, Chris Thile, Adam Steffey, David Grisman, and Joshua Pinkham.

For more information or Skype Lessons, contact Brad Phillips at: bradphillipsmusic@gmail.com.

12 Tips for the First Week of School

By the Alfred Music Choral and Classroom Editors

It’s that perfect time of year—last year’s school year is in the books, summer vacations are upon us, and September is waiting with promises of new music and fresh opportunities. Whether you’re returning to an established program or stepping into your classroom for the first time, start off on the right foot with these 12 tips for the first week of school, as recommended by the Alfred Choral and Classroom editors.

Learn your students’ names. Consider greeting each student at the door as they enter. For an especially large group, use nametags until you have every one learned. Students will be responsive and respectful when addressed by name.

Jump right into the music. Kick off your year with a fun song that can come together in just one or two rehearsals. Instant success will give students the confidence they need for more challenging repertoire. And opening the year with a “student favorite” will motivate them for the year ahead.

Provide a good model. If you desire rehearsals that start on time, start teaching on timeIf you value beautiful tone quality, demonstrate beautiful tone quality. If you enjoy positive and uplifting rehearsals, lead positive and uplifting rehearsals. Students will mirror what they observe.

Establish the rules. “Welcome to choir. We will start every rehearsal on time. Please throw away your gum as you enter the room. I expect you to have a pencil in your folder at all times. And thank you for not talking when I’m working with another section.”

Set the bar high. Why save the best stuff for performances only? Make the most of every rehearsal and class period by demanding quality at all times. Students will always rise to the challenge, and soon the highest of expectations will be met—and even surpassed!

Add music theory and history to your curriculum. This will raise student interest and provide both the context and background for them to gain a deeper understanding of the music they are learning. Inevitably, this will shine through, enhancing their performances during the year.

Get to know the support staff. Your school secretary will be so helpful when it’s time to print programs. Custodians will spend plenty of time setting up and taking down the choral risers. And many off-site performances will be made possible thanks to the head of transportation.

Schedule everything you can. Teachers, parents, and students are busier than ever. Take the time to put together a master calendar of all concerts, festivals, and other activities for the year that you are aware of, and then pass it along to everyone who needs to know.

Communicate with parents. Obtain students’ and parents’ e-mail addresses and telephone numbers. Organize the e-mail addresses in a folder on your computer so that you can immediately and effectively communicate details about your program.

Set up a substitute book. Absences are bound to occur during the school year, whether due to illness (yours or a relative’s) or a conference. Having a substitute book prepared will give you peace of mind and the knowledge that your sub has been provided with lesson plans that they can easily implement.

Reflect. Take some time at the end of the first week (or every week) to review each class/group, assess their progress, and affirm that you are heading in the right direction.

Remember that you aren’t perfect. We all have days when what we have planned for the classroom simply doesn’t work, and that’s ok! Learn from those  mistakes and continue to believe in yourself and your students. Celebrate the small victories along the way!

The Band Director’s Afro-Cuban Survival Guide

Joe McCarthy

Part 1: The Clave

Welcome to the first installment of “The Band Director’s Afro-Cuban Survival Guide” for percussion and the drumset.

Afro-centric rhythms and instruments are present in virtually all styles of music and it is imperative for band directors of all levels to understand the core functions and applications of these rhythms. When studying this genre, one must turn to Cuba because of its unparalleled contributions to this style of music. Since the 16th century, Cuban music has been a melting pot of African and European harmonies, melodies and musical instruments. Of particular interest are deep connections to many Cuban drumming styles where enslaved African people were able to maintain their sacred and secular drumming traditions. These traditions created an essential bond between music and language.

You’ve heard this term before, but I’d like to simplify this topic so you are totally comfortable and understand it completely. This way you can explain it to your students.

Stay with me now:

One of the most important and unique characteristics of Cuban music is the clave, which translates to the “key.” Clave is quite simple and easy to understand. The clave is the structural core of Cuban music. I am referring to clave as a concept, not the percussion instrument the claves, although the rhythms of the clave patterns are played on the claves. You hear it and feel it constantly in all styles of music including classical and pop. It is a rhythmic cell or pattern which is the foundation of most Cuban rhythms. In a nutshell, the clave is the glue that holds this music together. In the Afro-Cuban style and related music, all instrumental, melodic and harmonic phrases should be in sync with the clave, this includes phrases that are improvised. The clave concept is a 5-note (5-stroke) cell or pattern phrased over two measures. The clave pattern is either 3:2 or 2:3, which means there is a 3-side and a 2-side of the clave. These numbers simply indicate which side of the clave the phrase begins.

The next step: The son clave and the rumba clave are the common types of clave. Son clave is heard primarily in salsa and popular dance music, while rumba clave is heard primarily in folkloric music and Latin jazz. Although the rhythmic structure of son clave is similar to rumba clave, the difference is the rumba has a little syncopation of the last note on the 3 side which adds tension to the music.

I’ll demonstrate the son clave, both the 2:3 and the 3:2 in 4/4 and then in cut time.

Here are three short video clips to further explain:

Now, in this short video clip, I’ll demonstrate the rumba clave and clearly show you the difference between the son and rumba clave.

How do you know which clave is correct or which one to use? Typically the 2-side clave corresponds to a melody containing less syncopation. Conversely, the 3-side clave typically contains more of a syncopated melody. There are exceptions of course. The direction of the clave is either 2:3 or 3:2 and the direction is dependent upon the rhythmic and melodic structure of the tune. In other words, begin by determining whether the rhythmic structure of the melody has a tendency towards the non-syncopated 2 side or the more syncopated 3 side of the clave.

Not every melody will outline the clave exactly, so listen for accents and figures, many of which are characteristic to this style of music. Once the clave is internalized, this concept will make more sense, as you will relate the phrase to the clave. How does this happen? LISTENING. Investigate Cuban folkloric drumming, salsa and Latin jazz. The clave is there.

Next: It is also very important to understand that clave is a fixed pattern, which means the direction of the clave does not change! Stay with me now: However, because it is an even-numbered phrase, a common technique is to incorporate an odd-numbered phrase to give the illusion of a “change” in the direction. In other words, the next phrase starts on the other side of the clave, tricking our ears into thinking it has changed, but it hasn’t. Another odd-bar phrase will return the clave to the “original” direction. I refer to this as “Moveable 1”.

Check out these short videos to further explain and demonstrate the “Moveable 1.”

Take a few moments to internalize the clave so you are able to hear and feel the pattern. Share it with your students too.

Look for the next segment in a future Alfred Ledger Line. It’s easier than you think and all the rhythms associated with the clave will make much more sense with this foundation in place.

Thanks. Keep listening and most importantly, have fun!

Joe McCarthy

Check out more instructional videos from Joe McCarthy on his YouTube playlist:

Check out his books and DVDs here.

 

Teaching Pianists to Sight-Read Successfully.

Victoria McArthur“He can sight-read anything perfectly without practicing.” “She was born with sight-reading talent.”

Have you overheard these comments? Do you believe either statement can be true? Are some students born with special gifts making sight-reading easier for them? Can students sight-read without practice?

The answer is no.  All pianists start at the same place, with the same tools. Sight-reading skills must be developed over time and with the right kind of practice.

Music research has also demonstrated that sight-reading is a learned skill, not an inborn talent (Lehmann & McArthur, 2002).

To learn to sight-read, the following must be present:

  • Some time each day to specifically practice sight-reading (not performance, which is a different process)
  • A reasonable practice environmentquiet, well-lit and without distractions, (ideally) using an 88-key acoustic or digital keyboard
  • Sight-reading music materials chosen for their systematic progression in difficulty and their motivating qualities

Sight Reading 1A“Sight-reading is largely visual pattern recognition performed with a steady pulse.” Premier Piano Course Sight-Reading was written to teach pianists how to achieve this goal. The authorspiano teachers themselveswere mindful of efficiently using lesson and practice time while achieving sight-reading fluency.

The sight-reading materials in each level correlate with the equivalent level of Premier Piano Course Lesson Book, Levels 1A and 1BThere are 14 units per Sight Reading Book. Represented in each unit are five, short activities, each of which addresses an important component in sight-reading skill development (the Lesson Book correlation pages are clearly written in the upper right-hand margins). In addition, the Sight Reading Books can be used with other methods or as a stand-alone sight-reading approach.

Sight Reading 1BIt is suggested that pianists play one activity per practice day. Each activity is marked with a repeat sign; however, the activity should not be practiced with multiple repetitions.  Play it…then leave it! Accuracy will be imperfect (that’s OK!) but will improve as sight-reading skill grows over time.

In addition, a short direction to the student precedes each sight-reading activity.

Below are examples that show samples of the five activities in each unit of Sight Reading 1A & 1B.

Activity 1—Play the Note

Play individual notes using finger 2 (only) to break down any reliance on playing in set hand positions.

Sight Reading 1A, p.10

Sight Reading 1A, p.10
Play the Note using new notes
G & E, and previously learned notes.

Sight Reading 1B, p.20
Play the Note using notes the
interval of a 4th apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Activity 2Play from Note-to-Note

Play patterns with steps, skips, and repeated notes as well as Landmark Notes. The goal is to play notes by using the previous note as a reference. Conventional fingering is used.

Sight Reading 1A, p.10

Sight Reading 1A, p.10
Play from Note-to-Note using steps,
skips and repeated notes, as well as
a review of Landmark Notes.

Sight Reading 1B, p.20

Sight Reading 1B, p.20
Play from Note-to-Note using
melodic and harmonic
3rds and 4ths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Activity 3Rhythm Challenge

Tap rhythm patterns on the closed key cover or lap. The goal is to perform rhythm accurately while keeping a steady beat.

Sight Reading 1A, p.16

Sight Reading 1A, p.16
Tap a Rhythm Challenge in
preparation for upcoming activity
pieces within the same unit.

Sight Reading 1B, p.24

Sight Reading 1B, p.24
Tap a Rhythm Challenge that uses
hands separately as well as
hands together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Activity 4Play Without Stopping

Play a short piece that uses the Rhythm Challenge patterns. The goal is to keep playing without pause.

Sight Reading 1A, p.9

Sight Reading 1A, p.9
Choose a tempo at which the piece
can be played with a steady beat. Keep
going, even if there are wrong or
omitted notes.

Sight Reading 1B, p.29

Sight Reading 1B, p.29
An optional Challenge is posed
to play with a metronome
(quarter note = 92-112).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Activity 5—Play Expressively

Play a short variation of the Play Without Stopping piece. The goal is to play expressively without stopping.

Sight Reading 1A, p.9

Sight Reading 1A, p.9
Circle the tempo and dynamic
markings, then play, making the
music as expressive as possible.

Sight Reading 1B, p.10

Sight Reading 1B, p.10
Circle the tempo and dynamic
markings, then play, making the
music as expressive as possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Positive outcomes from using Premier Sight-Reading:

Students will:

  • learn to read ahead and not halt or “back up” while playing.
  • learn to keep a steady pulse and “throw away” missed or omitted notes.
  • learn to pre-scan before playing, noting rhythm and note patterns, as well as marks of expression.
  • improve note accuracy without cues, meaning notes at the beginning of the piece, at the beginning of new lines (systems) or new pages will be sight-read more accurately.
  • develop confidence in encounters with unfamiliar music.
  • enjoy their sight-reading skill, enhancing their ability to learn unfamiliar music more quickly, play duets with friends, and play for church and social gatherings, e.g.

Although sight-reading is not an inborn talent, it can definitely be developed and taught. Teachers who take time to teach sight-reading in the lesson perhaps give their students one of the greatest musical gifts of all:  the ability to learn music independentlya lifelong skill! What an exciting thought!

On a practical level (especially for thirty-minute lessons), sight-reading can be heard in the first couple of minutes of each lesson. Likewise, students can dramatically improve their sight-reading skill with only a few minutes a day devoted exclusively to sight-reading skill-building.

As a teacher, it is exciting to ignite, then to nurture the pleasure of sight-reading within your students, with the hope that hundreds of hours of enjoyment lie ahead for those who can work independently!

Victoria McArthur
Premier Piano Course Co-Author
Director Piano Pedagogy and Group Piano, Florida State University

 

Lehmann, A., & McArthur, V. (2002). Sight-Reading. In Parncutt, R. and G. E. McPherson (Eds.). The Science and Psychology of Music Performance (pp. 135-165). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, Inc.

 

Selecting a Method Book

Phillips_pBy Pam Phillips

There are many reasons to decide to use a specific method book. Here are a few items worth considering.

Circumstances to consider when selecting a method book:

  1. The age at which your students begin instruction.
  2. The number of days per week that class meets.
  3. The length of each class.
  4. Is part of that class time taken by room set-up?
  5. Do many students take private lessons?
  6. Do you have team teaching?

Pedagogical factors to consider when selecting a method book:

  1. Do you teach by rote at first?
  2. Do you prefer to start arco or pizzicato?
  3. Do you prefer to start with fingers down and the hand blocked or fingers up?
  4. Do you prefer note names in the note heads?

Alfred Music has a method to fit every need.

An Invitation from Andy Beck

Andy BeckGreetings music educators! As the school year comes to a close and final performances, evaluations, and grades are complete, I’d like to extend a warm invitation for you to join me at a summer reading session near you. Together with fellow music educators and other outstanding clinicians, we will explore and discover new choral and classroom materials, handpicked and highly recommended. What can you expect when you attend? Here are some highlights:

We will SING!
The very best way to select a piece of music is to sing it. And just imagine the beautiful sounds we will make in a room filled with choral directors and music educators. Along the way, I will emphasize teaching techniques, programming suggestions, and creative performance ideas for all of the materials included in your complimentary packet.

We will LAUGH!
After all, you’ve taken a day out of your brief summer vacation to attend, so let’s have some fun. We’ll probably share a chuckle at ourselves or each other, have a giggle at a clever novelty song or two, and every so often, we’ll crack up at a humorous anecdote about our ever-entertaining students.

We will SHARE ideas!
Over the years, I’ve gathered some useful teaching tidbits that I enjoy sharing throughout the day. If you have a great tip you’d like to impart, please do. We can all learn so much from each other. And with your permission, I’ll pass your idea along to the many other talented music educators that I will have the opportunity to meet this summer.

We’ll GET ORGANIZED for next year!
Be sure to bring a pencil so that you can keep lists and mark materials that you enjoy as we review them. Then later you can take a closer look at each item and even purchase or order on the spot. There will be outstanding choral music, vocal warm-ups, sight-singing books, teacher texts, musicals, and more. By the end of the day, you will be well on your way to having everything you need for the coming school year.

We might even DANCE!
Those of you who know me will attest to my enthusiasm for easy and effective riser choreography. On a few pieces, I may invite you to try a few of the moves, and I’ll model effective ways to teach these routines to your singers.

We will INSPIRE each other!
I get so much from my interaction with music teachers like you. Your dedication to education is truly inspirational! In return, I’ll do my very best to demonstrate positive teaching strategies, offer words of praise and encouragement, and share ideas that will motivate you and your students alike. When all is said and done, you’ll be recharged and ready to embrace the coming school year.

There’s no doubt about it—music teachers are amazing. We are passionate about our craft. We care deeply about our students. We embrace music as a powerful art form. We realize that, through our music and our everyday actions, we teach so much more than music. Through the choice of repertoire, not only do we educate those who are in our classrooms, but we also entertain and inspire hundreds more who attend our concerts. Along the way, we face challenges, but never lose sight of the song that lies within. I look forward to sharing my song … and hearing yours.

See you soon,
Andy Beck

P.S. Mention this article to me at a summer event to receive a free gift from Alfred Music. But, shh—this is a special offer, exclusively for Ledger Lines readers.

Click here for a complete list of Andy’s upcoming workshops and reading sessions.

Composition Notes by Vince Gassi

Vince Gassi

Vince Gassi

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Poems and paintings are often great inspiration for writing music. “Climb the Mountains Tall” was inspired by “The Dream,” a poem by James Clayton. James’ poem resonated with my desire to travel to new places, meet new people, and learn new things. New experiences enrich our lives and allow us to grow in unexpected and ever interesting ways. In this work, I really tried to capture the spirit of risk involved whenever we step into the unknown and so, the words brave, heroic, and adventurous might spring to mind when you listen to it.

“Climb the Mountains Tall” was commissioned by the Unionville Public School Band in Unionville Canada. I met with their conductor, Will Stokes, to chat about the band, the piece, and the performance. Will’s passion for music and for sharing it with young musicians is impressive. Music educators are some of the most dedicated and hard-working people I know. The truth is, it’s not an easy job, plain and simple (so thank your teacher regularly for all they do).

After deciding on a title, I usually try to create a theme or motif that the piece will be based on. You can hear this theme in the flutes and bells at measure 11. Next up, an accompaniment part; at measure 11, it’s the snare drum providing support for the flutes. Incidentally, did you notice the baritone helping out there as well with a simple counter-line? Now take a look at measure 21. Do you hear the more pronounced accompaniment part (horn, baritone, and tuba) where the trumpets join in the melody? This accompaniment part starts two bars earlier (bar 19) so that it connects the previous section to the next.

At measure 29 a secondary theme is heard in the horn, trombone, baritone, tuba, and other low woodwinds. By the way, you can hear a variation of this in the introduction to the piece. For the slower middle section, the melodic shape is reversed. Instead of the melody moving from a low note to a higher note (see bar 38 in the flutes), it goes the other way as at bar 11 in the flutes. At bar 40, you can hear it in the baritone, tuba, and bells, then back to the flutes and bells in measure 42 and, well… you get the idea, it keeps moving around the band. Even the accompaniment part, (low brass and saxes at measure 38) is a “slowing-down” of the accompaniment figure at measure 29.

But watch out! At measure 51 the tempo increases and we hear the main theme again at measure 62, only this time it is played softly by the low brass, bass clarinet, and baritone saxophone (flute, oboe, and clarinets play a countermelody). Finally, at measure 70, the key moves up a step and we are carried to the end.

After I had finished this piece, I had the wonderful opportunity to rehearse with the band and conduct the premiere performance. The Unionville students had a lot of energy and, being well trained young musicians, made it a very enjoyable experience for me. Thanks James, thanks Will, thanks Unionville Band, and thank you too. Here is James’ poem. Enjoy!

The Dream,
by Darren James Clayton

I walk, I run, I fly,

Through street, through field and sky;

I open every door,

To those who’ve flown before;

We fly to countries too,

And speak in language new;

I sing the natives’ songs,

Not caring if they’re wrong;

I swim in oceans deep,

As clouds begin to weep;

I bathe in Heaven’s spring,

And hear the angels sing;

I climb the mountains tall,

I jump, I fly, I fall;

A darkness fills my head,

I land at home,

In bed.


Climb the Mountains Tall

Climb the Mountains Tall

View the score and hear the recording at alfred.com.
This piece is also available on SmartMusic