Teaching Tips: Helping Piano Students Apply New Concepts (Part 1 of 3)

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By Melody Bober

If you took piano lessons when you were very young, you probably remember how exciting—and sometimes a bit scary—it was to begin a new piece of music, each one slightly more difficult than the last, offering new discoveries and challenges. Perhaps it would be a piece that reviewed two-note slurs; maybe staccato vs. legato, introduced accents, simple harmonies, intervals, or even moved around the keyboard a bit. But what if all of these concepts were found in the same piece?

SoloXtreme1Solo Xtreme is a new collection of three elementary books with pieces that challenge your students to change locations on the keyboard, cross hand-over-hand, play harmonic intervals, accidentals, use pedal to create color and mood, and vary articulation.

Book 1 is the early to mid-elementary level, and the exciting piece we’ll look at is called “Beach Fun.”

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  1. With the right hand, practice 2-note slurs from D-sharp to E in various octaves. Weight the 2nd finger on D-sharp with an upward lift for the E as they progress up and down the keyboard.
  2. Try the staccato articulation by using left hand on the interval of the 4th, from C down to G. When learning staccato, the word “detached” has little meaning to a 5-year-old, so my teacher would tell me to play the keys as if they were too hot to hold onto. Also try this exercise in various octaves.
  3. The connected sound of legato is often the most difficult for younger students to achieve, but if the notes are only a step away, it seems easier to maintain that connected sound. Students should not only practice measures 2, 6, 18, and 20, but also the descending legato line measures 10-11 and the skip pattern in measure 15 for smoothness. And again, try in different octaves.
  4. As the student begins octave movement, a certain note should become the anchor note, a note that the eye sees and the hand moves to easily allowing the other fingers to fall into place. My suggestion is the right hand D sharp as the left hand should be confident finding C from anywhere.
  5. The accent in measures 9-10 and 13-14 should be performed with strength and a distinct contrast to the smooth flow of the measures following.
  6. In order to achieve the level of energy necessary for “Beach Fun,” you must begin the tempo at a quarter note = 70 and proceed upward from there as confidence builds. The piece must be lively, but correct note playing and rhythmic precision are paramount.
  7. Lastly, the best performance will result from memorization. Changing locations, implementing all of the dynamics, and articulation require concentration on total musicianship without having to continuously glance from page to keyboard.

Changing locations on the keyboard, varied articulation, and dynamics give this piece an “X-treme-ly” delightful sound, and the lively tempo guarantees fast-paced fun for your elementary student.

boberAs a composer, Melody Bober enjoys creating motivational piano pieces that foster her students’ understanding and love of music. In addition to teaching piano in her private studio, Melody’s music-teaching experience includes 20 years of public school and two years at the university level. A dynamic clinician and innovative composer, Melody is in great demand at conventions and workshops for piano teachers across North America. 

Music from La La Land Now Available from Alfred Music

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Alfred Music is thrilled to announce the release of four new choral arrangements from the critically-acclaimed and highly-awarded motion picture La La Land. These exciting arrangements from La La Land are sure to be a hit with both singers and audiences. Each song is available for SATB, SAB, and SSA voices.

Another Day of Sun,” arranged by Jacob Narverud, is the optimistic opening number from La La Land. Who can forget those boisterous singing and dancing motorists on L.A.’s jammed 110 freeway at the start of the 2016 box office smash? This dynamic arrangement captures the excitement of the score with rhythmic drive, varied choral textures, and a rousing accompaniment. A perfect opener or closer, and a golden opportunity for choreography. Listen to a sample here.

The cast of La La Land gets all dolled up and heads to a lavish Hollywood Hills party during “Someone in the Crowd,” arranged by Alan Billingsley. The lively tempo, jazzy feel, and cheeky lyrics are fantastically fun and fuel the fire to become (or find) that someone special amongst a crowd of hopefuls. Listen to a sample here.

Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” arranged by Andy Beck, is the stunning, emotional showcase for actress Emma Stone in her award-winning performance as Mia. Nominated for Best Original Song, the poignant piece tells the story of one woman’s life and acknowledges the dreamer in all of us. Listen to a sample here.

And “City of Stars,” arranged by Jay Althouse, is the Academy Award-winning, instantly recognizable signature song. Winner of “Best Original Song” at the Academy Awards®, the Golden Globes, and the Critic’s Choice Movie Awards, this melancholy yet hopeful ballad features a haunting tune and a distinctive piano accompaniment that are instantly recognizable and extremely well suited for choral groups. Listen to a sample here!

Another Day of Sun,” “Someone in the Crowd,” “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” and “City of Stars are all available in SATB, SAB, and SSA voicings, and with corresponding SoundTrax CDs at music retail stores, online retailers, and alfred.com.

4 Vocal Warms-Ups to Introduce Singers to Jazz Harmony

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By Dr. Art Lapierre

Throughout the years, I have enjoyed working with singers who have a more traditional awareness of music. Oftentimes these singers have experience singing in classical choirs or pop/rock bands, and have little experience singing in four-part harmonies with upper extensions. Other than passing tones, most of these singers have sung in four-part triads and a few seventh chords with approach notes. Because of the more diatonic nature of their musical experience, I have developed a few vocal warm-up exercises to help them transition into hearing and singing in the more chromatic nature of jazz. These warm-ups will also help lead to the tone, enunciation (voiced and unvoiced consonants for legato ballad singing), and ear training appropriate for vocal jazz singing.

On the first day of rehearsal, I observe whether or not they can arpeggiate simple seventh chords: 1-3-5-7 (do-mi-sol-ti); 1-3-5-♭7 (do-mi-sol-te), as well as minor, half-, and whole-diminished chords, and design exercises to help them do so. The idea that they will need to sing an unprepared “non-chord” tone is oftentimes foreign to them. And, of course, few have yet to explore the extended notes of the 9, 11, and 13.

Here are a few exercises you can try in an effort to familiarize your singers with non-chord tones.

  1. Have them sing an ascending/descending major 9th arpeggio (1-3-5-7-9-7-5), using various vowel and word combinations. I use the words “name-the-tune-and-I-will-sing” for its combination of vowels and voiced consonants. Accompany the singers on the piano with a tonic major seventh chord.
  2. Repeat exercise 1, except this time move to a subdominant major seventh chord in the accompaniment, as they sing the 7th and 9th scale tones in the exercise. You may choose to put a fermata on these notes so that the singers may become more familiar with the sound and sensation of the resulting #11 and “add 6” harmonies created.
  3. Have the singers sing an ascending/descending dominant 9th arpeggio (1-3-5-♭7-9-♭7-5) with the same lyrics, and in the piano accompaniment play a tonic dominant chord.
  4. Try the same exercises, but over a tonic minor chord (1-♭3-5-♭7-9-♭7-5). In the accompaniment, similar to exercise 2, try the same arpeggio over a subdominant minor chord. Again, you may want to put a fermata over each note in the arpeggio to familiarize your singers with these newfound harmonies.

When the singers get comfortable with the sensation of extended chords, alter the arpeggio for more chromatically altered chords that include the ♭9, #9, and ♭13.

I have found that in very little time the singers start hearing and enjoying the extended notes of a newfound harmony—the harmony they will encounter in much vocal jazz repertoire!

Art_LapierreDr. Arthur Lapierre is the director of the DownBeat Award-winning American River College Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and teaches voice in Sacramento, CA. Lapierre also conducts vocal jazz workshops and clinics in the United States and Europe. He has taught at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, CA. Learn more here.

                                                                              

5 Ways to Introduce Students to the Stylistic Nuances of Jazz

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By Vince Gassi

Jazz is a many-splendored thing. The numerous styles falling under the umbrella of “Jazz” (Swing, Bebop, Latin, Funk, etc.) allow performers and composers to be expressive in a variety of ways. It is a dynamic and ever-evolving genre, and each style has its own set of standard practices with regard to length of notes and phrasing. For young musicians, adapting to these stylistic nuances is a critical skill. This article offers a few suggestions to help your students toward that end.

1. Pattern Recognition

With Swing, quarter notes are played short unless otherwise marked. Eighth notes are played unevenly though they are written as normal (see fig. 1). The reason for this is that it is simply easier to read.

Swing Notes

Figure 1: Swing Eighth Notes

 

But this is just one style. A Bossa Nova or a Samba has a different code to unlock. Quarter notes are not necessarily always short or long and eighth notes are not swung but played evenly. And what about Rock or Funk? No matter the style, lots of listening and imitation is required. Like learning a language, learning any style of music takes countless hours of listening and practice in order to learn pattern recognition and to apply the appropriate style. If you wanted to be an award-winning novelist, simply reading a lot would not get you there. You would have to read constantly and then imitate. It’s the same with any musical style.

2. Recommended Listening List

Have your students listen as much as possible to big bands, small bands, soloists, anything jazz related (and any other musical style possible) and try to copy what they’re hearing. Why not make a listening list and include a list of things to focus on (e.g., concept of sound, time, ensemble playing, effects, improv, phasing). Pick out phrases that you can isolate and have your students work on.

As a young trumpet player in high school, I was drawn to the big bands of Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich, Thad Jones / Mel Lewis, and Rob McConnell and the Boss Brass. To this day one of my favorites is a tune called “Stay Loose with Bruce” (Maynard Ferguson Band featuring Bruce Johnstone on baritone sax). This tune is a great example of the swing articulations and other effects like fall offs, shakes, bends, scoops, etc. Also, have a listen to the interplay between the ride cymbal (Randy Jones), the upright bass (Rick Petrone), and of course the baritone sax player, and the ensemble. (By the way, I just love upright bass. My uncle Ray played upright bass with a big band when I was a kid. I was mesmerized by the instrument). Quarter notes are short and the eighth-note swing feel is oh so sweet! Later on when just the bass and baritone sax are playing together, notice how the sense of time is maintained by just these two players. There is an endless supply of great Jazz artists in bands and vocal ensembles big and small for your students listen to and imitate. Recommending a listening list to your students will greatly increase their in-depth listening skills and differentiation of styles and interpretation. Miles, ‘Trane, Ella, Basie, Maynard, Buddy, Goodwin, New York Voices . . . the list is endless!

3. Ensemble Matching

Choose a rhythm, say the one in “Stay Loose with Bruce” (see fig. 2), and have everyone play/sing it in unison (note how the articulations on the 8th notes remind players of the triplet feel). As in Figure 2, insert a bar of rest every other bar to allow students to process what they are hearing in the silence. This also gives them an opportunity to focus on their sense of time. Alternatively, you might instruct the drummer to simply keep playing time in the rest measures. A third option is to have one section play/sing the rhythm and another section match it exactly in the next bar. By the way, this exercise can just as easily be done with a vocal ensemble. Try using syllables such as “Dut doo ba doo bop!”

Swing Articulation Exercise

Figure 2: Swing Articulation Exercise

4Live Performances

Find out where live jazz is happening in your locale and plan a “Jazz Trek.” The first live big band I heard was Maynard Ferguson’s band. My dad allowed me to skip off a day from my summer job so we could travel four hours by car to hear this amazing band at the Interlochen Centre for the Arts in Michigan. Mind blowing! Not just for the technical displays but for how tight the ensemble was and how well they could swing. To a kid in high school, hearing these sounds for the first time, it was transformative. Don’t you want to transform your students?

5. Transcription

Encourage your students to make a habit of transcription. I spent hours wearing out the grooves in my vinyl (yes, that’s right…vinyl) albums, attempting to listen to and imitate what I was hearing. Just jot down pitches to begin with (one at a time); rhythms will come later. Students should use their instrument to test the notes they are hearing. There’s a great app called The Amazing Slow Downer which allows you to slow the tempo of an MP3 down without affecting the pitch. Additionally, you can loop sections and isolate one or more bars or even just a few notes.

Be sure that your students notice inflection—the altering of a note or notes; another essential ingredient which tells the listener about what style you are communicating. Listen to Snooky Young’s cup mute trumpet solo on a tune called “Tiptoe” (Thad Jones Mel Lewis Big Band). It’s legendary, not because he plays a million notes, but because he is so musical. Notice how he shapes the last note of certain phrases with a slight vibrato. It’s a very subtle thing but adds to the coolness of the music. I don’t think anyone taught him that. Later in the chart you’ll hear the tastiest trombone soli (with upright bass). Put this music on and see if you can stay still, not tap your foot, or start moving in any way. Impossible!

All of the tips in this article (pattern recognition, recommended listening, ensemble matching, live performances, transcription) come down to listening and imitating (deciphering the code) and this applies to anything we want to learn. There is such a wellspring of expression and energy just waiting for your students to discover and these experiences will change the course of their lives. John Cacavas said it best, “Each day is different and your capacity for learning and expression will grow. Every time you browse through a score, hear a recording, see a movie, or attend a concert, your artistic self will absorb that which impresses you and will add to your experience.” As with any creative endeavor your students will eventually gain a greater awareness of their artistic self and begin to develop their own “voice.” So, encourage them to listen, listen some more, keep listening, and just see how much sweeter life is because of this music.


gassiVince Gassi
 is a much sought-after composer, conductor, and clinician. With nearly 100 published titles to his credit, Vince’s creative and energetic style has made him a favorite with young musicians. His works, both challenging and musically rewarding, appear on many international concert and contest lists. For 25 years Vince has taught instrumental music at the elementary and secondary school levels. He is in frequent demand as a guest conductor, adjudicator, and clinician throughout the United States and Canada.

Composer Q&A: Getting to Know Martha Mier

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Martha Mier is an internationally recognized composer and clinician whose educational piano music for students of all levels has made her one of today’s most popular composers. Students worldwide enjoy playing her music, including the popular Jazz, Rags & Blues series and the Romantic Impressions series. We had a chance to catch up with Martha and learn more about her start in music and teaching, her favorite compositions, and her biggest inspirations.

How did you get your start in music?
I grew up with 5 older brothers, each of whom took piano lessons, so I could hardly wait until it was “my turn!” My oldest brother was playing Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies and Chopin Waltzes when I was only 3 or 4 years old, and I was so inspired by his playing, and was greatly influenced by him.

Do you remember your very first piano lesson?
I can’t say I remember my very first piano lesson, but I remember several of my early pieces which thrilled me! One was a little waltz where I got to cross over with left hand to high C! Fun, fun!

When did you know you wanted to teach?
After teaching music in a Jr. High School for 1 year, I decided I would prefer a one-on-one relationship with students, thus began my piano teaching career. It was a wise choice.

Do you have any advice for a new teacher, or what is something you wish you knew when you started teaching?
Treat students as individuals, and tailor a curriculum to fit that particular student. Attend workshops and join local music groups to continue your education. Always be enthusiastic about the music, and your student will pick up on that enthusiasm.

Tell us about a memorable teaching moment?
Memorable teaching moments come when a student understands a concept and can then apply it to his or her playing. Those “AHA!” moments are satisfying and memorable.

How do you motivate students?
Students learn to love music by playing music that they love. I try to select repertoire that will appeal to the student, then I will know he will practice it. Studio contests and rewards are helpful, but true motivation comes from within each student.

What is one of the biggest challenges you overcame as a teacher?
Learning to be totally organized in order to stay within time limits. Planning each lesson is helpful and essential.

What inspired you to start composing?
I began composing in high school just for the fun of it! In my teaching, I would write little pieces for my students when I could not find a piece that presented what that student liked or needed.

Do you have a favorite composition of yours?
A couple of my favorite compositions of mine are 1) “Lady Brittany’s Ballad” for its romantic, modal sound, 2) “Celebration Scherzo” for its rhythmic vitality and fun octaves, and 3) “The Purple Hills of Heather” for the romantic sounds.

Do you have any advice for young composers?
My advice for young composers is to keep writing. Continue to explore and create.

What do you love about jazz? What drew you to it?
When in high school, I discovered “Blues in the Night” and “Basin Street Blues,” and I was hooked for life! It speaks to my heart.

Who are your jazz inspirations?
I am inspired by the older jazz pianists, such as Count Basie.

Do you have a favorite piece or type of music to play for fun?
I love all styles of music, and play from Classical to Jazz.

If you could have dinner with any musician, past or present, who would it be, and why?
I would like to have dinner with Chopin. I would love to learn his personality to know where his beautiful romantic style came from.

Using Jazz to Teach Children Literacy, Math, History, and More

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Excerpted from Jazzy Fairy Tales, A Resource Guide for Introducing Jazz Music to Young Children

By Susan Milligan and Louise Rogers

Jazz is a play-centered approach to music, and we know that young children learn best by playing. Jazz is improvisational, fun, and playful. Jazz is creative and social. Jazz is easily accessible to both teachers and children. You don’t need to be a trained musician to make jazz part of your program and you don’t have to take time away from skill building in other areas. Children learn literacy, math, music, small and large motor skills, visual arts, and social studies while they are having fun with jazz—and jazz is a developmentally appropriate way to infuse your classroom with the joy of music!

Children love to hear and tell stories. Children tell their own stories as they pretend-play by themselves. When they play together, they create collaborative stories. When you tell or read stories to young children, you get their immediate attention. As the stories unfold, children become invested in the characters and plots. Stories are their gateway to learning. Skills are acquired almost effortlessly.

Stories allow children to focus and enter into learning experiences. For example, children can learn to sing the blues almost instantly within the context of pretending they are characters who are sad. They “become” the character. It makes sense to them to sing the blues because the blues reflect what the characters are feeling. In a like manner, children can learn to sing a scale as they pretend to be characters that are “climbing” stairs in their story. Because the stairs are going up, up, up, it is easy and natural for the pitch of their voices to go up, up, up, too.

Did you know that incorporating jazz and storytelling into your classroom can help build a foundation of many necessary skills? Jazz and storytelling:

Build Music Skills

  • Vocalization
  • Pitch
  • Rhythm
  • Listening skills
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Singing together
  • Understanding that written notes represent sounds and rhythms

Build Literacy Skills

  • Telling a story sequentially
  • Listening skills
  • Phonemic awareness
  • Rhyming
  • Tapping out syllables
  • Understanding characterization
  • Understanding stories and adding to stories told by others
  • Understanding and following oral directions
  • Listening respectfully without interrupting others
  • Speaking audibly
  • Speaking to dramatize an experience
  • Taking turns speaking
  • Understanding that written notes represent sounds and rhythms

Build Math Skills

  • Echoing patterns
  • Rhythms
  • Fractions: whole, half, quarter and eighth notes

Build Socio-Emotional Skills

  • Acquiring language for building empathy
  • Sharing and identifying feelings, emotions and experiences
  • Connecting to other people
  • Listening to each other
  • Solving problems together

Build Small and Large Motor Skills

  • Dancing, body movement
  • Fast and slow
  • Loud and soft
  • Hand movements

Jazz is playing with music within a structure. Storytelling is playing with words and ideas within a structure. If you can incorporates some simple jazz basics, such as scat singing (a jazz language used by singers when trying to make their voices sound like instruments), and basic rhythmic patterns and movements, and join them to storytelling, the result can be a powerful teaching tool for young children. You do not take away time from building academic skills when you bring jazz and storytelling into the classroom. Quite the opposite, you help children learn in a most enjoyable and accessible way.

00-36596The content of this article is excerpted from Jazzy Fairy Tales, a resource guide and CD designed to bring jazz music into the classroom. The activities provided may be used to supplement an existing program or to provide a ready-made, easy-to-use, all-encompassing music curriculum. The Appendix includes music theory terms, jazz terminology, standard blues form, and notation (melody with chords) for most of the themes and songs.


Getting to Know the Great Jazz Legends

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Jazz is truly an American treasure, performed and enjoyed all over the world. To help establish appreciation among today’s jazz students, it is important for them to learn about some of the legendary musicians who made significant contributions to its development over time. Telling stories and humanizing the biggest players will fascinate and inspire your students to be more well-rounded players themselves. In celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, we’re sharing some of our favorite historical facts and anecdotes on some of our favorite jazz legends of all time:

  • While recording “Heebie Jeebies,” Louis Armstrong kept his session running after the sheet music fell off the stand. He continued singing using nonsense syllables and making sounds similar to an instrument, resulting in the first known recording of scat singing.
  • Duke Ellington played baseball as a child, and his other talents included drawing and painting. He first demonstrated an entrepreneurial spirit with a sign-painting business, before becoming one of the greatest bandleaders of all time.
  • As a child growing up in Newport News, Virginia, Ella Fitzgerald’s first dream was to become a tap dancer, however she launched her singing career after winning an amateur talent contest at the Apollo Theater in Harlem at age 17.
  • During a jam session, drummer Jo Jones expressed his displeasure with Charlie Parker’s saxophone playing by tossing a pair of cymbals at Parker’s feet, indicating for him to leave the stage. Parker then became dedicated to music like never before, practicing 10 to 12 hours a day to sharpen his skills.
  • Thelonious Monk began piano lessons at 5 years old, and by the time he was 13, he was banned from a weekly amateur contest at the Apollo Theater because he had won so many times.
  • In 1954, Dave Brubeck became the first modern jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine.
  • John Coltrane was known to practice 12 to 14 hours each day to perfect his sound and technique. Even after reaching professional status, he could be found practicing between breaks at many of his gigs.
  • In addition to being a virtuoso bassist, bandleader, pianist, and prolific composer, Charles Mingus was also an astute business man, creating his own publishing company to protect his increasing catalog of original compositions.
  • Herbie Hancock not only demonstrated great ability on the piano, but in mathematics as well. He graduated Grinnell College in Iowa with degrees in electrical engineering and music composition.

Keeping students informed and inspired will help to continue the story of jazz for future generations. Jazz music, in comparison to Western art music, is still in its infancy. The jazz students of today are the jazz legends of tomorrow!

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The content for this article was pulled from Meet the Great Jazz Legends, which features 17 20-30 minute lessons on various jazz legends, each containing pictures, suggested listening, biographies, insights, and a puzzle, word scramble, or true/false game. The book also includes an enhanced CD with listening tracks for each lesson and a fully reproducible PDF. For a sample, click here.


Balancing the Physical and Musical Aspects of Instrumental Music

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By Thomas J. West

Most public school music ensembles spend 95 percent of their classroom time preparing for public concerts. It takes many hours of repetition of the music in order to program the body to perform the music accurately. Band and orchestra directors basically run rehearsals for a living and become very good at providing the repetitions necessary to program the physical movements required to perform the music accurately.

When I began writing articles for my website, I focused on sharing music practice tips. The majority of these were strategies designed to help maximize practice routine efficiency, garnering more successful repetitions of the music. What I have only recently realized, however, is that the majority of time and effort spent practicing a musical instrument has more to do with programming the mind to physically control the instrument accurately and reliably. There is more “physical education” involved in instrumental music making than actual “music education”.

In most traditional high school bands and orchestras, the vast majority of rehearsal time is spent drilling the music in order for ensemble members to develop some level of physical proficiency in performance. Teaching basic musicianship concepts like reading notation, understanding pitch, and so on, is left to the elementary music teachers to handle. High school ensembles focus primarily on ensemble techniques such as pulse control, section and group intonation, balance and blend, and so on. Those concepts are touched upon and then drilled, drilled, drilled until the ensemble can perform them accurately.

The Marriage Between Physical and Aural

One of the amazing things about studying music performance is that it elides the physical skill of operating a musical instrument with the mental skill of perceiving and instantly processing and reacting to sound. Singers do this as well, but the need to physically train the body is quite different. Instrumentalists spend a great deal of time simply becoming proficient at manipulating the contraption that makes the musical sounds happen.

Students of music have to not only become proficient at the physical movements, they also have to use their aural skills to assess their own physical performance. The actual musical part of instrumental performance is all mental, and it requires training and skill building just like the physical training of operating the instrument.

Over-Programming the Physical Part of Performance

Because it takes so much time and repetition to program the body, musicianship and listening skills often take a secondary role in many school performing ensemble classes. This is compounded by the fact that many high school band and orchestra directors choose repertoire that demands a high level of technical proficiency on the part of the performers. Technical wizardry (those fast sixteenth note runs, screaming high notes, rapid tonguing or bowing passages, and so on) are engaging and exciting to listen to, and many directors want their students to have the experience of performing exciting works with a lot of technical fireworks.

The trade-off, however, is that technically demanding repertoire often consumes the majority of available class time simply to get the ensemble performing proficiently. Even then, traditional band and orchestra programs lean on the students with the higher music aptitude and skill development to carry the weight while their peers hang on for dear life or fake their way through the difficult passages. Add to that fact the more important consequence—the students rarely have time to improve their musical skills in favor of improving their physical skills.

Audio Gym Teacher?

If ensemble directors, for whatever reason, continue to program technically demanding works that constantly stretch the boundaries of what the students are capable of, they are providing their students with more of an “audio physical education” than a “music education.” Technical ability is only part of what makes up an effective musical performance. It is far better, in my opinion, to choose repertoire with easier technical demand that can be mastered in a shorter amount of time, leaving room towards the end of the preparation period to work on ensemble playing techniques, expressive phrasing, and communicating the intent of the music to the audience.

Quite simply, if by concert time students are not able to look away from the sheet music for more than a brief glance at the baton in order to be able to perform the piece, the technical demand is probably too high.

There certainly is a need for repertoire that “pushes the envelope” and gets students to reach for a new level of technical ability, but I have seen too many band and orchestra programs that try to stretch the ensemble with every single piece they perform. Slaving away on demanding parts is enjoyable for only a minority of students—most are turned off by such hard work, especially if that level of demand is constantly upon them.

Physical training in the band and orchestra is a major component of instrumental performing music and is constantly being addressed. There needs to be a balance, however, between the physical aspects of instrumental performance and the mental aspects of listening, audiating, and understanding music as an art form.

TomWest

Thomas J. West is an active music teacher, composer, adjudicator, and clinician in the greater Philadelphia area. He has eighteen years of experience as a concert band director, marching band director, jazz improvisation instructor, choral director, orchestra director, private instructor, and marching drill writer. Learn more about Thomas at www.thomasjwestmusic.com. 


 

Our Favorite Music Moments

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Our mission here at Alfred Music is to help the world experience the joy of making music. We’ve certainly experienced this joy ourselves, and it has helped guide and shape our lives in one major way or another. In honor of Music In Our Schools Month, we reflected upon some of our own music classroom moments that brought to us the very joy we hope to share.

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“My middle school band director was extremely understanding when I told her I had trouble breathing and couldn’t play the clarinet anymore. She saw potential in me, and handed me some drumsticks. Switching to the percussion section was a blessing in disguise. I was the only female percussionist among 4 rowdy boys, so I quickly learned how to speak up. It also helped me make a lot of new friends. I continued playing drums in my high school jazz band, and in the pit orchestra for our senior year school musical. Drumming gave me confidence, introduced me to new types of music, and became an important piece of my identity. I can’t believe what a crazy turn my life took, and it’s all because my middle school band director gave me a chance.”
—Brooke Greenberg, Graphic Designer

Toni
“Some of my best memories span across all of high school. Every Tuesday and Thursday, we had show choir rehearsal. This was where the magic happened. Everyone left their troubles at the door to make amazing music. The energy was electric. It was as if we all came together with one goal in mind, to sing and dance without fear. Best memory was when our choreographer roped our director into warming up with us! He happily joined in, even though he had no dance experience. Made the rehearsal so much more fun!”
—Toni Hosman, Product Marketing Manager, Instrumental Solo & School Performance 

Vicki

 

“Throughout school, I bounced back and forth between band and choir, but mostly focused on band in high school. But every time I was in band rehearsal and heard the choir, I wished I was in choir. The sound of the voices, the emotion and meaning that could be communicated through words and vocal inflection. And every time I was in choir and heard the band, I wished I was in band. To be surrounded by beautiful brass and woodwind instruments, a different kind of choir. My band director was great, but I was more inspired by my choir director. He was unique in that he also coached football, wrestling, and track. In fact, he knew me by ‘Rees’ (my last name at the time) because he knew my brothers from track and football. His recruiting campaign to get more guys in choir was hanging ‘Real Men Sing’ posters everywhere, and it was brilliant! Choir went from three guys to an entire section within one semester of campaigning. Honestly, I don’t think it was just the posters that did the trick. It was his true joy while teaching choir—it was contagious. He created an atmosphere where we could ask questions, struggle with parts, and try out for solos without fear of ridicule or judgement from him or other students. It was ultimately that teacher that made me choose voice for my instrument in college.”
—Victoria Meador, Product Marketing Manager, School Methods & Suzuki

Heidi Smith

 

“As a pianist, the majority of my music education was solitary until college. A whole new world opened up to me when I started college! A classroom full of other musicians, long choir rehearsals and weeks on tour buses, accompanying soloists, spending hours ‘together’ in the practice rooms, struggling through theory and music history homework . . . these experiences helped me bond with my classmates quickly and foster friendships that will last a lifetime. A community of musicians is special, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. One of my favorite memories is from my 8 a.m. theory class, discussing the form of pieces. Our professor told us to sit on the floor in a circle and passed out plastic cups to each of us. She demonstrated a couple different rhythm patterns to tap on the cups, passing our cup to our neighbor every so often. We listened to ‘Yellow Submarine’ by The Beatles—clapping out rhythms, changing the pattern when a new section of the song started (verse, chorus, bridge). We felt a little silly at first, but I think we all secretly had a blast and loved it! The story was told throughout the music department and in subsequent years, everyone knew what it meant when a theory student said it was ‘Yellow Submarine Day.'”
—Heidi Smith, Product Marketing Manager, Piano

Billy Lawler

 

“My favorite moments from studying music in school happened in between classes. Singing in my school’s vocal jazz ensemble, playing piano in combos, or serving as an accompanist provided so many opportunities to practice alongside others and grow with others as musicians. We shared the common goals of improving both together and as individuals, and that was a major factor in establishing lifelong friendships with my classmates. Our teachers felt more like mentors, coaches, and comrades compared to instructors I’d had in other subjects, and growth as a musician translated into growth as a person. The process of studying music taught me so much more than just how to play an instrument.”
—Billy Lawler, Social & Digital Marketing Specialist


Five Qualities of an Outstanding Piano Teacher

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By Heidi Smith

The majority of musicians have multiple teachers throughout their careers and can probably easily recall the ones who really stand out as most effective. What is it that sets them apart? What characteristics do those teachers share? I recently watched an interview on The Piano Mag Blog with pianist Emanuel Ax, and greatly appreciated his insightful comments about the important role and characteristics of great teachers. His thoughts on what it means to excel in that area encouraged me to further expand upon these ideas, and how I can apply these qualities in my own teaching.

1. Patient

An outstanding teacher demonstrates incredible patience. It’s a pretty self-explanatory statement! Students all learn at different paces, respond better to one style of teaching over another, or—let’s be honest—just don’t want to learn at all. An effective teacher demonstrates patience through these good and bad days, and is ready to adapt for each student and present information in the way that each student learns best.

2. Skilled

Excellent teachers possess advanced technical ability. You’ve heard the old saying, “Those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” That is absolutely not true. If you cannot do it yourself, you won’t be able to describe or demonstrate the concept to a student. If you don’t have a thorough understanding of a concept, how will you be able to help a student understand it? If you don’t possess the technical ability to demonstrate a particular fingering or scale, etc., you will not be able to guide a student to mastery of that technique.

3. Fun

An inspiring teacher makes learning fun! It’s rare for a student to be intrinsically motivated and ready to learn for just the sake of learning itself. Teachers have to provide students with educational fun. Learning doesn’t have to be boring! Use colored pencils, games . . . engage with your students and make music lessons an experience they look forward to every week. Students love a good joke about the title of a piece or the lyrics or an unexpected articulation.

4. Serious

However fun music may be (and it is!), there are times when you have to just buckle down and focus. Great teachers also provide a serious element to the music lesson. Music is a language and learning any new language is plain hard work.  It’s our job as teachers to help nurture that focus in students and provide an atmosphere where they can learn.

5. Joyful

A truly motivating teacher exudes genuine joy for a student. There’s nothing more exciting, as a student, than when your teacher is as excited as you are! Whether it’s enthusiasm over a new piece, an eagerness to hear about their week, or being proud of their progress, our joy in lessons is powerful and contagious. It shows students that we care about them and that we are as invested in their lessons as they are.

The work of music teachers is vitally important. We have the opportunity to touch so many lives and have a lasting influence. In reference to teaching, Emanuel Ax said, “That’s the hardest thing that requires the most talent and the most dedication.” To all you teachers out there who are patient, skilled, fun, serious, and joyful—keep doing what you’re doing! You are outstanding and having an immeasurable impact on the lives of all of your students.

Smith

Heidi Smith earned her Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance and Piano Pedagogy from The Master’s University in Southern California. She has been teaching privately for over 6 years, and is the Product Marketing Manager for Piano at Alfred Music. Heidi loves coffee and has a collection of exciting mugs!