Monthly Archives: July 2014

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.