Monthly Archives: February 2017

Job Requirements for Private Piano Teachers


By Gayle Kowalchyk

The path I took to my career in independent piano teaching was not a straight one. Sure that I wanted to do something in music, and knowing I didn’t want to be a public school music teacher, I began my college career with a major in Music Therapy. One year later, I switched my major to Piano Performance. By my senior year, I had developed an interest in piano pedagogy and decided I wanted to teach class piano at the college level. I set my sights on a Masters Degree in Piano Pedagogy and upon graduation, got a job teaching class piano and piano pedagogy in Illinois. I was all set on my career path!

But along the way, I fell in love, got married, and moved to Oklahoma. With no college job prospects in sight, I decided to open a piano studio in our home. My first student, Joel, was a transfer student in the third grade. We clicked immediately, and together we were off on a journey that continues to this day – Joel studied piano with me until he graduated from high school. He has continued to play piano and keep in touch with me since then.

There were other students like Joel, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked. I loved teaching children and running my own studio. But never in a million years when I began college as a Music Therapy major would I have envisioned myself as an independent piano teacher!

I imagine that many independent piano teachers’ career paths have wound around just as mine has. This got me wondering – if I saw a job advertisement for an independent piano teacher position, would I apply? What would that job description entail? I then wrote the following as a hypothetical job announcement for someone seeking work as an independent piano teacher in the 21st century.


Long-term position open for someone looking for challenging permanent work in a changing world. Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours including afternoons, evenings, and some weekends.


Must be able to work with a variety of ages and levels and assume responsibility for the final end product. Must schedule all lesson times, reschedule lesson times, and once again reschedule for clients who are continually adding other activities to their schedules. Candidates for this position must have their own studio space, piano, music library, and other needed supplies. Aside from scheduled lesson times, candidates should devote part of each week to lesson preparation and practicing the piano.

Wages and Compensation

Candidate will set his or her own wages, but must also bill for them and collect payment. Must be prepared to handle clients who pay late and clients who ask for family discounts. All continuing education is paid for by the candidate and will include out-of-town travel. During this time, wages will be lost unless other arrangements have been made.

Knowledge of Technology

Candidates must have access to a computer, the internet, and perhaps someone who can show them how to use these things.

Possibility for Advancement and Promotion

None. The job remains the same for years, but candidates must consistently retrain and update their skills so that their clients no longer need them.


While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no paid holidays, and no stock options are offered (unless you create your own), this job supplies limitless opportunities for changing lives one at a time, instilling the love of music in the hearts of many, and in general, making the world a better place to live.

Obviously, all of us have accepted this position! Congratulations on choosing a career that touches the lives of many and enriches the world in which we live. There is none other like it.

Dr. Gayle Kowalchyk and her husband, Dr. E. L. Lancaster, have authored more than 400 educational piano books based on their years of experience on college faculties and in their private piano studios.

Beyond the Music: Fun Facts About Your Favorite Composers


By Jay Althouse

We sometimes forget that the great composers, whose music we know and love, were living, breathing people who led normal lives beyond their music. Well sometimes, as in the case of Beethoven, not so normal. After all, it’s difficult to be normal when you’re a genius. But just like the rest of us, composers had parents, went to school, grew up, sometimes married, and sometimes had children—Bach had more than 20! Their lives were filled sometimes with joy and sometimes with sorrow. Some, such as Giuseppe Verdi, achieved great financial success musically, while others, such as Charles Ives, rarely heard their music performed during their lifetimes.

For example, did you know that . . .

  • Hector Berlioz studied to become a doctor.
  • Igor Stravinsky, Edward Elgar, and George Frideric Handel studied law.
  • Charles Ives was a very successful insurance agent.
  • Antonio Vivaldi was a Catholic priest.
  • As a teenager, Duke Ellington received a scholarship to study art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
  • Much of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music was largely forgotten until it was revived, in the 1830s, by Felix Mendelssohn.
  • Giocomo Puccini’s hobbies were fast motorboats and faster cars.
  • Felix Mendelssohn was an excellent painter, artist, and author.
  • After the death of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms fell in love, though never married.
  • After graduating from preparatory school, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky became a clerk in the Russian Ministry of Justice.
  • Richard Wagner authored several books, including an autobiography. He even formed his own fan clubs, which he called “Wagner Societies.” Now that’s an ego!
  • In addition to composing music and directing a band, John Philip Sousa wrote three novels, and autobiography, a music instruction book, and hundreds of magazine articles.

It’s important for students to understand that the great composers were, for the most part, normal people with extraordinary talents. As a teacher, you should take every opportunity to humanize the great composers your students study.

Alfred Music has two fully reproducible publications (One-Page Composer Bios and Accent on Composers) designed to teach your students about the lives of the great composers. Both books feature one-page biographies and are filled with musical and personal facts about the great composers your students should know. They’re excellent classroom resources for any music teacher!

althouse_jayAs a composer of choral music, Jay Althouse has over 600 works in print for choirs of all levels. He is a member of ASCAP and is a recipient of the ASCAP Special Award for his compositions in the area of standard music. Jay has also co-written several songbooks, musicals, and cantatas with his wife, Sally K. Albrecht, and also compiled and arranged a number of highly regarded vocal solo collections.


How to Keep Students Motivated Between Lessons


By Amy Barlowe

Weekly or bi-weekly lessons generally build a healthy rapport and often begin a lifelong mentoring relationship between serious students and their teachers. However, concurrently, it is also easy for students to assume a sense of dependency stemming not only from the weekly assignment/check-up routine, but simply from the need for approval. What can we, as teachers, do to help our students find a path to independence? The summer and holiday seasons are the perfect time for students to take short forays into new realms of self-enlightenment.

By cultivating an interest in discovery, and encouraging them to surround themselves with curiosity and wonder, not only can we keep fanned the joyful fires we’ve kindled throughout the first semester, but also, we can attain a sense of personal peace knowing that even while away from our students, they will continue to enjoy the rewards derived from effective practice.

Having taught young people since I was a teenager myself, I have found that “imagination” is the key component of meaningful teaching and learning at all levels. It is unfortunate, however, that although stimulated by the most compelling teachers, imagination often remains behind in the studio. Instead, boredom, its evil twin, invades the practice rooms of even the most gifted students. How then, can we teach students to bring home the enthusiasm that fuels productivity even at the most distracting of times? We need to teach them to be their own teachers.

Keen observation, imagination, a constructive internal monologue, patience, and passion are at the core of successful self-teaching. With guidance, these essential components of learning can be fostered at any level, becoming habitual by the time students must be left on their own. Removing the “drudgery” from practice will keep it challenging and fun!


Amy Barlowe, violinist and composer, received her B.M. and M.M. degrees from the Juilliard School after studies with Ivan Galamian and Margaret Pardee. Formerly Associate Professor of Violin at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, Ms. Barlowe has held teaching positions at the Juilliard Pre-College and New York’s School for Strings. Ms. Barlowe’s biography has been listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Women, and the 2010 edition of Who’s Who in the World.


Listening vs. Hearing: Developing Your Students’ Ensemble Skills

Listening vs. Hearing: Developing Your Students' Ensemble Skills

By Chris Bernotas

Listen up! Listen down, listen in front of you, listen behind you, and listen all around. Critical listening is one of the most important aspects of learning to play as an ensemble member. Do we really teach our students how to listen? It is one thing to hear and another to listen, evaluate, and adjust. Learning to listen and react is as important a skill as learning the fingering for a concert Bb! Listening, as a member of an ensemble, is a new and challenging skill that students need to practice, like a scale. It might even be odd for students to realize they often need to focus their attention around the room instead of on themselves. I have found that by merely bringing a student’s attention to the fact that they need to listen to those around them often yields great results in improving the sound of my band. But what are they listening for? And what should they do about what they hear? This is where the teacher we are imperative and irreplaceable. We need to tell them. I always like to encourage teachers to share our secrets!

I want to share a quick lesson plan with you. Let’s focus this sample lesson on developing characteristic tone. Using “Passing the Tonic” as an example (excerpt below), you can help students develop a number of listening skills, but for this we will focus on characteristic tone. This exercise type uses the tonic note of a key and hands it off to different sections of the band. Direct your students to focus their listening on other instruments and to also be prepared to describe what they hear as it relates to the quality of the tone students are producing. Applying this simple lesson will encourage your students to hear other instruments in the band other than their own as well as practice using words to describe sound (it actually addresses listening, analytical and verbal skills.) Ask them to go beyond basic descriptions like, “the trumpets sound bad” or “the bassoons are ridiculously loud. Gross.” Share a few examples of how words can describe characteristic sound. Tell students to explore the ‘why’ part of their answer and provide that along with their analysis. For example, “The trumpets have a nice sound, they aren’t playing too loudly or too softly.” This is a first step in teaching students to listen critically around the room. This same exercise could be used for developing pitch matching as well. The overarching skill involved is critical listening and that skill can be applied to any number of ensemble concepts we teach in band. It all starts with learning to listen with purpose.


There are many skills needed when students transition from learning to play their instrument in individual or small group lessons and playing as part of a band. Tone, Tuning, Technique, Balance, Rhythm, Dynamics, Articulation and Expression are a few of those skills. Many times we try to develop ensemble skills on the fly, with their concert music in hand. By identifying each specific ensemble skill, teaching them to students and reinforcing them, students will more effectively connect to and perform their music. They will have a deeper understanding of what it means to be a musician in an ensemble and to experience the expressive elements that sometimes elude them.  Focusing on one or two ensemble concepts at the beginning of each rehearsal and applying them to a beautiful chorale, your students will more quickly advance in not only their musical ability, but in their ability to think, evaluate and make decisions.


Being part of a musical ensemble teaches students true-life skills that extend far beyond their school years.  Just as students are taught about posture as an individual, they need to learn what it means to be part of the team. These skills can begin to develop in their first year.  Sound Innovations Ensemble Development for Young Concert Band may very well be the resource you have been looking for.



chris bernotas

Chris Bernotas is co-author of the revolutionary Sound Innovations series. An active composer and arranger of concert band music, his music has been performed at the Midwest Clinic and has appeared on J.W. Pepper’s Editor’s Choice list and numerous state lists. He was recognized as “Educator of the Year” in 2005 and has been listed several times in Who’s Who Among American Teachers.


How to Incorporate Jazz in Your Piano Lessons


By Wynn-Anne Rossi

Revolution is a powerful concept. Humanity has experienced it in many forms, from our fight for freedom to dynamic social and cultural change. When I consider musical revolution, jazz is the first thing that comes to mind. In America, it all began with jazz. Jazz is the foundation, the building block that has opened doors to the modern music heard every day on the radio. Rock, hip-hop, dubstep, and many other musical genres would not exist without these radical beginnings.

Jazzin’ Americana is a four-book piano solo series that celebrates the American jazz revolution from the roots of ragtime and blues to the groundbreaking styles of Thelonius Monk, Dave Brubeck, and Miles Davis. Stretching in level from late elementary through late intermediate, students will become familiar with the adventurous sounds of jazz. With the help of interesting musical facts, they will also gain an understanding of its complex history and cultural influence. Improvisation is not the focus of these books. However, teachers and students may find it fun to utilize certain left-hand patterns or chord sequences from the books as springboards for free experimentation.

As most of jazz music was not originally conceived for solo piano, I initially set out to compose original tributes to jazz movements and musicians. This meant research! I spent many hours reading stacks on stacks of jazz books at the library and listening to recording after recording. My aim was to create accessible, playable music without sacrificing the sophisticated melodies, harmonies, and rhythms that define the essence of jazz.

Let’s explore a piece from each book!

Beginning with “Bird in the Bebop” in Book 1, notice that each piece provides enlightening trivia, inspiring curiosity, and personal research.

Interesting facts about “Bird in the Bebop”:

Saxaphone player Charlie Parker (also known as “Yardbird” or “Bird”) was at the forefront of the bebop revolution. Faster tempos, improvisation, and complex harmonies spread like wildfire, and “hot jazz” was born.

Rhythm workshops also precede each piece, encouraging the student to tap and feel prominent rhythms:rhythm-workshopBird in the Bebop
In “Bird in the Bebop,” a single melodic line begins the piece, allowing the student to push the tempo up and feel the energy of this “hot jazz” style. Throughout the piece, chromatic movement also helps define the genre. Staccato vs. legato is crucial. Notice the strong “bop” ending.

Let’s consider “Miles of Mixolydian” in Book 2. Italian Keyboard ComposersThough modes didn’t begin with jazz, leading musicians certainly took advantage of them. Miles Davis offered many examples of modal jazz in his best-selling album, Kind of Blue. Modal jazz tends to be thoughtful, almost hypnotic. Repetitive motifs—both melodic and rhythmic—allow the listener to relax into this unique sound. When teaching this piece, encourage the student to point out patterns and repeats.

Italian Keyboard Composers
Art Tatum was and continues to be the ultimate role model for jazz pianists. Blind from birth, he broke through technical barriers that pianists are still trying to analyze today. In Book 3, “Tribute to Tatum” begins with a driving Dm6 jazz run down the piano and maintains Tatum-like energy until its final run up the piano at the end. 16th note jazz “licks” and color harmonies are sprinkled throughout the piece, accentuated by dynamic changes.

Italian Keyboard Composers
Women have always had a strong voice via jazz, from the blues of Bessie Smith to the unforgettable voice of Ella Fitzgerald. Book 4 highlights the tragic life of Billie Holiday with the soulful piece, “Lady of the Day.” This music honors her compelling life with a strong dose of A minor, supported by complex harmonies and heartfelt movement. Note the descending chromatic bass line. The B section at measure 9 ramps up the emotion with syncopated, driving 16ths.

The jazz revolution will maintain its influence for many decades to come. Modern music trends will draw inspiration from these healthy roots. Composers and educators will continue to discover the power of our rich jazz history, helping us improvise our way into the future of music.

Be cool. Introduce the hot jazz revolution with Jazzin’ Americana!

Wynn-Anne Rossi
Wynn-Anne Rossi is a nationally acclaimed composer and dynamic educator whose works have reached audiences throughout the United States, Europe, Iceland and Australia. Her passion for promoting creativity in young musicians is reflected in her choice of publications with Alfred Music. For more information, visit Wynn-Anne’s website at