Author Archives: pennyl

Back in the Studio: Teaching amidst Covid-19

The first week of summer lessons…July 6th, 2020…students started to return to in-studio lessons for the first time since mid-March.  What joy for both students, parents, and for me!  We set up protocols:  We all wear masks.  We wash our hands with disinfectant coming and going.  I’m teaching the “Coronavirus Etude” by Jeff DePaoli as a fun way to warm up and actually have each student clean their piano!  I stay on my side of the room at my piano.  The students use the left side of the studio and that piano stays as the “student” piano.  Parents wait in their cars and only 1 student at a time comes into the studio.  I’m spacing out lessons with five-minute breaks so that I can clean doorknobs, stair rails, piano bench, etc.  I found myself today using a kind of amalgam of teaching styles combining online patterns with studio tools.  Students write in their own piano notebooks.  They now bring their own pens, pencils, and colored highlighters.  We still count in measure numbers.  Students draw their own stars on their music pages.  I draw out more complicated things on my own whiteboard and take a photo and send it home to print out.  I truly was able to stay on “my” side of the studio…it is not 6 feet apart but almost.  While the COVID numbers in MA are still steadily declining, we are using this in-studio time to play duets and record…things we can’t do online.  But when students are reading new music, I am finding that I’m incorporating more ear training and solfege…tools that I added to online lessons but now are continuing in the studio.  The first thing that I have been doing with all my students, is to remove my mask for a second and show them I am still smiling even though they can’t see the lower part of my face.  Sweet second grade Gracie…responded by saying, “But Teacher Penny, I can see that your eyes are smiling”!  And so begins a new normal, for as long as it can last.

Piano Teaching Week #14 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

We just completed our final week of the teaching of the regular school year.  After a two-week break, our studio will start summer lessons, still online, Monday and Tuesdays until the school season of 2020-2021 starts up again in September.  For this final post of the regular school year teaching amidst COVID-19, I can say I am so very proud of my students and their families.  They stayed

We just completed our final week of the teaching of the regular school year. After a two-week break, our studio will start summer lessons, still online, Monday and Tuesdays until the school season of 2020-2021 starts up again in September. For this final post of the regular school year teaching amidst COVID-19, I can say I am so very proud of my students and their families. They stayed on board and online to the point that online lessons started to feel very smooth, even normal. We produced two completely different video recitals in the space of these 15 weeks. And continued to conclusion, our women’s studies project where every student studied at least one piece by a female composer and counted practice time to raise money to sponsor 12 arrangements of compositions by women for early leveled piano curriculum. Collectively, the studio raised $1,300! During this project, I was asked to be part of a panel of 4 teachers/professors of piano to give three national webinars on “The Myths, Mystery and Magic of Women Composers” for Music Ed Connect.

One point of evidence though that this is still not a normal time is that, even though MA is starting to carefully open up and our numbers of Covid-19 infections are going down, the rest of the country is now seeing staggering high cases, threatening everyone’s health, travel, and economic viability. We do not yet know how schools will function this September. And so, I do not yet know in what fashion the studio will operate this fall. This summer we will remain 80% online with a few students coming to the studio for lessons, with social distancing, using my two separated pianos, washing of hands, masks, cleaning of surfaces between lessons and allowing only 1 person at a time in the studio, phoning parents in the car when we are ready for another student to enter.

I am suspecting that this September, we will be using a combination of in-studio and online lessons, depending on the situation and/or rotating days in the studio and days online. It is important to get back to studio lessons because as well as we adjusted to lesson online, there were things we could not work on such as tone production and it took longer for students to learn new repertoire over the internet. Using the internet is just not as effective for very young students.

I am pleased that more students than normal have signed up to continue lessons over the summer since no one is traveling much. And I am offering tuition packages of 4 lessons that can include a mixture of private and online group classes. We have fun things planned: an interstate studio online theory competition; creating music book stories online, playing group piano games with online “escape” rooms, meeting out-doors in small groups to create plaster molds of our hands, and small group outdoor theory book picnics. It’s more important than ever to maintain a connection to all of my students.

But as one 5-year-old student of a colleague has said in a heart-breaking way: “I don’t like to Zoom. It’s a picture of a teacher sending a picture of a piano lesson to a picture of a student. It’s not real…it’s fake. I want the real one.”

and online to the point that online lessons started to feel very smooth, even normal.  We produced two completely different video recitals in the space of these 15 weeks.  And continued to conclusion, our women’s studies project where every student studied at least one piece by a female composer and counted practice time to raise money to sponsor 12 arrangements of compositions by women for early leveled piano curriculum. Collectively, the studio raised $1,300! During this project, I was asked to be part of a panel of 4 teachers/professors of the piano to give three national webinars on “The Myths, Mystery and Magic of Women Composers” for Music Ed Connect.

 One point of evidence though that this is still not a normal time is that, even though MA is starting to carefully open up and our numbers of Covid-19 infections are going down, the rest of the country is now seeing staggering high cases, threatening everyone’s health, travel, and economic viability.  We do not yet know how schools will function this September.  And so, I do not yet know in what fashion the studio will operate this fall.  This summer we will remain 80% online with a few students coming to the studio for lessons, with social distancing, using my two separated pianos, washing of hands, masks, cleaning of surfaces between lessons and allowing only 1 person at a time in the studio, phoning parents in the car when we are ready for another student to enter.

I am suspecting that this September, we will be using a combination of in-studio and online lessons, depending on the situation and/or rotating days in the studio and days online. It is important to get back to studio lessons because as well as we adjusted to lesson online, there were things we could not work on such as tone production and it took longer for students to learn new repertoire over the internet.  Using the internet is just not as effective for very young students.

I am pleased that more students than normal have signed up to continue lessons over the summer since no one is traveling much.  And I am offering tuition packages of 4 lessons that can include a mixture of private and online group classes.  We have fun things planned:  an interstate studio online theory competition; creating music book stories online, playing group piano games with online “escape” rooms, meeting out-doors in small groups to create plaster molds of our hands, and small group outdoor theory book picnics. It’s more important than ever to maintain a connection to all of my students.

But as one 5-year-old student of a colleague has said in a heart-breaking way: “I don’t like to Zoom.  It’s a picture of a teacher sending a picture of a piano lesson to a picture of a student.  It’s not real…it’s fake.  I want the real one.”

Piano Teaching Week #13 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

This is our 13th week and the next to the last online piano lessons of the 2019-2020 school year, due to the stay at home order of the Coronavirus epidemic. We are all so grateful that we had the technology to switch to online lessons. And Everyone, students, teachers, and parents have learned so many new skills in order to create successful online lessons.  I’m sure this is part of the real fatigue we are all feeling, not just with music lessons, but with online school and work in general.  Our screen time is up to 12 hours a day.  We are starting to move around more outside but still in small groups and with physical distancing and masks on at all time.  A few students are coming into the studio this week to create their final video recordings for the year…but only one at a time, no parents or siblings, students wait in the car to be called, we each work at a piano at opposite sides of the room, no hugs, no contact, and students work in the studio only for 20 minutes.  We do not know what the new school year will bring in Fall 2020…how much we will be back in the studio?  How much do we continue online?  Will we stagger students…one day in the studio, the next day online or every other student on a plan A and plan B schedule alternating back and forth between in studio and online?  Only time will tell.  Massachusetts numbers are falling and continue to look good.  Yet the spouse of one of my adult students, is being tested for Covid-19 as I write.

One thing for certain:  we have all learned a lot and many of the teaching techniques adjusted for online learning will now become part of our piano teaching toolbox forever!  Here are my favorite new tools gleaned from online teaching:

Alphabet Letter blocks: this really helps to confirm what we are hearing while naming notes!  It can be hard to differentiate between a “C” and a “D” or an “E” when there is a fuzzy internet connection.  These also make for good naming keys of the piano games while using an overhead video recorder on the piano keys!  These are big and easy to read from screen to screen.

Japanese colored Wasabi Tape!  This tape lifts off the piano keys without leaving a mark and comes in bright colors.  This is perfect for marking whole and half steps and other intervals on the piano when using an overhead view of the piano keyboard during scale work, theory lessons or when visually correcting a note reading error on the physical piano keys.

Ear Training Games:  Online video lessons are the perfect time to increase ear training…and fair is fair…students get to turn the tables on teachers too!

Understanding Measure numbers:  When we started online lessons, understanding how to read and count measure numbers was crucial!  We take this for granted, but students by and large did not understand how to count measure numbers when they only saw blocked non-sequential numbers that jumped from 5 to 10 to 17…etc.

Marco Polo!:   I play, then the student plays and echoes exactly what I play.  This gets even more fun as I randomly choose harder and harder sections of a piece. Then we play the reverse…students choose a random section and I have to repeat them exactly!

The Racer!:  Patterned after an old roller coaster amusement park ride from Kennywood Park in my hometown of Pittsburgh, PA. We alternate measures of a piece; I play the first measure of a student’s piece, then the student follows without break, to play the second measure, etc.  We continue alternating measures until the piece is smooth.  Then we repeat but with the student going first.  This really helps students to look ahead and preparing ahead of playing!

Emoticons and Giffy’s!  Once students learned how to open up their chat boxes, they taught me how to search for emojis, emoticons and mini videos.  We used these endlessly with delight, creating all kinds of games and use of these for sticker awards!  We would run through their memory lists by my finding an emoji that matched a title of a piece and they had to guess what I was referring to!  Or I would use these to describe in a picture an adjustment to their dynamics or touch or expression.  Or use emoticon alphabet letters when mixing up section work in learning music!  Students would in turn send me emoticons to show they were proud of their work or sad that the lesson was ending.

Learning the Student’s Home Environment!  We had the chance to adjust bench heights, recommend piano tuning, encourage upgrading from X stand two octave keyboards to better instruments, lighting, having pencils ready, metronomes nearby or on apps, meeting the parents more often and having time to talk about how everyone was doing as a family.  And of course, meeting every animal member of the family and knowing the family pet by name!  My students’ pets from guinea pigs, to cats and dogs, salamanders, rabbits and chickens usually made an appearance at every lesson!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piano Teaching Week #12 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

We are now two weeks away from finishing the semester and the official start of summer vacation and a more relaxed summer schedule of lessons and activities.  We are ending the year at the same time as the public-school systems in Essex County.  The weather is heating up and students are showing the normal last weeks of school fatigue with online homework.  Now the restrictions of Covid-19 sheltering in place are entering the second phase of reopening, our students are also starting to resume their play with friends, even though required to be outside.  My students are swimming, bike riding, starting league sports and taking walks, all the while keeping to smaller groups and using masks when necessary.  This bit of return to normalcy has truly perked everyone up!  We are busy polishing our final women studies’ projects so that they can be video recorded for a final celebratory group watch online recital.  We are checking memory list pieces one more time, finishing the 30 and 40 list of pieces learned, reviewing books and pieces mastered during the year, so that we can move forward with new plans for the coming year.  We’ve even been featured in the Boston Globe online section of “Postcards during the Pandemic”! 

 

 

Piano Teaching Week #11 Online! (amidst COVID-19)

This was the week of the Memorial Day holiday weekend and the official beginning of summer.  Although technically, students have three more weeks of online school to complete, this was also the week of some lifting of the stay at home orders allowing for activity outside the house in groups of no more than 10 people while still practicing social distancing and wearing a face mask.  Immediately students and their families started leaving their homes…at least to visit relatives in other towns or summer homes in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine. Up until now, hardly a student missed an online piano lesson.  I didn’t mind the sudden cancelation of lessons where students were visiting homes without pianos.  It was really so good to see that everyone was getting a change in scenery, routine, and breath of normalcy after 11 weeks almost all spent inside our houses.  I was feeling all of my students’ desire for a change in pace and so we spent this week working in groups playing Music Jeopardy online!  It was easy to create music theory questions following the television game show format by using the website Jeopardy Labs!  Next week we return to our normally scheduled online lessons for three more weeks. We will end our piano year simultaneously with the end of school.  Our aim is one more video recital project with all of our women composer study projects!  This time I will release our video as a YouTube Watch Party.  And we will announce how much money we raised to create leveled arrangements of historic women’s compositions and meet our composition students who helped us with this project, from the Berklee School of Music.