Tag Archives: Practice Incentives

Pin Art Adds a Whole New Dimension to Music Lessons!

Pin Art is a fun way to warm up for piano lessons!

The advantage of studying music with a private teacher is that lessons can be tailored to each student as an individual. There are many variables, such as personality, learning style, age, gender, attention span, short and long term memory, reading ability, executive function skills, and strengths and weaknesses peculiar to learning the language of music.   But often overlooked in assessments of student learning is leadership style. Some students thrive only if they can self-direct the order of their lesson. So if such a student comes in with a piece of music they discovered, but you already had a plan for that lesson, you would be better off shelving the plan momentarily and take up what the student has brought with curiosity and pride in their independence. There will be time, with the student’s help, to make a connection between this “new discovery” and the lesson at hand. Just as often, there will be students who are so eager to follow a known curriculum that they will likely want to keep working in a series of graded lesson books, because they are given concrete information about their progress. For this student, progress can be                                                        perceived safely, incremental and predictable.

 

Then there will be students whose behavior or thought processes turn to the immediate thing in front of them, only to have their attention wander to something totally different. In this case, we teachers may inadvertently feel like a police monitor, saying things like: “no don’t do that”, “lets do this”, “no we can’t do that at this moment”, “please put that down”, “we are working with this,” etc. Before you know it, all thoughts of a lesson plan have fallen apart and both student and teacher are lost in a world of distractions. It would be easy to label this student as non-compliant or suggest to the parent that the student is not ready for lessons.

 

If there is one thing that I’ve learned from teaching music to very young children, it is that you can always help a student gain control over their learning by changing the teaching environment. For example, I have a mirror hung on the wall next to the piano so that we can always check our posture. But recently, one young, first grade student of mine, took every moment he could to make funny faces in the mirror. So, for a few weeks, I took the mirror down and put it away before his lessons.

 

Students who have trouble with directing their focus for any length of time are often frustrated in the academic school environment as early as first grade. These students also have short fuses, when it comes to learning by experiencing mistakes, a style of learning that is taken for granted in most schools. But I’ve noticed that these distractible but super-creative kids learn best through positive experience. The more they perceive themselves as performing well on a task, the more they will be willing to try the next step.

 

For example, Liam, a first grader just starting piano lessons, already had a few “breakdowns” because he became afraid that he could not do something without making a mistake. I always try to watch Liam for a few moments while he is in the hallway waiting for his piano lesson. One time, he found a favorite studio toy in my waiting room basket … a large needle art frame that produces 3D Pin Art. It makes temporary impressions of whatever you stick into the rack of plastic colored pins. My students most often stick their hands and fingers into the soft pins to take an impression of their hands. Liam was doing just that when I went to invite him into the piano room for a lesson. Liam’s dad immediately asked him to put the Pin Art toy down. But I’d already made it a habit to take whatever Liam was bringing to me to be the start of his lesson. The lessons that began with my preconceived notions, based on curriculum planning, more often than not ended up with Liam becoming frustrated.

 

I invited Liam to bring the Pin Art Impression pad into the studio. Sitting at the bench, I tried to use it so that we could review finger numbers. I couldn’t get the impression needles to work the way I was envisioning it, but Liam knew how! So our lesson began with my learning something from Liam. We continued to work a game out together in which we placed one hand in the impression box and then had to pull one finger away so that it was missing from the picture. Liam had to say which hand and which finger were missing, but what he didn’t know was that he was also exercising finger independence. We took turns. It was as good an                                                                            exercise as playing scales and when we went to play Penta scales, Liam                                                                        was ready, warmed up and showed excellent dexterity.

Since we were now focusing on finger numbers, I directed Liam back to a review songs in his lesson book, Piano Safari by Katherine Fisher and Julie Knerr. Rather than start a new piece, we reviewed all of his prior pieces, because they were dependent on recognition of hand and finger position. I had not yet used the song cards that are available with Piano Safari, so I got them out and we created a long “Jacobs Ladder” string of music successes.

 

When it was time to wrap up the lesson, we determined which fingers Liam would need to use in his next piece, took a photo of the impressions his hand made in the Pin Art toy, and sent this as a text to home. All was fun and successful, and now I have another tool in my toolbox for teaching finger numbers and correct hand positions.

 

 

 

Thank you Liam, for showing me some new tricks.

 

Penny Lazarus, NCTM

January 16, 2018

Our Star Wars Themed Practice Incentive for Winter-Spring 2016

Yes I do use practice incentives in my piano teaching studio. I know sometimes choosing prizes from prize boxes for completed assignments feels like bribery. And counting points earned through practicing using M & M’s or Sweethearts or Candy Corn runs the risk of encouraging consumption of sugared junk food. Would my students really practice for raisins? Maybe chocolate covered ones! But students of music need clear markers of progress that even playing in a recital doesn’t always define, unless a student were to perform their previous year’s recital piece along side the current year’s composition. (Maybe an idea worth trying!) But would their audience necessarily recognize the increasing maturity of pedaling or the ability to create longer, smoother phrasing as a clear mark of measurable improvement? If we don’t use a graded system like Guild or the Royal Conservatory of Music, how do we give students’ clear but immediate goals and markers so that our students can SEE as well as hear that their practice pays off, each week in every lesson?

In our studio we’ve practiced to raise money for good causes much like gathering sponsors for races like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure (Breast Cancer). We’ve raised sponsors for every minute practiced to stop the poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks by fostering a Baby Elephant through The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya. We are the first piano studio I know of to do so. We have also created sight-reading projects to raise money for our local Lion’s Club’s We Care for Eye Care campaigns. Both of these practice incentive projects have been enormously successful, particularly because the historic relationship between ivory piano keys with Elephant poaching or eye care are directly related to piano lessons.

But this year we are trying something different, relating to the resurgence of the popularity of the epic Star Wars movies. While watching the newest film in this narrative, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I was struck by the immediacy of the literary construct of Good vs. Evil and how passionate young people (as well us older folks) are drawn into the want of a heroic life.

So far we are having a ton of fun and practicing among all of my students has improved enormously over the dull winter months.

We created a storyboard that goes something like this:

Forty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, The First Order bans all music. It is up to our studio to make sure that music is not forgotten so that we can preserve this knowledge and skill until the Resistance can find Luke Skywalker, the last of the Jedi Knights and restore order to the Universe. Add a glow in the dark star to our galaxy every time you bring new music to the Universe. Remember, you are part of the Resistance and it is crucial that you work to protect the important legacy of music until it can once again flourish in the next millennium. Help defeat The First Order and their harmful restrictions of the things that make us human and happy. If you think that this is just a made up play story…think again. Time and Time again, dictators have restricted the kinds of music that can be played or listened to. Even today, in Afghanistan, there are no music schools because of the fear of the Taliban. Your music is important, to the entire world.

Everyone has posted glow in the dark stars on a drape of black fabric stretched across the ceiling of the studio. We already have had mini-recitals where my students play for each other in the darkened studio under their canopy of stars…that they all earned…together. No one’s stars are individualized. They are all different sizes and together, these reflective stars create a galaxy bright enough to perform under. At the most recent mini recital under our stars, I asked my students if they wanted to continue earning stars to place upon our “night sky”.   The answer was a resounding yes but this consensus also came with a plea. “Could we add planets”, they asked. An urge for individual recognition was thus divulged! But with students working collectively to develop our Star Wars practice project further…they together came up with an ingenious plan. Each student has a “ladder of goals” in their practice notebooks. Six rungs. Six, yearlong goals, which students strive to complete, by the end of each piano year. Each year the goals differ slightly…but in general…they are:

  1. Be able to play all 12 major scales…or all 24 major and minor scales…to various degrees depending on their age and length of piano study.
  2. Complete the “30 Piece List” of new music developed by Wendy Stevens and Elisse Milne.
  3. Maintain a Repertoire list of 5 memorized pieces.
  4. Record at least 5 new pieces during the school year and post to their individual mp3 web pages on my studio web site.
  5. Participate in three studio recital events OR complete the 100-day practice project sponsored by Clavier Companion.
  6. Perform or Record a specially chosen challenge piece or complete an entire book of music for a book recital aka Suzuki Book home performance.

When a student completes two ladder goals…they get to choose their planet from a studio-made list of planets from our solar system, the moons in our solar system and the planets in the Star Wars galaxy. Of course, as a result of a student suggestion, we have a name and create your own planet option as well.

When a student completes 4 ladder goals, they take home a styrofoam planet shaped ball to be decorated however realistically or fantastically they want. When all six goals are completed, students will bring in their planets to be hung from our ceiling of stars, first in the studio and then at the end of year studio.

We’ve just started the planet portion of this practice project. But students are already driven to choose a planet of their choice. Pluto is popular for some reason! But Saturn is a close second! And everyone is intrigued by the idea of creating his or her own imaginary world in outer space. But this outer-space is based on working together to create a galaxy of a courageous world, where heroes reign, music is king and effort is grand.