Master Classes, Studio, Video of the Month

A Fun-filled February Master Class

This year, it seems like January and February are going by much more quickly than they usually do and Family Day weekend was here before we knew it!  To give my students the Monday off to enjoy some extra time with their families, I offered a February Master Class this week in lieu of regular lessons.  Sometimes for my master classes, I will have an all encompassing theme, but this time around I wanted to keep it simple and so had three main components:

1. Performance Opportunity:  Each student had the chance to perform a piece that they’d been working on since the New Year.  Knowing this would be coming gave them a little motivation to keep practicing on those short, dark winter days!  While each student played, I used a sheet that I had found on to keep the rest of the students focused and particpating…an adjudication sheet.  Each student had a sheet to use to help them give some specific and guided positive feedback at the end of each performance.  I was so proud of the feedback they gave and the wonderful ways they encouraged and bolstered in each performer!  What a great bunch of students I am blessed to have!


2. Specific Skill Development:  Then I wanted to focus on one specific skill and it was RHYTHM, of course!  I want my students to be strong in rhythm and to love it, so I pulled out the boomwhackers (because we LOVE them) and did a little Pinterest surfing to come up with some fun Boowhacker ensembles.

feb class 3 feb class feb class 4

3. Composer Biography: February always includes a composing focus in my studio, especially for the MYC group lessons, and learning about the masters of composition is so important as well as the period and style of music they were a part of creating.  This time our focus was Beethoven, his life and music.  We learned that though he had a challenging childhood and went deaf as a young adult, he still found joy in his music and was able to create that beautiful melody we know as “Ode to Joy” in his 9th symphony.  We enjoyed watching the Piano Guys put a fun new spin on this:

Before we knew our time was up and it was time to head home!

Incentives, Master Classes, Piano Lesson Success, Seasonl/Holiday, Uncategorized, Video of the Month

October Master Class and Practice “Craft”

Happy Belated Thanksgiving! What a great week of master classes we had! I was so proud of our students, we had a terrific turnout (only 1 student missed due to being away) and all our students (even the first years) were enthusiastic to get on that grand piano and solo for us! For the little Sunbeams 1 kids, it was their first time on the grand piano! Exciting! We also had fun with rhythm cups again! And I pulled out a video of the month for them. Sadly the video I had planned: Batman Evolution by The Piano Guys, which I had thought perfect for the month of October, is having “technical difficulties” while they work through a copyright issue. So I had to choose another. It was still enjoyed by all with music “spooky” enough for the coming Halloween season, not to mention it involves a mesmerizing, or possibly magical, amount of instruments all played by Steve!

Each student took home a practice aid that we worked on in class. These are not meant to stay in their book bags but to be kept on the piano for daily use. Thanks to the wonders of Pinterest (have I mentioned before how much I love that site?), I found a couple of practice aids by Teach Piano Today and Compose, Create and was able to create something similar for our students. They look a little like this and are explained below:

practice abacus

The elementary level students made the one on the top. It is designed to make repetitive practice a little more interesting. The student should practice each of their pieces 3-5x a day so we brainstormed different ways their piece could be practiced to make it more fun and interesting and wrote that on the clothespins. As the student practices their piece, they take the corresponding clothespin off, flip it over to reveal their sticker and clip it to the opposite side (see picture).

Voila! An environmentally friendly (completely re-usable. Yay!) and, hopefully, fun and motivating way of encouraging effective daily practice. 🙂 (inspired by Andrea Dow of Teach Piano Today)

The late elementary to advanced students made the lower one. As a student myself, I grew up having to fill a certain block of time with practice and often, to be very honest, it was a bit mindless. I’ve talked to many of the students about practicing smarter not harder and being more focused or mindful about it. And here is how I would really like to see them practice a piece:

Play the entire piece and note which sections need more work.
Pick 1 section and do what it takes to practice it perfectly 3-5 times.
Pick a 2nd section and do what it takes to practice it perfectly 3-5 times.
Pick a 3rd section and do what it takes to practice it perfectly 3-5 times.
Play through the entire piece at least 1 more time and then make note of what needs more work the next day.

So the advanced students each made an abacus with 5 beads while the younger ones used 3 beads and so their practice of each piece really should look a little something like this:
•Row 1 – 1 bead for the 1st play through
•Row 2 – 5 beads for spot practicing the 1st section (or 3 for the younger student)
•Row 3 – 5 beads for spot practicing the 2nd section
•Row 4 – 5 beads for spot practicing the 3rd section
•Row 5 – 1 or 2 beads for the final play through(s

With this set up, students can see that they are not really done with each piece until ALL the beads are on the OTHER side of the abacus! And it is easier for them to keep track of and be more mindful of their pieces! (inspired by Wendy Stevens of Compose, Create)

Have a great weekend and Happy Practicing!!

Video of the Month

Video of the Month ~ June 2014

Well, here we are: June! Can you believe it! And here is our last Video of the Month for our 2013/14 year. How fun it has been to share these incredible videos over the past year with my students. They’ve enjoyed them, been inspired by them and developed a deeper appreciation for many different styles of music because of them.

Our last one is a very fun one. As musicians, I think we live for drama, intrigue and mystery….I know my students do, so I thought this would be a great fit! I love how the Mission Impossible Theme is merged with Mozart’s Piano Sonata in C. I played this particular Sonata for my grade 8 Royal Conservatory exam, by the way….good memories, good memories….but I digress…Anyway, they merged the MI theme with the Sonata however, they did what only the piano guys seem to be able to do: sped it up, transposed it to a minor, changed the time signature to 5/4 and made it a villain theme. Strangely enough, I kind of think Mozart would approve!

So here it is, our June Video of the Month, our last one of the year and your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to have the most amazing summer yet! See you in September!

PS….if you want to hear the original version of the Piano Sonata, take a listen to this….this is more like what I actually played for my exam 🙂

Uncategorized, Video of the Month

Video of the Month ~ April 2014

I am very excited to share with you the April video of the month. One thing that makes this video of the month so very exciting is that it was filmed in Brazil in front of the Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio de Janeiro…one of the seven wonders of the world! The Piano Guys can now check off two of the seven wonders from their filming bucket list!

As breathtaking as the scenery is, the music is even more so….at least that’s my opinion. They have taken the beautiful theme, “Gabriel’s Oboe”, from the movie The Mission and fused it with the hymn, “How Great Thou Art”. They fuse together absolutely beautifully, both musically and thematically. I first saw the movie “The Mission” when I was an RA in university (do they still have those now or am I absolutely ancient?) and I was incredibly moved by both the music of the movie and it’s theme of laying down one’s life to save others. If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend. The movie was filmed at Iguazu Falls, and so is a good portion of this video.

Considering both the musical theme and scenery, I thought this would make a great April video of the month as Easter approaches. As you listen to this beautiful music, here is a little excerpt from The Piano Guys webpage regarding this video:

“As we played these pieces in front of the Christ Statue and Iguazu Falls we felt an overwhelming sense of wonder, peace, and joy.

This music video is not meant to exclude anyone that does not believe in God. We hope that it instead promotes spiritual feelings that can be felt by all – gratitude for a beautiful Earth, for life, and for joy.

A wise man once said, “If we thought of life as a gift, we might not demand nearly as much from it. And if we lived more graciously, giving of ourselves more freely to the well-being of others, many of our personal concerns would disappear, and life would become easier for all.”

We respect all beliefs and opinions, but we hope that in the comments everyone can set aside religious differences and instead focus on building each other up – through gratitude, inspiration, kindness and mutual respect.

Thank you so much for watching! We are grateful for you!”

Enjoy our April Video of the Month! (PS The Piano Guys are in Italy right now! Hmmmm, I wonder where they could be filming next??? 😉 Maybe the Colosseum??)

Uncategorized, Video of the Month

February Video of the Month

We’ve been having a lot of fun this year with our Video of the Month Club!  And to celebrate our “halfway through the year” mark, I thought something extra fun would be in order!  February’s Video of the Month is the result of a request that has been voiced numerous times by two of my students, Harris and Theo!   They’ve been asking me to share it since November.  It is by The Piano Guys (of course!) and apparently inspired by Steve’s 6 year old son, Eli, whose “enthusiasm for Star Wars, light sabers, and watching his daddy wield one while playing cello fueled the project continually”.  It’s been one of their biggest productions so far with 24 hours of filming and over 1000 hours of editing.

We will be listening to and viewing this video in our classes and lessons all week long, using this “cheat sheet” for a more active listening experience:

1. Rhythm and Meter–does the music move quickly, slowly or in between? Can you feel the beat?

2. Melody–does the melody line contain many notes or just a few? Are they mostly stepping like a scale or jumping all over?

3. Harmony–is there more than one “voice” or melody line?

4. Color and Texture–different instruments create different color or texture…how many instruments are used in this piece, how do they provide different color and texture?

These four ways to better listening were found in this article:

Uncategorized, Video of the Month

January Video of the Month ~ a Kung Fu Happy New Year

I have been waiting to share this video with you for several months, but I thought I would wait until the Christmas season was over…and it worked out well because both our calendar New Year and the Chinese New Year fell in January this year! It seemed fitting then, to share with you a video that was filmed ON the great wall of China–that is NOT a green screen, they were actually able to obtain a permit to film there–a miracle in itself! I showed this video to my own two children and they just loved it….they want me to tell you to make sure you watch all the way to the end for a funny little surprise. 😉

I love how seamlessly and hauntingly the Piano Guys put together the Kung Fu Panda theme of “Oogway Ascends” and Frederic Chopin’s “Prelude no.20” (also know as the “Funeral Prelude”–how fitting is that?) Definitely a “chills down your spine” kind of feeling!

All the sounds you hear in this video were created by the piano, cello and Asian percussion. Listen to how Steve uses his electric cello to mimic the sounds of the Chinese fiddle called the Erhu and the plucked instrument, Guqin. Perhaps you will want to google more examples of these two instruments! In the meantime, enjoy “Kung Fu Piano: Cello Ascends”. 🙂

And if you’d like to see just how they got that piano on the Great Wall! Check this out!

Seasonl/Holiday, Uncategorized, Video of the Month

December Video of the month ~ part 3 and 4

So this week is masterclasses and I have been sharing video 3 and 4 along with some composing, games, spending our Pennies for Practice in the Food for the Hungry gift catalouge and sharing some fun piano “play” ideas for over the Christmas season! We’ve been having a lot of fun. But especially fun has been sharing these two videos. My students enjoyed the different sound of The Piano Guys “We Three Kings”….noticing especially the unusual meter of it! They spend some time trying to figure out the time signature and if it was truly different from the regular 3/4 time it is normally written in.

My favorite reaction of the week was to the Rudolph Merry Christmas. When one of my little students saw it, she said, “Oh my gosh! He’s going to kill himself!” We all had a good laugh because this video was more just for fun! Enjoy!

Seasonl/Holiday, Uncategorized, Video of the Month

Video of the Month for December ~ part 2

Here’s my next choice for video of the month. There’s no piano, no drums, just all vocal! So, why a vocal piece for my piano studio?? Well, as pianists we should still be singing and tuning our voices. It helps us with rhythm, it helps us to play by ear. And, I want my reluctant students to see just how cool using your voice can be!! Plus, this is one of my favorite carols! 😉 So, here are the Pentatonix singing, “Carol of the Bells”

Uncategorized, Video of the Month

December Video of the Month ~ part 1

I thought I would wait until our December masterclasses to reveal our December 2013 Video of the Month! But there are too many to choose from, and frankly, we really only have a short window of time to listen to Christmas music each year. So…..over the next couple of weeks I am going to post some of my favorites and we will vote on which one we think should be video of the month! 😉 I’m starting with The Piano Guys! This video was released just last Friday, and I was tempted to stay up Thursday night just to be the first to see it! I did not make it all night but in the morning when it was finally released, I was not disappointed! 🙂 So, for those of you how haven’t seen it all over Facebook yet, here it is. And for those of you who have seen it, I challenge you to watch it again BECAUSE it has several tunes embedded in it and I am wondering if you can names all the tunes?! 😉 Let me know if you can!!