Sunday, March 28, 2010

It Might Get Loud

It Might Get Loud

It Might Get Loud

One of the best films about music I've ever seen. The three profiled musicians - Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), The Edge (U2), and Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs) - complement each other excellently. Page is the sage: content in his older age, distributing his wisdom freely. The Edge is a gentle soul continually questing for new insights. And Jack White is the eager, earnest youngster yearning for acceptance from his two elders. The pacing of the film is great. It's a blast to learn more about the backgrounds (musical & otherwise) of the three guitarists. "It Might Get Loud" is definitely worthy viewing for anyone who loves music and its makers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Motivating Students to Practice

I came across an excellent article written by pianist & teacher Jennifer Thomas regarding that essential element in musical progression: practice. Here is an excerpt:
I recently asked a group of parents what was the one thing they needed help with regarding their children’s music lessons, as well as something that the teacher could be working on as well.  The answer:  Motivating children to practice.
I’ve had this discussion with my own students’ parents many times.  Some parents really push their kids, and some have little to no involvement at all.  What are they doing wrong? What are they doing right? These are things they ask me. 
I personally do not think that there is one right answer because every person is unique.  For example, I was a very self-motivated child and never had to be told to practice.  I just did it, and excelled at it. However, I know that some of my students don’t progress with this type of method in the home and practicing does not happen.
It can be true of the reverse as well though.  Some children may need to be reminded or pushed to practice, and therefore they excel with that type of motivation.  Whereas other children, when pushed too hard, back away or rebel.
Here are some things that I have found to help me with my students, as well as advice that I would offer to parents. 
What can the parent do to help the child?
  1. Know your child and what type of motivation will work for them.
  2. Help the child see the value in music.
  3. Set up a reward system. 
You can read the full article here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Had my piano tuned today...

...and now it’s back to sounding its best. I last had it tuned in October. The winter chill wreaked havoc on the instrument, throwing it wildly out of tune, especially in the middle register.

If you are an active pianist, student, or teacher it is essential that you tune your piano at least once yearly. This may strike some readers as excessive, but it is not! Regular piano tunings will increase the longevity of your instrument. Also, annual service on your piano will keep maintenance costs lower. The longer a piano waits between tunings, the greater the work required to restore the instrument to its best functioning. More work = more cost. Make the sensible decision.

The piano tuner I call upon here in the CA bay area is Linda Kay. She provides excellent service and reasonable rates. You can click on her name for her contact information.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Youngsters at the piano

This lecture by young Olivia Ajero is excellent. She's so insightful!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Good News, accompanied by musings

The Good News: all 12 of my students who participated in the Certificate of Merit program this year passed their theory tests! I am encouraged by this success.

I have had several conversations recently in which students or parents have told me that the CM Theory Test is no big deal - it's the Performance component they're worried about. I can understand this, but each element is essential to the growth of a musician. I do not wish to instruct people who then hide their musical talent away - what a waste! Performing is vital, a challenge worth meeting.

The performance portion is always trickier compared to the theory test. Where a written test is cut and dry, performances have so many variables. It is undeniably difficult to travel to an unfamiliar music studio with a strange sounding/looking/feeling piano and perform your best. But I do think it's good training for life, to gain confidence presenting a performance of quality to a discerning audience.

I find it extremely easy to teach music theory. We're dealing with facts there, unchangeable answers to unchanging questions. But where I can tell someone "Go home and complete this practice theory test," and then see it complete at our next meeting, I often lack the means to discern that a student has spent enough time at their instrument working on their technique and performance pieces. I'm not a battle-hardened veteran teacher yet, so at this point I only *sense* the deception I'm sometimes fed by students. Did the student slack on their home practicing this week, or do they simply have severe performance anxiety and lack of self-confidence? Does their home practice environment have too many distractions? Are parents not providing the right amount of support? These are important questions. I can't always discern what the problem is.

It's an absolute bummer when someone gets the word back that they must "Remain at Level". These results affect me deeply. But participation in this program involves shared responsibility between Teacher, Student, and Parent. I can't go to the Performance evaluation and play your technique exercises for you! The results students receive are almost always just, an unfiltered reflection on each student's work, preparation, and commitment.

The CM program can be weird and disorienting, but it's the best that I know to offer to my students. My hope is that every participating student can sense the value of their work and effort and be encouraged for the future. Music can be a joy for a lifetime; let's never lose sight of that.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

CM Theory Test Correcting @ Chabot College

This is an all-day endeavor. And I do get tired. And I am usually the only male in the room. If you answered these clues Jeopardy-style with, "What is Jesse correcting Certificate of Merit theory tests at Chabot College", then you are a perceptive soul.
The Music Teachers Association of CA (MTAC) requires all of its active members to work a minimum of one full day each year to help run the Certificate of Merit program. The jobs range widely from studio host to theory room monitor to registration desk, and sundry others. This year is my 3rd year as an active MTAC member. My first year I helped run the registration desk. Both this year and last I worked among the theory test correcting ranks.
The theory test correcting room is set up with a row of long tables. Teachers sit on each side of these tables all day long, rubbing elbows. Here's what we do: we have red pencils. We hold the red pencils in our hands. We mark answers if they are wrong. Fatigue sets in after a couple hours and you start to question your lot in life. One's visage assumes a pallor and you are only shaken out of a trance when your neighbor asks you, "Does this look like a flat or natural?".
Students - and their strange pencil scrawls - haunt your thoughts. I tend to err on the side of leniency; other teachers are more draconian. I was able to learn my students' theory test scores today. One student was marked wrong for his definition of the musical term sforzando. In his definition he wrote: "A strong, loud accent". The teacher correcting his test savagely marked his answer wrong, insisting upon the inclusion of the word "sudden" in his answer. As in, "A sudden, strong accent". I couldn't believe it when I saw this - I was aghast. Draconian! I assure you that I will be restoring this point to the student's tally. He clearly demonstrated knowledge of the term.
I must have corrected 50 theory tests today. It's strange to devote so much time to something that may be inconsequential. I know plenty of amazing musicians who are rubbish at music theory. But I also know plenty of people who dominate music theory yet can hardly play a lick. My perspective is skewed. I see from the inside out.
I always stand out at these gatherings. As one teacher said when introducing herself to me, "I should know you already - we only have about two and a half men in our branch!"
One more humorous aside. Pat, the teacher in charge of the theory correcting room, insisted that one of her students was the spitting image of me. I chuckled and thought little of it. No more than 20 minutes later she pulled me out into the hallway to meet the young sprout. As he and I exchanged a handshake she said to him, "I want you to see what you'll look like when you are an adult!" She wasn't far off in seeing the likeness, but he'll need to grow at least a foot and a half before we're truly on a level plane.

Quotes on Practice

"I never practice; I always play."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Quotes on Practice

"Good, better, best. Never let it rest. Until your good is better and your better is best."

- Tim Duncan, quoting his mother

Monday, March 1, 2010

March 2010 Teaching Schedule

-- My teaching schedule for the month of March will be uninterrupted. Monday & Tuesday students: we will have 5 meetings this month - plan accordingly.
-- The Certificate of Merit evaluations will be held on the weekends of March 6-7 and March 13-14. The CM performance evaluations will be conducted on both weekends, while the theory testing will be conducted only on the second weekend: March 13-14 at Chabot College in Hayward. Contact me if you have any questions.

-- I will be performing with the Moreau Catholic High School choirs on the evening of Thursday, March 25. The concert starts at 7pm.

Have a happy day,