Thursday, September 30, 2010

October 2010 Teaching Schedule

-- My teaching schedule for the month of October will be interrupted.
-- The Certificate of Merit 2010-2011 cycle is about to ramp up. During the first week of October I will distribute a handout regarding C.M. to students/parents who I think the program can benefit.

-- The Ear Power song for the months of October 2010 is:

"Bulletproof" by La Roux

-- I think it's worth reminding my students that once we reach the end of a month's work on the Ear Power songs I invest my time in transcribing and notating the music. Archives of these songs - includes September's selection, "Live Like We're Dying" by Kris Allen - can be found in pdf format on my main website here.

And yes, again I remind you:
-- I have opened a new teaching studio at my home in Castro Valley and am teaching from home weekly, every Wednesday and Thursday. If you know anyone who lives in the C.V. area and is interested in piano lessons, do encourage them to contact me - I am still accepting new students! My bio can be found here, and I can be reached by email at
Have a happy day,

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The future of "Ear Power"

The Ear Power song for the months of September 2010 *was*:
"Live Like We're Dying" by Kris Allen
Live Like We're Dying

No, I'm not putting an end to this program, but in future months I will cease posting weekly (or bi-weekly) updates on our progress learning the "Ear Power" song of the month. I'm looking to diminish my workload. In all truth, if participating students are on top of things they will be fully equipped to keep track of the progress themselves.
Meanwhile, several students ask me again and again, "What's the Ear Power song for next month??". And every time I respond the same way: "Be patient, and it shall be revealed." It's always posted on the front page of my website on the first of the month.
Have a happy day,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Wild Combination: a Portrait of Arthur Russell

Wild Combination: a Portrait of Arthur RussellWild
Arthur Russell was a fascinating man who wholly devoted himself to his chosen work: music. He faced personal tragedies and obstacles along the way but never strayed from his quest for musical perfection. Very cool to witness footage of the guy performing, singing and accompanying himself on his cello. Prior to his premature death he dipped his toes into every genre of music imaginable: country, punk, classical, & disco. Despite never receiving wide acclaim during his lifetime, his music lives on in the shape of the thousands of recordings he left behind. 

**This amazing thumb piano rendition of Russell's song "A Little Lost" by Swedish musician Jens Lekman is in the Extra features on the DVD. It is a remarkable performance. 

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why Music?

Here is an excerpt from an article written by a music teacher in Bakersfield, CA. She entitled it "Why Music?":

I often hear from parents about your frustration in having to constantly remind your children to practice.  As my Mom says, here you are trying to steer these young lives into beneficial directions, but they all have their own motors!  So it’s easy to begin to question if it’s all worth it.  Well, here are some things to consider.

Diligent practice of music will make your children prosperous…successful in life.  To support this idea, think for a moment about the requirements of successful music practice.  To be successful you must:

1. Be willing to work hard.
2. Be faithful on a consistent basis, even when you don’t feel like it.
3. Pay attention to details - not skipping over things.
4. Have the ability to work on your own and not rely on others.
5. Use your creativity to solve problems (i.e. tricky fingerings or new interpretations)
6. Be persevering - able to follow through to the end (not giving up when the going gets tough)

Now compare the above list of attributes with what managers in the working world will be seeking in their future employees.  As you can see, musical skills are transferable to other pursuits.  People who exercise these skills in the work place are the ones who get the promotions, get paid better and receive more recognition.  In short, they rise to the top in every field.
But you don’t have to take my word for it.  Studies show that music students generally score significantly higher on SATs than non-music students.  And here’s an interesting statistic: A Rockefeller Foundation study showed that music students had the highest rate of acceptance to medical school (66%), the highest percentage of any group.  Higher even than  biochemistry majors (44%).
It can take several years to absorb and understand the deeper benefits of music studies.  So don’t be discouraged if your Junior High-aged child isn’t getting it yet! Hang in there - they’ll appreciate that you did!

Friday, September 10, 2010

MTAC General Meeting in Castro Valley

We piano teachers pursue our chosen career for a variety of reasons, one of which is the autonomy the work offers. As self-employed business owners, we don't have to answer to anyone! Right? Well... this is not so when you are a member of the MTAC. This morning's meeting was mandatory. Then in the spring every active member is required to commit a full day working an assigned job for the CM Exams. Draconian punishments are threatened if either of these requirements are not met.

All this is fine. I recognize the pros and cons of being an MTAC member. I'm willing to put in the necessary time. 

The new president of our branch is very soft-spoken and this leads to many teachers being disrespectful and chatting incessantly while she tries to address the room. This behavior is so childish. Anyone who occupies a position on the board does so as a volunteer and receives minimal pay, if any. So the least we can do is give them our attention for a few minutes.

Some things are predictable. Halfway through these annual beginning-of-the-CM-cycle general meetings, a third of the teachers shuffle out the door. Meanwhile, I stay. I'm bored and feel trapped, but I stay. I listen as the branch scrapbook coordinator appeals (yet again) for help with her work. No one offers help. I presume that many, like me, don't see a particular need for an ongoing scrapbook. Maybe we're alike in our lack of sentimentally.

But here's one thing that's awesome: these meetings are held at the Castro Valley Center for the Performing Arts, which is a mere four blocks from my house. So there was no need for me to rev up my car to get there - I walked. An hour and a half later I was free to go home and mow my lawn.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Desperate Man Blues

Desperate Man Blues: Discovering the Roots of American Music

Everyone is obsessed with something. Joe Bussard's obsession happens to be collecting old 78 records. His enthusiasm is infectious. This documentary is simple: it is an invitation to hang out in Joe's basement and listen to him expounding the virtues of his mammoth collection of rare sides. 

In the words of Neil Young: Are You Passionate?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Building Practice Habits That Work

From a 9/6/10 post on a Music Teachers' blog by Chris Foley entitled "Building Practice Habits That Work":

As music teachers, how can we help our students to take advantage of these techniques and create more effective practice habits?
1. Changing locations. This might be a bit difficult for piano students, but is remarkably easy for just about every other instrument. Getting students to practice in different locations within their house might be a way to create a constantly changing learning environment, whether they’re in the living room, basement or their bedroom. The effectiveness of this technique will come as no surprise to university students, who are used to constantly changing quarters in their frantic daily quest for a practice room.
2. Alternating activities within one session. Most teachers probably teach this way already, carefully budgeting their teaching time between repertoire, technique, ear training, sight reading, and theory. However, it would appear that the important thing to do is instill that same way of working when teaching students about practice strategies. Variety is the spice of life when it comes to practicing. Fortunately, our brains are hard-wired to make the connections between these multi-threaded activities.
3. Learning from a large assortment of materials. This strategy is not difficult to expand on, and favours teachers who use a large number of resources rather than ones who stick to a strict pedagogical method. Listen to multiple performances on YouTube. Make your students learn more pieces. Talk about the time and place in which a work was written. Assign works from differing styles and time periods. Find ways for your students to attend more concerts. The brain will discover how everything relates in its mad desire to learn.
4. Multiple practice sessions. Rather than sticking to a fixed practice time every day, find ways to break up practice sessions and experiment with practicing at different times of the day. When learning extremely difficult new music, I learned that breaking up my work on a piece into 3-4 short sessions per day rather than 1 longer session resulted in greater retention and results compared to longer single sessions. Maybe that coffee or Facebook break might be worth it after all.
5. Working towards a goal. Again, most areas have a sizeable infrastructure of accomplishment already in place. Recitals, festivals, and exams might be just what your students need to give them that extra bit of fear incentive to make them work just a little bit harder.
Read the full article here.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

Standing in the Shadows of Motown

A highly emotional, filmed reunion of the singular musicians who crafted the "Motown Sound". Informative interviews and group banter are intercut with performance footage, and the balance of these two elements is just right. Unfortunately some of the guest vocalists are less than stellar, but Chaka Khan redeems them all with a tremendous reading of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On".

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

September 2010 Teaching Schedule

-- I will not be teaching on Monday, September 6 (Labor Day), or on Tuesday, September 7. Besides those 2 days, my teaching schedule for September will be interrupted.
-- The Ear Power song for the months of September 2010 is:
"Live Like We're Dying" by Kris Allen
Live Like We're Dying

And once more:
-- I have opened a new teaching studio at my home in Castro Valley and will be teaching from home weekly, every Wednesday and Thursday. If you know anyone who lives in the C.V. area and is interested in piano lessons, do encourage them to contact me - I am now accepting new students! My bio can be found here, and I can be reached by email at
Have a happy day,