The iPad is much more than a gaming or reading device. With more than 200,000 apps available now and more added daily the iPad is a delightful recreation. I readily admit my attachment to the slim, sleek powerhouse. (I love catching up with my favorite blogs on Flipboard and I love to play Lego Harry Potter!) But what about productivity? Can the iPad also be a useful tool for the private studio? Search the broad category of music and you’ll find more than 12,000 apps. How to choose? I started with a couple of objectives--modernize my studio while putting technology to its most efficient use; and, adapt in order to streamline and simplify my process. By filtering the enormous field of choices my iPad functions as a music library, a recording studio, a home office and the perfect tool to share information with parents.
My favorite apps for the private studio are selected for:
Usefulness--do they make teaching and/or managing a studio easier and more effective? Do they enhance the parent/teacher/student dynamic?
Value--all of my picks come in under $5. Even though they’re a bargain it’s important to spend wisely. Look for apps that can serve more than one purpose. Keep in mind that the “lite” version is not always free. From the app store check the left sidebar of the app’s description for these words--“top in app purchases.” You may have to pay more for the features you really need.
And, Simplicity--are the apps quick and easy to use? Do they simplify a process or create extra work? Remember, there’s no time to learn how to use an app while you’re teaching a student.
I like to use a floor stand for my iPad in the studio to keep my resource close at hand. A floor stand also functions as a tripod for making video recordings. Shar Music has folding floor stands for iPad and iPad2 (and the new iPad) that come with a shoulder bag for travel. The only drawback is the Peak iPad stand’s desk covers the rear camera. I can work around this bug by switching to the forward facing camera. Unfortunately my attempted modification with a Dremel wasn’t successful.
Not included in this article are metronomes and tuners. If you’d like to add them to your iPad start your search with free versions and be sure to read reviews.
Before you get started with apps save time by setting up a couple of accounts on your computer. First, Dropbox. Dropbox is a free cloud storage service that lets you store documents, photos and video. This is especially handy because video files are very large files. Anything you upload to Dropbox can be accessed anywhere and shared between your computers, smartphone and iPad. In addition you can designate public folders to share your documents with students. Once you have uploaded a folder you’ll get access to a link you can share via email. Second, YouTube. If you’re interested in using the following video apps in your studio start out by setting up a YouTube channel for your studio. I recommend setting it up as a private channel for your website and studio performance videos. Once your channel is set you have the option to subscribe to other channels that you think would be good student resources for performances and examples. Third, SoundCloud. SoundCloud is a free sound-sharing app that allows easy sharing of sounds. Sounds are displayed in waveforms that allow users to post comments and memos. SoundCloud can be inserted into websites as a widget and then easily shared through social media. Just like YouTube, set this up so tracks of student’s performances stay private. You can also use SoundCloud to share your own performances with students.
Apps for Running Your Business.
Square Card Reader. Free. This credit card slider connects to the headphone jack of your mobile device. Funds are deposited into your account the next day. Sign up online and they’ll send the device free of charge. Each swipe costs 2.75%. Some information on credit cards from the merchantcouncil.org site:
However,...... In the very same documents VISA continues to state that, "You may, however, offer a discount for cash transactions, provided that the offer is clearly disclosed to customers and the cash price is presented as a discount from the standard price charged for all other forms of payment.
" MasterCard goes on to say that, "A merchant may provide a discount to its customers for cash payments. A merchant is permitted to charge a fee (such as a bona fide commission, postage, expedited service or convenience fees, and the like) if the fee is imposed on all like transactions regardless of the form of payment used.
Use iMovie or Videolicious to make promotional videos for business listings and promotional materials.
iMovie. $4.99. iMovie can be used for a few different purposes in your studio. Sophisticated editing tools allow you to create videos with camera roll pictures and video, music and titles. Make a movie to advertise your studio. Export to YouTube via camera roll. Share your video with your business listing on Bing and Google. This is a handy way to maintain a web presence without the expense of a website. Also, create a QR code from the YouTube url and print on business cards, flyers and brochures. Read more about QR codes here.
Videolicious. Free. There are no editing capabilities so it’s very simple to use. Choose a template where you will receive step-by-step instructions. Select photos from your camera roll and add music from your iTunes library. Next, you will be prompted to make a short video with the in-app video camera. The app creates a short photo/video montage with no editing required. And your video clip is automatically saved to your camera roll where you can easily export it to YouTube.
Genius Scan. Free. This is an iPhone app but I find it works fine for my purposes on the iPad. I use it for receipts for my studio--more specifically for taking photos of tuition checks and for copying music for unrealBook. Although this app is more than just another camera. Documents can be enhanced and sent as PDFs or JPEGs and shared to apps that are already installed on your iPad such as Dropbox or an email account. Genius Scan +. $2.99. I find I have all I need with the free version. Go ahead and upgrade if you’d like to send documents to Evernote, Google Docs or Expensify.
Apps for Teaching
PaperDesk. $3.99. This is one of my favorite apps; I recommend buying it. It’s a feature-rich notebook for the iPad. Type, write and draw with a slew of fonts and colors and correct with a full set of editing option. You can even rest your wrists on the pad without interfering with drawing. Insert photos and PDFs. Record audio that can be synced with your notes in text mode. Everything can be shared with Dropbox in fact, notebooks can be set up to automatically sync to Dropbox. I keep a notebook for each student where I jot down reminders, take a photo of their assignment chart, take photos of anything from correct hand positions to the right way to put on a shoulder rest. During a lesson we can make a short recording of a specific practice technique and email it to their home for reference. If you’re not ready to buy try PaperDesk Lite for free.
iMovie. $4.99. I use iMovie to record short video tutorials for my website/blog on subjects such as how to tune the violin. Videos are uploaded to my private YouTube channel and then embedded in my blog.
Anytune. Free. This app has a selection of upgrades ranging from $1.99 to turn off the ads to $14.99 to upgrade to pro HQ. Select a track from your iTunes library. Anytune works like the Amazing Slow Downer to adjust the playback tempo without altering the pitch, for a fraction of the price. I use this for my young Suzuki students to play along with a slower version of the piano accompaniment. You can also create loops to help practice a passage many times. The ads are not appropriate for the studio (online dating sites) so I have paid for that upgrade.
GarageBand. $4.99. Great app for many uses and it is so much fun. One helpful use is to record myself playing my students’ newest pieces. It makes a great listening example for home study. Use the audio recorder and your iPad’s built-in microphone although you can also use an external USB mic with the iPad’s camera kit. Your track can be shared via iTunes or mail or even shared (privately) to YouTube or Soundcloud.
unrealBook. $4.99. Designed for gigging musicians by a gigging musician this app is a PDF reader with a lot of music editing features. Alphabetize and index your music so you can easily find the file you need. Make notes, add text and highlight. Use a stylus to add slurs and fingerings. The app also includes a metronome, pitch pipe and recorder. It’s an ideal app for a teacher who works at a remote studio or travels to students’ homes. Add music via file sharing in your desktop iTunes menu. An even easier work-around? Scan the music you need with Genius Scan and add it from your iPad. From the “documents” tab in Genius Scan tap the “share” icon, then the “other apps” icon, select a document size. You should see a list of exporting options. (Since I have installed Dropbox, unrealBook and PaperDesk on my iPad I can choose any of these applications.) Select unrealBook and you can take all your music with you. I originally selected this app because of its ability to play music from my iTunes library. A similar music reading app is forScore. $4.99.
Coach’s Eye. $4.99. I just heard about this app last week and bought it without blinking an eye. Designed for athletes, Coach’s Eye allows you to analyze a student’s video performance with a complete set of drawing tools and recorded comments. Take a video of your student, open the clip in this app and slow or stop the clip to analyze for ideal positions. Share your annotated clip via email, Dropbox and Evernote for review by students and/or parents.
Educreations. Free. Another new app to me. Start by signing up with educreations.com which hosts the video lessons created with this app. Teach whiteboard lessons with photos, markers and audio. Share the video lesson either publicly or privately on their site and share the link with students. The Educreations site is filled with shared lessons so see what others are teaching. It’s too new for me to have worked with it a lot but I imagine it would be perfect for very young or new students. Start with a photo of a fingerboard, add tapes and note names. Play the song while you point out the notes. This app could be a great between-lessons resource.
Here are a couple more that you might want to investigate on your own:
Skype. Free. Offer virtual lessons via Skype. I do offer Skype lessons. In addition to being convenient they are a good option for doing make-up lessons. An iPad on a stand that can move around the room is a distinct advantage over the camera on a fixed desktop or a laptop.
Dragon Dictation. Free. This is a popular voice-to-text app. It works a little better with an iPhone because you can speak directly into the microphone. Even though it’s used more for social media I can see it being useful for a parent taking notes during lessons. The more you use the app the better the system adapts to your voice. There is a 60-second limit to each press of the record button but you may record longer messages in sections.
Apps for Students In-Lesson Resources
GarageBand. $4.99. Create a percussion accompaniment as an alternative to scale practice with a metronome. The Smart Drums option is slick for making rhythms with a drum machine or drum kit. Employ a jazz trio of instruments to make a 12-bar blues loop for introducing improvisation. With the last update Smart Strings, a whole orchestra of instruments, was added to the list of instrument choices. Demonstrate scales, chords, etc with an orchestra. Before you incorporate this into your lessons make sure you have a set plan and time limit--this app is addictive.
Tenuto. $3.99. A series of musicianship exercises including note, interval, chord, key signature identification. The exercises are fully customizable by clef (even alto clef), note range, and more. There is a companion app for music theory from the same developer, Theory Lessons. $1.99. Included are 39 music theory lessons beginning with the basics-the staff and clefs-and ending with an analysis of The Moonlight Sonata. Both are adapted from lessons at Ricci Adams’ free site musictheory.net. Even though the website is a free resource I prefer spending a little lesson time supervising my students use the app.
iMovie. $4.99. This is also a great app for making movies of student performances. Video your performance class and edit with iMovie. Share with studio families via a private YouTube channel. If you don’t need to edit make a free movie with the camera and send directly to YouTube.
In addition, your iPad has access to the entire internet. Sometimes, you’ll need to search for resources--especially if you teach in a remote location. For example there’s not a good music dictionary app available now; use the internet instead. Try these two terrific sites: www.naxos.com/education/glossary.asp which also contains a comprehensive introduction to classical music and a guide for how to enjoy a concert, and www.music.vt.edu/musicdictionary/, a multi-media music dictionary complete with audio pronunciation and musical examples.
Apps for Parents Resources for Parent Reference and Feedback
PaperDesk. $3.99. The perfect tool for teacher note-taking is just as handy for parents. Parents who are still assisting young students can use this app for taking notes, recording parts of the lesson and taking photos of positions. As I mentioned earlier, every part of a notebook--recording, photos, notes--can be shared. An excellent option if parents of older students need additional teacher feedback.
Skitch. Free. Skitch is a great photo annotator. Add arrows and text to a photo. It’s ideal for capturing a perfect left hand position, adding a caption and sending it to parents for visual reinforcement. Send photos via email or share to Evernote. Skitch is available on iPad, iPhone, Mac and Android. In addition to music studio purposes, this Skitch works beautifully to capture computer screen shots. Really make your point by emailing an entire annotated screen shot; not just a link.
Fingering Strings. $2.99. This app is better suited to string classrooms but I think parents can learn a lot from it. This app is a fingering chart for all stringed instruments and treble, alto, bass and tenor clefs. Select an instrument and a note from the staff. In addition to sounding the note this app shows every place the note can be played on the fingerboard. Select a variety of viewing options such as a keyboard display, color-coded strings and a chart of each position on the fingerboard.
MSO Learn. Free. A virtual orchestra. See each instrument. Hear each instrument. Listen to the entire symphony or just one section. This interactive app from the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra introduces instruments and the people who play them (even learn their favorite place to eat after a concert). It’s so much fun to learn about the orchestra in this engaging, personal way. They did a great job with this app!
Audio Recording. Sometimes, parents may want to make an audio recording of a lesson or a home practice session. Useful audio apps are hard to come by. Aside from PaperDesk it’s a challenge to find an app that is inexpensive and able to send a file longer than 3 minutes. GarageBand is my top choice for this use. Even though it’s not free this app has many different private studio applications with no restriction on file size.
Video Recording. If you or parents just need to observe a taped lesson or practice session the pre-installed camera is your best choice. If you need editing features use iMovie.
This list is a good starting place for private studio teachers. But there are more improvements and more apps on the way. Dig into the app store and find the products that suit your needs, your lifestyle, your studio. Read reviews. Test free versions until you’re ready to upgrade. Experiment during your practice sessions and share my picks with your studio parents. Most of all, try something new and have fun exploring.
May is here. It’s time to wrap up another performance schedule and another school year. A calendar chock full of dates and pencil marks and predictability gives way to a solitary question mark. It’s time to move on; time to say goodbye. In one sense we feel welcome relief to set aside bursting planner. And yet.... The unknown brings its own set of challenges. Will I like my new teacher? Will I get enough free-lance work to pay my bills? Will be able to soak in enough of my teen before he leaves for college?
Can you tell I feel nostalgic today? The time has come for me to say goodbye in writing. It’s been two years since my youth orchestra played their last concert. Before that I spent a frantically busy six years running the orchestra. Finally, today I can look back and say it was worth every hectic moment. I had fun!
The last concert was a dream come true. A side by side with great music, a convivial potluck dinner, and a big, enthusiastic crowd--everything came together perfectly. And just like that it was over. We ran out of money and I ran out of energy. I had spent six years fighting to keep it vital but this time was different. I must have known it was time for a change.
My web designer called a month ago to see if I wanted to renew the domain again. I took a deep breath, and said no. Today I’m looking back with fondness and forward with....well, that remains to be seen. It’s time for change. Courage to you in yours.
Many, many thanks to students, families and colleagues who helped and supported us through the years. Goodbye LYS, You make me proud!
My first memory of recording was singing along with my parents’ Mitch Miller LP. Sprawled on the floor, propped on our elbows, my brother and I sang into a compact cassette player while the record spun. Over and over we pressed clunky buttons on the recorder and shrieked while we sang, convulsing with reckless laugher and aching sides. Each replay was more hilarious than the last.
Fast forward to the serious side of recording--college audition tapes. Believe me, that's no laughing matter. I recorded at a studio owned by a family friend, Garman O. Kimmel, a man who knew something about recording. “For 30 years, Kimmell recorded, edited, and produced for radio the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra’s weekly performances, all at his own expense. He eventually did so on a state-of-the-art tape recorder machine that he and A. P. Van Meter designed and built.” from So much to give, the legacy of Garman Kimmel. Cut and dried and state-of-the-art, we got the job done.
As a freelancer I’ve done a variety of session work through the years--all in recording studios. That is, until recently. My last few gigs were home studio sessions. It's fascinating to see their workspaces--a converted garage, a niche in a bedroom and an entire basement repurposed as a recording studio. Home studios instill a relaxed atmosphere that makes the work more amiable. And it's a welcoming touch to be greeted by the family dog.
My son writes songs but evades the studio. His charts and mp3 files arrive first in a Dropbox folder. Then with laptop and microphone in tow, he travels to record one band member at a time. (I’m honored that he makes a 1,000 mile journey to include me in his music.) It's a joy to make music with him! For an entire afternoon my teaching studio is converted into a maze of cables, microphones and music stands, every square inch of floor papered with completed charts. I'm delighted to share a completed song from his August sessions:
And the newest recording studio? Well, there’s one in my home...and in 52 others spread out across the globe. We’re part of something new. So new in fact, that this very week our inboxes anticipate the first composition we’ll record together. We’re members of the Twtrsymphony, “an ensemble made of classical musicians who met on twitter and wish to share their love of music with the rest of the world.” Brainchild of composer, Chip Michael, we record each part individually and send the completed file to Chip for mixing with our far-flung colleagues. Amazing!
This project takes me back to the giddy days of my first recordings. When I couldn't wait to play. Honestly, this new adventure is magical--like Wonkavision. Not a giant chocolate bar but a digital score, broken into tiny bits and sent through the air to be recorded. Back it goes through the air to be reassembled into a living orchestra performance. A tasty morsel of music not longer than 140 beats per piece. It's a crazy mix of music and technology that is so refreshingly modern that I can't wait to get started!
Not long ago I ran into a former private student. On break from college she excitedly shared her music experiences. I listened proudly until I heard she was a music ed major. That's when my heart sank. I should be happy that she wants to share her passion. But it won't be long before she's looking for employment…and then what?
I live in a district that last year, eliminated all band and orchestra classes at the elementary level. Forty-six elementary schools in all--just imagine how many children are impacted. In early 2010 the district opened a community survey. This question about elementary instrumental programs was answered only by parents who had children participating in elementary music at that time: "If a fee of $100-150 to participate in an Instrumental Music Program that meets 2-3 times per week is implemented, would your child continue to participate?"
The survey results? Yes: 1465. No: 1833. Underwhelming support by 44% of a small, select group. By the time our district eliminated the classes this group had already moved up to middle school.
Why do we need instrumental music? I have a better question: Why do we need high test scores in math and reading? Sadly, it's not about our kids; though they are the ones who suffer from lost opportunities. And in turn, our future will lack adults who can creatively problem-solve.
I read an article today "Trimming Music Ed in the Schools is a Mistake,"
by Mark George, president and CEO of the Music Institute of Chicago, writing as a guest columnist in the Chicago Tribune. "The arts provide a depth of understanding and even the basis for understanding for some children on their long road to achievement. And perhaps most important, the arts provide a way for children to envision the possibilities of a world outside of their immediate circumstances."
I like to believe that loss creates space for growth, change and improvement. But my inner cynic sees little hope of ever bringing these lost classes back into the curriculum. Lost classes strike me as lost opportunities. I was introduced to the viola in an orchestra class in 4th grade so it's hard for me to imagine a different way. Or a better way. Luckily for my district there is a ray of hope. Thanks to the perseverance and creative thinking of one teacher whose job was eliminated there is an alternative for many of these students: fee-based before and after school band and orchestra classes. I think it's a great start.
A summer opera festival as seen from the orchestra pit.
I played one of the best concerts of my career the other night. It was amazing--a sold-out audience, inspiring conductor, top-notch orchestra, exciting music and thrilling soloists. It was one of those experiences that come along once in a great while. It capped off a pretty amazing month.
The end of the concert season brought an abundance of great musical moments. First, there was Beethoven's Ninth with our Music Director Emeritus, Lawrence Leighton Smith. The very next week brought our new Music Director, Josep Caballe'-Domenech to conduct Bruckner's 7th Symphony. A week later I subbed with the Colorado Symphony and played Mahler's Ninth.
The musicians reading this will appreciate what goes into preparing and performing these works. Orchestral playing requires a very specific tool set. We must learn our music, read our music, watch the conductor, watch the concertmaster, play with our stand partner, play with our section and listen to the rest of the orchestra in order to blend sound, volume and tuning. Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is performed more frequently than the other two symphonies but still has to be practiced every time. All three works are more than an hour long. They are technically and physically wrought with challenges. Electrifying, while at the same time exhausting. All this is done in a concert hall with an audience that is expected to sit quietly until all the movements are complete. Then they may clap and/or leap to their feet.
Maybe it sounds like I'm complaining. On the contrary, performing works like these keep me inspired. They make me look forward to next season. Masterworks are worth every bit of the effort it takes to play them. These pieces remind me of the training and practice I invested in myself and are infinitely rewarding to study.
In spite of all that great, inspiring music, there are times when a girl just wants to have fun. No Beethoven, Bruckner or Mahler were performed on my favorite concert of the season. In fact, this show couldn't have been further from the Viennese masters. When I told my friends, neighbors and children that I was playing Mahler some might have nodded with understanding. It's quite a different reaction when you tell folks you're playing with Earth, Wind and Fire. Honest to gosh. The band came into town two weeks ago and hired a 31-piece string section for their concert at Red Rocks
. It was carefree and joyful and just about the most fun I've had with a viola in my hands. We danced in our seats, we laughed, we cheered, we took pictures. Never have I seen a bunch of orchestral musicians so happy. I'm going to remember this one for a long time. Yep, Shining Stars for one night, we danced our cares away in Boogie Wonderland.
For students and teachers everywhere, it is time to move on. Changing schools, growing up, graduating, retiring. There is change in the air for all of us. There is laughter and anticipation. There are tears and goodbyes. It's a bittersweet transition.
I remember graduating and leaving my private teacher of seven years. He was my mentor, my guide, one of the most important figures in my young life. Yet when the time came to move on I never looked back. Thrilled at the prospect of college, a new city and new musician friends I couldn't wait to leave. Now I understand the conflict of pride and loss.
My newest endeavor, teaching elementary orchestra classes, has a special significance for me. Ages ago my 4th grade orchestra class shaped my life. I threw myself into playing the viola with a fervor. That experience started me on my musical path. The path which led me to this very spot. As I bring these classes to a close I wonder about my students' futures. I know I shared my passion and caring. Did I make an impact? I suppose all that matters right now is they made an impact on me.
This weekend the Philharmonic said farewell to our Music Director. Lawrence Leighton Smith and I joined the orchestra the same year. I was glad to win a contract. He was ready to start something new. His passion and joy in music-making was just what the orchestra needed yet he shared more than music with us. He became part of our lives. He stood by us when the orchestra declared bankruptcy in 2003. He married the second flute player. In recent years our quartet performed piano quintets with him and working with him was revitalizing. He coached us like a teacher and he treated us like equals.
After 11 seasons it was time for him to move on. He announced two years ago that he was stepping down. We didn't see Larry much this season. We were busy auditioning Music Director candidates; he was busy writing his autobiography. In January Smith revealed that he had been diagnosed with a form of dementia, Binswanger's Disease. Scheduled to conduct our last two concerts, he was able to lead us in Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in April but declining health forced him to cancel his farewell concerts last weekend.
The community threw him a formal party to say goodbye. Two hundred friends, colleagues and patrons were there to honor him. Memorable food. Grateful words. But there was a much more touching tribute. I bumped into Larry during the cocktail hour. He greeted me warmly, took my hand in his and wanted to know all about our quartet concert last month. He told me what a pleasure it had been to coach us. It was a moment I'll never forget. Utter humility. And I'll bet he was just as charming and attentive to everyone in the room.
I've come full circle. I remember how effortless it used to feel to move on. With each May I experience the pride of seeing young musicians taking the next step. Today I feel the solemnity of a goodbye. Farewell Maestro, you will be sorely missed.
Today--a composer quiz. Which composer lost both parents at the age of 10? Who started a 180 mile journey on foot to join a choir at the age of 15? Who returned from a summer tour with a prince and court musicians to find his spouse had fallen ill and died during his absence? Which composer worked in 6 different cities before finding a job that would last for nearly 30 years? Who was not even recognized as a great composer until his music was rediscovered more than 50 years after his death?
Many disappointments and hardships plagued this composer although each setback seemed to ignite his creativity. Instead of giving up he allowed his circumstances provide him with opportunities. When he became the unwilling victim of a private quarrel between employers, this composer spent his "idle" time writing a cycle of organ chorale preludes--enough to last for an entire year. While serving under the Calvinist prince Leopold who didn't require elaborate music in church, he focused on secular music, composing orchestra suites, cello suites, violin concertos and other keyboard works.
We usually associate amazing accomplishments of our mystery composer. He was skilled at singing, violin, viola da gamba, harpsichord and was the finest organist of his day. He was a prolific composer and a gifted improviser. His abundant creativity spilled into his personal life too--he was father to 21 children!
In his later years, this composer became the Cantor for the city of Leipzig. His duties were to organize the music for four churches and assemble choirs for the church services. He also wrote the cantatas that were the centerpiece for each Sunday's service. He wrote approximately 300 cantatas! These works were crafted to convey the mood of the biblical text of the day. And each was dedicated with these words: Soli Deo Gloria, To the Glory of God Alone.
Have you guessed yet? Johann Sebastian Bach is the mystery composer. In spite of his hardships Bach lived to the age of 65 and wrote more than 1,000 pieces. One of his last unfinished compositions was a fugue based on the letters of his name. In fact he was a master of the baroque forms of fugue and canon. At the end of his life he wrote tremendous works of a musical genius--the B Minor Mass, the Musical Offering, and The Art of the Fugue, which catalogs fugues and canons.
A belated happy birthday to Johann Sebastian Bach, born on March 21st. In this video you can see and hear Bach's fascinating Crab Canon from the Musical Offering.
The Improv Project has taken a side step for a couple of weeks. The students continue to incorporate dynamic elements into the daily warm-up scale which keeps one element of expressive control in their fingers. On Friday I asked them to play the scale at volume 7 with "happy" quarter notes just to make sure they had retained some of the original lessons. It's amazing to hear them--they know exactly how to create that effect.
The kids enjoy their march through the pages in Essential Elements so we've focused on covering ground. It's important for me to put this in perspective: students want to see their accomplishments in a method book. Checking off the numbered exercises is their goal. Introducing them to expression while they learn an instrument is my goal. I want to keep the lessons balanced.
Around the time we took a break from playing with sound I introduced them to 12-bar blues
. The bass player and cellist were given a simplified walking bass line. The upper strings are playing a simplified part as well--just the root for now. All I put on the board is the note names so they get to choose which D, G and A they play. Having a note option teaches them more about their instruments and about music. Yes, there really are A's all over your violin! We also work on rhythm by having one student tap 4 quarter notes on each bar.
After two weeks the chin fiddles are completely comfortable with their part. And the walking bass is coming along. They love playing this so much that we started adding dynamic expression. I asked the students to suggest volume levels and we added some finger snaps in addition to the tapper. A usually mild-mannered student asked to play volume 12. So far, ten has been our loudest volume. At the end of 12 bars he was still playing like a rock star sawing frantically on his violin. He was having a blast! Now that's priceless.
Near the end of our class period they almost always ask if we can play 12-bar blues. It's a great way to play for enjoyment. And this kind of music is definitely more fun with a group. I think it teaches them to work together. In future classes we'll try different rhythms, new notes and more of our expressive techniques. The possibilities are limitless!
Whether your student is taking private lessons or learning with a whole classroom of students, chances are they've played many times for a teacher. The others who have heard them play might be fellow students, parents, siblings. Most often students find themselves in their bedrooms playing for an audience of tongue-tied dolls while the family dog races for the nearest exit. (This is based on personal experience--one of my dogs used to rub her ears and howl when I played!)
In the course of learning an instrument students will be presented with various opportunities for performance. Last weekend a few of my private students participated in our school district's solo contest. These violinists and violists prepared solo pieces to perform in front of a judge for oral and written critique. Judge? Critique? Whoo boy--a silent teddy bear is starting to look a whole lot better! At least you're guaranteed a hug.
Whether it's the familiar setting of a studio recital or the institutional feel of an adjudicated festival, students need additional preparation. Once a student has spent time learning a piece we talk about the nuts and bolts of performance. For my youngest students bowing politely is one of their first lessons. We work on ignoring distractions by playing focus games. Older students practice starting their piece with a few silent measures of introduction before the bow even touches a string. This kind of preparation teaches performance etiquette, concentration and how to play your best from the very first note.
In spite of all the preparation no one can predict the outcome. We can plan and prepare but a live performance is…well, it's live. And that means it's subject to any and every variable. What happens when the piece is over? How can we support young, tender feelings? That's where emotional preparation comes into play. That can start during lessons, in the classroom and at home. In Suzuki training we were taught to always start with a positive compliment. After that you can move on to suggestions and ideas for improvement. Parents can also offer support with this method.
It's never too early to start performing. Practicing performance skills with your students and children will help them grow as musicians. Encourage your students to perform often in familiar settings. Beginning students can arrange weekly family concerts. Students in group classes can play individually or in small groups for the rest of the class. As a teacher, it's my job to make sure students are prepared before they take the stage. As a mentor, I can assure them that performance isn't the goal; it is just one step on a journey.