Wednesday, September 16, 2015

summer photos/life skills boot camp/baptism

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Dear Summer 2015…where did you go?!  Oh, how we enjoyed you, but I’m not exactly sure we survived you with flying colors!  We did our best.  

Four kids at home 24/7 was an eye opener for me.  I was frustrated a lot in the beginning, but I learned to simplify…and then simplify some more.  I learned to be completely okay with fruit and toast for dinner…again.  I learned that opening up our home to unexpected guests is more important than a clean house.  I learned that my little girls get along way better when they have a kitty to love.  

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June is a blur to me right now, but we spent the majority of our days "completing our tallies.”  I put together a chart of 18 things the girls needed to do each day (all jobs were marked off with a tally to show completion, that’s where “completing our tallies” came from).  

I called it our “Life Skills Boot Camp.”  Pay day (for the number of tallies completed) was always on Saturday, but the stipulation was - that after following the 10/20/70 rule (10% tithing, 20% savings, 70% spending) - all spending money was to be used for school clothes at the end of summer.  Since they had the opportunity to earn up to $1 p/day, we felt like their money needed to be used towards a need rather than a want.  I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of that neon orange "Life Skills Boot Camp” chart I put together!  That thing was our baby around here!  It pretty much guided our efforts every day.  

The 18 things were (in no particular order) -

personal prayer, brush teeth, comb hair, exercise (20 minutes), 1 family job, 1 weekly job, Rosetta Stone (20 minutes), laundry job (unload dryer or fold towels), scripture study, family prayer, mormon message, piano practice, make bed, pet care, ear care (both girls got their ears pierced this summer), set table for dinner,  read (20 minutes), secret service

I just want to say that the idea of providing monetary compensation for spiritual affairs  (like prayer, scripture study, & service) is not our intention, but we also felt like it was okay to have a system of accountability in learning basic spiritual survival.  We tried to avoid any false notions by emphasizing that payment was figured on the amount of total tallies come pay day. 

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Much of July was spent outside in the sun, but the highlight was how very fortunate we were to have both my family (including all four grandparents) & Jared’s family join us for AnnMarie’s baptism on July 11th.

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It was such a special occasion, one I will never forget.  AnnMarie made the decision to be baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints long ago!  She has been learning about Jesus Christ and asking questions about her baptism for years.  I am proud of her; she is striving to develop many Christ-like qualities - compassion, forgiveness, and obedience to the commandments of God.  I am grateful for this special daughter of mine.

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Afterwards we had a light luncheon there in the Relief Society room.  We served pinwheel sandwiches, watermelon, veggies, and this beautiful cupcake dress.  Isn’t it darling?  

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Not to kill the ambiance of this wonderful memory, but tomorrow she’ll be getting her tonsils out.  Hooray for no more tonsillitis!  My mom is driving here now in order to help with the other kiddos during the surgery.  I’m excited to spend some time with her, it’s been a while.  With that, I’m going to call it a wrap and look forward to catching up again soon. 

Monday, September 7, 2015

Practice Expectations

Okay, so I’m excited to talk about practice expectations.  Here’s what I have in my policy:

PRACTICE:

“For most of you, practice will not be a problem. However, a practice record will be given to each student to monitor and ensure progress. I expect each student to practice at least four times each week.  This commitment will prove to your benefit and satisfaction. Parents, please make sure the student has a quality, tuned piano/keyboard to practice on, and a regular, uninterrupted time (or times) to practice. Learn to value practicing!”

Most of this speaks for itself.  I think 15-20 minutes each session is more reasonable for the young beginner, but a 30 minute session can (and should) be expected from an older student, beginning or experienced, and by older I’m thinking 8 years & up.

(I’m in the process of making some fun practice records that I’ll share with you soon).

I choose to reward those students who go the extra mile and exceed expectations.  A young student who practices more than what is expected automatically earns a prize out of the treasure box.

My older students can also earn a prize out of the treasure box, but they also have multiple goals (including the practice expectations) that if successfully accomplished throughout the year will earn them a composer statue at the end of a school year.

And YES, I have in fact terminated piano lessons before due to a student who failed to meet limited expectations.  It’s obviously important to me though, too, that I ensure progress when parents are paying for the successful music education of their child.

My Theory Pick

Short Answer: Just the Facts II by MusicBag Press.  (Don’t be confused by the II – it refers to the second version of the series.)  I love everything about this approach to theory: clean, straightforward, consistent, repetitive.  A clear description of each book is provided on their website so you’ll know exactly where to start your student (from Beginner A all the way up to Level 9).  The original Just the Facts is awesome, but it’s geared more towards the Texas State theory test.

AND it’s so nice for your student to have a different book intermingled in with all those similar-looking method books.

Long Answer: Back in my Texas days when I taught piano full-time alongside my part-time jobs to support my husband through his PhD, I learned a bucket load of tricks from the (here we go) - ‘No. 1 State for Music Teachers’ Associations Nationwide.’

Even music associations are bigger & better in Texas, too, I guess!

I joined the county association as quickly as possible, and let me tell you, I have never been a part of such an organized, serious, qualified, professional group of music teachers!  They knew their stuff, & I was proud to be a member.  Don’t worry though – not all great music associations reside in Texas…I’m pretty sure about that. ;)

* In Texas, preparation for the annual Texas State theory test is an integral part of every studio I encountered.  This annual test is deemed crucial in the music education of your student.  As a member of the local association, I had the opportunity to administer this test once to a group of Level 1 students & twice to a group of Level 3 students.  I was so impressed with the process of administration (completely non-intimidating), but even more impressed with the students’ knowledge & preparation!  I often wished I had the knowledge they portrayed when I was their age – it was amazing.  My theory instruction didn’t come until much later in my life…much later than I’d like to admit. *

Anyway, a team of teachers back in the mid-90s created a book specifically geared towards this test.  That’s when Just the Facts came along, & boy oh boy, I’m glad it did.  These books are full of treasure, and I’ve never had a student that didn’t enjoy their theory homework.  

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post – only a shout out on a product I have used & found successful.

Introducing Piano to your Pre-K Child/Student

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how important it is to expose littles to music.  With my first child, it wasn’t even a question – she sat through every piano lesson I ever taught from the time she was in my womb!  I was eager to present her with every music lesson I’d ever learned asap!

As more littles came along, I finally ‘got’ what it meant to focus my efforts on exposing young children to music (oh yeah - like I’d learned about in that one child education course) rather than formally educating them with structured lessons.  Sounds obvious & realistic enough, but I’m barely keeping up with basic needs here…so how do we do it…and do it right??

Turning on some music – all kinds - is a great start.  (I need to do better with variety – my 3 yr. old is obsessed with a few said songs).   Clap, tap, or stomp the beat - get your groove on.

Now if you want to specify exposure a teensy bit and introduce the piano, here’s an idea that works.

After my oldest daughter turned 3 (she’s almost 6 now), I purchased the music book called My First Piano Adventure: Writing Book A Pre-Reading by Faber & Faber (The Faber Piano Adventures).   We worked through it over a 2 year period.  That’s right - 2 years.   The authors intended to gear this book towards 5-6 year olds, but from my experience, certain activities were age appropriate for my 3-4 year old since it’s more of a hands-on activity book.  I never had a rigid schedule for working on it with her (although I would have liked to at times), but after navigating through the entire book now, I feel strongly that at that age, it’s absolutely best to follow a child’s lead AND let him or her initiate an interest in working on it.  It doesn’t have to take a lot of time – 5 minutes per day.  My second daughter & I (she’s almost 4) just started working on her own copy of the book.

And the best part?  You don’t have to have a degree in music to work through this book with your child!  The instructions for each activity are very clear.  Little fingers (3-6 year olds) typically don’t have the finger dexterity to play weighted keys.  This book has a few ‘piano playing’ activities, but it basically focuses on introducing your child to simple concepts like finger numbers, low/high sounds, black-key groups, louds & softs, or the music alphabet, and it’s a fun fun tool for doing so.

My First Piano Adventure series consists of three levels (A, B, & C).  Each Writing Book has a Lesson Book companion.  I explored the Lesson Book on my own, but felt it was too advanced for my then 3 year old.  It’s more for 5-6 year olds like the authors suggest.

Faber & Faber (The Faber Piano Adventures) is one of my two favorite methods for teaching beginning piano students.  You’ll find that I lovetheir publications and refer to them often.  Their on-line music library is organized, updated, and applicable to every age and level.

You can find this book at your local music store (99% guaranteed), but if you’d like to order it on-line (like I do with a lot of my books),  click HERE.  When ordering on-line, it’s usually always cheaper to order directly from the author and/or publisher.

Why it’s possible to teach your child piano

Many of you are just beginning the piano lesson journey as the parent teacher figure.  Welcome, welcome.  I promise you - it can be done, especially in the early years.  You’re in for a great experience.

On the flip-side, I got a degree in music for a reason, and I believe that piano students need qualified accredited teachers.  However, with the right guidance…and with some music background…committed parents with a can-do attitude CAN give their child a strong start or a necessary intervention.

There are lots of good reasons why it might be right for you to be your child’s piano teacher for a time – affordability, logistics, schedule conflicts, bad teachers, etc.  To be completely honest, we’ve all known an accredited bad teacher that does everything but foster learning to help a student succeed, and it’s no secret that piano lessons aren’t $5 a pop anymore – (if they are, I’d be leery of the teacher).

For our family, it’s the way to go right now.  The experience alone affords time together in an extra-curricular overload world, and despite popular belief, teaching your child piano can actually improve relationships.  There are resources, and there are teachers (like me!) who want to help you.

Something I have discovered though is that commitment is everything - so if you want to take the plunge, think one word...COMMIT.  Commit to making piano lessons a priority.  Commit to a consistent schedule.  Commit to setting goals & achieving them.  Commit to NOT throwing a fit because your parent-self demands perfection.  Commit to having fun and learning right along with your child.

Basics for the Parent Teacher

The following questions & answers are geared towards the pre-reader beginner and the young beginner.

* In my opinion, a young beginner is typically 6-7 years old and is classified as one who has successfully completed at least 2 books (not necessarily 2 levels) in a pre-reader series.  As I’ve mentioned before, my pre-reader series pick is My First Piano Adventure by Nancy & Randall Faber.

Are lessons once a week? 

Yes, lessons should be held once a week.  As the parent teacher, aim for consistency as much as possible – same day, same time, week in, week out.  This will help YOU keep piano lessons a priority.  Schedule around lesson time.

How long should our piano lessons be? 

First of all, it’s important to remember that each child is different – we all know that.  Your young beginner does not have to fit into that perfect standard 30 minute lesson time slot.  Work towards it, but strive for 15-20 minutes each lesson starting out.

How long should they practice each day?

Different children have different limits, but without fail, I’ve always found that for the young beginner, a reasonable expectation is 4 times p/week, 10-15 minutes each time.  Break up the minutes throughout the day if necessary.  Sometimes parents are surprised that I don’t expect daily practice, but for the most part, it allows for flexibility, and the extra days can be used as incentive for ‘bonus practice’ which I’ll talk more about later.  It gives them the opportunity to do more than what is required and go the extra mile.

For the pre-reader beginner (typically ages 3-5), I recommend a bit of a different approach since every practice session will be somewhat of a mini lesson.  They’ll need you by their side throughout each little assignment.  Like I’ve mentioned before, I feel strongly that at that age, it’s absolutely best to follow a child’s lead AND let him or her initiate an interest in working on the piano.  It doesn’t have to take a lot of time – 5 minutes each session is reasonable.  Aim for an average of 2 sessions p/week for the 3-4 year old.  Focus on the fact that he/she is being exposed to musical concepts.

5 year-olds can be tricky.  Depending on their personality, some could be ready for structured weekly lessons – others need the flexibility of mini lessons (short practice sessions) throughout the week.  You know what’s best for your child.

How far or how many pages do you think I should do in a lesson?

For the young beginner, don’t think in pages, think in songs.  2-3 songs p/week is a good goal.  1-2 songs p/week is more common.  If your child is flying through their assigned songs in the first practice session, the songs are way too easy, and by flying I mean playing all the notes correctly from beginning to end with the correct tempo - paying careful attention to any musical markings :) – it’s pretty straightforward at this level, but still…

Songs are only one part of their assigned lesson.  I’ll introduce other aspects soon.  This way, when you hear, “But I know it now (the song)…or I’ve played it already…or not again,” you can respond with a great big, “YES!…but what about your theory worksheet…or your simple scales…or (some other awesome practice tool)?”

At the next lesson, do they play what they have practiced all week long?

Yes – at this age, “play back” should take up half of the lesson at most.