Christmas Music? It’s only September!

If the sounds of holiday songs are reaching your ears, you have not lost your mind. Your child is probably already starting on their winter recital piece. Now you are probably questioning if you child’s teacher has lost her mind.

Our winter recitals are the first two weekends in December. That is only 2 months away! Now those younger students don’t have to start so early but those that are more advanced definately need the full two months or more.

Last year I made a big mistake and waited until we were done with the Masquerade Musicale to hand out Christmas music. I thought my high school students were going to find the nearest tree and string me up. I made a classic teacher mistake and wrongly assumed that the students would learn the pieces as fast as I could. What was I thinking? Just because it is advanced music doesn’t mean they have the skills to learn it quickly like a college musician or professional. So with that lesson learned, I made a note to myself to hand out advanced music in September this year.

Hopefully by the time those Christmas parties roll around the students will have a few pieces in hand with which to impress the grandparents and family members.

Excuses that Piano Teachers Don’t Like to Hear

There are a few phrases that I hear from my students that make me want to run screaming from the room. Not because the student doesn’t have a valid reason but the vagueness is distressing. Let’s start with number 3.

3. “I didn’t know what to do.”- It is excedingly rare that I send a student home with a new piece with no explaination. This is generally limited to highschool students or a student who I feel needs quizzed on their note reading ability. Most often either the student was intimidated by the piece and didn’t practice it or waited until late in the week and realized the piece required more work than originally thought. More appropriate phrases would be “I put it off until too late” or “I don’t understand this specific part” or “Can you walk me through this piece.”

2. “I forgot about that piece, theory, technique…” This one makes me a whole lot grumpy. Why? I provide my students ample assignment sheets and organizational tools. If the student is writing down their practice time daily, then that means they are looking at their assignment sheet each time they practice. If you tell me you forgot to practice or didn’t do your theory because you forgot, then we have a problem. That means you are not recording your practice as it happens and just filling in the blanks at the end of the week. This makes your practice record less than accurate and often results in a less than complete assignment.

1. “We were so busy.” Now I get that families today are busy. But this one really makes me mental. I would rather have a student just tell me that they didn’t want to practice and spent all afternoon playing outside. Or that mom was out of town or granny watches them in the afternoons. These kinds of details can help me plan the student’s assignments. I feel that the “we were so busy” excuse is something that kids hear adults say and think it is ok to repeat. Everyone is busy and has different responsiblities.

My point is that students need to work on their communication skills and learning to own their time management issues. Students are still learning and growing but excuses week after week begin to wear thin.

Theory Classes and the Basics

This weekend I will be teaching a theory class for music students. Many parents have asked “What is the purpose of the class?” The purpose of the class is to review exisiting theory skills and to be introduced to new skills that the students will be learning soon in their lessons or the theory lab. Last year, I taught a class and many of the students found it very motivational. Theory is often on of those aspects of lessons that can fall by the wayside. Students don’t see the connection to their music and many times come to their lessons with this part of the assignment undone.

How can parents help with their at home if they don’t read music? There are a few basic questions and facts that you are looking for in many theory assignments. Almost all theory requires knowing the key that the example/music is in. This is shown using a key signatures that consists of sharps and flats.

A sharp looks like this

A sharp raises a note by a half step. This usually takes the note from a white key to a black key. If the key signature has sharps then finding the name of the key is straight forward. Find the last sharp and go up a half step. Whatever note that is, is the name of the key.

But how do you know what is the last sharp? Sharps will always be in the same order. F#,C#,G#,D#,A#,E#,B#. An acronym is Fat Cats Go Down Alleys Eating Bologna. Below you will see examples of all the sharp key signatures identified.

This is a basic run down on how sharp key signatures work and how to identify them. Look for a blog about flats later this week.

Road Trip for NCMTA Workshop

The things we do for professional advancement and for the good of our students. North Carolina Music Teachers Assocation hosts a festival in the spring for those students to aspire to a high level of musicianship. Due to the large volume of literature to choose from, the NCMTA puts on 2 workshops in the fall so that teachers can hear all of the music in a live setting.

Since I will be out of town next weekend when the workshop is in Charlotte, I elected to drive to Raleigh for the day. Leaving at 6:00 this morning in order to get there by 9:00 was not my idea of fun. But it was well worth it. The music was wonderful and God bless those clinicians. I can’t imagine learning that quantity of music. For a quick guestimation, they each played approximately 40 pieces of music. The level of difficulty ranged from early intermediate to advanced repertoire.

So 3 bottles of water, 3 diets cokes, a cup of coffee, and a stop of Chick-fil-a later, I am home. Oh yeah and a bag of gummy worms, the yellow ones are the best.

For more information on the NCMTA festival visit Also, watch the website for more updates.

Helping Your Child Succeed at the Piano: Part 1

Every week in the studio I encounter the same situations repeatedly. A few years ago I wrote a document called Helping Your Child Succeed at the Piano. The idea behind this paper to is to help the non-musician learn to navigate supervising practice at home. Today, learn how to effectively use the assignment book to supervise piano practice.