Memorization: Why It Matters

Memorization.  Love it or hate it.  Personally I am on the hating it end because it is challenging to me.  Professionally I totally understand the point and advocate it.

Memorization of music really took off for piano when Franz Liszt and Clara Schumann decided to show off.  Being the popular musicians that they were, everyone decided to emulate them.  So that is where it started. 

Pianists of all ages and skill levels find themselves in situations where memorization is required.  From recitals and festivals to camps, workshops and talent shows, memorization is required.  The earlier you begin memorizing the easier it tends to become.  When beginning the piano, the pieces are short and easy.  Does it not make sense to begin  with these short, easy pieces?  Why wait until you are learning intermediate repertoire or have enter a competition to learn to memorize?  Memorization is a skill.  There a lots of tricks, tips and skills that make it easier.  If you don’t build that skill set as you build your musicianship skills it just sets you up for frustration later down the road. 

Why does memorization matter in the music?  Freeing yourself from the page and the pages turns or page turner lends itself to more artistry and musicianship.  Knowing the music so intimately that you can concentrate on the nuances that turn a piece from a collection of notes into a work of art.  The freedom to experiment  musically in practice, lessons and master classes only comes when you know your music backwards and forwards.  Memorization really is for the sake of the music. 

Many teachers require memorization of students and provide incentives.  Stickers, prizes and games take away the drudgery and make memorization a fun learning experience.  By the time students are learning the standard repertoire, memorization begins to come more naturally.  For some students, memorization will always be a challenge.  Encourage those students and praise their success but don’t let them use it as an excuse to not participate in events.  If you are looking for a music teacher, take into consideration if the teacher requires memorization at a healthy level. 

Don’t wait until you want to memorize that Beethoven Sonata to begin memory work.  Begin with Mary Had a Little Lamb. 

Good Luck!

It’s Amazing

I apologize for the lack of blog posts.  I’ve been busy preparing for Artistry Camp and for next year’s repertoire lists for students.  This year, the National Achievement Program/the Royal Conservatory Examinations is my guide post for music history.  While trying answer all of the questions and come up with an over view of each era, I’ve discovered that I’ve forgotten more about music history than I currently remember.  So the reviews and research is hopefully going to pay off.  The amount of information that is simply not used in regular piano, voice and oboe lessons is staggering and kind of a shame.  If more was incorporated would our students have a better understanding of their pieces?


It’s back to work for now.  Hopefully, I’ll have a better post later this week.

MTNA Music Achievement Award Program

Brunner Studios will be participating in the NMTA Music Achievement Award Program for the 2011-2012 music year. 


The follows goals can be selected to be set by the students for the year.  Select all or a few for a customized achievement program.  This is a great opportunity for those students who do not wish to participate in the traditional festival circuit in the spring.


1. Set a required practice amount per day/days per week and follow. (Time to be
approved by the teacher.)
2. Complete one lesson/methods book or comparable segment of vocal literature.
3. Complete one theory or ear training book.
4. Complete one technical exercise book (or specific assignment as set by the teacher).
5. Complete a scale or vocalise assignment as outlined by the teacher.
6. Complete a sight-reading assignment as outlined by the teacher.
7. Memorize one to four pieces (or more)—to be determined by the teacher.
8. Learn one piece from several different style periods or learn several contrasting style
9. Learn a complete sonatina/sonata (or suite or set of songs, and so forth).
10. Learn a duet with another student (or teacher). Or play/sing a piece with an ensemble.
11. If keyboard, accompany a voice/instrumental student on one piece. If voice/instrumental,
sing/play a piece with a student accompanist.
12. Perform as a soloist on a recital.
13. Perform for a religious event, nursing home, senior citizen center or civic event.
14. Participate in an event sponsored by MTNA on the local, state or national level.
15. Participate in school choir/band/orchestra or church choir/orchestra for one school term.
16. Write a report on a composer. (Composer to be approved in advance by the teacher.)
17. Read a book on some aspect of music. (Book to be approved in advance by the
18. Compose a piece.
19. Learn to play/sing a pop, blues, jazz, etc. piece of the student’s choice.
20. Purchase a CD, approved by teacher, and listen to it at least once a week for _______
24. Arrange a piece to include other instruments with piano.
25. Attend a concert/recital/musical.
26. Watch a musical concert on public television.
27. Watch a video about a musical or composer.


For more information contact Brunner Studios in Charlotte, NC.

Topics at a First Piano Lesson

So you’ve signed yourself or your child up for piano lessons.  Now what?  What are you going to learn in that first 30 minutes?  Is it going to be overwhelming or a piece of cake?  How are you going to practice 30 minutes 5 days a week?  Let’s look at a very simple check list of topics that are usually covered in a first piano lesson.


1.  How do you sit and the piano and position your hands over the keyboard.


2.  The Keys.  There are black keys and white keys.  The black keys are in groups of 2 and 3.  Can you find middle C?


3.  If the student is going to begin reading on the musical staff, then the topic of lines and spaces is covered.  How do the treble and bass clef relate to the right and left hand?


4.  A musical note.  This could be quarter, half or whole notes.  What does the note look like and what is its value?


Believe it or not, it can take 30 minutes to cover those 4 topics with a new student.  I love it when a child comes in and recognizes some of the musical notation from their music school at class.  The student feels so smart and head of the game.


Students, be patient with yourselves.  Parents, help the students in any way that you can even if you aren’t a musician.  Read the directions and make sure they are using the correct hand for the piece.


Good luck with your piano lessons!

Make Up Lessons. Why or Why Not?

Most of my families know that make up lessons is one of my least favorite topics.  The different policies from studio to studio are as varied as you could possibly get.  Some teachers offer an unlimited amount of make up lessons.  Some teachers offer one per year or one per semester.  Some teachers don’t offer make up lessons at all.  The real question is, does it really matter?  Are the make up lessons or lack of make up lessons effecting the student in a positive or negative light?  Here are my thoughts.


Currently, I do not offer make up lessons for student absences.  My reasoning for this has multiple parts.

1.  The actual make up lesson for the missed lesson usually falls on week with a regularly scheduled lesson.  This means that over the course of 8 days a student would have 3 lessons.  Many times this can leave students feeling stressed out and it takes an additional week for the lessons to find their correct balance again.  I would rather have a student out for a week and then come in with 2 weeks preparation of material for us to work on.  So many lessons crammed into such a short time leaves the student musically burned out.


2.  When should these lessons be scheduled so that it is fair to everyone.  If I only offer one make up date at the end of the semester or year and a family is unable to attend, I usually hear get asked if they can pick another date.  Well, if I reschedule for one then I really have to reschedule for all.  It is much easier just not to offer make up dates.


3.  There just isn’t time in the schedule.  My teaching schedule is quite full and there just isn’t time in the day to fit those extra lessons in during the week and I prefer to keep weekend time available for my family.  Last year there were over 20 weekends when I was gone with students participating in music activities.  That is a lot to ask of families. 


Even though I don’t offer make up lessons there might be  an available option.  I am looking at allowing students to trade lesson times if it is done with at least 2 weeks notice.  I had a teacher that did this and it worked quite well.  Everyone was given a roster and if you knew you were going to miss a lesson, the family was responsible for calling another family to see if they would be willing to trade.  Trades were limited to one per semester.  I haven’t completely made up my mind but it could be a viable option. 


Choosing your lesson time carefully can cut down on missed lessons.  Most of my high school students take later lesson times.  Don’t schedule a lesson so close to school getting out that you are trapped in the car pool lane even though the teacher’s studio is only 5 minutes from the school.  Kids and parents get sick and things come up.  As a teacher I understand that but keep in mind that there are often 40 students who could be calling any given week for a schedule change.  Things could be come chaotic very fast without a firm studio policy.


As a reminder, always read your studio policy sheet carefully and keep a copy handy at home.

Planning the Academic Year for Piano

Here in the south the school supply lists are already putting in an appearance.  Last week I was at a Target store here in Charlotte, NC and they were already putting out school supplies.  (On a side note, I did purchase some new markers and folders.)  This is the time of year that students feel like they get to start over with their goals and you might get an influx of new and transfer students.  Many of these students will want to participate in festivals and competitions during the coming academic year.  How do you make sure they are prepared and stay on schedule? 


If I am getting to see my students during the summer, then I take part of a summer lesson and we evaluate our goals.  If the student is not taking summer lessons then I try to use the second lesson back to evaluate the situation.  What are we evaluating?  I give the student their options for festival and competitions and we talk about how much music they would need to learn and what could overlap for these events.  For example, if a student wants to participate in NFMC and NCMTA the choice piece for the NFMC festival could be drawn from the NCMTA list.  This bring the required pieces down from 5 to 4.  All 4 pieces could be used for Guild Auditions. 


Guild Auditions and the National Achievement Program both have technical requirements.  I use my checklist and have every student go through all of the technical exercises that they should have learned up to this point.  One sheet that I use is found on the Resources page.  This lets me know what we need to review and when compared to the festival levels what we need to accomplish in a set time frame. 


I try to give a theory evaluation if there is time.  Otherwise we do this in the next few weeks.  If a student is participating in the National Achievement Program I use a practice test to see how prepared they are for this level of examination.  These exams are quite difficult and it seems that half the battle is reading and following the instructions. 


With all of this information, we can plan when to choose the literature and what schedule we need to keep to be prepared with the technical skills.  Students sometime practice a little aimlessly when there isn’t a clear deadline.  This can give them a mini-deadline for every week.  For those high school students who are so busy, it is pretty easy to divide their pieces into sections and set a measures goal for each week.  For example, we need to learn and memorize 10 measures of the Prokofiev this week and 5 measures of the Bach.  It’s amazing how well they will practice when not overwhelmed.

What is the Cost for Piano Lessons

One of the first questions I get asked is, “How much do the lessons cost?”  Prospective students tend to shop lessons by cost.  Realistically, this isn’t a good way to try and find the best teacher.  There are several factors that go into how much a teacher charges for lessons.


1.  What is the teacher’s level of education and experience?  If the teacher has at least a Bachelors of Music then the lessons are going to cost more than the teacher with just experience.  If you are lucky enough to find a teacher with Masters of Music or a Doctorate, be prepared to pay for these qualifications.  Usually it isn’t a huge difference, possibly $5 per month. 


2.  Does the teacher offer students opportunities outside of lessons?  Recitals, competitions and festivals are all popular events for students to participate in.  While you pay a fee to participate, your teacher usually has to volunteer or pay an annual membership fee.  As an example, NMTA, NMCTA and CMTA cost a total of $107 this year for me to be a member.  That is just for one festival for students to participate in.  As teachers we try to take our expenses into account so that we can offer the best opportunities to our students.


3.  Advertising.  Where did you hear about your teacher?  If it was on a website, in a newspaper or on a school flyer, then your teacher probably paid for that space.  While this is just a cost of business it does factor into the total cost of lessons. 


4.  Is it a deterrent?  Now this one is a little strange but I’ve found that it does hold true and it works.  Is the cost of lessons high enough to make the student think twice about having excessive absences?   Students should value their lesson time just as they would a visit to a doctor or a commitment to a team.  If a teacher is undervaluing their time, they don’t get taken as seriously by their students. 


So after a little research, I have found that the average rate for a piano teacher in the greater Charlotte, NC area is around $24 per lesson or $96 a month.  When breaking this down further the teachers in the outer areas of the city are charging significantly less.  Balancing this out are the teachers will a BM or MM in the city of Charlotte proper.  These teachers are charging on average $25-27 dollars a lesson or $100-$110 per month.  Schools of music tend to give a more mixed picture.  Most charge a flat fee for lessons whether the teacher is degreed or not.  This can be a great deal or a not so great deal depending on who you select or are assigned for an instructor. 


So do some research about your potential teachers and what they have to offer you before crossing someone off the list because of a $5 cost difference. 

Festivals and Evaluations for the 2011-2012 Academic Year

Charlotte, NC is a great place to run a music studio.  There are so many different opportunities for students of all ages.  Here are a few of the festivals and programs that students of all ages will be able to participate in during the coming year.


National Federation of Music Clubs-

North Carolina Music Teacher’s Association-

American College of Musicians-

Carnegie Hall Royal Conservatory- The Achievement Program-

Charlotte Music Club Auditions

MTNA Music Achievement Award Program-